LucasArts Plugs Artificial Intelligence Into Video Games - InformationWeek

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LucasArts Plugs Artificial Intelligence Into Video Games

New software simulates the human nervous system to make movements appear more natural. Read our article and see video of the new and improved in-game Indiana Jones' moves.

When LucasArts releases the next Indiana Jones video game in summer 2007, the characters will move, act and think as humans. Already LucasArts' video games are being developed with artificial intelligence, according to demonstrations this week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles this week.

The games are being developed with software from NaturalMotion Ltd., featuring a "behavioral-simulation engine" based on Dynamic Motion Synthesis (DMS) technology. Euphoria lets characters attempt to balance themselves as their feet stumble, arms flail and hands reach for security in unpredictable movements as the bridge threatens to send them plummeting to their demise.

The 3D animated characters can sense the environment. The software simulates the body, muscles and nervous system, similar to robotics. With this video game, the player, theoretically, never experiences the same situation twice because the characters respond to cause and effect in the environment, said Torstein Reil, chief executive officer at U.K. software company NaturalMotion. "Just like us, the character's experiences will always be different," he said. "You and I can see, we have balance information and know where are limbs are.

Software algorithms process the data at fast speeds. Something not possible before because game consoles PlayStation and XBox, respectively, from Sony and Microsoft lacked processing power. And although it takes more muscle, the files are smaller, Reil said, kilobytes compared with megabytes.

The 3D character animation software uses C++ language. It's built on Dynamic Motion Synthesis (DMS) technology using adaptive behaviors and artificial intelligence to simulate the human nervous system. A team of PhD researchers in Oxford worked on the project. Based on Oxford University research on the control of body movements, NaturalMotion’s first product, endorphin synthesizes off-line 3D character animation in real time.

LucasArts, a Lucasfilm Ltd. company that develops and publishes interactive software for video game consoles, computers and the Internet, will also use software from Pixelux Entertainment Inc. for the upcoming Indiana Jones and Star Wars game scheduled for release next year.

The software, demonstrated privately, uses Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) technology to create a "real world" experience. From crumbling walls to shattering glass and even swaying organic plant life, the software allows in-game objects to behave realistically. The wood doesn’t simply break apart along a predetermined seam every time. Rather, it splinters into countless pieces from the exact point of impact, taking into account the amount of force exerted from the flying object, for example.

Other Lucasfilm Ltd., such as the production company Industrial Light & Magic, could possible tap into this software for special effects to make movies, said Haden Blackman, project lead for the software transformation at LucasArts, during the Star Wars demonstration.

Steve Sullivan, director of research and development at Industrial Light & Magic, said the Lucasfilm companies, from animation to movies to post-production to video games, have begun to share software tools since moving into the Presidio complex in San Francisco last year.

The Presidio supports more than 3-million feet of cable with the ability to stream content at high data rates, 10-GB IT infrastructure, and 1-GB pipes connected to 340 desktops. A 13,500-square-foot data center houses a 3000-processor render farm that can access 100 terabytes of data storage across the network.

ILM’s research and development and LucasArts engineers collaborated on Zeno, a set of custom 3D software and tools. LucusArts will tap into those the 10 ILM tools, as well as build or modify between three and four during the summer. Those tools include digital actor studio that focuses on making human characters, cut scene authoring, game-layout tool Zed, and physics workshop to explode planes and droids.

A challenge, Sullivan acknowledges. ILM runs on the Linux operating system, and LucasArts on Windows. "Some enterprising and forward-looking LucasArts employees took Zeno and went for it," he said. "It took a long time."

Video clips from Indiana Jones video game scheduled for release in 2007, and interview clips from E3 with Steve Sullivan, director of research and development at Industrial Light & Magic; and Torstein Reil, chief executive officer at U.K. software company NaturalMotion.

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