Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thinking Out Loud: Games That Adapt

I've been very busy recently organizing a D&D campaign with a few friends of mine. I've been appointed DM and have been working on developing a world for my players to explore. If any of you have been a DM before you know that things don't always go according to plan. You may have a set path for your adventurers but they always seem to get distracted one way or another. As a DM, you have to be able to adapt quickly and try to steer your players in the right direction. If you simply put up a road block they might get frustrated so your steering has to be subtle. And no matter how fleshed out your world is, no matter how detailed your NPCs are, the players WILL catch you off guard. They may ask a question you didn't think of before, or find an alternate route around a certain problem. As a DM you are forced to "wing it" in order to keep the game flowing nicely.

You are probably wondering, "What does this have to do with video games?" As I've been preparing my campaign, it has forced me to do a lot of thinking.  Video games have tried to create D&D experiences for quite some time and while some are excellent games there is something missing from all of them: an adaptable DM.

What if technology in the future advances enough to allow AI to control the game? To adapt when necessary according to the player's actions. This got me thinking even more. We could program the AI to have a certain personality and intelligence to handle different aspects of the game. While it wouldn't be perfect, think about how that would change the gaming industry. It wouldn't just be used for D&D type games, but ALL games. With that kind of technology, who wouldn't want to use it? A platforming game might become harder if you complete levels too quickly. Enemies in a FPS could adapt to your tactics and develop a different strategy. NPCs in games have been getting much better in terms of AI, but what I'm talking about is true artificial intelligence; someone behind the scenes watching the game with the complex mind of a human.

Left 4 Dead has implemented something similar with its AI Director. "Instead of fixed spawn points for enemies, the Director places enemies and items in varying positions and quantities based upon each player's current situation, status, skill and location, creating a new experience for each playthrough" (Wikipeda). Just imagine what it would be like playing an RPG with an AI director like Left 4 Dead. The game would be enormous with unlimited possible experiences for every player!

When we think about the future of video games we tend to think about better graphics, more space to fit more data, 3D gaming, and motion control without controllers. But what if games could adapt as you play them, as if the developers themselves are watching you play the game? Not a very long post, just me thinking out loud. Please feel free to share your own thoughts!


  1. I had never really thought about that much myself really till you made this post. Right now we are at the point where games notice minor things. I appreciate Nintendo adding in the super guide to games like New Super Mario Brothers, and Donkey Kong Kong Country Returns.

    What I think would be even more crazy if we ever got to the point of online gaming that fixed itself. Think if games like Call of Duty maps fixed themselves. Someone usually finds graphical error that is abused during any one map but after the match ends "bam" problem fixed. Though the question is what would be considered abusing glitches and bad map design.

    Lets just hope the AI does not go to far that it learns your name. We don't need another Tron scenario where a master computer controls all. Great Post!

  2. @Gaming in Public - I didn't even think about fixing bugs! What an interesting point. Although I wonder if only one AI would be enough ... and then there is the problem with games launching "unfinished" because they can fix on the go... *ponders*

  3. @Alli893 - You have a point and if the game can fix bugs you could essentially cut a lot of the costs of MMO margins but if they had the technology they would keep it a secret in order to keep profits high I think.

    Also never had the chance to play D&D and all. My friend is really into the D&D novels and games based off the rule books like Never Winter Nights.

  4. While not exactly what you're discussing here, one of the big things I have wanted to see implemented in games is adapting environments. Game spaces -- as wonderful as they are -- are static at best, few areas changing in any great deal from start to finish. Some have shown places that have evolved over time (Fable comes to mind) but it's still a "this or that" scenario that, while a start, isn't all that great in the end. I'd love it if throughout our time with a game the world(s) evolved, reacting to not only our own actions but those of the other 'inhabitants' too, leaving physical and visual proof that time progresses in the game, and that we ourselves are making progress through it. That and it would do even more to give places like Liberty City or the Citadel (Mass Effect) a sense of activity, a sense of life.

    I can dream, can't I?

  5. Steven O'Dell-That would be interesting characters that actually know your presence. I think we can all agree though that graphics are not really the way go but games becoming more engaging. The best games on Wii are great because they use the technology they have to the best of their abilities. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an amazing game because the world and the controls engage me as a player. The trick is figuring out a way to take games like mario to the next level.

  6. @Steven O'Dell - Please keep dreaming! That's how ideas are formed (and hopefully implemented) =D

  7. there are a few games that are work with low level adaptation as you play. silent hill: shattered memories has the beginning psychological warning that it will adapt gameplay to decisions you make to make it a more visceral game to play. recent years of madden also have a setting where it will adapt to the players skill passing/rushing on offense/defense and change its own skill accordingly.

  8. @WiZzStix That's a very interesting point. That sounds like a huge improvement for the Madden games or any sports games for that matter! I still gotta play Shattered Memories at some point...