Saturday, February 25, 2006

Electric Eye

So last night, my friend Scott and I had about a two-hour discussion regarding artificial intelligence (and very real stupidity) in today's videogames. He was of the opinion that the bots' dodging abilities in current 3D shooters was a good example of artificial intelligence, to which I said, "They're stupid." Essentially, it's a kill-or-be-killed issue, and a sense of self-preservation exists in probably most of the larger species of animal on this planet.

So then you look at Sims 2, which is a very good example of artificial-intelligence being used to adapt to external or random stimuli. The only problem is, they're still fucking stupid, and there are things they should be able to do that they just don't. I'm not sure if there was a conscious reason that the programmers made it so a Sim won't ever call a repairman when his television breaks, nor will he buy a new television and junk the old one, nor will the Sim try to find a job if he loses his for some reason. However, Sims interact with one another in very interesting ways, and that's really the sole saving grace of the game. For what they do, they're fairly good descriptions of A.I., but for what they don't, they are the poster-children of very real stupidity.

Scott and I got into this discussion over talking about Magic: The Gathering, which is a card game that people spend inordinately large amounts of money on, building decks of cards with which to play against other people's very expensive decks of cards. Apparently, every single-player version of this game has been absurdly easy for Scott to beat. That the game beat the hell out of me is no surprise, since I got beat by the Monkey A.I. in Chessmaster 9000.

Now, Scott is of the opinion that a proper A.I. engine for a Magic game would require so much in terms of computer resources that the system required to run it won't be invented for years. I don't think that's necessarily true, and then Scott said that you can't get a computer to think like a human, and I think you can, and all it really requires is a study of how the mind works in a given situation.

A little bit of an aside, here, for clarification: A lot of 3D shooters seem to feature security guards who will defend something at any cost, until such time as you mow them down with some sort of very large, very high-caliber weapon. Now, if I was a security guard and someone was trying to get at whatever it was that I was guarding, sure, I'd probably start shooting at the guy if everyone else did. But, around the point where the guy doing the invading had killed about two-thirds of my co-workers, I'd really consider leaving at that point. My life is more important than whatever this guy's trying to get at, and he's probably in god-mode, anyway. Again, artificial-intelligence always gives way to very real stupidity, as self-preservation only includes killing the invading force, not running away.

So, back to Magic. If you were to get a large enough number of players and isolate them from one another, such that all they see are one another's cards on the table, you could ask them for precisely what they are thinking when they look at any particular card or group of cards and have them explain why they are or are not doing anything in particular with those cards. Given enough of this data, a pretty good number of situations could be built and presented to the computer, which would then make use of the cards in its hand in a more human-like manner. Previous iterations of the single-player Magic A.I. would kick Channel back on itself and burn its own hit points, which is a stupid mistake that even I wouldn't make.

Essentially, the goal would be to create a game that has A.I. so good that it passes a Turing test, which basically has a person sit down with a computer screen and has a text-based conversation with two parties, one of which is human, one of which is a computer. If the guy at the computer screen can't tell which one was the human, the computer passes the Turing test. In other words, if an A.I. for a game like Magic could play like a human being, it would be a huge step forward for artificial-intelligence, given the complicated nature of the cards and game rules. Then it would be a matter of applying the same kind of methods to creating more lifelike A.I. for other games (particularly the Civilization series, whose A.I. I've always found to be totally retarded).

At this point, even for games like Black & White 2, the best A.I. in computer games is still about as smart and spontaneous as your goldfish, if that. I think that game developers should put pixel-pushing and polygons on the back-burner for a couple of years and work this out, because better A.I. has a far better chance of pushing games to be fundamentally better than increases in polygon counts, realistic physics, and soft-shadows.

But that's just my opinion. By the way, to update what I've gotten since the last post:
A Nintendo DS (silver), Meteos, Animal Crossing, Kirby's Canvas Curse. Now, Meteos is just enough to hold me over until Tetris DS is released, and Kirby is every bit as good it seems in this Penny Arcade cartoon. Animal Crossing is... well, it is what it is. It's just a glorified tamagotchi. And then today I bought Grey's Anatomy (which I think should be re-titled to Katherine Heigl's Anatomy, but that's just me) and Domino (which I think should be re-titled to Keira Knightley's Anatomy), which was the last movie I went to see in the theater.

Oh, and then there's the PC game Star Wars: Empire At War, which I'm still trying to decide whether I like or not. I seem to be the only person who was hoping for something along the lines of Rebellion, but it's not as smart as that, and the ground combat takes some real getting used to. Despite not knowing whether I like it or not, it has managed to get me back into playing Hearts of Iron II, which is a game so complicated that I play as Republican Spain and try to fight off Generalissimo Francisco Franco, rather than take any part in World War II. I think my next game will involve playing as Nationalist China, fighting a two-sided war with Japan and Communist China. It's just about the most complicated, fantastically difficult game I've ever had the complete and utter joy of playing.

AIM: therbmcc71

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