Tuesday, February 14, 2017

False equality

No, this is not some talk about the golden mean fallacy, or social issues, or anything like that. What this is a fairly quick post on something I've been thinking about.

One of the key features of many video games is the idea of an opposing force (insert Half-Life joke somewhere), one that is actively seeking victory and/or trying to defeat you. In most cases, this opposing force has its own set of rules and limitations, and learning those gives you an edge in beating it.

Well executed, this is not a problem. Even if it's something as simple as the mindless forward march of Goombas and Koopas that get thrown at you by Bowser, there's still a reasonably fun challenge that can be had here. Other games opt for more complex enemy patterns, and thus have a different breed of difficulty.

Alas, there is a problem here, as can be expected when I make a blog post. You see, certain games are designed so that the limitations are those of a human player. This shows up primarily in strategy games (both real time and turn-based), although there are also bots in games like first-person shooters and MOBAs.

Of course, the expectation would be that the AI exists just to prepare you for multiplayer. This doesn't hold, however, when in a number of such games (again, mostly strategy) the AI is flat out not bound by those rules. It gets even worse in the games that appear to be aimed for individual players, like Civilization (in case you hadn't guessed, that is one game series I am not fond of).

That is what I mean by "false equality"; implying that the AI is bound by the same rules as the player when they are not. (I think the technical term might be asymmetrical gameplay, but don't quote me on that.)  It's unfortunately that game devs still lack the ability to make the AI play smarter instead of  getting more resources or other numerical advantages.

Or maybe they should ditch the concept of opposing AI together. I mean, games like the original Majesty or Dungeon Keeper showed you don't need an enemy AI to make a fun and clever strategy game. Maybe that could be the key to reviving the near-dead RTS genre.

Either way, I don't expect it to get any better any time soon. Well, I guess that's why I prefer RPGs, which are much more upfront about this. And there's still plenty of good ones of those out there.