Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Best Bot Match Games: Team Fortress 2 [POST UPDATED 9/24/16]

[POST UPDATED 9/24/16 - Updated version of TF2 and Standalone now available]

So I wanted to do something new with this blog. Up to this point it has been entirely about a certain popular FPS series but I'd like to change that. Being this community generally likes games involving bot match and A.I. skirmish modes, I thought I'd start a series of posts highlighting the best of every genre. If it is a game and it has an offline custom match mode against computer opponents (A.I.) and it happens to be an awesome game, I will try to mention it on this blog at some point. Games on my to-do list include Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising (2003), Company of Heroes (2006), and Sid Meier's Civilization V (2010).

But first I'd like to start with a game that is still firmly in the PvP FPS genre, Team Fortress 2.

A brilliant team-based shooter that is balanced, polished, and fun with a unique art style. Critics loved it, receiving a 92.60% from GameRankings, a 92 from Metacritic, and a 96.36% and 96 respectively as part of The Orange Box.

Talking about a Valve FPS game its hard not to draw comparisons to other games made by the same company, particularly Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Strictly in terms of competence of the A.I., Team Fortress 2 is much better. Both games share a similar A.I. framework that was designed specifically for Left 4 Dead (2008). This includes a very impressive navigation system that results in realistic and independent movements across map environments without the use of static waypoints.

Considering bot match was officially part of CSGO when it launched in 2012, it was surprising to see how unimpressive the A.I. bots were especially in comparison to previous efforts in Counter-Strike: Source (2004). And it was even more surprising to see how good the A.I. bots were in TF2 considering it was a feature added only to the PC version years after its original release and mostly kept under the radar. And reaching a high level of competence long before CSGO came out.

Well what makes a great bot match? There are 2 very important factors I consider:

1. The A.I.'s ability to utilize all of the mechanics in the game. This is something developers often skimp on. Lets look at CSGO as an example. When you first start up a bot match it becomes immediately clear what the biggest flaws in the A.I. are. First of all bots never buy on pistol round. Why? I'm not saying they need to always buy something, but a little touch such as occasionally buying on the first round goes a long way towards immersing the player and making it feel more like a match with real players. And this is sort of related to the next point.

2. The A.I.'s ability to be unpredictable, aka the randomness factor. As an A.I. coder, I understand the importance of making A.I. unpredictable. However it is also important to balance intelligence with randomness. A.I. that is too random is not intelligent and A.I. that is too logical is also too predictable. Finding a balance between those two aspects is how you make great A.I. bots. Going back to CSGO as an example, when the first round begins all of the bots run down the middle of the map every time. Why? Sure its probably the most logical course of action to check out the center of the map on the first round but when this happens at the beginning of every match it is incredibly predictable and ultimately boring. The bots become less predictable in subsequent rounds but it is still a big problem.

The A.I. bots in TF2 manage to avoid these glaring issues. Some of this is likely due to the inherent design of the game. There are 9 classes to choose from and each one has a distinct play style. So when A.I. is designed, it must be designed for each class. That fact coupled with random class selection leads to some of the most dynamic bot matches I have ever played. I've seen 3 pyro bots on one team roaming around like lunatics. I've seen 2 spies on one team relentlessly harass an engineer bot on the other team. The shear number of gameplay possibilities is staggering. I never get bored of playing with these bots. I just never know if my next match will be up against 2 snipers and 3 demomen or 3 engineers and 2 soldiers. Both scenarios will lead to a completely different outcome.

TF2 bots only use the default loadout. Being this is most reminiscent of the game when it came out in 2007 its perfectly fine. For people who prefer "Team Fortress 2 Classic" this is the full experience. TF2 bots use all of the weapons that originally shipped with the game and the wide variety of tactics they use result in some very interesting matches.

You can download the latest version of Team Fortress 2 from Steam:

Here is a repack of Team Fortress 2 Standalone (3.21 GB):

Here is a repack of The Orange Box (7.03 GB):

Please let me know what you guys think! Would you like to see more posts like this in the future?