Computer gaming

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Computer gaming is now the most valuable entertainment industry today. In 2009 the UK video game industry was worth over £4 billion. This figure dwarfs other entertainment industry figures; box office movie sales took around £1 billion in revenue and gaming sales exceeded music and DVD combined [1].

Computer gaming development in the last decade has been geared toward improvements in graphical aspects within the games and it is sometimes questionable that when a sequel to a game is released whether the only improvement that has been made is indeed the graphics. However, gaming has reached what is known as the 'Seventh Generation'. This latest generation of gaming offers a combination of the most recent technological innovations twinned with greater computing power for a much richer and deeper game playing experience. In this highly competitive market, the manufacturers of these systems strive to outdo their competitors by stretching the limits of the system in an attempt to gain the greatest market share. An apparent way to impress potential users is to stun them with breathtaking photo-realistic in-game graphics. Due to this, a growing concern has been raised by some game developers and the notion is that the emphasis on graphical factors has impeded other gaming aspects. Will Wright, founder of the computer game development company Maxis, who created the PC game 'The Sims', which is to date the most popular PC game of all time, imparts some of his personal concerns over this issue;

"With the next-generation games systems, unfortunately a lot of that CPU is pretty dedicated to graphics, so it's not like you instantly get 50 times more computing power; you get 50 times more graphic computing power, and so I think it's actually more interesting if we had 50 times more general processing that we could then apply to physics, interactivity and AI"

[2]

The gaming world is a vast one and can be generally divided into genres and sub genres. Personal experience within most of these genres has led me to believe that most games occasionally possess certain limitations associated with specific elements within them. These limitations vary greatly and can range from being very subtle to something as great as spoiling the game playing experience.

Limitations commonly encountered within computer gaming today are:

  • * Pathfinding - Pathfinding is the method in which characters manoeuvre in the game environment. Pathfinding is a major limitation which most commonly occurs within First Person Shooter (FPS) games or Role Playing Games (RPG). Its primary use is where a computer controlled enemy attempts to find the use controlled character. This area of gaming is heavily criticised due to the widely used Pathfinding method of grid searching. Grid searching uses an algorithm in which the playing area is divided into a grid, the system scans each grid and deduces a coordinate of the players character. The enemy will then move to that area where another scan takes place. If no confrontation occurs then a second search occurs and the process takes place again. This method is highly primitive as it is time consuming and users will find it very easy to evade an enemy.
  • · Combat - Many contemporary games falling into the genre of first person shooter, action or adventure. These game genres will therefore inevitably exhibit some form of combat. Game developers must therefore attempt to create characters that should react to combat realistically. Game combat has, in many ways been the most evolved aspect of gaming due to today's nature of gaming however there is still huge scope for improvement and many limitations still shine through. Believability is the main flaw of gaming combat and further development must be explored in this area.

    · Speech - Speech, dialogue and interaction are paramount in order to succeed in creating atmosphere, mood and depth of story. Therefore an immersive experience must be achieved. Natural speech is an exceptionally spontaneous event and something which needs to be emulated in gaming. Speech within gaming is highly important and unfortunately at present still needs lots of development in order to achieve a high level of believability.

    Artificial Intelligence within gaming today is not uncommon; in fact most contemporary games do contain Artificial Intelligence to some degree. However, a problem which has faced developers and end-users alike is the apparent shallowness of the actual application of the Artificial Intelligence within the game.

    Artificial Intelligence develops than so will the application of AI within gaming, however we believe that AI has already reached a time where more practical applications can be applied to further enhance games and fully immerse users to create a more realistic game experience.

    In this dissertation, the limitations I wish to outline will focus on the game-playing associated environment as opposed to problematic events encountered by a player such as a programming bug, unintentional fault or exploits. .

    This dissertation will examine existing and potential AI techniques and applications and how these can be applied to gaming to overcome some outlined limitations.

    Background:

    Artificial Intelligence:

    Artificial Intelligence or at least the notion of a computer that can be regarded as making intelligence decisions has been around since the start of modern computing. The first truly modern computers were the enormous Second World War code breaking machines, these early machines were developed by renowned British computer scientist Alan Turing, who based his work on theoretical mathematics laid out by pioneer mathematician John Von Neumann. After the war the potential of computers was spotted by many. During the post-war era of the 1940's and 1950's many experts from a wide spectrum of applied sciences gravitated toward the field of computer science.

