I have just become aware of Game-Developer/Philosopher Adam Russell through his thought provoking article on Situationist Game AI in Game AI Wisdom 4. I look forward to reading more of his work in the near future.
Reductionism vs Constructionism
The article lucidly describes one of the key design tensions in designing any game with story:
- Reductionism: You want your world to be filled with interesting, autonomous agents that the player can interact with
- Constructionism: You want to choreograph these agents in a very controlled, predictable way when required to tell the story
These tendencies are conflicting; for example, through interacting freely with an agent you might move, re-align or even kill it, which compromises the ability to use the agent to advance a pre-conceived story. He gives a nice exposition of how this tension has been handled, or more correctly, “worked around”, in various games to date. Its the best explanation Ive yet read of a tension that has plagued me during the developement of Heroes of Arcadia.
The beginnings of a solution
Adam’s response is to advocate a hybrid approach dubbed Situationist game AI. Unfortunately, this solution is much less precisely articulated than the problem. But he starts down the road with vigour. He draws parallels with debates about local vs global influence in sociology and psycology, and finds middle ways in both fields where an autonomous agent’s environment strongly conditions and shapes its response.
He then sketches how these ideas might be applied in game animation, perception of the environment, and in layering of multiple action-states in an agent’s behavioral representation. Little that’s directly usable at this stage, but I do hope it spurs other more practically-minded developers to make advances in this area.