Imagine yourself playing a strategy game, like Age of Empires perhaps. You are in a world that looks real and you are pitted against the computer, and your mission is to protect your empire and defeat the computer, at the same time. What if you could create an army of soldiers who could explore the map and attack the enemies on their own, based on just a simple command you give them? And what if your soldiers could have real, unscripted conversations with you as their commander-in-chief to seek instructions? And what if the game’s scenes change spontaneously based on your decisions and interactions with the game elements, like a movie?
Sounds too good to be true? It’s not far-fetched at all – thanks to the rise of Artificial Intelligence!
The gaming industry today is a market worth over a hundred billion dollars. The Global Games Market Report says that about 2.2 billion gamers across the world are expected to generate an incredible $108.9 billion in game revenue by the end of 2017. As such, gaming industry giants are seeking newer and more innovative ways to attract more customers and expand their brands. While terms like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality come to mind immediately as the future of games, the rise of Artificial Intelligence is an equally important stepping stone in making games smarter and more interactive, and as close to reality as possible.
In this article, we look at the 5 ways AI is revolutionizing the gaming industry, in a big way!
Making games smarter
While scripting is still commonly used for control of NPCs (Non-playable character) in many games today, many heuristic algorithms and game AIs are also being incorporated for controlling these NPCs. Not just that, the characters also learn from the actions taken by the player and modify their behaviour accordingly. This concept can be seen implemented in Nintendogs, a real-time pet simulation video game by Nintendo.
The ultimate aim of the game creators in the future will be to design robust systems within games that understand speech, noise and other sounds within the game and tweak the game scenario accordingly. This will also require modern AI techniques such as pattern recognition and reinforcement learning, where the characters within the games will self-learn from their own actions and evolve accordingly. The game industry has identified this and some have started implementing these ideas – games like F.E.A.R and The Sims are a testament to this.
Although the adoption of popular AI techniques in gaming is still quite limited, their possible applications in the near-future has the entire gaming industry buzzing.
Making games more realistic
This is one area where the game industry has grown leaps and bounds over the last 10 years. There have been incredible advancements in 3D visualization techniques, physics-based simulations and more recently, inclusion of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in games. These tools have empowered game developers to create interactive, visually appealing games which one could never imagine a decade ago. Meanwhile, gamers have evolved too. They don’t just want good graphics anymore; they want games to resemble reality. This is a massive challenge for game developers, and AI is playing a huge role in addressing this need. Imagine a game which can interpret and respond to your in-game actions, anticipate your next move and act accordingly. Not the usual scripts where an action X will give a response Y, but an AI program that chooses the best possible alternative to your action in real-time, making the game more realistic and enjoyable for you.
Improving the overall gaming experience
Let’s take a real-world example here. If you’ve played EA Sports’ FIFA 17, you may be well-versed with their Ultimate Team mode. For the uninitiated, it’s more of a fantasy draft, where you can pick one of the five player choices given to you for each position in your team, and the AI automatically determines the team chemistry based on your choices. The team chemistry here is important, because the higher the team chemistry, the better the chances of your team playing well. The in-game AI also makes the playing experience better by making it more interactive. Suppose you’re losing a match against an opponent – the AI reacts by boosting your team’s morale through increased fan chants, which in turn affects player performances positively.
Gamers these days pay a lot of attention to detail – this not only includes the visual appearance and the high-end graphics, but also how immersive and interactive the game is, in all possible ways. Through real-time customization of scenarios, AI has the capability to play a crucial role in taking the gaming experience to the next level.
Transforming developer skills
The game developer community have always been innovators in adopting cutting edge technology to hone their technical skills and creativity. Reinforcement Learning, a sub-set of Machine Learning, and the algorithm behind the popular AI computer program AlphaGo, that beat the world’s best human Go player is a case in point. Even for the traditional game developers, the rising adoption of AI in games will mean a change in the way games are developed. In an interview with Gamasutra, AiGameDev.com’s Alex Champandard says something interesting:
“Game design that hinges on more advanced AI techniques is slowly but surely becoming more commonplace. Developers are more willing to let go and embrace more complex systems.”
It’s safe to say that the notion of Game AI is changing drastically. Concepts such as smarter function-based movements, pathfinding, inclusion of genetic algorithms and rule-based AI such as fuzzy logic are being increasingly incorporated in games, although not at a very large scale. There are some implementation challenges currently as to how academic AI techniques can be brought more into games, but with time these AI algorithms and techniques are expected to embed more seamlessly with traditional game development skills. As such, in addition to knowledge of traditional game development tools and techniques, game developers will now have to also skill up on these AI techniques to make smarter, more realistic and more interactive games.
Making smarter mobile games
The rise of the mobile game industry today is evident from the fact that close to 50% of the game revenue in 2017 will come from mobile games – be it smartphones or tablets. The increasingly high processing power of these devices has allowed developers to create more interactive and immersive mobile games. However, it is important to note that the processing power of the mobile games is yet to catch up to their desktop counterparts, not to mention the lack of a gaming console, which is beyond comparison at this stage.
To tackle this issue, mobile game developers are experimenting with different machine learning and AI algorithms to impart ‘smartness’ to mobile games, while still adhering to the processing power limits. Compare today’s mobile games to the ones 5 years back, and you’ll notice a tremendous shift in terms of the visual appearance of the games, and how interactive they have become. New machine learning and deep learning frameworks & libraries are being developed to cater specifically to the mobile platform. Google’s TensorFlow Lite and Facebook’s Caffe2 are instances of such development. Soon, these tools will come to developers’ rescue to build smarter and more interactive mobile games.
Gone are the days when games were just about entertainment and passing time. The gaming industry is now one of the most profitable industries of today. As it continues to grow, the demands of the gaming community and the games themselves keep evolving. The need for realism in games is higher than ever, and AI has an important role to play in making games more interactive, immersive and intelligent. With the rate at which new AI techniques and algorithms are developing, it’s an exciting time for game developers to showcase their full potential.
Are you ready to start building AI for your own games? Here are some books to help you get started: