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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 December, 2003, 02:42 GMT
Computer games learn new tricks
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

Yves Guillemot is boss of French game studio Ubisoft and has been involved in the games industry since its earliest days. Here he gives his views on the way that the industry has to change to keep players interested.

Screenshot from Rainbow Six 3, Ubisoft
Games are looking better all the time
Computer gaming has come a long way in the 17 years since Ubisoft was established.

In 1986 gaming was a largely solitary experience carried out on machines such as the Atari and Commodore 64.

Making games was very different too. Back then, says Mr Guillemot, it took a few people a year or so to take a game from concept to shop shelf.

Now most games require two years to complete, have 50 people working on them and cost tens of millions of dollars.

The audiences are bigger, the stakes are much higher, but so are the rewards. In every sense computer gaming has grown up.

But, says Mr Guillemot, gaming has a long way to go yet.

Player guide

"We have been making our consumers work a lot without giving them enough in return," he says, "we have a lot to do on that front because we have to make sure we can give more rewards to the player."

"We have to create characters you like and plots that you will really want to complete."

Ubisoft boss Yves Guillemot, Ubisoft
Guillemot: Players are getting jaded
Part of the problem is, he says, is that many game makers are stuck with the one-size-fits-all mindset that takes little account of the different amounts of time that people have to devote to a game or for their varying skill levels.

Players who cannot dedicate hours to learning particular moves or honing their skill can lose interest because they cannot get past a particular point, says Mr Guillemot.

"You should at least have the same game experience even if you are not as good," he says.

Ubisoft is working on ambient AI that watches what a player does and adapts the game and how the plot plays out to their skill levels, he says.

"We should be able to improve the game for particular kinds of people," he says. "It is about making sure you can understand the reactions of the players to give them the things that will really work for them."

"It is about AI reacting to your abilities. If you cannot do something after 20 tries it makes sure you still progress.

New thrills

"That kind of AI takes a lot of computing power to understand what the game is doing and, if a player is good, what to give him and, if not as good, to give him alternatives."

Screenshot of Prince of Persia, Ubisoft
Prince of Persia: Old game, new look
Mr Guillemot says the next version of Splinter Cell will feature this ambient AI that tunes the game to the player.

Game makers also have a duty to keep challenging players who are getting increasingly sophisticated, he says.

Many people playing now have been keen gamers since they were very young and crave new experiences rather than the same old ideas dressed up in prettier graphics.

Ambient AI will help players feel like they are at the centre of the action and adapt events and surroundings to ensure that they witness everything that goes on.

Instead of in-game events, such as explosions, being entirely scripted, they could be delayed to ensure a player sees them or re-sited so they occur within a player's line of sight.

"Consumers are getting a little bit tired and they want things to be different to when they were six, seven or 10 years old," Mr Guillemot says.

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