Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

In 2012 why is stealth AI so poor?

Is it me or is the AI code in dishonored deeply disappointing? I think the game is pretty good, even if it feels like nothing especially new (although I do like the possession mechanic, and I have to confess I’m not far into the game, just completed my second mission), and I’m sure it is extremely profitable and win awards etc.
However, I’m probably it’s worst critic, because not only do I fondly recall the original Thief game, and how long ago it was, but I’m also an ex AAA industry AI programmer.

Unless I am MUCH mistaken, the AI in dishonored is extremely basic. Agents have extremely restrictive, predictable scripts, possibly with some branching based on alert levels. There are essentially 4 AI states, and so that the player doesn’t have to think too hard, a big phat GUI broadcasts that state through angry icons so we are never in any doubt as to if we have been detected.
This strikes me as pretty lazy. The problem is, I really care about AI, and it seems 95% of gamers just do not. I guess if people want to play against decent AI, they play online FPS games against people.
Which begs the question, on a tangent, as to why there isn’t an online thief multiplayer game where some players are guards, and some are thieves. A system of varying transparency for the thieves to represent how hidden they are could work pretty well surely? Maybe some proper representation of human eyesight done with a lens effect for the guards, so we don’t have A1 perfect peripheral vision as we do in most games? I digress…

The AI in dishonored could be so much better, if they wanted it to be. There should be no visual cues as to if guards are alerted, apart from maybe a change in their conversation or facial expressions. Different floor coverings should cause different volume sounds. Guards patrol routes should be AI-driven with multiple routes, choices and variable pause timings, not the simple scripted stuff they have now.
Any change in room environment should cause alarm to guards. Things left open or unlocked, or moved. Opening a window should cause a detectable breeze. Strangled guards that drop a sword should make a loud noise…need I go on?
None of this is rocket science, and what’s more it;s really fun to code. I just wish other gamers, and therefore publishers, gave a damn about realistic AI. I hope Monaco is the game I wanted dishonored to be…

9 thoughts on In 2012 why is stealth AI so poor?

  1. It’s a shame that even your description of ‘good’ AI is actually just more scripting, though. ‘multiple routes, choices and variable pause timings’ aren’t really a shift in AI, it’s just adding more of what’s already there – scripting.

    I think this underlines what the problem is with industry AI right now – people want to solve AI problems by adding more hardcoding in. More behaviours, more reactions, more scripts, more of everything. It’s a shame, because if the industry took the attitude to AI it took to graphics, we’d be much further along by now.

    Not that I’m saying you’re wrong (I’ve not played Dishonored yet) but AAA games ‘groundbreaking’ games always seem to get where they do by pouring extra time and resources into the things that impress people. With the exception of graphics, innovation is rare. Most of the ‘wow’ factor comes from adding more money and hardcoding into things.

  2. There’s no online Thief game because much of the game would be quite dull. A lot of that game was memorizing the guards’ patterns, learning the map, then pulling off the caper. It’s fun when you’re doing it, but if you log on to the server and are told to be Guard No. 3 and watch the south tower for an hour and never once see the thief …

    Unless it’s really freeform, in which case the guards will just run around like headless chickens emptying clips (or quivers) into every shadow and hiding place.

  3. Didn’t Splinter Cell 3(?) have that whole guard / infiltrator multiplayer thing going? I heard it was very good although I don’t think I played it myself.

  4. @Will – I see your second point. I think a freeform thief may work like a horror genre: a group of guards has to move point A to B to C, etc, and perform a timed task at each. The thief’s job would be to thwart, though that plays much like like an assassin thing.

    Alternatively, the guards have a set number of items to guard, making a game progressively more difficult as the thief is successful, and has fewer targets available.

    I think it’s certainly doable.

  5. Personally, I’d disagree. I’ve actually seen the AI in dishonored vary the path. They seem to have a set path in most cases, but I was studying the path of the guards in the square just last night, and they had upped the security level, so there were three guards and I saw them walk the same route twice… and just as I was ready to go, one of them stopped to take a whizz.

    As far as adding the options for dropping swords, and breezes, and floor types- well, then you have to add mitigation for all of these, which means adding systems. At some point, you have to draw a line, and I saw an article recently on some of the lines they drew because of other considerations, like lighting (which is actually my major peeve with the stealth).

    In every case, no matter how much you add, you have to follow the 80/20 rule at some point, and hope that the line you drew is enough… and as a former Thief/Deus Ex/System Shock addict, I think they drew it pretty well.

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