Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Hoping for artificial intelligence

I get a lot of mail from people asking me to promote their games or websites. You don't see all of them, because I don't grant those requests lightly. I check out the game or website, and then decide whether it is worth writing about. So when I got a mail with a press release on the closed beta of Ultimate Soccer Boss starting today, that being a "free-to-play soccer manager browser game", I was sceptical at first. There are lots of browser games, and most of them aren't very good. But then I visited the companies website, and found this interesting announcement:
Through its patented process that enables digital characters to evolve unique physical, intellectual, and personality traits, Digenetics is redefining the nature of traditional and online games - MMOs, social games, and virtual worlds. Imagine, for example, a world where a Game Boss in an online dungeon learns from its battles and other encounters with players. Each time it interacts with players, it learns and adapts its tactics possibly making it a more challenging fight. Additionally, players could try something novel and the boss might respond in a random manner, like stop attacking and throw a random quest chain, or perhaps even walk away from the fight. The result of this adaptive evolutionary learning is more fun, challenging and enormous replay value. Gameplay will never be the same. Our first project is Ultimate Soccer BossT coming in Spring 2009.
So basically Digenetics is promising better artificial intelligence, with some neural network functionality that makes the game "learn" from playing against you. I think I'll try to get into that beta, or the Free2Play version if I don't get accepted into the beta, and check it out. I'm not quite convinced yet that they actually managed to make a game with good artificial intelligence, but at least it sounds promising.
Comments: it any good? ;)
While I love the direction and the design that could go into smarter AI that learns, I can't help remembering what Scott Jennings said on a similar subject. "Players don't want a challenge, they want the illusion of a challenge." Whatever they do, their biggest challenge will be in making it still make mistakes while seeming to learn.
What about the sleepers in EVE online? You should read about them. This new AI seems to be very good.
The sleepers are a huge improvement by comparison, because normal mobs are downright idiotic when compared to mobs from.. say.. WoW. Sleepers introduce such groundbreaking concepts as high damage, high resistances, a threat list, reacting to crowd control and healing of allies. ;-)
Is adaptive AI really something that would be good in MMO's?

The whole raiding thing is based around the boss being proactively stupid! (Let's attack the one guy in the raid who does the least damage and can't heal, and give warnings every time I do my fancy moves! I learned that from Sun Tzu!)
The problem is it isn't really AI until the mob writes it's own script. The Boss is still reacting the way the programmers pre-scripted it too, it just has a much larger script with variables.

I think that a boss getting stronger everytime you beat it is a novel idea. I also like the idea of random abilities. However it has to have certain aspects scripted to make the encounter fun. If the Boss was truly given AI half way through the first fight he would just kill all the healers and DPS, making it near impossible to do.

Random abilities with the bosses power scaling based on number of people in the raid or item level seems the most reasonable and fun.
The problem with bosses learning from players is that it makes PvE encounters get harder over time. Since the very first players to attempt new bosses are typically the world's best players, that leaves a strange imbalance where the best players fight the boss in easy-mode, and later/worse players fight a harder boss. That's the opposite of the way Blizzard typically nerfs/tunes bosses over time.

To remedy this, bosses should have "unlearning" instead. They start with a massive amount of AI, and each time they are beaten, they get more stupid. This way the casual players have a chance of beating them a few months later.
You could set up some sort of ranking system like how WoW does it's arena. Everytime you kill a boss you get points, everytime you die to a boss you lose points. The boss adds up all the points of each member in the raid and sets the difficulty based on that. The problem is you would need gear to encourage people to keep killing the boss and creating a PvE ranking system would make people upset.
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