Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 9, 2013
Read most articles about game AI, and you’ll see a call for improvement. “Why can’t we have better AI?”
As it turns out – and this is an open secret in the game dev community – players often don’t like it. That’s why. A recent article, Artificial Intelligence?, on MMORPG.com, discusses one failed attempt to make more interesting AI in City of Heroes.
My personal feeling is that it kinda comes down to not letting the player know you are letting him or her win. You can have neither incompetent AI, nor AI that’s clearly throwing the game. Players want AI that gives them a run for their money, enough challenge to make things interesting. Most of all, I think players want AI that – for lack of a better word – emotes intelligence, even when it is stupid to do so. It’s not enough to have AI that has very sophisticated problem-solving strategies… it needs to project this decision-making so the player can see it at work, if the end-result doesn’t make it obvious. In other words, the players need feedback to recognize the AI at work – and to therefore predict and adapt to the AI.
And of course, as suggested in the article, players want familiar patterns that are easy to respond to. The power mentioned in the article was – with the attempted AI response – not really a damaging power. It was a control power – it forced AI to respond by moving to range. Which is actually pretty cool, so long as its costs are effectively balanced. But players didn’t like it, according to the article, because it broke existing patterns of gameplay. And that’s certainly true.
Having played City of Heroes, I do recognize that this sort of thing can task-overload a player whose primary abilities are going toe-to-toe against bad guys. Frankly, to effectively use that kind of control power requires a different perspective – both figuratively and literally. You cannot effectively play “crowd control” when you are in literally at the center of the fight. Plus, it’s very hard to keep track of that when you are playing the kind of game that City of Heroes gave to tankers and scrappers. It was hard to focus mentally, and hard to use from a mechanical and UI standpoint. So I don’t know if it can entirely be blamed on players preferring crappy AI or no-brainer classic MMO patterns.
Another element may simply be that the faster the action and the more players that need to coordinate with each other, the simpler the decision tree needs to be for the players. At least for most players. The more experienced they are, of course, the broader and deeper the decision tree can be. On the other hand, in a single-player, turn-based game with a top-down perspective giving you a perfect or near-perfect view of the battlefield, it’s okay to demand the players be a little more clever to keep up.
The bottom line is, of course, that simply making the AI “smarter” isn’t the answer. The AI has to fit the game, and it’s all about making the game more compelling to the players. How that is achieved really depends on the game.
Filed Under: Design, Programming - Comments: 7 Comments to Read