If you've ever been frustrated with the artificial intelligence (AI) in video games, then you are a prime candidate for Neuro-Evolving Robotic Operatives (N.E.R.O.), a cross-platform combat game where the key to winning is training your own intelligent non-player characters. On the field of play, the only rule is "let the best AI win."
N.E.R.O. was first developed in 2003 at the University of Texas at Austin (UT). At UT's 2003 GameDev conference, AI researcher Ken Stanley proposed a game based around the idea of training soldier robots in real time, then pitting them against each other. It grew into an ongoing research project that involves a number of UT faculty and students.
The game has two distinct modes. In training mode, you play in a virtual sandbox, setting up enemies and obstacles, then unleashing your robot teams on them. The robots use neural networks to respond to game events, so you teach them by issuing rewards or penalties for events such as hitting a target, avoiding getting hit themselves, and standing their ground.
When you think you have a decent team, you can save your work and enter battle mode. Choose from a variety of arenas, then send your 'bots into combat against one of the included demo teams, or against another player over the network.
The game is built using the proprietary Torque game engine, but free binaries are available for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. The new version is numbered 2.0 and marks the first major update released to the public since 2005. The Linux download is a gzipped tarball; download and extract it anywhere on your system. The game is compiled for 32-bit Intel architecture Linux only, and requires OpenAL for sound. From within the extracted directory, you can start the game by running ./nero.bin
For quick introduction to N.E.R.O. features take a look at their trailer movie.
[AI versus AI: N.E.R.O. on Linux]
[NERO game evolves to version 2.0]
[The official N.E.R.O. website]