Intelligent decisions

Intelligent decisions

By Develop

June 17th 2008 at 3:32PM

Always interesting, at present the market for games-related artificial intelligence technology is even more fluid than usualâ?¦

Like a slowly swinging pendulum, the trend within the games AI middleware market has once again moved away from games. It may seem like a nonsensical thing to say, but as well as Pregasis effectively withdrawing one-time market leading product AI.implant, French company SpirOps also seems to focusing more on the simulation market these days. It’s exactly the same decisions taken by companies such as Stottler Henke and MASA a couple of years ago.

But it’s not all bad news. PathEngine continues to burn its own track for companies looking for pure pathfinding software, while Kynogon’s acquisition by Autodesk will surely result in something novel, although whether we’ll be able to place it neatly within a box marked ‘AI middleware’ remains to be seen.

The real joker in the pack however is AIseek, which has sprung to life in 2008 with its Intia AI chip. The company has found its first client - MMOG company Simutronics, and it could be that adding the specialised hardware within the massed server racks of MMOG providers is a workable business model. Certainly the recent history of Ageia would suggest that if gamers don’t want to buy a physics add-in card, an AI add-in card is even more unlikely.


PATHENGINE

Technology: PathEngine v5.16
Clients: Avalanche Studios, Flying Lab Software, NCsoft, People Can Fly, Rare
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PC, Xbox 360
Integration with other technologies: 3ds Max, Maya
Cost: From €4,500 to €13,000
Contact: +33 4 78 27 06 02

It says much about the AI middleware market that one of the most successful products is also one of the most focused. As its name suggests PathEngine is all about providing points-of-visibility pathfinding and collision on 3D ground surfaces, with particular attention being paid to how obstacles and surface edges constrain agent movement. The SDK also comes with a graphical test bed and associated tools.


KYNOGON

Technology: Kynapse v5
Clients: Activision, Bethesda, DICE, EA, Realtime Worlds, Spark Unlimited, THQ, Vivendi
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360
Integration with other technologies: Unreal Engine 3
Cost: Available on request
Contact: +33 156 035 980

Where next for Kynogon? The French company, which released version 5 of its popular Kynapse middleware at GDC 2008, has also been bought by Autodesk, with future plans involving the development of a new suite of technology sitting between Autodesk’s 3D content creation tools and runtime engines. In the meantime, new features for v5 include 3D pathfinding and support for multi-threaded and multi-core hardware.


AISEEK

Technology: Intia processor
Clients: Simutronics
Platforms: PC
Integration with other technologies: Ageia, HeroEngine
Cost: Available on request
Contact: +972 3 612 0306

Despite operating in stealth mode for a number of years, it seems as if Israel AI chip company AIseek is finally close to launch. For one thing, it hass announced its first customer.
A deal with Simultronics will see the pathfinding, terrain analysis and line-of-sight technology used for its MMOG engine, although it’s not clear whether this deal is for the chip themselves or the associated AI SDK.


SPIROPS

Technology: SpirOps AI
Clients: Kylotonn, Le Caillou, Quantic Dream, Ubisoft
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Integration with other technologies: None
Cost: Available on request
Contact: +33 1 48 05 10 98

Originally marketing itself as the first graphical interface for AI creation, SpirOps’ technology comes in three parts. There’s the main SDK, which is designed to handle behaviours using a Drive model; the Path Generator, which is used to create navigational paths; and Crowd, which offers basic libraries for moving large numbers of NPCs. Most recently SpirOps has branched out from games to focus on AI solutions for virtual realities.


PRESAGIS

Technology: AI.implant v5
Clients: BioWare, EA, Midway, Vivendi
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Integration with other technologies: Unreal Engine 3
Cost: Free
Contact: +1 800 361 6424

It was one of the first successful game AI pathfinding products, but since parent company Presagis decided to switch focus to the simulation market in July 2007, AI.implant isn’t really a viable option for commercial game development. Despite being available without cost, it’s not being supported or maintained for consoles, although makers of serious games may find it a more useful tool.