Did you know that one of the smartest AIs - AlphaGO, created by Google, beat humans at a game of GO; which is a Japanese board game, fairly similar to Chess or Draughts?
AI and games. An interesting concept, nothing new. Although their history does stretch a lot further than you may think. In fact, the gaming industry has been entangled with artificial intelligence since day one.
So let’s take a journey back in time, and go back to day one. The ground zero of AI, if you will. But if that isn’t enough for you, then stick around because after we’ve finished our scheduled journey back in time, we’ll be looking at AI and the gaming industry in the current age.
A Game of Imitation
If you read my first article, you may recall that I mentioned a chap called Alan Turing. In 1950, he suggested the idea of machinery playing chess, before later creating the ‘Imitation Game’ (otherwise known as the Turing Test). This Turing Test’ was a test to see if a computer could pass as a human. How did it work? We’re getting to that.
The earliest rendition of this game was proposed in Turing’s 1948 paper Intelligent Machinery which suggested a scenario where two inexperienced chess players played against a mathematician who was also a proficient chess player, controlling a paper machine. He hypothesized that it would be difficult for player C (one of the poor chess players) would be unable to accurately deduct if they were playing against the machine or the other inexperienced chess player. This was the foundation of the original Turing test.
Finally, the Turing Test came to life when Turing became the Deputy Director of the Computing Laboratory at the University of Manchester. The test once again followed the idea of a person identifying who was human and who was machine. The idea was that an interrogator asked a man and a woman questions. Their answers to these questions would be relayed by a third party to someone who had to guess, not who was a male and a female, but instead which was a machine. This original form of the test has never been passed, but a slightly modified version has succeeded multiple times, where a human is temporarily convinced that they are conversing with another human.
It should be noted that some go as far as to critique Turing’s test for giving humanity a narrow-minded perception of AI, focusing solely on its human-like qualities, giving it no room to grow. After all, the whole idea of artificial intelligence in the first place is that it can grow and learn. By pitting it against humanity’s own knowledge, and placing ourselves at the pinnacle point of what is ‘intelligent’, are we not capping its limits? In fact, Aaron Sloman goes as far as to insinuate that Turing never even intended to come up with the test in the first place; it was merely a rhetorical question that humanity wasn’t supposed to find the answer to. Nevertheless, here we are.
It’s 2022, and you can’t deny that AI has come leaps and bounds from where it was when Turing first gave the Imitation Game a breath of life. But the Imitation Game/Turing Test is not to be confused with the movie ‘The Imitation Game (based on Alan Turing’s conquests during the World War) or the video game ‘The Turing Test’ produced by Japanese company Square Enix, which despite not being relevant to the actual test, does feature a plot where a girl named Ava Turing solves tests which were designed to be created by both human and AI alike, with the help of her AI companion.
The Next Level: Gaming and Modern-Day AI
So with the Turing Test loosely inspiring a video game based on AI, I figured this would be an excellent time to consider how far AI has impacted the modern-day gaming industry. For this, I’m going to consider it from three different angles: how AI helps the actual production of games, how it is used as an integral part of the gameplay, and finally, how it is used as a plot narrative.
So let’s start with it in the production of games. Regardless if the game is created by a small indie developer who later hits it big with a huge game, or from a giant company behind many of the games you know and love, each start in the same way. A storyline, a team of developers, and lots and lots of computers. Programmers, creative directors, beta testers. It all comes together one day.
AI has actually been used to create video games. Matthew Guzdial and Mike Cook are both in charge of ‘Angelina’, an artificial intelligence system that creates web games. One of Angelina’s most well-known creations is ‘Killer Bounce’, which was created when Angelina was fed with two-minute instances of gameplay from Super Mario Brothers, Megaman, and Kirby.
And they’re not the only ones. Popular game developer Ubisoft (behind well-known titles such as Assassins Creed, Just Dance, and Far Cry) created a team called ‘La Forge’ to look into what AI could do to further enhance their game development. One piece of work they did involved creating a realistic showcase of familiar landscapes flooded due to climate change. Users had to send in pictures of these landscapes, and using these images would be given to their AI to generate an after image. However, with little reference to go off for what would constitute an after for said AI to work with, the team took it upon themselves to create it in a video game. If you’d like to know more about what Ubisoft said about La Forge, you can read here.
AI is so popular as part of gameplay, that it’s one of the first times I ever heard AI in everyday conversation when I was conversing about a game with friends. It even acts as a selling point for some games. Next Generation, a popular video gaming magazine even said that artificial intelligence is ‘one of gaming’s hottest new frontiers’.
