Artificial intelligence in gaming has come a long way since world chess champion Garry Kasparov lost to IBM’s Deep Blue. With the ability to analyze hundreds of millions of chess moves per second, Deep Blue had a wealth of data to inform its decisions.
The gaming industry has since taken this approach a step further by applying artificial intelligence that can learn on its own and adjust its actions accordingly. These developments have made AI games increasingly advanced, engaging a new generation of gamers.
What Is AI in Gaming?
AI in gaming refers to artificial intelligence powering responsive and adaptive behavior within video games. A common example is for AI to control non-player characters (NPCs), which are often sidekicks, allies or enemies of human users that tweak their behavior to appropriately respond to human players’ actions. By learning from interactions and changing their behavior, NPCs increase the variety of conversations and actions that human gamers encounter.
Artificial intelligence is also used to develop game landscapes, reshaping the terrain in response to a human player’s decisions and actions. As a result, AI in gaming immerses human users in worlds with intricate environments, malleable narratives and life-like characters.
How AI in Gaming Works
AI games employ a range of technologies and techniques for guiding the behaviors of NPCs and creating realistic scenarios. The following methods allow AI in gaming to take on human-like qualities and decision-making abilities.
Decision trees are supervised machine learning algorithms that translate data into variables that can be assessed. These variables provide a set of rules for NPCs to follow, guiding their decisions based on specific factors. For example, an enemy NPC might determine the status of a character depending on whether they’re carrying a weapon or not. If the character does have a weapon, the NPC may decide they’re a foe and take up a defensive stance.
Genetic algorithms apply the principles of natural selection to extract optimal solutions from data sets. They may combine data points and variables randomly to create a range of possible outcomes. Upon evaluating these outcomes, genetic algorithms choose the best ones and repeat the process until they determine an optimal outcome. AI games may adopt genetic algorithms for helping an NPC find the fastest way to navigate an environment while taking monsters and other dangers into account.
Neural networks are algorithms that can be trained with a specific data set, and they can readjust to different data sets. This ability to adapt is what enables these deep learning algorithms to learn on the fly, continuously improving their results and catering to many scenarios. NPCs leverage neural networks to change their behavior in response to human users’ decisions and actions, creating a more challenging and realistic experience for gamers.
Reinforcement learning is a form of deep learning that embraces a trial-and-error approach, assessing the rewards and consequences of actions. For example, an NPC may make a decision within a game and die as a result. The next time around, the NPC remembers this consequence and takes a different approach, with staying alive and earning points being potential rewards. NPCs can build off of their experiences with reinforcement learning, maximizing the positive consequences of their decisions.
Future of AI Games
As AI games mature alongside other technologies, artificial intelligence is set to play a key role in shaping the gaming industry for years to come. Below are just a few ways AI can enhance the gaming experience for players.
Increasingly Complex NPCs
NPCs are already learning how to adapt and respond to characters and situations, but they may gain even greater independence with AI. The possibility of moving past actions to produce characters with their own personalities and emotions offers a level of humanity that can lead to a more fulfilling and intimate experience gamers will appreciate.
More Life-Like Interactions
NPCs are becoming more multifaceted at a rapid pace, thanks to technologies like ChatGPT. This conversational AI tool has earned a reputation for writing essays for students, and it’s now transitioning into gaming. The NFT Gaming Company already has plans to incorporate ChatGPT into its games, equipping NPCs with the ability to sustain a broader variety of conversations that go beyond surface-level details.
Personalized Game Assets
Blockchain and gaming have overlapped in recent years, with non-fungible tokens making it possible for players to customize their characters’ appearance and capabilities. The AI program Midjourney adds to this aspect of personalization, quickly creating in-game art for customizing characters and gaming environments. Users can then enjoy games tailored to their preferences.
Generative AI already saves designers time by producing specific game assets, such as buildings and forests, as well as helping them complete game levels. The next step is for artificial intelligence to design entire games on its own. Gamers can expect AI-generated worlds to only rise in quality and detail as AI in gaming continues to progress.
