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This Year in Game AI: Analysis, Trends from 2013 (2)

#5More Bots

Top FPS and MOBA titles feature bots prominently, useful as a training tool and to help smooth the progression curve.

From the first-person shooters like Call Of Duty featuring bots in their Squad mode (see previous interview), to the highly competitive MOBA games offering bots as a training mode. Bots are a great way to bring the benefits of single-player AI to multiplayer games, for example difficulty and progression balancing, training and tutoring, and of course, offline mode.

Bots had their golden age when PC shooters used to be modable. Some studios (like Guerrilla or Valve) have valued bots for years, but they're now almost ubiquitous. In fact, Battlefield 4 stands out for lacking bot support and conversely Heroes of Newerth gets extra credits for its bot API! It'll be interesting to see the quality of bots improve over the next few years now they are being featured more prominently.

#6Natural Language Niche

Story-based or social interaction games as Versu or Redshirt found some success, but not mainstream hits.

There's something tactile about simple physics-based games or even puzzles; you perform an action and get immediate feedback, which makes the game much more accessible and arguably, more rewarding. AI-based games — in contrast — are more indirect and their rewards are indirect... Does this reduce the size of the potential audience?

PROM WEEK, released a few years ago, suffered from this dilema, and this year it's games like VERSU. While both these games received critical success, they haven't met huge popular success. It's becoming a thorn in the side of Game AI, and makes The Sims stand out as exception rather than the rule. Is it possible only EA could afford the necessary effort to make such gameplay work?

#7Strong Competitions

Top 5 of #ctfcomp implemented cutting-edge of FPS tech.; Starcraft contest saw solid RTS AI improvements.

Last year saw the grand BotPrize being claimed, with two Unreal Tournament bots being rated higher in "hummanness" than the average human! There are many questionable aspects of the methodology, and the results are also therefore in doubt... But luckily 2013 has made up for this, with both the Starcraft competition and our #ctfcomp saw very solid entries and some great technology.

On the Capture the Flag front, the first entries implemented many of the systems found in top shooters, for instance enemy prediction/tracking, influence mapping, corridor graphs, terrain analysis, hierarchical task network, and planning domains for both bots and commanders. Impressive for less than 3 months work! The Starcraft competition has also grown from strength to strength, with the competition infrastructure finally being able to get around the closed-sourced nature of Blizzard's RTS (e.g. accelerated simulation, spawning matches automatically). This also had an impact on the quality of the solutions, and along with the open source requirement to make all submissions available publicly.

#8Middleware Crunch

Xaitment silently re-acquired by iOpener Media, Autodesk de-emphasizes BT tool, StoryBricks now contracting too.

The middleware business is always variable, with certain companies performing better than others year over year. The underlying theme for AI middleware is two fold; first, path-finding is pretty much required, i.e. you need a great reason not to use one. Second, high-level AI middleware adoption is still rare (e.g. for character behavior), and we're still a long way from seeing critical mass.

Generally, this has left existing middleware vendors in a tricky position. The market is a difficult one; there are fewer high-budget AAA titles, many commercial engines include reasonable path-finding solutions built-in, open source solutions are often "good enough" and there's lots of competition. The good news is that the companies still in this market seem to be in it for the long term!

#9Autonomous Buddies

Top games nailed co-operation with AI; it mostly wasn't about tech., but strong design, storytelling and animation.

Creating engaging single-player stories is very difficult to do without AI buddies that are involved in gameplay, which historically has been a hard thing to do. With a powerful AI buddy you risk removing agency from the player, and with a weak AI buddy it can become a frustrating escort mission...

Top games this year such as BIOSHOCK: INFINITE and THE LAST OF US both tackled this problem head on, putting a huge focus on AI. Of course, there's always room for improvement and more research in the area, but the results are clearly a level above anything else done in games so far. Getting to this level has required an amazing amount of multi-disciplinary collaboration.


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