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Posts Tagged ‘Skyrim’

Lydia vs. the Gate: Will she ever learn?

Monday, November 21st, 2011

10 days in and I still have not played Skyrim. I’ve been too busy. However, that doesn’t stop me from seeing what other people have pointed out. Given that it is a PC-playable game, there are no shortage of YouTube videos out showing many of the plusses and minuses of it. (There seem to be plenty of both.) If I took the time to analyze each one that I saw, I would never get anything done and would have even less time to play it myself. That said, some things are too easy to pass up.

This video came to my attention via someone on Twitter and I thought it was worth a mention.

 

This is something that is so easily fixed that it is spectacular that this even occurs.

Obviously, our poor Lydia is having a difficult time with this gate trap. The problem is, she really shouldn’t. While we can understand Lydia getting whacked the first time (after all, that’s what traps are all about, right?) why is it that she persists in trying to go through the same area? This is something that is so easily fixed — even with likely existing tech and logic — that it is spectacular that this even occurs.

The short version of why this is happening can likely be summed up as follows:

  1. The pathfinding engine in Skyrim is a waypoint graph rather than a navmesh. The edge that she is trying to follow runs right through the middle of that gate and, therefore, right over the trap trigger.
  2. Even when knocked off the graph, her top movement priority is to get back on the path at the nearest node. This is why she moves to the center of the hall instead of just moving along the left (her left, our right) wall towards the player.
  3. She has no recollection of getting hit by the gate. Therefore, nothing about her processing is different in each iteration.
  4. Even if she recalled that the gate is the problem and was able to understand that the trigger stone was the issue, on a waypoint graph she has no way to really steer around the stone anyway.
  5. When she is stuck behind the gate against the wall, she has no realization that she is stuck… therefore, she keeps “running”.

As you can tell, this could be remedied fairly simply. First, for the pathfinding issue, a navmesh would be very helpful here. (For an excellent treatment on waypoint graphs vs. navmeshes, see Paul Tozour’s post on Game/AI, Fixing Pathfinding Once and for All.) That way, the stone could be created as a separate mesh polygon and, upon discovery, marked as as something to avoid.

Of course, the above is premised that the stone can be “discovered” in the first place. Certainly, Lydia managed to “discover” the stone when she got whacked the first time. What she failed to do was make a mental note (in an e– sort of way) of its existence. It is at this point that the AI started to look stupid. Again, not really all that hard to handle. In fact, by simply doing what I suggested above (marking up the navmesh as being unusable), this becomes implied by her subsequent behavior of avoiding the stone. No animations, voice barks, etc. needed. She just doesn’t do the same thing twice.

The being stuck behind the gate thing is actually a separate problem entirely and I won’t bother to address the details here. Suffice to say, however, that it is partially similar in that it is based on the notion that NPCs rarely have a sense of “futility”.

Anyway, I just thought that this was worthy of note specifically because the solution is so easy to implement. It makes me wonder why major studios can advance so much in some aspects of their AI and yet have such glaring holes in other areas. I suppose that’s why we now have the AI Game Programmers Guild and the GDC AI Summit. We are trying to share enough information between us that we are lifting the floor of game AI as a whole.

We Can’t Think of Everything!

Friday, November 11th, 2011

I admit that, despite it being 11/11/11, I haven’t played Skyrim. I don’t even know if I will be able to get to it for a few weeks. However, that doesn’t stop the barrage of information from people playing it. I am trying to avoid most of the breathy reports from my friends and colleagues around the internet. However, this one kept popping up on my Twitter feed so I figured I would take a look.

The title of this YouTube video is “How to steal in Skyrim.” When I clicked on it, I really didn’t know what to expect. I figured it was going to either be a boring instructional video or a blooper reel. I suppose it goes in both categories, for whatever that’s worth. However, it is an instructional video for game AI developers and designers alike.

