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J-Maw

Halo 2

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I recently found a loophole in the "ingenious" design of Holo 2. Not impliying that the design is actually that great, but assuming, since thehype defines it as the greatest thing to man since women. Anyway. Following the initial attack and invasion the player is confronted with, I progressed into a large area where the covenant elite and a few (Insert whatever the hell their name is) regular covenants. Since I was tackling this situation on legendary, I decided to play it strategically. Of course, after annailhation the primo eilites and whining covenants, I crossed my fingers and decided to leap into the section. Naturally, I had a plan- that is, one that would work only if the developers proeved themselves as predictable as I figured. And the plan succeeded only because, upon reaching that certian "boundry" (I'm sure many veteran player's understand this concept) coupled with the fact thyat I knew enemies would materializes from thin air, I immediately broke throughout the "barrier" simply to initiate the appearance of the enemies, and sought refuge. Now. This is has been the ancient mistake of game design: designing enemies that only reveal themselves once a certain point is uncovered by the player (Example: run past a certain box, three covenants appear manning two turrets. And, yet, that isn't the true mistake. The true mistake is failing to create this effect in a fashion that's completely unrecognized by the player. Otherwise, we strategies the way I just did.... and win.

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well there's actually no way around having triggers that spawn enemies, especially on console platforms. the machines can only handle so many entites at once so you need to use these triggers. generally they are set up such that you don't actually see the enemies spawn in. in good games they will also be placed such that the entrance of the NPCs seems strategic or causes the player to move in certain directions helping them through the flow of the level. I'm not sure that i understand what the problem is that you are identifying.

technically, i suppose you could mitigate this pattern recognition of players with either dynamic trigger volumes or more random spawn points. both pose significant potential performance costs on the machine for which there might not be a solution. if you move the trigger volumes around then you risk more occurances of back-spawning which people generally hate. if you introduce random spawn positions you run the risk of the player seeing the enemies spawn in.

generally i don't think that there's a nice solution to this on console game. especially since most entities usually have scripted entrance sequences it's not easy to get dynamic spawning working. generally when you spawn an NPC, since they must spawn out of the players sight, you tell them to do things like: "move Xmeters this way, then jump, then climb down, then turn on AI". those scripts don't lend themselves to any kind of dynamic spawning for hopefully obvious reasons.

further, the nice thing about having things the way they are is that it allows more novice players to beat challenging sections of the game through some basic memorization. i.e. you know that when you reach a set point various enemies will spawn that killed you last time. it allows them to be more prepared for the next encounter. generally these days the AI is good enough such that it reacts well to the player's position, meaning that encounters don't generally play out the same way each time.

generally the placement and timing of the spawns is a very delicate and well thought out thing by the designers. they want the enemies to spawn at an exact time so that they can lead the player through the level, give the player appropriate breaks from the action, and generally tune the pacing of the level. i guess to alter things would require a paradigm shift in game design. ideas for that shift?

-me

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I agree with the points on gameplay. Having spawn points and triggers that are carefully played by the level designers can serve to provide (as pointed out) respite from attacks and a way to drive the player through the game level. However,

Quote:
well there's actually no way around having triggers that spawn enemies, especially on console platforms.


I disagree. Despite processor and memory constraints, there is no reason whatsoever that a game can't consist of a world populated by autonomous agents, each with their own behaviours and constrained by the same mechanics and physics that the players are limited by. I say this because it's pretty much the way the AI behaves in the game our team is developing. Game agents are autonomous, scripted entities that follow the same rules (down to what packets they send to the server) that the game clients do.

This model suits itself more to MMO games. I'm hoping to see more and more of these sort of techniques used in games in the future. One game that I recall using something similar is Saga of Ryzom where, if I recall correctly, large groups of agents wander in packs (herbivores, etc) through the plains and grasslands of the game.

-- Andy

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Quote:
Original post by Mull
I agree with the points on gameplay. Having spawn points and triggers that are carefully played by the level designers can serve to provide (as pointed out) respite from attacks and a way to drive the player through the game level. However,

Quote:
well there's actually no way around having triggers that spawn enemies, especially on console platforms.


I disagree. Despite processor and memory constraints, there is no reason whatsoever that a game can't consist of a world populated by autonomous agents, each with their own behaviours and constrained by the same mechanics and physics that the players are limited by. I say this because it's pretty much the way the AI behaves in the game our team is developing. Game agents are autonomous, scripted entities that follow the same rules (down to what packets they send to the server) that the game clients do.

