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Retro DarqByte: Firkin AI

Gamer of Darqness; Jul. 7, 2010; By Robert F. Ludwick
Type: Editorial
For a long time, this post was the most popular one on DarqByte

Here's another entry in my Retro DarqByte series, a followup to my "Too Hard?" post. Side note: I later discovered that firkin is a word. This is likely the last (and only second, of course) post I bring over from DarqByte.

So I’ve got another irritated video games post to write, in-part as a followup to my post about a certain missions in NFS being difficult. I should also mention Jenner Cauton’s F9 blog (Jenner Cauton writes here at OMGN now; blog link no longer active), where he rants and raves about video games on a semi-daily basis. There are (were) some good ones in there.

So last night I played some Mario Kart Wii and some more Need For Speed: Undercover. All-in-all, tons of fun, especially MKW. That game is pretty fun and I’m looking forward to unlocking most of the stuff so when party-goers come over we can choose from anything in the game to play.

But today is a day for ranting about video game AI, especially these two racing games. Let’s start with MKW.

Mario Kart has, and probably always will be, a really fun game because it can help level the playing field. The game does a really good job in keeping all of the racers in the game provided that the racers aren’t falling off the track every two seconds. This is good for competitive reasons and to keep the players interested in the game, but it’s not good for people that are truly dominating the game, especially when said player is playing alone.

Whatever do I mean? Well, for example, last night I was dominating the computer AI racers. Just annihilating them. Consistently in first , finished most of the races in first place too. But not all of them.

The items in MKW can really level the playing field. Racers in the back of the pack, by percentage, have a high rate of getting items that can really tip the balance of the race. Turning into Bullet Bill, for example, can get you ahead of half of the pack. Getting the blue shell will annihilate the race leader for a decent amount of time, allowing others to catch up. Red shells are homing shells, etc.

Well, a few times last night I experienced stretches where the computer AI players were throwing the book at me. There was one time in particular that I was surprised I even ended up in first. I had red shells and blue shells galore connecting with me, yet I still ended up in first by about 4-5 seconds. Imagine if I hadn’t had an inordinately large amount of items hit me. Another race I had about a half-lap lead on the AI going into the last lap. I ended 4th and did not totally fuck up during the race.

Overcompensating AI is irritating at times, especially if it can have a drastic impact in the game, much like MKW. But it’s not too bad there because MKW levels the field. It’s easy to get crushed but make a comeback because the very devices that can bring you down from first can put you back there.

Now, NFS is another story… NFS does have some balancing features in the AI, and it’s usually features designed to keep the AI racers somewhat competitive. The game is really pretty easy, but there are times when it’s overboard on how obviously it’s trying to keep the race close or get you into second place.

One thing I’ve noticed about the game is its placement of traffic. Oftentimes, you can see traffic coming up ahead and adjust accordingly. Although the faster you go, the tougher this is, especially around curves and hills… And hills are bitches to get through.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been worried about what’s coming up over the hill. And I can’t tell you how many of those times there was a car waiting for me to smack it dead center because I just absolutely could not see it coming. Or around a bend, for that matter.

And the problem with this? The computer AI acts too well in these situations. Obviously, the AI knows the car is there.  But does the AI take into account that a real driver wouldn’t be able to see the obstacle on the other side? No. Aside from the random factor the game throws in to simulate mistakes, AI racers almost always miss obstacles around curves or over hills.

This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, much like MKW, if mistakes such as these weren’t so crippling. If you’re trying to achieve Domination status for a race, you can’t really make many mistakes. And mistakes like this can absolutely kill your chances for winning certain race types, such as the one where the winning racer is the one that puts 1000 feet between themselves and their singular opponent.

On a side note, I’ve also noticed in NFS that opponent AI is really good at not spinning out. Too good. Countless times have I had encounters with AI racers, hitting from all sides and angles and different formations, and the only car to spin out, should one of us spin out, is me. Irritating.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the blog post title. Firkin is indeed not a word. But I’m making it one. See, the word frickin’ is a “clean” version for the word fucking. I’m taking it one step further, transposing and making it sound more fun, by using firkin. It reads as “fur-kin.” Have fun with that one!

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