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The Hard Science of Making Videogames 194

Posted by Zonk
from the dr-mario-i-presume dept.
twoblackeyes writes "PopSci delves into the 10 greatest technical challenges faced by game developers today, and the technology that will hopefully make them a thing of the past. At the top of every dev's wish list is increased realism: realisitic fire, water, enemy AI, material physics, etc. Here directly from the developers where the tech stands today, and where it will likely be tomorrow. '4. Artificial Intelligence - Problem: Once upon a time, the bad guys in videogames wandered around mindlessly, shooting at you while they waited to die. That doesn't cut it anymore. Players demand sophisticated enemies to fight and reliable in-game allies with which to fight them. Thing is, it's freaking complicated, and it eats up processor speed. "We're faking just enough smarts to make it work," says Mathieu Mazerole, lead engineer on Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed. Status: Imbuing characters in a game with lifelike decision-making ability involves employing the kind of high-level logic theories--learning decision trees, mobile navigation, finite-state machine models--used by top robotics engineers.'"
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The Hard Science of Making Videogames

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  • by JanusFury (452699) <kevin DOT gadd AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:25PM (#20686215) Homepage Journal
    would rank the importance of realistic water simulations above the importance of good artificial intelligence in games.

    And to think, I used to subscribe to popsci...
    • by PackMan97 (244419) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:27PM (#20686241) Homepage
      I don't think this is a ranked list. However, many AI's are already very very competent while most water looks like crap.
      • Agreed. I read the article a while ago when it came out in print, it's not supposed to be a ranked list. And the AI in games like Rainbow 6 can already surprise you (I got flanked in my last game by a pair of particularly enterprising AIs), good looking water is much, much harder to find.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by pthor1231 (885423)
        One of those free mmos me and a friend tried out for a little bit, the water was terrible. I didn't expect miracles from a free mmo, but if you turned the water quality to the lowest setting, it was reflective. I wondered why my friend was having trouble attacking the crabs in the water, and then I looked over at his laptop screen, and saw the sky where the water should be.
      • by geekoid (135745)
        The problem with water is that people tend to think of water as a jello like object, when it really needs to be modeled like a think gas.
        • by ultranova (717540) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @06:22PM (#20689139)

          The problem with water is that people tend to think of water as a jello like object, when it really needs to be modeled like a think gas.

          Nah. Low-pressure gas can be modeled as independently moving particles which don't interact with each other, just the environment. This gets realistic enough spread, and you can easily add scripted events (like poisoning, snuffing out fires, etc) triggered by proximity of such points to anything.

          Water molecules, on the other hand, both repulse and attract each other. Basically, water needs to be made of particles which exert a force on other nearby water particles, and experience gravity. The force needs to be strongly repulsive when near each other, then turn to mild attraction when a bit farther, and zero when further than that. Apart from that, you need to take smaller simulation steps when two particles are near, since otherwise you risk one getting shot out like a cannonball.

          You could even have a full three-phase simulator to switch particular particles from water to gas mode if they get hot enough (or even into solid mode if they get cold enough).

          Of course, if you have the CPU power, you could simply model everything (including the solid matter) from particles and get things like realistic breaking, roof falling down when the walls get damaged, and so on. That's not realistic right now, thought, both because of CPU power and because of level design issues it would cause. Still, just imagine a FPS where the Anti-Matter Laser will set the enemy in fire, throw him into a wooden building through the wall, cause the building to catch (realistically spreading) fire form the flames, and make the roof fall on him because the wall was damaged and couldn't bear the load anymore. Then watch the flesh particles get burned out of blackening bone particles.

          Now that is a murder simulator ;).

          Now imagine an adventure/RPG game where the entire play area is made from such virtual molecules, allowing you to solve the problems using common sense rather than just pre-scripted solutions. For example, suppose the object is to get to the bottom of a mine inside a mountain, but the tunnels are full of poison gas. Either get a magical poison immunity amulet, or be creative and use a disintegrate spell to blow open the side and let winds (moving air particles) to blow out the poison gas (which would require more realistic gas simulation than I described above).

          The future belongs to simulators, not scripting. And I predict that eventually everything will be made from particles, not polygons, since particle systems enable cooler effects and more realistic/believable behavior of materials.

          • Good point about destructible environments. To me, the realism of a game is spoilt much more quickly by a thin wooden door showing no effect from a rocket strike, than from water looking a bit flat. Or surviving a nuclear explosion by standing behind a rock.
            An environment that really showed inreasing damage from the battles going on would be a lot of fun.
            A few games have tried it (and of course every game has crates) but obviously it's not catching on...

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by skeeto (1138903)

        many AI's are already very very competent while most water looks like crap.
        So, crap simulation is already very good. Check that one off the list then.
    • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:40PM (#20686437)
      Designing good AI is extremely difficult.

