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Posts Tagged ‘Sims’

Random Shooting Galleries are No Longer Fun

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Just saw another observation in a game review that really isn’t all that specific to the one game they were reviewing. In this case, it was a CNet review of the game, Alpha Protocol, by Obsidian Entertainment. A few of the observations about the AI were corroborated by other reviews elsewhere, but this one is the most detailed. (Most of the meat about the AI is on page 2 of the review.) The author doesn’t dance around the issue, either:

The AI is pretty dreadful. Security agents and mercenaries run about the levels in haphazard ways, may start climbing ladders as you fill them with lead, will kneel on top of exploding barrels, or might stare directly at you but fail to react unless you take a shot or give them a good punch. There’s a weird sense of randomness to your enemies’ behavior that diminishes the impact firefights may have had.

This is a common series of complaints about modern game AI. 10-20 years ago, this is mostly what we expected. Actually, to correct myself, what we usually got was enemies that turned to face us and then moved toward us in a line until we mowed them down. In the days of Doom and Quake, that was OK. Today? Not so much. Running around randomly provides a sense of activity and motion but immediately begins to trigger our sense of wrongness about the situation. This is especially noticeable as the dichotomy between excellent graphics and poor AI spreads. In any enemy that we can remotely anthropomorphize, this effect is even worse because we have an image in our head of what a human-like character should be doing in any given situation.

Where I would like to diverge from the author of the review is in the word “random”. We need to be careful with that word. Both in my book, Behavioral Mathematics for Game AI and in a number of the conference lectures I have given on the subject, I speak about the benefits of using randomness to provide variation in behavior selection. Games of all types are beginning to use these techniques as well.

For example, Richard Evans (Maxis) has spoken numerous times on the decision model for the Sims 3. The Sims go about a process of rating all the available behaviors and scoring them as to how well they match what the Sim wants or needs at the time. Then, they select from the top choices using what we call a “weighted random”. All of the actions are “in play” proportionate to their score, but the better the selection, the more likely it will be chosen. Is there randomness there? Yes, to provide variation. Does it look random? Not really. The reason is because each of the potential selections is actually fairly reasonable at the time — the result of the scoring system. To us as observers, we don’t view this as “random” — just “interesting”.

On the other hand, it seems that the behavior selection in Alpha Protocol looks random to the observer because either:

  1. The behavior selection is, indeed, random, or
  2. The behavior scoring algorithm is so poor that it doesn’t properly give the advantage to reasonable-looking actions.
Often times, behaviors will be chosen without consulting the current world state.

Either way, something is amiss. There is a 3rd option here as well. Often times, behaviors will be chosen without consulting the current world state. The “climbing ladders while you’re filling them with lead” bit might be an example of that but the observation where the enemy is seemingly unaware of you is a much better example. The bottom line is that the hardest part of designing AI is providing the adequate knowledge representation of the world state so that we can reason on it and make contextually appropriate decisions.

From a gameplay standpoint, the behaviors above can lead to some serious disappointment. To go back to the article:

Yet Alpha Protocol is no more a proper stealth game than it is a shooter. As with the shooting, the inconsistent AI provides a major hindrance… [snip]… Sneaking up on an enemy and taking him down with a minimum of fuss is mildly rewarding, as it tends to be in most games. But the actions you take leading up to that point involve activating certain skills and scurrying around in your silly crouched position–not outsmarting sharp AI or using the environment in clever ways.

With a generally random-acting AI, we aren’t outwitting anything.

We have had enough stealth games under our belt as an industry that we have primed the consumer with expectations of what to expect. Games ranging from Thief to Splinter Cell have shown us that the best part of stealth games is not just surprising an enemy… but outwitting him when he is actively trying to prevent you from surprising him. With a generally random-acting AI, we aren’t outwitting anything. The “surprise” aspect of it comes from merely staying out of his view. For all intents and purposes, that gameplay mechanic goes back to arcade shooters from the early 80’s. Haven’t we grown out of that yet?

Unfortunately, in a throw-back to my column earlier this week, the review goes on to compliment some of the other production values (though not nearly in as glowing of terms as the review of Lost Planet 2:

Alpha Protocol is not ugly, however; it’s just behind the times and artistically uninspired. Nevertheless, the safe houses Mike operates from between missions have some nice views, and some of the outdoor missions throw in some welcome flashes of color. Similarly, the sound design gets the job done, though without much style. The voice acting is at least solid, and the generic action-movie soundtrack ramps up at the right moments but otherwise stays out of the way.

Congratulations, I suppose. The problem is, our consumer public wants more than pretty pictures and nice sound. They are getting used to all of that and are now complaining about things being dumb. Again, this goes well beyond Alpha Protocol. This review can be copy-and-pasted to other games in as much of a templated fashion as trashy romance novels. There are way too many games that are missing the boat on this. Granted, as I mentioned in the Lost Planet 2 column, good AI developers are increasingly hard to find. That may be the case with Obsidian. I don’t know. (What I do know is that it’s time for me to give a ring to their HR guy.)

