The development of AI systems and video game software has been a twin process since the advent of both technologies. Video games have, historically, been used as a kind of litmus test for the progression of AI, by how ‘intelligent’ we consider it to be. When we think of AI’s benchmark moment, we think of moments like the defeat of the Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov at the hands of IBM’s DeepBlue AI in 1997.

More recently, we have moments such as Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo program defeating the most distinguished Go players in the world, or OpenAI (owned by Elon Musk) squaring off against an elite squad of Dota II gamers and (almost) defeating all of them. While AI’s ability to play video games as convincingly as humans is well documented, less attention has been paid to the other side of the coin, that is, the ability of AI systems to actually develop games.

Since the first-ever Pac Man game was released, systems that can be described as artificially intelligent have been increasingly central to the development and function of video games. Whilst this has been largely limited to a small range of in-game functions for the past few decades, things have been escalating rapidly in recent years, to the point where we may be on the verge of a new world, in which all video games are developed solely by AI. Here’s what you need to know. 

The Story So Far

If we consider artificial intelligence in its most elementary conceptualization; a semi-autonomous system that can mimic human intelligence and decision-making, then its history in video game development becomes extensive.

On the most obvious level, there are examples such as the intelligent bots of complex sandbox games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim, which respond to the player’s actions and decisions in humanlike ways. Then there are the enemy bots in games such as FEAR, which have been praised for their ‘AI’ due to the ways in which they rapidly adapt to a player’s skill level and exploit weaknesses to get the upper hand.

Even on a less obvious level, AI has been instrumental to the entire functionality of some popular games. Let’s take online blackjack as an example. The kinds of popular free blackjack games that are playable on VegasSlotsOnline, which is said to be one of the biggest online libraries for the games of such kind, would not exist without the development of an algorithm that proved capable of learning the rules of Blackjack and attempting to win with a different strategy each and every time.

However, it’s worth noting that while all of these well-known games utilize some basic forms of AI, they cannot be considered truly intelligent in a humanlike way. All of them operate within extremely limited, closed AI systems, with a finite set of outcomes and only a few available courses of action.

They may seem intelligent, but there are limits to their ability to learn and mimic human intelligence in any reasonable way. Very few AI systems in video games that exist today would even come close to passing the Turing Test. What’s more, the technology used in more recent titles such as The Last of Us is not very different from what was used in Pong or the first Doom game. 

Where We Are Heading 

However, this doesn’t mean that we are no closer to seeing an AI system that could independently design video games that we were playing in the 1980s. To get a better glimpse of where the game dev industry could be headed, it is important to look at the most recent breakthroughs, as well as what is going on under the radar.

The 2018 smash-hit game Red Dead Redemption II was an eye-opener to the general public for how far we have come. The immense open-world game features an almost unlimited number of unplayable characters, as well as a complex environmental system that allows for unlimited unpredictable outcomes.

The goal of the game’s AI is, according to the developers, to ensure that no two players of the game ever have the same experience. To achieve this, the game’s AI constantly re-writes the rules, introducing a level of intuitive chaos that no other major games have been able to achieve before. Of course, the AI is not truly unlimited in the same way that a human’s intelligence might be, but the number of potential outcomes is so vast that it is in many ways indistinguishable from human intelligence.

Similar processes are currently being perfected within the world of indie game development. Away from the commercial pressures of big studios, developers can experiment with AI and attempt to create something that is more ‘true’. A true AI video game would be self-developing, completely unpredictable, and almost impossible to defeat. This is what indie developers such as KitFox and Itch.io have already achieved. It may not be long until we see such AI take over the biggest studios in the world.

It is impossible to predict the future of AI, especially given how vulnerable such technologies are to ‘bubbles’ of interest which tend to burst every few years, leaving their development without funding or attention. However, if the momentum we are currently seeing can be sustained, we may be on the verge of a sea-change in the gaming industry, unlike anything we have seen before. 

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