AI: Thinking for the Future

So I’ve been reflecting on Jane McGonigal’s talk.  I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time and I think she made some great insightful points about game design.  Not so much futurist but visionary and optimist.  I can get behind that.  But she poses a particular challenge to the likes of, well, me.  There’s not any room for AI in her vision!  Sure, we’ll always have single-player story games, people enjoy it, robots are cool, yada yada yada.  But, to paraphrase Raph Koster, what if multiplayer games are the future?  Where be some of that computer arti-fish-ial intelligence in this?

Well, what do designers like Jane need?  Boldly putting myself in their shoes, they need need ways to fight the fight.  They’re trying to make a different kind of game – massively multiplayer, socially changing, reality-based, impact-oriented.  Old techniques just aren’t going to be that useful to them.  That means:

  • supporting users,
  • maintaining the experience,
  • much shorter development times,
  • communication tools,
  • managing large numbers of users with a small dev team,
  • user training and guidance,
  • and real world integration

Hmmm…. sounds like web development.  What else do they need?  What’s game-y about them?  Something like

  • players assuming characters and roles,
  • goal-driven,
  • feedback,
  • and assisted team formation.

Those aren’t traditional AI problems.  If anything, they are closest to gameplay problems.  I recall Steve Rabin’s slide from the GDC AI Summit this year where he talked about how much of game programming was moving into AI.  But none of this helps these designers.  That big circle of “Game design”?  It’s splitting in two.  Some of those designers are betting on us.  But the rest have been heading in the opposite direction.  Fast.  And coming off of GDC, it feels like there’s a lot of them.  Designers weren’t talking about how to make, well, characters.  They were talking about how to make people interact with each other and the game better.  If we want to get in on that party, and I think we can, we should start moving soon.

I can see where user matching, player feedback and training, maybe even sinulation fit on the path.   I volunteer experience management as a second step.  What else can we bring with us?


7 thoughts on “AI: Thinking for the Future

  1. Unfortunately, I have to wonder if the reason so many designers and developers (and their players) are moving towards the AI-less online games is specifically because AI was the fly in the ointment for so long. Because we AI programmers didn’t have our act together at the same speed as the graphics guys, we were holding things back. Additionally, the technology enabling online games was hitting its stride before AI did… therefore people gravitated towards that.

    I believe that once we catch up and can provide some compelling reasons for people to interact with our agents, there will be either a move back towards AI-intensive games or at least a slowing of the exodus.

  2. I don’t think that’s it, Dave. Hypothetically, it seems the best AI we can make still doesn’t meet their needs – it can be more willing to play, but it can’t be as social and as reflective and as reality-based as a human can. They need companions, not adversaries. We have to get to Turing levels to even get close to as interesting within the game, but even then we’re just trying to duplicate humans both in the game and the real world, not improve them.

    Which is how I ended up at we either need to find new needs we can fill or focus on these other kinds of games – largely single-player story it looks like, like acting in plays.

  3. You probably are correct in that respect. I was thinking back to when the original reason to go straight to the online PvP version of a game was because the AI in the single player versions sucked.

    Regardless, as you say… each has its place now.

  4. Hi Dan, good piece.

    Sometimes, when a revolution is under our noses, it’s impossible to see.

    It’s my opinion that what an AI programmer brings to the table is more relevant than ever. The thing about AI is that once it achieves viability, it gets renamed as everyone says “oh, that’s not AI, that’s just an expert system”, to name one example.

    Much like the games are art debate, trying to pin down AI is self-abrogating endeavor. The more you pin it down, the more you discover that something that looks like AI is just a common algorithm.

    Ex-AI is all around you. Every repetitive or uninteresting job in the real world gets moved to AI in three stages. First, the cost of someone doing the job becomes high (example, secretaries answering phones). Second, the job goes to a low-labor cost locale (call centers). Third, AI gets the job (try checking the status of your flight). But then we don’t call it AI, it’s “call automation.”

    Looking at Jane’s piece, which I love, I feel that you could possibly draw the conclusion that AI doesn’t have a place because people will do all the work. I draw the opposite conclusion. I believe that Jane’s piece implies a level of astonishing ubiquity of AI; so endemic and mind-blowing in its extent, that we, the ants in the hive, won’t even be able to see it. Frankly, she proposes the Matrix, and she proposes that we will love it.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Nick. I agree, we see that everywhere. When I was speaking of AI, I was really thinking of “current AI endeavors”, and what I was basically proposing was “next step AI endeavors”. To that end, I see steps along the path to the Matrix, so to speak, but they are not our current steps, so much, as steps that are either solved enough for the current time (such as pathfinding) or things to be truly solved much further along the line (such as human behavior AI). That the big wins will come less from what we have perfected for so long then the things that we haven’t even tackled yet, and maybe things we don’t even call AI. Yet.

  5. Pingback: » Revolution, Under our Noses

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