Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dragon Age: Origins - Where has all the A.I. in PC Games gone?

I finally started my character in Dragon Age: Origins and I have to say I haven't played a game whose story has so quickly sucked me in for a long while...perhaps even since the original Sierra's Homeworld.

Within an hour of playing, I had to make a crucial decision between loyalty to a friend in need, or my duty toward my Elf Mage's 'Headmaster'... twists and turns are already abound, and I truly feel like I am changing the script of the game on the fly, with every decision [one of 5 if I remember] that I choose during conversations in the well-done cinematic moments. While all this is great, and the game itself is very polished and beautiful, (and I am picky) I am missing the elements of deciding strategy in the combat portion of the game. Being not an expert at all of the D&D affiliated Neverwinter Nights/Baldur’s Gate vein, I am guessing that the 'rule book' that seems to be equally a part of this style of play/franchise is the reason.

Yes, you can select when to use that heal, when to use that type of magic, when to use your sacred whatchamacallit at the crucial time…it is still formulaic and ultimately, the odds are still based on mathematical calculations. Up until the recent excellent (and personal fav) Left4dead series by Valve, I’ve seen little evolvement or incorporation of any meaningful A.I. into a PC game as of late. For those that haven’t played those games, the A.I., [Valve call’s the “Director”] constantly monitors many aspects of the in-game human players actions, skill and whereabouts to adjust the gameplay on the fly. This creates a more dynamic, unpredictable, and engaging solution to the game that might otherwise bore players after multiple play-through’s of the same levels.
 Left 4 Dead 2

Nothing whatsoever against Dragon Age in of itself -I'm just going to rant about the 'random-stat' result in games in general. Nothing is worse than when I feel like any strategy that I am learning, or have gained in all my warmongering years on the pc, is completely undermined by a simple, mathematical formula of odds. It changes from an actual strategic decision, to something akin to a digital slot machine.

Quick thought- remember Black & White (1&2)? I couldn’t WAIT to play that game, and found it mostly to my expectations. Randomness worked in that one, in the form of an elegantly complex A.I. that would allow your creature some truly surprising, interesting and sometimes hilarious results. I remember the devs stating how their creature A.I. behavior had actually surprised them with actions they never expected! That was totally groundbreaking territory, and I wish we got more of that in pc games.

All too often, games are released with simple paper-rock-scissor type logic. While some are still extremely fun to play (another favorite-Company of Heroes comes to mind), these are among hundreds I have learned ‘how’ to play. Usually this is against real logic, which is fine when in a fantasy environment, but I feel even these style of games could benefit from allowing the player to use real strategy and logic to out-smart the enemy, not merely play by a very finite limit of game ‘A.I.’

Doesn't matter that I outflanked those troops with the appropriate weapons, setup defenses that prevented that spy from taking out that town [EMPIRE I’m lookin’ at you], ESPECIALLY with most games ‘diplomacy’ options…once you press the conflict button, it’s still a crap-shoot. This is why I am in endless search for a game that allows true freedom to discover, and use your own brain's strategy. Those lend the best reward and enjoyment I have found…

I'm not saying EVERY game needs to have a mandatory awesome A.I. code injected -Despite these wants, I will play Dragon Age feverishly, to simply see the story unfold, for despite any [or lack thereof] dynamic A.I. incorporated, it is still a fun-as-hell and intriguing game in its own right.

 Dragon Age: Origins

1 comment:

Slayer said...

Well, the srory of the Dragon Age it´s a bit typical, you know what i mean, but seems to be a good game (I haven´t tried it)
Respecting what you talk about A.I., it´s true that´s important to games that enemies can act like real persons in life, but in games like Dragon Age, enemies don´t need to be so clever to know the basical stuff of this type of games (How atack, how defend themselves, use potion, etc.)