AI has come a long way. With its humble beginnings as a well-crafted set of logic that mimics sentience, it now boasts of massive neural networks capable of identifying something from nothing.
When I started developing my game, Zombie Base Defense, the concept I had in mind was clear. The player should experience a sense of uncertainty and desperation in a game that features defending a military outpost as the last stand. Zombies should not appear at fixed intervals and numbers.
A challenge lies ahead that threatens to bring this dream of mine to its knees. I am by no means an AI engineer and implementing deep learning and the likes of it are akin to asking me to build a reusable rocket à la SpaceX. However, having a functional A.I is paramount to this vision of mine. In the absence of me, the creator, the only means of providing the exact experience as intended to the gamer would be the AI. Not all is lost, as one option remains. I need to go back to the roots of Artificial Intelligence. My goal now is to code a set of logic so delicately tuned that the player gets a sense of sentience. Lots of research was done on the assumption that surely, a game with a similar intention has been done and what learning can be made.
This article is the first of a series documenting my thoughts and journey towards an Unintelligent Artificial Intelligence (UAI, not sure if this term even exists!) in my humble game. My intention is for the reader to have this take away. Anyone can create a great gaming experience as long as you put your heart into it! My game is by no means the best or finished and I am most honored to have you join me on this journey of learnings, failures, and successes. You can imagine, coding can be a lonely activity at times!
Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 were popular zombie survival games released back in the late 2000s. Featuring a revolutionary concept known as The Director that handles various critical gaming aspects such as pacing and difficulty, it presents the perfect opportunity for one to learn from. These games were also well-known for their great use of fx to complement the experience. Such a holistic approach is most admirable.
So this came up during my research and having read as much as I could about this magnificent concept, I thus set about to develop my Director. My UAI will need to make up for the absence of the latest tech wizardry with sheer ingenuity. Exciting!
As of all endeavors, it is of utmost importance to establish a baseline. What is expected for the gaming experience to feel real and not scripted? The following is a result of a brainstorming session.
Expect The Unexpected
Murphy’s Law of whatever can go wrong will go wrong is the key to this aspect. Just like in real life, the game should present a reality that is fluid. Will you encounter a boss zombie at the same point always? No! A returning player will ponder what was done differently that led to this fork. Should you be contented with the walls separating you and the zombie mob? You better stay on your toes!
Having said so, it shouldn’t be random as the human brain is adept at dismantling feeble attempts at disguising randomness for uncertainty. Therefore a game rooted in a logical reality will pave the possibility for a satisfying experience.
Skills May Make A Difference
Have you ever had to hunt down that vicious forest rat for the X number of times just to level up enough to defeat the boss? This is the perfect recipe for gamers to bid farewell. While the concept of improving is important for a sense of in-game accomplishment, there should be more to that. Your upgraded skills may help you fight better, but it will not matter if you approach the game in an illogical manner. For example, higher health doesn’t mean you are bite proof. Sure, you can withstand more injury than player NoobHero123 but you better seek some cover asap before you get overwhelmed!
Such a constant state of uncertain superiority will add to the tactical realism layer of the game and thus its replay value.
Imagine watching World War Z without the bell and whistles. You get the point. Often overlooked, lighting, music, and sounds will make a difference. Gaming is an experience. It is a trip to another universe. As many senses of the gamer as possible should be exposed to this wonderful immersion.
A critical factor to note is suitability and timing. Blasting cool EDM while being chased by zombies gives an instant disconnect. The gamer is running for this life. Something direr will be most appreciated.
Emotions Are Played
Great movies, stories, and gaming have one thing in common. They make you emotional and attached to the subject on hand. From the happy tears of accomplishment upon making to the top leader board of Outpost Survival or the sad wail at the death of your best friend by the hands of a Runner Zombie, the gamer should feel that the experience tugs at the heartstrings. Without emotions, the incentive for replay diminishes significantly.
In The Next Update
We have the concept. We have baseline expectations. What’s next?
In the next article, I will like to explore with you the capabilities of the UAI to meet the requirements above. Will there be complications or obstructions? Definitely. We have to keep in mind that we will need to emulate much cleverness with coded preparation. Tears of joy? Perhaps. One thing for sure, I will never give up and I must see the birth of the Unintelligent Artificial Intelligence.
You can have a go here at the UAI powered game: Zombie Base Defense
If you have any questions, comments, or feel a need to express disgust, fire away! Till the next time, happy coding.