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Best game development books: Game AI books 2023

Inworld Team
November 15, 2023
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Why crack open a book on game AI? A solid game AI book is foundational for anyone who wants to understand how video games leverage AI to create increasingly intelligent worlds and NPCs. The right game development book might also be what takes your project from a ‘cool idea’ to a ‘must-play.’

Game AI isn't one-size-fits-all. You can deploy everything from decision trees that make NPCs smarter to neural networks that adapt to how you play. The gaming industry’s experiments with AI are where many game changing advances in video game mechanics have come from – and where they’re likely to come from in the future as well. 

Recently, game AI has also undergone a transformation. With the rise of ChatGPT and generative AI, we're not just talking about smarter enemies or more realistic environments. These technologies have the potential to flip the script on how games are made and played. Think NPCs you can talk to voice-to-voice who have minds of their own – powered by tech like Inworld’s Character Engine

Interested in learning more about game AI so you know what's up next? We're diving into the best game AI books in 2023!

What Makes a Good Game AI Book?

Before we jump into the list, let's get something straight – not all game AI books are created equal. What sets the great ones apart?


Tech moves at breakneck speed. If your go-to game development book is still raving about expert systems, it's time for an upgrade. 


A quick overview of AI and gaming won't cut it. Sure, there are plenty of books that'll walk you through A* algorithms or decision trees. But what about one that goes deep into the possibilities of generative AI? Those books are rare finds but they're game-changers.


Game AI is complex— there’s no two ways about it. You need a book that's not afraid to dive deep, to get into the weeds, and to challenge you a bit.

Best game AI books

As we navigate a gaming industry soon to be worth $180 billion, it's clear that AI is no longer an optional skill you might need but a necessity to understand for all game developers. Ready to level up your expertise? Here are the must-read game AI books of 2023 that will equip you for this transformative era.

📖AI for Games, Third Edition

  • Author: Ian Millington
  • Publication date: 2019

In a landscape brimming with trends and buzzwords, Ian Millington's "AI for Games, Third Edition" stands as a lodestar. Forget the allure of complexity, Millington dissects the 'Complexity Fallacy,' reminding us that simpler algorithms often yield richer, more effective outcomes in game AI. The book's discussion of 'Perception Windows'—those transient moments when players interact with AI—also offers practical wisdom for creating memorable player experiences.

Millington also delves into algorithmic biases and other complex questions. This isn't just a technical manual -- it's a moral compass, making it a rarity among game AI programming books.

As for preparing you for the future—Millington's got that covered, too. He doesn't just regurgitate the current state-of-the-art AI trends but also anticipates imminent trends, offering a springboard for those aiming to future-proof their skills. Mind you, this isn't a primer. It's a deep dive, complete with algorithmic details and hands-on challenges. It demands a certain technical acumen.

If you're serious about the nuanced and ever-evolving narrative of AI in game development, consider this book your new best friend. It's a journey through theory and practice -- without ever losing sight of the ethical and technical questions that mark the field. 

📖 Procedural Generation in Game Design

  • Author: Tanya X Short and Tarn Adams
  • Publication date: 2017

We’re at the crossroads of classical game design and the wild west of procedural generation. The book Procedural Generation in Game Design by Tanya X Short and Tarn Adams. This game AI programming book is like a multi-functional tool for game designers. It's got something for every scenario.

Can a procedurally generated world tug at your heartstrings like a handcrafted one? It's a question worth asking, and this book doesn't shy away. This book is not just theory -- it's grounded in case studies and data.

The authors—Short and Adams—don’t push unabashed optimism on the reader. They meticulously unpack the computational bottlenecks and debugging snares that could frustrate even the most seasoned developers. It's not a love letter to procedural generation; it's a sober, critical appraisal that balances promise against pitfalls.

What you get is an informative catalyst for an industry on the cusp of an AI renaissance. Whether you're a veteran game designer or a beginner digging into game theory, this game AI programming book doesn't just inform, it also provokes thought and challenges assumptions.

📖 Game AI Pro 360: Guide to Movement and Pathfinding

  • Author: Steven Rabin
  • Publication date: 2019

In the fast-paced world of game development, where algorithms evolve faster than one can say ‘machine learning,’ Steven Rabin's anthology—Game AI Pro 360: Guide to Movement and Pathfinding—emerges as a core text. This isn't merely a how-to book, it fuses theoretical insights with hands-on advice.

Movement and pathfinding aren't just buzzwords but what gives life to our digital worlds. Rabin's book delves into these intricate algorithms with a surgeon's precision, yet without the detachment from real life game development that’s often associated with academic works. It's a collaborative work that features wisdom from leading game AI programmers and luminaries whose contributions add, not just depth, but also unexpected color to the narrative.