AIIDE 2009 – AI Challenges in Sims 3 – Richard Evans

Thursday, October 29th, 2009
This is the rough dump of my notes from Richard Evans’ AIIDE 2009 invited talk on the AI challenges they faced in developing The Sims 3. Some of it was familiar to me as being exactly what he presented as part of our joint lecture at the GDC AI Summit in 2009. Other portions of it were new.

Specifically, I enjoyed seeing more about how they handled some of the LOD options. For example, rather than parsing all the available actions, a sim would decide what lot to go to, then what sim to interact with, and then how to interact. Therefore, the branching factor was significantly more manageable.

Another way they dealt with LOD was in the non-played Sims. Rather than modeling exactly what they were doing when (while off-screen), they made some general assumptions about their need for food, rest, taking a leak, etc. These were modeled as “auto-satisfy” functions. For example, if you met a sim close to dinner time, he would likely be hungry. If you met him a little later, he would present as being full.
Additionally, as you will see below, the entire town had underlying simulation mechanics that balanced how many people were dying and being born, what gender they were (on average), and even where they were moving to and from. They modeled much of this with a very simple geometric interface early on so that they could test their mathematical models. Same with the simple behaviors. He showed video demos of these models in action. This also allowed them to speed up time to ridiculous levels and let the sim run overnight to test for situations that would tip the sim out of balance. Lots of fun!
He also mentioned about how the behavior selection was done. This was important to me in that he showed how they used some of the same techniques that I talk about in my book. Specifically, he uses a utility-based method and selects from the behaviors using weighted randoms of the top n selections. Excellent work, sir!
The following are my raw notes.
AI Challenges in Sims 3
Richard Evans
He mentioned the website dedicated to Alice and Kev. The author simply sat back and watched the Sims do their autonomous behavior and wrote about it.
1. Hierarchical Planning
2. Commodity-Interaction Maps
3. Auto-satisfy curves
4. Story progression
Instead of nesting decisions about which act to perform on which person in which lot, you chose a lot first, then chose a person, then chose an action.
O(P + Q + N) instead of O(P * Q * N)
Data-driven approach so that the venues populate appropriately (e.g. restaurants)
Optimization
If you are full, don’t even consider eating as a possible selection of what to do.
Auto-satisfy curves for LOD. That way you don’t have to simulate the off-screen Sims. Assume that they have eaten at the right times, etc.
Other Sims need to progress through life the same way that your Sim does. Age, marriage, children, career, move, etc. Long-term life-actions are simulated at LOD.

The town has various meta-level desires. (Gender balance so that we don’t have all male or all female.) (Employment rate for the entire town. Some people will be unemployed… peaks at ~80-90%
High-level prototype showing the major life actions (not smaller actions). Simulating the town without simulating the people.
Making Sims looking after themselves

Utility modeling
Highest-scoring
Randomly from the n highest-scoring actions
Randomly using the score distribution as the probably distribution (weighted randoms)
Personality and Traits and Motives
Same that he talked about at AI Summit
Traits -> Actions = massively data-driven system to minimize hard-coded systems.
Kant’s categorical imperatives?!?
Emily Short: “The conversation is an end in itself.”
Take Home Actionable items
Data-drive everything!
Take the teime to make good in-game viz. tools
Prove out all simulation ideas using prototypes as soon as possible.
Richard shows excellent 2-D prototype that runs sims without the realistic world!

Will Wright’s “Soul of the Sims”

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I found an interesting tidbit this evening. It gives a look into how Will Wright wrote his first pass at the Sims’ AI back in 1997. It’s a scanned printout which makes it kind of annoying to read. According to Don Hopkins’ description:

This is the prototype for the soul of The Sims, which Will Wright wrote on January 23, 1997.

I had just started working at the Maxis Core Technology Group on “Project X” aka Dollhouse”, and Will Wright brought this code in one morning, to demonstrate his design for the motives, feedback loop and failure conditions of the simulated people. While going through old papers, I ran across this print-out that I had saved, so I scanned it and cleaned the images up, and got permission from Will to publish it.

This code is a interesting example of game design, programming and prototyping techniques. The Sims code has certainly changed a lot since Will wrote this original prototype code. For example, there is no longer any “stress” motive. And the game doesn’t store motives in global variables, of course.

My hope is that this code will give you a glimpse of how Will Wright designs games, and what was going on in his head at the time!

Despite what Don asserts above, I wasn’t terribly impressed since this is really something that can be written in an hour or so. I figure that is simply because it was an early pass. Of course, the Sims behavior AI is not terribly complex so it really wouldn’t need to be anything much more complex than what you see here. Oh well… worth a look anyway.

The Sims AI

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Alex Champandard over at AIGameDev.com has posted a technical review of the AI for “The Sims”. This is a fantastic article listing 21 tricks that can be used, at least in theory, in game AI development.
Please notice that Alex has put references at the end that point you to the source material – which is always good reading.
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