Wednesday, October 24, 2007

AI and realism

There's a brief and astute article over at Game Producer pointing out that a perfectly accurate simulation of human intelligence would require an artificial intelligence that can make mistakes.

It raised an old debate in my mind about how closely we should want game AI to simulate human intelligence. Would instilling NPCs with true human intelligence really make games more enjoyable?

Certainly, different levels and types of AI make sense for different games, but I think the ideal for even the most complex and difficult games would not be an exact simulation of a human mind.

I generally don't enjoy multiplayer fragfests. That's partially because, ironically enough, the addition of human intelligence (i.e., other players) often detracts from a game's realism. Without a complete and perfect environmental simulation, players don't simulate realistic character actions.

For example, players in FPS multiplayer games are constantly juking and leaping back and forth, like balls bouncing off walls. I've got no problem with a tactical leap out of danger or the occasional juke to throw off the enemy's aim, but that players do this constantly and without any penalty to endurance is a step away from realism and toward arcade whack-a-mole action.

Players often do things which are advantageous, which help them win, but are not fun. In Fight Night: Round 3, a boxing game, I would be more likely to win matches if I only threw punches after the other boxer threw a punch and missed; that is, if I only threw counter-punches and never tried to hit my opponent otherwise. That's because any other punch I throw can potentially be blocked and answered with my opponent's own counter-punch. While it's realistic for a particular boxer to rely heavily on counter-punches, imagine if one threw only counter-punches in a real-life boxing match. He'd be booed out of the ring.

But that's a sort of strategy that is commonly employed by players in video games. They do what helps them win, not what makes for engaging play or realistic action. Gamers don't simulate only real behavior through their characters.

In short, the goal of a game's AI should be to create fun gameplay... not to exactly simulate human intelligence. Sometimes, human intelligence is an adversary to fun, because it doesn't match up well with unreal environments. Any game AI should correlate with whatever gameplay environment it serves. AI programming shouldn't just be pushing forward, always aiming at more complex and realistic simulations. It should be adapting our cumulative knowledge into particular AI schemas for particular games; each schema with its own individual function and unique relationship with other game features.

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