Jan 8, 2010

Lots and Lots of Bots

If the string "TF2" means nothing to you, you'd do well to pretend this post is a giant blank space. Just sayin', is all.

Yesterday, Valve released updated tweaks to their experimental bots. That's experimental in the "we're really playing around with this AI stuff, please bear with us", not experimental in the "6 Million Dollar Man" sense. These bots are by no means the finished product -they only work on certain king of the hill maps, and Valve still has not programmed 2 of the classes (Scout and Spy). So I gave them a spin on my favorite map, KOTH_Nucleus.

And no, not these bots either.

What I found was that these bots play a surprisingly adequate game of TF2. Was their AI perfect? Nope, not at all. But what I did see was bots acting sort-of-human. By no means are they as good as humans yet, but I never knew what I would find around a particular corner, and they do a decent job of prioritizing in the middle of a firefight.

If their health drops low, and they aren't in immediate danger (say, a rocket pushed them far enough away from battle) I've seen them retreat and try to get health, either from a medic, med kit or dispenser. If their team had the point, they actually went hunting for other players. Medics do an ok job of healing the people around them and don't reach for their syringe guns if an ally is near.

Heavies probably walk around spinning their guns much longer than humans would, but it's nicely balanced by their recognition and harassment of snipers that are looking to hit the slow Russians. For example, unless he's in the middle of a firefight, I more or less have to catch a heavy off-guard with my rifle, or he just turns and keeps laying cover spray at me to mess up my aim. I like this.

But they do have a few niggles:

  • I'm not sure if the bots walking patterns are fully baked yet. In KOTH_Nuclues, it seemed like the bots kept running into our lower-level supply door because they couldn't find the nearby stairs. Also, if a sentry was just outside our spawn room, the bots would halt as they walked by our spawn door because, rightfully, they didn't want sentry in their face. This behaviors might be purposeful "spawn camping" (a nice touch, if it is), but they might be the result of glitches in the walking AI.

  • Demos bots don't use their stickies. Ever. Why not? I can understand it being a pain to program how and, more importantly, where to trap effectively with stickies. But using them as mid range combat weapons? That's a no brainer.

  • For that matter, I would like to see these bots switch to their secondary weapons more often in general. Soldiers and pyros switch to their shotgun when the situation permits itself. Engineers use their pistols to chip away at range. The only class I saw do a good job of this was the sniper. Whenever you got near him he spams his machine gun.

  • Interestingly, I didn't really notice a problem with snipers showing up in all the same locations, because these locations are exactly where human snipers keep pwning my ass usually frequent.

    It was the engineers I had a problem with. There might be only 3 or 4 locations I might expect an engineer to build, and by golly they only built there. It was always in a place that covered the capture point, and the Engineer would invariably be turtling.

  • This wouldn't have been a problem, if the bots actually behaved like humans. When a human sees a sentry that's kind of guarding an objective, entire team-involved strategies are devised to take that bastard out.

    What do the bots do? They ignore it until it they are in its range. And when the sentries are at level 3, that's a fatal mistake. So it's up to me, man of reason, to be an elite one man strike team to take out the sentry, or more frustrating sentries, so my team can recapture the point.

  • Speaking of, the bots do at best an erratic job of handling me as a Spy. I don't know what I'm going to get when I see them. There are times the enemy seems willing to invite me to their child's christening. There are other times it seems like they hear my decloaking from across the other side of the map and hunt me down Jumanji style.

    There are times when you can tell if they "suspect" you of being a spy. They'll keep looking at you (or, rather, keep their back from you), but more or less continue about their business. The minute you do something that would indicate you're not one of them, like stand still for too long or turn just slightly the wrong way, they'll attack you. Viciously. Valve, if the bots even have a whiff of doubt, why not have them attack the person anyway? It's what I'm used to against humans. And a hell of a lot less frustrating.

It's like they're messing with my head. Literally.

  • And the enemy engineers do a bad job of handling spies. If I sap their stuff, they try to wrench off the sapper instead of coming after me. Even their teammates nearby leave me alone. Of course, this means I'm free to keep sapping their stuff until it is destroyed. And even then, after his sentry is down, nobody attacks me. That needs some serious work.

  • While I'm still on the spy rants, they enemy bots have no concept of the Dead Ringer. They see me die and immediately forget about me. As a spy, that's not even fair.
Bottom line, if you're deficient in a class other than spy (I suck at flanking with a Scout, for example), these bots provide an adequate training ground to get you to some level of competence. Once you start beating these bots regularly as said class, then try your hand online. You'll likely still get your ass handed to you, but at least you'll have a starting point from which to build on.

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