Are you terrible at Forza 5? Good, you’ll make the game much better for other beginners
Forza 5 for the Xbox One won’t have drivers controlled by AI, or at least not in the way we’re used to seeing it. Every player will be training a computerized version of themselves, complete with their skill level and habits, and those in-game characters, called “Drivatars,” will be what other players race against, even in offline mode.
“We’re seeing AI go three abreast, doing complex passes, faking each other out, and these aren’t parameters that we teach them, they learn it by watching us. It’s a whole new way of thinking about AI,” Dan Greenawalt, the creative director of Turn 10, told the Report.
It’s a fascinating way to handle AI, but how do you dumb down the drivers? Is it possible to race in easy mode and still have human-like opponents?
“When I answer this, it’s going to be so obvious to you,” Greenawalt said.
The worst drivers make for the best game
You have to think about things in a different way. When you have a large group of people playing a game, you have differing levels of skill. Some people will be terrible, others will be brilliant, but the most will be at a moderate level of proficiency. The skill of the players in a large enough group creates a bell curve.
“The variance of lap time between the slowest person and the fastest person is incredibly great, there’s a huge difference,” Greenawalt explained. “Everybody is training a Drivatar, so when I select the easiest difficulty we’re pulling Drivatars from the slowest group of people in the game. That doesn’t mean they’re griefers, it just means they’re slow. They’re not as sophisticated in how they drive the car.”
So when you choose a lower difficulty level the game simply grabs a group of Drivatars from players who aren’t that good. It’s not a matter of taking talented drivers and artificially dumbing them down, the game just knows to populate your races with the Drivatars of beginning players.
“We have better, more accurate difficulty settings than we’ve ever had, but here’s the difference: All of those different settings are incredibly complex,” Greenawalt said.
In fact, the lower difficulty levels should feel the most human, complete with erratic behavior and mistakes made by the computer-controlled drivers. The highest difficulty level will look the most like traditional AI, since those drivers know exactly how to turn, when to break, and the best way to pass each opponent.
Here’s the problem: they don’t have millions of players yet. When players buy the game on day one, put it into their Xbox One console and go online, they’ll begin to improve the pool of computer-controlled drivers. Until then, the studio is seeding the game with their own Drivatars.
“The very first experience is going to be better than it is right now in the studio, and right now in the studio [the game is] exhibiting incredibly complex behavior,” Greenawalt said.
There are over 400 people working on the game, and they’re driving in the game. Each one is training a Drivatar, so the sample set will be low on the first day.
“Already with a smaller group of people we have AI that doesn’t look anything like other racing games, and it will only get more complex and unique as people get in,” Greenawalt said. They’re also pulling in community people, who will be training their own Drivatars.
“So on day one, it’s going to not feel like AI,” he continued. “By day 30? I don’t know what it’s going to be like. Ultimately we can turn off any behavior, because we are the masters of this system. So we if see it doing something we don’t like, we don’t let it do that anymore… we can destroy it whenever we want.”
So any purely disruptive behavior, such as driving backwards or parking in the middle of the track will be removed. The Drivatars will not be able to learn that behavior. More aggressive behavior, such as slamming into other cars, is looked at carefully. It’s realistic, but would it be fun to see in the AI? The conversation about what does and doesn’t work in practice will be ongoing, and they can step in and hone what behaviors the computers learn as they go.
The AI behavior is already impressive, according to Greenawalt. “I was really concerned about this about six months ago, that we wouldn’t have the complexity to show what the cloud was capable of, but with 400 people racing over the course of six months we have incredible complexity and behavior,” he said.
Once you begin to play and make mistakes, you’ll not only be learning how to do better, but you’ll be seeding the experience for players who are at your skill level. Still, if you want to have a good experience at the lower level, you better hope that a few drivers at Turn 10… well, suck at the game.
“We’re an incredibly diverse group of people from all over the world with different driving skills,” Greenawalt said when I asked about the diversity of that first group of drivers. “I’m not worried about it.”