Idle Musing: Watching The AI Fight


Over Christmas I drew up a list of little things about games that have always intrigued, interested, or appealed to me. I’ve been adding to it over the past couple of weeks, and I’ll be writing about these little nuances of gaming in the coming months. These are just idle musings, but I hope you’ll find them to be food for thought. Today’s is about the odd joy in seeing AI entities getting into a fight.

I can’t remember when I first saw AI picking fights with each other, because it surely must have first happened way back in the history of gaming. I can, however, remember when I first really noticed it and thought “hey, that’s cool, I’m glad it works like that.” It was while playing Doom: I noticed that an enemy injured by another type of enemy would turn on them. Imps, demons and zombies would go at each other, leaving familiar piles of gibs to no cost to my ammo inventory. The first time it happened, it was a minor moment of joy. Not because the enemy of my enemy is my friend, (although that can be true) but because it meant the game world wasn’t all about me.

It seems a strange thing to say, perhaps, but games not being entirely focused on me, and events carrying on without caring about my activity, I find enormously compelling. It means the world has some glimmer of life in it – something that responds to more than my prodding. A game world in which NPCs fight is one that is not purely a shooting gallery.

When I think about this against the context of my grumbling about a lack of interactivity, or cutscenes, or anything else the player is not directly involved in, it seems odd to exalt in watching the game do stuff by itself. But then again I think it’s the idea that I could be involved (or stand back and watch) that is most interesting here: there is one more choice in this situation than just fight or don’t progress.

I ended up thinking back to the games between here and Doom that have made watching AI fights so interesting. Half-Life did it brilliantly with the skirmishes between marines and the aliens. These were generally heavily orchestrated, and dropped right in your path, but if you played through Half-Life as many times as I did, the joy began to be in seeing how they might change, or how you might change them. In any game where NPCs might come into conflict, there’s a clear joy in tricking them into a fight that they might not otherwise have had.

Stalker, of course, is filled with AI intended to give you this kind of experience. I’ve written about that phenomenon before now, and whenever I go back to the game it’s the desperate battles between stalkers, bandits, and mutants that I find most evocative.

To take it even further you could look at the Arma games, whose editor and AI are pretty much designed to allow you to set up elaborate battles, and then to sit on top of a hill with a pair of binoculars to watch shit go down. The first time someone showed me this in action, I realised that I had, somewhere out there in the Czech Republic, a game design brother.

Of course it’s not always down to the machinations of shooters. The two best things I saw in Skyrim were a dragon attacking a town – spectacularly strafing it with fire as the guards launched arrows and died horribly – and a giant smacking a wolf up the side of a mountain with his tree-sized club.

Perhaps what’s most joyous about these events is that many of them are not, at least in any strict sense, dependent on scripting. They’ve often been “set up” so that the entities in the game will run into each other and fight but, like the Doom baddies scrapping with each other, these fights play out in accordance with the game’s own rules and dynamics. Just waiting to see what happens is one of those little joys of gaming that, I think, a lot of people miss.

Perhaps, in my dream future of game design, I’ll be able to play a game in which enemy factions wage full-blown simulated war with each other, and I am just passing through. A wanderer and a spectator in a conflict that is not simply scripted up to happen the same time every time, but could go any way, with me just pushing it this way and that, interfering with the battles when I need to. There’s a kind of super-voyeurism in watching simulations fight: watching the computer wage fevered, dynamic war against its own is a peculiar, modern experience that I don’t want to take for granted.


  1. Skeletor68 says:

    I regularly did that with Street Fighter IV. Just put the difficulty up to the highest and pit interesting characters against each other. Was pretty entertaining!

    • Gnoupi says:

      Indeed. I think I did that with nearly all my fighting games. It was interesting to see how they were holding up.

      In some, it was impressive, lot of unbelievable combos. For the others, you realized that most of their behaviour was coded as a reaction, rather than an action. It was leading to duels of two poor AIs not really engaging fight, not really knowing what to do when they had to take initiative.

