1. Sneaking around through a cave, I was spotted by two Raiders on a ledge above me. I retreated so they couldn’t shoot me, they gave chase and I waited for them to come around the corner so I could ambush them. All very standard and boring.

    The important consideration is that the alerted enemies ran right past a group of their fellows who were sitting around doing nothing. This second group continued sitting around doing nothing despite a) their buddies running after an intruder, and b) a loud firefight just around the corner. When I finished off the pair who were chasing me, I crept around the corner and saw four others just sitting at a table.

    That, I submit, is pathetic even for a game that’s 3 years old and designed to be played on consoles as well as PC. And newer games aren’t any better.

    The state of gaming AI is lousy. Obviously you don’t expect an AI complete game, but you do expect or should anyway, game enemies to behave a little less stupidly.

    Another case in point. If you snipe an enemy (from a long enough range anyway), their companions will simply stand around even though their buddy’s head just exploded. I know a bit about programming, setting an “on alert” behavior for NPC’s isn’t impossible, or even especially computationally difficult. But it seems no one bothers to even try.

  2. Well, there is some progress being made, at least in the realm of PC-exclusive Strategy/RTS hybrids. The Total War series has long been infamous for it’s terrible AI, both in the overall campaign and directly in the battles. But the most recent incarnation, Shogun 2, has noticeably better AI behavior. Of course, they really had no way to go but up (a valid strategy in previous games was the shower the opposing enemy with arrows while they stood stock still in rank-and-file formation). Now, the AI will reasonably accept ceasefires in wars they are losing, use cavalry to flank ranged units, and protect their own archers with spearmen, among other things.

    One thing to consider is that an FPS with actually good AI might be significantly harder, or even boring. With the prevalence of cover-based shooters, intelligent enemies would just cower behind the same chest-high walls the player uses and trade potshots whenever either side pokes their head up, leading to a somewhat slower-paced game.

  3. It is certainly true that in FPS-ish games enemies with more self preservation might be a bad thing. But that doesn’t preclude better response.

    Actually I think Mass Effect 2 had a semi-decent approach. The bad guys did try flanking and whatnot, they were suicidally dedicated to killing you, but not as completely stupid as they could be.

    But in ME the programmers had the advantage of making skirmishes set pieces. That’s not an advantage they have in more open games such as the first person Fallouts.

    And harder isn’t a bad thing, not from my POV. I’d rather have enemies get harder by getting smarter rather than simply by adding on extra hit points and whatnot.

    As a counterpoint to my griping, I did have one of the best battle experiences I’ve ever had in Fallout 3 due to the number of enemies trying to mob me. I sniped a supermutant and misjudged the distance so that his six buddies all started charging me. Unlike every other battle I’d had in the game (either the first time through, or this time), I actually had to think and plan. Dropped mines as I retreated under their fire, used grenades around corners to take some out as I ran, I made tactical use of an exploding car, etc. It was difficult, there were touch and go moments, it could have easily gone the other way, and after it was done I was exhilarated. And then depressed because it was a fluke and the game didn’t do that sort of thing on purpose.

    Like I said, I know perfectly well that real AI is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. But just a bit more cooperation and reaction by the enemies would make a lot of difference.

    In an RTS you can make an argument for your own troops not acting intelligently, namely that it would be like the game was playing itself and the player wasn’t doing much. I’m not sure I buy that argument, but I can see it.

    But for computer controlled enemies there’s no good reason for the units not to respond to threats they see, not to call for help, or retreat and get help, etc.

    To take another example of extremely bad enemy AI, I managed to sneak into one of the sniper overlooks to the shipping yard of Mama Dulce’s. Took out the sniper in that overlook, and proceeded to use a dart gun to take out the Chinese Remnants stationed around the yard. I’d kill one, and the others would mill around for a moment and then return to their default locations and wait for me to kill the next.

    For feral ghouls that actually makes in game sense. They aren’t smart. But that should stand out, the other enemies should react more intelligently so that the feral ghouls and their lack of smarts looks like a well thought out part of the game rather than being how everyone acts.

  4. Not AI-related, but the comment about “cinematic” camera angles reminded me of a pet peeve: video game cut scenes that are shown in a different aspect ratio from the actual gameplay. I’m suddenly seeing Master Chief from the outside and can’t control anything. You don’t need to add letterbox bars to the top and bottom of the screen to make it clear I’m watching a cut scene.

  5. That was good. And sotonohito, I think even the fact that you were impressed the mass attack of multiple AI speaks to its weakness – in fact this is a way for devs to ‘cheat’ difficulty – just to throw mass people at you – such as the 007 games. Further, those are arguably the greatest moments in several of this years’ GOY nominees -Mass Effect (Reaper core) and Red Dead Redemption (final scene). Its telling how both of these nominees deal with AI. Mass Effect 2 gets points for ‘remembering’ your state, such as if you romanced Liara in ME1, you can romance her in ME2 – but loses points for not allowing you free will – you can’t shoot anyone you want, only ‘baddies’, which reminds you forever that your wearing blinders all the time. RDR gets points for allowing you FREE WILL (point a gun at anyone) yet a discerning gamer will note it doesn’t track the state of its citizens. Everyday citizens will become vigilantes and kill you if you so much as point your gun at a drunken dumbass, but will forget your crimes if you shoot him and escape and come back right away. Also, it doesn’t even track the physical boundaries of its citizens (put a person in front of a train, then set them free – instead of being hit, they’ll go through the train -why? optimization. Do you know what slows down computers? Keeping track of variables as objects. I wrote several simulations which keep track of all the ‘citizens’ of a community in object oriented programming -which means I tracked all the statistics of each person in a separate object, which must be maintained in memory, which slows the processor – it was too slow to play. In short, if you want your game to be playable, don’t track statistics to closely -especially there x and y (where they are, like if they are standing in front of a train.) So they skipped the x,y. So you couldn’t physically act on the person due to their position (x,y) being unmaintained – god is in the details. So you couldn’t kill them by accident. Of course those of you in the know that if you hog-tie someone and position them in a special way on a train track they die. But thats a separate thread.

