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Top 10 Most Influential AI Games

Alex J. Champandard on September 12, 2007

Welcome to the list of the most influential AI games of all time! You’ll find video and computer games that have used artificial intelligence in innovative ways to critical acclaim, and some of them that have managed to integrate cutting-edge AI technology too…

Sim City

Sim City 1

Screenshot: A small coastal town in Sim City 1.

Released: 1989Developer: Maxis

30 Second Pitch

SimCity is a simulation and a city-building game that spawned a best-selling series. You get a plot of land to build residences, industries and many other buildings to keep the inhabitants of your city satisfied.

Innovations in Game AI

  • As the first of the “Sim” series, SimCity pioneered a new form of gameplay: controlling a complex simulation.

  • Each element of the city is modeled in a realistic way, using AI if necessary (particularly in the most recent versions of the game).

  • The emergent properties of the system are perfectly balanced to keep the player entertained.


Half-Life 1

Screenshot: A scientist chatting with a security guard.

Released: 1998Developer: Valve

30 Second Pitch

Half-Life is a sci-fi first-person shooter featuring Dr. Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist stuck inside an underground research facility when teleporting experiments go wrong unexpectedly.

Innovations in Game AI

  • The cut scenes are entirely interactive. A combination of scripting and AI is used to avoid interrupting the gameplay (i.e. you can use the crowbar to destroy things while being told what to do next).

  • An AI security guard accompanies the player through some levels early in game.

  • Squad AI is used effectively for the first time in the latter stages of the game.

  • Despite not using any revolutionary technology, the AI is very well tweaked and integrated smoothly into the storyline.

Total War

Shogun Total War

Screenshot: An army in Shogun: Total War marching over the hill.

Released: 2000-2006Developer: The Creative Assembly

30 Second Pitch

Total War is a series of games combining turn-based strategy on a Risk-like map, with real-time tactical control of battles on a 3D terrain.

Innovations in Game AI

  • Thousands of AI-controlled soldiers are featured for the first time in a fun and interactive game, without noticeable performance problems.

  • The game models the emotions of groups of soldiers, essential for simulating battles accurately. This logic is inspired by the book, The Art Of War.

  • The Total War engine is used on TV by the History Channel as part of the Decisive Battles series.

 Read Flanking Total War’s AI: 11 Tricks to Conquer for Your Game.


Shogun Total War

Screenshot: Two guards in a room in Thief.

Released: 1998Developer: Looking Glass Studios

30 Second Pitch

Thief: The Dark Project is a single player stealth-based game played from a first person perspective. The main character is Garret, a master thief applying his trade in a medieval/Victorian setting.

Innovations in Game AI

  • The game uses an accurate sensory model, allowing the AI actors to respond realistically to light and sounds. The whole game is based around this technique.

  • The AI actors use audio recordings to voice their current state, letting the player understand what’s going on.

 Read Sneaking Behind Thief’s AI: 14 Tricks to Steal for Your Game.

The Sims

The Sims

Screenshot: A family inside a house in The Sims.

Released: 2000Developer: Maxis

30 Second Pitch

The Sims is a life-simulation of the daily activities of a family of virtual characters in a suburban house. The player gets to design and build the house, as well as guide these “Sims” through the day.

Innovations in Game AI

  • Smart objects are used to help implement the behaviors. The object specifies how each character interacts with it, which has many scalability and workflow advantages over centralized logic.

  • The Sims each have basic desires which drive their choice of actions.

  • The emotional interaction between the characters is also modeled, which allows for relationships.

 Read Living with The Sims’ AI: 21 Tricks to Adopt for Your Game.



Screenshot: The cartoon world in Creatures.

Released: 1996Developer: Millennium Interactive

30 Second Pitch

Creatures is an artificial life program where the user ‘hatches’ small furry animals and teaches them how to behave. These “Norms” can talk, feed themselves, and protect themselves against vicious creatures.

Innovations in Game AI

  • It’s the first popular application of machine learning into an interactive simulation.

  • Neural networks are used by the creatures to learn what to do.

  • The game is regarded as a breakthrough in alife research, which aims to model the behavior of creatures interacting with their environment.

 Read Evolving with Creatures’ AI: 15 Tricks to Mutate into Your Own Game.



Screenshot: Halo’s Master Chief in combat.

Released: 2001Developer: Bungie

30 Second Pitch

Halo: Combat Evolved is a first-person shooter where the player assumes the role of the Master Chief, battling various aliens on foot or in vehicles.

Innovations in Game AI

  • Enemies use cover very wisely, and employ suppressive fire and grenades.

  • The squad situation affects the individuals, so certain enemies flee when their leader dies.

  • A lot of attention is paid to the little details, with enemies notably throwing back grenades or team-members responding to you bothering them.

  • The underlying “behavior tree” technology has become very popular in the games industry (especially since Halo 2).

 Read Teaming Up with Halo’s AI: 42 Tricks to Assist Your Game.


The Sims

Screenshot: Grace and Trip talking to the player.

Released: 2005Developer: Procedural Arts

30 Second Pitch

Façade is an interactive story where the couple is invited to the apartment of Grace and Trip, a couple who has a relationship breakdown. The player can coach them using full typed sentences.

Innovations in Game AI

  • The player interacts with the game by tying text into a natural language parser.

  • The underlying behavior language provides ways to specify the behavior of characters in terms of a dynamic story.

 Read Chatting Up Façade’s AI: 23 Ideas to Talk Your Game Into.


The Sims

Screenshot: Enemy soldiers in F.E.A.R. getting shot down.

Released: 2005Developer: Monolith Productions

30 Second Pitch

F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon is a first-person shooter where the player helps contain supernatural phenomenon and, naturally, armies of cloned soldiers.

Innovations in Game AI

  • The AI uses a planner to generate context-sensitive behaviors, the first time in a mainstream game. This technology used as a reference for many studios still today.

  • The enemies are capable of using the environment very cleverly, finding cover behind tables, tipping bookshelves, opening doors, crashing through windows…

  • Squad tactics are used to great effect. The enemies perform flanking maneuvers, use suppression fire, etc.

 Read Assaulting F.E.A.R.’s AI: 29 Tricks to Arm Your Game.

Black & White

Black & White

Screenshot: A creature casting a spell in Black & White.

Released: 2001Developer: Lionhead Studios

30 Second Pitch

Black & White is a god game which includes elements of artificial life simulations and some strategy. The player rules over an island populated by various tribes, and can teach a large animal-like creature to do his/her bidding.

Innovations in Game AI

  • The gameplay is focused on the interaction with a large AI creature which can learn from examples, and takes reward and punishment.

  • The design integrates artificial life within the context of a strategy game.

  • The engine uses a solid AI architecture, rooted in cognitive science, known as belief-desire-intention (BDI).

  • Machine learning techniques such as decision trees and neural networks are used with great success.


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