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How the AI Pew Pews the Player

CCP has posted a new developer blog which goes into detail about the major upgrades to NPC AI for wormhole NPCs in Apocrypha, the next expansion for EVE Online.

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Hi! I am CCP Incognito, and I'm a member of Team Epic. We have been working for the last few weeks implementing a "new" AI for wormhole NPCs.

Team Epic is:

  • CCP Gangleri, CCP Oneiromancer - Quality Assurance
  • CCP GingerDude, CCP Incognito - Software Engineering
  • CCP Ytterbium - Design
  • CCP Zulupark - Production

Let's have some history first. When Team Epic started working on improving EVE's AI, it was as dumb as a brick that had been on a three-week bender. The AI followed a very basic set of rules:

  1. See target.
  2. Orbit target.
  3. Shoot target.
  4. If target dies then pick a new target and go back to step 1.

The above is a very simplified description, but it is close to what actually happens. This was the best that could be done at the time it was implemented. Remember: we are going as far back as the launch of EVE. The manpower and knowledge was vastly different then, and we were crunching like mad to launch the game. Since then there have always been bigger things to fix, but now we have come around to bringing the AI up to spec.

First of all, what I am going to describe is going to worry a lot of people, so DON'T PANIC!

We are not going to change 80% of the NPCs in the game. Your faction-fit Navy XXXX is still going to allow you to run LV 4 missions solo. We haven't changed the NPCs that spawn in belts, nor in any of the classic dungeons, but that may change in future iterations (post-Apocrypha).

So again DON'T PANIC!

One of goals we have worked towards is making PvE combat more like PvP combat. This has a few benefits. First, new players get a taste of what PvP is like while still doing PvE encounters. Second, they will have ship fittings that are more suited towards PvP, which means that when the victi... um, player gets jumped by another player he has a fitting that will allow him to fight back effectively, or at least run away. Lastly, it will make for more engaging combat that is both dynamic and feels alive.

Wormhole NPCs are meant to be scary and, as such, needed an AI that could demonstrate that. Without going into hard numbers, the new NPCs have very high damage output and incredible resists. That alone makes them harder but it wasn't enough...

We have made some of the NPCs repair each other. Yes, you read that correctly. NPCs may be spider tanking, but not all of them will. No. I am not going to give numbers or percentages; you get to figure that out on your own.

We then looked at the tunnel vision that the NPC have today, where they focus on only one player. We decided to give NPCs the ability to multi-target players. We are still going to have all of its guns and missiles on a primary target, but now we can have the NPC use its remote repairer on a damaged comrade, or it might just ECM a player that has been remote assisting the primary target.

Hmm. Is that enough?

One of the things we disliked about the current AI system is that the first player ship in range of a NPC squad would become the focus of the attacks for the entire squad. The squad would never deviate from that attack pattern. We have changed this as well. When an encounter starts, the NPC will individually evaluate what is known of the opponent and target the appropriate opponent. As the fight evolves, the NPC will watch what players are doing and, based on several criteria, will decide if some or all of the NPCs should change their targets.

In very basic terms: modules and weapons generate threat; as the threat goes up and down the NPCs will change targets and allocate secondary targets.

Hmm. Do we have enough to make players weep at their computers?

We have also added evasive maneuvering for some NPCs. This gives them a much higher survival rate when approaching targets. The old NPCs would come straight towards their target and orbit. This gave the player's gunners the most optimal firing solution.

"The new NPCs may optimize their approach to maximize transversal in order to avoid to be instantly destroyed by player volleys." - CCP Ytterbium

This means that NPCs will take longer to arrive at orbit distance, but they will have a high transversal velocity the whole way in. It also looks bloody cool!

We still have a couple of weeks to go until we are feature complete on the AI, and there are a couple of features that we want to get in as well. Only time will tell if we get these last features done for this release or the next. I guess it is good to leave everybody wondering what will be there.

Update: We are now feature complete and spending the remaining time to release on polish and tweaks.

- CCP Incognito, and Team Epic.

 

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