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Five AI tools every game developer should have in their toolbelt

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Five AI tools every game developer should have in their toolbelt
Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Gabriella Barros, AI Researcher at modl.ai, and Ricardo Sissnet, Lead Engineer at modl.ai

The games industry is no stranger to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in video games. Anyone that’s played a game populated by NPCs or multiplayer games with bots will know that the quality of the AI that defines how they interact with players can be hugely variable. Done well, AI-controlled characters help a game to be more cohesive and engaging.

That’s why research into game AI is an ongoing focus for so many studios, with bigger companies such as Sony exploring advanced AI techniques like reinforcement learning, which has the potential to create the most advanced form of NPCs to be a player’s friend or foe, depending on how they play.

But AI’s capabilities don’t stop there. AI is also changing the way games are developed, adding much greater realism to in-game characters, gaming experience and creating autonomous online bots that are near-indistinguishable from human players.

Electronic Arts is currently developing systems that use machine learning to replicate facial expressions, skin types and body movements from video and photos. In theory, this means that actors would no longer have to come into a  mo-cap studio and there would be a greater range of genders and ethnicities produced in games.

With so much happening in this space, we’ve compiled a list of five AI tools every game developer should have at hand to make their lives easier.

 

Content Generation

One of the most time-consuming processes a developer will have to deal with is content generation, especially in puzzle games where there is a high demand for new levels. But AI technology can help here, using a method known as Procedural Content Generation (PCG), which creates content algorithmically. AI can be used to generate tens or hundreds of variations ready to be reviewed and selected. If the AI is being used for level generation, it’s even possible to use AI bots to play the levels and score them for difficulty or the time it takes to complete them.

PCG allows for quicker content creation and provides developers with more time for creative experimentation. The AI can easily do the heavy lifting, but human input is still crucial to launching a polished product, which is where the developer’s skill comes in.

 

Testing

Unlike mobile apps or web pages, games are one of the hardest forms of software to test due to their sheer variation, the near-infinite number of states a game can have, its custom interaction models, and constant updates.

Games are still mainly tested by humans, which means it can be a lengthy and expensive process. While big studios have the budget to create dedicated teams that focus solely on game testing, smaller developers mostly rely on their network of friends, coworkers and fans. But what happens when they are unable to test every aspect of the game? That is where AI and machine learning steps in.

Testing in video games is complex due to the number of split-second choices a player can make and the outcomes those choices have. In addition, there are interactions with other human and non-human players that are also non-deterministically playing the game, which further complicates things.

The advantage of using AI bots for your playtesting is that they can test quickly, constantly and methodically. For example, bots can be used to test for things like object clipping by running all the possible moves and interactions on a level far faster than a human player..

Cheat Detection

Cheating turns players off multiplayer gaming,  even if they are not directly affected. For players striving to be the best, it’s all too easy to turn to cheat tools that bestow superhero-like powers in the game. Cheating tools range from simple aimbots that assist with aiming and shooting in FPS games like CounterStrike to mining bots in MMOs that control a player’s character and essentially play for them.

Developers can combat the use of cheats with machine learning and behaviour-based detection AI. By collecting data on a player’s behavioural patterns, such as how a player moves the controller or how fast a player reacts, AI can recognise when an action goes beyond normal human behaviour.

While there are plenty of other products that are able to detect cheaters, the advantage of a machine learning system is that it’s continuously learning and adapting itself to fit the game – making it harder for players to fool. This means that developers can employ updates and patches to the game without having to reprogram the AI.

 

Content Moderation

Online toxicity has become a growing problem as more and more games are built around persistent online worlds with thousands of concurrent players. There are times that a small number of players spoil the experience for the majority.  However, AI is a great ally for developers looking to curb such behaviours and safeguard their players.

There are different approaches to moderating game chat. The most common is to use lists of banned words and phrases, which can be used to block posts that use them. The problem here is that gamers can get around moderation by changing letters to numbers or using slang phrases.

A better approach is to use an AI model that can consider the context of the text so that even if a player is being clever with the spelling of a word, it will still be flagged due to its context and intent. This kind of AI is relatively recent, with only a handful of experts working in this field. But, with no signs that toxic behaviours are declining and the number of people playing games increasing, this is a field that will continue to need expert solutions.

