Thursday, August 06, 2009
Remember the Terminator vision scenes from all the movies where you get to see for a second how the world is seen through their eyes?
Showing events in the real world as mere variables in a simple program whose objective is simply to take out a target is quite fascinating (or horrifying), and someone just uploaded a video to YouTube showing something similar to that, but with an AI controlling Mario as he tries to get to the end instead of anything particularly evil. Since Mario is in a tightly-controlled environment it's quite easy to devise ways to achieve his objectives, but even so you can notice that the AI keeps on considering multiple ways to achieve this as it takes in more data, and then finally deciding on the best approach when it's time to make a decision and the best move is obvious. The result is a nearly perfect game.
A perfect game, yes, but this Mario will never uncover any secrets. When I first played Ultima 7: Serpent Isle, I discovered a nice secret that the mapmaker would give you a map every time you talked to him, and never ran out. The maps were also perfectly square. So I talked to him a few hundred times until my backpack was filled to the brim with maps, which in Ultima 7 can be stacked on top of each other. With that I made a small bungalow composed completely of maps, and even with a staircase to the "second floor" (the circumference making up the top of the pile of maps). Then I ran off into the city of Fawn to steal a nightstand, candles and some other decorations to decorate the house, then went down to the city of Monitor to attack a guard. After the guard took off after us we ran lickety-split back up north to just outside the city of Fawn where the house was, whereupon we ran inside the house and boarded the door up with maps. The poor guard couldn't get past the wall of maps and was reduced to yelling "Cursed be thine offspring" outside as the Avatar (that's the main character) unrolled the bedroll for a good night's sleep in perfect safety from the enraged guard. I wonder if anybody else ever did that.
The point of the story is that this complete disregard for efficiency can sometimes to lead to certain breakthroughs that others might miss. A bit of fooling around in Super Mario might lead to a secret path that warps the player closer to the end whereas the efficient AI would still be leaping from point to point, taking the simplest route, but surprisingly not the most efficient one. This disregard for efficiency is part of what made humanity so alluring to Commander Data in Star Trek: TNG, as the humans around him were often capable of coming to conclusions that he wasn't able to achieve himself (this episode was a good example), and in the episode Data's Day he also noted his lack of interest in the stark Vulcan philosophy, which he understood the best but still found to be a bit limited.