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Graphics got their upgrade, what about the AI? 
Posted on August 16, 2011 at 07:08 PM.
Everybody has their own idea of how to make the best video game possible. I’ll admit, I think I have the best and only ideas for the best football game ever (kidding, of course!) But, we need to look at games nowadays and ask ourselves, are we getting what we paid for?

Take for instance, NCAA Football ’12, which has many promising features, but those selling points are largely flawed with bugs and glitches. But, what happens if a series takes a year to work strictly on AI?

Sure it’s not the sexy thing to sell, but imagine for a moment, if you will, that your main selling point was, “an AI that truly adapts to your playcalling and on-field actions.” Would you be willing to allow the developer to skip a year to achieve this? Would you be willing to sacrifice new features to have a better AI?

For me, that’s a resounding YES! We are speaking hypothetically here, because we all know EA, 2K Sports nor SCEA would do this, because too much money would be lost. But, think of the possibilities!

As we know, AI is only has good as its programmers. Some games, such as SCEA’s MLB: The Show series implement a good AI. Meanwhile, others like Madden and NCAA Football series’ offer mediocre AI. In order to combat this, developers gave the consumer “sliders” so they could help or hinder various parts of the game to allow the end user more enjoyment. Thank goodness for this, as it has enable gamers to create their own experience.

However, that shouldn’t come at the expense of fine tuning the game. Sliders should be slightly tweaked here and there to get results that the end user enjoys, which for most people is realistic statistics and players playing to their ratings. It’s impossible for developers to create a game that adheres to each person’s individual play style, but alas, good AI should make the game enjoyable at any level.

To me, good AI in a football means calling the correct play given the context of down and distance, score, players on the field, coaching style, etc. For many years, teams from the EA NCAA Football series all played basically the same way, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses. So what did EA do? They classified each team with a specific play style and gave them a playbook that coincided that they particular system. For instance, the spread offense has become a staple of the college football within the past decade. As a result, EA made labeled teams with offenses such as Spread, Run and Gun, Air Raid, Pro, One Back, etc. This allowed the developers to give each team an identity.

However, teams are still too similar, even with the identities given to them. This is because that while they changed the way teams look, they never changed the way they “thought.” The underlying goal of scoring a TD remains the same for each team for sure, but, many teams resort to old tricks when they get into a certain down and distance situation.
For instance, in the red zone with a spread offense featuring a weak HB and a great QB/WR tandem, more times than not that QB is passing not handing the ball off. However, in the past few iterations of the game, offenses resort to known ways to get into the endzone and that’s by running the ball being that close, even if it goes against their given play style.

Upgrading the AI, would clearly take care of this situation because it would account for the how offenses score the majority of their points. Instead, we are given a watered-down version of an offense that reverts to its “pre-classified offense type” days to score.

NCAA Football’s AI needs help in the worst way. There are plays in the playbook that have no business being there as they are automatic losses in yards. That all comes back to the AI, an adaptive AI sees a play isn’t working and takes steps NOT to call that play again. Sure, you can take plays out of the playbook so the CPU won’t use them, but that’s not on me to figure that out. I already worked for the $60 to pay for the “privilege,” I shouldn’t have to figure out workarounds to enjoy the game.

I use “Ask Coach” to call my plays, which helps vary my play calling and speed up the game, but oftentimes, “Coach” calls the same plays over and over again, which defeats the purpose of using this feature. This all comes back to polishing the game, and the AI is a BIG part of that.

I can equate this to first-person shooters. Take for instance, an enemy ducks behind cover to avoid your fire (good strategy). However, they then stand up and immediately start shooting in the opposite direction of you. (Think of the safety running laps around the WR on a long throw and the WR rocket catches it and is immediately tackled, because the Safety “found” him)

I remember playing the first FEAR game and I was mesmerized by the AI. They forced me to think because I was outnumbered and they would use covering fire to try to flank me. That was the first time I ever thought, “Now that’s a smart AI!”

AI is the probably the single biggest “feature” developers can offer its customers, unfortunately it’s often the most overlooked portion of the game. Most consumers are more interested in graphics, presentation, 3D grass and whether players have dreadlocks, but don’t you play the game because you enjoy the actual sport, not because there’s a fancy wipe or bowl patches? Those should be complementary to what is offered on the field, not in place of it.

I’m not saying NCAA Football’s AI is completely broken, but it is certainly outdated and needs major revamping. WRs and DBs should fight for the ball and not get stuck in animations. DL should use their full repertoire of moves. HBs should identify holes and openings and run to daylight. Do all of these happen from time to time? Yes! But, they don’t happen nearly enough for EA to boast, “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game.”
# 1 RUFFNREADY @ Aug 16
Great write up. I am with you on everything you wrote, and really feel that we are not getting what we paid for, and i have said this for years. What kinda product do you have after the glits and glamour? Not a lot; as i am starting to get bored with NCAA12 because of the bugs and glitches the game plays with; so instead of getting mad at the game i play something else to get my mind off of the ridiculous AI movements and decisions. I would, and i would speak on behalf of the hardcore football gamers, would gladly take a year off to have the dev teams incorporate a better AI into the game we love to play; but like you stated "EA" wont allow that to happen because of the revenue lost. So i guess that's why they have this three year plan. I really do have a problem with that though; if its a 3yrs plan, and the product wont be complete until then; why are they still charging us full price ($60-$70) for an incomplete product? i wish someone from EASports would answer that honestly.
As i stated, this was a great topic, and i am on board with everything you stated @jkra0512.
# 2 jkra0512 @ Aug 16
Well thank you for the kind words. I'm afraid sports games are being marketing more toward the casual crowd than the hardcore fans like us. It's unfortunate, but companies see $$$ and sexy features like 3D grass and dreadlocks are more important because to the typical person who buys this game, that's what they will see.

Hardcore gamers rather have great AI that gives them a challenge . Although 3D grass and dreadlocks are nice, they don't make the game.

EA and other companies are into this three- year plan stuff and that didn't work out so well for Madden, did it? The series is plagued by the same faulty AI, bugs and glitches.

It is going to take hardcore gamers who feel the same way to walk away from the series and spend their hard-earned money elsewhere before these companies get the hint that what they are selling isn't good enough.
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