More sophisticated artificial intelligence, or AI, opens up new and exciting gaming possibilities. But how is AI used in video games today, and why is this technology development so significant?

What Does AI in Games Mean?

Artificial intelligence is programming that enables some video game characters, such as enemies and non-playable characters (NPCs), to behave in a way that suggests that they are being guided by a human or acting independently.

What does it actually mean when AI is used to make video games feel more immersive?

One of the most well-known examples of early AI can be found if you’ve ever played the old game Pacman. Four ghosts of various colors are ruthlessly pursuing Pacman as he attempts to collect every dot on the screen.

But they don’t just follow him; they also appear to try to ambush the player while you’re playing.

How did they manage to do this?

Although each ghost is programmed to react slightly differently to Pacman’s location, all of them are aware of it.

One of the ghosts is programmed to wander, another to follow Pacman aggressively, a fifth to move in the same general direction as Pacman, a sixth to move randomly unless another ghost is on the verge of catching Pacman, and the seventh is programmed to follow Pacman when he’s far away but move to a specific spot on the map when he’s close.

Even in an 80s video game, these four actions give the ghosts the appearance of having free will. They feel vibrant. And that is what video game AI is used for.

Why Is AI Important?

Virtually every game makes use of AI in some capacity. Without it, it would be difficult for a game to give the player an immersive experience.

Even though the game is set in a fantasy world, AI aims to immerse the player as much as possible by giving the game’s characters a lifelike quality.

The options for how AI interacts with a player’s experience evolve as it becomes better and more sophisticated.

Consider the nemesis system in “Middle Earth: Shadow of War.” The adversary orcs you come across in this open-world adventure game by Monolith Productions have a wide range of personalities, characteristics, and uses. Any orc you come across in the game has the ability to join you, betray you, act as a spy for you, and more.

Not only that, but the nemesis system makes the most memorable gameplay moments even more memorable because, for example, if you defeat a challenging orc captain, you might be creating an enemy who will later come after you and remember what you did to them in the past.

The system aims to establish a completely new mode of communication between players and the NPCs in the game. It feels personal when an orc captain kills your favorite orcish ally.

The game feels much more intense when that challenging enemy that took you a long time to defeat reappears at the worst possible time. Every player’s experience will be somewhat unique because it is tailored to their actions and the procedurally generated characters.

Nevertheless, despite how sophisticated everything is, it is still made of pre-programmed instructions from the developers.

A similar game might not only have orcs that appear to plot or befriend the player, but also have orcs that genuinely scheme and have feelings for the player thanks to the AI’s use of new technology. As a result, every move the player makes in the game will actually change it.

How has artificial intelligence changed in video games?

Pathfinding and finite state machines have historically been the main applications of AI in video games. Programming called pathfinding instructs an AI-controlled NPC where it can go and where it cannot.

This is still crucial in everything from massive open-world RPGs to 8-bit retro games. The villagers in a town that developers are building shouldn’t be able to walk through walls or become stuck in the ground. Additionally, they don’t want them to remain motionless.

On the other hand, finite state machines enable the AI to modify its behavior in response to certain circumstances. The antagonistic soldiers in the Metal Gear Solid series are a good illustration of this in action.

All of the enemies in the vicinity start to gather around you and attack as soon as you get in their line of sight and are noticed.

The guards must lose sight of you and remain hidden long enough for them to stop pursuing you and take up their initial positions.

The “Chase” state and the “patrol” state are essentially two distinct states.

These may seem like simple concepts, but they underpin the majority of AI programming done today. When the AI in the SIMS series becomes hungry, they are fed. They go to bed when they are exhausted.

In reality, a SIM’s state changes from “neutral” to “Go to the nearest source of food,” with the pathfinding programming directing them to the closest source, simulating real decision-making.

Then how is AI changing? The sheer amount of pathfinding and states that developers can give to NPCs has already significantly altered it. After all, there are enormous differences between Pacman and Skyrim.

However, the world of AI in gaming is about to undergo a radical change thanks to the same AI technology that is already being used to develop self-driving cars and recognize faces. Pathfinding may eventually involve more than just directing an AI.

AI might build the entire, realistic landscapes from the ground up, instantly calculating which walls it can and cannot walk through.

If we could give non-player characters (NPCs) real emotions, personalities, memories, dreams, ambitions, and an intelligence comparable to humans, what kind of storytelling would be possible in video games?

With recent findings from experimental AI at Expressive Intelligence Studio, data scientists are getting closer to their goal of building real emotions into AI, which they have aspired to for years. Once they are successful, we might soon see these AI in video games.

In other words, the foundational idea of states and pathfinding, upon which all AI has been built, may soon be challenged.

Benefits and Drawbacks of AI in Video Games?

What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of the new technologies emerging and the evolving state of AI? Here are a few advantages and disadvantages to consider as we enter a new gaming era.

Positives of artificial intelligence

We can anticipate shorter development cycles as AI becomes more capable of carrying an increasing share of the load. The sophistication of procedurally generated worlds and characters will increase.

To make the games more immersive, you won’t see random NPCs wandering around with just one or two states anymore; instead, they will have a wide range of actions available to them.

