One of Rockstar Games’ smaller studios, usually responsible for porting games or assisting other studios on major projects, is hiring. Artificial Intelligence and Gameplay programmers, if you’re looking for a job and would like to work on some of the most popular and best-rated games in the AAA sphere, listen up.
Rockstar Toronto began its existence as Alternative Reality Technologies Inc. back in 1994 and has worked on a total of 12 games in total, 7 of which are ports. The only title on which they were the main studio is 2005’s The Warriors, a critically acclaimed brawler based on the movie of the same name. Most recently, they assisted in the development of GTA V.
Curiously, they also had a hand in porting a Bungie (Halo, Destiny) game to the PlayStation 2 during the time when they have been already acquired by Take-Two. A relatively unknown title at the time, Oni, was a sci-fi third-person action game that had a troubled development process but received favorable reviews upon release.
A support studio hiring new personnel could mean a number of things. They assisted with porting many games to the PC as well as consoles, meaning another port may be in the works (crosses fingers for Red Dead Redemption on PC). On the other hand, it’s possible that they just had an opening and will continue to fill a support role, possibly assisting with GTA Online DLC or helping in the final stages of Red Dead Redemption 2’s development before going gold.
AI and Gameplay programmers tackle some of the tasks that affect the finer details of game worlds. NPC behavior, dynamic animations, crowd illusions and gameplay flow all come down to this. Rockstar has been consistently praised for the high quality of its open worlds, particularly in terms of realism and the authentic behavior of crowds.
Reporting to the Lead Programmer, you will be responsible for implementing tasks to specifications. Within the Gameplay team, you will work on a wide range of areas in an established codebase
In GTA 5, the PEDs (pedestrians), for example, are more than just a random assortment of 4-5 character models who uniformly walk along pre-determined paths. They have far more complex behavior patterns and react dynamically to the world around them, and even each other. It’s fairly common that NPCs get into fights with one another, for example, with no input from the player.
Grand Theft Auto 5’s NPCs are so well made, in fact, that there was a time when a livestream was set up to follow them around during their random day to day activities. This stream displayed, for example, how the “level of detail” mentality is applied to AI in a game. LOD is usually used in texturing and 3D modelling. The concept is that when an object is far away, the player cannot make out the details anyway, so why waste resources on rendering these details?
As such, a highly complex and detailed vehicle, for example, might be the equivalent of a Nintendo 64 asset when far away enough. Though, under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t see this. In the case of AI, a similar method is used. If the NPCs are in the player’s vicinity, they operate at “full AI capacity” and display detailed, realistic behavior. If they are a short distance away from the player, but still close enough that they might need to switch to full capacity sometime soon, they just become less complex and smart. If they’re really far away, they despawn.
Dumbing down AI at a distance manifested in GTA 5 with the PEDs no longer sticking to the sidewalks or other areas where NPCs usually tread, and instead walking around truly randomly, even straying on the road. Also, NPCs sort of follow around the player. If the player is in, say, Sandy Shores, then there is no need for NPCs to be present in Los Santos. If the player travels great distances quickly, like in a jet, then the NPC population of the previous area is teleported into the new one.
These nuances are the kind of things that AI programmers are responsible for. Gameplay programming, on the other hand, deals entirely with what the player experiences, and how the game reacts to player input. Movements need to flow smoothly, animations need to be structured but dynamic so they can conform to contextual factors. Combat needs to be engaging and responsive and the various mechanics need to fit together to create a bigger picture.
AI programming is particularly one of those things which will put some grey streaks into your hair before you’re old, but it usually pays accordingly, and a company with the kind of accolades that Rockstar has would be a step up from almost anywhere within the gaming industry. If you feel you fit this position and want to work on franchises like GTA and Red Dead, make sure to apply.