Whilst, AI can capture the bulk of comments before they are posted, human moderators are still required as the ultimate arbiters of what content is permissible.  But working as a team, human moderators and AI moderation can together ensure that games are a safe space for all players.

 

AI Player Stand-Ins

The big attraction of online games is the ability to interact and team up with other players.  However, there are not always enough human players to fill in the empty seats; that’s where bots come in.

Bots can act as a reasonable stand-in for human players, with a sophisticated range of behaviours. But it’s still pretty obvious to most when you are playing alongside a bot rather than a real person

One way to address this is to use AI to introduce more variables into the behaviour of the bots. This can give a much more realistic impression of unpredictability, and reproduce things like the risk-taking that you often encounter with human players.

While the combination of techniques used to create effective AI-based bots is fairly new, when done correctly it can create dynamic, adaptive and very human-like bots that add an extra dimension to online play.

 

AI tools are there to help developers

Developers are faced with an immense amount of challenges to develop great games very quickly, but thanks to the latest AI-based tools, there are powerful solutions to some of the most resource-hungry aspects of the development process.

That is why AI is increasingly becoming an essential addition to the game development process, providing developers with the tools, and the insight, to address any issue that arises.  Which, in turn, allows them to unload tedious tasks and concentrate on creative output.

 

 

About modl.ai

Headquartered in Denmark, modl.ai is a team of game developers, engineers and AI experts working together to create AI-driven tools for building better games. Its AI-based tools allow developers to rapidly create and test games and understand their players. modl.ai’s unique technology is designed to accelerate the game development process, automating repetitive and time-intensive tasks and helping developers to enhance and increase player engagement.

modl.ai was founded in 2018 by Christoffer Holmgård, Benedikte Mikkelsen, Lars Henriksen, Sebastian Risi, Georgios N. Yannakakis, and Julian Togelius, who between them have been involved in the launch of more than 30 games and have more than 28,000 citations in technical literature covering AI and game design. In 2019 the company successfully secured seed funding from a number of investors led by PreSeed Ventures, Denmark’s largest and most successful early-stage investor, joined by Saltagen Ventures and Propagator Ventures.

Gaming

Mads “Viggomopsen” Mikkelsen crowned Red Bull Solo Q Champion

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Red Bull Solo Q 2021 concludes: Mads "Viggomopsen" Mikkelsen crowned Champion
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Red Bull Solo Q, the official 1v1 League of Legends tournament, came to an exciting end this weekend as Mads “Viggomopsen” Mikkelsen was crowned the Red Bull Solo Q Champion, besting Arnas “arnax” Stepanauskas in a confident 4-2 victory.

Set in one of the most visited tourist attractions in Germany, BMW Welt, and with Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere as global face of the initiative, the Red Bull Solo Q World Final closes out an amazing year for League of Legends Esports.

The Red Bull Solo Q World Final kicked off on Saturday, December 4th, with 19 of the world’s best 1v1 League of Legends players entering the group stage to decide who moves on to the elimination rounds. The single lane map Howling Abyss saw players forced to switch up their usual playstyle– along with a sudden death mechanic pushing players to fight in a shrinking Ring of Fire after 7 minutes. The opening day saw the two USA players, DarkWings and bradleyyy eliminated, leaving North American fans with the Canadian Doxa as their only hope. French top-laner Raphaël “Lingwi” Claudé, who looked like a very strong competitor moving into the final, could only put forward a 1 win 3 loss performance which saw him eliminated in the group stage.

Sunday saw the kick-off of the Playoffs and elimination matches. Mads “Viggomopsen” Mikkelsen, one of the strongest players in the group stages, continued his dominating run all the way until the final, besting Hamboly 3-1, Doxa 3-0 and You MERT Bro 3-1 with amazing adaptability, switching up the playstyle based on his opponents’ champion picks. On the other side of the bracket, Lithuanian ​​Arnas “arnax” Stepanauskas made his way to the final with tough 3-2 wins over both Shakara and Potatis, before besting HULKSMASH 3-1, with a thrilling final game where HULKSMASH looked sure to take First Blood.

