The future of AI combat may have just been confirmed at PAX East, the annual video game convention held in Boston, during one of the most anticipated panels of the entire weekend.The Bioshock Infinite panel, which included Ken Levine, Creative Director of Irrational Games and Bioshock, delivered a jaw dropping discussion on the effort it took to create a completely independent AI who your character becomes so dependent on.
Elizabeth, or “Liz” as the Irrational Games development team so fondly calls her, is the first computer controlled companion to think, act, and more importantly, react like an actual human being.
Interaction with the surrounding environment is just one of the many innovations the team behind Bioshock Infinite introduced with Liz. In many other games, when the character you’re controlling darts to the left to inspect a box you’re convinced is carrying some piece of rare treasure but is really just a couple of dollar bills, your AI stays forever loyally by your side. In Infinite, Liz does the complete opposite.
In one of the many videos the panel provided its over 1,000 spectators, the audience was able to witness Liz leaving Booker DeWitt’s (the character you play as) side to cross an outside garden, digging through a mysterious bush to reveal hidden treasure you might have missed. It’s done with the same enthusiasm and curiosity a human player would have. The AI does not know what item is going to be generated.
It’s a complex algorithm that only works with the right team behind it. There were many points where the game’s development team thought they should just scrap Liz’s character altogether due to the complex programming it would involve to get her to the level of playability they needed, as explained by John Abercrombie, the lead programmer on Bioshock Infinite.None of the game’s development was more intricate and challenging than properly programming and designing every aspect of Liz’s movement in combat situations. Levine told the panel he did not want Liz to be a companion the player had to constantly worry about. In other games, according to Amanda Jeffrey, the lead level designer for Infinite, the inclusion of a persistent companion is a mixture of annoyance and dread.
If the deafening roar of applause that immediately followed Jeffrey’s statement was anything to go off of, this was the exact kind of news the audience was waiting for.
Levine promised Liz would not only be an integral part to the storytelling, but also an important part to the intense combat as well. There are scenes, Levine said, where DeWitt will need Liz to survive. It’s something Drew Holmes, the lead writer on Infinite, said they purposely came up with when the idea of Liz was created.
Holmes told the panel, there are combat scenes where DeWitt is about to perish at the hands of a Patriot (or some other gnarly enemy), and the only way to survive the stage is by using Liz as an actual teammate and communicating with the AI, even though there isn’t an actual person on the other end. The algorithm has already been set, the outcome cannot change if the partnership is used correctly, but the resulting feeling is a very human one, Levine added.
This is the direction of AI involvement in gaming Levine would like to see the industry go. When creating more intricate worlds for players to get lost in and explore, they don’t want to be worried about covering their AI companion’s back and be constantly concerned about whether their health will affect their own gameplay.
Before Infinite, there weren’t many games where a player’s mind could rest at ease and not have to worry about where their “colleagues” were.Even fewer titles gave players a sense of security that if they were low on health themselves, or in need of revival, their companions would actively seek them out and help. The only title that has really come close is the Mass Effect trilogy.
As players, the idea of not having that constant added baggage of a tag along, but rather a partner in crime, is phenomenal. The question, “will this new formula work?,” continues to overshadow my thoughts on the game though. The team at Irrational won’t truly know if the new method of developing an AI companion they’ve come up with is going to work or not until gamers get their hands on the title.
It looks like it could be the start of something revolutionary though.

Just Brilliant. i'm already looking forward to the next title from Levine, hopefully it's not far away.