You would think that, wouldn't you
Until humanity devises a way to build the lifelike robot version of a young Haley Joel Osment, artificial intelligence will always be a work in progress. I'm no programmer, so I can't speak to the complexities of making a machine act like a real person, or seemingly take up an agenda of its own. But I do know a thing or two about what makes for a good gameplay experience - which AI behavior can make or break, given the crucial role it plays in believability of the world and enjoyment of the combat. But too often, some form of decidedly less-advanced AI rears its ugly NPC face to ruin everyone's fun with positively inhuman or insane behaviors.
Certain kinds of wonky AI seem to crop up all over the gaming ecosystem, across all kinds of genres and generations. But these nine AI archetypes are so common, you'd think their faulty algorithms would've been worked out by now. Let's take a look at some of the stupidest types of game AI to ever rip us out of any immersion like a [humorous metaphor] [sentence punctuation] [continue to next slide]
The Thickheaded Teammate
They say it's dangerous to go alone - but forcing you to buddy up with a Thickheaded Teammate is more hazardous to your health than solitude ever could be. With their endless parade of flagrant idiocy, you'd think that they were a double agent, set up as part of your squad to sabotage your efforts at every turn. When they're not shooting you in the back of the head, they're stepping in your line of fire. Giving them a health item means they'll either waste it on the most minor wounds imaginable, or completely forget they have it when they're fatally bleeding out. As you watch in disbelief while your Thickheaded Teammate struggles to navigate stairs or bypass an open door, you'll suddenly find yourself testing the game's capacity for friendly fire.
As seen in: Resident Evil 5, Halo: Combat Evolved
The Helpless Companion
It's a wonder that the Helpless Companion can wipe their own butt without your step-by-step assistance. Rescuing someone from a deadly situation isn't supposed to be easy, but the Helpless Companion seems determined to get the both of you killed on account of their ineptitude. Instead of running away from danger, they either sprint towards it with open arms or stand perfectly still, neither of which is super helpful when your success depends on their survival. The Helpless Companion is the type who would run headlong into a burning building - not in an attempt to rescue anyone inside, just out of sheer confusion. Maybe it'd be best if you just 'forgot' to rescue them this time.
As seen in: Ico, Dead Rising
The Blatant Cheater
Is it clairvoyance? The ability to calculate every possible outcome and thus see into the future? No! It's just the game bending the rules to its advantage, leaving you hopelessly frustrated in the process. The Blatant Cheater seems to think that neck-and-neck competition is the only thing that makes gaming worthwhile, and if your skills are upsetting that balance, then you deserve to be punished. Their methods are many: conjuring up the exact item that ruins you, reading your button inputs, exploiting limitless resources, and so on. But the end result is always the same: you, the player, questioning what you're doing with your life, because the computer seems to be scornfully orchestrating your every loss.
As seen in: Mario Kart, Mortal Kombat
The Tireless Worker
Give the Tireless Worker a task, and they'll do everything they can to please you. They've got no problem constructing buildings or gathering resources for five days straight, just to see their job through to the end. But once that job's complete, they become utterly useless. Without some kind of constant directive telling them what to do, Tireless Workers are content to simply stand in place until death or a new assignment, whichever comes first. The only outside influence that can jolt them out of an unproductive stupor is getting caught in the line of fire - a hazard that they seem to forget all about after running roughly 20 feet.
As seen in: StarCraft, Command & Conquer
The Unthinking Drone
Yes, this design is often integral to old-school gameplay, but it's such an existentially terrifying notion that I never want to see it again. The Unthinking Drone lives a tragic, typically brief life, as it cannot deviate from a set of basic directives. If you are to walk forward, then you walk forward - even if that means marching trance-like into a bottomless pit, or staring directly at the gun that's about to blow your brains out. Has the Unthinking Drone's free will been suppressed by Nineteen Eighty-Four-style indoctrination? Or does it internally scream out in an attempt to command its unresponsive body?
As seen in: Super Mario Bros., Mega Man
The Armed Compass
No matter where you are in the world, a properly functioning compass will always point north. The guns held by Armed Compass soldiers work in much the same way: no matter where you are on the map, their barrels will always be pointed directly at you. If you reveal so much as an errant nose hair from behind cover, the Armed Compass will immediately and continuously unload clip after clip in your direction, no matter the range or visibility. That's about all they're capable of, though. Things like flanking your position, calling for backup, moving away from a live frag grenade at their feet, or backpedaling when you charge at them with a knife in hand are all actions that seem to elude the Armed Compass.
As seen in: Titanfall, Battlefield 3
The Superhuman Aide
Sometime in the past decade, developers realized how infuriating it is to get a Game Over just because your Helpless Companion teammate bit the dust. So why not go the other direction and make your plot-centric companion nigh-invincible? The problem is that believability kinda takes a hit when your partner can soak up bullets like a Kevlar-brand ShamWow, or skips daintily in front of enemy's faces without ever getting their attention. You're the hero of this game, so the Superhuman Aide can't move the action forward without you. But given their incredible abilities and borderline immortality, it seems like they're far more deserving of the spotlight than your sorry, Medkit-needing ass.
As seen in: Half-Life 2, The Last of Us
The Abnormal Citizen
As you go about your day-to-day life, you typically don't see many people standing on chairs, walking into walls, rotating in place, or synchronizing their movements with those of a stranger for no apparent reason. But in the virtual world, such bizarre, inexplicable activities are commonplace, all thanks to Abnormal Citizens. They go about their daily routines like any normal person might, making sure to spout the appropriate lines whenever you walk by and/or threaten their lives. But leave them to their own devices, and you'll quickly realize that the Abnormal Citizen has a very limited grasp on spatial awareness or social norms. Then again, you seem to be the only one who thinks what they're doing is weird - so maybe you're the one with a problem.
As seen in: Assassin's Creed, Fallout
The Slow Learner
If your comrade enters a room only to be immediately gunned down, our basic instincts for self-preservation tell us that following him is probably a bad idea. But the Slow Learner approaches that same situation a bit differently. Watching as their ally takes a shotgun blast to the skull directly in front of them isn't a sign of impending doom - it's an invitation to step right up, now that it's finally their turn to waltz through the door. It doesn't matter if they have to step over a steadily growing pile of allied corpses. The Slow Learner has to see what all the commotion is about with their own two eyes, before a bullet is inevitably lodged between them.
As seen in: Bulletstorm, GoldenEye 007
Nope, nothin' wrong here!
What's the most annoying AI archetype you're sick of seeing? Any particularly good stories of allied NPCs driving the both of you off a cliff, or enemies who can't seem to see what's directly in front of them? Share and share alike in the comments below!