"What, you mean like artificial intelligence?" - Editorial By RaptoR
The bots in UT can dish out some serious pain at higher difficulty settings.
Itís been the dream of scientists and games programmers alike -- to give a machine lifelike, intelligent humanoid features. Strangely enough, games programmers seem to have had the most success. The arrival of 3D games allowed programmers to create lifelike environments, and with that came the need for lifelike opponents and allies.
Judging by the title of this editorial, youíre probably already thinking that this whole article is nothing but another rant. In this case youíd be wrong, for while some games show almost painful gaps in their AI code, others have genuinely intelligent enemies that act like real people. Surprisingly enough, online games tend to have the best AI of the bunch. Why? Well, many of these games often have an offline mode that you can play through if you donít use your DC online, or just want to hone your skills. The gameís offline opponents and team-mates have to be tough enough to provide a challenge for experienced players, but also not mind-bogglingly hard for newcomers. The answer? Intelligence. Itís all well and good to make an enemy hard through whatís known as AI Ďfudgingí (increasing its power, health or abilities), but the best way to make an enemy tough is to make it smart. Iím sure youíll agree that itís much less annoying to be beaten in-game by an enemy whoís anticipated your moves and out-smarted you then by an idiot who runs at you with a stupidly high HP level and a big gun that kills you with one shot.
Now itís time for some examples. Firstly, our old friend the first-person shooter rears its head again. To the eagle-eyed gamer thereís a considerable difference to be seen in the AI of Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament. Not to say that Quakeís bots are dumb, but rather thereís very little difference (intelligence-wise) between Quakeís ĎHardcoreí and ĎNightmareí bots other than the fact that a Nightmare bot can take your head off with the Machinegun in mid-air from the other side of the map. These guys never miss. Itís easy to code bots that have perfect aim all the time, but its much harder to code opponents that will anticipate your moves and your location, and take you out using their artificial brain. UTís AI opponents, while their aim is impressive at high skill levels, are generally accepted as the brighter bots.
Even games such as the Tomb Raider series, which have come under fire from many a disgruntled games reviewer, contain semi-intelligent enemies. Something new about The Last Revelationís AI enemies is that, rather than just standing and shooting at you, if they spotted you theyíd make their way towards you. To do this they often had to use skills such as jumping, climbing, crawling and the like. Itís simple, but it makes sure battles donít turn into a case of "stand, shoot, die or donít die".
Don't expect to coast through Daytona USA without getting touched. The other drivers are ruthless and they want first place almost as much as you do.
Racing games donít generally require much AI at all, yet Iím sure you all hate playing against CPU-controlled drivers who always corner perfectly, always run at maximum speed and never hit the walls. This is another example of AI Ďfudgingí, and another example of developer laziness. We should be grateful that very few Dreamcast games feature these 'perfect' opponents. The Dreamcast version of Daytona USA has the potential to cause some huge, and equally amusing pile-ups on stages such as the National Park Speedway. This sort of fun just wouldnít be possible with opponents that never set a foot wrong.
Some genres, however, simply donít require enemies to be all that intelligent. The monsters featured in many RPGs such as Phantasy Star Online arenít intelligent or cunning because thereís no need for them to be. You kill them or they kill you, itís as simple as that. Their only intelligent actions seem to be the ability to follow you, and attack once you get within range. Within reason, some 3D platform titles neither use nor require advanced artificial intelligence. Take Sonic Adventure 2, for instance. With the exception of the extremely annoying blue blob things near the end of the game, most enemies pose a very small threat to your character. Thereís no point in coding detailed AI for an enemy thatís only on the playerís screen for a matter of seconds before itís destroyed. Almost all of SA2ís bosses follow a set pattern when youíre fighting them -- thereís isn't any advanced AI here, beyond coding a simple movement pattern, of course.
Of course, thatís no a criticism of Sonic Adventure 2 or PSO. Both are great games, and after all, why waste precious coding time including AI where itís not needed?
In summary, the Dreamcast has seen many examples of games with good and bad artificial intelligence. As time goes by, one thingís for certain. Artificial intelligence will continue to diversify, creating enemies that mimic human behaviour more and more closely. The futureís getting brighter and brighter for AI.
PlanetDreamcast's Unreal Tournament Review
PlanetDreamcast's Quake 3 Arena Review
PlanetDreamcast's Daytona USA Review
PlanetDreamcast's Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation Review
PlanetDreamcast's Sonic Adventure 2 Review
PlanetDreamcast's Phantasy Star Online Review