Although Viggomopsen entered the final as the clear favourite, it was arnax who took an early lead with a win in game one. However, Viggomopsen’s calmness and measured approach allowed him to take back control, winning the following three games in a calm and confident fashion. arnax took the W in a nail-biting game five, surviving with only a sliver of health left. However, staying composed in a closely fought game 6, Viggomopsen remained patient as the Ring of Fire enclosed and took First Blood, and the Red Bull Solo Q World Title.

Following the win, Viggomopsen said: “I think I really screwed up a lot, I should have won the matchup quite easily but I kinda panicked a couple of times. But thankfully the pick was too strong late game, so even though I was really nervous and really stressed out I still got it.”

Speaking on Red Bull Solo Q, runner up arnax said: “The experience overall was great. I just took it one game at a time, I wanted to not come last place so going top two is great for me. I like all the guys, I’m really great friends with them all right now, so it’s been great.”

The show stopping final act of the renowned amateur circuit, Red Bull Solo Q features 1v1 duels where the player must draw “First Blood,” take down the opponent’s tower, or reach a 100-minion score to claim victory. Having run for a number of years, the tournament has seen multiple heartwarming success stories of amateurs competing in the tournament, and then progressing on to greater League of Legends success.

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Gaming

The 5 up-and-coming game developer teams in Gamecity Hamburg’s incubator program present their projects and progress at Games Lift Graduation 2021

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At the final event of this year’s Games Lift Incubator program, five teams presented their game projects live at the start-up center Factory Hammerbrooklyn in Hamburg on December 2. During the three-month intensive phase of the incubator, the teams received individual coaching, mentoring, and workshops from international games experts, as well as financial support of 15,000 euros per project and workspaces in a co-working space from the location initiative Gamecity Hamburg. All five teams reached important milestones in the development of their games and concepts.

“I’m impressed by the progress the teams have shown in just three months. I look forward to seeing more from the teams and their games in the future,” comments Wolf Lang, CEO of event agency Super Crowd Entertainment, co-founder of indie studio THREAKS and member of the Games Lift Incubator awarding committee.

“The Games Lift Graduation vividly demonstrates the great effects that targeted funding programs like the Games Lift Incubator can have in leveraging the potential at Hamburg as a games location,” adds Dennis Schoubye, Head of Gamecity Hamburg.

At the final event, “Games Lift Graduation,” the five teams publicly presented their projects for the first time and provided insights into the progress they had made in development as well as outlooks for the future. Twitch streamer Nina Dreßler “OddNina” and Dennis Schoubye led through the evening.

For the developer teams, the incubator offered the opportunity to critically examine their ideas in exchange with experienced mentors, to refine their game concepts, and to check the market potential. For example, the young developer teams planned and tackled possible changes to game titles, the right pitch for their ideas, and concrete plans for Kickstarter campaigns to finance further development.

 

These five teams successfully completed the intensive phase of Games Lift Incubator 2021 with their projects:

 

The Invitation by tool1

Timo Becker, Martin Kleingräber, and Stephen Sommerfeld have known each other since their university days and founded their game studio tool1 to realize the action-packed multiplayer looter-shooter The Invitation. Graphically rich and with a focus on dynamic player interactions, the players fight for survival with each other, for each other, and against each other in a post-apocalyptic world attacked by aliens.

 

PROSPECTOR by Symmetry Break Games
The team Symmetry Break Games around HAW Hamburg University of Applied Sciences graduates Anca Tutescu, Jan Barow, Julian Heinken is working together with Franziska Blinde and Cecilia Theophil on PROSPECTOR, a sci-fi adventure with a compelling story and an innovative dialog system. In the game, all characters wear mysterious masks for protection against toxic fumes, which possess other surprising functions.

 

Monstersongs VR by Denise Koch
Solo developer Denise Koch brings experience from the theater and musical world and is currently working on developing a “Musical 2.0”:  Monstersongs VR is an adaptation of the successful “Monstersongs Rock Musical” as an interactive virtual reality story in a theater filled with monsters. As the project manager, Denise Koch brings together the threads of her team of experienced composers, illustrators, and VR developers.

 

supernightshift by consider it
Kevin Westphal and Timo Schneider from “consider it” are working on “supernightshift”, a mobile game based on a map app they developed which uses real-time traffic data. The players have to get to their destination in their mysterious “nightshift” with a tight budget of time and money and different means of transportation in real cities.