      But is good AI really needed in games? Wouldn't it be enough to give the enemy AI's a few basic styles/options and what to do when they run out of ammo?

      #1. Team options - how well do they operate together?

      #2. Seek cover/concealment vs charge!

      #3. Prioritize area effect weapons vs others (grenades vs pistol).

      #4. Play dead vs pick up comrade's weapon.

      You enter their zone, they have high team operations so they'll ALL have the same reactions. They ALL take cover and throw grenades at you.

      You enter their zone, they have low team operations so they'll ALL be decided individually. "A" charges, firing his pistol as he runs. "B" ducks behind a tree and throws grenades until he's out then he fires until he's out and then he plays dead. "C" ducks behind a tree, shoots his pistol and then tries to move to a tree closer to you. When he's out of ammo, he grabs what he can off of "A"'s corpse and keeps fighting.

      With a few options, each game will be very different.
      • Not quite. Firstly your plan itself would be extremely difficult to implement, easily as difficult as current AIs. How do you teach the AI to prioritize area effect weapons? What if the AI's in a place where he's not supposed to damage the enviroment? Does he still prioritize area effect? How does the AI decide if his dead teammate's weapon is better than his current one? Especially when the two weapons are extremely similar (2 different SMGs), what does the AI do then? Does the AI base it's decision to cha
        • Why not? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by khasim (1285)

          How do you teach the AI to prioritize area effect weapons?

          If yes then when enemy is in throw range throw grenades until grenades == 0 or enemy == 0.

          What if the AI's in a place where he's not supposed to damage the enviroment?

          If you've gotten to the point where you have to ask that, you've already too far. Ask yourself why you as the designer are giving grenades to the guards inside the art museum.

          How does the AI decide if his dead teammate's weapon is better than his current one?

          Why would he need to decide

          • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by provigilman (1044114) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @05:12PM (#20688085) Homepage Journal

            If yes then when enemy is in throw range throw grenades until grenades == 0 or enemy == 0.

            You can counteract this then by hopping in and out of throw range until the enemy runs out of grenades. Also, what if there are multiple players, some in range of the grenades and some outside grenade range but within weapons range. Plus, what about novel tactics? Retreating out of a room and tossing a grenade behind you? Effective use of smoke grenades instead of just frags?

            If you've gotten to the point where you have to ask that, you've already too far. Ask yourself why you as the designer are giving grenades to the guards inside the art museum.

            So then a player can simply negate grenade wielding enemies by retreating into the art museum? Or will the enemy pursue but fail to use grenades even if all available weapons are out of ammo?

            Why would he need to decide that? He'd use his weapon until it was empty or the enemy were all killed. Then the decision comes in to look for other weapons or to play dead.

            You ever play a multiplayer game? Your buddy next to you with the Rocket Launcher dies, you have an SMG and you're fighting a Tank. Do you honestly just sit there and plug away with the SMG while you're standing next to a Rocket Launcher? Of course not! Conversely, what if he had a Sniper rifle? It's normally a superior weapon, but is it still superior in that particular situation?

            Nope and that's the point. The tactics the PLAYERS will use will have to CHANGE each time they play because the tactics the enemy will use will have changed.

            But they're really not. If the enemy picks one of two options regardless of what you do, you only need to learn a counter for each of the two options. Now, if you're crouched in cover with a Shotgun, you have the charge covered, so you only have to worry about when they take cover as well.

            But imagine instead that the enemy starts tossing grenades in an attempt to dislodge you from your cover. Or one enemy pins you down with automatic weapons fire while his allies flank you from the sides, staying well out of range of your shotgun. Or what if they toss out some smoke, then move up while you can't see them? Or better yet, you're in a warhouse and one of them goes up onto the catwalks to get above and behind you in order to flush you out into the waiting sights of his buddies?

            These sorts of things are what a player would think of, but current AI won't...and the AI you described certainly won't. Adding a couple of simplistic scripts with a random choice between them does not an AI make. Creating enemies with their own personalities, preferences and play styles that react to what tactics the player is using in a realistic and inventive fashion is the future of AI. It's also what human players do, why do you think multiplayer deathmatches have been (and continue to be) so popular?

            • You can counteract this then by hopping in and out of throw range until the enemy runs out of grenades.

              Yeah ... if he's out of bullets already. Otherwise you're hopping back and forth within his range of fire. Looks like you died, again.

              Also, what if there are multiple players, some in range of the grenades and some outside grenade range but within weapons range.

              I would guess that the app would shoot the players until one got within grenade range and then it would throw a grenade at that player.

              When that pl

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by provigilman (1044114)
                Rather than requoting everything again, I'll just respond point by point.

                1) So now the enemy only throws grenades when he's out of bullets? You're missing the point. You gave a very simplistic "If he's within range, throw grenade" explanation. If you use something that simplistic it's predictable and exploitable. More complex scripting is better AI...this is the easy shortcuts you outlined originally aren't groundbreaking.

