The Difficult, The Frustrating, And The Downright Cheap

October 11, 2007

Visualization of a cheap AI…

I’m sure you can guess what this post is about: AI. In modern games, the AI of enemies, allies and NPCs are very important to gameplay. Some games have done it right, some games have tried their best, and there are those games which cut corners on one of the most vital parts of today’s games. All three concepts are after the same goal. That is, to provide a level of challenge for the player as a ways of entertainment. However, the means for each of the three to challenge the player differs.

IBM’s Deep BlueWhat does it really mean for something to be difficult? I believe true difficulty comes from a well written AI. Sometimes it may feel frustrating, but it should never feel cheap. A game is difficult when the enemy provides a challenge, yet is still bound by the same rules and skill set as the player. This proves a daunting task for many developers. Computers – and therefore AI – are excellent at logic and conditionals, yet they do not adapt well to situations not prearranged in their program. In other words, if a situation should arise where the AI is not programmed for, then it will be unable to form an effective strategy. The root of this problem lies in duplicating the higher functions of the human brain. The brain is just an organ which produces electrical and chemical signals. However, the mind is more than just the sum of its parts. Our mind is a complex entity not completely understood. With it, we can form complex thoughts such as beliefs, theories, strategies and attain awareness, not just of ourselves, but of our surroundings, the world and the universe. This is what limits AI in any game. As any competitive game can show, the most skilled player easily triumphs over even the hardest AI levels. Therefore until we can fully understand our mind, the true challenge in any game will be from a fellow player.

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