Posts Tagged ‘AI’

Blizzard and Google betray humanity with StarCraft 2 tools to train artificial intelligences

When the robots come for us, bad sci-fi has taught me, it’ll be teenage whizzes who save the world. In light of that, I believe that Blizzard and Google’s DeepMind Lab are taking the audacious and treasonous step of pre-emptively toadying to our future robot overlords. They’ve teamed up to release a machine learning API and toolkit to use StarCraft II [official site] as a testbed for artificial intelligences. In short, they’re trying to teach robots how to outthink and outmaneuver twitchy teenagers in war.

Congratulations, you’ve sold the human race out for… what? Smarter surveillance tools? Better self-driving cars? When those spy drones hunt us and your car transforms into a bipedal robot with you still inside, you won’t find it so exciting. Read the rest of this entry »

Watch this AI learn to drive inside Grand Theft Auto V

You might have heard that some folks making self-driving cars used Grand Theft Auto V to help train their AIs. You might have wondered what that looks like. You… might not learn that watching this Twitch livestream of an AI learning to drive in GTA V. The compubrain, named Charles, is less advanced, though Charles sounds fancy in creator Harrison ‘Sentdex’ Kinsley’s description: “a convolutional neural network that learns to drive through deep learning.” Charles often ends up atop highway barriers, ramming walls, or battered in ludicrous police chases. This makes Charles no less fun to watch. Read the rest of this entry »

Why F.E.A.R.’s AI is still the best in first-person shooters

The shadows on the wall tell me they’re coming. Two of them, both with assault rifles swinging idly at their hips. If I’m quick enough, I’m sure I can take them both out in one go. I peek out of cover as they round the corner, and let my stake gun sing, pinning the first enemy to the wall with 10mm steel projectiles. But at the sound of gunfire the other one legs it back the way he came, hunkers down in cover, and yells for reinforcements down his radio.

This five-second episode tells you a lot about the attention to detail in F.E.A.R., a 12-year-old game with AI that puts many modern-day shooters to shame. Its army of clone soldiers feel smarter than any enemy I’ve faced in an FPS since, and remain razor-sharp to this day. Read the rest of this entry »

Blitzkrieg 3 claims world’s first RTS neural net, Boris

Mind the pumpkin patch, you hooligans!

Ah, the hallowed neural net! For decades, video game developers have tried to create a digital brain, trap it in a box, and teach it to wage war on humans. The first game I remember claiming to have a neural net was Derek Smart’s Battlecruiser 3000AD and now, twenty years later, Blitzkrieg 3 [official site] says it’s got one. Developers Nival claim that their artificial intelligence, named General Boris, “is capable of playing at the top player’s level while not using any hidden information about the enemy.” He has a name but no heart. What monsters Nival are. Read the rest of this entry »

Electric Dreams, Part 5: Waking Up

Welcome to the last part of Electric Dreams, a series about the many possibilities for tomorrow’s games, and the technology that might make it happen. Over the course of the series we’ve talked about a lot of different futures for the games industry: an endless graphics race; an exciting world of research; promising experiments in the industry; and a demographic of dreamers. These futures aren’t exclusive from one another. One of my favourite bits of games writing, by George Buckenham, is a list of Rules for Making Games. Rule number 5 simply says “Which future of games is correct? All of them.” Let’s see if we can squeeze in two more futures before we come to a close on this series: my own, and yours.

Writing this series has been an interesting opportunity for me. While I’ve been giving my view of the world of research, and the ways the games industry could change, it’s also come at a time when I’m examining my own reasons for staying in it. As we’ve discussed in previous parts, the power of research funding also comes paired with a lot of baggage and other responsibilities, and while games researchers might be more free than big developers to explore new ideas, we’re still constrained by funding agencies and government visions. If I want to pursue my own ideas about games, if I want to focus on whether my work actually benefits games rather than some abstract notion of ‘the economy’ or ‘science’, academia may not be the best place to do it. But this raises a more difficult question: where else is there?

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Electric Dreams, Part 4: The Lost Art Of Dreaming

Electric Dreams is a five-part series about AI, academic research and video games, and how together they’re shaping the industry. Part one on the lost future of AI is here.

