Monday, August 1, 2011

Hierarchical Pathfinding in Detour

Uwe Koch has written a great thesis about hierarchical pathfinding with navmeshes. He presents a generalized version of HPA* implemented in Detour. The short summary: 4-5 times faster than Detour's A*, and uses 10-20 times less memory (graph nodes).

Applying graph partitioning to hierarchical path´Čünding in computer games

Path Replanning in DetourCrowd


I just added first version of path replanning for DetourCrowd. If a polygon becomes invalid along the path, the path is replanned. Invalid polygon means that the polygon just disapperas (i.e. a tile is removed), or its' flags don't match with the filter anymore. In the above video, the red polygons have disabled flags and the agents react to the changes over time.

The way it works on practice is that before the current path is followed, we peek ahead to make sure the next N polygons are valid (I used 10 in the above example). If a any polygon during that sub path is invalid, a replan is issued from the furthest valid position along the path. if the current polygon becomes invalid, or of the target location becomes invalid, the agent will stop.

There are some things I don't like about this method. Firstly, it is quite wasteful in resources. Issues almost a full replan is pretty horrible. I tried some local repair operations, but they ended up being too very complicate and hard to time-slice.

Secondly, the replanning does not react if a new venue becomes available. The topology optimization pass will catch many of these cases, but if the goal was unaccessible when the replannig happened, the current implementation will not try to replan when it reaches the end of the path.

The end of the path could be flagged or some other tricks, but I think I might be missing a bit bigger picture here. What actually does a movement request mean?

Example of nasty case

Here's a simple example which emphasizes one of the problems with replanning. There is a house and it has a door which can be open or closed. The NPC does not have key (cannot open door), and wants to move inside the house. If the door is open, the NPC can walk in, that is path A in the picture. But what should be do if the door is closed?

From navmesh point of view, it looks like the graph is broken at the location of the door. The usual fall back in case no path is found is to return a path which leads to nearest position around the target. In our case that would be the path B in the picture.

It is really hard to tell the A* that there actually is a closed door and that the nearest accessibility to goal location is semantically the door. And this is when things start to slip from a technical issue to a simulation or story issue.

Imagine a case where the agent starts to move to the building, and before it gets there the door is closed. The story seen by the player could be something like this: The bad guard tried to capture the princess, but at the last moment the princess managed to close the door, and then the guard went to hide under the trees.

Game levels are full of cases like this. The AI has no notion of the trees, but when the AI walks under a tree and stands there, the player will give meaning to it.

There are more problems with that case too. For a moment imagine that we could replan the path every time the world changed. Now if we had a situation where the door would open and close every few seconds, the agent would get dead locked at the east side of the building since the solution would flicker between paths A and B.

These are just few examples which happen when you add replanning to your navigation system.

Solution

I think the proper solution to reacting to dynamic changes in the navigable surface is to treat the planned path the same way as any other plan in the AI system. That is, it is very likely to fail, and the plan will be considered as failed, if small adjustments to it cannot fix it. This makes assumptions about the request quite clear. It may not be the best solution, but I think it puts the decision at the right spot.


Request for comments! How do you handle partial paths and replanning?