I was going to open this Up For Debate by saying it wasn’t all that long ago it felt as if we were making great strides forward with videogame AI. That would be wrong. It’s been, at best, a decade since we saw any recognisable leap forward in the intelligence of video game characters. If anything, our AI team mates and arch enemies are becoming increasingly stupid, so where did all the intelligent enemy AI go?
For a long time AI was a hot topic. Every game preview would tout intelligent enemy movements and bizarre experimental systems. With every game it felt as if developers were uncovering incredible ways to make games more lifelike and believable. Goombas and Cacodemons were a thing of the past. While not a catch all, there were certain iconic games which contributed to this.
Halo: Combat Evolved, at the time, was fantastic. The Covenant would work in groups, take cover, flush you out. There was even communication between the groups, flanking you and exposing your weaknesses. F.E.A.R. attempted a very similar thing to even greater effect. Black & White and its sequel were a phenomenal look at AI behaviours and the process of computer intelligence actively learning.
And then, well, that was it. We’d plateaued. No F.E.A.R. game since contributed anything new. All we’ve got is the same carbon copy AI cropping up in every game, whether that’s Far Cry 4 or The Division. Seldom are we surprised by the behaviour of an enemy any more. Worse than that, plenty more games go one step further and opt for artificial stupidity. No AI in Assassin’s Creed has ever given me pause for thought. Every creature in The Witcher 3 (no matter how fantastic the overall package is) is entirely predictable. No developers seem to be concerned with this, not when there’s incredibly detailed visuals and massive crowd sizes to take into account.
Fortunately there are a few rays of sunshine. The xenomorph in Alien Isolation was exemplary. Unpredictable and capable of learning from player movement, its uncanny ability to out-think me made it a terrifying prospect. Then there’s The Last Guardian. Much of the talk surrounding this decade-in-development game surrounds the AI of Trico, the strange griffin-like beast which becomes the player’s AI partner. Game designer Fumito Ueda said a large part of the delay was attributed to working on the AI of Trico, although we still know next to nothing how this will translate in game. It does offer an insight at least into the troubles of building game AI.
With that in mind, what do you make of the current state of AI in gaming? Are there any recent standouts you'd like to draw attention, or do you think it has taken a back seat to visuals and world design?