What sets this volume apart isn’t just the avant-garde techniques for path smoothing or the cutting-edge algorithms for 3D navigation. It’s also the book's focus on applicability. It's a field manual filled with source code and example programs. It's as if Rabin is extending an invitation to readers: "Don't just read -- implement."

The book connects you to a vibrant ecosystem of AI aficionados and resources. It also talks about annual conferences like the Game AI summit at GDC and online communities such as the Game AI Programmers Guild.

Game AI Pro 360 offers more than knowledge – it offers a paradigm shift. Whether you're a fledgling developer or a seasoned veteran, this book is indispensable and one of the best game AI books you’ll find. 

📖 Hands-On Deep Learning for Games

  • Author: Michael Lanham
  • Publication date: 2019

Michael Lanham's Hands-On Deep Learning for Games stands out in the saturated field of technical guides. You start with the basics—sure—but soon you're neck-deep in the nitty-gritty of feature extraction with Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN). 

This game AI programming book expects you to keep pace with its breadth by doing things like grappling with the nuances of Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) units. And just when you think you've grasped the underpinnings, Lanham catapults you into real-world applications. We're talking about using Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) to create game textures that could rival the most intricate hand-crafted designs.

But this AI in games book isn't just a code manual. It goes where most tech authors rarely venture: the ethical issues around AI. While some game AI programming books tiptoe around issues of algorithmic bias, Lanham dives in like a philosopher armed with code. His chapters serve dual roles, functioning as both ethical treatises and technical guides.

If you're wanting to learn more about AI and game development, consider picking up this book. It's the perfect field guide for the ethical, innovative coder. In a field teeming with cookie-cutter guides and superficial overviews, Lanham's AI in games book offers a refreshing detour.

📖 Hands-On Reinforcement Learning for Games

  • Author: Michael Lanham
  • Publication date: 2020

Navigating the labyrinthine world of game AI can often feel like a boss battle without a strategy guide. Michael Lanham's Hands-On Reinforcement Learning for Games is your cheat code to mastering this realm. This game AI book introduces you to the rudiments of Reinforcement Learning (RL) and doesn't stop there. Soon, you find yourself immersed in Markov decision processes and SARSA algorithms, fortified by Python code snippets that are as reusable as they are insightful.

What sets this AI for games book apart is its dual-audience strategy. Whether you're a newcomer to AI or a seasoned developer, this book has something for you. It straddles the complexity chasm, explaining Q-Learning and Actor-Critic Methods with the same lucidity it reserves for deep reinforcement learning techniques. Lanham doesn't just show you how to code; he guides you on how to think about coding AI. 

You'll delve into game theory and be guided to think through not just the 'how' but the 'why' of AI-driven decision-making in gaming. It’s one of the best game development books to have on  your shelf.

📖 Game AI Pro: Collective Wisdom of Game AI Professionals

  • Author: Steven Rabin
  • Publication date: 2014 / Hardcover reissue 2023

‘Game AI Pro’ is far from just another game development book. It's a masterclass. Edited by Steve Rabin—yes, the same Rabin who's a principal software engineer at Nintendo of America—this AI for game developers book features an ensemble of 54 seasoned pros who spill their trade secrets. Kevin Dill? Yes, he's among the many leading experts on game AI who have chapters in this book. Dill's approach is akin to jazz improvisation—technically rigorous, yet freely flowing. It's less about the ‘how-tos’ and more about the ‘why-nots?’ of game AI architecture.

Switch gears and you hit Damián Isla's piece. Halo fans, this is the programmer that wrote the AI scripts for Halo 2 and 3. Isla takes you on a behind-the-scenes journey into how those games were created. What were the bottlenecks in AI dialogue systems? How were they overcome? It's like sneaking backstage at a concert, you leave awe-struck, knowing the genius in the granular details. This is one of the best game development books for those who want to understand the nitty-gritty of AI in games.

Rabin, though, is the glue for this book. His preface isn’t just an intro—it's a manifesto about game AI. This isn't just another AI game development book for your shelf but rather it's a field manual created from experience of real-world development cycles. 

If you’re interested in pushing game AI forward—balancing known algorithms with the desire for disruptive innovation—then this is your next read. 

📖 Game AI Pro 2: Collective Wisdom of Game AI Professionals

  • Author: Steven Rabin
  • Publication date: 2015 / Hardcover reissue: 2023

Game AI Pro 2: Collected Wisdom of Game AI Professionals is one of the best game AI books in its genre. It's a book where the musings of game AI veterans like Damián Isla combine with academic rigor, courtesy of scholars like Nathan R. Sturtevant.

