Tasos Flambouras, the Associate Producer of Darkfall, returns for his third in a series of developer journals hosted exclusively on Darkfall WarCry. Today’s topic is artificial intelligence.


Darkfall Developer Journal #3: AI
Article by Tasos Flambouras, Associate Producer Darkfall

I was messaged yesterday by a community member alerting me to a thread on the Darkfall boards having to do with global chat: whether to limit it or not. Claus got the same message, and this is what he has to say on global chat:

“We’ve limited global chat channels compared to many other games, but guild chat is something we simply can not remove for many reasons, one of the more important being that we see it as an effort to level the playing field between people who use 3rd party communications, and those that don’t use them.

Guild and group chat are the only global chat channels we have. We also have single recipient /tell PMs.”

I think that people will find a way to communicate no matter what we do. Making the game overly realistic on principle alone, whether or not players easily find ways around it, only makes it unfair to those who don’t.

I generally don’t enjoy PvE in MMOs. The first time I fought against MOBs while testing Darkfall, I was really surprised that it was so much fun. Everyone that’s tried it thinks so too. The real-time gameplay mechanics have a lot to do with it of course, that you’re actively controlling your character during the fight, but the AI itself helps a lot.

I needed a topic for this journal entry and this led me to speak with Mirco Sanguinetti, a Darkfall AI programmer, fellow aikido practitioner, and all around cool guy. Mirco has a background in military simulation, and unmanned vehicle controls, among other things, and was selected for the job out of a pool of about 200 applicants.

Mirco’s goal for the AI is to provide a fun and convincing PvP training experience for the players. Quake bots are not a bad PvP vs. PvE analogy for the way the Darkfall AI feels compared to an average player, although I hesitated writing that for fear of it being taken literally. You can use all the tactics you can use against players and the AI reacts to it. If you manage to land a MOB that doesn’t have a swimming skill into the water with a spell, or by pushing it off a cliff, it will drown. You can physically block them from advancing, you can blow them away from you with using spells, etc. This has nothing to do with MMO PvE as we know it.

There are different aggression levels depending on the MOB ranging from cowardly to aggressive. The cowardly MOB for example may hesitate, is likely to run away, or to call for help. MOBs may fight in groups or not depending on how social they are. If there’s a boss, it makes the decisions. Mirco explains that the Darkfall MOBs have survival instincts. They won’t just stand still attacking till they’re dead, they’ll strafe, try to evade, try to flee, call for help, switch tactics, switch weapons, etc.

Mirco was happy to point out that he has made sure that the standard tanking-training and agro management tactics used in most MMOs won’t be effective in Darkfall. The MOB won’t choose a target on most damage dealt to it alone. Darkfall AI is opportunistic. MOBs will switch to go after hurt and weakened targets. The MOB will chase you around, it will jump, climb, swim after you if it has the skill to do so. It will switch to ranged weapons or attacks when you try to run away. The MOB will even remember you. Monster species will remember players who have attacked them and increase their aggression level against them even if their race isn’t a prime target for the particular monster. For example, some goblins won’t attack orks, but they will add specific orks to their kill-on-sight lists and remember them for a while.

MOBs have kill-on-sight lists. The player characters are on most of them, and in some cases other MOBs as well. Monsters can detect players through sight, sound, and smell. You can probably sneak up on a monster from behind, while moving crouched and downwind.

Mirco talked about behavior based AI. Depending on the state the MOB is in, there are sets of behaviors associated with it. It will ponder its behavior and chose the most appropriate at any time. Behaviors compete and the MOBs constantly assess the situation, so for example, a fleeing monster might decide it had better call for help, or to turn around and fight depending on what weapons its carrying, what its physical condition is like, the position of the player etc. The variables are many and the behavior is dynamic. In similar situations the MOB will often behave differently so it’s difficult to predict its behavior, and players will need to make quick decisions when facing a tough monster.

I asked Mirco if Darkfall AI cheats in any way. He explained that it doesn’t need to and we’ve it made a point that it doesn’t. An exception to this rule are the starting-city guards. They’re really tough and they will probably kill you if you’re misbehaving. These starting-city guards shouldn’t be confused with regular guards like clan city guards who are a match for the players. As things stand right now, the guards are in various fixed positions like towers and posts and not roaming around. There are potential gameplay issues with the roaming guards that we are trying to work out.

While you can’t call Darkfall’s AI revolutionary as far as game AI goes, and Mirco avoided trying to reinvent the wheel, he invested his resources trying to make things very interesting and fun. Darkfall is a PvP game without leveling so one may think that we wouldn’t pay that much attention to PvE. It’s quite the opposite. PvPers have much higher standards for their combat experience, they like to be challenged, they like to have fun, they have to train, and I believe that those needs are fully satisfied in Darkfall’s AI system.
Some of you expect a proper update from this journal, and while that’s not exactly its purpose, I try to give one. There will be other updates in addition to this. Right now there’s a combination of hectic testing and demo activity, plus flu season owning us bad (especially me), but things are going very well and we will keep you updated on any noteworthy developments.

Thanks for reading.
Tasos Flambouras


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