Nitpick: LIMIT BREAK!!!
I remember a time where I smashed a controller just because of how painstakingly frustrating a certain level on Call of Duty: World at War was. It wasn’t that it was particularly hard, it felt more like it was extremely cheap. Imagine the following scenario. You’re in a dense field of grass and it’s dark so it’s difficult to see. You’re surrounded by a ton of enemy troops and although it’s difficult for you to find them, they have the same disadvantage as you do. You move through the area in prone. One step at a time and slowly, carefully so that you don’t get caught. Suddenly, you’re dead before you even did anything particularly special. You were shot.
Or perhaps you can imagine this scenario. You move through the same area and as you peak over cover you hear and see gunfire. You suddenly duck back down and hope to pick the enemies off one at a time and proceed to the next cover. Unfortunately you see a grenade land right in front of you. Of course, you have no chance or throwing back the grenade so you die. Again.
It’s unsurprising that you would die in situations like that. The game has tuned the AI to levels that surpass human possibilities and put them in the realm of deities. In all seriousness though, these AIs feel like they’re breaking the boundaries and rules of the game. A person can’t shoot someone they haven’t seen yet and a person shouldn’t be able to throw a grenade that’s outside of a normal throwing range. Yet, why would you allow an enemy to break the laws that are inherently made so the game can be made as fair as possible.
On Nitpick this week, I want to discuss a problem I’ve had with a recent series of games that I’ve been playing: Call of Duty: World at War and Mario Kart DS. Coincidentally, NeoGAF had a thread about how broken AI and mentioned the very games I was playing at the moment. It’s not that these two games are bad by any means, I think they’re great. It’s moreso that they have a problem with breaking the laws established in the game - at least for the player - and abuses the player rather than accepting what has already occurred.
Let’s go back to Call of Duty and analyze step by step what exactly feels like it was broken. In order to understand what isn’t fair and is fair, we have to know the rules and boundaries of the game. For one, an enemy shouldn’t be able to shoot you unless you are within an enemy’s sight. Additionally, they should not be able to exceed the reaction time of a human being. Lastly, if a player cannot throw a grenade a certain distance because of the rules instantiated by the game, the enemy should also be limited as such. Of course, all of these rules are broken when playing on the Veteran difficulty. Play one mission of Blowtorch and Corkscrew - if you can even get to that mission on Veteran - and you’ll understand immediately that the game is breaking the limits or its rules just for the sake of making it harder or “evening out the playing field.” If I use my skills to my advantage and take control of a battle then I expect to be rewarded for it. Here, it’s almost as if the developer is punishing me for doing well. Obviously not cool.
Jumping to an entirely different genre, let’s take a closer look at why I had a problem with Mario Kart. The same rule-breaking problem persists despite it being an entirely different game. Not that this problem doesn’t persist in just this game but in the genre as a whole entirely. The term is rubberbanding, or rubber banding depending on how you spell it. Essentially it boils down to an opponent racer’s ability to catch up to you despite how far behind they are. What is the exact problem with this? While players who are behind normally will have a hard time catching up because there’s a limit on velocity and acceleration for karts, this doesn’t apply to AI. They break the limits set for players in order to keep the race interesting and “fair” throughout.
I quote the word fair because it’s anything but. The idea of rubberbanding comes from the idea that a challenge will exist at anytime in the game meaning you should always keep your guard up. An opponent can overtake your spot at anytime and you’re actually never too ahead of guaranteeing victory. It’s extremely cheap because although the thought process is to make the game fair for all contestants in the race, it ONLY applies to AI racers. It’s disappointing because rather than being rewarded for driving extremely well, making use of items, and taking shortcuts, enemies will always be right behind you, breaking the speed of sound - possibly. Saddening as it may be, the game essentially encourages you to stay not in first place or try your best to outsmart your opponent since you’ll never have the limit breaking powers that they do.
I believe firmly in games being balanced and tailored to deliver a solid experience. If it doesn’t do this then why play games at all. Players should also strive to play games that are fair otherwise, they will lose the entertaining value of playing or the redeeming pleasure that comes from accomplishing something. Of course you could scream a large “f*** yeah” after you beat a cheating AI, it’d be a nuisance to do so. What’s the last word then? You’re not Cloud from Final Fantasy 7, so don’t break limits.