- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Video games are getting smarter, with virtual enemies improvising during battles, story lines shifting on moral choices and in-game characters sending players text messages for help.

Titles unveiled at the just-concluded Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles feature artificial intelligence (AI) making in-game worlds more realistic and less predictable.

“There was a lot we had to do,” said Peter Hines of Bethesda Softworks LLC as Agence France-Presse tried the studio’s eagerly awaited Fallout 3 shooter game, set in a post-nuclear-war Washington.

AI software in Fallout 3 lets enemies change tactics depending on what players do.

“They are being smart about being in a combat situation,” Mr. Hines said.

The game also is designed so that players’ choices affect which computer-controlled factions become their allies or enemies.

Project Origin, an action-horror game built by Monolith Productions Inc. for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Inc. boasts “vastly enhanced” AI that makes enemies act realistically and use environments to their advantage.

“See, he threw the car door open because it was the smartest way to take cover,” a Monolith developer said of an on-screen adversary while showing AFP the game.

“That isn’t scripted. He is figuring it out as he goes.”

Custom software built by Gearbox Software LLC for Borderlands video game generates a “near-endless” array of missions, enemies, environments and weapons.

Borderlands is an “evolutionary leap in game design and technology,” said 2K Games President Christoph Hartmann when it was announced that the title will be published by his firm’s parent company, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.

Borderlands is set on a lawless planet called Pandora where bandits rove badlands with a “very ‘Mad Max’ vibe,” Gearbox President Randy Pickford said while demonstrating the game.

The video game’s software has generated more than 500,000 weapons and hidden them about Pandora, surprising even its creators.

“Wow, that’s a cool gun, and it has a blade,” Mr. Pickford said to a colleague playing the game. “You definitely want to pick that one up.”

Lionhead Studios built AI into an animated dog that serves as an enviable companion for players of Fable 2, according to the firm’s creative director, Peter Molyneux.

Fable 2 also has a “dynamic landscape” that changes depending on whether players prefer to visit towns, linger in faux taverns or hack and slash adversaries, Mr. Molyneux said during an E3 preview of the game.

The multiplayer online game for Nintendo’s Wii consoles is time-synced to give people the illusion they are playing together, no matter when they venture into the virtual realm.

Nintendo also is marketing MotionPlus devices that attach to Wii controllers so the motion-sensing devices pick up more nuanced movements.

Sony Online Entertainment LLC is putting finishing touches on an online secret-agent game called the Agency, which gives players command of operatives that work around the clock.

If operatives need help, they can send real-world team leaders e-mail or mobile-telephone text messages, said Matt Wilson of the Agency development team.

“You might send an operative to find a Colombian drug lord, then be sitting in a bar and get a text message telling you he found the target,” Mr. Wilson said.

“The bad news is he was captured and they want a million dollars ransom or they’ll kill him. You’ll hit 1 on the phone to pay the ransom or 2 to refuse.”

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