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Post-Play'em - Observations on Game AI


Assassin’s Creed: First Look

In my latest episode of “finally got around to playing”, I have had a chance to mess with Assassin’s Creed (on X360). As with most people, I was immediately impressed by how visually attractive the game is. However, that has usually been a warning bell in the past. A lot of time “pretty game” has tended to also portend “stupid AI”. This doesn’t seem to be the case with AC.

While this isn’t normally my strong suit, I have to say that the animation model in the game is very well done. Even without the climbing and hoping and dodging, there is a lot of detail that made for convincing depth in the characters. Even just running forward and then rapidly changing to run the other direction prompts a foot plant and skid animation that is really kind of cool. I also like the fact that the transitions between animations are very smooth. Even just something as simple as changing from a walk to run and back to a walk (even on horseback) exposes a gradient of speed that does not have the hard-edged state change feel.

Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ya!

I also like how you can move around during the (long) dialog scenes. You don’t have to, but you can. In fact, I found myself wanting to pace during these conversations because it made it more realistic. Additionally, when your character says something while he is facing away from the listener, he will turn slightly towards him… not to directly face him, but to talk in his general direction. Think about it… don’t we all do this? How often do we actually look directly at the person we are talking to? It’s a nice touch with the animation that makes those plentiful dialog exchanges more livable.

Running, Jumping, and Climbing on Things

It goes without saying that the advanced animations are very well done. The climbing and running and jumping business is ridiculously well done. There are the occasional quirks but those are more of a problem with the control scheme (on the 360) than anything else. I especially like when I get too close to an edge and my dude has to fight to keep his balance.

Excuse me. Pardon me. Move, damnit!

There are ways that they incorporated this into the game design other than all of the building stuff, however. It was a very nice touch to have the character stagger or even fall when he runs into people. That makes the chase scenes through cities very realistic in that you do have to pay a little attention to where everyone is.

Of course, in order to utilize that mechanic, you have to pack the streets full of people going about their business. This was done very well. There are places where it is next to impossible to run through simply because of the press of people. Even walking through them can get annoying. I haven’t bothered to simply watch people to see where they are going, but you don’t get that initial impression of “random walk” that you get from a lot of other games. (One recent transgressor in this effort was when I was playing Oblivion where every person in the city just broadcasted “I am so lost!” I will write up my observations on Oblivion later.)

An even better touch is how the people react to your passing… not just physically, but verbally. If you bump into one of those jar-toting ladies and get them to drop their burden, they will give you a little lip. The same can be said for running into a dude when you are on a horse. I found myself being more careful moving through people just to avoid what should be relatively innocuous confrontations.

The agents in the game, be they friend or foe, do have a pretty obvious state-based behavior pattern. It works for this game, however. I also haven’t seen any situations where the FSM is stuck on stupid. The game mechanic has enough depth that the predictability of the guards is acceptable.

Now serving #43

I guess the only thing I can fault (although it still works well) is the “ninja fight” rules where the enemies tend to come at you one at a time. They do take turns, however, rather than waiting for the one fighting you to die before the next steps in. Again, this was matched well with the game mechanic of being able to grab people and throw them away. When you toss one dude away, his buddy will step right in. It does make the fight more manageable, however. On the other hand, there have been times when I have had more than one guy beating on me at the same time. I haven’t figured out what the difference is in those scenarios, however.

All in all, the game looks pretty good from an AI standpoint. I say that based on the fact that I haven’t noticed anything horrible about it. That’s usually a sign that things are working well. Figure that AI should be like umpires or referees in a sports game. They are necessary for the game to work smoothly, but you shouldn’t really notice that they are there.

I’m returning AC to GameFly tomorrow (although I will probably buy it because my kids are addicted to it) so it will be a bit before I follow up on this post. You can check to see if I have written anything else by clicking the Assassin’s Creed tag below.

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