More focus on good AI

Halo’s AI was considered to be among the best in the field. It’s part of what made the campaign and its gameplay so much fun in first place imho! The pattern were complex, animations and reactions of the enemy inherently became part of the amazing gunplay and more important every encounter felt different even in the same arena.

Over the years however it seems like the focus has shifted and faster gameplay and better graphics now seems what should sell the game over a complex set of AI routines. Now we have gimmicks replacing an intricate behavior tree. However, a simple TP can’t replace how the Covenant used the different races and ranks to subdue the player. And stiff enemies staying around in the middle of the battlefield can’t be hidden behind the factor that now we got more NPCs on the screen. Another way to hide the reduced complexity of the AI’s pathfinding was the ability to bend the trajectory of plasma bullets and needle shots, I guess Grunts and Elites have psychic powers now. How the pathfinding works got -Yoink!- as well imho, with enemies not recognizing props in their way like they used to (firefight in Reach already had that problem while funnily enough not having it in campaign) or by repeating suicidal mistakes of the comrade before them or even by not interacting with the surroundings as much as in past games. Do I even need to mention friendly Spartans trying to safe you when gunned down?

Nor does the enemy AI behavior reflect the character designs anymore frankly. Think about it, why are Jackals with their huge crocodile mandibles the snipers? That’s a characteristic a brawler should have, not a mid to far range alien with precision rifles. In the other games they had big eyes and were more bird like. As such the design reflected the role! And when Skirmishers were introduced you only needed one look to understand what type of enemy you were facing. I know that’s not just gameplay anymore, but it does impact the enjoyment of the battle imho.

It seems like 343i and Microsoft’s marketing department believes that good AI can’t sell a game anymore, however games like Titanfall or even our Firefight and Warzone modes are introducing more and more NPCs to normal online multiplayer, I really don’t understand how AI hasn’t become a major focus in this gen! Graphics are important and the first obvious thing the community will notice of course, but imho it doesn’t matter in the long run. At least not when it comes to gameplay in singleplayer and PvE and that’s a huge part of this series.

What do you guys think? How important is AI to you in a h´halo game?

Personally I want a behavior tree with much more environment interactions and more aggressive tactics. I want Marines being able to win a fight by cooperating with one and another. I want to get outsmarted when doing something wrong or too risky in the middle of the fight. I want a “smart” AI in Halo!

The issue I have with talking about game AI is that I don’t think “good” AI is a straightforward concept, or as straightforward as people make it out to be. I’m not convinced that how fun the AI is is too dependent on its complexity. I would even argue that having the AI make choices that are optimal for killing the player can in some cases be detrimental to the gameplay experience. The classic example of this is that if the player retreats sufficiently far away or takes cover, the enemies may not pursue even if they would easily kill the player by pursuing. This is of course to make it possible for the player to fight multiple enemies even at higher difficulties without being overwhelmed.

Much more goes to crafting an interesting encounter than a decision tree. I think you can get pretty far with a fairly rudimentary decision process for the AI. Beyond that, I think movement animations, characteristic traits, and the general design of an encounter (enemy placement, environment, etc.) are much more impactful to the experience. As far the AI is concerned, it’s not too important that its decisions are “smart” or complex. Rather it’s important that its decisions are engaging to the player while being sufficiently nonrepetitive that the player won’t notice.