                2) Again, simplistic AI. Move one player into range that can handle the grenade

      • by klenwell (960296)
        Wouldn't it be enough to give the enemy AI's a few basic styles/options and what to do when they run out of ammo?

        And have million of NPCs representing every variation of those options fighting each other in the background, then have only the Nth generation winners of those battle show up to fight you.

        This was the approach taken by one baseball sim game.
      • by teh moges (875080)
        I generally find those who think programming "very good" AI is easy usually haven't tried it themselves.
        What you are talking about is a rule based system (or expert system). The problem with these systems is that no matter how many rules, you can never account for all possible scenarios and once an exploit is found, it stays there. In a scenario with very few possibilties (say, PacMan), creating AI is easy to do with a set of perfect rules. However in more complex environments such as a FPS, RTS or pretty m
        • by Eivind (15695)
          AI actually has two problems, one is being clever. The other is modeling human limitations.

          Sure, you want the AI to be clever in the ways that humans are clever. But you *also* want it to be weak in the ways that humans are.

          It is trivially easy to aim and fire a perfect headshot in 0.05 seconds, but impossible for a human being. You want the opponents to have realistic limitations.

          It is trivially easy for an AI to give detailed instructions simultaneously to 50 different troops. A human commander cannot (he
    • by aepervius (535155) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:42PM (#20686483)
      would place the importance of graphical detail as shown inside above gameplay. If you don't have a good gameplay, you can have 1000000000000 triangle per square inch of pixels, it won't make your gamer more happy. The Primary challenge of a good game is not graphism. it is a good idea which translate to a good technical gameplay.
      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by Guysmiley777 (880063)
        Number one should be "Developers forgot how to provide more than 10 hours of gameplay per title"
        • Once upon a time, 5 hours was plenty of play-time and had plenty of replay-ability, too. Heck, without the ability to save, 5 hours was a bit long. How long did it really take to complete a game of Super Mario Bros. for instance?
          • by Bluesman (104513)
            It took me years to complete SMB. I hate that damn one block wide ledge in level 8-2 or 8-3, that thing psyched me out almost every time.

            Then you get to the end of that level and the stairs have holes in them and that goddam cloud thing was throwing spiny shit at you. Bastards.

        • by bjorniac (836863)
          I dunno, some people have been playing Counter-Strike for about ten years now...
          • by i.r.id10t (595143)
            And some have been playing quakeworld even longer.

            But what provides the good game play isn't the level design or storyline of the game - its playing against the "perfect AI" - other humans. At that point, it doesn't matter about the map design (looks, not layout), whether you have 256 varying colors of brown/grey/etc. vs. 16bit color, etc. It is about meeting other humans and beating them (or being beaten)...
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @06:28PM (#20689213) Journal
        *shrug* Now _I_ too would say "who cares about graphics? Gameplay is king." However I end up talking almost daily with a couple of gamer co-workers, who, any way you want to slice it, _do_ place graphics above everything else.

        They might _say_ that they value gameplay more, but any talk about some game they've bought will revolve 90% around how awesome or how sucky the graphics are, an you'll have to work on it to get even a nodding acknowledgement of anything else in the game.

        A recent conversation with one, for example, went loosely from memory like this. (It's about a game which will remain unnamed because I'm not discussing here whether the game is good or bad. I'm just illustrating how -- whatever other faults the game might have had -- they didn't even play long enough to discover those, they got stuck on "eew, the graphics look like PS2 graphics!")

        Him: "Hey, I went and bought game X because you said it's OK, and it's the biggest piece of crap ever. You made me waste my money on it."
        (Not the most polite way to start a talk, but maybe he's just joking.)
        Me: "Hmm? Well, ok, I guess these things are subjective. What didn't you like about it?"
        Him: "The graphics! It looks like a PS2 game! Or like something that might have been ok on the Wii or maybe on the XBox last year, but in the meantime people discovered how to use all three GPUs!"
        (I didn't know the XBox had 3 GPUs, I thought the 3 were the CPU cores, but ok.)
        Me: "Hmm, well, maybe you shouldn't take advice from me if your tastes are that different. I generally don't pay much attention to graphics."
        Him: "Well, I don't care about graphics either, but these are crap! They look like on the PS2!"
        (Bit of a contradiction there, I would guess. But let's prod it some more.)
        Me: "No, when I say I don't care about graphics, I mean I've played a bit of <insert PS1 game from the 90's> over the weekend."
        Him: "Eeew... Isn't that almost 10 years old and with 2D graphics?!?"
        Me: "Yep, that's the one. Just saying, I don't care much what it looks like."
        Him: "Well, I don't care about graphics either, but, eew, that's 2D and low res."
        Me: "Well, the one you were talking about isn't."
        Him: "Yeah, but it looks like on the PS2! They can publish that kinda crap on the PS2 or the Wii, if they want to, not on the XBox!"

