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MIGS 2007: Spore's Hecker On AI, Photorealism

At the 2007 Montreal Games Summit, EA technology fellow and Spore developer Chris Hecker presented a wide-ranging talk suggesting that "AI is the key to making games the pre-eminent artform of the 21st century", also focusing on 'interactivity vers
As a technology fellow and Spore developer at Electronic Arts, Chris Hecker focuses on solving hard game design and technical problems found at the intersection of gameplay, aesthetics, and engineering. At a massively wide-ranging, complex talk at the 2007 Montreal Games Summit, Hecker discussed a variety of challenges in game design, and how hybrid approaches can help address these issues in the years to come. In particular, Hecker highlighted some of the challenges in dealing with realism and artificial intelligence: "I think AI is the key to making games the pre-eminent artform of the 21st century," asserted Hecker. He clarified he's not referring to quick and accurate-shooting NPCs -- pathfinding or auto-aim bots -- but elements like drama management and player modeling, areas of the AI arena that are still unsolved. Elsewhere in the talk, which will be written up fully on Gamasutra at a later date, Hecker discussed "the interactivity versus verisimilitude question" for the game industry. Verisimilitude, he clarified, refers not to photorealism but being true to the aesthetic of the game. "Obviously you want to be high on both -- deeply interactive but with no holes aesthetically," said Hecker. But it's not so simple, Hecker explained. Increasing verisimilitude is easy -- throw more characters, more CPU, and more polygons at the problem. But increasing interactivity is a bigger challenge, he asserted. According to Hecker, the problem is that response from both consumers and games press raises the bar for both elements ever higher, thereby demanding interactivity to match the AI characters' lifelike looks. "It sucks even more because once you go up you can’t go back down," said Hecker, noting that designers could not get away with decreasing verisimilitude in game characters, due to expectations. These two elements were just a small part of Hecker's Montreal keynote, which Gamasutra will write up in the near future.

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