Environment Query System Quick Start

The Environment Query System (EQS) Quick Start aims to get you up to speed on some of the systems and tools for working with EQS and AI.

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It is recommended that you proceed through the Behavior Tree Quick Start Guide or have some prior knowledge of Blueprints and Behavior Trees in Unreal Engine 4 before proceeding with this guide.

The Environment Query System (EQS) can be used within Behavior Trees to poll the environment through a variety of Tests, then based on the results of those Tests, can make decisions on how to proceed. Some example use cases for EQS could be to have an AI character find a cover location away from the Player, or to find the nearest health or ammo in the Level.

An Environment Query is actually made up a number of different pieces. You can call an Environment Query from a Behavior Tree, and then the actual Environment Query will use its Generator, reference its Contexts, and use its Tests to give the Behavior Tree the highest weighted result.

In this guide, we create an AI that randomly moves around the environment until seeing the player. When seeing the player, the AI uses the EQS system to find a location in the environment that provides the best vantage point while maintaining its distance. This can be useful in situations where you have an AI character that performs some form of ranged attack, as the AI will keep its distance from the player and try to retain line of sight as seen in the example below.

By the end of this guide, you will have a basic understanding of the following systems:

  1. Blueprint Visual Scripting

  2. AI Controllers

  3. Blackboards

  4. Behavior Trees

  5. Environmental Query System (EQS)

  6. EQS Contexts

  7. AI Debugging Tools

1 - Required Project Setup

In this step, we'll set up our project with some of the assets we'll need for our AI as well as enable the EQS system.

For this guide we are using a new Blueprint Third Person Template project.

  1. Inside your project, in the Editor Preferences > Experimental > AI section, enable the Environment Querying System.

    EQS_QuickStart_01.png

    Enabling the EQS system will allow you to create and access EQS related assets.

  2. In the Content > ThirdPersonBP > Blueprints folder, copy the ThirdPersonCharacter over to a new folder called AI.

    EQS_QuickStart_02.png

  3. In the AI folder, create the following three AI assets from the Add New > Create Advanced Asset > Artificial Intelligence option:

    EQS_QuickStart_03.png

    • Blackboard named BB_Enemy

    • Behavior Tree named BT_Enemy

    • Environment Query named EQS_FindPlayer

  4. Create a new Blueprint Class of the AIController type and call it AIC_Enemy.

    EQS_QuickStart_04.png

  5. Create a new Blueprint Class of the EnvQueryContext_BlueprintBase type and call it EQC_PlayerContext.

    EQS_QuickStart_05.png

    Contexts can be used in the EQS system for reference when applying various Tests, for example "EQS, how close am I to the specified Context" is a Test we could run. This asset will be used to provide the Player Character as a Context when we perform Tests a little later in this guide.

2 - Environment Query Context

In this step, we establish a Context for the EQS system of the Player Character that will be used in Tests later in the guide.

  1. Open the EQC_PlayerContext asset, then in the My Blueprint panel, override the Provide Single Actor function.

    EQS_QuickStart_06.png

    You can provide individual Actors or Locations as a Context as well as a set of Actors or Locations.

  2. In the Provide Single Actor function, use a Get Player Character call as the Resulting Actor.

    EQS_QuickStart_06b.png

    This will retrieve the Player Character at run-time as the Context.

    While we are focusing on Blueprint in this case, a more optimized approach would be to create the Context through C++.

3 - EQS Setup

In this step, we jump into the EQS editor and set up the Tests for finding a location that has line of sight to the Player Character.

  1. Inside EQS_FindPlayer, drag off the Root node in the graph and add a Points: Grid node.

    EQS_QuickStart_07.png

    There are several different types of Generators that are used to create Items in relation to a Context. Those Items are then used in Tests (for example, how far is Item X from Context Y). From the results of the Tests, Items are culled or scored and can be used to determine what is the "best" (highest or lowest scoring) option.

    In this example, we will generate a series of points on a grid around the AI that will put it into a position where it can see the Player Character.

  2. In the Details panel, change the GridHalfSize to 800 and the Space Between to 150.0.

    EQS_QuickStart_08.png

    These settings are used to define the possible number of points to test against and the distance between those points. For performance reasons, you will want to keep this to a manageable size, as having a grid too large may start to impact your game's performance.

    Using the Generate Around field, you can determine where the grid should be placed (in this case, around the querier or AI character). While it will also work if we set Generate Around to use the Player Context we created, we don't want the AI to move up to a point on the grid near the Player if it already has line of sight to Player.

    The Projection Data option provides additional fields for determining how the grid is generated, for this example, we can leave these as default but you can come back and adjust these settings if you desire.