    • Bhazor says:

      Watching Capcom beat-em-ups fighting themselves is like the most confusing fireworks show ever.

      Its like the videogame version of “Confuse a cat”

    • Bonedwarf says:

      I love doing this in all fighting games if possible. I find it more interesting than actually playing them to be honest.

      I downloaded a mod for the original Dawn of War that makes everyone AI controlled. Then you just sit back and watch the carnage.

      I have been looking for a similar mod for both DOW2 and COH as that would be amazing, but sadly I have not found one for either of them:(

      More RTS games need an AI vs AI mode as it is great fun to just sit back and watch the carnage.

    • moaspfh says:

      B-Spec mod in Gran Turismo was great for this. You can sort of do it in Forza, but it is not a real race. You have to start a race and quit, then the game will lap the AI constantly. Of course you cannot switch cars or anything which is frustrating. link to

  2. brog says:

    Watching AI sides fighting each other slowed down VD’s development SO MUCH.

    Nethack has a “ring of conflict” that makes everyone attack everyone nearby – provokes fights among enemies, but also allies+neutrals will attack you.

    I like this series.

    • Flame_US3r says:

      The Archon hits! The Archon hits! You are blinded by the Archon’s gaze! You are frozen by the Archon’s gaze! The Archon hits! The Archon hits! You die…

  3. povu says:

    The fact that STALKER is so world centered instead of player centered is why I like it so much. Most fights aren’t scripted for the player to see at specific moments, so he can come in and save the day. Stuff happens when you’re not around.

    • airtekh says:

      That’s one of the major reasons I love Stalker too.

      I like it when you hear gunshots and duck behind a piece of cover, only to realise the shots weren’t directed at you. I always made my way slowly towards the sound of the ruckus, just to see who was fighting who.

    • Maldomel says:

      I love that too. It’s so good to know that stuff is going on somewhere anyway, and you don’t really matter unless you go in. Stalker really nailed that part well.

    • MrThingy says:

      Indeed, this is one of the things I love about the STALKER universe. You hear a gun battle going on, say in the Garbage depot station and help out a battle with fellow stalkers. You can come back later and they’ve all been killed in a separate gun battle in which you took no part, or were too late. C’est la vie!

      It really enriches the world. You influence it, but as Jim says in his article, it’s not all about you… and frankly that’s awesome!

    • Apples says:

      I played SoC a while ago and this feature totally baffled me until I realised that I was completely misunderstanding the game. I would wade guns blazing into any place where I could hear gunshots, confused as to why this was going on in a place I’d already cleared out for the plot but assuming that this was something I, the godlike player around whom the world obviously revolves, was clearly supposed to resolve. After all, weren’t they shooting at ME? Who else would they be shooting at? I would then immediately be killed a stray Duty bullet or some anonymous bandit.

      Once I realised most of what happened in the world wasn’t to do with me at all (and in the game!), everything fell into place. Finding loners being chased by packs of dogs and just helping them out became a really satisfying part of the game for me, for some reason. And spotting the high-ranked loners sitting around campfires or helping in firefights was awesome even though they never said anything interesting; it was just cool to know that these guys at the top of the list were out there doing things, same as me.

      STALKER is a good game. Weird, and almost a genre on its own, but good.

      edit: Just remembered a good moment. I was sneaking around, trying to find a way to infiltrate some sort of base, when I came across a sign warning me of buried mines. At exactly this moment all the guards spotted me, so I sprinted away and hid behind a tree. My vision obscured, all I could hear was shouting, silence as they spread out to search, and then a long sequence of explosions and frantic yelling… guess they forgot about putting that sign up ):

    • MrThingy says:

      I also liked the migration aspect. Once the brain scorcher is switched off, going back to those levels you find AI of different allegiances making their way in and going about their business.

      It seemed to happen in a very natural way in SoC but then moved to this rather wierd Clear Sky faction movement. Then in CoP, once again, you’d find random factions/mutants and AI skirmishes in places you didn’t expect them, so it became interesting again.

