Future-robosport programming game Gladiabots launches today after a trip through early access. Developed by GFX47, it's a hands-off strategy game. You line up your squad of 4-8 killbots, painstakingly program their AI to fit the play-mode, wind them up and let them go. Intimidating as that sounds, it's accessible even for people who have never written a line of code, with a flowchart-based programming interface and plenty of tutorials and solo challenges. Multiplayer is also asynchronous, so there's no butting heads - just testing your code against someone else's. See the launch trailer below.
All of the player's interactions in Gladiabots happen before the match. You pick your team composition from four classes of robot body with different stats, then program their AI, either individually or with a single routine shared between bots. You'll be using simple commands like 'target nearest enemy, walk forward, stop within gun range, fire' at first, but later trying to balance shield recharge times with position. In a firefight, you'll want to keep your damaged bots in the back row and out of trouble, while trying to focus fire on a single target, and that's just basic combat.
While there's no story to Gladiabots, there is plenty to do as a solo player. After a long tutorial, you'll find campaigns for each of the three play-modes; Collection, Domination and Elimination. Each escalates in scale, but decreases in complexity. Collection is a 4v4 ball game, where your objective is to collect the balls from the field and bring them back to your goal. Domination is a 6v6 King Of The Hill battle, with the two teams fighting over a handful of control points, with points awarded every few seconds to their current owner. Elimination is an 8v8 deathmatch, with powerups scattered across the field.
Every match in the campaign mode has an estimated ranking based on the kind of competition you'll find online. If you can program your bots well enough to defeat a 1000-point challenge, you should be able to challenge players of similar rank. Starting at the bottom of the leagues, you send your robots to challenge other players whether they're online or not, and watch the outcome. Interestingly, complex AI isn't always the best. Some winning teams have simple but very efficient behaviours. It highlights that in games, interesting and convincing AI is often intentionally designed to hold back, but when AI goes up against AI, the most ruthless wins.
Gladiabots is out now on Steam and Itch for £10.39/€11.19/$11.99, and supports Windows, Mac & Linux. The optional Optimization Pack DLC just includes credits to unlock cosmetic items sooner and some 3D printer models based on the game's robots. It's published in some regions by WhisperGames.