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Roundtable: How do you feel about AI partners in games? [roundtable]
Some months ago I replayed Resident Evil 5. I like the game but OOF is dealing with Sheva a nightmare. You have to constantly manage her items for her, and you both have those limited Resident Evil item slots so there is a lot of sharing, pushing items back and forth, etc. She gets herself into nasty situations way too easily, gets herself killed way too easily, honestly just a huge hassle to deal with her.

With that said, it at least feels like she is in the heat of the struggle with you. And she kills enemies... on occasion.

On the complete other side of that are games like God of War (2018) and The Last of Us 2, where you have a partner but you don't really have to manage them much, if at all. They're usually invincible or close to it, and in the case of The Last of Us 2, you are constantly scrapping for ammo while your partners have infinite ammo, which just feels... weird.

I was in a situation in TLOU 2 last night where I decided to hide and see what my partner could do on their own. It was basically them versus 5 people, and in this game 5 people who know where you are will generally kill you FAST. But my partner just stood out in the open shooting, getting shot, shooting, getting shot, shooting, getting shot. Over and over and over. Every once in a blue moon they would finally kill an enemy, I'd estimate after shooting at the enemy like 50 times or so. They got hit probably 100 times or something and didn't die, because they can't die. It just felt goofy. What even is their role at that point?

So are these our only two options? Managing bad AI partners that help a little but are a hassle to deal with, or having partners who are basically invincible superheroes with unlimited bags of ammo but don't actually help much? I'm probably forgetting about some other games that do things better in between these two, but what do you think? What kind of AI partners do you like the best? What games have you played with the best AI partners?

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10/06/22, 02:21    Edited: 10/06/22, 02:23
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I remember RE5 being a nightmare to try to play without a human co-op partner, for sure! It reminded me a little bit of the old Natalya days in 007, lol. Not QUITE that bad (Hey Natalya could you not run directly into where I'm shooti- Oh. Well maybe next time...) but still.

I'm trying to think of any games that I've enjoyed the AI partner, and nothing springs to mind. I'm sure others can come up with some. Would Pikmin count? I like Pikmin. I tell them what to do, and they are reasonably competent and when they die I feel like it is my fault not theirs.
10/06/22, 04:32   
Edited: 10/06/22, 04:41
RE5 is a nightmare, but never in a good way, and part of that is definitely the AI partner. Don't have much more to add to what's already been said, but babysitting Sheva feels worse than babysitting Ashley in RE4. I actually don't mind Ashley at all. She does what she's meant to do.

The Left 4 Dead games do AI partners right, though, I think. I suppose the relative simplicity of the tasks that they need to perform contribute to that, but still, they work really well. They can get themselves in trouble, but only to the point where it feels natural and organic, and not as a constant risk due to wonky priorities or pathfinding, and they do a farily good job of taking initiative when needed. They can pull their own weight and get you out of trouble, but they can also find themselves overrun or accidentally run into a witch now and then. Valve struck a good balance, I think.

The only thing I don't like about the AI partners is that they never get any throwables, presumably because the devs couldn't trust them to not screw things up horribly. Other than that I think they're pretty great.
10/06/22, 18:40   
Edited: 10/06/22, 19:42
I like Ashley in RE4. I felt the challenge from protecting her was reasonable, and I enjoyed the mechanics involved in doing so. For instance, most enemies will pick her up and take her (somewhat slowly) to the exit, and you're alerted of when this is happening, so it's fun to quickly find the kidnapper and pop him before it's too late. Or you could have her hide in certain areas as well. By and large, the level design worked with the mechanics to make a series of escort missions that were fun.

Elizabeth in Bioshock was pretty good too; she was essentially invincible and would throw you ammo and goodies at points.
10/06/22, 19:37   
Cant remember playing any games that revolved around AI partners. I didn't play ICO because I watched my siblings play it. Twice. For the most part i can remember games that had small parts with AI like Cave Story and Kid Icarus Uprising.
10/08/22, 00:54   
Mostly annoying. Like Natalya in GoldenEye. But tolerable, when the game just makes the partners invulnerable, or whatever.

ICO is an example where the AI's vulnerability actually worked in the game's favor. But I'm sure it would've been irritating if they died easily.

In general, though, I do like stakes and constraints. So, like everything else, it all comes down to balance and execution.

Now that I'm reading the rest of the thread, you guys gave the same examples, haha.

