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How AI will revolutionize how video games are developed and played

If you asked video players, an idealized, non-possible part of interactive entertainment may look like 10 or even 20 years from now, they can describe something similar to the software found in Orson Scott Card's sci fi classic Ender's Game . In his novel, Card envisioned a military quality simulation anchored by an advanced, insecure artificial intelligence. Mind Game, as it is called, is primarily designed to measure the psychological state of young recruits and often presents its players with impossible situations to test their mental strength before an inevitable defeat. Nevertheless, the game is also infinitely procedural, generates environments and situations in flight, and allows players to perform some action in a virtual world that they could in the real world. Going even further, it responds to its emotional and psychological conditions, adapts and responds to human behavior and develops over time. At one point, The Mind Game even draws a player's memories to create whole game worlds tailored to Ender's past. Scientists are just starting to experiment with mixing modern AI and video games . Removing the more morbid military applications of Card's fantasy games (and the fact that the software ultimately develops sentience) is The Mind Game a good starting point for a conversation about the future of video games and artificial intelligence. Why are games, and AI is used to both help create them and drive the effects of virtual characters, even remotely this sophisticated? And what tools or techniques do developers still need to achieve…

If you asked video players, an idealized, non-possible part of interactive entertainment may look like 10 or even 20 years from now, they can describe something similar to the software found in Orson Scott Card’s sci fi classic Ender’s Game . In his novel, Card envisioned a military quality simulation anchored by an advanced, insecure artificial intelligence.

Mind Game, as it is called, is primarily designed to measure the psychological state of young recruits and often presents its players with impossible situations to test their mental strength before an inevitable defeat. Nevertheless, the game is also infinitely procedural, generates environments and situations in flight, and allows players to perform some action in a virtual world that they could in the real world. Going even further, it responds to its emotional and psychological conditions, adapts and responds to human behavior and develops over time. At one point, The Mind Game even draws a player’s memories to create whole game worlds tailored to Ender’s past.

. Removing the more morbid military applications of Card’s fantasy games (and the fact that the software ultimately develops sentience) is The Mind Game a good starting point for a conversation about the future of video games and artificial intelligence. Why are games, and AI is used to both help create them and drive the effects of virtual characters, even remotely this sophisticated? And what tools or techniques do developers still need to achieve this hypothetical fusion of AI and simulated reality?

These are questions that scientists and game designers are starting to address when the latest advances in AI begin to go from experimental laboratories to playable products and useful development tools. So far, the type of self-learning AI – that is, the deeply learning subset of the broader machine learning revolution – which has led to advances in self-driving cars, data vision and natural language processing, has not really been abandoned to commercial gaming development. It is despite some of these advances in AI being partly due to software that improved by playing video games, such as DeepMind’s unbeatable AlphaGo programs and OpenAIs Dota 2 bot that can now beat pro-level players.

But there is a point on the horizon at which game developers could access these tools and started to create thoughtful and intelligent games that utilize what is today considered innovative AI research. The result would be development tools that automate the building of sophisticated games that can change and respond to the player’s feedback and game characters that can evolve the more you spend time with them. It sounds like fiction, but it is closer to reality than we might think.


Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

In order to better understand how AI can become more intertwined with video games in the future, it is important to know the two fields of shared history. Since the earliest days of the media, game developers have programmed software to pretend to be a human being and to help create virtual worlds without the need for a human designer to build every inch of the world from the beginning.

From the software that controlled a Pong paddle or a Pac-Man ghost to the universe constructive algorithms for the space exploration title Elite which helped a pioneer The concept of process generation in games has developed AI in unique and interesting ways for decades. Conversely, Alan Turing, a founder of AI, developed a chess game algorithm before a computer even existed to run it.

But at a certain point, the game developer’s demands and ultimate goals were largely satisfied with the type of AI that we would not think of today as everything intelligent. Think of the difference between, say the goombor you meet against in the original Super Mario Bros. and a particularly difficult nightmare manager in From Software Action RPG Dark Souls 3. Or the procedural plan design for the 1980 game Rogue and the 2017’s slogan dungeon crawler Dead Cells who made great use of the same technology to vary their level design every time you play. Under the hood, the delta between the old classics and the newer titles is not as dramatic as it seems.

What makes Dark Souls so hard is that managers can move with irreconcilable speed and precision, and because they are programmed to predict common human mistakes. But most of the enemy AI can still be memorized, adapted to and overcome by even an average human player. (Only in very narrow domains, such as chess, AI can usually brute force their way to a safe victory.) And even the procedural generated the universes in a game as big and complex as Hello Games ” No Man & # 39 ; s Sky is still created using well-established math and programming determined by games such as Rogue Elite and others after that.

