Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Another entry in NWN's "Shooting to Kill" series, covering the ongoing effort by Residents to bring the world of FPS games into Second Life. Previous installments here, here, and here.

Last weekend I wanted to try out the new black matte Desert Eagle-style handgun that a Resident had just built (product reviews, always a NWN perk) so I flew over to the combat-enabled sim of Rausch to shoot off a few rounds, and spotted a squat robot there, listing by itself in a shallow pond. Not thinking too much of it (Rausch is also a "sandbox" sim, so builders are always leaving their abandoned projects lying around), I idly unloaded a clip in the 'bot's general direction. Which turned out to be a mistake, because the bot immediately returned fire. And then started coming up over the hill after me. Where he was quickly joined by two more 'bots rolling out from behind the hills and burnt-out ruins of Rausch, also gunning for me. Profuse bleeding began promptly, but before I died (and died a few more times, fruitlessly seeking revenge), I did manage to score a few hits on the lead 'bot-- which at least caused the damage meter above its head to drop a few points.

And that's how I stumbled into the latest in SL combat technology.

Eckhart Dillon actually built these war 'bots a few months ago, but unlike previous 'bots he's created (he's been building robots and weapons pretty much since he joined Second Life over a year ago), these ones come with fairly sophisticated AI.

"They can detect surroundings and maneuver around objects," Eckhart tells me, when I meet him in Rausch under a no-fire truce. "When they fire, they detect your velocity; and to target, leading when they shoot." In other words, his 'bots gauge your speed, and fire their energy bolts slightly ahead of you, to make sure you intersect with them. "Whenever they are attacked," he continues, "they tell all other 'bots, and they gang up on you. Unless a 'bot is currently engaged-- then it just adds you to an enemy list. It cycles through the list after an enemy is killed."

Moving after its prey is no mean feat, especially in a combat zone of hilly terrain like Rausch, and Eckhart has scripted a system that tries to take all the variables into account.

"When there is a lot of prim clutter, the sensor gets overloaded and may miss some things. But I have it do a couple passes. One gets non-active prims, one gets avatars, one gets scripted prims, so it can pick up more." From that point, it's up to the world's Havok(tm)-powered physics to handle the 'bots' momentum.

When I meet Eckhart, he's already moved onto another project, a personal shield which generates a blinding repulsion field, when you come too close. All this, he tells me, was made with no previous programming experience. "I learned everything here," he says. "I made some scripts for a Warcraft [level editor], but this is a whole different ballpark… I fell in love with scripting. It's all I do."

The most obvious application for all this, of course, would be for action games, but as it stands, Eckhart Dillon's 'bots are highly effective killing machines still in search of a purpose. (And he aims to make them even more lethal in an upcoming version, when he teaches them how to fly.)

"I wanted to make a game where you have to defend something from hordes of 'bots, like a treasure..." Dillon tells me. Trouble is, "I have way too many ideas, not enough time. And my girlfriend needs my time too. Lots of it." Lightning bolts and indigo sheets of power emanate out of his body; his robot army waits in a phalanx behind him. "Keeps me from getting too weird," he adds.

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"Too weird"? Hehehe... have you even SEEN Eckhart's YIPMEN FROM MARS? That is, like, my fave SL invention of his to this day. Oh, maybe the Puker is a close second, since it fulfills such a scatalogical need.

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