People always whine about crappy A.I in games. Crysis received incredible amount of flak for its glitchy A.I. where the enemies were extremely smart on some parts of the game but ridiculously stupid in other parts of the game. Some people have been saying how the dumb A.I in Uncharted made it a really dull game. Whenever people talk about shooters (and racers now), people usually bring up how good or how bad the A.I. is. But I think people are going about it the wrong way with their criticisms.
People say the A.I is bad when the enemies in the game are dumb. That’s understandable but with games like Crysis, I actually liked the fact that the A.I was unpredictable like that. Mind you, I don’t like Crysis at all (I think it’s a boring, boring game) but when the enemy A.I messes up like that, it almost feels like that A.I is another human being. We humans make mistakes and these glitches ironically gave me a sense of realism. An unintended plus.
Anywho, what I want to argue in this blog is that stupidity doesn’t automatically make it a bad A.I. A bad A.I would be a static A.I, an artificial intenlligence that acts the same regardless of your presence. This is all too common in crappy first-person shooter games. No matter what you do, they use the same strategy, and they stay there, doing the same thing they’ve always done. Even really good fps games are guilty of using fixed static A.I. And just because they’re static doesn’t mean they’re dumb but it just makes the game end up being repetitive.
I’m gonna use a great game as an example as I put some flame guard on. Okay, here I go. I just finished playing Call of Duty 4 two days ago. You know, the A.I is pretty smart, They will try to knife you when you get too close to them, they’ll shoot when they spot you. But they do this in a set pattern. Everything about Call of Duty 4’s A.I is scripted. Your teammate’s A.I is pre-programmed to do certain things at certain moments. There is no variability and everything is predictable. An enemy far away in a building will remain in that building no matter what happens. The reason Call of Duty 4 can be so difficult is because the game uses this trick where the A.I always knows exactly where you are and have nearly perfect aim. This kind of A.I trick is used in a lot of different games to make it seem like the game is extremely challenging and the enemy A.I. extremely smart. Goldeneye for the N64 did this, Black for the PS2/Xbox did this, and Battlefield 2 for the PC did this. Since Call of Duty 4’s level design is so well done, that not many people are able to catch on this last-gen A.I. trick but I caught it and if you play COD4 at Veteran difficulty, you’ll realize how annoying and frustrating that trick is.
Look, I don’t have a problem with scripted A.I. but when you have a scripted A.I. like that, it often makes the game all too predictable. Of course, there’s a counter-example to my point: Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3. These two games feature the most scripted A.I. in the history of video games. And yet, I love the A.I. of both games. They’re programmed to react differently to your different actions and while everything is pre-programmed and you’ll learn just how scripted it is by the time you’re about half-done with the game, there’re so many different scripts to the A.I., that as predictable as they are, you’ll en up having a lot of unique and unpredictable moments in those two games. MGS2 an MGS3 are perfect examples of A.I that is scripted but ultimately is not static.
What games do in order to make the A.I. not feel static is the key thing to look at, now how dumb the A.I is or how the smart the A.I is. After all, if you look at it in a critical way, the A.I. of MGS games are dumb as hell. They’re a lot dumber than the A.I. of Splinter Cell. But guess what, I found Splinter Cell A.I to be extremely static. The A.I of Splinter Cell when you’re not discovered is great. The enemies patrol around and react to different suspicious noises. When you’re discovere however, it’s a different story. They know exactly where you are despite how hard you try to hide. Their aim is also perfect. They also will not move away from where they are. They don’t use different tactics other than a few pre-programmed tactics. That’s why the gunplay in Splinter Cell game is stale. I refer to Metal Gear Solid games as stealth action but I refer Splinter Cell games as stealth, solely stealth. Because the action part of Splinter Cell in all honest is pretty lame and most of it has to do with the game’s static A.I.
A game that has one of the most dynamic A.I. is a gory Japanese game called Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox (and now for the PS3). Not only is the A.I smart but depending on how skilled you are, the A.I of the game will adapt to your playing style. If you’re a noob at hack and slash, the A.I. will gradually a bit dumber for you. If you’re having too easy of a time, wait a few levels and you’re bound to be throwing your controller to the ground. That’s what you call a dynamic and adaptive A.I. That’s why Ninja Gaiden has so many fans despite the fact that the game features a crappy story, is presented awkwardly, and has laughable character models. It’s the dynamic A.I. that makes Ninja Gaiden great.
I don’t think smarter A.I. is the solution. That would simply make the just unplayable. Imagine if each enemy in Uncharted was just as smart as you. I wouldn’t play Uncharted if that was the case cause the game would be too freakin hard. One of my friend who’s not into video games at all played Uncharted until he got to level 7 because by level 7, he was saying it was too hard. He was playing on easy mode too. So if the A.I. is too smart, it just wouldn’t work.
But if the A.I. was adaptive depending on the player or really well scripted, that game could be a great experience. Take F.E.A.R. for example. So many people talk about how intelligent F.E.A.R’s A.I. was. I laugh whenever someone says that because it’s not true at all. F.E.A.R pulls off a smart trick and deceives people into thinking that the enemies are extremely smart but this has to do with how well the A.I is scripted not due to how smart the enemy is. All the environments of F.E.A.R are linear hallways so based around that, Monolith was able to pre-program the game’s A.I. to throw grenades on certain situations and try to flank on certain situations. If you take advantage of the slow-motion feature of the game and hide behind corners, you could beat F.E.A.R. on the hardest difficulty without taking much damage. I don’t recommend doing that because it makes the game a bit boring (maybe that’s why I didn’t like the game all that much) but it’s just an example of a good script, not “smart” intelligence.
Of course, I think when people say “the A.I of that game was bad,” they may not mean the exactly the same thing I’m talking about but when it comes down to it, I would agree. No one really talks about Call of Duty 4 having a bad A.I because really, why would you? The scripting of COD4 is great and the level design is great so it’s not really noticeable. But a lot of people talked about the bad A.I. of Star Wars Battlefront because quite simply, the bad A.I. of that game did make for a more repetitive experience.