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| Smarter AI, Smarter Games (Add a comment )|
by: matthacker (1)
Posted 75 months ago in category DEFAULT
During recent years, PC hardware and technology in general have advanced rapidly. Dual core 64 bit processors working at more than 2 GHz are the norm inside most gamers\' systems today, something that was unthinkable 10 years ago. Graphics cards are now beginning to show the flexibility and power to solve thereotical, computational problems that was once only possible with specialized hardware. The amount of RAM installed inside the average gamer rig today will probably make most users 5 years ago to drop their jaws in disbelief.
What all these advances have brought to the gaming experience can easily be seen in today\'s games and graphics engines. High dynamic range rendering, correct per pixel lighting, and graphical effects such as soft shadows and motion blur that were once only exist in the realms of offline rendering software are now possible at highly interactive frame rates with the current graphics cards. Just look at the incredible graphical details in games such as F.E.A.R, Quake 4 or The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The advances don\'t stop there. The next generation of games will likey push the graphical boundaries even further, offering more lifelike human skin and realistic animations like facial expressions, flexing muscles, cloth simulation and yes, even the dissipation of smoke and fog. Innovation and continuing improvements in API\'s such as DirectX 10 and OpenGL have allowed game developers to use programmable shaders with less restrictions and greater control than before. Shaders in games today have almost reach the complexity and fidelity we once only saw in Renderman shaders.
The latest buzzword in the graphics industry is quite possibly, physics. Hardware based or accelerated gameplay and effects physics allows for objects to behave as they do in real life. Throw a ball onto a wall and watch it bounce off and fall onto the ground repeatedly until gravity and inertia have run its course. The same physics applies to every object in the game world - with enough force, you should be able to move a heavy cabinet or boxes to block a potential enemy entrance. You can also break a glass window, then use the pieces of the broken glass as a homemade alarm to alert you of any intruders. Effective, highly accurate gameplay physics can also help objects from bouncing \'into\' another - clipping - which can still be found in most of today\'s games.
While all of these advances are good, what about gameplay or realism? Most gamers seem to agree that while better graphics do enhance the gameplay experience, gameplay and story mechanics are still the two main factors for them to decide whether the game is good or bad. One of the things that makes or breaks gameplay, at least for me, is artificial inteligence (AI).
Look at your typical run of the mill first person shooter (FPS) games. Ever notice how computer opponents never seem to run of ammunition or have any self preservation instinct? They also never seem to do anything except wait around for you to walk in and trigger a pre-made script. F.E.A.R is not an exception, though it is considerably better than most. One thing that have always bug me with F.E.A.R - if you\'re supposed to fight a battalion of super soldiers, why do they always sound off, announcing where they are? Pssst - ever heard of the term \'radio silence\'?
Even games like the aforementioned Oblivion is not immune to this problem. Once you hit an enemy non playable character (NPC), they will always know where you are, even when you ran to another room and sneak / hide before he came in. Admittedly, the AI is smart enough to navigate rocks and other obstacles, however they apparently do not take into account players are able to jump onto high enough rocks or obstacles to avoid attacks. These characters will simply go around and round the rock like bumbling idiots, letting you pick them off slowly but surely.
Contrary to the fact, stupid AI behavior are not limited to FPS games. Take Age of Empires III - while the AI of computer based opponents are challenging enough, one could not help but laugh or cry in frustration at the level of stupidity in unit AI behaviour. Villagers are not smart enough to get out of the way and go inside a guard tower or city center when attacked. Units will often go out of their way to attack an enemy unit everytime they see one - even when told to guard a specific point or structure.
Even arcade games suffer from AI stupidity in one form or another. The original Need for Speed: Underground is notorious for employing a ridiculous \'rubber band\' AI that\'s suppose to try harder to keep up with you. The better you drive, the better they are at closing in, but they always seem to manage screw up after they passed you. Simulation games are no different. Although the AI is supposed to be smarter, your opponents seem content to be racing you and you alone - not the other AI components.
The introduction of hardware accelerated physics on the graphics cards is major move for the graphics industry - mainly because it shows what the graphics cards can do beyond graphics. Wouldn\'t it be great to see stream processing features in graphics cards like ATI and NVIDIA to accelerate some AI calculations as well as physics? One possible solution is using the graphics hardware to \'teach\' AI about line of sight, path finding and collision, which is fairly similar to physics.
For the most part, gamers everywhere seem to agree they would like to see smarter AI behavior in games or at least, less ridiculous behavior or gimmick puzzles. Of course, that\'s just one aspect of gameplay. Great graphics may help a game, but great gameplay is what makes a game a memorable one.
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