Today, during a panel at Bitsummit hosted at the Miyako Messe venue in Kyoto, Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida talked about artificial intelligence in the console space with Graphics Designer and AI Researcher Yukihito Morikawa.
Morikawa-san’s name may not be very well known among most gamers as he works mostly behind the scenes, but he opened a new studio last year focusing on AI for games, named Morikatron.
Yoshida-san mentioned that nowadays AI is a very popular topic, so much that he himself has been asked to talk about it, while he is not a professional in the field. Some relevant topics of discussion are deep learning or machine learning, but those are very different from the AI used in games.
AI is still very much in its early stages of development in the game industry at the moment. Many of the general work on AI focuses on it providing a correct answer, but that doesn’t apply to games. Morikawa-san added that in games you don’t want the AI to produce an answer that is correct, but instead, you want it to produce an answer that is fun (he used wordplay between “tadashii” which means “true” and “tanoshii” which means “fun”). This is very “human” concept, and it’s very difficult to teach it to a computer.
Morikawa-san continued mentioning that one of the big problems of AI in games is that the response needs to be instant. There is no time to send a large quantity of data back to a server and wait for an answer, so developers have to spend a lot of time creating ways to program the AI so that it’s handled directly by the code of the game running on the console.
Yoshida-san asked Morikawa-san what kind of AI he is being asked to produce by game developers and publishers he works for. One of the things Morikatron is often tasked with is to create characters that respond in a more natural and humanlike way in battle situations instead of simply behaving in accordance with a script.
Yoshida-san then asked what the difference is between having characters running off a script as opposed to controlled by an actual AI. Morikawa-san explained that characters running according to a script will respond to the same input in the same way. In a game, when the player gets used to this pattern, the experience becomes boring. In this case, the limit of the behavior of in-game characters corresponds to the ability of the programmer.
If AI is used to control the characters, they will move in ways that can’t be predicted, sometimes even coming up with strategies and tactics that weren’t expected, surprising even the original programmers.
Asked to give an example, Morikawa-san explained that he can’t name the specific game for contractual reasons, but in one of the titles he’s working on there was an area where an archer was unable to shoot its bow. Not only the AI itself found out about this, but it worked around the situation to improve it. Basically, it worked as a debugging tool, fixing a mistake that the human developers made and couldn’t find on their own.
Yoshida-san mentioned that he’s very interested about the future of AI in games, and he read an American article talking about its use in a very popular shooter game to find out players who were cheating. It was found that this was ten times more efficient than using humans.
He continued explaining that AI is seen as a way to make characters behave in a more human-like way, but there are many areas of AI that are used in actual development. One good example of this is Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn. The development team and the debug team worked together by letting AI characters roam the map overnight to find out bugs and problems with the programming. This is, according to Yoshida-san, a very good example of how artificial intelligence can be used in game development outside of gameplay itself. AI doesn’t tire, so it can work overnight.
AI can also be used on the business side of game development especially for mobile games to analyze vast quantities of user data in order to make games more appealing to the audience.
That being said, when talking about AI, many will think about creating more lifelike characters. One of the big perks of online games is that you play with human people, who can act and react in very unpredictable ways, which brings to the experience a very fun and human element. Yoshida-san asked Morikawa-san whether AI in the future will be able to play as a human and deliver the same enjoyable experience.
Morikawa-san mentioned that the early days of PlayStation, Sony seemed to focus mostly on the visuals of the games, and not enough attention was given to how characters respond, and to their “heart” (and to this Yoshida-san jokingly apologized as a representative of PlayStation). This is something Morikawa-san hopes that he’ll be able to contribute to in the future. He hopes that very soon there will be articles about AI creating human hearts for robotic characters. So yes, in the future AI should be able to create a more human-like gameplay experience.
A recent example is that in a first-person shooter in the west 40% of players could not tell when an AI bot entered the game instead of a human player. We’re already getting to the point in which AI can mimic human players quite efficiently.
Yoshida-san mentioned that he believes that Morikawa-san’s studio is normally hired by major companies creating big games, but he wondered if there will be a time in which indie games will be able to use this kind of AI systems.
Morikawa-san mentioned that at the moment he indeed works for big publishers because those systems have to be created from scratch. Yet, in the future, there will be kits that will help developers use existing AI tools to work on their games. In the future, Morikawa-san hopes to create this kind of tools for engines like Unity in order to empower smaller developers to use AI to some degree.
At the moment there is a limit to those who can use Morikatron’s services, as money is an issue due to the fact that everything needs to be built from the ground up for each game. While he wouldn’t want to put himself out of business, he would like to create tools so that in the future at events like BitSummit we could see how indie developers use AI in ways that can’t be envisioned today.
Yoshida-san concluded by mentioning that he believes that AI shouldn’t be limited to big publishers and that it’s very compatible with indie developers. He’s looking forward to seeing a team bring a game using AI at next year’s BitSummit, and he would like to see what they come up with.
Morikatron mentions on its website that the studio is currently contributing to the development of several games, but we have no information on titles or publishers for now.