This model suits itself more to MMO games. I'm hoping to see more and more of these sort of techniques used in games in the future. One game that I recall using something similar is Saga of Ryzom where, if I recall correctly, large groups of agents wander in packs (herbivores, etc) through the plains and grasslands of the game.

-- Andy


However, at the same time, think about Halo, or I guess any console FPS. There are thousands upons thousands of enemies in the game, many of which are supposed to be fighting AI vs. AI battles with themselves when you arrive. You run into problems where sections of the game might not even fit with the timing of the story or be totally empty when you arrive.

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I actually thought that the triggers were one of the notable imporvements to Halo 2. They are still there, and should be, but they are done in a way that, to me, seems more natural and flowing. It makes sense to have them and they did an even better job this time round.

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So...did anybody else cheat in HALO on the snow level (one of them) by crashing the ghost into the door sideways and jumping before hitting the door so that the enemies wouldn't activate and would just be standing there, ready to be killed?

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I assumed specific points for the NPCs to spawn was done for the purpose of memorization. While it's is helpful in many respects to allow NPCs to materialize in the same locations each time, It distracts from the credibility of the experience. I'm aware of hardware limitations (Especially consoles), but I'm sure it's possible to shift scripts around a bit to give the enemies a "good" entrance (Contrary to appearing in the one spot you SWORE you just saw was empty a few seconds before...) I personally enjoy when enemies smash through windows, break down doors, etc. Metroid Prime 2 could utilize this technique in countless ways, as each creature could reveal themselves in unique situations based on the advantages of their habitat (I.e.. Ones that burst up from the ground, spring from wildlife, etc.) Anyway. Halo doesn't seem to have this advantage when it comes to positioning NPC's, and unfortunately, this gives the player the whole idea that that group of elite's and jackals around the corner was simply waiting for your entrance... and nothing more. Now, the one thing that would enhance the experience of encountering enemies would be, say, if you entered the area and "interrupted" whatever it was they were previously doing- as if they were oblivious of your presence, as opposed to being positioned as if something already predicted exactly where the player would be upon revelation.
By the way Boku San, many times I entered rooms in Halo before the enemies even activated- and watched them pose, still awaiting my arrival. But, I suppose these occasions can't be avoided sometimes, since no game is perfectly designed.

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There are two interesting points/thoughts that arise from this thread that I can see:
1) Is there a better way to handle the addition of NPCs to the game in a controlled manner ('triggered spawning') for games running on platforms with limited resources; and,

2) Do power-gamers like trying to find the poor design elements of a game (as a sort of test of their abilities over the designers)?

Personally, I tend to agree with the comment about fixed trigger volumes being a poor method of controlled spawning, however, I also understand the design perspective of wanting to control the flow of a level and the gameplay that results from the players actions. Ultimately though, this is (to me at least), one of the biggest drawbacks of current games. Designers are too busy trying to control the players gameplay and keep it constrained tightly to the story line, rather than creating an environment in which gameplay occurs and advancing the storyline through analysis of the players actions and behaviour (beyond simply where they are standing/moving to).

For example, did the player just run screaming through the level with BFG pumping white-hot death to all and sundry? Or did the player sneak past all of the NPCs undetected? If it's the former, then throw more at them. Every NPC within a 10 mile radius is going to hear the slaughter and coming running to intercept, or is going to set up in a good defensive position. However, if it's the latter, then the player should be encountering NPCs as they are going about their business. Guards would be on patrol, or standing at their post. Weapons are probably sheathed, or powered down.

This sort of dynamic storyline is fairly trivial to implement using multiple spawn contexts. That is, different spawn-in initialisation scripts depending on the results of a player analysis. As for how the spawns are triggered... trigger volumes can be placed as the default, but their activation can be determined by what events have previously occurred and the initialisation script they trigger could depend on their triggering state.

Make sense?

As for the second point above... that's more of a question that I'm curious about. Of those reading this thread that do look for cheats/hacks/flaws in games, is this one of your primary elements of game play (i.e., are you always looking for them? Or do you do it only occassionally? Do you do it to get through the tougher areas of the game, or places where you might have died on a previous attempt?).