 

The Treepoids by SUPERNATURAL GAMES
Brothers Gerrit and Patrick Henschel founded their studio SUPERNATURAL GAMES together in 2019 and are developing a 2D strategy adventure game with lovingly hand-drawn scenarios. The alien plant creatures “Treepoids” solve puzzles, engage in strategic battles, and thus have to save the environment of a mysterious green island.

 

The support for the five teams through the Games Lift Incubator program does not end with graduation: In the next 12 months, they will continue to have access to the incubator’s extensive contact network, as well as individual support services from coaches, consultants, and a PR agency specializing in games. The aim is to aid the developers with long-term support in creating successful games for the international games market in Hamburg.

From May 2022, teams and developers can apply for the next Games Lift Incubator. All information about the incubator and the teams that have already completed the program can be found at: https://www.gamecity-hamburg.de/incubator/

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Nintendo DS ranked as the top console gamers most want to see make a modernised comeback

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Nintendo DS ranked as the top console gamers most want to see make a modernised comeback
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  • A new study by Hyperoptic delves into gaming nostalgia, revealing the retro consoles gamers most want to see make a comeback
  • Almost two-thirds (61%) of gamers want the Nintendo DS to return, making it the most sought-after console, followed by the PlayStation 1 (60.6%) and 2 (57.9%)
  • The study also taps into the most in-demand retro games, with the 1991 version of Sonic the Hedgehog taking the top spot (38%)

Over the last year or two we’ve seen new consoles and games launch such as the Nintendo Switch OLED, PS5, and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. But with search interest for ‘retro gaming’ on the up, it seems many are currently looking for a hit of gaming nostalgia.

Hyperfast broadband provider, Hyperoptic has delved into the world of gaming nostalgia, to uncover the most sought-after consoles and games that players would most like to see make a comeback, or be modernised. Not only that, but the study also unveils just how much money players would spend to get their hands on the consoles.

Based on the percentage of gamers that most want the console to make a comeback or be modernised, the top 10 desired consoles and how much gamers would be willing to pay are:

Console % of gamers that want the console to make a comeback/be modernised The average price gamers are willing to pay
Nintendo DS 61.0% 177.21€
PlayStation 1 60.6% 187.01€
PlayStation 2 57.9% 196.84€
SEGA mega drive 57.0% 172.07€
Nintendo Game Boy 56.8% 165.85€
The Commodore 64 Games System 53.5% 191.28€
Nintendo 64 53.0% 180.85€
Nintendo Game Boy Colour 52.3% 181.70€
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) 51.8% 188.72€
Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP 51.2%

 

191.05€

Nintendo consoles are leading the way, with six consoles making up the top 10. Taking the top spot is the DS. Released globally between 2004 and 2005, gamers would be willing to spend over 177€ to purchase the handheld console. The PlayStation 1 and 2 make up the top three.

However, considering the consoles that didn’t make the top 10 most desired list, it seems gamers would be willing to spend the most money, overall, on the Xbox One console – 236.45€ to be precise. Over two-fifths (44%) chose this as one of the consoles they’d want to see make a comeback/be modernised, making it the 20th most desired console.

Now we know the most sought-after consoles, looking at the nostalgic games gamers would most love to see make a comeback or be modernised, without further ado, the top 10 gems are:

Game % of gamers that would love to see the game make a comeback/be modernised
Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) 38.0%
Super Mario Kart 64 (1997) 33.4%
Space Invaders (1978) 28.3%
Tetris (1984) 25.8%
Super Mario Bros (1985) 25.3%
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) 24.3%
Donkey Kong (1981) 21.4%
Crash Bandicoot (1996) 20.3%
Tekken (1990) 13.0%
The Legend of Zelda (1986) 12.8%

1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog claims the top spot, with almost two-fifths (38%) of gamers opting for the game. Other classics on the list include Taito’s 1978 Space Invaders, and Tetris, a game focused on finding the best way to arrange coloured blocks – who would’ve thought this would still be as popular today? Nintendo’s 1981 arcade hit, Donkey Kong, is also another classic game that over one in five (21%) players want to see modernised. We can only dream…

For more information on the top consoles and games, head across to: https://hyperoptic.com/blog/the-most-sought-after-nostalgic-consoles-and-games-revealed/

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