Brain Power

Brain Power

By Stuart Richardson

August 11th 2011 at 8:00AM

Xaitment CEO Andreas Gerber explains how BrainPack 2011 can improve game AI

For those who aren’t familiar with BrainPack and xaitment’s AI tools, what exactly are they?

AI – artificial intelligence – is something that every game studio has a different definition for. One of the things that we have learned over the years is how others understand AI in games. Very often potential customers have said to me ‘Our game has no AI’.

In discussions, however, it turns out that the game actually does have AI. Every game is about characters and objects moving around. To achieve this, you need a pathfinding solution as a very basic feature. To do pathfinding, you need a kind of map of your level, so that you can tell a character to walk from position A to B. This map is called a Navigation Mesh (NavMesh). xaitMap combines fast and robust NavMesh generation and pathfinding in one product.

xaitMove is the logical consequence of the aforementioned. When you have a path, your characters need to know how to perform dynamic collision avoidance, and avoid getting stuck in blocked areas.

Moving thousands of units as well as formation movement is all handled by xaitMove, which is based on easily adjustable pre-defined movement behaviours.

Now that a character knows its whereabouts and is capable of reasonably moving around, it is time to decide why and where the characters should do something. Beginning from building the game logic, scripting and modelling AI behaviours, it is often like an ‘if-then-else’ code. But you have to be a programmer to build up, modify and understand your game logic, scripts or behaviours.

xaitControl is a hierarchical, probabilistic finite state machine engine (HFSM), where you create your FSMs in a graphical way (like the way you model your slides in Power Point) and then use a visual debugger (like you would use in Visual Studio) to set breakpoints, and watch your game and debugger in parallel in order to understand what is going on in your game. Testing and adjusting is an easy thing as you do not have to re-compile your code anymore, you only need to modify your FSMs in an editor, update your configuration files and let the runtime component of xaitControl do the rest.

Someone might say these products are not AI products. But almost every game has exactly these features – pathfinding, moving objects, a game logic as well as certain reactive behaviours of the AI entities.

Well, xaitment would not be xaitment if there was not more than that. xaitment also features xaitKnow and xaitThink, which in combination are a so-called expert system.

xaitKnow is the knowledge of your characters. They can learn and they can forget, just like human players.

xaitThink is like your brain; you can think about what you have learned before, come to conclusions and come up with some kind of plan. Bots using xaitKnow and xaitThink can adapt their behaviours dynamically to the situation in the game and thus force the player to think about his actions and reactions.

Your characters become alive and you will have a lot of fun playing with them just to experience all the possibilities a game can give. Static gameplay is what many modern games offer; making something new, being innovative.

All of our products are independent so, for example, if you only need an HFSM, you can just use xaitControl.

It’s the same for the other products; You can start with xaitMap for pathfinding and later in your project you can add xaitControl to model the behaviours and game logic. You are free to decide what to use and when to use it. This saves you a lot of time and money.

The BrainPack 2011 is a special licence model to address the fact that game productions have to be faster and cheaper but with at least the same quality or even better than before. We talked to a lot of studios and found out that one reason they tend to do things internally is because of their budgets. The BrainPack starts at €3,500 for a half-year licence and €6,000 for a one year licence.

During that period you can use the full version of xaitMap, xaitMove and xaitControl for your game developments. There is no limitation on the number of games you can produce using our products.

Once you have bought our BrainPack, you can use the runtimes for those games you have created under this licence perpetually. To round up this package we offer our customers full upgrades and updates during the licensing period and include access to our support forum and superior knowledge base.

What benefits will a studio using the BrainPack 2011 enjoy?
The BrainPack 2011 is a very cost effective package that guarantees you the highest quality, runtimes optimised for cross-platform usage, and easy-to-use graphical editors to customise your AI – including a visual debugger. Since we have a fast growing community of AI developers, we offer our customers access to our moderated support forum.

AI developers all over the world exchange a lot of tips and tricks in our forum and talk about their experiences.

Also our support team handles the forum moderation and helps the community with a lot of input from the experts.