    • lijenstina says:

      Especially in mods that add new AI schemes missing in the original (throwing grenades, healing, melee, weapon switching, under-barrel launchers, looting). For instance jumping on a rooftop using the ingame NPC spawner like Atlas spawning ten Duty and ten Freedom NPCs and watch them fight. Then spawn 5 zombies to fight the survivors. I could do that for hours. :)

    • nyarlathotep-88 says:

      I remember doing the same thing for an hour at end with CoP. Spaw a bunch of NPCs (as much as the game could handle without crashing lol) and watch them fight each other. Would usually pit freedom and duty against each other then finish with monolith to see who would win. Would make a great betting game :)

  4. chaostangent says:

    I remember when I tinkered with the Doom map editor, one of the first things I did was setting up a huge room with one of every monster in it and a small “blast shield” in a corner for me and a friend to watch the carnage from. For reference, the Cyberdemon destroyed EVERYTHING, with a significant chunk of health left at the end.

  5. Dominic White says:

    There’s a very interesting modern competitive Doom mod called ZDoom wars that’s all about watching large armies of monsters fighting each other. Each player can spawn enemies in various places, and needs to place monsters to as to best counter the incoming enemies. It’s really fun watching the different unit groups (it’s not just Doom enemies) playing off against eahc other.

    link to

  6. The Least Fun Human Being On Earth says:

    One of the best things about Eskil Steenberg’s Love was seeing the AI tribes fighting against one another. Particularly when they started using their bigger guns.

  7. Kelron says:

    This is one of the reasons I love the X games, for all their flaws. The universe is not about you, all the AI factions and individuals engaged in trading or fighting will do so whether you are watching or not. You might fly into the middle of a huge fleet battle and join the fray, or watch from afar before scavenging the remains, or simply not even notice it.

    • Gnoupi says:

      True, it’s indeed quite nice on this aspect. See huge battles happening. Pirates raiding merchant ships. Usually they don’t even care about you unless you present a threat (or a gain) to them.

      The economy itself is not really perfect, though. The longer time you play, the more the global economy is going wrong, with stations abandoned, empty stocks, etc. Though this was in X3:TC, I haven’t played X3:AP long enough to see the influence of the stock market on all that.

    • Kelron says:

      It’s usually specific regions that suffer economy problems as AI traders aren’t incredibly smart and like to fly through hostile sectors. The core regions usually tick along without player intervention, though it can be difficult to source higher end equipment for your ships without setting up your own stations.

    • Nallen says:

      For many years I have gone back and fourth on the X games, I hope deciding to wait for Reborn is the right thing to do.

  8. Gap Gen says:

    I think sometimes hiding things from the player helps to enhance this feeling. People mentioned in the JA:BiA review that the lack of fog of war made the AI’s mistakes apparent, whereas fog makes them seem more threatening and unpredictable. I guess equally that watching a top-down view of actual humans fighting might make tactical mistakes blatantly apparent.

    One of the things I want to see in more games is more delegation to AI. In Scourge of War, you’re one part of a chain of command, and giving your AI subordinates orders and watching them pass the orders down, trying to achieve their objective, is pretty neat. Controlling everything is OK if you’re a Korean teenager with ADHD, but I like the idea of being a cog in a larger fight, or passing commands on to smaller cogs, and don’t particularly mind losing that fight as long as it gives me some interesting stories to tell. Again, fog of war is crucial to this, since if you can see everything it’s clear if the enemy is doing something dumb. If you’re one guy on the ground rather than a free-floating ghost general, and suddenly the forces to your left break, you think “wow, the enemy is doing a good job” rather than “friendly AI sucks”.

    • SpaceTapir says:

      I think that’s part of what makes Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl wonderful. When the player is not present in the vicinity of an NPC, the NPC will move invisibly across the zone. When you come near them they “wake up” (and become vulnerable). NPC’s will move from area to area without trying to avoid anomalies or hostile NPC’s that would kill them. Should you be near them when they are passing through, they will “wake up”, become visible and be killed by these avoidable threats. If you could see the movement of the NPC’s all the time, the illusion of life in the zone would be dispelled.

