New Gamer's Strategy: Stoop to Artificial Intelligence
A screenshot from SpyParty.
CREDIT: Chris Hecker
I spotted my would-be killer dressed in the robes of a priest as he stalked the streets of Florence. He ran toward me, and then stopped in his tracks as he tried to pick me out from the crowd of Renaissance-era characters. But his stutter movement and hesitation cost him. I moved up swiftly and stunned him with a blow to the temple before I made my getaway while looking like a colorful escapee from Cirque du Soleil.
But even if I had fallen to my human adversary's blade, it would have been OK it was only an online match in a video game called "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood." The real twist came from how we humans played a virtual game of hide-and-seek among a crowd of nonhuman characters controlled by the game's artificial intelligence (AI).
This, and similar games, represent a reversal of the Turing test, the classic challenge that finds out if AI can successfully pass for human during interactions with people. Most AI may fail miserably at the Turing test, but human gamers have proven superb at mimicking the behaviors of AI characters in "spy vs. spy" scenarios, where they try to hide from other humans.
Such examples suggest a new generation of game design that encourages human players to intentionally blur the line between humans and AI. Game designers will also want to create AI that can better imitate human behavior in such games another step toward a more-distant future where human players won't know whether there is a flesh-and-blood person or a computer controlling their online friend.
"I don't think innovation for innovation's sake is very interesting, but certainly I think games need to push into the areas of human behavior more, and so I'm using 'SpyParty' as a siege engine to do that," said Chris Hecker, the game developer behind the game "SpyParty."
Do the robot
A standout example of such games, SpyParty challenges two players to take on the roles of a spy and a sniper. It draws inspiration from the indie game "Dueling Machine," where one player hunted another in a large virtual city filled with 30,000 AI characters.
"I was wondering what an intimate version of 'Dueling Machine' would be," Hecker explained. "Then the idea of the inverse Turing test hit me, and I thought about the spy fiction, and the game pretty much designed itself from there."
The spy player tries to blend in with a roomful of AI characters out of a James Bond film, while the sniper player peeks into the room from different windows in an attempt to find and kill the spy. It gets more complicated by the spy's need to perform certain espionage tasks that can blow his or her cover, and the need to finish those tasks before a timer runs out.
Spy players don't need the touch of a concert pianist or surgeon to precisely imitate the movements of AI characters they only need to make "mid-level tactical decisions" about where to go and what to do. That makes the game more about behavior, intention and deception rather than finicky movement controls.
Only journalists and members of the game industry have gotten a crack at "SpyParty," which Hecker is still developing on his own time. But most human players can apparently learn quickly about how to blend in with the AI crowd.
"Because it's an inverse Turing test, it means AI doesn't have to come anywhere close to human quality; it's the player's job to act like an AI," Hecker told InnovationNewsDaily. "I do feed all of the 'Spy' player's controls through the same AI system, though, so as I improve it, it will always be possible for the player to emulate the AIs."
"In other words, you get shot for deciding to go straight from the bookshelf to the statues, not because you walked funny on your way there," Hecker said.
Hecker wishes that "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood" would force players to rely more upon their ability to spot targets, rather than giving them certain tricks and in-game radar to help hone in on targets. But Hecker still considers the design "miles ahead of the majority of games in terms of exploring human behavior," even as he refines the game play of "SpyParty."