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Whether you know it or not, you use artificial intelligence all the time. Maybe you own a smart speaker, you’ve seen a self-driving car, or you’ve used Google photos to search for images of your cat. There’s also a good chance you’ve played a video game that happens to have some AI in it, like God of War or Red Dead Redemption. What may surprise you is that those two types of AI are not the same thing.
The AI and digital assistants and autonomous vehicles are self-driving and fast, but also really unpredictable.
Once game developers have the right tools and the freedom to make games that push the limits of AI, the results are going to be the stuff of science fiction.
Over the years, AI has become good at playing certain games. Try beating your computer at chess on the hardest difficulty. It’s pretty much impossible. Or even if you’re a pro StarCraft player, demine software can now crush you. But the AI inside of a videogame that’s been building off the same core set of principles for decades takes, for instance, Pac-man at different points that goes to evaluate where you are on the map and where you might be going.
Then they either chase you or if they run away from you. It’s not exactly ground-breaking AI, but it is video game AI nonetheless, and what’s remarkable is that the AI you encounter in games today hasn’t changed that much over the years.
Pathfinding and finite state machines are two of the core components of commercial game AI.
AI pathfinding is how to get from point A to point B in a simple way and is used in all the games all the time. A state machine is a construct where an NPC can be in different states and move between them. Real AI in commercial games is more complex than that, but using these basics, developers have created ever more realistic game worlds and characters, but that software is not exactly intelligent.
Artificial intelligence and developers
That’s because game developers have yet to utilise key advancements in the field of artificial intelligence research, namely deep learning. Through the deep learning revolution, researchers at universities and tech companies have made astounding progress at giving a machine the means to improve itself over time, but there’s a reason game developers aren’t using that type of AI to develop games.
If you go to evolve any, you want the AI to be predictable. But if you just went and tossed in a neural network that was constantly adapting and learning from all the feedback it got from you, there’s a very good chance something unexpected might happen and it could break the game. That’s a problem for a designer. Imagine if every single character in “Red Dead Redemption” remembered all of your crimes and you couldn’t even play anymore because everyone just tuned you down on site.
How AI use in video games
When we design games, they want predictability, and therefore they want the relatively anaemic AI we have in games today. What’s more useful for game makers is taking those traditional approaches and trying them on an unprecedented scale. If you play “Red Dead Redemption”, you’ve probably seen the clip of a player firing a warning shot which shoots a bird right out of the sky. What makes it so interesting is that it wasn’t a planned part of the game.
The individual systems here, the way that bullets move through the sky and where birds are programmed to fly around, are not wildly different from the pathfinding PAC-man knows. The difference in a game like Red Dead Redemption is that all of its many systems can overlap and run into one another.
The individual pieces aren’t intelligent, but when they come together they trick you into thinking they are.
Another game that’s great at this is the “Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild”. It’s a cohesive world where a few simple programming rules around gravity or even heat creep, endlessly surprising moments.
Is this truly artificial intelligence? That depends on who you ask. argue it’s just automation or emergent gameplay because these systems aren’t intelligent. Well, others say game AI is less about trying to pass off a machine as a human and more about creating a sense of wonder and mystery that makes the game feel real.
What would honest-to-goodness AI-powered video games look like?
Well, in the spike Joe movie, her creator David O’Reilly conceivable video game in which a foul-mouthed character could react dynamically to you.
It could even teach and bully you into continuing to play games. This may seem far off, but we’re getting there. That’s because cutting-edge AI research is finally bleeding over into game development. Today, researchers are using the kind of AI that can learn to design entire games using a technique known as a procedural generation. It was popularized most recently by the indie game No Man’s Sky, but now AI researchers are using the same technique to create software that can design a game entirely from scratch.
You could say that not only do we want to generate a landscape, but we also want to generate a landscape where we know there will choke points where we can hide your troops behind, or where we know there will be places to build a castle, and where there will be no deep valleys from which game developers can create games.
We don’t just generate levels all on their own but also learn what you like as a player. In the longer-term future, we will see game directors that learn to adapt the game as you are playing it and learn to become game masters that play the player as the player plays the game.
There are even ways that AI solution can right now be used to create the art for games. Take a look at the video research generating game graphics using deep learning. What you’re seeing is not real. An AI used a game engine and some video footage to teach itself how to generate an imaginary city block. One day you could see it in a game. The same technique can even create all-new never-before-seen faces, ones that look indistinguishable from real human beings, of course, as Disa stuff would face.
You could do mountains, dogs, spaceships, whatever, but the holy grail of AI in games would be a true self-learning character that is complex and relatable and has a realistic persona that could build you up or tear you down. We’re probably not going to have game characters that are sophisticated for a long time in the short term.
Big game companies will likely use AI for testing games and boring stuff like analytics, but AI is tricky and it requires a tonne of tinkering and training. That’s time and money that game developers don’t always have, so Julian doesn’t see the usual suspects jumping on actual AI games anytime soon.
“We need to take the AI capability and think about how we can design a game around that and we don’t think that’s going to happen from the big AI solution and companies. This is too risky. Instead, it might take smaller, scrappier gaming companies to lean into AI’s quirks and make something unexpected and strange that feels entirely new.”