      What makes the Zone feel so full of life are those moments when you stumble on a NPC seeming to follow it’s own desires in the dangers of the zone. This Stalker gets caught in a firefight with bandits, they chase off some mutants or they find a moments rest in an abandoned bus stop. Then you move on and the fog of war returns and the program processes invisibly the life of this AI.

  9. Gnoupi says:

    Running with rifles is especially nice on this point of view, because while it feels a bit like a battlefield from Men of War, you are still in control of one guy only (well, you can have a squad, but you don’t really have direct control over them).

    As such, it is nicely pleasant to feel that the war is happening around you, and that you are a single actor in it. You die? Respawn as someone else, somewhere else.

  10. Skeletor68 says:

    Also I used to abuse the Age of Empires level editor by having matches of 100 lions v 100 crocodiles or elephants v catapults. Always fun to watch.

    • Jonith says:

      Same with Rome Total War. I would just put a batlle with a huge amount of Dogs, Elephants and Flaming Pigs against each other, and watch it.

  11. Amnesiac says:

    I used to really enjoy setting up a game of Left 4 Dead 2 and watching the bots try to make it through a campaign.

    I discovered that they could complete the entirety of Hard Rain with no intervention from me.

    For some reason this doesn’t work any more. They just stand around without a human to follow.

  12. karthink says:

    Anything that reinforces the notion that the player is not the center of the game universe is a delight to me. I often think about what life must be like for a quest dispenser NPC in a MMO-like game; Dr. Zed from Borderlands, say. Does he exist when not in the player’s FOV? Does it mean anything if he does?

    Games that purport to simulate a virtual world ought to simulate a virtual world! I wish every game had Dwarf Fortress’s world building and dynamism.

  13. Lambchops says:

    I used to enjoy using the console in Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast to spawn various light side and dark side characters and pit them against each other and thus answer the immortal question, “how many Lando’s does it take to defeat a Sith Lord?”

    Also it’s funny when the AI gets a little confused. In Deus Ex there’s a bug where a UNATCO trooper believes that the cleaning bot is a hostile. The resulting crossfire soon engulfs the entirity of UNATCO, who at this point are of course entirely invincible. Fun times.

    • airtekh says:

      Haha! I did the exact same thing in Jedi Outcast.

      I always tried to see how many combatants I could fit into an epic lightsaber battle before the game crashed.

    • RizziSmoov says:

      Deus Ex never ceases to get wackier if you mess with it

    • theblazeuk says:

      Ah I used to love doing that in Jedi Knight, creeping over to one side of the room and spawning 2 dozen stormtroopers and a few dark jedi then creeping over to the other side and spawning a few jedi characters.

      RE: Deus Ex, I remember coming across UNATCO and NSF forces having a huge pitched battle in the middle of Hells Kitchen. Everytime I tried to take part with the guns I’d end up hitting one of the UNATCO guys so I had to be v.careful with tranq darts and shock sticks whilst they murdered each other.

      Oh and luring the NSF back to the bots is a great way of clearing the opening level :)

    • Geen says:

      I’m not the only one who did that! YAY!

  14. bill says:

    I remember it being such a huge part of doom. It was often a very important tactic to make it through some of the more difficult parts of the game.

    There was one level in particular in Doom2 where you ran into a Spider Mastermind and a CyberDemon in the same room – and i’m pretty sure that at that point you didn’t have the weapons or ammo to beat them your self.

    It’s something I haven’t noticed in many shooters recently.

  15. Zeewolf says:

    A very different kind of game than the ones mentioned in the article, but Space Rangers 2 has the kind of unscripted war thing going on, and you can decide to help out or just stay out of it.

    Edit: Also, I remember designing an Operation Flashpoint scenario once, where we were basically playing a group of civilians and our goal was to get away from an all-out fight between the two sides in the game. We ended up filling it with all kinds of scripted stuff, and playing it over and over again. Good times.