As we have integrated our editors and runtimes into many game engines like Trinigy’s Vision Game Engine and vForge editor, Gamebryo’s Lightspeed Engine and Toolbench editor, or have interfaces ready to use for Unity 3D Pro, Unreal, etcetera. Integration of our runtimes into your game is only a matter of hours, not days or weeks.

What distinguishes BrainPack 2011 from other AI tools bundles?
Support. Our products are optimised for different platforms and you can book our world-class support team whenever you need help. As xaitment is a middleware company that has focused solely on AI for over seven years now, we have the senior experts that can assist your team.

We can guarantee very fast response times to questions as well as feature requests at any time. If there is something missing in our products; no problem. Ask us and we can do it for you fast, with the highest quality, on time and we will maintain it for years.

With xaitment, there is no risk that people are booked on other projects, get ill or are not accessible anymore – that leads to the question ‘who will maintain your AI?’.

It’s also about premium partners. We are working very closely together with other middleware partners so that you benefit from an even bigger software package, where you can be sure that all runtimes are integrated and working well together. There are no hidden problems and time losses in your project.

The seamless editor integrations into the level-editors of our partners are a big plus that makes it much easier to model a scene out of one editor. Your workflow does not change, you will get the same look and feel, and using our integrated products is easy to learn and intuitive to use.

It is easy and fast to integrate our runtimes into any existing game engine – whether commercial or internally developed. This can be done in hours.

All our products consist of two parts; a runtime that you integrate once into your game and powerful editors to create and maintain your AI configurations without touching and re-compiling the code anymore.

Last but not least the costs. It is one of the cheapest commercial AI bundles.

What challenges have defined the development of the BrainPack 2011?
Due to the financial crisis and the massive loss of money in the past, publishers and game studios have told us that publishers and financiers are no longer willing to spend money in internal game engine development.

They want to spend money for the gameplay, not for technology. They have learned that there are enough commercial and well supported engines on the market maintained by experts. So from a technical side as well as from a business side, the return of investment needs to get much faster.

Also, the big trend toward casual and social games raises the need to offer a licence to support smaller game budgets and faster development times. Often game studios develop three to four games in parallel.

So we decided to create a bundle to help our customers with the best technology on a low budget. With the one year licence, your investment of €6,000 will return to you in one man-month. Implementing and optimising a pathfinder from scratch takes far longer than one man-month. And the BrainPack 2011 offers you three products in one technology pack.

What would you say to studios considering buying a BrainPack licence?
Since we started this licence model at GDC in March, many game studios have signed up because of its cost and time saving benefits.

The costs for the BrainPack are really a no-brainer and people love this offer. As we have customers for all game genres and game sizes – from indie studios to triple-A cross-platform productions – our customers can benefit from all the experience we have made in the past and what we spend in the improvements of our products. The BrainPack is a fast and easy thing; buy it and feel good.

Do you have any specific hopes for what BrainPack 2011 will achieve?
Right now, the BrainPack is the right licence model in a time where money is hard to come by, development budgets are tight and development teams are getting smaller. We are seeing and expecting that our BrainPack 2011 will be a huge success by enabling small and big studios to be much more flexible and help them to focus more on the game design instead of having delays in the technical part of creating a game.

Based on the quickly increasing number of new clients we have had since starting the BrainPack 2011, we have real evidence that the BrainPack cost and support structure is what people want.

What kind of support will be available to BrainPack 2011 licencees?
The BrainPack 2011 includes a standard support package, which we developed together with our customers. We asked them what they really needed.

Therefore our customers get free updates and upgrades during the runtime of the licence and they have full access to our support knowledge base and our moderated support forum.

We believe that out of the support cloud there will be tons of good ideas and tips and tricks generated. Last year we installed a moderated forum on our website and also started a fast, easy-to-use support system.

Moderated means we help the community and we can discuss things in an open way with the community.

Additionally, if more support is needed, we can offer dedicated support. Our experienced engineers are responsible for dealing with your questions now and in the future. This ensures that you will not have to tell us about a problem twice. The engineers know you and you will know them.

Was there anything else you wanted to let us know about BrainPack 2011?
As the BrainPack 2011 has proved to be a great success, it will be part of our core licences and it is not just a summer special. It will run over years so that you can count on it. In the future we plan to expand this licence model together with our partners.