  3. Right-click on the SimpleGrid node and under Add Test select Trace.

    EQS_QuickStart_09.png

    The Trace Test will be used to determine if a point on the grid can actually see the Player Character.

    The order in which you add Tests to a Generator is irrelevant. Tests get sorted putting the Filters first (so that subsequent Tests deal with as small of an Item collection as possible), and also filtering by cost (so distance filter will be executed before Line of Sight filter).

  4. Right-click and add another Test, of the Distance type.

    EQS_QuickStart_10.png

    After the Trace Test returns points that can see the Player Character, the Distance Test will be used to score those points based on their proximity to the Player Character.

  5. Select the Trace Test, then in the Details panel set the following options:

    EQS_QS_TraceDetails.png

    • Test Purpose = Filter Only

    • Context = EQC_PlayerContext

    • Bool Match = Disabled

    Here we are providing the Player Character as the point of reference (Context) in the Trace Test for visibility. By disabling the Bool Match option, we are stating that we want to filter out any points that cannot see the Player Character.

  6. Select the Distance Test, then in the Details panel, change the Test Purpose to Score Only and the Scoring Factor to -1.0.

    EQS_QuickStart_12.png

    The Distance Test Purpose is to score the Items returned and the Scoring Factor of -1.0 scores points that are closer to the Player Character. If we leave this as 1.0, it will return points that are furthest away from the player which may cause the AI to run right past the Player Character in an attempt to reach the furthest point.

    There are additional scoring options such as clamping the scores to a minimum or maximum value, changing the Scoring Equation which changes the curve equation applied to the normalized score before being multiplied by the Scoring Factor, defining the Normalization Type or assigning a Reference Value used to normalize scores. For this example, we can leave these all at their default settings.

4 - Blackboard and Behavior Tree Setup

In this step, we set up the Blackboard Keys and layout the branches of our Behavior Tree.

  1. In the BB_Enemy Blackboard asset, create the following three Keys:

    EQS_QuickStart_13-1.png

    • Bool named HasLineOfSight

    • Vector named MoveToLocation

    • Object with Base Class set to Actor named TargetActor

    These Keys will be used to update and move between branches in our Behavior Tree.

  2. Open the BT_Enemy Behavior Tree and create the graph below using Selectors, Sequences and a Wait Task node:

    Click image for full view.

    Above, we have three main branches. The left most branch uses a Selector node (which we have named In Combat) to switch between two Sequence nodes (one called Attack and another called Move into Position). When the AI is not executing the "In Combat" branch, it will execute the next branch which we have named Patrolling. In the event for some reason, the AI is not in either combat or patrolling, we have a fail safe task to wait (which we have set to 1 second) before trying to move to another branch.

5 - Behavior Tree: Patrol Setup

In this step, we set up the patrolling branch of the Behavior Tree.

  1. Off the Patrolling Sequence node, add a Move To Task (set to MoveToLocation) and a Wait Task (set to 5 +/- 1 second).

    EQS_QuickStart_15.png

    This will instruct the AI to move to the Blackboard Key MoveToLocation then wait the specified time, however, we still need to define the vector value for MoveToLocation.

  2. From the Toolbar create a New Task, then in the Content Browser, call it BTT_RandomLocation.

    EQS_QuickStart_16.png

  3. In BTT_RandomLocation, recreate the Blueprint Graph below:

    Using an Event Receive Execute AI node, off the Controlled Pawn you can Get Actor Location and use that as the Origin for the Get Random Reachable Point in Radius function (which we've set to 1000 as the Radius).

    Use the Return Value from the GetRandomReachablePointInRadius node as a Branch condition. Off the True pin, use the Random Location value and Set Blackboard Value as Vector with the Key being a Blackboard Key Selector variable called MoveToLocation.

    Off the False pin, Set Blackboard Value as Vector with Get Actor Location as the Value. This is in the event that a random point is not found, we take the character existing location before trying to find a new location. End the Task with both execution wires feeding into a Finish Execute node with Success enabled.

    Before adding this as a Task in the Behavior Tree, we'll want to be able to set the value of MoveToLocation so we need to make sure that it is set to Instance Editable by clicking the eye icon in the My Blueprint panel.

    EQS_QuickStart_17b.png

  4. In the Behavior Tree, add the BTT_RandomLocation Task (setting MoveToLocation in the Details panel) as the first node under Patrolling.

    EQS_QuickStart_18.png

6 - Behavior Tree: In Combat Setup

In this step, we set up the tasks associated with the In Combat branch including our EQS_FindPlayer query used to find a location that has line of sight to the Player Character.

