Have you ever gotten directions that included phrases like, "When you see the giant viking statue, go straight and curve left" or "If you pass a third Starbucks, you've gone too far"? People don't always give directions based on street names; sometimes the street names are largely irrelevant. Here in New England, if the street sign is even posted at all, it might not be readable until too late. Directions like "turn left at the Rite-Way Mart" are often easier to follow than "turn left at old route 293".
Believe it or not, bots have the same problem. We might conceptualize a level as rooms, hallways, and open areas, but these places have no names. Humans generally name these areas after a recognizable landmark. In Quake 3, that usually means items. You'd never tell a teammate, "I'm at (540, -973, 108)", which is how the computer records your position. But you would say, "I'm near the rocket launcher".
One requirement of item pickup that I glossed over in a previous post was this: Bots need to know how likely they are to encounter an enemy in a general area. That implies bots need a concept of what an area is. They need to think of enemies being "near the rocket launcher" not "at (540, -973, 108)".
Bots need to think of enemy location in human terms, not computer terms.
The obvious method of approaching this problem is to divide the level into regions, with each region being defined by one item. Technically each region is "the area of space that is closer to this item than any other item". Once you have the level conceptually divided into "near the red armor" and "near the plasma gun", whenever the bot sees an enemy it can say, "Ah, that player is near the red armor, not the plasma gun. I'm more likely to find enemies if I head for the red armor as well." Now whether or not it wants to enemies is a different question, one answered by item pickup. But at least it can track meaningful data about what other players on the level are likely to do.
However, just because it's possible to find out what item a player is nearest doesn't mean it's particularly fast or easy for the computer to determine that. The AI obviously can't spend half a second to calculate data it needs to save 10 times a second. It's okay to spend a bunch of time when the level loads to calculate the best set of regions, but once these calculations are done, bots need to do the location to region calculation very quickly.
I researched a number of different options, but eventually settled on the octree, briefly mentioned in a previous post. Conceptually an octree is a way to layout some number of points in 3-space. In BrainWorks, the item region octree contains the location of all items on the level. Rather than rewrite what has already been written on the subject, I recommend reading the wikipedia article on quadtrees (the two dimensional equivalent of octrees).
For the 99% of readers who don't care how to implement an octree, I'll just say that a well balanced octree will generally let you find which item is closest to any input location very quickly. The run time is O(log8 N) time, where N is the number of items on the level. That means that finding the nearest item on a level with 64 items will take twice as long as a level with 8 items, and a level with 512 items will take 3 times as long as a level with 8 items. Since even the largest levels rarely have more than 100 items, this calculation is really fast, and that in turn frees up more processor time to think about different AI problems. The bot makes a richer impression to the human playing the game and hopefully the player has more fun too. Sometimes making a game fun to play involves implementing mind-numbingly boring data structures, but the fun just wouldn't be there if they were missing.