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I think this was prompted by the combination of the ‘top 3 annoying characters’ and my recent experience playing Homefront’s single player campaign.

What, I ask you, is wrong with these people?

Let’s start with Secret of Mana. You have a party of three: yourself and two AI-controlled allies. These two are meant to help out with battles, provide magic (which your main character can’t use), that sort of thing. What they actually do is cause you to die.

The biggest problem with these burdensome wasters is they mostly walk in a straight line. If you’re casually wandering about, they’ll usually figure out that they need to go around the tree to keep up with you. If, however, you’re frantically sprinting away from imminent death at the hands of a bizarre, fire-spitting hell beast, they will follow you in a completely straight line, without fail. Into walls, into the edge of a pit (which, mercifully, they can’t fall into), into traps, obstacles, enemies… They don’t discern. It gets worse though. You can’t leave the screen unless they’re with you. This means, infuriatingly, that the more important it is for them to be right behind you, the less likely it is to happen. When you have to escape, they will do everything they can to prevent it.

But wait! There’s a rudimentary AI programming feature in Secret of Mana. You have a simple grid; one axis is approach enemy/stay away from enemy, and the other is attack/defend. I suppose that this should, in theory, allow for a little nuance to the way the AI behaves. If you set the Sprite to stay back, but also to attack, he should hang back and use a projectile weapon (if you give him one). Ok, fine, but how can we use this to make him allow us to run away? The logical combination would seem to be ‘avoid/defend’. In that way, he just won’t engage the enemy, ever. Right? No. If you set him to avoid, he won’t try to follow you to the edge of the screen because that means running past enemies. So you set him to ‘approach/defend’. But that just makes him sprint up to enemies and block.

Let’s imagine the reality of this for a moment.

“We’re finished if we hang around here. I’m on my last legs and there’s still half a dozen of these things. Run!”
“Ok, right behind you!”
“Bob, you big, mincing berk! That’s a pillar! Run around it! Around!
“Hold on!”
“Ah shit. Fine, I’ll come back. Here, hold my hand. Now…run! Behind me! That’s it– What the fuck NOW, Bob?”
“There’s an enemy.”
“Run around!
“I can’t. You told me to stay away from them.”
“Oh for– Fine! I give you permission to get close to them. Just don’t fight them. Now…run past!”
“…”
“Bob…”
“Well, you said I can approach them but not attack, right? I’m hardly going to stand right next to them and let them hit me!”
“Don’t just stand– Bob… GAAAAAHHHHH FUUUUUUCK!”

You can’t even leave Bob to die, because you can’t get out of the room. Eventually you’ll reach the cold-hearted but inescapable conclusion that if you can survive long enough for the enemy to kill Bob, then you’ll be able to leave. Indeed, much though I otherwise love Secret of Mana, I used to go out of my way to get the Sprite and the Girl killed as soon as I entered a dungeon, because they were less of a liability that way. Weren’t they?

Not really, no.

Block-headed Bob (and equally obtuse Bertha) comes back as a ghost. A Secret of Mana ghost has the exact same properties as a living person, except that it can’t fight or distract enemies from attacking you. It can still get stuck on objects, monsters, pits, etc.

Fuck you, Dead Bob.

But we can forgive this. It’s a Super Nintendo game, and the Super Nintendo was capable of two AI actions: ‘run straight at stuff’ and ‘stand still’. Let’s move on (without charging into a stationary enemy, please).

To get a bit more into the spirit of fictional proceedings, a teenage boy, an equally teenage princess and a sprite-child can be excused some inteptitude in combat. But, two console generations later in a galaxy far, far away (sorry, it was mandatory), professional soldiers and badass Jedi do the exact same stuff in Knight of the Old Republic and its sequel, The Sith Lords.

“Bastila! Bastila, this way! No, leave that alone and come here! Here!

Only, Bastila, Carth et al are worse because they get lost just walking across the street. And what sort of Jedi watches their close friend and ally painstakingly work his way through a mass of gas traps to reach the end of the corridor, then thinks “Fuck it. I can’t be arsed with all that hassle. I’m sure I’ll be ok if I just run through the gouts of poisonous gas. I eat a lot of vitamin C.” At least you could separate the party so they won’t follow each other, and laboriously guide them, one at a time, through the gassy minefield.

This is where things get really ugly. Another console generation later, we have…Mass Effect 2. That’s a good game, right?