What you are seeing is an attempt by Bethesda to mitigate a problem that has plagued RPGs since their inception — that of rampant stealing from houses and shops. Usually, one can do this right in front of people and no one seems to care. One poor solution was to mark objects as being people’s possessions and alert that person when they are stolen. However, that pretty much eliminates the notion that you could steal something when that person is not around…. kind of a “page 1” lesson in the Book of Stealing, really.

Every person in the game is completely cool with me just placing large objects over their head?

What Bethesda obviously did here is perform a line-of-sight check to the player. If the player grabs something that isn’t normal, react to it. In the case of the lady at the table, she simply queries the player about what he is doing. In the case of the shopkeeper, he reacts badly when the player takes something of his. All of this is well and good. However, when the line of sight is blocked (in this case by putting something over their heads), they can no longer see the player taking something and, therefore, don’t react.

But what about the reaction that should take place when you put a bucket over the person’s head? Are you telling me that every person in the game is completely cool with me just placing large objects over their head? It certainly looks that way!

The lesson here is that we either can’t think of every possible action the player could perform in the game or we simply do not have the resources to deal with it — for example, by having the player protest and remove the ill-designed helmet.

“But why would the player want to do that?”

In the past (and I mean >10 years ago), when the player’s interaction with the world was simpler, many of the faux pas would have stemmed from the former reason. We just didn’t bother to think about the possible actions. The pervasive mentality was simply, “but why would the player want to do that?” Of course, players did do things like that — but given the limited worlds that we existed in, the ramifications weren’t that huge. We were far enough away from the proverbial “uncanny valley” that we simply accepted that the simulation didn’t model that sort of thing and we moved on.

Adding one mechanic to the game could have hundreds of different possible applications.

More recently, as games have allowed the player even more interaction with the world, there is a necessary exponential explosion of possible results for those actions. That is, simply adding one mechanic to the game could have hundreds of different possible applications. When you figure that game mechanics can be combined so as to intersect in the world, the potential space of resulting interactions is mind-numbingly complex. The problem then becomes, how do I account for all of this as a game developer?

One game that began simulating this stuff on an almost too deep level was Dwarf Fortress. I admit going through a DF kick last spring and it almost killed me. (It was like experimenting with powerful drugs, I suppose.) Pretty much everything in that world interacts with everything else in a realistic way. The rulebase for those interactions is spectacular. However, pretty much the only way they can pull it off is because their world is represented iconically rather than in the modern, 3D, photo-realistic, way. For DF, creating a new visual game asset is as simple as scouring the text character library for something they haven’t used yet and making a note of the ASCII code. In Skyrim (and all modern games of its ilk), the process of creating an asset and all its associated animations is slightly more involved. Or so the rumor would have it.

Given the example in the video above, DF (or any other text-based game) could simply respond, “the lady removes the bucket and yells obscenities at you.” Problem solved. In Skyrim, they would specifically have to animate removing things from their head and hope their IK model can handle grasping the bucket no matter where the physics engine has placed it.

What occurred in the video isn’t necessarily a failing of AI.

So there’s the problem. What occurred in the video isn’t necessarily a failing of AI. We AI programmers could rather simply model something like, “your messing with [my body] and I don’t like it.” It just wouldn’t do us a lot of good if we can’t model it in an appropriate way in-game.

This bottleneck can apply to a lot of things. I could represent complex emotional states on finely graduated continua, but until the animation of facial expressions and body language can be modeled quickly and to a finer degree of realism, it doesn’t do anyone any good. No one will ever see that the character is 0.27 annoyed, 0.12 fearful, and 0.63 excited.

In the meantime, rest assured that the hive mind of the gaming public will think of all sorts of ways to screw with our game. Sure, they will find stuff that we haven’t thought of. It’s far more likely, however, that we did think of it and we were simply unable to deal with it given the technology and budget constraints.

And to the gaming public who thinks that this is actually a sign of bad AI programming? Here… I’ve got a bucket for you. It looks like this:

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