Intriguingly, if NPCs exhibit realistic emotions, it fundamentally alters how players can communicate with them.

You can learn to genuinely care about the people in the town you’re guarding, or you can learn to despise the evil foe who evades your advances until you finally vanquish them. With ever-evolving AI come many opportunities, but there are also some drawbacks.

Cons of Artificial Intelligence

Game developers have less control over AI as it becomes more sophisticated. This implies that some of the meticulously designed worlds and levels we’ve come to expect may be sacrificed in favor of something that might be simpler but more…robotic.

It might be comparable to how players can frequently tell when a game was created using Unity’s stock assets. The overall experience is impacted.

It also implies that when the AI programming is flawed, we might see some clunkier games. For instance, the AI enemies in Aliens: Colonial Marines behaved strangely and oddly, which ruined the immersion.

Will we completely solve the issue if AI is essentially programming itself, or will we make it more likely to occur? It’s difficult to say.

Finally, there’s a chance that as AI becomes more capable of handling game programming on its own, it will have an impact on the careers of many game developers currently employed in the sector.

All of these issues are important to think about as we proceed into uncharted territory.

Game Development with AI

In a few short years, we might start to notice AI playing a bigger and bigger part in game development as well as in the game itself. Recent deep learning experiments have made it possible for AI to memorize a collection of pictures or text and then use what it has learned to simulate the experience.

Currently, AI is being used to create Picasso-like artworks and emails that appear to have been written by a human. A playable level of a game was programmed by an AI using only photographs in an experiment using the same technology that is currently being applied to game development.

Large open-world games could be easily generated by AI and then edited by the developers and designers, speeding up the development process as this technology becomes more dependable.

But that’s not all; the development of facial recognition software and deep fake technology also appears to have a significant impact on upcoming development cycles. An AI can recognize and use various faces that it has scanned thanks to deep fake technology.

Even though it’s still in its early stages, facial recognition AI has already been used to create remarkably lifelike 3D models. Now picture how a building or a landscape would appear if the same technology were applied. For developers, this would save countless hours of work.

Thinking even further out, it’s entirely conceivable that, in the not too distant future, an AI might be able to use a combination of these technologies to create an entire game from scratch, without the need for any developers at all.

They might even be able to design these games from scratch using the players’ preferences and habits as a guide, giving each player a special, personalized experience.

It’s difficult to predict whether this will happen anytime soon, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if AI starts to play a bigger part in game development in the coming years.

The Role of AI in Video Games in the Future

Even though AI technology is constantly being tested and improved, game developers are less likely than robotics and software engineers to be involved in these efforts. This is due to the risk involved in using AI in games in such novel ways.

The world that developers are currently creating is under their control. Giving highly intelligent AI control over their games could lead to unexpected glitches, bugs, or behaviors.

The developers can’t playtest every potential action such an AI might take if the possibilities for how the character can respond to a player are infinite and depend on how the player engages with the environment.

Although the technology and the opportunities it presents are fascinating, major studios are taking their time implementing it. So when will they finally do it?

It’s difficult to say, but it’s inevitable.

When the technology is fully understood, a studio might be willing to take that chance. However, it is more likely that over the next few years, we will witness a push from ambitious indie developers to start the process.

By the end of the decade, we may have everything that AI was ever capable of thanks to how quickly technology is developing.

Can AI make games too challenging?

The old adage “be careful what you wish for” still holds true. It is entirely possible that we will encounter issues as we start to incorporate more sophisticated AI into our games.

A game loses its appeal if, for instance, the opponent’s AI is so adept at reading the player that it can always defeat them. Chess playing programs that humans have yet to be able to defeat already exist.

A videogame might turn out unfair and unplayable if a similarly challenging AI was in charge of every aspect from the ground up. Playing a game might feel a little too overwhelming if NPCs have real, human-like personalities and intelligence, as this forces players to balance social obligations in both the real and virtual worlds.

There are some problems with our unrelenting quest for realism in video games as well. Is it more enjoyable or annoying to create a game where an AI responds to every choice a player makes?

Imagine playing Grand Theft Auto in which all NPCs responded to your erratic actions in a realistic manner as opposed to a satirical or vulgar manner as they currently do.

Would we really enjoy a game where our access to the power fantasy aspect of video games is taken away from us and committing one crime is enough to land you in jail for years on end?

Do we want video game characters to tease us if we dress silly?

The cost of the technology needed for these sophisticated AI systems is also a significant concern.

Do AAA games drift further and further away from being feasible for Indie developers if they become the new industry standard? Or will everyone have access to advanced AI, somewhat leveling the playing field?

In spite of the fact that these obstacles must be overcome, gaming won’t be permanently harmed by them.

Even unsuccessful experiments provide information. What if we create artificial intelligence (AI) that can create entire games, exhibit realistic emotions, or alter the entire game world based on a player’s choice and it turns out to be boring?

We’ll either stop using them or learn from our errors and improve the next games with superhuman AI.

Do not forget that the Nintendo Virtual Boy, an infamous failure, was the first VR device. It took some time, but VR as a concept has endured and advanced. Expect some setbacks as these sophisticated AI are implemented, but be assured that we will overcome them in due course.

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