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Bring Back the Bots!

by Allegionary

©2010 Alex Hilton

There I was- in the middle of the desert in the presumed blistering heat with my rifle, waiting nervously for any sign of an enemy when, suddenly, one jumps out of the sand dune and shoots me in the head.

I was playing Far Cry 2 online with a group of people I didn’t know, and despite having  just been taken out, was having fun.

But it just wasn’t the same as when I played local split-screen multiplayer with my friends and family at home- especially with extra game AI-controlled bots.

I remember the time when we first got our Xbox 360 and played Perfect Dark Zero. Most of the people who played video games in my extended family (which is very big if you read my earlier Wii article) would come over and take turns playing the game as a co-operative team versus the bots. It was a fun day that had many laughs and was enjoyed by everyone.

You didn’t need a mic to co-ordinate.  Your teamates were next to you and you knew them so you didn’t feel awkward directing or being directed by strangers like I do on Live. You could ramp up the difficulty by giving the bot army more members and working together meant less sore egos or newbie or bad players feeling, well, bad.

I miss the old times of fighting off bots with people I know in the same room or even using a bot army to beat a friend that is too good for me to win against without some help.  You could arrange the games to even out the ‘teams’  in a way you mostly can’t online, where generally the better you are the more you are rewarded.

The older consoles like the Nintendo Gamecube, Playstation 2, and the old Xbox didn’t really have an online multiplayer to the same extent as the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, so the game developers made an effort with local multiplayer.  These days most of them don’t bother even including local split-screen and bots are all but extinct.

The Nintendo Wii is a new console that has local multiplayer but that fact has made the Wii more popular.

The problem with local multiplayer was that at best a maximum of only four people could play at one time (unless you used multiple consoles in system-link on Xbox), so the game developers introduced bots, which are computer-controlled enemies that you can fight, to add some more numbers to the scenario so the game would be enjoyed more.

Was online really the future of multiplayer gaming?

But the consoles wanted to copy the PC and have huge online battles of real thinking players networked from all over the world in massive strategic pitched battles, with each player sitting alone glued to his screen and talking over mics.

Yet online multiplayer is not the only way of the future.

Gaming is largely going back to the future with Microsoft and Sony so desperate to grab some of the success of the Wii and its at-home ‘play together’ fun focus with their upcoming Project Natal and motion controller ‘Arc‘.

Online gaming has become a mixed experience with lack of local servers affecting gaming here in Oz and elsewhere, trying to find a game to join sometimes a challenge, unpoliced inappropriate activities that alienate many, gamers flocking only to certain games (making all the efforts of some developers on a multiplayer component a complete waste of time), overly competitive and intense teamwork-focused gaming, and games that deter new gamers while rewarding experienced ones.

Online-only games don’t seem to be the holy grail either.

What happened to the console-based MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online) that were announced or released over the last several years? These are games very popular on PC that you can’t play without going online.

The console MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) have been cancelled or delayed indefinitely. I believe that with the exception of Final Fantasy XI on 360 there have been none so far this gen.  Age of Conan, Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, APB…all missing or with release dates off into the TBA future. That shows that online-only gaming isn’t seen as viable or popular enough for most console gamers, or very very hard to produce for consoles.

There are a few games that are multiplayer-only like SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs: Confrontation for the PS3 which is a game without a single player aspect at all. It started plagued with problems and wasn’t nearly as popular as the earlier SOCOM single player games were.

For the 360 the online-only shooter Shadowrun failed to make a significant impact.

Even the recently released much publicised online-only shooter MAG for PS3, allowing 256 gamers to play at once, isn’t apparently setting the world on fire, with Modern Warfare 2 still king of online gaming.  This article by collegenews.com argues that MAG is a mostly good underrated game hurt by hype, but admits:

“MAG will not be for everyone. It’s not very friendly to casual gamers, due to its restrictive faction system, class customization and inflexible demand for teamwork and coordination. There are also balance issues and glitches that will hopefully be addressed by patches. Finally, the controls, admittedly, could have definitely been designed better.”

That lack of comfortable accessibility is the problem with online multi.  It can be intimidating and discouraging.  Playing at home with people you know with computer-controlled bots isn’t going to intimidate even non-gamers much and you can always find a game as long as you have people around to play with.  If you have bots, you don’t even need anyone else.

I am not saying that online multiplayer is bad; I’ve had good and bad experiences playing online.

I am saying that I and it seems most gamers still demand good single player experiences first; more than that- I believe many gamers would welcome the return to popularity of local multiplayer and bots. Keep online multi, but don’t abandon offline and bots. The people who want bots can play with them and the people who don’t like them don’t have to use them.

