How advancing AI is being used to enhance player experience

When it comes to delivering an immersive, exciting, and balanced gaming experience for the player, AI is certainly one of the focus points for developers. From building realism in a virtual world to making sure a game adapts to skill level, it has an increasingly important role to play in the industry.

To take a quick temperature check on the importance of AI for gamers, just look at what can happen when things aren't up to scratch. It was impossible to miss the burning wreckage of Cyberpunk 2077 as it came crashing down last year, with a buggy and faulty AI on display for all to see (among all the other issues). The internet was quickly filled with clips of enemies spawning out of the ether and cars circling the same roundabout ten times before vanishing. The bugs were enough to ruin the game's launch for many, with underperforming sales the end result.

We're now at the point where players expect AI to deliver basic standards of quality and for it to be seamless, so it doesn't distract from gameplay. For developers, this means that creating advanced AI that enhances the player experience is very important and is intrinsically tied to the reception of the game. Below, I'm going to look at some of the areas of gaming where AI is pushing the boundaries.

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NPC behavior and interaction

When you think of artificial intelligence, one of the first things that probably springs to mind is how you would interact with something that's trying to recreate natural behavior. In games, this is often most evident in the non-playable characters that populate the environment being explored by the player, whether that's the townspeople in an RPG or enemy soldiers in a first-person shooter.

An AI can power all aspects of these NPCs, including their behavior, routines, and how you interact with them. When all these areas come together, a more believable world can be created, which can make the experience of playing the game more immersive. For instance, with dynamic pathfinding it's possible to keep a space feeling fresh and alive by having NPCs wander in and out of the area as they go about their daily business. This means your character could walk into a bar twice and it would be filled with different patrons at different times of the day.

Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption 2 is a great example of this in action, as the world is filled with a cast of thousands of NPCs who will go about their unique daily routine but also have the capacity to react to events happening around them. So, if you suddenly start a gun fight in the middle of the street, the bystanders will stop what they're doing, before running away or getting involved depending on their programming and decision making. These touches help to make the world a lot more immersive for the player, and increase the enjoyability of the game.

The AI behind NPCs can also contribute directly to gameplay. For instance, at a well-chosen skill level, an opposing team on a sports game like FIFA will present you with a challenge and a more thrilling match. The AI will also power the other players on your team, like a player making a run for you to pass to or a defender getting back into position. Whether you're fighting against them or trying to work with them, the effectiveness of NPCs can make life easier or more challenging.

Adaptive gameplay and content generation

Not all AI in a game is player-facing through NPCs -- it's typically used below the surface of the game as well, and maybe more than you'd think. One of the ways that this technology is used is in player experience modelling, where the game learns about your ability and behavior and adapts the game to suit. Perhaps the most commonly used form of this is in dynamic difficulty balancing, which can sense when you're having a tough time or beating the game too easily, then adjusting the difficulty to match. This can be helpful in making sure that you don't get bored or excessively frustrated.

AI also has the power to create unique experiences through procedural generation. A game will use an algorithm to generate content -- like a level, map, items, or even music -- to ensure that players have a unique experience every time they play. Famous games that have used procedural generation at their core include Minecraft, No Man's Sky, Spelunky, and the Borderlands series. MMOs also use procedural generation to create new quests and items for online players who revisit the world time and time again, which ensures they aren't simply repeating the same actions.

Matchmaking

While AI has a big role within gameplay, it can also be applied to multiplayer modes to ensure that there is a level playing field. Matchmaking -- which is the process in which players are chosen to compete against one another -- can take advantage of artificial intelligence to pick sets of players that are evenly matched in their experience and skill level. After all, if someone new to the game was consistently matched with much more experienced competitors, it's likely they'd get bored.

For instance, at Game Champions we use an AI system in our FIFA matchmaking platform that studies a player's behavioral patterns and balances future matches as much as possible. We use a machine learning algorithm to assess factors like the player's form, rating, and game history, which are used to train our AI models. These are then used in our innovative Champion's Draft mode to assign each player a team of a particular rating to help balance the match. This would mean an advanced competitor is assigned a weaker team against someone of less skill.

As you can see, AI plays a big role in video games, whether it's creating realistic NPCs, adjusting the conditions of the game, or helping multiplayer modes remain fair and competitive. And, as technology advances, we can expect to see it play an increasingly vital role in years to come.

Shaun Grech is the CTO and Co-Founder at Game Champions, an online gaming platform that allows people to play competitively for money. Their aim is to build a fun and inclusive community where players can compete fairly thanks to market-leading anti-cheat and matchmaking technology.

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