  6. It certainly is true that mass attacks by enemies is a way of cheating the AI bit. OTOH, if they react somewhat realistically that sort of cheating becomes more natural. Snipe an NPC in sight of others and they *should* mob up and look for you.

    And yeah, there’s no denying that tracking state is difficult. There’s cheats for that, setting state tracking to take place only after the NPC’s have completed their current (longish) activity, etc. And pathing remains a programmatic nightmare, we’ve not yet found any really good tricks on that just throwing lots of cycles at the problem.

    I do think some newer approaches might be beneficial. Tracking an NPC’s estimated vs. actual progress, for example, periodically (every two or three seconds maybe) pinging the NPC’s and repathing if it doesn’t roughly fit expectations could help with the NPC’s continually walking at walls problem. Something I note still takes place in a depressing number of modern games.

    Or, of course, we could try crowdsourcing NPC AI and luring people into doing it with rewards or something. If a random person on the net could get an RTS type interface and give general orders to NPC enemies it’d make them a lot more difficult. When someone playing the 1st person part enters an area and takes action that sets enemies in that area to alert status (tripping an alarm, killing one in sight of others, etc) the game finds someone who has volunteered to control enemies. They only see where the player is if the enemies see them, but they can tell the NPC’s where to go. Dunno if that’d be worth the time, trouble, and how you’d find people to volunteer to do the job though.

    As far as tracking state goes, I do think the Fallout games did a pretty good job, New Vegas especially. Not great, but pretty good. Kill an NPC, steal from an NPC, and that NPC and their faction thinks less of you. It’s a rough way to handle the problem, but it works without bogging down in tracking too much state.

  7. FRIST POST

    This got me thinking about times during shooters where I felt like I was actually in a battle, and made me realize that if that feeling is evoked, it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s thanks to good AI, or middling AI combined with some good tricks.

    Like @sotonohito, one memorable shootout in F03 was entirely because of the number of opponents. But another was the opposite – an epic 10-minute strategic retreat from one Super Mutant Master near the top of the hospital. The experience of fighting “backwards”, and the relative variation in setting – lobby, hallway, network of decrepit rooms, stairwell, hallway – as I backpedalled, guns decomposing and mines dropping, was what did it. Didn’t matter that the AI’s about as complex as a hand-blender. Still felt “real.” And probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d gone in after levelling up explosives and repair a bit more. That’s the strength and weakness of F03.

    @hargrimm: “One thing to consider is that an FPS with actually good AI might be significantly harder, or even boring. With the prevalence of cover-based shooters, intelligent enemies would just cower behind the same chest-high walls the player uses and trade potshots whenever either side pokes their head up, leading to a somewhat slower-paced game.”

    SIGN ME UP. FPS gun battles should be tense, brutal things with unpredictable rhythms. In fact I’m surprised no one’s mentioned F.E.A.R. Maybe it hasn’t aged as well as my memories suggest, but that was the first time I felt like enemies were just waiting me out if they were well bunkered up – which made sense plot-wise, since I was trying to get through them. The old FPS tactic of run-around-corner-dart-back-around-corner-shoot-the-conga-line-that-follows was (mostly) gone. But it was balanced by the fact that if I could compromise their position, they’d retreat, even panic and shoot blindly behind themselves. (And if they thought my cover wasn’t strong, they’d flank or flush – no game has kept me on my toes like F.E.A.R. on the highest difficulty. The sense of needing to constantly move was probably scarier than the horror scenes.)

    Or maybe there was less going on than I thought, and it was mostly just a newish way of designing cover in levels, combined with “smart” vocalization (“Cover fire!” “He’s trying to flank!” “He took out the whole squad!”).

    The Stalkers in Dead Space 2 give a similar feeling of being hunted. That might also just be a design-based psych-out rather than good AI – they show up in rooms made for their tactics, they can be seen trying to surround you or move upward from cover to cover well before they expose themselves to attack, and they make different sounds “to” each other based what they or you do – but in the end, if I’m freaked out and feel a sense of accomplishment when they’re all dead, who cares?

  8. Despite having not-exceptional AI, the original Operation Flashpoint (the one by the same people that went on to make ArmA) absolutely captured that sense of having to stay on your toes — and in a wide-open world, no less. The early missions in the campaign see American troops (including you, Mr. Protagonist!) moving to free an island from Soviet occupation. Which starts off well, but soon turns sour. Midway through a mission, having just captured a town, you hear over the radio that the Soviets are counterattacking and all troops are ordered to retreat — starting right now, unless you’d like to be crushed by a tank. The next few missions are just running the hell away. At one point, a viable strategy is to belly-crawl through a kilometer of forest to avoid patrols. Oh, and through all this? You get one save per mission. Period. It was a game that wasn’t afraid to let you fail, and fail realistically. That’s what good AI — or good scripting — should get you: a satisfying way to lose. Dying to an endless horde of enemies, or to a bot that headshot you from allllll the way across the map tends to feel a bit cheap. You end up contending with the meta-structure of the game rather than immersing yourself in its setting.

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