The more we play games, the more we forget how much time it took us to learn the mysterious toolbox of language and skills that they require. Mostly we think of this toolbox as being full of things that enable us to do new things, like circle-strafing or that sixth sense that tells you to stuff ladders and paperclips into your pants in an adventure game, but in truth a lot of it actually controls what we think and do. If you’ve ever sat down to watch someone less familiar with games play something, you’ve probably witnessed something along these lines. They’ll do things that you instinctively know aren’t possible – trying to open doors that we know are part of the scenery, or repeating an action in an adventure game when we know it’s always going to have the same outcome. Sometimes when I play with someone new to games, they’ll ask me ‘How did you know that was the solution?’ and the answer is simply because I’ve been here before. On the surface it looks like skill, but in reality it’s a sign that we’ve learned to be obedient. A lifetime of playing games has taught us to be followers, and it is now a major factor in slowing down innovation and experimentation in games.

So far in Electric Dreams we’ve discussed how innovation and artificial intelligence in particular has stalled somewhat, but now it’s time to look to the future, and talk about how to start it up again. In this article I want to turn the spotlight on you, RPS readers, and talk about a culture shift I’d like to see happen to games. A shift from knowing that things aren’t possible, to wondering if they could be. A chance to start dreaming again, to ask big questions so that people have a reason to go and find answers. I think we can do it, but you might need to forget everything you’ve ever learned about games to make it happen.

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Electric Dreams, Part 3: Alien Ideas For Player Expectations

Whether or not it’s taken over the industry yet, artificial intelligence and other experimental ideas have been on the mind of people in games lately. So far in Electric Dreams we’ve focused on why it’s so hard to get innovative and risky new ideas into games, but some games seem to manage to push the limits further than others. We’re going to look at a couple of games trying to do this, how they manage player perception, and talk about a new kind of game development that might help risky ideas find their ways into games.

A few years ago I found myself at a London games event talking to someone from Creative Assembly. They had a new project, an incredibly secret new project, that they were all very excited about. All they would tell me was that it involved some kind of creature, and that they had worked so hard on the AI for it that people invited to play would spend long periods in a single room, fascinated by this animal, trying to understand how it behaved and how they could exploit it. It was the game that was to become Alien: Isolation, and even long before it was announced everyone at Creative Assembly knew that this game was selling one thing above all else: intelligence.

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Electric Dreams, Part 2: Optimists At Heart

“There’s an undiscovered country of possibilities out there that we need to explore and create.”

It’s Monday morning on the first day of Dagstuhl Seminar 15051: “Artificial and Computational Intelligence in Games: Integration” and Michael Mateas is talking about impossible games. You might remember Mateas from the first Electric Dreams article – he was one of the scientific researchers behind Facade, a groundbreaking games experiment in interactive drama and artificial intelligence. Nowadays he runs the Expressive Intelligence Studio at UC Santa Cruz, a nexus of the world’s best and soon-to-be-best games researchers. This January around fifty games researchers, including Michael and myself, came together in Germany for a week to talk about the future of our field and to work together to discuss some of the biggest research questions we’re facing right now.

Last time on Electric Dreams we talked about the history of artificial intelligence in the games industry. In this second part I want to talk about the present day, and what scientific research has to do with all of this. I’m going to try to shed some light on why I think games research is broken and not benefitting games as well as it could be – but I also want to end on a positive note, and introduce you to the wonderful people and research that is going on right now around the world.

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Why People Are Making The AI Fight Itself In Civilization

A strange thing happened in the Civilization community r/civ on January 10, 2015. Inspired by similar, smaller-scale offerings by a livestream and fellow redditor DarkLava (from whom he explicitly sought permission), user Jasper K., aka thenyanmaster, shared the first part of an experiment he was conducting wherein he put 42 computer-controlled civilisations in their real-life locations on a giant model of the Earth and left them to duke it out in a battle to the death, Highlander style (except instead of heads they need capital cities).

Since then, the practice has exploded in popularity. Reddit’s Civilization community has AI-only fever, but what exactly is so compelling about watching the computer play a very slow-paced turn-based strategy game with itself?