Are Bots still relevant and fun today?

Bots have already been recently used in games like Left 4 Dead 1 & 2 with great success. The zombies that you are killing are basically bots walking around trying to get you and your team.

They are not intelligent (except the online human inhabited variety) but are used in large numbers which makes them a challenge to defeat adding to the fun factor of the game.  Still, offline multi is limited to 2 player co-op on one console.

Some people have a problem with bots. They say that bots are too stupid and are predictable which makes the gameplay worse. I agree somewhat but there is a way of using bots as enemies that can still make the game enjoyable. For example in past games with bots you could raise the difficulty of the bot or you could, in some older games like James Bond: 007 Nightfire, make the bots have more health or be more strategic.

Or you could make the bots stupid and easy to kill but have hundreds of them, like in Gears of War 2‘s horde mode where huge numbers of moderately strategic bots attack you and you have to try to fight them off. Call of Duty: World At War‘s zombie mode does this with even stupider bots but lots of them and it’s great fun, though again with only 2 players offline on one console.

I was disappointed when I found out that James Bond: Quantum of Solace didn’t have bots or split screen in its multiplayer, especially since every Bond game since the N64’s Goldeneye had split-screen.

When TimeSplitters 4 was announced I was very excited because if a TimeSplitters game didn’t have bots or local multiplayer it would fail- it was the best bot-based offline multiplayer game I’ve played and that was its strength.  But then trouble hit the developers in 2008, and who knows if we’ll see it ever get released.

I am not the only one who wants bots brought back. A poll on the Battlefield Bad Company 2 forums show that 81% of people who took the poll want bots back .

Bots are needed in games to make multi more enjoyable, whether they are weak but in large numbers or smart and can adapt to your every move (like the enemies in most single player campaigns). They need to be brought back by gamemakers so gamers online or off have more options to play, no matter how many others are available.

I may now be going back to my Xbox 360 to play single-player-only Mass Effect 2, but after that I’ll be sure to gather some family and play the old James Bond: Nightfire on our Gamecube or Wii.  In the end, old game or new, it’s about fun.  And bots are still fun.

Bring Back the Bots!

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©2010 Alex Hilton



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About Allegionary (28 Articles)
I love playing video games a lot. I currently own a laptop, an Xbox 360, a Nintendo DS and an iPod touch. I play all of these consoles and enjoy them all because of the diversity in them. I play my laptop for strategy games, my Xbox 360 for most genres, my DS for Pokemon (not much else on the DS), and my iPod for the simple yet addictive mini-games. I also develop Android Apps. I have just started development and I am well on my way to fame and fortune (I hope) with the release of my first app. More details can be found at my blog: http://legionaryproductions.wordpress.com/ My favourite games are Warcraft III, League of Legends, Mass Effect 1 and 2, the Pokemon games and the Elder Scrolls series. I also enjoy shooters like Halo and the earlier Call of Duty games (before COD 5). I also enjoy playing Hockey, reading a good book and watching movies and TV shows. One of my favourite book series is Rangers Apprentice and my favourite movies are the Star Wars movies (as shown by my profile picture) and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

16 Comments on Bring Back the Bots!

  1. Great article….and still authors don´t respect us, who want good old days fun with bots and be possible doing splitscreen…what shame…I am now force to play old Playstation 2 games like Midnight Club-Dub Edition, James Bond-Nightfire, Burnout Revenge and SSX On Tour and quite few others becuase lack of splitscreen/bots or it is missing one of these things
    It would best if it would be like in Call of Duty-Black Ops – it has bots, it has splitscreen, it has splitscreen in online…not like Killzone 3, where you have splitscreen only for one mode and you can´t do splitscreen in competitive mode or in online

    • And maybe there is one thing what authors don´t realise-what happen when servers for that game will shutdown? Atleast on console (and there wouldn´t no possible to fix by fan action?)?Then all current Playstation without splitscreen become only singleplayer games! And they will be very easily forget (you can always return to game, which have splitscreen with your friend/or play with bots, but singleplayer story you usually play one time (if there aren´t alternative endings) and then you move to another and there are quite handfull of other new releases of singleplayer games, which are taking pace of older singleplayers titles

  2. I’m active duty Air Force and I’m deployed right now. I had my wife send me my xbox and bought Medal of Honor and Black ops. They are now reduced to $60 paper weights because of the lack of offline multiplayer with bots. What a joke. The people doing the real versions of the game can’t take time to unwind and boost their morale. Thanks alot for nothing

    • Hey, Black Ops does have bots. The way they did it is really Stupid! but first your black ops has had to been online at least once (for the updates) then you go to multiplayer > local > split screen > game mode (pick either free for all or team death match) then go to game options, for tdm select enemys for how many bots on the other team and friends for how many aliied bots, for ffa pick how many enemys you want then the last one is for the difficulty. pick your map and your ready to play bots!

