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Computer games provide a challenge for mankind. A way to demonstrate his mastery over the concept of intelligence and yet a way to test that mastery. It is through a continual need to improve the artificial intelligence in computer games that man also finds a way to examine his own creativity, to reach beyond what is possible and improve himself.
Developments in the artificial intelligence of computer games have shown remarkable improvement as new genres of games have been created with new advances in the technology. Newer more complex and adaptable games demonstrate an increased understanding of intelligence and furnish entertaining benchmarks of our own ability.
The idea of artificial intelligence is a daunting notion. That the very thing that distinguishes humanity from all other living beings, intelligence, is reproducible even improved upon presents a certain challenge to mankind: is artificial intelligence superior to human intelligence? To avoid the philosophical chicken-and-egg argument, man has created an ingenious way to test AI: games. What were once mere entertaining diversions, computer games have become a forum for man to pit his intelligence against an artificially intelligent computer program in an attempt to validate his own self worth. Such challenges provide not only a means of entertainment but also a path to self-improvement.
Consider the controversy regarding the recent victory of IBM's Deep Blue over world chess champion Gary Kasparov. Headlines relating the story typically questioned the preeminence of human intelligence in favor of the artificial intelligence represented by Deep Blue. Now more than ever, the challenge presented by computer games and artificial intelligence has created a need. This need can only be met by tests provided by engaging, creative, and intelligent computer games. This has spurred an entire industry, which accounts for billions of dollars every year. The wide-scale development of computer games continues in a variety of formats: simulation games, action/adventure games, interactive 3D games, fighting games, and others. These are all ways for man to test not only his creativity but also his own intelligence and ability to improve himself.
Early computer games required mere physical reaction and not much intelligence as game programmers struggled to develop more realistic games that would provide an environment for more complex interaction. With this aside, the advent of modern computer games required game designers to develop programs that would simulate human behavior. Simulation, thus, while not representative of original thought, is a necessary place to start in order to examine the development of computer game intelligence.
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One field of computer games rooted in simulation involves role-playing. In this format, an extremely detailed environment is presented to gamers where they must use real-world reasoning to solve problems they encounter. Great care is taken in the creation of these environments to preserve life-like situations and responses on behalf of the computer controlled world. The Alliance Simulation Group is a syndicate of programmers and players dedicated to supporting several rich simulations of well-known science-fiction universes like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Babylon 5. Some are mere text-based but other sims are enriched with sounds, graphics, and even video from their respective sci-fi sources.
In a typical simulation, a player goes about exploring the environment until encountering a computer-controlled enemy or problem. The player must use his wits and knowledge about the particular sci-fi universe to defeat the enemy and/or solve the problem. Often this interaction is very complex and the more popular sims are the ones where the computer reactions reflect a sophisticated intelligence. Thus players can live out their fantasies in an artificial world but at the same time experience real-world responses in engaging situations. Thus simulations represent an important aspect of AI, that is, the representation of human-behavior. The computerized opponents must act within the bounds of reasonable human action.
A more interactive form of this is the milieu of 3D games. In 1992, a game called Wolfenstein-3D was released by id Software. The game was hailed as a breakthrough in terms of game play, but its intelligence was limited. Players made their way through a 3D maze represented by a World War II Nazi castle and shooting the villains. The computer-controlled actions of the Nazi soldiers were typically reactionary and formulaic and did not adjust to player strategies. The AI was weak, but the game proved to be so popular it spawned a whole new video game genre, the 3D shooter. Successful follow-ups to Wolfenstein-3D also released by id were DOOM and Quake, which advanced the genre with new improvements not only visually, but in terms of artificial intelligence as well. Computer-controlled enemies in these worlds no longer wait around to get shot, but actually hunt the player down as he progresses though the level. Deep mazes and cunning villains created challenges that made these games even more popular than before.
As an extension of this, late the next year, a new brand of computer game was introduced in arcades: fighting games. The most popular of which were Capcom's Streetfighter and Midway's (who incidentally was responsible for Pong, one of the first video games ever) Mortal Kombat, which both live on in multiple successful sequels. The concept for these games is very simple, a human-controlled character competes against a computer-controlled character (or another human) in a fighting contest. These games challenged players like never before in that they adjust very well to a player's position and attack strategy. The more popular games, such as those named above, challenged a player's creativity and resourcefulness in dealing with a computer opponent's attack and developing a new strategy of attack when an old one was no longer effective.
Thus evolving computer games continually show some form of challenging improvement to the level of sophistication of artificial intelligence as well as "developing advanced technology that leads to unencumbered input from real people"(E-Planet). The complexity of maintaining not only rich graphics but also an array of opponents with intelligent behavior provides gamers with hours of entertainment and challenge and has proven so popular that computer gaming has become a billion industry. Nintendo, the premier home video game company, posted 3.25 billion dollars in fiscal 1996, more than any other competitor.
Nintendo constantly pushes the envelope of engaging computer games. Not only satisfied with improving games through software, the company also develops more complex hardware to implement more advanced AI. The N64 machine, for example, was created not only to realize advanced AI, but "artificial life" as well.
1. Artificial life is the antithesis of artificial intelligence. While AI seeks to simulate real-world behavior by following a complex series of rules, AL starts with very simple rules for a system and enables complex behavior to emerge from them (N64.com).
While not all games take advantage of this, its development is a tribute to the need of gamers for more complex artificial intelligence to compete against.
Nintendo systems allowed computer games to reach into the homes of America. In fact, Nintendo boasts that "more than 40% of American homes own a Nintendo system" and its icon character "Mario is more recognized among children than Mickey Mouse"(Nintendo). Other video game systems like Sony's Playstation and Sega's Saturn allow for even more ubiquity. Younger generations are being stimulated intellectually earlier than ever before and demanding more out of their video games, requiring that the artificial intelligence they play against to provide greater challenges.
As the prevalence of computer games continues to increase, the demand for more sophistication in the artificial intelligence found in them also increases. This process continually provides interesting challenges for man as he attempts to best his own creations. It is through challenges that man has evolved to this point and this is as true in the information age as it was in the ice age.
Computer games are not only a forum for mankind to assert his intelligence on an oblivious world, but also an exploration of human creativity. The adaptability of human intelligence and potential for creative solutions always provides opportunities for improvement. And, the improvement in one of the intelligences, human or artificial, leads to a symbiotic improvement in the other.