“AI is the future”, says Sony

I must admit to being a bit puzzled by this Eurogamer article on a presentation by Sony Computer Entertainment UK boss Ray Maguire, at BAFTA headquarters.

“We are no longer interested in graphics per se, because graphics chips can do that for us,” he commented, “but the central processors of all the new games machines are about making games more compelling by adding in artificial intelligence.”

“The Cell chip is so powerful it can do 256 million calculations per second… That means one thing for us in the videogames industry: artificial intelligence.”

Does it? I mean, I’m all for it. But do the people focussing all of their effort on better graphics technologies know this? What’s with all the people proclaiming physics are the future? Was there some video games industry communiqué I missed?

And, um, if the Cell is so powerful that it only means artificial intelligence, then what’s with the story that the Cell is unsuited for branch-heavy code? I know, to some degree that has to be FUD from the boring PR war between Sony and Microsoft. But yet… I can’t shake the impression the Cell really is a so-so PowerPC core with 7 DSPs tacked on. Powerful, when you make it do the right thing, sure. But I wouldn’t call it “built for AI”. (Warning: I have never programmed a Cell processor nor anything similar, although I’ve talked with friends who do.)

He showed off a proof of concept video showing a rendered female character auditioning for a movie role, and talking through her relationship with her husband from meeting him, through to her decision to murder him after discovering that he was having an affair.

This is obviously Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain video – I don’t know why this wasn’t explicitly mentioned. Now, charming as this video is, what does it really show? It shows an entirely predetermined video sequence. Nothing more. It’s a very nice video, and I will take Quantic Dream’s word for it that it’s running in real-time. But still, it’s about as interactive as a brick. There are a billion reasons for why this is entirely unimpressive for games, going from surface issues such as the fact that you can massively optimize your rendering (not to mention your modeling) if you know exactly where your camera is pointing at any time, to deep, deep issues such as: what player actions will make an NPC cry, believably? (And this mention of “the first woman crying in real time 3D” – which I strongly doubt – makes me think of this whole obsession with making players cry… this became a cliché real fast.) All that video proves, so far, is that Quantic Dream can make really, really nice images in real-time 3D. Which is hard, and I respect them for it, but the only thing really revolutionary about it that I can see is that they’re showing a domestic drama scene, as opposed to heavily-armored babes killing aliens.

And how was all that related to AI again?…

But, well, in the end Mr. Maguire’s presentation was all about saying something that is understandable to people outside of the industry (or should I say, non-developers), and that is fitting within the context of BAFTA, which is, after all, a movie-related organization. In the end, even though I doubt the thoughts behind it, I cannot disagree with:

“We’re not talking about graphics any more,” Maguire concluded. “We’re talking about performance and we’re talking about art.”

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