A.I. The Hidden Frontier of Gaming - mbellacio Blog - www.GameInformer.com
Switch Lights

The lights are on

What's Happening

A.I. The Hidden Frontier of Gaming

 

Not too long ago, I read a little blurb from a video game journalist that suggested that the greatest area of progress for next-gen consoles would not be in graphics, or sound, but in artificial intelligence. The case was laid out that graphics and sound are reaching a point of diminishing returns. And while I'm sure it would be possible to start venturing into 3D visuals, I think we have all had ample opportunity to see how well 3D has fared in both movies and video games. It's a great marketing ploy and reliable source of added revenue, but it does not siginificantly upgrade the experience of the end-user. In short, most people could care less.

I've been thinking about this issue more and more as each day brings us closer to the inevitable revealing of the next Xbox and the next Playstation. So far, all of the hype surrounding the next-gen predictably revolves around how fast the core processors will be, what kind of video processing will be used, and how large the memory or hard drives will be. Will they continue to use standard hard drives, or will they follow Nintendo's path and move to SSD's despite their expense?

But I'll be honest. The specs I'm hearing for next-gen are not exciting to me... at all. Especially since both Microsoft and Sony are now opting to use "off the shelf" hardware components. I feel somewhat the same about the Wii U. The Wii U is easily going to be another great, capable little system from Nintendo. But it is by no means pushing the envelope... yet. Even in the world of high-end PC gaming, no one has seen anything truly revolutionary, which is a bit troubling considering that nothing will ever beat a top of the line PC.

The Level Playing Field

Rather than game development taking a sharp tick upwards as has usually happened with the introduction of new technology, gaming has splintered into many different sub-categories and become more broad. MMO's, Casual games, mobile entertainment, social-gaming, these are the areas that are growing the industry for the moment. But the development of truly new ideas from within those categories is pretty stagnate.

If you really think about it, the average gamer playing Warcraft or an Elder Scrolls game is doing essentially the same things that gamers did with Everquest, Neverwinter Nights, Diablo 1 & 2, Icewind Dale, Baldur's Gate and even the Ultima series. Sure, there have been many new features and tweeks that have been added to the core gameplay over the years, but overall, the formula is the same. The changes have been evolutionary, not revolutionary. It wasn't always this way.

Think about what games like Zork for the PC or Earthbound for the SNES, or Final Fantasy 7 did for RPG's and gaming in general. Think about the jump from GTA 2 to GTA 3. Think about the huge leap that Duke Nukem 3D made beyond Wolfenstein. What happened since then? Where is our Shenmue? Do any of you remember how insanely different and new Sega's Panzer Dragoon and Nights were when they first launched? Has anything rivalled the wonder you felt when you first played Super Mario 64?

Consoles used to offer a means of accessing cutting edge technology that simply was not feasible, nor cost-effective on PC's. But now, you see most third party developers release a new game for all of the current consoles AND the PC. What that means is that consoles have lost their edge on the technology front. As far as content, consoles still enjoy a certain amount of exclusivity and probably always will to some extent.

But the problem (at least for me) is that if I think about the kind of experiences I want to have on next gen hardware, from what I'm hearing, I won't be getting it. I agree with the notion that AI is the final frontier of gaming that needs to grow and grow fast. Imagine playing a FPS  single or multiplayer session with NPC's/BOTS and being able to give them verbal commands in normal everday speech, which they would accurately understand and follow.

 

    

Will Siri one day become our version of Cortana?

 

Imagine playing Halo where Cortana responds to you much the same way that Siri responds to an iPhone user. Imagine a game with no set plot, that simply serves to provide an environment with constantly changing and ever evolving plots. This is what I want to play. I've always dreamt of a time when I could hop into a game where perhaps I began as secret agent or elite soldier/warrior, but perhaps I decide to quit or defect and become something else mid-game. Maybe I decide to sit in a bar in some future iteration of Grand Theft Auto or some other open world title, and just chat with the bartender, or practice picking up a date. Maybe I decide to become a mechanic, or a plumber (no, not Mario). How would that influence the story, or my chosen gaming persona?

In fact, if you really want to flip your lid, imagine a point in gaming where THERE ARE NO GENRES. What if there was just... the experience. In some ways, this is what we already see happening. Many of the most popular games today are in fact an amalgamation of several genres. Look at Mass Effect 3 and Resident Evil 6. These games are part FPS, part RPG, part Strategy, perhaps even part Adventure.

I think the ultimate fantasy of every gamer has always been to experience something like Star Trek's Holodeck. That's what we really want. A fully immersive, 100% believable virtual world that you can utterly lose yourself in. Gaming's greatest barrier is that you are always aware that you are simply giving inputs to a machine with a pre-determined, programmed set of responses. There is no spontaneity or discovery beyond what the game developer provides. And we will never see that kind of interaction without significant gains in AI.

You know you want one.

 

When you think about it, the concept seems so simple, and yet, it has proven extremely difficult to develop. Even today, what we call A.I. is still just a program because modern day A.I. never graduates to a level of cognitive function where it can formulate it's own questions. Machines still rely on us to provide the answers. Those of you who have dabbled in programming know exactly what I mean.

Very Rough Example: If X is at Q, Then let B = C.

The theory of A.I. should be so simple though. Give a machine an established set of rules and parameters with which it can began to perform rudimentary tasks. But also, give it the ability to ask questions, and then seek answers based on all the available data in the world. After all, this is the model for how humans essentially learn. Although, some might argue that we enjoy a slight advantage based on instinctual drivers and genetic predispositions.

Trust me. It's a read well worth your time.

 

There is a classic science fiction novel that I would recommend anyone read entitled "When Harlie Was One." It is very similar in spirit to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The book will truly challenge you to consider what constitutes life, intelligence, what it means to be human, and a whole host of other mind-bending questions. I personally feel that I'm ready to see the next step in computer technology. Think about the recent development of the Raspberry Pi, a complete computer that can easily fit in the palm of your hand and costs less than $100.

A.I. is fully possible. I believe that. And if it doesn't already exist in some obscure, secret underground military compound, it soon will. If you look at the advancments in robotics, nanotechnology, optics, and the constantly expanding processing capabilities of modern computers, there is no way that developing true A.I. could be far off. I'm ready for it. Are you?

comments