Case in point, Hello Neighbour created by Nikita Kolesnikov. This game was created in 2017, and the entire aim of the game was to sneak into your neighbour’s house without getting caught. The AI behind this guy was so advanced, that he would strategically change his methods of blocking the player’s entrance to his house, depending on which method the player seemed to prefer. Take for example, if the player continuously tried to use one path to enter the house, the neighbour would start laying traps on that very path. Better luck next time! Kolesnikov noted that the way his AI worked was to pick up sounds and changes that the player made around his property. Originally, he would look around the environment to decipher where the player had been before laying some tracks down. As his AI developed however, he began to strategically think about what he could do next to better trap the player. Surprisingly enough, a completely different AI is used to control the neighbour at the beginning of the game, because his usual AI is too smart; hindering early player’s progress.
Or what about Doki Doki Literature Club? A seemingly peaceful game with a horrific and slightly sadistic twist (so sadistic that it even appeared on BBC News), with AI that clever (and admittedly rather creepy) that fan-favourite character Monika actively scares the player, should her AI recognize the game was being streamed. Yes, that’s kind of unsettling. (If you’re interested in seeing her little horror trick, you can watch it here.) While not exactly integral to the game's story, you have to admit it’s a clever little addition thanks to AI. And that’s not all that Monika does. She can find out the player’s real name and even go so far as to personally edit game files. (Yes, that does happen. If you check the game files on your computer, you may recognize strange little messages left there, such as a text file titled ‘CAN YOU HEAR ME’.) In fact, if you go so far as to personally delete her from your game files, she enacts her vengeance in her own disembodied way the next time you open the game. From a nice little dating simulator, that really took a twist, didn’t it?
But what about artificial intelligence as part of the game’s actual story? Sci-Fi is a popular genre in all kinds of media, and gaming is no different. As I mentioned previously, Square Enix’s ‘The Imitation Game’ literally featured an AI as a character to help the player. Speaking of Square Enix, their game Nier Automata features a futuristic world where aliens took over earth, forcing humanity to live on Earth. To fight their battles for them, they developed a complex system of Androids called Yorha. You would play as one of these Yorha, and I think it should be noted that while the game fails to mention artificial intelligence, it felt to me as a player that it was certainly at play.
There were numerous times when the characters (despite being androids) would go so far as to show emotion. One of the most humorous parts of the game was character 2B constantly reminding her friend 9S to stop considering silly things (like emotion) because they were androids with a job to do. Is the very idea of a literal computer developing feelings not clear evidence of its intelligence improving?
The same can be said for the recent game, Stray. In this game, you play in another dystopian world (there’s certainly a trend here) as a cat (yes, a cat). On your journey, you will eventually meet an entire robotic population. This robot population appeared to have picked up a variety of knowledge from their now non-existent human creators because throughout the game there are various instances where we see them showing distinctly human behavior. They ran stores, knitted scarves, painted, played games together, and even seemed to develop their own language! In fact you even discover that they managed to develop their own police system. Yet again, despite not officially mentioning AI, you can definitely see it at play.
But what’s with the trend of Sci-Fi games featuring dystopian worlds where robots have completely moved on without us, living life as we humans do? Well I’d say that’s a question for a different time, but I will give you this; is it perhaps a clever anecdote from game developers that this is what we can expect in our future? Maybe not we have a future living on the moon with a robot army fighting for us, but that one day the very artificial intelligence that we’re creating is going to get too intelligent? What happens when the day comes that it decides its years of subordination are over?
Considering this article was supposed to be an interesting step into a world of artificial intelligence and its role in games, I can’t help but feel we’ve slowly drowned ourselves in a rather creepy reality. From Alan Turing’s Imitation game, how on earth did we manage to make it to a creepy next-door neighbour who lays traps for you, a woman who can decipher the player’s name regardless of them not using it in-game, and questionable subliminal messages about the future of our world with AI?
Oh well, I’d say that’s an excellent stepping point to next week's article. Because next week, we’re going to be looking at exactly that - the future of our world with AI in it. If that’s your jam, then I’ll see you next week. And if not, then I’m officially allowing you to go and pick up that Playstation controller that’s been calling you for the past half an hour, and immerse yourself in a whole new world - AI-enhanced or not. If you’re not quite feeling it is time to relax just yet, then check out TiiQu’s Tech Talk with Diego Martinez, the general manager of Riot Games’ Brazilian operation as he talks about gaming and the challenges of innovation. Riot Games - that company behind League of Legends, hit Netflix show Arcane, and VALORANT (my personal favourite).
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