        And so on and so forth.

        Now how many gamers are that shallow, I couldn't tell. I like to think that this guy is an extreme case. Still, as they say, if you're one in a million, there are 6000 exactly like you. Plus by virtue of it being a continuum, there'll be some tens of millions in shades of grey on that side of zero.

        And to return to whether TFA is fluff or not, well, think of it this way: people tend to gravitate around sites and magazines which see things that way. If one magazine or site told the above-mentioned guy to buy a game 'cause the gameplay rules, even though the graphics suck, I'm guessing it wouldn't take more than 1-2 times following their advice to stop reading it completely. So as long as there are people basing their purchases on glitter above substance, there will be people catering to that market segment. It's only capitalism in action, after all.
    • if it's blue and you can splash around in it, it's water. good enough for me. sometimes I wonder if I just took a real picture of waves on an ocean and showed it to people if they would just claim the water looked fake or it was photoshopped or whatever.
    • by jdray (645332)

      I'd like to see some video game AI developers use their talents to make some business software. Not that I think games don't deserve their efforts, but it frustrates me to see entertainment apps with more capability than the ones we're using to keep this country's economy running (or not, as the case may be [slashdot.org]). Take for instance the world of wholesale energy delivery (and try not to fall asleep). Once all the financial deals are done to buy (or sell) power at all the delivery points around the country, a s

      • by Surt (22457)
        Generally game development is less lucrative, but more fun (if you're young and without family).
        Solving the problems you're worrying about is a matter of money. No one wants to spend to develop the solutions, and there's basically no way to break into the market from the outside. Game devs don't have any special magic talent that the rest of the industry lacks. Then there's also the matter of reliability: games are bug ridden. Do you really want your energy management system shutting down and causing bl
      • by _Sharp'r_ (649297)
        The reason no one creates an AI to coordinate energy delivery is that we already have a great mechanism for that. It's called prices. That's why prices exist. They enable anyone in any location to make an intelligent decision about how much energy they want to pay to have delivered in order to fulfill their needs. Prices change as supply and demand changes in order to ensure the most efficient distribution of the resource being priced. This method has been refined over thousands of years and is very efficie
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MoxFulder (159829)

      At the top of every dev's wish list is increased realism: realisitic fire, water, enemy AI
      Realistic spelling is cool too!
    • Well personally speaking I lost him when he said "bad guys wandered around mindlessly..."

      This guy never met crush roller's bad guys, nor the little ufo in asteroids, nor witnessed some enemies xevious drop their bombs and flee - well trying to.

      Of course one might object those bad guys movements have nothing to do with AI. They're just programmed well enough to be fun. Sure thing, but that's exactly what counts: being fun to play. If the game makes you stick your tongue out and sweat, you have long forgotten
  • Hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:32PM (#20686319) Journal
    " '4. Artificial Intelligence - Problem: Once upon a time, the bad guys in videogames wandered around mindlessly, shooting at you while they waited to die. .."

    I think this describes me on any FPS.
  • Not Quite. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by David L. Koenig (821886) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:32PM (#20686323)
    The article should be renamed from "10 greatest technical challenges faced by game developers today" to "10 greatest technical challenges faced by first person shooter game developers today" Contrary to popular belief, not all game developers are striving for photorealism.
    • by tholomyes (610627)
      To limit it to FPSes is a bit much, though. You could easily include everything from Spider-Man, Skate, Madden, Myst and Grand Theft Auto into that list. And 3rd-person shooters!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jarjarthejedi (996957)
      For the average person game has come to be equated with First Person Shooter. They are by far the most hyped and talked about types of games, far beyond any other type. For the average non-gamer the word Game is equated with either images of GTA (for the game haters) or an FPS. For the average gamer the main genre is FPS.

      So you're right, this should be 'Top 10 issues facing FPS developers'. However, since for a lot of people game = FPS and this article is written for those people*, saying Top 10 game issues
      • by cliffski (65094)
        They may be the most hyped and talked about, but they are unlikely to be the most profitable. On the PC, the most popular game by far is 'the sims' which is the total antithesis of this entire list.
        I'm a game designer/coder by trade, and reading that article just depresses me. Nobody is actually worried about the fact that the end game may be just as predictable and tedious as the game before it.
        The biggest challenges in game development are gameplay concepts and play balancing.
        I've coded pretty much every
      • For the average person game has come to be equated with First Person Shooter. They are by far the most hyped and talked about types of games, far beyond any other type.
        I thought that was WoW. Even non-gamers know about WoW. Not that many could even name Counterstrike, Halo, Battlefield, Quake, or Doom.
    • Re:Not Quite. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by westlake (615356) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @05:53PM (#20688737)
      Contrary to popular belief, not all game developers are striving for photorealism.

