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Why use Artificial Intelligence?

by Tony Wilkinson

To begin with, let's establish what we are dealing with. A Player Killer is someone who attacks and tries to kill other players without their consent and often causes a lot of controversy in the game world. Why would someone do this? There are a number of reasons:
Goblin tactics, throw the arrow at them.

Tactics, artificially induced.

  1. Because in general, killing someone else is more profitable than killing monsters. In games where the victim is fully lootable, it is almost guaranteed that the victim will have more loot on him than even some of the toughest monsters. Even in games where the Player killer gets to loot only one item, this is still very profitable.

  2. Because the player killer enjoys ruining someone else's game. While there are definitely some people out there that fall into this category, I tend to believe it is very much the minority.

  3. To prove they are the best.

  4. Because they are bored with killing monsters.

Other than number 2, each of these reasons can be solved without taking away player killing completely (i.e. a Player vs Player or PvP switch) but by giving the players other things to do, things that are exciting and challenging.

One way to do this would be to have genuinely interesting quests, including tasks that don't necessarily involve combat. Another way would be to improve the animal/monster artificial intelligence (AI). The monster AI on MudS/MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) is pretty dire - (well, on every one that I have ever played). They rarely use tactics, particularly group tactics of any kind. Ultima Online is a good example of a MMORPG that have had numerous problems with PKers over the two years it has been in existence. There is no PvP switch and in order to combat the ever-growing band of player killers, they have had to implement harsher and harsher penalties up to a point where it is relatively rare to see a player killer these days. Why is there this ever-increasing level of player killer activity? Surely people are not just getting nastier? Are they?

The problem is in the monster bashing. There are only so many times that you can kill the same monster using the same tactic before it becomes boring. The monsters in most muds use virtually no tactics (I'm sorry, but walking slowly towards the player until they are in range and then swinging is not a tactic) and fighting a group of monsters usually involves splitting the group up and taking them one at a time. With a little practice, this is so easy that you could do it in your sleep.

After a while, in order for the experienced player to get some excitement, some challenge out of the game, he starts to fight other people. Other human beings use tactics. They don't do the same thing each time. They learn. Now this is all fine and dandy when the other person wants to fight - a duel if you will - but what so often happens is that the veteran player ends up fighting and killing people who are not interested in fighting back. They are often inexperienced and are relatively easy to kill. The attackers become player killers.

Imagine a scenario where killing monsters was both exciting and rewarding, where the group of Orcs uses tactics. The Orcs, mages, and archers stay at the back, while the melee fighters charge the group of players. The battle would be tricky, as you would have to keep your archers and mages safe while trying to take the Orc rear guard out. Imagine that grand undead liche summoning an army of skeletons to defend himself from the goody-two-shoes players.

The same advanced AI could even be extended to animals. Try walking into the middle of that group of wolves that are eyeing you suspiciously and attack their leader. The rest of the pack will soon be all over you.

What other methods could keep players on the straight and narrow? How about special items, items that can only be held by "good" people and gained through a virtuous quest? Perhaps a paladin's sword or an axe of double damage might make Akers reconsider. One of the main ways that RPGs fail in general with their attitude to player killers is that they make it attractive to kill other people and then add a heap of restrictions to deter it. Wouldn't it be better to reverse that and make it a rewarding experience to be a good guy?

All these methods will help to remove a lot of the need for people to kill each other for sport. Give the player genuine reasons why it is better to be good and a truly exciting computer opponent to play against and most people are more than happy to co-operate with other players. Give the same players predictable computer opponents and incentives to kill each other (such as copious amounts of loot) and of course, a larger percentage will enter the dark world...

Tony Wilkinson, aka Bagpuss, runs the Virtual World web site and is a regular player on the Seige Perilous server in Ultima Online.