Coining a Comparison 2: Is AI a bad problem?

Elephant, meet room. Room, elephant.

Because here it is.  Based on what I just said, you could say my career in Game AI is built around a bad problem. Here’s how I see it:

  1. Most of the most successful games have little to no AI
  2. True AI takes years of engineering, design, and art work
  3. Enemies in most games are dead within 5 seconds.   Sometimes 15 seconds.
  4. … and a lot of them were scripted to do something non-AI in that period anyways.

It sure fits the description of a bad problem. But this isn’t black and white.  There are several ways that games have approached this to turn it into a good problem:

  1. Many games, like Halo, have readable, memorable AI that stands out (as long as most people don’t end up only playing multiplayer)
  2. Middleware and shared technology are making AIs easier to create every year.
  3. You can always fake it instead.

I live in the realm of faking it.  Fake, fake, fake. And then push the designers to fake it even more.  When you’re design doesn’t really need True AIs running around and you can get work done faster another way, you can be on the beach that much faster.  Mmmm…. the beach.

Faking it here is exactly what I was referring to as coming at bad problems sideways.  Yes, as most people think of AI, AI in games is a bad problem.  That’s why we have not seen many great AI revolutions in games, despite what Chris Hecker (and I) might like.  AI is a wicked problem, but in most game designs, it’s also a bad problem. Most AIs just flat out don’t need to able to pass as a member of Facade or even The Sims. Turning it into a good problem has always been the AI engineer’s challenge, and we’ve all recognized their work in the games that have memorable characters, enemies and allies. But ultimately, the best way to turn this into a good problem for all games is through shared technology, techniques, and software.

This isn’t the topic I have been meaning to write about Chris Hecker’s talk. But it dovetails into that nicely. If the challenge is to solve this wicked problem so it becomes a good, addressable problem, then I’d like to take a few guesses at what that future would look like.


6 thoughts on “Coining a Comparison 2: Is AI a bad problem?

  1. Interesting Dave. I hadn’t made the connection to Soren’s talk. I was at Soren’s talk and I found it to be seemingly predictable. But it’s an interesting question whether Smart vs. Adversarial (Good v Fun) AI is the same axis or an orthogonal axis to Good vs. Bad (which also needs better terms). I think they are probably very related but a bit orthogonal. Smart AI is Good in multi-player games, but Bad in single-player games (because your cost-benefit ratio is so high, mostly because the benefits are less “fun”). Good vs. Bad seems to be directly determined by the cost-benefit of the work. Smart vs. Adversarial AI is a predictor of the benefits of the work.

  2. Pingback: Game AI Roundup Week #15 2008: 5 Stories, 2 Videos, 1 Demo, 1 Quote —

  3. Great post Dan! I’m actually writing up a proposal for future combat endeavors which subscribes whole-heartedly to your faking it manifesto. I’ll run it by you in the near future.

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