      The problem isn't photorealism.

      The problem is drawing a player deeper into a game by creating a richer and more persuasive environment.

      The alien world of the old LucasArts game The Dig was defined by water. There were pools, falls, founts and streams to be found everywhere. Bioshock's Rapture is a contemporary example. What could be more disorienting - and terrifying - than being trapped in a city whose protective shell is disintegrating?

      Not consciously aware of being submerged until the truth is shoved in your face.

      Special effects don't have to be "realistic" - movie makers learned long ago that what it is "real" is often not what is believable and dramatically effective.

      • by Vokkyt (739289)
        I think a major issue though is that a lot of developers spend more time worrying about how it looks then how it adds to the game. So much time is spent with how the water looks from the outside, little concern is given to what the game looks like when you're actually submerged in water. Games of all genre's are guilty of this. On top of that, many are so focused on keeping a soundtrack going, with unique sounds from each moving item on screen (metal scrapping, enemies yelling), that a submerged characte
    • Let's play "name a popular non-FPS game"! Do we have an entry? Anyone? Come on, I know there are some out there! That? Oh, no, that was released years ago. Try again. Sorry, that's just a crappy remake of a 1995 game. Oh well, maybe next year we'll have something...
      • Let's play "name a popular non-FPS game"!


        The Sims, in its various versions.
        The Total War franchise.

        we have an entry? Anyone? Come on, I know there are some out there! That? Oh, no, that was released years ago. Try again. Sorry, that's just a crappy remake of a 1995 game.


        Er, and popular FPS's aren't essentially engine upgrades and remakes of earlier games?
      • by grumbel (592662)
        Final Fantasy, ResidentEvil, GTA, MetalGear, God of War, Zelda, Mario and a ton more. FPS are for most part a phenomenon of XBox and PC. Japanese don't really seem to care about them all that much. So, lets play a different game: Name a few popular FPS that came out of Japan.
    • by grumbel (592662)
      If only developers would actually strive for realism, the thing is, by far most of them don't. The flightsim genre is mostly dead, Need for Speed got turned into a primitive arcade racer instead of striving to be a simulation like the first did, if Grand Turismo ever gets a realistic damage model is still on open question and everytime somebody mentioned 'realism' and points his finger at some bunny-hopping, circle-strafing FPS shooter I don't know if I should laugh or cry.

      Developers for most part try to do
  • by EricR86 (1144023)
    You'd think with the success of casual games, and less "technically advanced" games for platforms like Wii and the web, game developers would see huge market of gamers who are simply looking for games to be more fun again. Who cares if it has the latest AI or better cloth physics? Leave the better cloth and fire effects to the SIGGRAPH people :).
    • Umm, probably because the graphics on the Wii and those casual games blow away graphics from 5 years ago? Because in some cases, yes, the graphics do make the game more fun. That's not knocking PacMan - PacMan is fun. But so is Halo. So is Fight Night. So is Metal Gear, Gears of War, and a lot of other games that have cool _immersive_ graphics. Video games are a visual medium. They aren't interactive text, and so like other visual mediums you want to see stuff happening on the screen. Better graphic
  • by Steveftoth (78419) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:36PM (#20686377) Homepage
    It's just that even if they solve all these issues with games, and are able to render a true to life simulation with AI that can mimic a real person. It still doesn't even begin to solve the most important aspect of video games, which is FUN.

    Fun cannot be realized through more processor power, better looking faces or AI.

    All these problems are very hard to get 100% right and all they really need to do is to get it right enough that people pretend that they are in a fantasy world. Which is why old text based games like Zork can still do a good job of pulling a player into the world enough that it's fun. It's all about stimulating a person's imagination, not creating a photo realistic simulation of reality.

    Sure it would be neat to have photorealistic fire that can burn the entire environment and interact with water in a realistic manner. But is that what you really want? I mean it's also very fun to be able to play as the human torch, which means that you have to bend the laws of physics in your game world to simulate such a being. So it's not really about being real as much as fun, no?

    Art direction, character design, level design, are much more important then these issues, yet we are spending much more time on the motion capture of a video game then on the plot. Crazy, IMO.

    • by tholomyes (610627) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:48PM (#20686589) Homepage
      Well, for one, motion capture is more important than plot in, say, most sports games. Also, it would be really fucking cool if you could play a game like Zork but where nearly every puzzle doesn't have a single, contrived answer.

      Then maybe you could be in an environment where, as the hulking barbarian with the double-bitted axe, you encounter The Locked Door and, instead of having to find The Key, you can just break the damn thing in. Simplistic example, but hopefully it illustrated the point: a better physical simulation can allow for more creativity in the game.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Red Flayer (890720)

        Also, it would be really fucking cool if you could play a game like Zork
        (snip)
        Then maybe you could be in an environment where, as the hulking barbarian with the double-bitted axe, you encounter The Locked Door and, instead of having to find The Key, you can just break the damn thing in.
        I believe Nethack has been meeting your requirements for over a decade... though, ironically, via less complex physical simulation.
      • by CrazyJim1 (809850)
        You described Wasteland 1 for C64. You can either pick the lock, have the key, or my favorite: Use explosives.
    • Sure it would be neat to have photorealistic fire that can burn the entire environment and interact with water in a realistic manner. But is that what you really want?