  3. Well said! I am a HUGE fan of bots. I do play online but sometimes i just want to chill offline without being annoyed by other humans. You’re right about them being basically extinct though. We’ll have them in next year’s Brink and possibly Killzone 3, but those are the only ones I know of.

    To this day some of my favourite games are UT 3, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, both Killzones, Timesplitters series, Shadowrun etc….

    • I really cannot believe that the new 007 Goldeneye for the Wii will have NO BOT SUPPORT.

      Jesus, I know the original didn’t have bots but Perfect Dark did, which was also made by RARE and in this day and age, there is no excuse for having no bot support.

      Christ, if a free 50mb game like Assault Cube can have bots then anything less from a payed for game is a VERY poor offering.

      No Bots = NO SALE.

  4. I accidentally stumbled here but it’s a great article. One thing though: you are talking almost exclusively about action games. I’m also let down how so few racing games offer bots in split-screen games. Ever since Crash Team Racing there hasn’t been a similiar experience. Flatout would have been so much better with bots in split screen.

    In a perfect world every multiplayer game would have bots, and in every multiplayer game the maximal number of split screen players would be 4. These were the biggest things I expected to happen when this generation consoles were released. PDZ was a great starter. Sadly the opposite happened and both split screen and bots are a dying market. Killzone2 and Gears of War 2 show there’s hope though

  5. Yes, I agree. i would love to play the modern warfare games with bots. No cheaters, glitchers, or little 11 yr old kids who are so amazing its pathetic or wine in the mic the entire match. Not to mention the people who play lound music in the mic while your trying to listen to your team. I miss the old days when me and my friends would team up against the bots, or maybe just playing the game by myself with AI allies. I loved Timesplitters and all fps & 3rdps need to have these options.

  6. Great timing on the article… Considering that M$ has just announced Perfect Dark for XBLA in March… whilst split screen has been confirmed no word on bots… but they said that the ported all the multiplayer aspects over so chances are good. I will look forward to looking back.

  7. I agree with the article, I miss the old games that can be play mostly with Bots. One of the reason I brought UT3 was because it had Bots. A lot of the times its easier to play with Bots since there is less pressure to cheat/glitch/exploit to win, and to gloat/rage.

    Also, in a lot of multiplayer games human opponents/team mates can be as dumb or even dumber than Bots. Maybe they don’t suck and are just having a bad day or something, but the argument that offline Bot games is more simplistic than online multiplayer is wrong. It can be better, and it can be worse, and so in the end they are both of the same quality (neither better or worse). Offline Bot play is not always repetitive, even if a single Bot always do the same thing in the same situation, every instance a lot of Bots is placed together for a long time, they will act out very differently as a group.

    I think a major reason why devs don’t make Bots anymore is because they are hard to make. In the past, simple netcode might be harder to make than simple Bot code. But now, complex netcode might be easier to make than complex Bot code, especially if we compare AI learning verses p2p netcode.

    I’m suprise a console website would hold such an argument, more often I would expect it to be run by the MW2 e-peen extending crowd. Guess there is some points we can agree on.

  8. absolutely!
    i remember playing skirmish in killzone with my cuz every time he came over, best fun ive ever had!
    i wish more games had that, and more games had local or splitscreen co-op.
    but if your going to do splitscreen make sure its using the tech lego indiana jones uses, where if you and your mate are close its 1 screen but if your far away it divides into 2.
    that was pure genius!
    nothing pisses me off more than when i look at a game and it supports online co-op but not local.
    WTF?
    arent we allowed to invite friends over for some alien killing anymore?

  9. Come on, how can you be a game journalist and not mention the only high profile FPS with bots in deathmatch multiplayer. Killzone 2 has offered this for the last year.

  10. Great article. I absolutely loved Timesplitters because of the Bots and the sheer number of ways you could customize them. I’m not a big fan of online multi because I’m admittedly not that good nor dedicated enough to get better. I like a quick blast and Bots fill this void perfectly. The only FPS i currently own is Killzone 2 for this very reason. Bots on Killzone are great fun. I set up Warzone matches with me versus 16 Bots and try like mad to win. Or I team up with bots and play a completely different style.
    For the last two years I though I was the only one who still missed the good old days, but your poll shows me I’m not alone.
    Bring back the damn Bots!!

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