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Default Rampant Games - The Joys of Crappy AI

October 11th, 2013, 01:18
Well the Rampant Coyote is back again with another post on his blog this time about game AI, and the importance of obviousness.

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.
Read his blog for the rest.

More information.

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October 11th, 2013, 01:18
There's some great comments in Coyote's blog. Good responses.

I don't understand what Miller means by "Holy Trinity" in the context of AI. Is it something opposed to "smart" AI?

One of the best mods ever made for NWN (there I go again) was the improved AI mod. It was so much more smarter that Bioware was left defending themselves and they did borrow a number of ideas from it. I think one of it was to make AI more modular. The irony is, is that NWN was built off the customizable AI that companions use in Baldur's Gate.

Miller is right, in a MMOG you get huge pushback from players when you cap their exploits. Nerfing something is usually not the right solution, unless you absolutely have to. I only did that to Timestop, which affected the entire module and no one ever came up with a fix that didn't seriously leak memory or things like that. The other one was True Seeing - instead of being 100% see everything I let resistances work. This was a problem with the nature of Epic Spells. Once they were added, the level 7 and 8 level spells have to be nerfed in order for those to be truly "epic".

The hollers and screams I got from players when I added Improved AI was deafening.

The biggest complaint over AI was it's use of its favorite skill Knockdown. The players called it spamming. The irony that they spammed it too on the NPC's seemed to be lost on them. The fact was the Challenge Rating that generated their XP gain was based on the skills, but the official AI rarely used them just meant the NPC's were being exploited. (I solved this by contacting the author (who was busy generating a third edition that was never released) and he put a random element into the decision making for me rather than simply by going by priority of the NPC's best skill). I was the hero for all of about 10 minutes. Yes, I took off the spamming but they quickly discovered the NPC's were still using knockdown sometimes. Apparently what they wanted was for the enemies not to use it all!

But here's the thing: the players never quit. Some of them made a big stink and said goodbye forever, but these players were always back a week later. I learned something here: no who says they're going to quit actually quits. People just vote with their feet. Its numbers, not words, that count and my numbers would increase by 40%.

It was something I knew based on Sociology that most people don't quite realize: a society that has all its basic needs taken care of - food, shelter, companionship, etc. - seeks a challenge. If they don't get it they become self-indulgent and self-destructive. This is why we have secondary education and build massive monuments to the sky and jet airplanes. This is why we have games.

The mistake that is made with game development is the same one that goes on with any mass media - attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator instead of seeing past that for what people really want.

They may express their frustration over the challenge but in te end its what they are actually playing for. There's a sense of accomplishment, and even learning, when you can overcome a challenge. This is human nature.

The real skill is recognizing that loud complaints aren't necessarily a bad thing. As they say in Hollywood, I don't care what you say about me; as long as you get my name right. The more and more loudness for me was a good thing. It meant more and more players were coming on board.

I think Miller here was trying to walk that fine line between making it sound like he was listening to the players complaints and doing something about it and doing what he knew what was right to make it a game they'd actually have fun with. In other words being being invisibile about it as Jay is saying.

Developer of The Wizard's Grave Android game. Discussion Thread:
http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520
Last edited by Lucky Day; October 11th, 2013 at 02:02.
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October 11th, 2013, 02:54
The secret is to make satisfying gameplay BEFORE the game ships so that players don't bemoan any changes you would have had to later make otherwise

Oh, and I miss CoH Controller is still the best 'class' in any game that I've ever encountered. Why? Well, partly because it was so outside the box, and so outside the bounds of that idiotically antiquated Holy Trinity.
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October 11th, 2013, 03:24
many issues pop up only after a long time. it was only after several years did anyone every realize that knockdown was overpowered. I mean..it took years, and d20 had already settled on tripattack instead.

I think that is one benefit that PnP misses out on - you can do some real stress testing on a system in a MMOG environment that gets missed in small cells of players scattered.

