We've long been used to playing games by ourselves and with other humans; now, artificial intelligence holds the promise of games that play along with us.
Artificial intelligence (AI for short) is undoubtedly one of the hottest topics of the last few years. From facial recognition to high-powered finance applications, it is quickly embedding itself throughout all the layers of our lives, and our societies.
Video gaming, a particularly tech-savvy domain, is no stranger to AI, either. So what can we expect to see in the future?
Maybe one of the most exciting prospects regarding the use of AI in our games is the possibilities it opens up in regards to interactions between the player and the software being played. AI systems can be deployed inside games to study and learn the patterns of individual players, and then deliver a tailored response to improve their experience. In other words, just like you're learning to play against the game, the game may be learning how to play against you.
One telling example is Monolith's use of AI elements in their Middle-Earth series. Dubbed "Nemesis AI", this algorithm was designed to allow opponents throughout the game to learn the player's particular combat patterns and style, as well as the instances when they fought. These opponents re-appear at various points throughout the game, recounting their encounters with the player and providing more difficult (and, developers hope, 'more entertaining') fights.
An arguably simpler but not less powerful example of AI in gaming is AI Dungeon: this text-based dungeon adventure uses GPT-3, OpenAI’s natural language modeler, to create ongoing narratives for the players to enjoy.
It's easy to let the final product of the video game development process steal the spotlight. And although it all runs seamlessly on screen, there is a lot of work that goes into creating them. Any well-coded and well-thought-out game requires a lot of time, effort, and love to create -- which, in practical terms, translates into costs.
AI can help in this regard as well. Tools such as procedural generation can help automate some of the more time- and effort-intensive parts of game development, such as asset production. Knowing that more run-of-the-mill processes can be handled well by software helpers can free human artists and developers to focus on more important details of their games.
Automating asset production can also open the way to games that are completely new -- freshly-generated maps or characters, for example -- every time you play them.
For now, AI is still limited in the quality of writing it can output, which is definitely a limitation in this regard; after all, great games are always built on great ideas or great narratives.
"Better graphics" has long been a rallying cry of the gaming industry, and for good reason -- we all enjoy a good show. But AI can help push the limits of what is possible today in this regard.
For starters, machine learning can be used to develop completely new textures, on the fly, for almost no cost. With enough processing power, it can even be done in real-time, as a player journeys through their digital world. Lighting and reflections can also be handled more realistically -- and altered to be more fantastic -- by AI systems than simple scripted code.
Facial expressions are another area where AI can help. With enough data, an automated system can produce and animate very life-like human faces. This would also save us the trouble of recording and storing gigabytes' worth of facial animations beforehand.
The most significant potential of AI systems in this area, however, is in interactivity. Although graphics today are quite sophisticated and we do not lack eye candy, interactivity is still limited to what a programmer can anticipate and code. AI systems can learn and adapt to players while they are immersed in the game, opening the way to some truly incredible graphical displays.
Is it here yet?
AI has already made its way into the world of gaming. The case of Alpha Go and Alpha Zero showcases just how powerful such systems can be in a game. And although video games have seen some AI implementation, there is still a long way to go.
For starters, AIs are only as good as the data you train them with -- and they need tons and tons of data. The gaming industry needs to produce, source, and store large quantities of reliable data in order to train their AIs before they can be used inside a game. There's also the question of how exactly to code and train them, and what level of sophistication is best for software that is meant to be playable on most personal computers out there.
With that being said, there is no doubt that AI will continue to be mixed into our video games. It's very likely that in the not-so-distant future, the idea that such a game would not include AI would be considered quite brave and exotic.