TitanFall's Bots (And 4 of its Criticisms)
One of the most controversial addition to TitanFall are its bots. I've noticed criticism for their inclusion, but also some confusion about their role and how they are utilized. Further, they are also the source of deeper criticisms involving player count and Respawn's ability to design a game with good A.I.
I aim to look at four of these criticisms centered around the inclusion of bots, and try to clarify and justify their existence. Let's start:
1) The Bots Are Dumb
This is not technically false, but the impression it gives twists the purpose of bots to make TitanFall look bad. Anyone who has played TitanFall, or MOBAs immediately knows that if you are expecting bots to play as human clones, you're playing the game with the wrong expectation.
Bots aren't meant to be human players. They literally are fodder, meant to make the game seem more “full” and to act as an alternate strategy to gaining your Titan faster. One of the strategies that have developed in the beta, for example, is equipping a smart pistol to hunt down bots and greatly reduce the time it takes to get your Titan on the field (which of course, is the main staple to success).
There are two counter arguments here:
a) “Well, if you want to make the game full, why not just add more human players?”
b) "Why not just take the bots out?"
Let's look at (a) first:
This would actually make the game worse off. As it is now, titan fights add a whole chaotic element to the game. It's not uncommon to see four titans going at it, electric smoke screens choking out alleys, silos firing in all directions. The fact of the matter is that it really is hard to imagine the game adding more players, which would only result in more chaos. There is a flow to TitanFall's 6v6 multiplayer that just clicks. Could there have been a “Ground War” 9v9 or 12v12 mode? Sure, but considering the map design is meant for 6v6, and considering the sheer chaos of imagining more than 12 titans on the field, it's not hard to see how fundamentally different the game would be if it were any bigger. This idea that adding in more human players suddenly makes the game better not only overlooks the game's intent, but it also somehow assumes that this would not totally throw off the balance of how the game flows with Titan fights.
b) "Why not just take the bots out?"
One thing TitanFall does really well is that it simulates this idea of a meta-battle happening outside of the 6v6. It's not just the bots that help fulfill this. You hear chatter, you see action in the sky and background, you have a soundtrack that plays as if you are playing in a single player game, you have a much more involved voiceover giving you instructions, you have an epilogue that tries to give a fitting conclusion to your battle. Everything is intentionally done to give you a sense of warfare that is much bigger than it actually is. Some people will look at this negatively and point out that this is a mask to hide the reality of the game's 6v6 "limit". But the reality is, if you imagine the game without the bots, and without the chatter, without the voiceover, and without all the other things added to give you this sense of involvedness, you have a game that lacks the presentation and polish that Respawn have put into the game. Compare this to the likes of Call of Duty, where the game plays much more silently, and you can literally feel the difference. Where Call of Duty comes off as much more quiet, TitanFall adds an ebb, a narrative to the multiplayer. Some people will cynically look at this as a negative, but it simply cosmetically adds to the presentation of the game.
2) 6v6 is too limited/Bots Should Be Removed to Add More Player Count
In addition to the obvious chaos, I feel this criticism purposely shoves quantity as a factor in quality. This is simply not the case. A game isn't “next gen” just because it adds more players (Battlefield's console jump to 64 being the exception). There are usually two extremes to a multiplayer game: One where the player count is high (24-64), and one where the player count is low (4-12). One is not better than the other. They serve two different purposes. I've been able to enjoy 64 player Battlefield, and then have just as an amazing experience playing 4v4 Last of Us multiplayer, or 3v3 Team Tactical in Call of Duty 4.
The principle difference is that, in smaller game types, your actions have a much more direct consequence to the game. This is what makes games like Halo, Call of Duty, and Last of Us more impactful in terms of your actions and decisions than a game like MAG or Battlefield. There is a bigger emphasis in smaller player games of control and predictability, of understanding spawn points, and of outstepping your opponent's moves. And this is an important design decision that TitanFall needs to maintain.
TitanFall's 6v6 works, and it works well. Any more would tamper with the balance and mentality of smaller player games.
3) It's hard to find pilots/Bots outnumber the pilots/I Kill More Bots than Actual Players
This is just not true. With modes like hardpoint, the action intentionally flows in a manner where you expect firefights to happen against human opponents. In Attrition (TDM) Titan fights happen often enough, which is where you expect to find other pilots.
There is also this strange myth that you kill more bots than humans. While one can intentionally go out of their way to do this, bot kills aren't valued the same as pilot kills. People seem to suggest that getting more bot kills somehow proves the game is “empty” or unfulfilling (since you kill more dumb A.I than have any actual human interaction), but this is not the case. It's practically the case that most players ignore bots, unless they decide to intentionally farm them to reduce their Titan fall.
I can only make the analogy to MOBAs and DOTAs to show how misguided this argument is. While you can kill creeps in DOTA, nobody praises or values bot kills the same way they value killing a human player. Both games intentionally separate bot kills from human kills, and both use bots as an alternative (in DOTAs case, necessary) farming role. The ratio of bot kills and pilot kills do not prove any sort of flaw, no more than it does in a MOBA gam.
4) The Bots Should Be Smarter
The problem with this is that it would completely take away from the Pilot vs. Pilot interaction. To have bots that are capable of killing in a frequent enough manner would destroy the flow of the game. In addition, it would lead to much more complaints and frustrations where the game becomes too chaotic. You would lose the control and meta-game of outstepping and outthinking your opponent, as the focus would shift on dealing with lethal bots. This argument once again misunderstands and misconstrues the role of bots, assuming them to play more like Unreal Tournament A.I as opposed to the MOBA-styled A.I that TitanFall is aiming for.
If any criticism can be made, it's that bots animate really poorly. They literally have the most basic, archaic poses and animations, which is what really makes them seem off. It would have been nice to have more involved animations, but this cosmetic oversight is the only real problem I seem to have with bots.
What's My Point?
I wanted to make this blog because there seems to be a lot of confusion and false information about how the game is played. There also just seems to be negativity towards the game. Some of this is due to the hype behind the game, but I don't feel it's all that fair to completely crush the game under the weight put on it by the media, fans, and Microsoft (HAVE YOU SEEN TITANFALL!?)
The game isn't a revolution in gaming, but it also isn't so broken or mismanaged that it loses its purpose. It's a fun game, with flaws and potential. The bots seem to be the most controversial of its additions, and it's interesting to consider how they will shape the perception of the game, seeing that some blame the bots for a lack of a player count, or fault Respawn for poor incompetence in designing A.I.