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Videogames getting minds of their own

LOS ANGELES, July 20 – Videogames are getting smarter with virtual enemies improvising during battles, storylines shifting based on moral choices and in-game characters sending players text messages for help.

Titles unveiled at the just-concluded Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles feature artificial intelligence (AI), making in-game worlds more realistic and less predictable.

"There was a lot we had to do," Peter Hines of Bethesda Softworks said as AFP tried the studio’s eagerly-awaited "Fallout 3" shooter game, set in a post nuclear war Washington, DC.

AI software in "Fallout 3" lets enemies change tactics depending on what players do.

"They are being smart about being in a combat situation," Hines said.

The game is also designed so that players’ choices effect which computer-controlled factions become their allies or enemies.

A "Project Origin" action horror game built by Monolith Productions for Warner Interactive Studios boasts "vastly enhanced" AI that makes enemies act realistically and use environments to their advantage.

"See, he threw the car door open because it was the smartest way to take cover," a Monolith developer said of an on-screen adversary while showing AFP the game.

"That isn’t scripted. He is figuring it out as he goes."

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Custom software that Gearbox Software built "Borderlands" video game generates a "near-endless" array of missions, enemies, environments and weapons.

"Borderlands" is an "evolutionary leap in game design and technology," 2K Games president Christoph Hartmann said when it was announced that the title will be published by his firm’s parent company, Take-Two Interactive.

"Borderlands" is set on a lawless planet called Pandora where bandits rove badlands with a "very ‘Mad Max’ vibe," Gearbox president Randy Pickford said while demonstrating the game.

The videogame’s software has generated more than a half million weapons and hidden them about Pandora, surprising even its creators.

"Wow, that’s a cool gun and it has a blade," Pickford said to a colleague playing the game. "You definitely want to pick that one up."

Lionshead Studio built AI into an animated dog that serves as an enviable companion for players of "Fable 2," according to the firm’s creative director Peter Molyneaux.

"Fable 2" also has a "dynamic landscape" that changes depending on whether players prefer to visit towns, linger in faux taverns, or hack and slash adversaries, Molyneaux said during an E3 preview of the game.

Nintendo software developer Katsuya Eguchi’s "Animal Crossing" game inhabited by creatures with lives that go one whether players are not in-world.

"Even when you aren’t playing the game the animals get up in the morning and go to bed at night," Eguchi said.

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The multi-player online game for Nintendo’s Wii consoles is time-synched to give people the illusion they are playing together, no matter when they venture into the virtual realm.

Nintendo is also marketing "MotionPlus" devices that attach to Wii controllers so the motion-sensing devices pick up more nuanced movements.

Sony Online Entertainment is putting finishing touches on an online secret agent game called "The Agency" that gives players command of operatives that work around the clock.

If operatives need help, they can send real-world team leaders email or mobile telephone text messages, Matt Wilson of "The Agency" development team told AFP.

"You might send an operative to find a Colombian drug lord, then be sitting in a bar and get a text message telling you he found the target," Wilson said.

"The bad news is he was captured and they want a million dollars ransom or they’ll kill him. You’ll hit 1 on the phone to pay the ransom or 2 to refuse."

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