I got to play an hour of Rage during Gamescom, and one thing stood out from the experience: It has awesome AI. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that its enemy behavior is among the best – if not the best – that I’ve encountered in a game. It’s something that creative director Tim Willits is well aware of.
I caught up with Willits after the demo and told him how impressive it was. He explained that it took a ton of work, and that the team didn’t cut any corners on that front. For instance, he says if players cheat and add in weapons like sentry turrets in areas where they shouldn’t be able to exist (such as the introductory zones), the AI will recognize the threat and still behave accordingly.
One of the things that make Rage’s AI so interesting is how clever the all seem. People have bragged about flanking behavior since the days of Halo, but Rage’s implementation is far and above the competition. In a battle against some bandits in an old garage, the enemies were constantly on the move. In a lot of games, enemies will find cover and stick to it. Then it’s simply a matter of waiting for their heads to inevitably pop up. That doesn’t work in Rage. Enemies not only found and took cover, but the crouched along it as well, looking for better positions. It was a lot like fighting a human player. That popup technique doesn’t work, either. Enemies know when they’re in the crosshairs, so they won’t expose themselves in the same place repeatedly.
The bandits that I encountered were tough bastards. They were fast, too. I fell into the habit of picking off a leg or two in my opening salvo, which forced them to limp. From there, I had much more time to line up headshots. Again, it’s pretty basic stuff, but the way it’s incorporated in the game is a revelation. We’ve all played shooters where bad guys get shot in an arm, jerk back, and then continue on their merry way. When you target specific body parts in Rage, you can fundamentally affect the way that particular character is able to fight you.
Willits says that when id was focus testing the game, they brought in players who didn’t know what they’d be playing in advance. After checking out the game, id asked for feedback. One player cited experience with another AAA shooter, which shall remain nameless, and offered feedback. According to Willits, this player said that he was used to games where when you shot the bad guys, they died instantly. While playing Rage, he noticed a few enemies fell to the ground, supposedly dead, only to take a few last shots. Was id going to fix this bug? Willits shakes his head and laughs while he’s telling the story. It’s clear that he’s proud of the work id has done – even if some less-informed players confuse smart, dynamic AI with a broken game – and he has every right to be.
Preview written by Jeff Cork