We've seen artificial intelligence learn how to play games such as Super Mario World and Mario Kart, but Mario 64 is a whole different animal.
Kaze Emanuar is a modder who lives to contort Mario 64 into strange new shapes and forms. In the past, he's added online multiplayer, a first-person mode and portal guns, some of which has landed him in hot water with Nintendo. Now he's teaching multiple AIs to navigate the game's candy-coloured labyrinth of stars and irritating rabbits you can never quite catch.
Results so far have been mixed. The AIs, Emanuar explained in an email, are "very slow" and have a tendency to fixate on solutions that have worked in certain contexts and apply them too broadly. It isn't uncommon to see them jump against surfaces or spam punches for a while. That said, some of them have have successfully nabbed stars on a couple of occasions. "One AI got it in around 15 minutes, but that was more luck than skill," Emanuar wrote. "Another one has gotten one in around three hours."
Mario 64's complex environments make the process especially difficult. "The entire 3D space is too complex to put all of it as inputs into the AI's brain," said Emanuar. "I have to simplify it and make it look at some sort of 'low detail' world of a small space around it so that it works processing-power-wise."
Emanuar admitted that he isn't as experienced with AI as he could be, so he's gonna have to crack some books to get around these issues without "brute-forcing" it.
Nevertheless, the AIs have managed to surprise him a few times. "The AIs have learned a few interesting things," Emanuar said. "One AI has learned to wall jump to gain height. Another one has learned to perform slope triple jumps, which is something a regular casual player would never do and is kind of a hidden mechanic in Mario 64."
All well and good, but let me know when they can quickly and easily catch those damn rabbits. Then I'll be impressed.
You can watch Emanuar stream his progress on his Twitch channel.