Part 1 can be found here. Today I will start with an unusual game and then focus on a more mainstream titles.
I am a huge fan of Chris Franklin’s outstanding channel Errant Signal for his insightful analyses of video games as an art form and his amazing curation leading to the selection of quite a few unusual games. One such unusual game is Hyberbolica which takes place in non-Euclidean / hyperbolic space, see Poincaré disk model. While slightly disorienting and counterintuitive, humans can quickly adapt to such “distortions” and I would expect a robust AI to be able to do the same trick.
Speaking of interesting perspectives the original Prey game from 2006 was a treasure trove of innovative gameplay. Starting with its inversion of gravity with which made you walk on ceilings and walls both during puzzle sections and during combat over its portal mechanics a year before Portal to an interesting section where you find a medium-sized sphere (smaller than the protagonist), walk through a portal and are subsequently shrunk down and teleported onto said sphere seeing the room around you [see video below]. There are also paths which go up the walls and over the ceilings you can keep walking on meaning you walk up walls and on the ceiling. In addition, there is a spirit mode that allows you to leave your body and traverse areas otherwise inaccessible. A human exhibits the fluid intelligence necessary to seamlessly adapt to such crazy mechanics and it would be fascinating to see an AI that can do the same. Other games have had partially similar mechanics – Super Mario Galaxy, for instance, has spherical planets, the grotesquely immature Duke Nukem Forever also shrinks down the player and Alien vs Predator allowed the player to walk up walls and on the ceiling when playing as the alien. However, Prey sticks out in its plethora of novel elements and their successful integration into one coherent experience.
Original Deus Ex
While I do not get to play many games anymore, 0451 games / immersive sims are clearly the genre I align with the most. What I find so intriguing about them is the combination of shooter mechanics, RPG and adventure elements, open world hubs and the capability to approach levels in entirely different ways both in terms of violence vs stealth, but also regarding finding actual paths through the game. Playing Deus Ex for the first time – being given a choice of weapons, reminded of being a police unit thus discouraging blatant violence and being put on a huge map where it is the player’s choice whether to enter through the front door or find an alternative entrance, hack doors and security systems, pick locks, crawl through air vents, lay out traps, hijack security robots, disarm mines etc. was truly groundbreaking at the time. Recognizing options and adapting to the situation at hand as well as the skills and inventory available would be ultra interesting to explore for an AI. I have worked on theory of mind approaches and goal inference before – inferring the intents of agents in the environment, e.g., in order to sneak around them, would be a start. I am very much looking forward to one day being able to approach such settings. Also note that there is a lot of meta discussion in this game – an AI (or technology augemented humans) as deus ex machina, the questions what makes humans human, the risks of big data etc. Unlike later instances of the title, the first game raises many questions in generally the right way, asks whether AIs could be useful in politics to derive objective decisions beyond human flaws like a desire for power and it includes lots of semi-philosophical conversations such as this one. While it stays on a mainstream video game level and I should write a proper post on the philosophy behind AI such as the Chinese Room, John Searle, Karl Popper etc., it is a nice addition that certainly supports the setting.
For similar reasons to why DeusEx is such a fascinating game, Hitman is an incredible series, in particular Blood Money and the triology. In Hitman the player is, well, a hitman who has to eliminate targets, but rather than doing so with brutality the game is very much a puzzle sandbox where understanding options in the environment as well as using items and disguises to one’s advantage is key. While you could technically shoot a target, in practice you will poison food, sabotage golf balls to explode on impact, drop chandeliers, make bridges collapse etc. And you will do so while being disguised as a janitor, personal bodyguard, waiter, hotelier, business partner etc. An AI that could observe the environment that well, devise a plan and follow through with all the uncertainty of the billions of situations that can arise, would be an amazing piece of software.
Honorable Mention: Outer Wilds
I’m a bit uncertain whether to include Outer Wilds, but what I find compelling about it in this context is that in it you are thrown into a solar system that blows up and by exploring it repeatedly you build an understanding of the underlying rules and reasons of the environment. Leveraging the new knowledge in each iteration to come up with new ideas in an intrinsically motivated exploration and investigating small phenomena to solve the big mystery seems highly interesting to figure out.
Arma 3 and Other Tactic Shooters
Tactic shooters could be interesting to tackle with AI [if there were no ethical concerns, more below], since they require combining a lot of information – besides the quick reactions needed for any shooter, they require reconnaissance, teamwork including good comms, task planning, navigation, adapting your strategy to your objectives and various other aspects. The video below is Ghost Recon Breakpoint, but there are various alternatives including its predecessor Wildlands as well as GROUND BRANCH, Insurgency Sandstorm, Ready or Not and Zero Hour. Probably the best example I am aware of is Arma 3 due to its realism and plethora of elements. Its developer Bohemia Interactive is also well-known for actual tactical training simulations like VBS4.
These games largely focus on infantry, usually with small commando teams, but can also touch upon vehicles including aircraft and boats. However, it should be noted that there are interesting games and simulators specializing in each of these. For example, regarding aviation games like Digital Combat Simulator World (DCS World), Microsoft Flight Simulator (which Lockheed’s Prepar3D is based on) or X-Plane are worth a look and regarding submarines Silent Hunter is a good option. However, since I am less interested in special purpose AIs and more in systems that exhibit AI that is as broad as possible, games like Arma are closer to my heart. That some reviewers on Steam have invested over 30,000 hours into this game shows how much depth it has. From what I hear Arma 4 is now in development, so there will be even more great options in the future. However, ethics is of course a major concern with anything war-related. While these games are interesting from a purely technical perspective, in real-life one would have to conduct a very thorough ethical analysis before starting such a project and it might even be safer to categorically ignore them due to their massive inherent risk. Primum non nocere.