Cheers,

Timkin

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Actually, those very "power players" are the same one who keep this genre alive. Since "the wow factor of game graphics is finally wearing thin... people are increasingly concentrating on other elements of the game itself. So, the fact that we now have more CPU time is very advantageous, considering the current consumer push is now for games that contain much better AI-controlled enemies." -Quoted from GameDev.net "AI Game Engine Programming"
True, at one time, graphics were the motivating force behind the entire gaming phenomenon... at least in my opinion. It fueled the hype, that's a fact. And, yet, nowadays, as gamers age and learn more of the world around them, they desire exacty what's quoted above. While I agree, TIMKIN, with your reasoning concerning AI adaptaion, I must contradict the fact that jaded gamers "look for cheats/hacks/flaws in games, is this one of your primary elements of game play."
They don't. Many players desire to think the way they naturally "should" when conquering a difficult portion of a game. For example, the developers may have wanted the player to "give up" after waiting 3 minutes for an NPC to reappear; yet, what if the player not only realizes this fact, but waits patiently, then fires a direct head-shot. This, of course, is something any jaded player would do, for the simple desire to enhance the realism of the experience (contrary to the suicidal "Geranium" approach).
Of course, this method of planning seems oblivious to failure. It SHOULD work, shouldn't it? Yet, what if the developers have implemented a AI strategy where, regardless of how long the player waits, he/she WILL be eliminated- simply to justify the fact that they desired the game to last 5 min's longer than normal?
Or... they develop a script where 20 enemies fall from heaven and slaughter the player. Just a topic to discuss.

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Quote:
Original post by Timkin
[...]
Personally, I tend to agree with the comment about fixed trigger volumes being a poor method of controlled spawning, however, I also understand the design perspective of wanting to control the flow of a level and the gameplay that results from the players actions.
Ultimately though, this is (to me at least), one of the biggest drawbacks of current games. Designers are too busy trying to control the players gameplay and keep it constrained tightly to the story line, rather than creating an environment in which gameplay occurs and advancing the storyline through analysis of the players actions and behaviour (beyond simply where they are standing/moving to).
[...]


The situation is a bit more complicated in many FPS games such as Halo: the (game and level) designers are not only responsible for gameplay, storyline, and difficulty levels. They also have to stay within rendering budgets, otherwise the game starts to skip frames and lag. And throwing more NPC's at the player often involves throwing a lot more polygons at the rendering pipeline. It's not unusual to have a limit for the amount of NPC's concurrently on the screen.

I do share your dislike for fixed and obvious spawning.

William

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I am always curious how things get to be the way they are. When I watch movies or commercials, I always wonder about the process that resulted in someone thinking that something should be done as opposed to something else. The same with games.

I remember playing American McGee's Alice and getting to a level that didn't seem to mesh well. It is the one where you turn into a chess piece and have to move about the level accordingly. I thought the game was fun until that point, and I wondered about the decision to put this portion of the game in. Also, Alice magically turns into a chess piece (with particle effects and all), but at the end of each portion of the game when this happens, she just reappears without the magic effect. When I emailed American McGee, I got a simple response that such decisions can be the result of deadlines needing to be met. He also suggested that I not pay so much attention to the details, but I do find it fun.

I recently saw The Incredibles, and while everyone was just watching an animated movie, I was wowed by the amazing effects, like the waterfall and the smoke. When I saw Shrek, I remember being floored by the milk being poored into the glass, even though it was not a major part of the film (and then later I found out that the behind-the-scenes specials made mention of this technical feat).

So yeah, I enjoy finding details, including flaws, because then I get to think about how they were made.

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Response to GBGAMES
....Not only that, but discovering "flaws" creates an overall atmosphere that ensures improvement. This isn't necessarily a 'bad" or ruinous ideology at all. As you wrote:

"When I watch movies or commercials, I always wonder about the process that resulted in someone thinking that something should be done as opposed to something else...."

"So yeah, I enjoy finding details, including flaws, because then I get to think about how they were made."
.....And, if curiosity [and time] permits, how to improve them.
At least this is according to my personal observation.

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Quote:
Original post by J-Maw
considering the current consumer push is now for games that contain much better AI-controlled enemies." -Quoted from GameDev.net "AI Game Engine Programming"

That might be the consumer demand, but it's not yet evident that developers know HOW to deliver on this demand, let alone being willing to do so (in terms of committing significant budget proportions to AI development and research).