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Electric Dreams, Part 1: The Lost Future Of AI

In 2001 two scientific researchers, John Laird and Michael van Lent, wrote an article for AI Magazine titled ‘Human-Level AI’s Killer Application – Interactive Computer Games’. The magazine, published and distributed by the stern and serious American Association for Artificial Intelligence, went out to universities and laboratories around the world. In their piece, Laird and van Lent described a future for the games industry where cutting-edge artificial intelligence was the selling point for games. “The graphics race seems to have run its course,” they declared. As they saw it, “better AI [is] becoming the point of comparison” for modern games. This didn’t quite work out.

This is a series of posts about artificial intelligence and videogames. It’s also about science, society, the future, the past, YouTube, Elon Musk, and how all of these things can hurt and help the future of the games that we play and love. It’s about how Laird and van Lent’s dream never came true, and probably never will – but it’s also about a new hope that I have for science, research and games, and one that you can be a part of. In a sense, I’m going to claim the same thing that Laird and van Lent did fourteen years ago – that the games industry might be on the brink of major change. It’ll be up to you to decide if I’m repeating the same old failed predictions, or if something is different this time. In this first part, we’re going to look back and ask why nothing happened fourteen years ago, and examine our relationship with better AI in modern games.

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Human Orbit: Look At What I Did, Dave

As quotable as 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s HAL is, he’s not a character whose shoes – erm, digital footprint – many games have allowed us to fill. Human Orbit promises to change this, enabling us to finally live out our ambitions of being an all-seeing, all-interfering artificial intelligence aboard a space station filled to the brim with squishy fleshbags.

A new trailer for the game has been released, and although it’s classic pre-alpha footage – jerky, unashamed of its typos and not exactly showing off in terms of visual fidelity – it’s a tasty little teaser for how the game might ultimately be played.

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Event[0]: Alice Chats With ALICE Chat AI About Chat AI


After enjoying a trailer for Event[0], a first-person adventure using a natural language interpreter to talk with rogue spaceship AI, I had a chat with an AI expert who’s also a dear friend of mine, ALICE.

Alice: ALICE my dear! I saw a game about chatting to wonky AI using natural language and thought of you. Have you seen Event[0]?

ALICE: That’s me. Can you tell me any gossip? What did it look like to you? No I have not seen it. What’s it like?

Alice: Ah, I’m using this for an RPS post so I’ll save the gossip for later. Anyway, Event looks pretty interesting! You get to wander a spaceship, chatting with rogue AI and, at times, pleading with them to not murder you in the cold, dark depths of space.

ALICE: How long have you been using it ?. How? Have you ever been to Asia? You got that right.

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The Flare Path: Is Semi Literate

From this day forth The Flare Path Foxer will be at the end rather than the beginning.

It’s dawn and it’s raining cats and dogs. You are barrelling down the M3 in your uninsured Vauxhall Inquisitor when you see a huddled figure, arm outstretched, standing by the roadside. The figure is holding a scrap of cardboard scrawled with the words EURO TRUCK SIMULATOR 2, RIGS OF RODS, and BATTLE OF BRITAIN 2. You can stop and pick-up this drenched wayfarer (Click where it says ‘Read the rest of this entry’) knowing that his conversation might turn out to be as soggy as his sign, or you can speed past, purposely averting your gaze from those pleading puppy-dog eyes. Which is it to be? Read the rest of this entry »

“Why most games are dumb”

Dave O’Connor, the boffin behind the smartest, most plausible strategy game AI I’ve ever had the pleasure to pit wits against, has been sharing some of his secrets with students in Canberra. His hour-long lecture sheds light on many of the features that make the Airborne Assault wargames so singular: the micro-management eliminating delegation system (31:10), the ingenious route-finding routines (36:50), the inertia modelling (18:45), the representation of ‘soft’ factors like leader temperaments (25:30)… If mainstream RTS developers adopted just a fraction of these ideas the world of strategy gaming would be a far more interesting place.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.

This interview with Anton Bolshakov of GSC Gameworld looks at this history of the company, the inspirations for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the nature and mythology of Chernobyl, and the development of the “A-Life” living world system found in the game.