    • Kefren says:

      When I was weak at the start of Space Rangers I loved following a group of tougher rangers on a raid, then sneaking in and lotting as much dropped wreckage and cargo as I could carry before running away from the battle. I was engrossed in this tactic right up to the late stages of the game, it was so much more fun than continuous battles. I optimised my ship for speed and cargo capacity.

  16. IADaveMark says:

    Funny this should get brought to my attention just as I was rehearsing my rant for next week’s GDC AI Summit. I happen to be talking about exactly this.

    One of the main reasons that we don’t see more of this in games is that it requires designers to give up authorial control… something which is often antithetical to them.

    Oh yeah… and it is hard to balance. :-)

    Swing by the AI Summit for a few sessions on learning how to make emergent behavior like this a little more manageable.

    • Mahkasad says:

      I’m a GameDev student attending GDC and am looking forward to the AI Summit. I’ll certainly be there.

  17. Monchberter says:

    It’s exactly this that makes D.E.F.C.O.N. the best screensaver ever.

    Garry’s Mod too for HL2 makes AI battles pretty fun. Headcrab armies vs Barney / Alex with shotguns can be amusing.

  18. rammjaeger says:

    Jim you missed Killing Floor. Ever seen the Bloat puke on the Fleshpound? You get an epic AI vs AI battle going there :)

  19. Stevostin says:

    Nice read – IMO you just missed (unless it’s for another post) the other alternative “not all about the player” AI behaviour : fleing. Trying to survive. The first time I noticed it was in Ultima Underworld. That was COOL. The combination of AI that can fight themselves and try to flee at the end of the fight, when managing the triangular opposition to your advantage brought you a higly damaged lasting IA facing you in great shape, and the try to flee is ultimately rewarding.

    Especially if you have a gun and if it run away in a straight corridor.

    • SpaceTapir says:

      This! Survival instinct in AIs. Too often it’s just fight to the death.

    • Lambchops says:

      SWAT IV was good at that. Sometimes one bad guy would run off and hide, ambushing you later on in the level after you’d forgotten about him. In fact the range of AI reations was impressive, from compliance, to fighting back and so on.

    • sinister agent says:

      SWAT 4’s AI was (or appeared to be, which is the same thing) excellent. Every single confrontation was tense and potentially deadly, even when it’s just one guy with a pistol who appears to be co-operating. He might start to put down his gun… then change his mind, and take a potshot at you. Or he might run and hide. Or he might shout, and suddenly that door on the left opens up and a guy with an uzi runs in. Or he might threaten a hostage. Or or or

  20. RakeShark says:

    I used to do this a lot with sports games, AI vs AI games in long form. Leave it on in the background as I did other things, every so often stopping to listen and think “2-1, throwing outside?”. Especially useful if I wanted to listen to the Cubs get their asses kicked during the winter.

    • theblazeuk says:

      Just goes to show it takes all types!

    • Bonedwarf says:

      B-Spec mod in Gran Turismo was great for this. You can sort of do it in Forza, but it is not a real race. You have to start a race and quit, then the game will lap the AI constantly. Of course you cannot switch cars or anything which is frustrating.

      I used to routinely put a B-Spec race on in GT and just sit back and watch.

  21. MiniMatt says:

    Most of the best ones already covered but I’ll just add:

    Just Cause 2

    … not perfect by any stretch, there was always the lurking feeling that “shit was getting real” just because you happened to be in range rather than it always being there – but different factions getting down and bullety(?) was always fun to watch.

  22. Dezztroy says:

    Man, I did this all the time back on Half-Life and its expansions. Just pitting a couple of grunts against overwhelming numbers of zombies could keep me entertained for hours.

  23. westyfield says:

    “…I had, somewhere out there in the Czech Republic, a game design brother.”

    A Czechmate, if you will.

