Home Gaming Meet A.N.N.A, MotoGP 19’s neural network AI that is designed to give you a real challenge

Meet A.N.N.A, MotoGP 19’s neural network AI that is designed to give you a real challenge

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Motorcycles are mad when you think about them, because something with that much power between two wheels should not work so well. And yet here we are, living in a world where pocket rockets are still the coolest thing ever, have entire racing leagues dedicated to them and undeniably engineering’s sexiest triumph.

That passion for the most dangerous speed thrill that there can possibly be, also extends into video games, with numerous titles featuring multiple brands also happening to be available at the twist of a throttle. Heck, some of them are even good! Milestone’s MotoGP series seems to be on the right track lately (heh), but like most games of its ilk each new annual version is more of an iterative update than a nuts ‘n bolts redesign.

This year, MotoGP 19 wants to add some extra challenge to the formula by throwing in a neural network AI. The stuff of science fiction, apparently made real? Well, kind of, as the trailer below details the mathematical advantage that your opponents will have:

“As you see, in the video we stay a lot on the “hows”, but not so much on the “whys”. Why venture in an unexplored field? Why adopt a technology that has almost never been used in racing video games? Even though the reason is simple, finding it was not that easy,” Milestone producer Michelle Caletti wrote on the PS Blog.

Moto GP 19 (2)

With the previous games, our designers spent entire months trying to foresee all the different situations the AI might face, providing it with all the necessary instructions on how to react to those situations. But despite all the work, the AI we built was never challenging enough for our community. We needed to find a solution to recreate the competition, the thrills and the challenge of the real MotoGP, even for the most hardcore of our players.

In fact, one does not simply sit down and create a game like MotoGP. What you, as a developer, really must keep in mind is the community that keeps the game strong and alive. And it’s a community of passionate players and racers who are demanding, competitive and stubborn.

The only way to give this amazing community the AI they deserved, was by stop trying to create an AI, but letting it build by itself. So, the A.N.N.A project came alive. An AI that learns by its own mistakes, by trial and error, by building a Neural Network similar in every way to part of our brain. Just like we did when we first learned how to use a bicycle.

A.N.N.A. stands for Artificial Neural Network Agent: an AI that does not rely on predefined commands, written by a designer, but on rewards. Each action she makes – yes, some of us likes to address our AI as a “she”  – can have a positive or negative outcome, and depending on this, she may receive or lose points.

This triggers a learning process that allows A.N.N.A to remember which actions are good (for example when to brake at the right time) and which are bad (like, well, going against a wall, or against another rider). It was real fun seeing A.N.N.A in its early stage, its infancy let’s say, when in the middle of a race it suddenly stopped and decided to go backward, just to see what would happen.

So how does Milestone plan to stop A.N.N.A from going full SKynet on your leather-wrapped ass in MotoGP 19? By feeding the AI some digital Ritalin and slowing it dooooooooowwwwwwwwwwn a little bit. “Starting from an AI that stopped mid-race to go backwards, we now have a complex, incredibly smart AI that is capable to challenge and beat even the most skilled of our devs acting as a real pro rider – but no worries, its difficulty is scalable, so all players of all skill level will enjoy the game!,” Caletti wrote.

Moto GP 19 (1)

In fact, we ended with a super-tough AI and an even tougher problem: how to make it enjoyable also for the average players, without losing all the awesome work we did on it? We knew the priority was to preserve the complex behaviour it had developed, and to do so we had to work on some interesting techniques.

Meaning that we had to slow it down without making it look clumsy or unbalanced. We achieved this by controlling where and how much it needs to slow down. It’s still the neural AI in control, consciously not cranking up to 100%. Everyone here in Milestone is so excited to see how our Community will react to this new level of realism, of speed and fairness toward other riders.

Having taken several of the previous MotoGP games around the track, I can confirm that the old AI has been borderline mentally damaged. Between the AI driving like a lunatic into a wall or just being a dangerous menace around any course as they slam into you, they’ve been frustrating, tiresome and annoying to race against.

But racing against an AI that’s actually competent? Now that could make for an interesting game come June 6.

Last Updated: April 8, 2019

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