AI in games reaches new level

AI in games is nothing surprising, but Lionhead's Black & White promises to take the genre into a new turbo-charged dimension

Current developments in artificial intelligence are not confined to the laboratory, or to high-brow efforts at making the next sentient race of beings. Ask Steve Grand, the inventor of Lucy. His first efforts at artificial intelligence spawned Creatures, a first glimpse at basic AI in games.

Things have moved on since then with Peter Molyneux' Lionhead games company about to release Black & White which promises even more intelligence and a great deal more interactivity with 'clever software'. You play a god, with several minions under your command.

Early on in Black & White you have the option of adopting a small animal -- the first three available are a tiger, ape and cow. These are babies, which means that you can still influence their behaviour. Of course, a tiger has a propensity for violence so you'll struggle to contain its temper. Likewise training a cow to be an effective fighter is just as demanding.

From the early days you have to teach your creature the basics to survive. It watches how you play and copies your actions -- if you pick some produce, the creature will know that it can help itself to the villagers' food. Caress it to enforce that it has done well, or smack it to ward it off repeating an action.

At the same time, if the creature sees that you are a cruel god -- watching you throwing rocks at your villagers, for instance -- it is more likely to become cruel itself. As the creature grows, its physical body reflects what it has learnt. It might become stronger but more evil, or kind but weedy.

With a creature to do your bidding, you can now send it to attack your enemy and a bit of rough and tumble seems inevitable.

Unfortunately at the time of writing Lionhead was still applying a number of changes to Black & White's battle system. We were hoping to see the new technique at a special BAFTA presentation made by Peter Molyneux, but it still wasn't stable enough to demonstrate.

In ZDNet's Artificial Intelligence Special, ZDNet charts the road to sentience, examines the technologies that will take us from sci-fi to sci-fact, and asks if machines should have rights.

For complete gaming news, see GameSpot UK.

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