Should AI opponents target a player over other AI targets?

This bugged me quite a bit in Freelancer, and somewhat bothers me in Warlords Battlecry 3. I’m sure it’s been the case in other games as well.

In Freelancer, player ships always took precedence as targets for AI enemies. The only evidence I have is my own play, but I did play through both the storyline, and ran four or five pilots fairly high in the freestyle mode (whatever it was called). No matter what they were doing, who they were fighting, or what I was flying, I always got targetted by every enemy when I came into range. This combined with the static economy were why I ultimately stopped playing.

In WBC3 (as it’s been in all three WBC games), the human target is the only enemy they seem to go after aggressively. Sure, the units will fight if they happen upon each other, or if their path takes them near enemy buildings, but they are always on their way to a human target. An enemy base might be right next to them, but they will send a train of units halfway across the map to attack you, ignoring the closer enemy.

I would guess it’s done to keep the player occupied, but I would still rather they take a more rational approach to who they fight. I have wondered if the games would be as engaging if they didn’t do this, and perhaps it was added after QA, but I would still prefer that games avoided it.

It is annoying. Game AI feels much more natural when you see the AI factions playing along with each other as well as you. Hardwar did this very well, with other pilots actually trading, fighting and engaging in piracy. I’m playing Rise Of Nations at the moment, and it’s fun to watch the AI players fighting each other, interjecting whenever I can press an advantage. Even scripted CRPGs have used it - the Fallout games often had random encounters featuring a fight between two groups.

I’ll tell you what bothers me. In FarCry, mercs are fighting for their lives against bizarre genetic mutations rushing them in a hallway, then over the incredible racket, my wakling-pace footsteps are heard from behind and the mercs turn to me to blow me away instead. The AI is great sometimes, but I think there is room for improvement under the heading “threat assessment”.

When I’m desperately throwing 600 rounds per minute from a pintle-mounted 50 cal at the hungry, sharply-clawed mutations charging me and my last living buddy and my bionic ultra-hearing picks up a human footstep behind me, I’m not turning the fucking gun around to kill that guy.

Watching the computer fight itself can often provide some of the warmest and fuzziest moments in a game. Who can forget the first time a player managed to get two Doom monsters to go at it with each other? Or the one room in Half-Life where you walk in to find a full-fledged battle raging between the marines and the aliens?

It would be great if bots would turn on players who are acting like total jerks.

It seems to vary with genres, it’'s common to see the AI factions fight each other in strategy games, in fact in Civ, for example, getting the AI players to fight each other while you quietly build a spaceship is a valid strategy. Iin FPSes, on the other hand, the model tends to be the player versus the world. One if the things I like about Thief:DS is that it doesn’t do this, I was playing last night and had to run after being spotted and ran into a different bunch of bad guys, but managed to find a hiding place. When I re-emerged I found a large pile of corpses where my pursuers had indulged in a bit of mutual slaughter.

I remember early on, when the noblewoman hires some thugs to murder you, I saw quite a funny scene. One of them went into a building to meet with the noblewoman and collect payment while the other stayed outside, so I snuck up behind the leader and killed him at the doorway. At the same time, both his partner and the noblewoman separately decided something was up, and walked towards where the corpse was. They both decided that the other one killed him, and started fighting in the street. :)

The reason the AI tends to focus on the player is that it’s hard to maintain proper game balance if the player can just hang back while the AI kills each other off all the time.

So, it’s a developer shortcut.

so players figuring out a low-stress solution is cheating?

so players figuring out a low-stress solution is cheating?[/quote]

Nothing low stress in my Thief experience, I hadn’t saved since the start of the levell :) .

That may be the case in the FPS genre where it’s basically kill or be killed. In a strategy game, it can be a little different. As somebody mentioned, a valid Civ strategy was to foment war between civs whilst you made a dash for the spaceship. In this case, the player doesn’t just hang back and watch the other civs annhilate each other. He (usually) needs to do somthing to help encourage this behaviour, and the warring AI’s have the option to end their war.

Wouldn’t a better dev solution be to seed the encounter with extra NPCs on both sides, and let them thin themselves out but not to drop below a certain # of enemies?

That way, players can either just wade in and mow down the masses, drawing fire from both sides (or for it to remain a 3 way firefight) or if they think to hang back and let them fight, the encounter is easier but not just walking through an empty room.

One of the better strategies in GalCiv is the old “let’s you and him fight” routine, particularly if you really lack any morals and continue to surreptiously support the losing side, regardless of who it is. The A.I. doesn’t fail here.

In other genres, however, you can see the design decision. Except in a few cases, it’s pretty fucking boring watching the A.I. duke it out. The A.I. didn’t pay $40 for the game. The player did. Cater to the player!


Yeah that would be cool. Actually someone should implement something like that for server admins. Like if a player is being a smacktard, the admin (instead of just kicking, or smacking around) could just spawn in a 5 man hitsquad to hunt down the player for as long as the admin wanted to. The bots couldn’t be hurt and couldn’t hurt any player but the target.

Imagine playing UT and the admin puts out a hit on you. Suddenly the message pops up “A Hit has been placed on Loser!” A bunch of bots with flawless aim spawn in and keep killing Loser for a couple mins.

You could even make it allowable by player vote. Though this could encourage smacktard behavior it would be funny.

i once saw a cs admin mod that would freeze a player in place if the admin saw him do stupid stuff. and all the players in the game were encouraged to waste him.

as for ais priority targetting humans: HELL NO.

in the first st:voyager fps, i got two red shirts with me when some flying monsters showed up. making a swift tactical descision, i ran far behind my comrades so they could take them out. problem is they don’t fire that much AND the ais ran past them to shoot at me, so i got the worst of both worlds.

frankly, if i choose to cowardly run away from my teammates and leave them to die, i want them to die, i don’t want to suffer poetic justice/comeuppetance!

plus, the best games make you think you were one little part of a world, not the center of the universe. i always have more fun playing “the fugitive” better than playing “rambo”. how many times in a civ game have you had an alliance with some small pissant two city nation through the centuries, wound up being an uber-superpower, then having the little bastard backstab you after you wipe out all the other empires? galciv was great because that didn’t happen.

as mentioned above, the monsters/ais fighting each other in half life and doom were the best. it’s fun to do in gta3 too.

This describes my current experince with Medieval: Total War’s campaign game. I never have to attack because the whole world will attack me first.

I don’t like it because it wrecks some of the immersion; I feel much more a part of the world if the AI is acting rationally. As soon as I figure out I am being exclusively targetted, I get pissed.

Conversely, as people have mentioned, watching the AI opponents react to each other can really enhance the immersion.

I’d much rather developers figure out a way to keep the player interested by other means (such as diplomacy) than this kind of a blatant cheat.

In certain games, I believe this can be handled just by better level design. For instance, if you want the player to happen across a group of fighting enemies and choose to engage or not, design the area ta facilitate this. If you want the player to suddenly be in the middle of a combat, design it that way. And so on.

Or simply have enough enemy forces that you can allot a certain percentage to go after the friendly AI of your side, while another percentage target you explicitly.

That way it looks like everyone is getting a decent amount of attention.

I wrote the AI in Galactic Civilizations and there were two rules:

  1. The AI would not make distinctions between human and I players.

  2. The AI would not automatically “gang up” on whoever was winning.