With new gaming hardware like the PlayStation 4 on the horizon, it’s easy to forget that advanced computing technology doesn’t just mean prettier games – it means smarter games. And AI middleware maker Xaitment is in the smart video games business.
We already know that PS4 games will look better than PS3, and on par with many current mid-to-high end PCs. The PS4′s processor allows for more things to happen at once on screen than ever before, and the technology is simply more advanced from that of the seven year old PS3. That new tech will also allow new graphics engines to run like the vaunted Unreal Engine 4 that Epic Games recently confirmed will be heading to the PS4, as well as other technologies to help improve the level detail. Earlier today, the UK-based company, Geomerics, confirmed its involvement with the PS4 as well. Geomerics offers lighting solutions for games, including Battlefield 3, Medal of Honor, and the upcoming Dragon Age 3. So we know that games on the PS4 will be pretty, but will they be smart?
Xaitment makes artificial intelligence tools that game makers can license to drive the behavior of characters and creatures in their games. Think of it like this: If Epic’s Unreal Engine is a body for game makers to design inside of, Xaitment makes the brains. The company announced on Thursday that its tools, XaitControl, are now available for PS4 game makers, giving PS4 games “more lifelike AI,” according to Xaitment.
“On past generation consoles, the [AI] focus was mainly on path finding, getting characters from point A to point B,” Xaitment CEO Mike Walsh tells us, “For the PS4, we think that the focus will shift to developing individual and group behaviors as well as game logic. This will mean that not only will you see different, new behaviors, but more importantly the characters will have the structure and the ability to choose different behaviors depending on the situation. Each time you see the character, you may get a completely different interaction.”
Significant changes in game character behavior aren’t always readily apparent to the people playing games though, at least until they’re confronted with something behaving poorly. Part of the reason people have reacted so negatively to Sega’s Aliens: Colonial Marines is that the aliens themselves seem to be incredibly stupid. The artificial intelligence-controlled monsters don’t behave in a believable way – things like targeting a player character rather than their AI partner even if that partner is closer are common. Alternatively, when AI behaves well as in a game like Halo 4, people tend to just accept it and move forward. With the PS4 boasting powerful new hardware with vastly improved processing power, the question then becomes whether or not people will notice any difference between what we have now and what we may soon have.
“Yes, we believe that these enhanced capabilities will help to evolve storytelling in games by making it easier to design and create smarter characters,” says Walsh, “Characters that move more intelligently, make better decisions and display more realistic behaviors.”
According to Walsh, XaitControl was one of a number of middleware solutions available for developers to check out at a recent Sony Developers Convention in Los Angeles. He wasn’t able to tell us which Xaitment clients are currently working on PS4 games, but we’ll see if the technology matches his vision when the PS4 comes out later this year.