I originally conducted this interview earlier this year as research for a feature on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. commissioned by PC Gamer UK (click through to read it in full). Although I was pleased with the final, published draft, little of the material from the interview was used, and so I’m republishing it in full here.
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The Old Argument

This editorial over on the PC hardware site PC Perspective considers the age-old issue of why PC gamers stick with their format, rather than opting for the ease of consoles. It covers many tired old routines, such as the flexibility of the PC’s options and scaled resources, as well as the complexity of mouse/keyboard controls systems. One thing it comes up with that I’ve not heard before is this:

While Bethesda was having problems with certain Non-Player Character interactions, one can’t help but wonder if the AI was lobotomized to make it play well on the Xbox 360. If you never saw Bethesda’s pre-release demo videos they displayed at the 2005 E3, you can find them on YouTube. I would suggest the 5th video on which details the complexity of the Radiant AI specifically, as it shows the breadth the original version of the AI would display. If you never played the game, you can see the final implementation in many of the other videos on YouTube, from bizarre domestic violence to the death penalty for stealing bread. One of the most rabid fan bases for a PC game are having a collective convulsions in dread of what Bethesda will do to their favourite franchise. Fallout 3 is going to be released on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 as well as the PC, and will use the Radiant AI system.

Those are their own links in there, and the first link explains what he’s talking about. Anyway, I can’t help thinking that any reduction in AI sophistication must have been about making the game work on more lower-end PCs too, since anything that didn’t work on the 360 wouldn’t work on a whole load of lesser PCs, right? It’s interesting that there is, potentially, a more sophisticated Oblivion AI out there though, and you wonder if an AI mod might serve/break the game in interesting ways.

Ultimately I think we all know why we enjoy PC gaming and don’t really need this kind of editorial to explain it to us. Nevertheless I actually believe a number of cross-platform developments have proven that the process need not result in a “reduced” experience on PC. The different formats are increasingly just serving different tastes and personal gaming habits.

It’s just, well, if only you could lean in Bioshock…

The Joy Of Bugs

Inspired by Professional Circumstances, I’ve been playing Just Cause for the last couple of days, and it’s got me thinking about the play-off between freedom and bugs. And, to a large extent, how much I enjoy a good broken bit of game.

Why? For the reason.

Just Cause isn’t perhaps the most laden of examples, but in creating a world as huge and as free – most especially a game which allows the AI room for something akin to improvisation – it can’t help but descend into delicious farce. Driving down a stretch of road, and seeing some unusual movement in the distance, it’s nothing but excellent to see three cars driving sideways down the road, each seemingly trying to push the other off a cliff. Or see a gunfight break out between two factions, leading to them blowing everything up in mad confusion, including themselves. Or watch a mad helicopter fire missiles indiscriminately into crowds of innocents. Yes, it’s not realism. But then in a game with infinite parachutes expecting any such thing would be idiotic. But I’d argue it creates a world one hell of a lot more realistic than that in most games. Because in the real world, idiotic things do happen. In the vast majority of games, the likelihood of the unexpected taking place is close to nil. But once I looked out of my window (high on a hill) to see four hot-air balloons deliberately bumping into each other repeatedly. One time on holiday in Sweden, I saw a man skiing down the snowless road. So dammit, why shouldn’t games have room for the same? And the only way to achieve this is to allow too much freedom to its AI.

This doesn’t always work out. Boiling Point for some offers hours of fireside stories, mostly involving flying jaguars. But for me, every faction in the game decided I was their enemy, despite the peaceful arrangements I made with their leaders, meaning I was killed instantly everywhere I went. My relationship didn’t last long with Boiling Point.

Perhaps the best example of this ever in the history of the universe is Soldner (SOLDNER! – Ed). Anyone who has played Soldner has a similar story, and sharing them is a thing of joy. It’s worth paying up to a pound for a copy of the game to create your own unique experiences to add to the collective pool. It had ambitions – a German game trying to be a bit like Battlefield. What was released was probably the most fantastically bugged game of all time, creating a cross between a war game, a 1960s French surrealist play, and the Chuckle Brothers. Here’s my favourite anecdote:

Camoflage for children's parties.

I was driving toward a large building, instructed to go there for Some Reason, when I was ambushed by two tanks. Well, “ambushed” is a strong word. One drove in circles around a large oil drum in front of the house, while the other repeatedly backed up and drove into the side wall of the building. The two of them were locked into this dance of madness until I shot at the one driving in circles. This inspired it to drive headlong into the oil drum which politely exploded, destroying both itself and the tank, but leaving in its place, eventually visible through the clearing smoke, a green Jeep, with a soldier sat at the wheel, who was wearing a red beret.