  24. Miltrivd says:

    As a huge fan of stealth, I’m really expecting the point where the AI runs totally independent of the player, when you sneaking in a building or whatever is just one extra annoyance the AI has to care about, and not THE thing they got to do, when you can use neutral or enemy AI to your advantage for distractions and where your actions could potentially make the player a bigger threat or pass entirely inadvertent.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Also, that if you actually become a threat/detected, they keep searching you. Coming back to your patrol after you spotted a spy/thief like if nothing happened is just weird.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      Thief 3 is still available on budget, you know :)

      It’s very easy to leave a body in the street, climb halfway up the wall, and watch as city guards discover it – and assume that, say, those weirdo faction members over there must be responsible for it. Good times.

  25. Gary W says:

    The Last Express is good at this. Although the NPCs don’t really fight, they appear to carry out routines and conversations in real time, regardless of what the player is doing.

    I still enjoy a bit of Arma/OFP and Space Rangers 2 for this sort of thing too.

  26. NathanH says:

    When I got the Thief editor I would make tournaments between the different guards and creatures to see which ones were the best. Ramirez Sergeants turned out to be highly effective.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      When I got Neverwinter Nights I used to the editor to setup a fight club. I created a pit, added a crowd etc… Then had the ability to spawn creatures and change one faction to make them fight.

      Always wanted to introduce betting but it was out of my range of abilities, but I put hours into making it. Big hit among my gaming buddies at the time.

  27. Maldomel says:

    I love when the IA is doing stuff on it’s own “will”. Of course, fights or competitions are where it’s at, with sometimes very funny events happening. Also, I really enjoy playing with bots or AI teammates when it’s well done. Because the game is not centered on the hero anymore, sometimes the bot becomes the hero. My hero. And looking up to a bot is something I enjoy too.

    EDIT: I also enjoy games where I am part of a larger scale. Like in Modern Warfare, where the game cannot continue without me, but the ranged battles can go on forever if I’m not killing people. Sometimes it feels even more enjoyable than pure single player, or real multi-player

  28. Ian says:

    My Skyrim memory of this involves a three-way fight between a giant, a dragon and a load of bandits in a bandit camp. The bandits held their own and knocked a fair chunk off the health of the other two until the giant and the dragon obviously got sick of their shit. The dragon flapped away and destroyed the bandit archers and any stragglers while the giant played golf with the bandits trying to melee him. And then eventually (while I fired the odd arrow from a hillside) the giant won.

    • Kresh says:

      I had a similar experience, yet the moment somebody spotted me, ALL the combatants turned on me, ignoring each other completely. That was pretty much the last straw with Skyrim. I uninstalled it and haven’t looked back.

      I found a giant and 2 mastodons attacking a group of bandits. I guess the giant and his kin hate kill-stealers… or their AI is poorly written.

    • Deccan says:

      Wandering through Eastmarch, I saw a dragon strafe a mammoth with its fiery breath. This looks like some interesting action, I thought, and headed over. Before I got there, the dragon moved on to attack the giant nearby, and a local bear decided it wanted a piece of the now-singed mammoth.

      I began helping the giant against the dragon. The mammoth made short work of the bear and came after me. Then the dragon sodded off to go crisp some random wolf, leaving me and Lydia to fight an enraged giant, his pet mammoth, and his other mammoth that chose this moment to arrive.

      At this point Talsgar the Wanderer showed up and pitched in with a few lusty bardic oaths, and chaos reigned for about sixty seconds.

      The dragon that started the whole thing? Never saw it again.

    • Reapy says:

      I think there is a mod out called warfare or something that I think aims to create more and more of these situations where factions square off with or without your presence.

  29. Iskhiaro says:

    There was a level of Populous: The Beginning which relied on you making two AI factions fight each other. Good game ^^

  30. The Colonel says:

    Again one must lament the stagnation of AI in modern FPSssing. It seems to have largely gone backwards with the duck and cover corridor nature of level design. :(

  31. Brun says:

    Agreed with the sentiment of the article.