      Yes, because I want the creative field to be as open as possible, with as few technical limitations as possible. I want to be able to play a game where I'm a firefighter trapped in a building with a psychopathic arson, who is intent on burning me an my team alive. I want a intelligent, thinking AI who understands how combustibles work, and

    • by xtieburn (906792)
      'Fun cannot be realized through more processor power, better looking faces or AI.'
      Yeah but they really really help.

      When you can mimick real life perfectly you can bend it in to whatever you want.

      The real life part is simply the benchmark. Few people with the ability to simulate it will then go no further and start producing some crazy effects. The human torch being a great example, the fire is a part of reality but when perfected and applied to a whole human body, bam you have the superhero come to life. (S
    • by cowscows (103644)
      While I'll agree that as far as games are concerned, the greatest graphics in the world can only go so far in making crappy gameplay fun. But I'm willing to cut the linked article a break, since you can't really describe "fun gameplay" in any sort of useful scientific way, meaning that such a discussion might be outside of the purview of a PopSci magazine article.

      It seems pretty straightforward to me that the article was not intended to be a dissertation on game design, rather just a quick overview of some
    • gimme more fun!

      Not wonderfully hyperrealistic crisp graphics, not involving storylines, not good music, not brain masturbation, just simple, humble, addictive fun! I'll give you all my dollars and social life for just a bit more of fun!

      FUN!! that's all you need...
  • by SynapseLapse (644398) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:40PM (#20686443)
    Did anyone actually read this article before greenlighting it? This isn't news, science, well researched or even well written. It's crap.

    Less than a year ago, there wasnt enough processing power to dynamically generate the movement of water in games, says Lee Bamber, a programmer for 20 years and founder of The Game Creators, Ltd.

    Wow, fluid simulations started less than a year ago? Damn.
    Simulate it on the molecular level real time, maybe no. But still.

      If a characters face is too close to human, players will reject it, a psychological phenomenon known as the uncanny valley: Objects more familiar to the human eye are inspected with greater scrutiny, leading to a drop-off in acceptance as the simulated object nears the point of being lifelike.

      A terrible description of a lousy buzzword.

      "Like cramming the sum of all automotive engineering knowledge into a joystick"

      Please.... please stop writing.
    • Less than a year ago, there wasnt enough processing power to dynamically generate the movement of water in games, says Lee Bamber, a programmer for 20 years and founder of The Game Creators, Ltd.

      Wow, fluid simulations started less than a year ago? Damn.
      Simulate it on the molecular level real time, maybe no. But still.


      Good call. I remember Nintendo bragging about the wave physics in Wave Race 64 back in 1996. It wasn't new then, and it certainly hasn't been getting any newer in the 10 years since.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Red Flayer (890720)

      Less than a year ago, there wasnt enough processing power to dynamically generate the movement of water in games

      Wow, fluid simulations started less than a year ago? Damn.

      Out of curiosity, when did fluid simulation == dynamic generation of water movement in games?

      A terrible description of a lousy buzzword

      Ah yes, a relatively new term used to describe something is automatically a buzzword? And a lousy one at that? Perhaps you have a different, better description in 50 words or less?

      It's fine that you do

  • This assumes FPS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:41PM (#20686457) Journal
    This assumes that the most important games are first person shooter games, which frankly bore the living shit out of me.

    Dance Dance Revolution is goofy as can be, and I don't play it, but as a "game" it's a lot more fun and interesting than the anti-utopian fascist horseshit that passes for fun these days.

    In fact, the Wii opens up a whole 'nother wonderful can of possibilities, as does Guitar god games an similar things. THAT'S where the creative action is, and that's wher ethe REAL innovation is going on. Not in stupid 12 year old boy shoot 'em up bullshit.

    RS

  • The list includes at best 1 element which actually has a decent impact on how fun the game will be to play, AI, and it isn't even ranked highest. Seriously, I don't remember playing Super Mario because of the realistic "material physics" of the bouncing stars or bricks which shatter if you knock your fist against them... Based on this article I'd say the greatest challenge to designing a video game is convincing all the idiots that realism actually doesn't mean a whole lot compared to gameplay. Defcon's sup
  • Blah blah blah (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:45PM (#20686525) Journal
    Yes, AI is difficult. The best way to do it is to model it on the way actual players play, which would mean collecting a large database of player actions in specific situations, something that is finally becoming achievable due to the popularity of online play.

