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John B avatar 10:20 PM on 04.05.2011  (server time)
Whither The LAN And The Bots?

For more than ten years, some friends of mine and I have gotten together every Friday night – as much as the Internet allows – to do some first-person gaming. We’ve reached a point where if we don’t have our gaming sessions on Friday nights, the night feels odd. Even our wives know that Friday night is our gaming and we’re not to be disturbed. (We’re married and have kids, so we have no idea what a weekend social life is anyway.) Thanks to Hamachi and Ventrilo, one of us plays as the server (usually me because my PC is the beefiest and I have a symmetrical 25Mb Verizon FiOS connection) and we play as a LAN game.

Unfortunately, we’ve been restricted with respect to the selection of games that we want to play. In this world where human-versus-human multiplayer is the de facto standard, we find that more and more game developers are opting to remove the venerable bot.

To the unknowing, a “bot” is nothing more than a computer-controlled AI character, exactly like those would would otherwise find within the single-player campaign of most first-person shooters. The main difference is that bots are used to fill in the missing members of a multiplayer team. They can fight with you, against you, or even against each other depending on what team they’re on.

Unfortunately, the majority of modern first-person shooters, especially tactical shooters, have dropped bots entirely in favor of forcing human-versus-human multiplayer. We always play in co-op assault mode with the three of us against an AI army. As a result, we’re forced to stick with the aged Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six Vegas, and Rainbow Six Vegas 2, with the first-generation Rainbow Six series relegated to history.

These are by no means bad games; however, after more than ten years of being restricted to the same few games running a “terrorist hunt” mode, we often find ourselves looking for a new game to satiate our desire for some co-op gameplay against an articficial enemy. Although a lot of those games to exist, most tend to bring on motion sickness, as happens to one of my friends if we try something like Unreal Tournament 3 or the Star Wars: Battlefront series.

Where have the co-op bots gone?

One of the excuses that I often hear for their disappearance is that it’s very difficult to program bots. I find that difficult to believe because that’s exactly what is happening during a single-player campaign, except that you are a one-man team instead of a multi-person team. When the enemy detects you, they attack. This is no different in a co-op multiplayer scenario with perhaps some extra logic added to the AI regarding which player to attack.

In many newer shooters, particularly the military type, you often play your single-player campaign with the assistance of other bots as you fight your way through the enemy bots. Why do these games not allow the ability for a real person to assume the role of one of those bots that are on your team? When did AI become so difficult to program that games that are over ten years old have multiplayer co-op with bots but modern games don’t?

I’ve read statements from some developers that there is no demand for such an option, but I don’t believe that. Many gaming sites and news articles have discussed the lack of etiquette in multiplayer gaming, whether it’s due to cheating, sexism, homophobia, or just plain arrogance from someone who is hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. One of the key reasons why I don’t play on public multiplayer games anymore is because there are too many jerks out there who are ready to ruin the experience for everyone else just to bolster their own ego or get that precious unlockable perk. But, sadly, the selection of games that allow team-based, tactical co-op against a non-human enemy seems to be limited to games of the past.

Now would be as good a time as any to start focusing on LAN and co-op gameplay once again – with lots of bots to come along for the ride.

Original posted on my personal blog at

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