Top AI Games to Know
Thanks to the strides made in artificial intelligence, lots of video games feature detailed worlds and in-depth characters. Here are some of the top video games showcasing impressive AI technology and inspiring innovation within the gaming industry.
AI Games Examples
- The Last of Us
- FIFA 22
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown
- Rocket League
- Halo: Combat Evolved
- Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
- BioShock Infinite
- Alien: Isolation
The Last of Us: Part I
Building on the momentum of its PlayStation 4 hits, The Last of Us: Part I’s re-mastering for PlayStation 5 features notable improvements in its AI. NPC allies excel at detecting enemies and adapting their actions accordingly. They’re also much better at moving in stealth mode, maintaining slower and quieter movements compared to the original PS4 game. These upgrades preserve the charged atmosphere of this survival narrative, fully immersing gamers in the story.
EA Sports’ FIFA 22 brings human-controlled players and NPCs to life with machine learning and artificial intelligence. The company deploys machine learning to make individual players’ movements more realistic, enabling human gamers to adjust the strides of their players. FIFA 22 then takes gameplay to the next level by instilling other NPCs with tactical AI, so NPCs make attacking runs ahead of time and defenders actively work to maintain their defensive shape.
Red Dead Redemption 2
As part of the Rockstar Games portfolio, Red Dead Redemption 2 displays advanced AI that enriches the supporting cast of NPCs. An example of this can be found when an NPC corrects itself if it fails to dispose of a body properly. NPCs’ ability to learn from their mistakes and modify their behavior makes the game even more life-like and captivating for human players.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist has become a standard for stealth AI because of how its NPCs respond to what they see, what they hear, what they are aware of in their surroundings and how they understand different contexts. By adhering to these core principles, the game produces stealth AI that quickly reacts to attacks while varying their behavior each time to keep human players off balance.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
To reboot the XCOM series, Firaxis Games sharpened the NPCs with a more thoughtful approach to its AI. XCOM: Enemy Unknown contains different groups of enemies with their own offensive, defensive and special abilities. The AI can assess these abilities during battle, altering the behavior of NPCs to cater to their strengths. This change made NPCs more difficult to defeat and diversified villains’ behavior in XCOM.
Rocket League is a game where you play soccer, but with cars. While some leagues may feature all-human teams, players often work with AI-controlled bot teammates to win games. These Rocket League bots can be trained through reinforcement learning, performing at blistering speeds during competitive matches.
Halo: Combat Evolved
The first-person shooter genre of video games wouldn’t be what it is today without the 2001 release of Halo: Combat Evolved and its AI-powered enemies. While each class of enemies features specific behaviors, the Elites are the most sophisticated adversaries. Elites know how to seek cover when being attacked, patiently wait to ambush human players while camouflaged and make last-gasp charges when they’re about to die.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor expands its narrative possibilities with the Nemesis System. This AI-driven technology records the actions of the human-controlled main character for Uruks (villains) and NPCs to bring up in dialogues throughout the game. In addition, the Nemesis System creates plotlines for Uruks who kill or are defeated by the main character. This allows villains to develop their own personalities and histories as well, creating a more complete world.
BioShock Infinite adds a human dimension to NPCs with its AI companion character Elizabeth. An upgrade from previous versions of AI companions, Elizabeth interacts with her surroundings, making comments about what she notices and going off on her own to explore. The NPC also responds to the needs of the human-controlled protagonist, providing supplies, weapons and other necessities. As a result, Elizabeth becomes an endearing character and enables human users to develop a closer relationship with the game.
The Xenomorph in Alien: Isolation has established itself as a terrifying NPC due to the AI that gives it life-like traits. Besides having a strong sense of smell and hearing, the creature uses sight to adapt to what it sees (reacting to a player with a weapon, for example) and learns from pain to adjust its approach. A menace gauge also guides the Xenomorph’s behavior, ensuring human players experience a tension that ebbs and flows throughout the game.