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Computer Games and AI

As mentioned previously, AI means two different things. Which kind of AI do we mean when we say "computer game AI"? What good is AI for computer games?

It's understandable that we want intelligent characters in our games because they add to the experience and improve gameplay. Intelligent NPCs make single-player games possible, and improve multiplayer experience, without having to rely on an existing community of (biological) people.

We want useful sidekicks, worthy deathmatch opponents, hordes of enemies that get shot in particularly entertaining fashion, and background characters that add depth to the game. Regardless of the game type—whether real-time strategy (RTS), first-person shooter (FPS), or massively multiplayer online game—intelligent NPCs are absolutely necessary to create the illusion of playing with other intelligent players.

Fundamentally, these examples revolve around synthetic characters. Because the essence of the problem is to develop a single NPC, that seems an obvious place to start (from an educational point of view). Focusing on one creature leaves vast quantities of processing power available, which provides a perfect test bed for experimentation.


In AI, a smart entity is known as an agent. A system that handles more than one game unit in coordination is known as a multi-agent system. Developing multiple agents involves scaling down the AI enough so that it's feasible to scale up the number of NPCs. In essence, it's about using simpler AI using less memory and processing power—although this is a challenge in its own right!

From an external point of view, NPCs need only to display a certain level of intelligence. This is one key realization; computer game AI requires the result. It doesn't really matter how NPC intelligence is achieved, as long as the creatures in the game appear believable. So AI technology is not justifiable from this outsider's point of view, because standard software engineering techniques could be used equally well to craft the illusion of intelligence (for instance, scripting).

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