When it comes to the battle for hearts and minds, those responsible for making the games we love, or trying to sell us the games we don’t, always go to the same gladiator. Neither the gameplay archer or the soundtrack sneak are called upon to fight. Instead, the masters of gaming ceremony trot out the high-resolution visual fighters. In the blue corner, Mr. 900p lacks definition but moves at 60 frames-per-second while his red corner rival Sir. 1080 stands with a well defined six-pack, only to be slowed down by his lower speed capabilities. This is wrong. The battle for the next gaming success shouldn’t be one of their looks, but one of how they think using artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence is a difficult principle to hold down. While many games use artificial intelligence (or AI as it’s often shortened to), it isn’t actually intelligence as such. Intelligence by definition is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” We know this because Google says so and since it is the fount of all knowledge, it must be true.
All of AI right now is not necessarily intelligence, its a collection of “if” statements. These are coding elements that tell the enemy actor what to do and when to do it. If it sees you kill two of its colleagues, the actor will take the motion to leap into cover. This wasn’t worked out by the little blighter though. The coders simply told it what to do if something happened.
Imagine a Locust in Gears of War, if you will. This Locust is hiding behind a wall while you, running around in the game world as ear-talking beefcake Marcus Fenix, take cover on another wall. You then start to fire your weapon at the wall where poor old Laurence the Locust is checking out the results of his mani-pedi. Now let’s assume for a moment that you stop firing but still aim directly where your quarry’s head would be should he poke it up. Due to the narrative stuff going on around you and the fact that these locust freaks look a little like they could be real, you’ve got it into your head that your opponent is asking himself the Dirty Harry question.
The correct answer is no. That crouching pustule of unpleasant skin isn’t trying to work out if you fired six shots or five. He’s following strict instructions given to him by the programmer in charge of artificial intelligence on Gears of War. You’ve stopped firing so Laurence has a 75% probability to run the code that forces his head to rise up over the wall. He also has a 1o% chance to change position, an 8% chance to blind-fire over the wall, and a 2% chance of doing something all-out crazy because no-one’s perfect, not even a carefully crafted and programmed subterranean menace with big-ass teeth.
So what you may believe to be an ‘intelligent’ enemy isn’t actually a smart line of code. It is instead a simple machine following a collection of basic rules and probabilities. Artificial Intelligence in this respect doesn’t exist to be smart, it exists to make the game fun. Every game that prides itself on having AI in some way is merely giving you the illusion of an intelligent being. You didn’t defeat an enemy swordsman with deft skill and finesse, you pushed the buttons when the game wanted you to do it in order to be successful. The game didn’t outwit your attack in Starcraft 2, it used a series of parameters to determine what you were planning to do and got lucky.
Current AI systems are known in many circles as “expert systems”. They are given a set of parameters and act upon them depending on what they’ve been told previously by their programming. They are not actually thinking against you. Instead, these use artificial intelligence to pick from a number of possibilities using the data they’ve already been given.
A real world example of this comes in car manufacturing. To keep labor costs down and put humans into more creative roles that require actual intelligence, robotic arms are used to build cars. To do this, they are given a set of instructions which require each input to be perfectly within specifications and pump out a product that’s been pre-approved. Each robotic arm isn’t making a decision based upon wind resistance or whether it’s toaster partner might be sleeping around.This robotic system is an expert at what it does and only works within these rules.
So that’s where artificial intelligence is right now in games. A selection of pre-approved actions based totally upon those you make yourself when coming up against something in the game. How exactly is artificial intelligence in games supposed to improve then?