    The idea of thinking machines had been around since the birth of computer science however in 1950 Alan Turing released a landmark article in the British psychology journal Mind (Turing, 1950) [3]. In this article Turing put forth a question "Can machines think?" the difficulty in defining what 'thinking' is led Turing to create an idea for a test (which he called 'The Imitation Game' but now commonly known as the 'Turing test').

    Five years after Turing discussed his 'Imitation Game' the term 'artificial intelligence' was coined in a 1955 proposal paper by American computer scientist and 'Father of AI', John McCarthy. McCarthy coined this term in his proposal for the "Dartmouth Summer Research Conference on Artificial Intelligence". The proposal statements introduction was as follows:

    "We propose that a 2 month, 10 man study of artificial intelligence be carried out during the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves. We think that a significant advance can be made in one or more of these problems if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer."

    This conference was extremely important for several reasons. Firstly it acted as the groundwork for further work in the subject and secondly, many of the attendees later produced significant scientific research based on the conference's influence.

    Since these early days, Artificial Intelligence has evolved greatly and from an academic viewpoint and it is now this is regarded as one of the most important computer sciences in terms of its future potential. Many scientific endeavours are beginning to incorporate AI in order to further deepen research. In recent years the difficulty of AI research has become apparent, we have not yet reached the 1960's and 1970's science fiction movies hypothesis of creating robots with distinct independent thought, capable of questioning their own existence, much like the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Kubrick, 1968) [5]. Instead AI has evolved in more of a philosophical way rather than in a practical fashion. Many factors have been put forward as to why this is so. For instance, other technologies still need to advance such as robotics and cognitive sciences in order for Artificial Intelligence to progress.

    Gaming:

    As with Artificial Intelligence, computer gaming has been a major division of computing since the beginning of modern computing. During the 1950s and 1960s very primitive games were created using predominantly university mainframes. Games such as noughts and crosses were created and paved the way for what was soon to be gaming for the masses. In 1972 the computer game PONG was released by Atari. This was a simple tennis-like game where two players each control a 'paddle' and have to hit a ball back and forth and try to force their opponent to miss the ball, thus scoring a point. This was the first mass-produced game and the game received globally positive reviews and a sequel to the game was demanded. During the 1970's and 1980's home computing was starting to become more common and simple software packages were released allowing users to program basic games. In 1983 the now legendary company Nintendo released the 'Nintendo Entertainment System' or NES. This games 'console' as they were now known truly brought computing to the home and Nintendo recorded overall sales of 61.91 million units.

    The NES inspired other cartridge based systems such as the Sega Mega Drive and these two systems dominated the market for around a decade until technologically superior systems began to enter the market. This began the 'Cartridge versus CD War' where CDs began to lead the market in the form of Sony's Playstation console. This system quickly rose to the top of the games market due to the massive leap forward in graphical game aspects. The year of 2002 heralded the next generation of gaming, this was marked by the three major game console landmarks, the Nintendo GameCube, The Microsoft Xbox and the Sony Playstation 2. Up until this point gaming history had been divided into 'Generations'. Each generation spanned roughly a decade and each could be distinctly distinguished by the technological superiority over its predecessor. However, the latest generation (seventh generation) began only five years after the beginning of the sixth generation. This early release has prompted many to believe that the huge leaps of technological improvements have slowed and graphical enhancements no longer benchmark the point of gaming's progression.

    It is at this point where the overlap between Artificial Intelligence and gaming becomes apparent. I believe that Artificial Intelligence has reached a point where it can be applied to certain areas. Parallel to this I believe that gaming has slowed to such a point, due to the focus of enhancing graphical improvements that the limitations of gaming are becoming more and more apparent due to a desire for games to become more realistic and immersive for the user, far beyond the stunningly realistic graphics which we already have. In researching this topic I have discovered that I am among many people who believe that Artificial Intelligence can be applied to gaming in order to address these limitations. Some might see this research as a trivial undertaking however I would argue against this and I believe that gaming could serve as a platform upon which advanced AI research could be developed.

    In order to fully explore this topic we need to next examine existing work that has been carried out in this area and review its relevance to the topic.

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