Star Fox had an interesting, heavily scripted implementation. Along with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

Shooters are always dicey. How much agency do you give the squadmates? Can they fire the decisive shots? Would the player even want them to? In EDF, they're just chaff, haha.
10/08/22, 01:17   
Edited: 10/08/22, 01:20
I felt Ashley was fine in Resident Evil 4. Though she straddles the line between AI partner and the "Escort Mission" but she somehow is not annoying in either role. Well done, Capcom.

Speaking of which, the partners in Resident Evil Revelations never bothered me, either. I don't remember if they were invincible or not, or if they helped much during battle. But I felt they never got in the way or took up my ammo or health items. So...no harm, no foul?


In regards to Starfox, are you talking about say, the SNES or N64 games? Or how they behaved in Assault? I felt they were somewhat helpful on SNES and N64. Occasionally taking out enemies, giving you items, and even cluing you in on how to access secret exits and such. Plus Slippy would "analyze enemy shields" and whatnot, so they at least had purpose. But on GCN? I mean, I guess they occasionally took out an enemy or two? But most of the time they just needed me to shoot the enemy behind them to save their furry (and feathery) butts...and that's...not good.
10/11/22, 00:11   
I'm mostly familiar with 64, so that. I forgot about Assault. It's such an outlier. I can't even remember whether Command had AI allies.

10/11/22, 02:25   

Ah, gotcha. Yeah you’re right, they were absolutely heavily scripted in those games. Probably by necessity, considering the “always moving” aspect to the game design.

Command on DS *technically* has allies, but you manually control them, turn-based style.
10/11/22, 22:36   
Oh, yeah! On the tactical screen.

There's an indie procedurally-generated Star Fox clone, right? I'd like to see how they swing it. There are a lot of genres that could benefit from procedural generation. Like golf games. Or mini-golf games!
10/12/22, 03:15   
Edited: 10/12/22, 03:22
Not that I've played everything of course, but I've always hated them in any game so far. I'd much rather it be an actual multiplayer co-op game, and failing that, I at least want control over all characters involved. This is easily my biggest issue with the Xenoblade games, for example.
10/12/22, 22:03   
@Mop it up
If real multiplayer is not on the table, I like the idea of AI partners for action-based RPGs, because it's too fiddly to control multiple characters in real-time.

Actually, I might even prefer solo play in turn-based RPGs. I enjoyed the battle system in the original Dragon Quest, when it was just about one dude, getting stronger.

Final Fantasy XII's solution of programming the characters using parameters is a cool idea. I'm surprised that more games didn't run with that.
10/12/22, 22:57   
@Anand Yeah but... I'll die on this hill... Final Fantasy XII had the perfect (programmer) solution to this. Algorithms you could write for your AI partners! Who doesn't want to write algorithms in their RPGs?! I'm not totally sure locking code pieces into the skills upgrade webs was the best way to manage this but it worked, more or less.

Honestly surprised more developers haven't ripped that idea off since then. I'd love to see it in a shooter.

10/13/22, 02:56   
Edited: 10/13/22, 03:00
Yeah, that would be cool. Like, design the AI for an autonomous BattleBots thing. Virtual cockfight. The concept has always intrigued me. And it could apply to any genre. Even single-player stuff like a Mario game. Or Human Resource Machine!

Smash Bros., Shovel Knight 3DS, and Mario Tennis 3DS have something tangentially similar, but that's more like physically training your automaton.

I've never actually played FFXII, though.
10/13/22, 17:11   
@Anand As a programmer it was pretty cool to me, was never sure if non-programmers just found it needlessly complex or something though.

10/13/22, 20:10   
I only played Star Fox 64 for the first time recently, and I was really impressed by how it managed to do a linear "cinematic" story but without sacrificing the dynamism of a less scripted game. I can't think of any other games that attempt to do that.


I need to try XII!
10/13/22, 23:08   
I've always been curious about Final Fantasy XII, since I remember that when the first Xenoblade came out, a lot of people were comparing it to FF XII. I have it for Switch, just gotta find the time...

FF XIII has a much simplified take on that, and it stank.
10/13/22, 23:51   
To be fair like 90% of it still just came down to programming your characters to heal at the right time and not waste MP too much otherwise. But you probably COULD have programmed in some interesting stuff?!
10/14/22, 01:36   

I first beat that like 5 years ago. On a freaking PHONE EMULATOR. I probably deserve a Purple Heart medal for that.
10/14/22, 02:16   
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