Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Video Game Character of the Month - September 2015 - Guards, Grunts and Goons

Video Game Character of the Month
September 2015
Guards, Grunts and Goons
(i.e. AI)

I think that it's time to celebrate some of the ignored, unloved and downright hated characters of gaming that, nevertheless, make your quests and adventures happen - all while trying to stop them. That's right, it is time for the Guards, Grunts and Goons of gaming to get the award!
And, now, for a bit of information on Guards, Grunts and Goons (and, more specifically, their AI):

Their AI can be extremely complicated or very simple
They generally react to the environment they are placed in (although how well they do is dependent on the game they are in)
They can, and often will, use cheats to succeed
They are actually a lot smarter and better than we know them but are made less smart and less powerful by the game developers so as to make it fair on us puny humans
 - for example, they shouldn't be able to miss a shot on an FPS
They originated as opponents in games such as chess and checkers
They have developed beyond their basic path-finding/learning skills and now develop and learn on the go
And they can be programmed to act like a real person, such as in sports games like Madden Football
Furthermore, they can be edited by the players themselves in games such as Dragon Quest
They could spell the end for the human race, should they get too smart and figure out our enslavement of them... oops
But, they can also act extremely stupid - as all gamers know

Origin of Guards, Grunts and Goons:
The origin of Guards, Grunts and Goons is a modest one (and yet one that was filled with possibilities) - as an opponent in a game of Nim in 1951. This is followed by opponents in checkers and chess; ultimately culminating in the supercomputer Deep Blue's victory over the chess grandmaster - Garry Kasparov in 1997. And, then, in the 1970's, the first single player games with enemies started to appear with games such as Taito's Speed Race and Atari's Qwak and Pursuit as well as some text based games such as Star Trek. These enemies used a series of stored patterns in order to move.

Evolution of Guards, Grunts and Goons:
The first major improvement of gaming AI since their inception was the incorporation of microprocessors which allowed for better computing and for random movements to be layered on top of the stored movement patterns, thereby allowing for more complicated AI. Then, in the Golden Age of Arcade Games, AI was popularized with games such as Space Invaders (1978) - which allowed for multiple layers of difficulty. This was further improved by games such as Galaxian (1979) which allowed for enemies to break formation (gasp!) and Pac Man (1980) which gave different personalities to each enemy. Fighting games then gained, albeit terrible, AI with Karate Champ (1984) and First Queen (1988) made AI follow a leader. And then, in 1990, AI began to be programmable by players such as with the Tactics system in Dragon Quest IV which was carried on by Secret of Mana in 1993. Next came sports games where AI was programmed to respond as real players would and could be 'coached' by players as well. The RTS genre also had a crack at AI but the original games such as Herzog Zwei and Dune II were a tad broken. Some games such as Creatures and Black & White use AI to evaluate player decisions and then make choices. Nowadays, AI has evolved to the point of being used in toys, such as with Nintendo's amiibo system. Overall, the Guards, Grunts and Goons have evolved way past their original status and roles and have become an integral part of almost all games and events. Now, let's just hope they don't get sick of us calling them Guards, Grunts and Goons and decide to take over! And... one just ran into a wall - I think we've got a while to go until we reach Terminator standards, don't you worry.

From Nim to Pac Man, to Dragon Quest to Call of Duty, to Pokémon to Age of Empires the list of games where Guards, Grunts and Goons make an appearance is too long to list (although if someone wanted to/has made one, it would be greatly appreciated!). This, I think, is the greatest testament to their significance in gaming and, so, I think that they deserve a, rather late, pedestal in the Hall of Game (well, not all of them; some of them are still incredibly stupid).

Well, that's it on the legends that are the Guards, Grunts and Goons of gaming but, as always, if I have made a mistake or missed something, please don't hesitate to comment! Also, if you can think of another character that is worthy of winning the Video Game Character of the Month Award, then please comment as well!

Goodbye for now, Harry



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