Never Make The Enemy Too Good

Doom 3 is out. Some have complained that, eye candy aside, it still is the same old, same old when it comes to gameplay and game intelligence.

This points out one of the limitations of PC gaming (or at least popular PC gaming), one of its unwritten, unspoken laws:

Never make the enemy too good.

After all, these games are meant to provide entertainment to people, and for most, entertainment means winning, at least eventually. No computer-generated enemy, no matter how brilliant, ever bought a game, and only masochists pay to get their asses whipped.

Let’s say Software Company X decides they’re going to make a really challenging shoot-em-up game. Who should they ask? How about people who do real shoot-em-ups all the time? Like the Pentagon.

If that ever happened, what would you end up with?

You would end up with the best game never played. Nobody would buy the game because it would be too hard too long for the average buyer.

The reality is the average gamer opens up a game and says to himself, “I have a gun, let’s fight!” This is really not the best way to go about it, at least not in real life against trained, seasoned professionals.

Nor is it too likely that the average gamer is going to start picking up books on military tactics to improve his or her game.

Yes, it is possible given enough effort and experience and trial-and-error to gain such an education the hard way, and the green gamer has a huge advantage over the green soldier is that he “dies” rather than DIES, and there will be a few who will manage to do that.

But just a few, a tiny fraction of the total participants. Why, yes, a few will spend close to every waking hour honing their skills, but if your game requires that level of dedication, your game is DOA in the sales department.

Yes, once it became technically possible, gaming has very quickly gone online and groups now compete against each other.

While that might be more challenging than fighting simplistically programmed ghouls and goblins, just how good is the new “enemy” likely to be compared to real, professional troops? You basically have a fight between two groups of people saying, “We have guns, let’s fight!” It’s virtual competition between virtual street gangs with virtual heavier weapons.

(I suppose that’s a better way for young men to let off steam than real competition between real street gangs using real weapons, but that doesn’t raise the level of competency.)

I think it would be a very interesting exercise to have a platoon of military personnel, who, shall we say, have been getting a lot of experience in fighting and guerilla tactics lately, form a clan and go at it.

I think that once such a group became seasoned a bit in a game (learning in particular the peculiarly limited laws of that particular universe), they’d wipe the floor with the opposition, simply because of their tactical training and discipline.

(Frankly, it’s hard for me to believe that this hasn’t already been tried, and if you happen to know about a case of this, please write me about it.)

This would probably be just as true to any other type of competitive game.

So when you hear complaints about the low level of virtual or even literal competition in PC gaming, it’s not just a matter of technical limitation; it’s also audience limitations, too.


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