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Tuesday, Jul 20, 2010
The art of video game AI is in making a player think that they’re interacting with something more sophisticated than it really is.

Video game artificial intelligence is a fascinating merger between programming and artistic deception. Richard Bull, lead AI programmer for Empire: Total War explains in an interview, “the AI academics are your wizards and we’re your stage magicians—it’s all smoke and mirrors with game AI” (Ben Hardwidge, “How AI in Games Works”, bit-tech, 5 March 2009). An academic trying to simulate a human brain has a massive super computer devoted to the task of thinking, while an AI programmer for a video game is instead working with a small percentage of processor power. The majority of the computing power in games is instead going towards depicting graphics, sound, physics, and cow bell type things. For example, technically the AI in Halo 3 is less sophisticated than in Halo 2 because most of the processor has to be devoted to graphics. A giant, open world game will inherently have stupider AI because there just isn’t enough power to go around. So the art of video game AI is in making a player think that they’re interacting with something more sophisticated than it really is.


The first and most obvious technique for making an AI look smart is just keeping it alive long enough for the player to even notice it. An in depth discussion of the AI in Halo points out that the main difference between playing the game on Easy versus Legendary is that everything has more health and the player has far less (Alex J. Champanard, “Teaming Up With Halo’s AI: 42 Tricks To Assist Your Game”, AIGameDev.com, 29 October 2007). Play testers were more complimentary of an AI when they were able to observe it perform various tasks as opposed to just killing it on sight. Consistency is also an important factor, it’s important to not curve difficulty by dumbing down the machine or reducing its abilities. Once you see an AI behaving stupidly, the impression is permanent. Once a person is observing the AI, it’s also important to make sure that it’s broadcasting its conduct back to the player as much as possible. The Brutes seem smart in Halo 3 because we hear them shouting, “Flank him”, before they execute an otherwise simple AI command. Grunts seem like they’re responding to us because they shout “Run away”. Getting the player to even notice that the AI is doing something besides shoot is the first step to making it look good.


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Text:AAA
Monday, Jul 19, 2010
Playing the role of prophet is a tradition as old as video game criticism, so look no further for a heap of prognostication and plain ol' guesswork.

Coming off a really solid half year of gaming and in the wake of E3, the Moving Pixels podcast considers the upcoming titles that publishers and developers have just given us a taste for.  Based on screenshots, teasers, and gameplay demos we discuss titles that look exciting, disappointing, and just plain intimidating (I’m looking at you Portal 2 gameplay demo).


Playing the role of prophet is a tradition as old as video game criticism, so look no further for a heap of prognostication and plain ol’ guesswork.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Jul 16, 2010
Breaking up the party helps us identify the characters as individuals rather than as just parts of a whole.

In Final Fantasy XIII, most of the cast is introduced in the very beginning. Rather than spread these introductions out over the course of the game like other RPGs, the cast comes together after just a few hours and then breaks up again. It’s a strange series of moments, seeing your party systematically disbanded, but the reasons behind these divisions are very personal, and as we watch each character go their separate ways, we learn a lot about their inner thoughts and desires.


First some background information on the world of Final Fantasy XIII: the game takes place in Cocoon, a protective sphere separating humanity from the dangerous outer world of Pulse. The fal’Cie are powerful magical beings that reside in Pulse. They attacked Cocoon a thousand years ago and were repelled, but the attack left humanity paranoid and forever fearful of these creatures. Adding to these fears is the ability of the fal’Cie to turn humans into servants, the l’Cie. When branded as l’Cie, you’re given a vague vision of a task that you must complete. If you’re successful, you turn into crystal; fail, and you become a monster. Either way it’s a death sentence, and one more reason to fear the fal’Cie. Yet ironically, Cocoon was built and is still maintained by these magical beings. They control everything from day and night cycles to weather patterns.


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Jul 15, 2010
The bottom line is that the next time I'm bringing the DS along too.

I’ve been traveling the past week and will be traveling much more in the next couple months. While I love going new places, I do dislike being separated from my dearly beloved game consoles. For years now, my Nintendo DS has been my trusty travel companion and more than a few transcontinental and even trans-oceanic flights have been whiled away with the help of Tetris, Civilization: Revolutions, and Advanced Wars among others. This last trip though, I decided to leave the DS at home because now I’ve got a shiny new iPad, and it’s chock full of games.


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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jul 14, 2010
The only way to set things right in a world is to subtract something in it.

As I understand it, in Persia pots can be extremely aggravating.  I was reminded of this “fact” when playing through the Prince of Persia reboot, The Forgotten Sands, several weeks ago.


Forgotten Sands include that old gaming chestnut, break stuff on a level in order to get other stuff that will benefit you.  It really is a strange concept, the notion that abusing the world around you is obviously a way of helping yourself out.  I mean, okay, the idea of getting some sort of “life energy” out of a random pot in a palace is a weird enough concept.  But do you really have to break a container in order to get at the weird stuff inside?  Could the Prince be bothered to maybe reach inside first before resorting to vandalism?


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