Developer of The Wizard's Grave Android game. Discussion Thread:
http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520
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October 11th, 2013, 09:42
The article has it but crappy AI? Ai in games is made to flatter the ego of players. It must deliver just that challenge to keep players aroused without pushing them on the side lines. Players want to remain the central force in their gameworld but also get that feeling they deserve the position.
Once accepted, it kills so many games. For example, in a strategy game, once you've got big enough, a proper AI will provide a challenge with a DOW but the DOW is tailored in the way it can be overcome. Once known, it destroys the purpose as it is known the opposition is sized to be overcomed in a move to flatter the player's ego.
Players do not like it when the AI does not give them that special seat. Developpers have tried to integrate players in a game world through other ways but many times, players simply do not accept the ways and prefer to stick to a gameworld they are the center of.

So why crappy AI? The current standard of AI is one that makes games sell by pleasing and flatter players' ego. Is an Ai that meets its objectives, that is getting games sold to players crappy? I dont think so.

Originally Posted by Drithius View Post
The secret is to make satisfying gameplay BEFORE the game ships so that players don't bemoan any changes you would have had to later make otherwise
Satisfying for what customers? Customers come in all stripes and colours and the post access period to a game is trenchwarfare by customers who want to bend the incoming corrections to the game toward their wishes.
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October 11th, 2013, 09:43
Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post

It was something I knew based on Sociology that most people don't quite realize: a society that has all its basic needs taken care of - food, shelter, companionship, etc. - seeks a challenge. If they don't get it they become self-indulgent and self-destructive. This is why we have secondary education and build massive monuments to the sky and jet airplanes. This is why we have games.
I am glad I never took courses of sociology.
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October 11th, 2013, 11:19
Yes, a good article, but however desirable, somewhere along that rocky path of giving the player more 'Artificial Intelligence feedback' lurks that inevitable curse of gaming - - "dumbing down" - the player's imagination must be made to prevail at all costs.
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October 11th, 2013, 15:34
Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
I don't understand what Miller means by "Holy Trinity" in the context of AI. Is it something opposed to "smart" AI?
No, I get the impression as if he means the AI of a certain role within enemy groups.

It's to me as if enemy groups had the Holy Trinity as well.

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October 11th, 2013, 17:12
I played a fire tanker in city of heroes, and I'm not sure that the article on MMORPG.com really does a good job of describing the issues around that power. The main issue it had was that it did waaaay too much damage. You could kill anything just using that power, and it made all of your other powers obsolete. So they made it so that enemies would run away when you used it, but that wasn't enough. People would just freeze enemies in place, or you would catch enemies in the middle of an attack animation and they would die or take massive amounts of damage before they could get out. So finally they just had to nerf the power so that it's damage was in line with other powers.

People weren't complaining because of change in attack patterns. People were complaining because their overpowered ability got nerfed. They would come up with the most ridiculous excuses for why that particular ability should not be changed. My favorite was someone who argued that the ability was balanced, because it was so powerful it made the game boring, and that this boredom was the balancing factor. And yes, they were being completely serious.
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October 11th, 2013, 18:52
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October 11th, 2013, 23:40
Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
But here's the thing: the players never quit. Some of them made a big stink and said goodbye forever, but these players were always back a week later. I learned something here: no who says they're going to quit actually quits. People just vote with their feet. Its numbers, not words, that count and my numbers would increase by 40%.
Yep. Likewise, 20% of the gaming audience do 80% of the whining. 80% of the remainder are often quite happy with the change and so don't need to whine. It's the Pareto principle at work.
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October 12th, 2013, 14:32
Originally Posted by fadedc View Post
People weren't complaining because of change in attack patterns. People were complaining because their overpowered ability got nerfed. They would come up with the most ridiculous excuses for why that particular ability should not be changed. My favorite was someone who argued that the ability was balanced, because it was so powerful it made the game boring, and that this boredom was the balancing factor. And yes, they were being completely serious.
In the SWTOR forums, there is currently something similar happening.

The most used argument consists of 3 signs :

"L2P"

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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