Artificial Intelligence: Necessity or Waste of Space?

Brent Wallace

The video game industry used to be much simpler than it is today.

In the past, people who wanted to play video games simply had to stop by the arcades, but the days of the arcades are mostly gone and now the majority of gamers have to buy a console or computer in order to play.

As technology for these platforms advanced, such as the development of the Internet for online play and more advanced game engines for powering their games, video games have also been advancing along with technology.

Believe it or not however, even in today’s high-tech world, not everyone has a speedy internet connection. And not every gamer has hundreds of hours to kill either. And most of gaming’s genres, such as strategy games and shooters, require some kind of non-player controlled resistance. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in.

AI has had a role in video games for a long time. AI-controlled characters first started appearing in the 1970s and ’80s in arcade games such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man.

When new genres such as real-time-strategy started appearing in the 1990s, AI development became more complex, as video games started featuring more in-game tasks for AI to handle. And the AI of video games quickly rose up to the new challenges.

These days, AI is regarded as a very important aspect of most single-player games, and even some multiplayer games.
The use and necessity of AI in video games varies heavily depending upon what genre is being focused on, and whether or not the game is focused on single player or multiplayer.

Multiplayer focused games have commonly excluded AI support, since it is viewed as an unnecessary addition since you can play against other human players. Recently, however, an increasing number of multiplayer-focused games such as the Unreal Tournament series and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars have started to go the extra length and provide AI to play against.

Some multiplayer games have gained critical acclaim because of their AI. The Unreal Tournament series is a perfect example of this, as it has been reported that many people who play Unreal Tournament are content playing against the game’s high-quality AI instead of going online.

Ultimately however, the whole point of a multiplayer game is to have human players go against each other.

Some say that the purpose of AI in multiplayer games is simply that of a placeholder for when human players aren’t available. On the other hand, some would also think that multiplayer AI should be more than just a placeholder and actually play the game skillfully enough so that it becomes tricky to differentiate human players from AI-controlled players.

Then there are single player modes, in which the purpose of AI is much more easily defined. At the same time however, the use of AI for single player is much more varied than it is with multiplayer games, since AI characters can have different capabilities, options, and roles than the player – differences that would never fit into a multiplayer game.

When they create single-player campaigns and modes, some developers take the extra effort to make their AI characters put up an extremely challenging performance for the player, while others settle with an average, but still entertaining AI. There are nearly endless possibilities for what can be done with AI in single player to enhance the experience.

So how should developers use AI to attain the best experience possible with their video games? Should they rely on godlike AI or average AI? Many developers unfortunately settle with weak AI.

Developers should try to strike a balance and offer both strong and average AI, not just in single player games, but in multiplayer games as well because, as said above, not everyone has a speedy Internet connection.

By offering both strong and weak AIs, developers can truly enhance just about any game they create. The only type of AI developers need to avoid is weak AI, which is a type of AI that far too many developers use.

Although the quality of video game AI has improved vastly over the years, the uses and importance of AI has for the most part been the same. As such, AI has made a firm role for itself in the video game industry, and should keep players entertained for years to come.