Quote:
Original post by J-Maw
While I agree, TIMKIN, with your reasoning concerning AI adaptaion, I must contradict the fact that jaded gamers "look for cheats/hacks/flaws in games, is this one of your primary elements of game play."


I think you mis-read what I wrote... I wasn't stating a fact... I was posing a question. DO power-games intentionally look for these facets of a game as part of their gameplay, or is it merely a coincidence that they find them because of the manner in which they approach the game?


William: I definitely understand the production issues involved that mean that NPC handling is often done in a simplified manner according to well developed and proven techniques (even if they're somewhat sub-optimal from a gameplay perspective). However, I would content that many players, even in the FPS genre, would be contented to face half a dozen well thought out, 'smart' bots that acted 'appropriately' in the context in which they find themselves, than 50 mindelss automatons that suddenly appear in front of (or behind) the player and start shooting. But that's more a question of AI than triggering, so I don't want to diver this thread any more. I would certainly be interested in hearing other peoples thoughts on different methods for controlled spawning of NPCs.

Cheers,

Timkin

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Farcry is one game that handles monster spawning really well. It is very dynamic. The guards all seem to be doing their job, waiting looking for someone to fight, instead of just sitting doing nothing until you show up. You can even zoom in on them and eavesdrop on their conversations. Later when the monsters start breaking out, it feels like the monsters and the guards are all fighting and don't even care what your doing. It's fun to just stand back and not get too involved and see who comes out the winner. Also, there are helicopters which periodically fly around the island. If they see you, more guys can come down on ropes. I never have felt like something has been waiting for me to trigger it. I really like that aspect of it, I'm getting extremely tired of fps games being "one scripted event after another".

Farcry has the best ai I've seen in a fps game, haven't played anything more recent though.

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Farcry is one game that handles monster spawning really well. It is very dynamic. The guards all seem to be doing their job, waiting looking for someone to fight, instead of just sitting doing nothing until you show up. You can even zoom in on them and eavesdrop on their conversations. Later when the monsters start breaking out, it feels like the monsters and the guards are all fighting and don't even care what your doing. It's fun to just stand back and not get too involved and see who comes out the winner. Also, there are helicopters which periodically fly around the island. If they see you, more guys can come down on ropes. I never have felt like something has been waiting for me to trigger it. I really like that aspect of it, I'm getting extremely tired of fps games being "one scripted event after another".

Farcry has the best ai I've seen in a fps game, haven't played anything more recent though.

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<edit> whoops, it kept asking me to sign the agreement and I didnt read where it said the post went through </edit>

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There are definitely ways to improve AI spawning, and I am sure they will become more common in time.

Williams point, as I am interpreting it (allowing a 'game master' AI to control AI character spawning hands the control over system performance to the 'game master' AI) is a big issue that would need to be addressed by such as system. Another big issue is testing. If the system isn't totally deterministic, it will make QAs job very hard. Both of these are possible to work around, with enough time.

Quote:
1) Is there a better way to handle the addition of NPCs to the game in a controlled manner ('triggered spawning') for games running on platforms with limited resources;


Absolutely; level designers can set up cinematic entries (as others have suggested; breaking down windows/doors, etc). Of course, only so many such locations can be added. Places where unlimited spawning is seems possible to a gamer; cliff faces, holes in the ceiling, etc can address the 'entry feasibility' problem for other cases.

Finally, areas unseen by the player (or connected to locations with 'entry feasibility') could be repopulated based on the current state of the game.

While I am a huge fan of AI control and automation, a system like this may be a hard sell for most action games. It would have the potential to improve a game, but I don't know how much 'bang for the buck' it would provide.

For instance, many of the 'friendly' characters in Half-Life 2 don't respond to much at all (including the player firing rounds a few feet away from them). Valve must have decided early on that what this would be more real and could provide interesting emergent situations, it wasn't worth the time investment or the added complexity in plot delivery. Instead, they decided to totally ignore the problem which created a unified convention players could accept.

Quote:
2) Do power-gamers like trying to find the poor design elements of a game (as a sort of test of their abilities over the designers)?


Absolutely. The problem is that power gamers are definitely the minority. It is more important that the casual gamer has a good experience than the power gamer, and many of these issues don't seem to effect them as badly.

For instance, infinite spawning is generally disliked by many action gamers, power gamer or not. Controlled/more careful spawning may improve the game for power gamers, but the mass market might not notice much of a difference.

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