Artificial intelligence is not a new thing in video games. In fact, games like Pac-Man and Pong even had their own form of artificial intelligence, as the enemy movements were pre-defined, and learning the patterns would give an advantage to the player.
In the realm of video games, artificial intelligence (AI) plays a vital role in crafting lifelike behaviors in non-player characters (NPCs). This technology has been intertwined with video games since their inception in the 1950s. However, it’s essential to note that game AI differs from academic AI, as its primary purpose is to enhance the player’s gaming experience rather than focus on machine learning or complex decision-making.
During the golden age of arcade games, the concept of AI opponents gained popularity through varying difficulty levels, distinct movement patterns, and in-game events influenced by the player’s actions.
The Role of AI In Video Games
In contemporary video games, developers often employ established techniques like pathfinding and decision trees to dictate NPC actions. Additionally, AI frequently operates behind the scenes, performing tasks such as data analysis and procedural content generation.
In Skyrim, the fifth game of the Elder Scrolls series, the game had an interesting feature: it could generate side quests for the player without updating the video games to get new quests. It was a little revolutionary for a game released in 2011. This explains why many players racked up hours and hours of game time without finishing the main storyline.
The game will generate random tasks such as delivering items, finding items, or talking to people based on your progression in the game, and the possibilities are endless.
More recently, The Last of Us Part II (2020) had a futuristic AI (pretty much like the rest of the game, which was definitely 10 years ahead of its time) that made your gameplay more realistic. The AI could be set to different levels of difficulty, and it involved adapting the NPC’s reactions to combat, movement, and decisions from the playable character.
They even gave artificial intelligence to dogs, who could alert their handlers if they spotted you trespassing. Many players even complained about this, as it would mean you had the option to get violent with the dogs to avoid being detected.
It sounds like we reached the maximum potential for AI in video games, so
What could AI look like in future video games?
To answer this question, we need to look at two things: how AI is currently used and what makes a good game.
AI in video games is mainly used in the following ways:
The enemies adapt their aim, strategy, movements, and dialogue based on what the player does. This is important if you want your game to feel realistic.
Correcting scripted behavior
Any item or character in the video games has some level of scripted behavior and it also needs to adapt to what the player does, to avoid issues we saw in badly programmed games, such as enemies being stuck in walls, not moving, not reacting to attacks, or even interacting with an environment that isn’t there (like picking up an invisible glass).
A good game is a game you can replay and also live a different experience. Randomization helps. Enemies might change behavior, spawn at different spots, or use different weapons and strategies. This helps add variations to the experience without changing the plot of the storyline or adding too much work for the developers.
In platformers and early action video games, enemies often follow predetermined paths or simple pathfinding algorithms. These paths were usually fixed and didn’t adapt to the player’s actions. Nowadays, your allies will adapt to what you do, crouch if you crouch, defend you if you’re attacked, find cover, and even suggest actions to do based on what’s going on (for example: suggesting another route when the path seems blocked).
In video games that revolve around taking turns and making decisions, the AI steps in and calculates different possibilities and outcomes very quickly in order to make a move.
In some cases, AI can help develop video games. Of course, it isn’t the same type of AI as the one in the game. The AI developers can be integrated into animation software to help reduce the effort and time needed. They can suggest things like transitions between two character poses, based on what looks the most realistic.
How can the use of AI make a game better?
AI could be used in speech and text recognition to detect offensive content, and take action, which would make the game experience better for other players in multiplayer games. You will find a lot of people who agree that a toxic player base can ruin a great multiplayer game.
More realistic and immersive interactions
With an AI able to generate speech without needing voice actors, we could see NPCs with genuine reactions to whatever the player types or says in the game. Imagine a game where you can talk or type text to any NPC and they react accordingly to whatever you say. You could high-five them, befriend them, or steal their horse and see a genuine reaction from them.
Enhanced experience for specific games
Games like LA Noire can benefit from AI. In LA Noire, you play a detective solving multiple cases. What if the other characters could have an AI-enhanced reaction to your free-form questions or even try to mislead you if the AI estimates you’re on the right track? AI could also improve games such as F1 racing.
Instead of 30-40 lines of dialogue recorded, your engineer or team could react more genuinely to your actions in the game. No more “that was a good overtake” on repeat, we could have more reactions based on what the player does, who you overtake, the damages to your car, and more.
In games where making the right choices is important, AI could be used to steer the player into the right (or wrong) direction to make the game more interesting.
No more “someone killed Gary!”. Characters could react differently to an action from the player based on what they did (where they did it, how they did it, and more creative options). If you’re fighting soldiers but they clearly don’t seem to know what they’re doing, it’s not a great experience for the player.
You may be good at aiming but suck at stealth, or at handling a specific weapon. AI could help balance the difficulty of the game without changing the whole difficulty. You could play against easy enemies in stealth mode, and harder enemies while using weapons.
Enhanced side game content
Quest could generate themselves, NPC’s could seem to live a full life around you, trees can grow, and the weather changes based on real-time weather. The possibilities are endless.
For games like Minecraft, where your starting point is important, we could see AI integrated to adapt to what the player wants or the difficulty of the game. AI could be used to generate infinite amounts of terrain with adapted resources.
Playing with stupid pre-programmed NPCs or bad bots is a horrible gaming experience. Giving more life, realism, and character to bots and NPCs through AI could enhance the player experience.
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The future of AI in video games holds tremendous promise for both developers and players. As technology continues to advance, we can anticipate increasingly sophisticated and immersive gaming experiences.
With AI, video games are meant to break new ground, offering players unprecedented levels of realism, personalization, and excitement. The journey into this exciting future has only just begun, and gamers worldwide can look forward to a thrilling and ever-evolving gaming landscape.