In this AI for games book, ethical considerations aren't a mere afterthought but a central narrative. It tackles how AI could and should, be programmed to behave responsibly, thus setting a new industry benchmark. But it doesn't stop at simply laying down theoretical frameworks, it walks you through their practical applications. 

If you're excited by the disruptive magic generative AI is casting over the gaming industry—you're in luck. This game programming book doesn't merely skim the surface; it plunges headlong into this zeitgeist-shifting paradigm. Here, generative AI is demystified, contextualized, and presented as an indispensable tool for the modern game developer. 

But it's all about lines of code and algorithmic loops. The book champions a user-centric philosophy—it's a celebration of the gamer. While the prose waxes lyrical about AI algorithms, it never loses sight of the end user. It finds the perfect balance between mathematical rigor and emotive design.

Has The Last of Us captured your imagination? The chapters in this ai for games book dissecting its AI mechanics are a masterclass. It gives you an insiders’ look at the echolocation systems employed by the game's menacing infected NPCs and delves into the nuances of human enemy behavior. How does the AI perceive? How does it react? These chapters are a dissection of the art and science of how game AI makes an iconic game so iconic.

📖 Game AI Pro 3: Collective Wisdom of Game AI Professionals

  • Author: Steven Rabin
  • Publication date: 2017

If the gaming industry were like a fantasy game, Game AI Pro 3, edited by Steven Rabi, would be a rare scroll of ancient wisdom. It gathers the spellwork of fifty sages (or AI practitioners, in this case) in one book, a veritable grimoire of AI for games books.

Chapter 9 on ‘Occlusion Ray Casting’ (ORC) has a piece by Ming-Yu Hsu and Simon Yeung. This isn't your run-of-the-mill technical chapter. It's a game-changer. Traditional line-of-sight methods in game AI? Consider them obsolete. ORC promises to redefine how NPCs perceive, navigate, and interact within their digital ecosystems. What's more, it can be parallelized—imagine the efficiencies on modern multi-core processors.

But the book isn't just tech focused. Several chapters pivot into the realm of ethics, addressing the sticky issue of player retention through AI. In these pieces, Weng Kee Wong and Ivan Vujic don't just scratch the surface but dig deep. How do we keep players engaged without veering into the territory of manipulation? It's a profound question—presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for AI developers.

What gives this game AI programming book its enduring value, however, is its nuts-and-bolts approach. One finds real-world case studies, actionable code snippets, and even some philosophical musings. 

Contributor chapters feature industry veterans from Digital Extremes, Treyarch, and Valve. They've been in the trenches, working on titles from BioShock 2 to Portal. Their collective wisdom adds richness to this AI in games book. 

📖 Hands-On Artificial Intelligence with Unreal Engine

  • Author: Francesco Sapio
  • Publication date: 2019

Hands-On Artificial Intelligence with Unreal Engine stands as a key work in the game programming books genre. If you're a game developer, AI enthusiast, or even a data scientist itching to dive into Unreal Engine, the perfect AI in games book for you. Why? Because it doesn't just regurgitate algorithms or drown you in academic jargon -- it invites you into the workshop, places the tools in your hands, and challenges you to build something cool.

When was the last time an AI in games book made you pause and ponder the philosophy of natural language processing? This book does exactly that. One chapter dives into sentiment analysis and doesn't just stop at explaining it—it hands you everything you need to overhaul an NPC's dialogue tree. The code snippets in Python and Java, as precise as they are insightful, guide you through this book. Another chapter asks whether real-time sentiment analysis could be the key to creating game characters as complex and moody as any human.

Even if you've never written a line of code, the book's user-friendly approach ensures you won't get lost with guided exercises and tutorials. Yet, seasoned developers will still learn from the advanced topics. That’s what makes it one of the best game development books.

In an industry where yesterday's innovation is today's antique, this is a resource that pushes the boundaries and anticipates the future.

Learn more about generative AI in game development 

As many of these game AI books were written before ChatGPT and large language models took off in 2022, most don’t do a deep dive into the topic. Until the definitive generative AI in gaming book gets written, we’ve got a bunch of resources for you to learn about how generative AI will impact the gaming industry – particularly in regard to AI NPCs. 




Curious about AI NPCs?

If you want to test out AI NPCs yourself, sign-up for our Studio today! Make sure to also join our Discord to learn from other game devs and ask questions from our team.

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