Yes.

But.

Imagine, if you will, a situation very similar to the aforementioned gas trap death corridor. Imagine, also, that you can no longer assume direct control of your party members or stop them following you. You can give them the order to hold their positions, but whether they obey depends on whether they’re hungry, what their horoscope said this morning, or who knows what else. Again, take a journey with me…

“What the fuck, Garrus? I nimbly dodged that trap and you decided to just walk in? What made you think that was a good plan?”
“I know I’m an experienced police officer and reasonably badass soldier, but I just can’t bring myself to let you wander off on your own. You look so frail and helpless.”
“Look, assface, just sit here, ok? Wait. Right. Here. Got it?”
“Yeah, got it. Relax.”
“…Garrus?”
“Yes?”
“You’re right behind me, aren’t you?”
“…”
“In fact, you’re standing right in that lethal trap aren’t you?!
“…”
“I told you to stay put. What the fuck, Garrus? Seriously. Dude. What fucking fuck?!
“I was lonely…”

Which brings me back to Homefront. You see, Homefront does it the FPS way. It’s not Rainbow Six, either. No controllable teammates here. They trot around and do their own thing. Surely that can’t be so nightmarishly inconvenient? Well…what about the guy who has ‘Follow’ above his head but won’t move unless you go ahead of him? What about the mysterious force that prevents you crawling through an opening until all your friends have gone frst? What about the way your supposed allies just walk right at you and somehow hoist you aside? What the hell is that?

“Follow me!”
“Ok Dave (because I don’t remember his name). Lead on.”
“Right. Follow me.”
“I will, Dave.”
“Ok…so…follow.”
“Dave…you need to move before I can follow you.”
“No, you need to move before you can follow me.”
“…Aw, bollocks to this. Hey, holy crap! Mariella! (because I forget her name too) What the hell?”
“You were between me and the door.”
“Well walk around! Or at least say ‘excuse me’!”
“No.”
“Woah! Shit, woman! Did you just pick me up?”
“No. You’re not my type. I did, however, lift you bodily off the ground and move you aside so I wouldn’t have to exert myself by stepping around you.”

Now I’ve done my Ghost of Christmas Whatever thing and shown you some grotesque scenes you didn’t want to see, I leave you with the question:

What is wrong with these people?!

Anyone who read the original version of this on my Facebook knows where it’s going. What a treat for you all.

In third, Bloody Mary from Terranigma. She’s an unstoppable bitch-whore from hell. No matter how much you power-level your little guy, he inflicts ONE POINT of damage on Bloody Mary. Even if you manage to not get killed at all, it’ll take you about an hour to finish her off. And the whole time she just dances around, waving that sceptre, baiting you. Git.

In second, The Girl and The Sprite from Secret of Mana. They get stuck on bits of scenery. They try to sprint straight through enemies instead of around them, preventing you from leaving the room – and thereby getting you killed. A lot. And when they try to do something useful, it’s usually along the lines of running right up to a monster covered in spiked armour and punching it. Unless, that is, the Sprite is using his default boomerang. Yeah, you try to kill the enormous, sorcerous tiger-beast with your blue plastic boomerang. I’ll be in the pub. Asshat.

The champion, to the surprise of no one who has ever spoken to me about him, is Tails. He reached a new low of unjustified whiny smugness in Sonic Adventure, but even before that he silently taunted us with his seemingly deliberate failures. And what was the worst part of his dickishness? Not his refusal to carry Sonic to safety even though he can fly. Not his running around at random like a coke-fuelled gnome with two feather dusters stapled to its pants. No. It was his goddamn immortality. He’d die in the most pathetic, moronic ways and you’d think at last you’d managed to shake off the simpering little fuck. A shame it had to be so brutal, but it’s for the best. But no. A few seconds later he twirls his way back to your side, goofily oblivious to his recent grisly demise. He’s either the fox version of Father Dougal, or a malicious bastard parading his undeserved immortality in front of his terrifyingly fragile ‘best friend’. “You’re a hero whose only protection is your own spiked body and a small collection of cheap jewellery. I am a clingy whingebag whose greatest contribution to your endeavours is repeatedly crashing my home-made plane, but I get to be a frigging gatling-gun messiah, bursting from my grave a dozen times a minute. And you know what? I LIKE IT.”

Look at that face. Look at those eyes. Tell me he isn’t laughing at you.