  1. Right-click on the In Combat Selector and add a Decorator of the Blackboard type with the following settings:

    EQS_QuickStart_19-1.png

    • Observer aborts set to Lower Priority

    • Blackboard Key set to TargetActor

    Here we are stating that once TargetActor becomes set, execute the In Combat branch aborting any lower priority tasks.

  2. Right-click on the Attack Sequence and add a Decorator of the Blackboard type with the following settings:

    EQS_QuickStart_20-1.png

    • Notify Observer set to On Value Change

    • Observer aborts set to Lower Priority

    • Blackboard Key set to HasLineOfSight

    Here we are stating that if HasLineOfSight is Set, then execute the Attack branch. If HasLineOfSight is not set, execute a different branch until HasLineOfSight is set again.

  3. Off the Attack node, add a Rotate to face BB entry (set to TargetActor).

    EQS_QuickStart_20b-2.png

    This will cause the AI to rotate towards the TargetActor while in the "attack" branch. For this example, we do not have an attack to give our AI however this is something you can add later on if you desire.

  4. Off the Move Into Position node, use the Run EQSQuery node.

    EQS_QuickStart_20c-1.png

    The Run EQSQuery node can be used to execute an EQS Query that will update the assigned Blackboard Key.

  5. In the Details panel for the Run EQSQuery node, set the Blackboard Key to MoveToLocation and the Query Template to EQS_FindPlayer.

    EQS_QuickStart_21.png

  6. Add a MoveTo (set to MoveToLocation) and Rotate to face BB entry (set to TargetActor) following the Run EQS Query.

    EQS_QuickStart_22.png

    The Behavior Tree will run the EQS Query to update the Blackboard Key MoveToLocation and the AI will then move to that location and rotate to face the TargetActor (Player Character).

    The full Behavior Tree should look like the following:

    Click image for full view.

7 - AI Controller Setup

In this step we set up our AI Controller to run our Behavior Tree as well as provide a way for the AI to see the Player Character using AI Perception.

  1. In the AIC_Enemy Blueprint, add an Event On Possess and connect to a Run Behavior Tree (set to BT_Enemy).

    EQS_QuickStart_23.png

  2. Add an AIPerception component with the following AI Sight config settings:

    EQS_QuickStart_24.png

    • Senses Config add an AI Sight config

    • Detect Neutrals set to enabled

    This will enable the AI to sense other Actors and fire an event when an Actor has been perceived by the Perception system. Currently, by default, Players do not get assigned an affiliation and can only be assigned one through C++ code. To circumvent this, we are enabling neutrals to be detected by the Perception system and will use Actor tagging to only perceive Actors tagged as "Player".

  3. For the AIPerception component, under Events, add an On Target Perception Updated then promote the Actor pin to a variable called Perceived Actor.

    Click image for full view.

    When the AI perceives something, that Actor will be stored as a variable which we will use later to update our Blackboard.

  4. Add two Branch nodes with the following conditions:

    Click image for full view.

    • 1st Branch Condition set to Actor Has Tag with the Tag of Player and the Target beingthe Actor from Perception Updated.

    • 2nd Branch Condition set to Successfully Sensed from the Stimulus pin of Perception Updated Event.

    Above, if the perceived Actor has the Tag of Player, the Branch continues on to check if that Actor was successfully sensed or not. If it doesn't have the Tag of Actor (another enemy perhaps) it does not proceed on.

  5. Off the False pin of the 2nd Branch, add the 3 nodes shown below:

    EQS_QuickStart_27-1.png

    Above we have a Set Timer by Event node (set to 8.0) and promoted the Return Value to a variable called LostSightTimer. We then assign a Custom Event we created and called LostSight as the Event Delegate.

  6. Create 2 Functions in the My Blueprint panel called: UpdateSightKey and UpdateTargetKey.

    EQS_QuickStart_28.png

    We will use these two functions to update our Blackboard Keys that are used to make decisions in our Behavior Tree.

  7. For UpdateSightKey, add a Bool input called HasLineOfSight.

    EQS_QuickStart_29.png

  8. In UpdateSightKey right-click and get the Blackboard variable, then Set Value as Bool with Key Name using HasLineOfSight.

    EQS_QuickStart_30.png

    This enables use to use this function to pass through a bool value to our Blackboard Key, updating the HasLineOfSIght key.

  9. For UpdateSightKey, add an Actor input called TargetActor.

    EQS_QuickStart_31.png

  10. In UpdateTargetKey right-click and get the Blackboard variable, then Set Value as Object with Key Name using TargetActor.

    EQS_QuickStart_32.png

    Similar to the UpdateSightKey function, this is used to update the Blackboard Key TargetActor with whatever Actor we pass through.

