A picture of a child robot by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash.

For many 1990s gamers like me, we genuinely appreciate the improvements made to today’s video game artificial intelligence (AI). After seeing the evolution of non-playable characters (NPCs), from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to those in Red Dead Redemption II, the expectations for AI behaviors and decision-making have rightfully been raised.

Despite a few modern releases managing to showcase the possibilities of fleshed-out AI, such as the Xenomorph’s sophisticated thinking in Alien: Isolation, many developers fumble in their attempts to recreate living, breathing worlds inside their video games regardless of the current tech and systems in place.

Seriously, why so?

Although every studio faces different challenges in creating the perfect game AI, I believe these are the primary reasons why developers continue falling short:

  • Lack of specialized AI talents
  • Ineffective project management
  • Unrealistic timelines
  • Shortage of funds

Understandably, real-life game development is a complex process, and game studios always face a combination of these problems when creating their next video game. Plus, video game AI is an entirely different beast to master, requiring significant development time, personnel, and resources to be utilized depending on the scope of the project.

If any one of these issues arises at any point during a game’s development cycle, the team’s ability to cope with it will be tested. If not corrected, then it’s understandable why a video game’s AI eventually comes out robotic and subpar at the end of the day.

Is It Easy to Create Video Game AI?

Now, it’s simple to put the blame on the developers for not being able to nail down the programming and coding to create the best video game AI.

Still, the work is excruciatingly meticulous and demanding, particularly when we’re talking about games with NPCs or enemies exhibiting human-like behaviors, such as strategically outflanking us during gunfights in F.E.A.R.

That’s why getting the best AI programmers on the project team is crucial for studios working on titles revolving around multiple layers of AI commands, especially those involving open-world games.

However, not every game is built around sophisticated AI – such as 2018’s Hades – because different games are designed according to different player experiences. For more ambitious projects like XCOM 2: War of The Chosen, though, AI is the building block for the player’s fun, so it becomes a primary aspect to be focused on.

Nevertheless, this does prove that there’s a huge market demand for game developers specializing in AI. In fact, many of them might have already started on their own indie titles right now, using up-to-date gaming rigs and drivers to create them at home.

Does Bad Video Game AI Affect Gaming Experience?

When it comes to certain games, a good AI isn’t always a pillar of their video game design. For instance, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is mainly based on Player-versus-Player (PvP), so creating ‘basic’ bots for everyone to train themselves with is already sufficient and acceptable.

For Player-versus-Environment (PvE) modes, a challenging AI becomes a core gameplay component. Take games like Aliens: Colonial Marines as a bad case study; the game’s brain-dead AI is one of its most frustrating weaknesses that led to its lackluster review scores worldwide.

This showcases that bad video game AI affects player experiences negatively depending on the game’s primary gameplay design and features. To understand how great AI can work in video games, we simply need to check out a few PC games with the best AI companions out there to use as benchmarks.

Sometimes, poor AI is also considered an indicator of a badly optimized PC game, so game developers should prioritize its proper implementation if they’re truly serious about creating products that are beloved by players all over the globe.

Do We Need AI in Video Games?

When building video games, we all know that literally everything is based on coding, modeling, animation, and the like. So, is AI actually needed as well?

Yes, we do need AI in some shape or form when developing video games. Without AI, certain behavioral functions in games, particularly those involving NPCs or enemies, will not trigger.

Even the ‘simplest’ video games, such as Chess or Pac-Man, have AI built into them. This allows basic-level thinking to occur behind the scenes, giving games the capability to test players’ skills at pre-determined difficulty levels.

As gamers, we love challenging ourselves, beating previously set records, or outsmarting tough Bosses in-game. Many game studios create games built around this idea, and this helps them sell their games better due to the appeal.

We don’t need to look far; Elden Ring was last year’s Game of the Year, and the game is notoriously hard to beat, though the game does offer plenty more incentives for us to play the game for longer, such as a massive world to explore.

Case in point; if AI wasn’t implemented in games, then we wouldn’t be enjoying them at all.

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