Saturday, November 12, 2005

MGIS: Doug Church AI talk

[A week ago I attended the Montreal Game Summit. I'm only getting around now to posting some notes from the sessions, and will do the posts, one-per]

EA’s Doug Church on Artifical Intelligence: I've known Doug a while and this was an updated version of a talk I’ve seen him give before (an older version can be found here). Still, there was new content and some illuminating discussion afterward. The talk wasn’t a technical one so much as a summary of the ‘state of the union’, and thoughts on future directions. Here are the takeaway points:
o Game AI can been thought of at multiple levels (e.g. getting a character to do something immediate like ‘pick up a wrench’, do a higher level action like ‘pick up a wrench in order to hit a player’, or do even higher level actions/goals like ‘find a way to get money’ which might mean picking up a wrench to hit someone that looks like they might have money).
o Advances in the rest of game tech has meant that TREMENDOUS advances in AI have “left us standing still”. i.e. moving a sprite from x1,y1 to x2,y2 is far easier than moving an articulated, IK-driven 3D character across an arbitrary 3D landscape to a destination. We can now do that. However, we’ve only still moved a character from Point 1 to Point 2.
o Even if we were able to work on some of the higher level problems (he lists several like NPC motivation, goals, etc), we’ve bragged & marketed our way out of any meaningful claims – so how do you sell it? i.e. the business of games works against advances in game AI
o One area he’s sees as promising is the development of AI to guide/accentuate “supporting actor” type characters. Ones that accompany the lead actor (the player) through story, allowing them to grow better vested in the story. (Think HL2). Flaws in these characters stand out even more, so better that they behave well. (Personal note: Success in this area won’t lead to marketing of “best AI ever!”, but rather “best story ever!” and “best game ever!”, since the AI if well done will just lead to the player being better vested in the story).

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