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Gaming with machines

Posted 2 Dec

Willa Budiman
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UP CLOSE’s us and machines explores how artificial intelligence mimics humans to perform tasks in our lives and technologies that help us go through challenging times. I bet you’ve heard of virtual assistants like Siri that help you set your morning alarm. Or have you chatted with Sam, MOD’s artificial companion? We can’t help but realise how much we interact with machines these days and this extends into gaming. Sure, you can’t beat the simplicity and nostalgia brought by 1962’s Spacewar, but the world of electronic games has certainly evolved. Here are five games that are driven by powerful technologies allowing for a more engaging experience. 

 

Chess

Let’s start with a game you’re probably already familiar with if you’ve watched Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit or grew up playing the game: Chess. This classic board game is played between two players, with the objective to checkmate the opponent’s king. Online platforms such as chess.com provide the flexibility to play with a friend, computer, or stranger. Now you have access to players all over the world at your fingertips, making it no longer a struggle to find someone to play with. 

A challenge that comes with this strategy-based game is the frustration when constantly losing against someone of a much higher rating, or the lack of challenge if playing with someone who is not too experienced. The matching algorithm finds an opponent with the closest rating to make the game more suitable to the player’s skill level. 

Another benefit of the artificial intelligence utilised is the ability to analyse your game and the competitors. The chess engine performs quick calculations based on past players’ gameplay to recommend the best next move. This is a good example of big data being used to predict and make decisions. It aids us humans learn different types of chess openings, introduce new strategies and improve our knowledge of chess theory. 

“Chess.com” founded by Erik Allebest and Jay Severson

Genre: strategy, board game

Platforms: Web, Android, iOS

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Capabilities: Single player, Online multiplayer

 

Akinator

A stereotypical genie in a blue robe and a white turban is in the centre, frowning at you and rubbing their hands together. Behind them are a deck of cards, each with the genie on them.

Ever had the satisfaction of beating a computer? That’s the primary objective of the Akinator, which is a web genie that asks you a series of questions to guess the character, object, or animal in your mind.  Sure, it can sound like magic whenever the genie successfully reads your mind, but the secret lies in its machine learning algorithm, which means it can automatically learn and adapt to new data without being assisted by humans. Take the two most common questions: “Does your character exist?” or “Is your character’s gender female?” By answering “yes, no, don’t know, probably or probably not”, a large proportion of potential answers can be eliminated. In addition, crowdsourcing is used for the Akinator to learn new information. If the program cannot guess correctly, it asks to upload the name and photo to save in its extensive database. Now that you know how it works, you can simply marvel in delight at the power of artificial intelligence. 

“Akinator” developed by Elokence 

Genre: Twenty Questions

Platforms: Web, Android, iOS

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Capabilities: Single player.

  

Halo

Masterchief, soldier from Halo, looks at you from the centre of an intergalactic place. They're wearing a robot outfit.

The decision-making ability to hide and fight an enemy is a complex task we humans developed through evolution. But ever thought how machines can replicate this in combat games? Halo: Combat Evolved is a first-person shooter game that utilises AI to create an immersive experience and realistic virtual world. The engineering leads of Halo wanted to create smart “enemies that can react, respond and adapt to the player like real combatants on a battlefield”. Deep reinforcement learning allows the AI to detect what is going on around it, absorb huge amounts of information and interprets the data to perform the most suitable action. Let’s say a player enters the territory, the AI will take in visual and sound inputs to detect the player’s current location. Next, they store that information in its memory model and turn it to specific combat information: idle, guard/patrol, attack/defend, retreat. In this case, the AI can path find to hide outside the player’s line of sight and conduct a surprise attack. Objects are tagged so the AI is aware of changes in the environment during the fight and can work together with other AI as a coordinated force, adding realism. Give it a try if you’re up for the challenge.

 “Halo” developed by 343 Industries, Splash Damage, Ruffian Games, Bungie, Saber Interactive and published by Xbox Game Studios

Genre: Action

Platform: Windows, Xbox One 

Price: A$49.95

Capabilities: Single player, Online multiplayer, Online co-op, Xbox One X Enhanced

 

Pokémon Go

A hand holds out a smart phone with an image of a pokemon on it. The same pokemon is in the background on the grass.

We’ve discussed AI quite extensively, let’s not forget another widely popular technology AR. Augmented reality uses parts of the physical world and integrates them with computer-generated input. Pokémon Go is a free smartphone game where you search and catch different Pokémon. It uses your phone’s location tracking and cameras to show a Pokémon on your screen when you get close. On your journey traversing the map, you might find new places in the area. This game is for you if you want a fun way to increase your step count or need a reason to go out and get a bit of sunlight. Of course, be aware of your surroundings – eyes up when crossing the street! 

“Pokémon Go” developed by Niantic, Nintendo and The Pokémon Company

Genre: Location-based, augmented reality game

Platform: Android, iOS

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Capabilities: Single player, Multiplayer

  

Just Dance

Four characters wearing wacky outfits stand in dance poses in front of a coloured gradient background.

If going outside just isn’t an option right now, we’ve got your back. Ubisoft’s Just Dance is a game close to my heart as it brings me back to the early pandemic days of March 2020. Its co-op mode was the highlight of staying at home as it allowed me to exercise with my housemate. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the game, it is a motion-based dance video game played by following the character on the screen. It is compatible with platforms like Wii, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch. It’s a fun way to get some exercise without having to leave the house. The sweat mode tracks calories burnt and time dancing. It features popular songs to choose from to dance your heart out. 

“Just Dance” was developed and published by Ubisoft 

Genre: Rhythm game

Platform: Xbox (A$79.45), Nintendo Switch ($79.95), Playstation ($84.95)

Capabilities: Single Player, Multiplayer

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