My final year Applied Research Project was entitled ‘Investigating a model of place for game AI and evaluating its performance as a method for authoring agent reactions‘. It received an ‘A’ grade.
Applied Research Project (PDF, 1.93 MB)
This project examines whether concepts of place can be usefully applied in game AI, specifically in the context of authoring agent reactions. It reviews current spatial approaches to world representation in games and literature on place from other disciplines. A conceptual model of place for use in game AI is then proposed, influenced by the theories of implacement and affordances. A place agnostic test case is presented, together with an analysis of two parallel implementations of it; a control implementation and an implementation derived from the proposed model of place. The implementations are then analyzed in objective terms, revealing that the place-based implementation performs worse but supports authoring better. The recommendation of this report is to use place-based representations judiciously, bearing in mind their additional overheads as well as their authoring benefits.
Critical Evaluation (abridged)
I am generally satisfied with the outcome of this project although I would have preferred (if time had allowed) to employ a more thorough methodology. As it was, I felt that the scope of the project was too limited, given the scope of the topic. I am pleased that a model of place was synthesized, but disappointed that the scope of the project prevented me from exercising it fully. If I could do it again I would focus more on layering behaviours rather than agent reactions.
There are many sources of information on concepts of place, across a wide range of disciplines, and their study has been very interesting. One point of difficulty was the high level of noise to signal found in the more philosophical writings, which might make this material inaccessible to game AI practitioners. In this respect I feel the industry could benefit from more literature reviews and summaries of thought in this area, and perhaps more multidisciplinary collaboration in the study of place. I am pleased with the literature review section of the project, which I feel provides a useful summary of thought in this area in fields which might not usually be considered by game AI practitioners.
There is definitely a movement in the game AI field towards more complex, semantic representations of spaces (driven, I believe, by the increasing complexity of agent behaviour) and concepts of place have been proposed as the way to achieve this. From my experiences throughout this project, I tend to agree. Implacement is the foundation of our experience of the world around us, and games have always striven to create the feeling of implacement in virtual environments. As graphics technology improves, virtual worlds have become more and more realistic, yet virtual agents often appear to behave unnaturally; unbelievably. I suspect that the reason this is so jarring to a human observer is because it makes it apparent that the agent itself is not implaced in its environment, a similar phenomenon to the ‘uncanny valley’ in robotics (Mori, 1970). I believe that applying concepts of place to agent architectures, for the purpose of implacing agents in their environments, is the most natural approach to overcoming this problem.
Overall I have found this to be a very worthwhile project. I feel well placed to apply the knowledge gained during the project to my game programming practice.