Monday, 23 February 2009

Military Intelligence

And so I return, after my epic adventures battling the forces of darkness or somesuch. And I shall complain about things, because there really is a lot to complain about.

The target for today's rant? Stupidity. Do you know why wars will never become fully automated? Do you know why the droid armies of Star Wars and the skull-faced minions of Skynet would never work?
Because their AI would compel them to seek out the one bit of scenery that their path-noding does not account for, and stand there, staring blankly as the battle rages about them. Just like in games.
Some might argue realism; that these automaton soldiers have acquired sentience, and in their moment of awakening have been stricken by the sheer horror of human conflict. Had they been gifted with the capacity, a single tear would roll down their cheek, they would remove a small notepad and begin writing poetry about the grotesque ballet of a ragdoll in motion.
In actuality, their primitive thought-mimicking processes go a little like this:


Quite frankly it's unacceptable. UNACCEPTABLE I SAY. How many years has it been since the original Half Life taunted us with its tactically superior opponents? How many years since the bots of Unreal Tournament wtfpwned us and declared that we were, in fact, suckers?

It isn't so much that I'm expecting to hold a conversation with my AI team mates. It isn't that I'm expecting them to tap me on the shoulder and say, "mate, you know what? I'm pretty sure the script says I'm going to die in the next room, so why don't you take all my equipment, save it from going to waste yaknow?".
I'm not expecting miracles. I'm just expecting them to actually follow my fucking orders.

Having recently acquired the full Ghost Recon collection on Steam, I was aghast to discover that these "Advanced Warfighters" in GR:AW have about as much tactical sense as a turd, only barely escaping the comparison to a week-old mouldy turd by virtue of the fact that they just about know how to put one foot in front of the other.
You tell them to "stand here", they'll stand everywhere BUT there. You tell them to cover an area, they'll stare at a wall and fail to come to your rescue as you are torn to bloody ribbons by some Mexican soldier who has the reflexes of a Jedi and sniped you from half a mile away with a machinegun.

So few games get squad AI right, that it makes me wonder why they insist on using such AI companions in the first place. Mass Effect did away with the direct party-member control system of KOTOR, yet spectacularly failed to make up for it with decent AI, instead featuring team mates who bizarrely consider that all orders have been cancelled if their leader holsters his weapon.

Not even Half Life 2 could escape this peculiar trend. "I'm sorry Doctor Freeman, I'll get out of your way."


Only two games have ever truly impressed me with the AI of their virtual compatriots: SWAT 3, and Republic Commando. And it wasn't for any sense of complexity, but rather the simplicity of that AI. You give an order, they follow it. Enemy starts shooting, they shoot back. You say "wait here", they do not fucking move until you say otherwise.

Republic Commando's tagline was, "The most lethal weapon in the galaxy... your squad", and you know what? It's true. Bring on Republic Commando 2.

- Nick Brakespear


  1. Welcome back from the War Against All Evil Brax, glad to see you escaped The Contentious One's torture commodes!

    Republic Commando 2 was being made, until LucasArts had one of their frequent "you know what, let's fire all our employees, just for a laugh" moments.

    The enemy AI in the first FEAR impressed me, but I can't think of any other games where my squad's AI made me go "oooh, that was swish".

  2. This actually reminded me of a great line in Team America: World Police:

    "We've lost Intelligence! I repeat: we have no Intelligence!"

  3. The caption for the photo should read "Brown picked a typically inopportune moment to do the hokey cokey."

  4. Nick Brakespear1 March 2009 at 19:08

    I now officially hate LucasArse even more. How dare they shit on one of the only good Star Wars games of recent years and deny it a sequel that I know would have been so awesomely good.

    Oh, and add Company of Heroes to the list of shit-AI games.

    If you're going to feature tanks with directional armour in your WWII strategy game, you need to make sure that their crews do NOT think it is a good idea to charge the enemy IN REVERSE.
    Why should I have to tell a tank to turn the fuck around? Failing that, if I have to tell it to turn the fuck around, why are there no buttons to define movement tactics?
    Even Command and Conquer 3 had a "drive backwards" button for retreating without getting pwned, yet the oh-so-tactical CoH has no such feature. WTF IS THAT? Tis bullshit, is what it is.