    I remember doing this with the bots in Perfect Dark. Not a PC game, but the bot AI was quite sophisticated and also let you chose different “flavors” of bot to play against. You could pick bots that only used explosives, or only punched people, that were cowardly, etc. Much fun was had.

  32. Jockie says:

    One of the more interesting Skyrim mods to emerge recently is relevant to this – Warzones – Civil Unrest is about creating epic pitched battles as part of the slightly undeveloped civil war storyline, that take place regardless of your character’s involvement.

    Worth a look (although it will push your computer to the limit according to the creator) -

  33. Jamesworkshop says:

    Bioshock series had some good examples of this

    link to

    Big sister vs rosie vs security bot

    big sister won

    link to

  34. ado says:

    Great article.

    Instantly made me think of Metal Gear Solid 4; It puts you in the middle of a dynamic conflict in it’s first two missions. Of course, if you don’t interfere the conflict is a stalemate in most situations. But you can definitely help out one side to gain the upper hand most of the time.

    It’s quite awesome actually, you performing this sneaking mission in the middle of a warzone.

  35. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    This is proving to be a wonderful new series.

  36. JackDandy says:

    Monster infighting was always a hoot to cause in the Doom games. Former Sergent VS Cyberdemon… GO!

  37. Skabooga says:

    I remember first coming across this AI vs AI phenomenon in the old roguelike Moria, which had a few monsters with the descriptor ‘can kill weaker creatures’. My adventurer was in a room with an ooze and a skeleton standing next to each other, but after I had moved a couple of squares, the skeleton was nowhere to be seen. Then it struck me, and the potential of this feature seemed overwhelming.

    Turns out AI vs AI was very crudely implemented as I explored it further in Moria; basically, if one monster with the descriptor accidentally walked into another monster, the latter was killed. Not much more to it than that, but it was a neat little interaction to happen across.

  38. Syra says:

    I do that a lot in old rts map editors like AOE2. Watching ai fight is fascinating.

    Also watching capable AI allies like in halflife2 or quake4 always amuses me to no end…

  39. jezcentral says:

    The first three times I played Deus Ex, I thought the robot outside the harbour (on the far side of the level from the start) was an enemy. No I don’t know why. It had the green cross-hair and everything. I used to shoot at it from far away to kite to the bad-guys, who would destroy it for me.

    Many years later, I realised that it was a friendly unit. D’oh!

  40. Xawery says:

    There was a fantastic community-made mission for the original Operation Flashpoint called Abandoned Armies, made by Thobson. It featured a persistent world where two armies on Malden were locked in a continuous, fully simulated war for control and resources. The player took on the role of a sole civilian putting together a resistance group while the world (and war) continued around him.

    Setting up ambushes on patrols, getting caught in offensives and counter-offensives, luring one faction to attack another, while at the same time managing a diverse group of fully-voiced and three dimensional team members, with their flaws, wants and likes… It was almost overwhelming, but great fun nonetheless <3

  41. apa says:

    If only the monsters could talk to the other monsters!

  42. theblazeuk says:

    Wandering into the middle of a firefight between the marines and the aliens was the moment Half Life became my favourite game ever. Especially cemented in later incidents where I had no bullets, no health and no chance of effecting the outcome at all – so just ran through the chaos hoping not to get hit by any stray fire.

    It was also great in Privateer, when the CIS forces finally did something useful and obliterated the pirate scum.

    • Wildcard says:

      The half-life series is great for that kind of stuff. My personal favorite moment was in Opposing Force, leading a team of hardened marines into that Agent ambush. I had a save there and I would just go back to it watching the different outcomes of the fight. Good times.

  43. PedroBraz says:

    “watching the computer wage fevered, dynamic war against its own is a peculiar, modern experience that I don’t want to take for granted.”

    It might be more rare in fpses but its the bread and butter of every strategy game out there.

