Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
11 December 2005
Still in the Combat Era?
I was wondering while taking a walk today if we aren't still in the Combat era, you know, where if you want a truly formidable opponent, you have to play against another person (in RL, folk). Anybody can eventually learn to beat up on the NPCs of Quake or Metal Gear Solid. Resident Evil even has a cute workaround so that its NPCs can be mindless, for the most part. In World of Warcraft, there's a pretty clear distinction between the mindless NPCs and any time you find yourself getting attacked by another player. This inability to become human requires games compensate in a number of ways, from bots to bosses to sheer numbers -- one substituting complex decision-making algorithms and the others a simple case of the box cheating to stay competitive.

For what it's worth, I did have an interesting Ruting test happen to me unexpectedly in WoW several months ago. I'd accidentally set off my "Player versus Player" flag by attacking the wrong NPC, making myself vulnerable to attack without realizing it. When something a couple of levels above me started attacking, I naturally returned the favor. After a few seconds trading blows, though, I started thinking this fellow from the new land I'd just entered was awfully well AI'd. The beast was weaving well, making it hard to land a melee attack, and was being awfully creative in its attempts to plaster me. Blizzard had really upped the ante without any warning, it appeared.

After I finally started winning decisively, he morphed into a cheetah and started running, and not that squirrel in a road zig-zag, but a true sprint in a straight line to escape. I couldn't believe the game was so danged smart, and my beliefs were on the money. Just before I gave up the chase, I noticed the PvP icon on his character's icon, and then saw the one on my own. I'd been dueling another mind and, surprisingly with my track record, had even been winning.

From Quake to Madden to Second Life, we're still a long ways away from true NPC interactivity and we're still substituting another Homo sapiens when we want a good battle. We need a human to get anywhere close to passing the Turing test, and even then it takes a while to have suspicions raised (thus the Ruting pun, above, in case you missed it). Has gaming really gone all that far from chess boards and Combat? Not really, no matter how clever the bots have become.

I will admit, as a sort of addendum, that I've been able to "see" MGS's creator a few times when the fourth wall was cleverly stripped away, and I very clearly felt he was puppet mastering my experience, which *is* spooky in a way somewhat similar to when I finally passed the Ruting test, above. Still, MGS is a string of pretty mindless NPCs cyclically capped off by just as mindless but much more powerful NPC bosses.
--ruffin at 19:45
Comment [ 5 ]

Comments on this post:

I'm afraid Matt beat you to me, but you are both quite right. But Touring has such a nice ring to it -- and Routing a much more official look.


By Blogger rufbo, at 11 December, 2005 21:28  

I was once accused of being a bot in a game of Quake III. I randomly jumped into a game and saw someone type in "watch out (insert name here) is a bot".

I'm not very good, and I think it was fairly obvious that I was not. But no amount of argument could convince the person that I was not, in fact, a program. Oh well.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11 December, 2005 23:56  

I'm not convinced either, anony! Quick, say something only a human being would say!

By Blogger JohnH, at 13 December, 2005 11:44

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 13 December, 2005 13:37  

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