  11. Add UpdateSightKey and UpdateTargetActor functions to the False condition as shown:

    EQS_QuickStart_33.png

    When the AIStimulus does not successfully sense the Actor who has the tag of Player, the false condition will start a timer (storing it in a handle for later) and will update the Blackboard Key HasLineOfSight to false. After the time specified (8.0 seconds), the Custom Event LostSight will execute, clearing the TargetActor Blackboard Key (meaning we no longer are targeting the Player and have lost sight of them).

    You can tune and tweak the amount of time before the AI "gives up" chasing the Player Character by adjusting the Time value on the Timer.

  12. Off the True pin of the 2nd Branch, use LostSIghtTimer and Clear and Invalidate Timer by Handle.

    EQS_QuickStart_34-1.png

    This will stop and reset the Timer used when losing sight of the Player Character.

  13. Add the UpdateSightKey (set to enabled) and UpdateTargetKey (set to Perceived Actor).

    EQS_QuickStart_35.png

    The full graph should look similar to below:

    Click image for full view.

    Our AI Controller is now set up, runs our Behavior Tree, and updates our Blackboard Keys based on when we perceive an Actor with the tag Player through the AI Perception system.

8 - Final Setup

In this step, we set up the enemy AI Character Blueprint, add the Tag Player to the Player Character Blueprint so it can be perceived by the AI, and add a Nav Mesh Bounds Volume and some meshes so the AI knows how to move around the environment and we can break line of sight easier.

  1. Open BP_Enemy, in the Details panel, enable Use Controller Rotation Yaw and set AI Controller Class to AIC_Enemy.

    Click image for full view.

    For the AI to execute the rotate task inside the Behavior Tree, we need to enable Controller Rotation Yaw. We also assign the custom AI Controller class that has our logic in it and runs the Behavior Tree. Optionally, we deleted all the script that was copied over from the Player Character (as well as the Camera Component) as we will not need it for the AI Character.

  2. From the Modes panel, add a Nav Mesh Bounds Volume to the Level and scale it so it encapsulates the Level.

    EQS_QuickStart_37.png

    You can press the P key to toggle on/off the debug grid which shows navigatable paths in green. Or during gameplay with the console command show Navigation true (to display) or false (to hide).

  3. Right-click on the ThirdPersonCharacter in the Level, then select Edit ThirdPersonCharacter.

    EQS_QuickStart_38.png

  4. In the Details panel, search for Tag, then add a Tag called Player.

    EQS_QuickStart_39.png

    Inside our AIC_Enemy Blueprint when the AI Perception system perceives and Actor, this Actor has the tag of Player so our Branch will be evaluated as True.

  5. Inside the Level, scale up and add multiple versions of the Cube Mesh to provide additional cover points to break line of sight.

    EQS_QuickStart_40-1.png

  6. Click the Play button from the Toolbar to play in the Level.

9 - End Result

While playing in the Editor, the AI will patrol around randomly until seeing the Player. After seeing the Player, it will rotate and face the Player and attempt to move to a new location when losing sight of the Player. Using EQS, it will find a location that will provide line of sight to the Player but remain a distance away. If it does not see the Player again while moving to a new location, after a period of time the AI will give up chasing and go back to patrolling as portrayed in the video below.

You can use the AI Debugging Toolsto view any active EQS queries (in addition to Behavior Trees or Perception info). To activate AI Debugging at runtime, press the ' (apostrophe) key, then select 1 (for general AI debugging), 2 (for Behavior Trees), 3 (for EQS) or 4 (for AI Perception). Below, we activate AI Debugging and bring up the EQS Debugging tools.

While the EQS Debugging tools are running, you can see the points from our Grid test along with their score values. You will also see which point was selected, denoted with the text Winner. These tools are useful to see which points are being evaluated and why one point may have been selected over another point based on the score values.

In addition to using the EQS Debugging tools, there is a special type of Pawn called the EQS Testing Pawn that can be used to debug EQS queries while in the Editor. You can create this Pawn, by creating a new Blueprint Class of the EQS Testing Pawn Class.

EQS_QuickStart_End_01.png

Our current setup uses the Player Character as a Context for evaluation in our EQS Test. To test while the game is not running, we would need to make a slight modification to the EQS_PlayerContext Blueprint and override the Provide Actors Set function.

EQS_QuickStart_End_02.png

We can use Get All Actors of Class set to ThirdPersonCharacter which provides the Resulting Actors Set:

EQS_QuickStart_End_03.png

When adding the EQS Testing Pawn to the Level, in the Details panel, you can assign the Query Template (which we've set to our EQS_FindPlayer query).

EQS_QuickStart_End_04.png

This enables you to see the results of your test while in you are in the Editor as seen below:

EQS Data is also being recorded through VisLog which you can reference. Please see Visual Logger for more information.

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