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Taking computer games into the future

12 July 2010 Essex, University of

Playing computer games could get a lot more lifelike following a major research project being carried out at the University of Essex.

Thanks to key advances in artificial intelligence (AI), the world of computer games has been revolutionised in the past decade.

Now, a new joint research project between Essex, Imperial College and the University of Bradford could take computer games to a whole new, exciting level. It will focus on making AI even smarter so it is easier to use and more adaptable for games programmers.

For those playing the games, it will mean the computer-controlled non-player characters (NPCs) will be smarter and more human-like in their behaviour, leading to a better gaming experience.

‘This research will lead to a more robust type of intelligent behaviour,’ explained Professor Simon Lucas, from the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, who is leading the project at Essex. ‘For players of video games it has the potential to give NPCs the “wow factor” as they behave in more human-like and realistic ways, taking the player by surprise with their intelligence and empathy.’

Currently all games require heavy programming because the NPCs are not very intelligent and need to be told what to do. The team at Essex will be working on a special type of generic AI which can be easily applied and adapted to many games.

The basis of the research project will be the Monte-Carlo Tree Search (MCTS) method, which has already seen major advances in the computer version of Go – one of the few classic games where expert human players still have the edge over their machine counterparts.

The three-year project will receive more than £1 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, with Essex getting £400,000 for its part in the project.

Commenting on the cutting-edge project, Professor Lucas added: ‘There are significant challenges to overcome, but the potential for video games is huge.’

 

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