  44. Aankhen says:

    I loved this about Mount&Blade: at the start, you’re pretty much irrelevant, wandering around offing small groups of bandits and hiding from medium-sized groups while around you kings wage war. It’s only once you’ve proven yourself that you get to participate (heck, it’s only then that you can participate… try it too soon and you’ll get beaten to a bloody pulp).

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      Read this article, immediately thought of Mount & Blade!

      Surprised it took this far into the comments for someone to mention it though.

      It’s one of the greatest parts about M&B though, the scale of everything. I like those early days the best, where you make your little band of men and try and scrape a living by killing bandits and trading.

      In a more recent game, I decided to avoid joining a faction, instead killing bandits with a small group of high-level horsemen. After a lot of battles and tournament wins, I started to get the various Kings offering me incentives to join their factions. It was a side of the game I’d never seen before (I used to join a faction as soon as I could).

      Here’s hoping that M&B2 (whenever it’s finally finished (has it even been started?)) can live up to my hopes!

    • MajorManiac says:

      I love Mount&Blade for the same reasons. Being part of a living world which you can only start to control once you’ve become very strong.

      If you like the large scale aspect, I highly recommend the mod ‘Prophesy of Pendor’. It increases the difference between lowly-peasants and indomitable-knights. I once had a fight between 49 peasants and 7 Knights. The Knights killed all my peasants and didn’t take a single casualty. This makes the early game very hard, but very rewarding. Plus later on there are groups of roaming bandits 700+ in size. Most of whom are high-level units. Good times.

  45. Wildcard says:

    Stumbling across These Battles was one of my favorite parts of open-world games. Even in Strategy games like Crusader Kings. Watching the struggle of non player opponents adds a real sense of drama / realism to the world.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Not to mention a huge laugh watching someone much bigger than you beat up on someone who has been bothering you. I like that:)

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      Why would you make a relevant comment and hide a spam link in it like that? I used to have faith that spammers would always be transparent.

      Now I just can’t click links anywhere ever again, goramit!

      (Since curiosity will obviously be piqued, it’s a link to a creepy video of a half naked guy dressed as a unicorn with some 80s style soft-rock music in the background)

    • BAshment says:

      That video challenged my sexuality.

  46. Kefren says:

    One of the reasons I loved it in Doom – apart from the level of tactical fun – was that it made the enemies feel like they were so nasty and vicious that they would turn on _anything_, making them even scarier. “That shotgun guy doesn’t give a $%^&! He’s just started shooting at a Baron of Hell! Wow, they know no fear.”

  47. Droopy The Dog says:

    Used to enjoy doing this far too much in the original AvP game, load up the suvival map with the bunker in a big open field at night, go invisible to the AI, fill the bunker with desperate marines and watch them fight valiantly against their doom.

    T’was lovely.

  48. 0over0 says:

    I remember back in the days of the original Star Wars Galaxies, I was relatively low level and wandering through a forest at night (night time there was very dark)–probably Corellia. Suddenly I heard Imperial troopers and they opened fire on me. I cursed and ran away, dodging around trees and rocks. Then blasters in front of me lit up my surroundings and I thought, “Shit, wrong way!” But no, those blasters weren’t hitting me, I had unwittingly led the Imperials into a Rebel ambush! The Rebel patrol made short work of the Imperial scum and I was able to continue foraging without making a visit to the clone center. I never forgot that nameless mon calamari lieutenant and his Rebel patrol.

  49. McDan says:

    These idle musings are great! Hope there’s more like them to come.

  50. rockman29 says:

    Halo 1 did this incredibly well too. The fights between the covenant, flood, and those robot things were fun to watch, but also interfere with when you wanted too. Sometimes it was easier to let them take losses on each side before moving forward, and other times it was something you almost had to do to get out of a more difficult situation. It was also fun because you had your own AI teammates which you could bring and put in strategic places and cause some ruckus that sometimes the game wouldn’t expect. There’s a few times in Silent Cartographer from Halo 1 that you can bring a warthog with a gunner and passenger where you probably shouldn’t be able to, but it just adds another variable into the equation (which is more fun than the outcome itself).