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Post-Play'em - Observations on Game AI

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Coming attractions – Games to cover

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Well, as I get my thoughts together (the process of which always involves the decision on whether to use a fish net or a butterfly net) on which games I should do first, it brings me to a larger concept of “what games should I do at all?” Of course, I am necessarily limited to commenting on games that I have already played. What would be the point of analyzing the AI of a game that I haven’t played? On the other hand, I have experienced some games where, despite having played all the way through, it was as if the AI was never there. Anyway, I digress. (Where’s my net?)

I thought that I could toss out a list of games that I remember having made mental notes on regarding the AI and see what you, my loyal readers the hapless wanderer into this site, may be interested in hearing about. So, here’s a partial list of games that I may be interested in, and at least minimally prepared to comment on.

The games I have been playing recently are as follows:

  • Call of Duty 2 (XBox 360) (Entries here)
  • Neverwinter Nights 2 (PC)
  • Splinter Cell (XBox)
  • Doom III (PC)

The games that I have spent time on in the past 4 years or so that I would be interested in covering are:

  • MarioKart: Double Dash (GC) (Finished!)
  • Super Smash Bros. Melee (GC)
  • Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 (PC)
  • Empire Earth (PC) (with a nod to Bob Scott)
  • Warcraft 3 (PC)
  • Madden 2003 (PC) (is there’s a point since this is now 4-5 versions old?)

Some classics that I would like to revisit at some point:

  • Railroad Tycoon II (PC) (did that game have legs or what?)
  • Civilization II (PC) (speaking of replayability!)
  • Creatures (the original one) (PC)
  • Rainbow 6 (PC)
  • Starcraft (PC)

What would really be crazy is for me to go back to the 80s and talk about some of the games I played back then… like North Atlantic ’86. It’s kinda funny to think that a game in 1985 actually had AI, isn’t it?

Anyway, if anyone has any preferences on that list, let me know. I will probably bust loose on something either very recent (like my meandering through NWN2) or something I can write at length on (like how my whole family has picked apart MarioKart: DD) for my first review. Keep an eye open!

… but I’m going to say it anyway!

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

For a long time now, I have been reading other people’s blogs. As we all know, that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. (Strangely, this seems to depend largely on the quality of the blogger. Something to consider.) Also, for many years, I have been active on message boards all across the Internet. I’ve had my say on an item or two… but even the most Homeric of posts and threads always seem to get scattered in the Winds of the Net – never to be found again.

As a game developer, I play many games. I consider it “research”. This is not a stretch, really. After all, scientists read each other’s papers and even cite them while composing their own… and they call THAT research, right? And when I am playing games, I can’t help but analyze them. What makes them tick? What ticks me off? What makes them tick me off? I can’t help it. I’m wired that way.

Putting the two of them together makes for an interesting experiment, however. After all, it was playing games – and either lauding or complaining about those very games to my brothers and my friends, that got me interested in developing them in the first place. You see, I felt that the observations and opinions that I was expressing at the time were actually worth something – even if only to me by making me ponder a career in the “gaming arts.” Since that time, I have had the opportunity to share comments with many people – both in and out of the industry. I have found that the process of breaking things down and discussing them makes for an educational experience.

However, it has always been disheartening to have my comments (and the conversations of which they were a part) be so ephemeral. It occurred to me (during a fairly frenetic bitch session about the current game I was playing and really to no one other than myself) that I would like to make my observations, discoveries and feelings known – but in a way that didn’t evaporate into an abyss of tangentelized commentary that public message boards have a wont to do. So, gee… I figured I would jump on board the ever-burgeoning bandwagon of blogs on the net in some misguided, narcissistic fantasy that people really care what I say.

And for some odd reason, you are reading this post. (Probably because you are a friend or family member… and you feel sorry for me.)

I am not sure how often I will post my analyses. Even using my company’s funds for a “research budget” has its limitations (like every dollar that IA pays out doesn’t go into my pocket in the end… duh.). I plan on going back through some of my favorites from by-gone eras. And since I started gaming in the early 80′s, that is almost something equivalent to saying I’m going to start reviewing literature with tomes that were penned in about the BC/AD changeover. That’s a bloody long time ago as far as computer gaming is concerned!

My plan is to be a spin-off of the industry concept of a “post-mortem”. That is, when a project is through with development, the team goes back through and analyzes what happened. What worked? What didn’t? What did we learn? Well, in that spirit, I’ve decided that a “post-play’em” would be my musings after having played a game. What worked? What didn’t? What did I learn? What the hell were they thinking?

Of course, being an AI and simulation modeling kind of guy, I will generally have a tendency to lean in that direction. I fully expect that my ramblings will make far more sense to an AI guy. (Which is, actually, almost a pejorative.) Given that, however, I’m rather hoping that my audience can go beyond the handful of scary AI programmers that I associate with (Hi Alex!). I mean, I will in no way be the Irate Gamer or Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame. As much as I admire their snarky wit in a twisted sort of way, that’s just not my function here. Not that I won’t rip on an AI programmer or level designer from time to time… sometimes that is just necessary… and even a bit cathartic. I guess we’ll just see, eh?

So you don’t have to continue to check back, however, I invite you to subscribe to the RSS feed that is available. Tuck it into the rest of your feeds and give it a glace once in a while. I hope to at least amuse you from time to time even if I don’t have any salient points to make about whatever game I am reviewing at the time. And if you are not educated or amused? Well… it’s the internet, right? Who told you that everything on the ‘net was quality stuff?

Thanks for stopping by,

Dave Mark
President and Lead Designer
Intrinsic Algorithm LLC

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