    Programming a logic tree is old school. It doesn't work very well because it's easy for a player to "learn" the logic tree of a bot...It's something you don't even do consciously, but after you find yourself tossing a grenade in a certain direction, because you just sort of know the bot is going to be there...It's game over. You know the tree.

    Picking up the data from the game though, you can get a lot of information. Using weapon X, 70% of players started shooting from 100 meters, hitting the target 30% of the time. Why? Who cares? A bot that engages from that distance with that weapon at that accuracy will seem normal to a person. Weapon nerf comes along, and all of a sudden people only engage with that weapon at 20 meters or less (desperation). The tree updates itself.

    Learning systems are the next step. Build the tree from harvested data, don't sit and try to figure it out yourself. You don't even have to make it that complicated a tree...Take the 10 most popular situational actions (Bot on Defense with Weapon X) add some random rock-and-roll to keep the choices from getting repetitive, and you can work out positioning and situational reactions based on statistical comparisons with the actions of previous players.

    Compile stats on a daily/weekly basis, resample the tree, and push it out to the clients as a patch...Or hell, if the bot logic is online, just update their datasets.
  • Hard science? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Guysmiley777 (880063) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:47PM (#20686563)
    The article claims "hard science" but instead is a collection of blurbs that read like half-assed filler written by someone without a clue as to the subject.
  • The strategy of a game might involve for example, ten different things that a human player could do well or poorly based upon the unique nature of the player. A good AI should be balanced against those ten things. A player might be very good at 3 of those things, but are weak in the 7 other areas. The AI should match those abilities. The AI should never be too good in a players weak areas, and never too weak on a players strong skills. Greater granularity of difficulty is the key. An AI doesn't even n
  • Translation: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dracos (107777) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:53PM (#20686677)
    1. Hardware
    2. Eye candy
    3. Eye candy
    4. AI
    5. Eye candy
    6. Eye candy
    7. Physics
    8. Animation
    9. Physics/eye candy/animation
    10. Animation

    This list is about making games more real, which doesn't necessarily mean better. There more to it, such as balance, game play, user interface, premise, and plot.

    I'd still rather play NetHack than any MMO game, and I enjoy the early Final Fantasy games more than the later ones.

  • Cat logic (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jbeaupre (752124) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:54PM (#20686683)
    Trust me, my cat doesn't use learning decision trees, mobile navigation or finite-state machine models when trying to evade me or get into various trouble. And her processing power is pretty dim compared to a computer. Maybe it's time to start looking simpler solutions. Like rules based behavior.

    Everyone is now familiar with flocking algorithms. That's one behavior. Model several behaviors, superimpose them where possible (i.e. walk and chew gum), slap a probability algorithm, and that's how a lot of researchers are getting lifelike behavior from robotics. Best of all, you get goofy, unexpected results. Just the type of stuff to make a game interesting.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      "..And her processing power is pretty dim compared to a computer. "

      OK, that was just stupid.

      "Best of all, you get goofy, unexpected results."

      And the again.

      First off, you computer processing abilities is no where near a cats. But that doesn't matter, because comparing a computer to a brain is stupid. The only exception is if you are modeling a brain using computers. Something that takes vast more resources then your computer.

      Second off, you don't want goofy unexpected results in a game. You want results that
    • Re:Cat logic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mattintosh (758112) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @04:11PM (#20687015)
      And her processing power is pretty dim compared to a computer.

      Your cat is smarter than you realize. Brains do image processing, task/goal tracking, fine and coarse motor control, and a myriad of other complex processes simultaneously. Many of these require advanced (but not abstract) mathematics and ability to react to the result. Example: if I'm moving this speed and the dog is chasing me at that speed, will the dog catch me before I reach the house and bite off a chunk of my tail? If so, run up the nearest suitable tree.

      It's been said repeatedly that "the most powerful supercomputer in the world is approaching the complexity of X". Currently, X is somewhere between a snail and a housefly. When it gets to housecat, you won't be able to win the games at all anymore.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by p0tat03 (985078)

        When it gets to housecat, you won't be able to win the games at all anymore.

        Dear human meatbag: This is clearly preposterous, computers will never be smarter than humans. Your kind has nothing to worry about. Please return to opiating yourselves with video games and hollywood movies.

        Sincerely, Skynet

    • Re:Cat logic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @04:56PM (#20687785) Journal
      All animals, man included, spend their whole existence building up "logic trees" which give us our reactions in certain situations. Someone throws something at you, you block it, dodge it, catch it, or let it bounce off your head. We categorize, extrapolate, and induce...It's all logic trees.

      Cats are cursory hunters; they lack stamina, and they hunt by stealth and lightning attacks. This being the case, knowledge of their range is critical to their success as hunters, therefore they spend most of their non-sleeping time engaged in exploration. That's why cats are always into stuff. Startle a cat, and he's gone, under something, up something, behind something. Do you ever see them stop and think about where they're going? They already know.

