Saturday, 28 February 2009

I Observe

As a new player in World of Warcraft, you observe strange things that later on you become innured to. And I don't mean the magic and mayhem. I'm talking about the AI.

But before I get to that, let me first mention collision detection. When I walk into a wall In Real Life, I don't get anywhere. I can't walk through walls. The same is true in World of Warcraft. Similarly, if somebody chucks a spear at me, it gets stuck in my chest both in WoW and In Real Life. How come I can walk through monsters and players then?

Anyway, back to the main theme of today's diary entry. The AI. I'm talking about the stupidity of the beasts and other enemies (known collectively as "mobs") that you're going to slay. They see you coming, but they don't react until you're very close. In Real Life, if I am out in the open and you see me coming towards you like I was planning to kill you, you would react accordingly: prepare to defend youself, run away, call for help; something like that. These dumbos don't do anything until you get very close to them.

Okay, I can see that in the training grounds of Northshire Abbey, such artificial behaviour is helpful while you're learning how to control your movements; but once I'm out beyond the training grounds, I'd prefer more realistic and challenging reactions from the computer-controlled enemy. For instance, if the enemy can see you, they should react, just as you can react when you see them. Instead they wait until you are a few metres away (and usually well within spellcasting range) before reacting (this distance is called your aggro radius).

And then how do they react? They attack you. That's it. That's their one move. They don't call for help; they don't run to a defensive position; they don't run away, even when they are clearly outclassed (okay, there are a few mitigations. Your aggro radius increases a little when you attack a mob, so other nearby mobs may suddenly take notice of you and join the attack. Also when they are near to death, some mobs will finally try to do what they should have done when they first saw you coming: run away). It's stupid that mobs outside your aggro radius can see one of their comrades a few yards away getting shot at, but they just dumbly ignore it like sheep or Eloi.

Blizzard have deliberately chosen this behaviour, I know not why. They are capable of better AI, as anyone who has met the Gnomish Alarm-o-bots in Gnomeregan (more of which anon) and elsewhere can testify. They have just chosen an extremely dull and dumb behaviour for most mobs.

Your aggro radius reduces as the difference in level between you and your mob opponent increase. This means that higher level characters can ride through Elwyn Forest without getting attacked by low level mobs. I'd go one step further - I'd have the mobs running away and hiding!

Better AI is not difficult, and Blizzard would not have a problem applying it. Why don't they? I think it's because they just don't want to do anything that inconveniences players: they don't want the mobs to be smarter than their paying customers (and God knows, you can see plenty of stupid behaviour from players).

This is also, I think, why there's virtually no penalty for dying (another weirdness that experienced players quickly become innured to). I don't like it. I almost wrote "it encourages recklessness", but what's reckless about getting yourself killed in WoW? There's no penalty for bad play. This makes WoW too easy.

Addendum: A Dwarf Priest spotted 100 weird wonders of the World of Warcraft:


  1. After playing a lot of PvP in battlegrounds, it becomes hard to put up with the stupidity of the mobs in the PvE world. That´s why I´ve given up PvE, and just stick to PvP now. Even the dumbest player is smarter than the mobs controlled by a computer. Nice observations, by the way.

  2. A MMORPG has to be as immersive, credible and consistent as possible and as little as necessary.

    So, yes, I agree.