Years ago when online gaming was “the future” I poo-pooed it as an excuse for developers to give up on AI. If multiplayer games could be filled with real people there would be no need to create more human-like bots. After all when playing with strangers is there really much of a difference between that and shooting at computer controlled players?
Yes, I was wrong. There is most certainly a difference. Even without voice chat there is still something psychological about knowing there is a person on the end of your gunfire. Taking someone out is far more satisfying in Burnout knowing that someone out there is yelling at their TV. In fact Burnout Paradise actively encourages the multiplayer rivalry.
Once voice chat is thrown into the mix gaming with strangers can be a very mixed bag. I have “met” some really nice people playing online who are happy to chat away and even give good advice on how to play… Then there are “those” people. I don’t think I have to give examples everyone has heard racist, homophobic, foul-mouthed rants from users hiding behind a gamer name. Anonymity seems to turn some people into really unlikeable characters.
I remember feeling out right cheated by bots in Perfect Dark as their ridiculous accuracy and perfect knowledge of your situation left you ripped to shreds. When someone out foxes you on Call of Duty you know it was probably pure skill or dumb luck that was your demise. Some games think “good” AI is being hard for hard’s sake: the cheating Pro Evolution Soccer computer springs to mind.
If you look at playing with strangers through my old cynical eyes the idea can be stretched further. Instead of just replacing bots perhaps actual enemies in a single player campaign could become human controlled. It is something that Left 4 Dead is going to attempt by allowing players to attack the 4 survivors as the zombies. Convincing gamers to play as enemies in a non death-match capacity could be tricky and is maybe more of a gimmick than it is the future. Again this could all be seen as a laziness with regards to AI development.
As I said there are “those” people out there who you would rather not play against, but when you do find someone fun to play with it makes it all worth while. If you are playing a game online with strangers you know immediately you at least have that game and probable gaming in common. It allows you to meet people you would otherwise never speak to, be they from another part of the world or completely different peer group.
Anything that allows me to make new friends and talk to new people can’t be a bad thing. Now how to make sure everyone plays nice and get rid of the low-lives. Once we can properly punish people end discourage bad behaviour gaming with strangers could really go mainstream.