      And the processing power isn't dim. Jesus, just because it's not sitting there doing philosophy its not a highly specialized and successful hunter? You're talking about an animal with enough instinct and reflex control (and that is brain power, just as much as problem solving) to do acrobatic things that people strive in vain to accomplish, calculate a thousand variables while flying through the air to snatch something, or land on its feet after a drop of meters, and we can't even get robots to accurately match the range of mere human dexterity. It's like the DARPA robot challenge; it took years to get a robot through that course, and it's not because the vehicles couldn't make it, its because the processing power wasn't up to making the decisions needed to get across the terrain.

      You can't look at intelligence in pure terms of math. When you take them out in the world, and tell them to apply that computational power to walking, talking, and chewing gum at the same time, you see how far we still have to go.
  • mention 'Fun'. Focus on fun, and the rest is cake.

    BTW: This is the same damn list that had 15 years ago, and it will be the same damn list 15 years from now.

    • by rjung2k (576317)
      Because you can't fill 10 slideshow pages on the basis of "fun in videogames". Short of sticking in saccharine pictures of Mario, Pikachu, and Pac-Man, anyway.
  • I mean objective #4, the problem of generating code that operates as an evil agent, a wily enemy loose in yer gamz and wastin yer avatarz. It will have to involve some learning and some capability to evolve. About 1 year after it finishes off all the opponents in whatever MMOG world it inhabits, some idiot at DoD will, just fer kicks, drop it into a networked C4I system and we will all be toast.
  • by madopal (308394) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @04:55PM (#20687767) Homepage
    I find it amusing that an entire piece about the "hard science" challenges in game development doesn't even deal with the development process itself. I mean, when you code in a higher level language, dealing with strings is now easy, whereas it was tedious in C. There's no library sharing like in every other language. There's no #include , whereas there's really nothing new to moving a bitmap anymore.

    Even with something like OpenGL, you're still basically given a pile of bolts, beams, and sheet metal and asked to make a car. If I had a nickel for every time game developers reinvented the wheel, I'd be Bill Gates. Heck, I'm still coding font routines and sprite handlers for companies. I heard that even the Wii doesn't have a system level call for the main menu stuff...it leaves that up to you.

    Someday, the tools will come along enough that people will be able to work with something higher level like Python or Ruby and not have to worry about twiddling their own framebuffers. We're still in the dark ages in game development this way. Having a CPAN for games is DECADES off. Instead, game developers are stuck trying to make a rock fall or a torch look right, and when they're done tweaking that crap, THEN they remember they have to make a game, not a shadow simulator. Thus: Doom LXXXVIII.
  • My wishlist (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ihlosi (895663) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @05:01PM (#20687875)
    At the top of every dev's wish list is increased realism: realisitic fire, water, enemy AI, material physics, etc.



    Crap. How about a game that's fun to play ? Yes, I know, I'm getting old and have ridiculous expectations.

  • If "friendly AI, please don't walk directly in front of my gun when I'm shooting at someone" is really that hard to code, then humanity never had any business writing anything more complicated than Pong.

  • You mean regular expressions [wikipedia.org]? We already have those. They're very fast.
  • Why are they pushing to make games more and more like real life? Why even empty your wallet for a fucking game when you can walk outside and experience the same thing?

    We play games for FUN (or used to, at least), not to rate which games have the most unpredictable AI, or which games can portray water closer to the puddle outside my window.

    Call of Duty 9! Same as 1-8, but now you can see the pimples on the Major's face! And the ducks actually bob with the water! Oh how fun!
  • All this talk of better realism is great, but surely one of the most unrealistic aspects of games is that everything happens in a small stationary window in front of you. In the real world, if I look up at the top of a tall building, I have to tilt my head back and I have a real sense that I'm small and the building is big. Moving my wrist to look up on a small window just doesn't give me the same sense of bigness. I don't really feel like I'm in a game yet, it's just there on the screen.

    More than 15 ye
  • When will they realize, graphics are at a point where tweaking the reflectivity of the water, or the wispy-ness of the smoke won't change my mind about whether a game is fun. I'd trade less-shiny water for better AI any day. Or hell, maybe even just a better story. Stop stressing my PC to the limit! The fact that my new(ish) PC can't run Bioshock makes me want to cry. Well, there's $50 of my money they won't be getting.
  • It's got to be AI (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sam_Brightman (808954)
    I know people have said this every year since 0, but graphics are fine these days. The biggest improvement in my view would be animation/lack of rag doll-ness on the rag-dolls. Animation tends to be either really over-the-top or really static, sometimes varying between the two in a single game. Even some films have this problem (I'm looking at you, Spiderman).

    But AI is surely where it's at. Current AI is terrible, and I think most people confuse "hard" with good AI. They just up the accuracy people! That do

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