Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Stealth Week Part 3 - Of Machines

A.K.A. "Hunh? What was that?"

I think that it's become quite obvious that I like stealth as a mechanic when it's done well. However, there is one thing that I have to admit I've never seen done really well with it: that would be creating computer characters that react to stealth realistically, or even well. That's not to say that it's not fun, and even challenging sometimes, but the ways in which A.I. foes handle your sneakiness is often painful to really watch (although utterly hilarious at the same time).

To use the same examples I used the first day I talked: in Metal Gear Solid the camo chip rendered you utterly invisible; you could punch, shoot, throw and otherwise knock guys around all the live long day and they'd just kind of be confused and then shrug it off. Perhaps it was a limit of the amount of coding that you could put in the Playstation. I'd also be willing to shrug it off as just something fun because you have to beat the game at least once in order to access it, so why not just get an overpowered item to goof around with?

The problem is that a lot of this translates to other games where stealth is meant to be used as an option that isn't completely overpowered. I certainly won't argue against the fact that the Chinese Stealth Suit is an incredible piece of equipment for those inclined to do such a run. However in games like it and others, there remains a huge problem, one that I think this video sums up well:

Aside from being hilarious, the point it's making is pretty clear: the computer is often dumb as a sack of hammers when it comes to dealing with hide and seek gameplay. I've shot people point blank in the head in Fallout 3 and had them almost trip over my crouched position and not find me. Sometimes the computer gets suspicious when I'm trying to sneak up on it, but it seems mostly hit and miss. The times that the computer actually does spot me seem almost completely random, or utterly laughable.

As much as I hate to say it, there seems to be a lot more of this kind of thing going on in games that feature stealth than anything else. Perhaps when I finally get around to Deus Ex: Human Revolution there might be a change, but without even knowing anything about the game I can already say that I highly doubt it.

The main issue here is something I that I tend to call the "effortlessly perfect fight" scenario, since it's most easily proved in a fighting game. Since all your commands, your location, and all other relevant data are routed through the same computer that controls your opponents, it would be possible to make a computer that could simply never lose. How does this apply to stealth? Well, if the computer enemies weren't as dumb as bricks, then odds are that stealth simply wouldn't work to begin with, because the computer still "knows" you're there, it just chooses to have the avatars it controls ignore that fact.

I realize that any compromise for this issue isn't going to be easy, but it will be fascinating to see what developments might occur. And certainly one place to look for answers are in games where stealth is used against human opponents. That will be the topic for tomorrow, as well as the final stealth entry for this week.

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