The lack of large noticeable leaps is that the underlying AI as “How two virtual components of commercial games AI are pathfinding and finite state machines,” explains Julian Togelius, associate professor at New York University’s department. computer science and technology specializing in the intersection of AI and video games. “Pathfinding is how to get from point A to point B in a simple way, and h it is used all the time in all games. A final state machine is a design where a [non-playable character] can be in different states and move between them. “

Togelius says modern games use variations of these techniques – as well as more advanced methods such as the Monte Carlo tree search and known as decision and behavioral tree – it is more sophisticated than they were in the early 80’s and 90’s. But a majority of developers are still working on the same basic concepts and using them on a larger scale and with the benefits of more processing power. “Of course, AI in commercial games is more complicated than that, but these are some of the founding principles that you will see versions everywhere, “he says.


 google deepmind alphago go

Now there is a sharp difference between the type of AI you can interact with in a commercial video game and the type of AI designed to play a game at superhuman levels, for example, the most basic chess game can easily turn on a human on the classic board game, just like IBM’s DeepBlue system passed Russian Grand Master Garry Kasparov back in 1997. And that type of AI research has only accelerated in recent years.

In Google-owned lab DeepMind, Facebook’s AI research department and other AI equipment around the world, scientists are hard at work learning software how to play increasingly sophisticated video games. It includes everything from the Chinese board game Go to classic Atari games to titles that are advanced like Valves Dota 2 a competitive five-five-five competition that dominates the world’s professional gaming circles.

The goal is that it should not develop AI that creates more interesting, dynamic and realistic gaming experiences. AI researchers largely use games as a way of comparing the level of intelligence of a software and virtual worlds with strict regulatory and reward systems are a particularly useful environment for training software. It is hoped that by teaching this software to play games, human scientists can understand how to train machines to perform more complex tasks in the future.

“First of all, the mission of DeepMind is to build an artificial general intelligence,” Oriol Vinyals, leader of Google AI Labs StarCraft 2 project, as said earlier this year, refers to the quest to build one AI agent who can perform any mental task a person can. “To do that, it is important to compare how our agents perform a variety of tasks.”


A graphic representation of AlphaStars treatment. The system sees the entire map from the top and predicts which behavior leads to victory. Picture: DeepMind

It is precisely this type of AI, and the other is developed in the same way in teaching software, how to recognize objects in photos and translate text into different languages, which game developers have largely avoided. But there is a good reason why most games, including the latest major budget headings that use the most sophisticated design tools and techniques, do not use that type of groundbreaking AI. That’s because true self-learning software would make most games unplayable, either because the game’s game would be too wildly unpredictable or because AI would act in a way that could make a story or create a satisfying player feedback loop almost impossible.

“Game developers tend to prioritize the types of measures that we can predict. Although it is very interesting when AI does unpredictable things, it is not necessarily super fun for players,” explains Tanya Short, a game designer and co-founder of Indie Studio KitFox Games. “So, unless the game is built around the unpredictability of the non-playing characters, AI does not necessarily serve a good function when it is allowed to run by itself.”

Briefly, most AIs in play correspond to “smoke and mirrors” – just sophisticated enough to make you believe that You interact with something intelligent but controlled and predictable enough to keep everything from going off the rails. “You can prioritize the straightforward computer power or the solution-oriented thinking of the machine or such,” she adds, “but in games we do not value it at all. It is nice for [research] paper, but what game designers want is that the players should have a good experience. “

Togelius makes a similar point and emphasizes the machine-learning trained AI applications, beyond the narrowest commercial applications such as predictive text and image search, is simply too unpredictable to be used in a video game at the moment. Imagine a virtual world where every character remembers you as a jerk or a criminal and acted with hostility or an unplayable character that is central to a game’s storyline that never stops performing the necessary action to reach the next level or begin a swinging quest .

“Usually when designing the game you want to create an experience for the player. You want to know what the player will experience when he comes to that point in the game. And for that, if you are going to put an AI there you want AI to be predictable, Togelius says. “If you had deep neural networks and evolutionary calculations in there, you may have ever expected something. And that’s a problem for a designer. “The result is that AI in games has been relatively” anemic, “he adds.


Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Another good reason why AI in games is not all that sophisticated is that it did not traditionally need be, Mike Cook, senior researcher at the University of Falmouth’s Games Academy, says that game developers became especially skilled at using traditional techniques to achieve the illusion of intelligence – and to achieve that illusion has been the point.

“[Game developers] was really good at being efficient with technology. They realized that they could not create completely intelligent creatures. They realized they couldn’t solve all these problems. So they figured out how to sick what they could do, Cook says. “They would get the maximum out.”

Chef points to landmark first person shooter games, such as Bungies Halo franchise and Monolith Productions 2006 paranormal horror title FEAR FEAR who used AI in influential ways. The games did not use software that was more sophisticated than today’s contemporary titles; rather, the developers managed to trick players into believing they were facing intelligent agents by getting enemies to send their intentions.


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