Earth: 2025 Utilities
Button Men AI
Link To Us
RoboForge Web Site
A while ago, back when text mode games were still popular, there was an interesting
burst of a particular genre of game. This genre included games such as C-Robots.
Players would write programs that controlled their robot, and then would pit them
in an arena against other programs. Writing a longer program would allow for
more complex behavior, but would effectively make the robot react slower. This
type of game was popular while it lasted, because it was all about writing the best
AI. This type of game isn't entirely gone, as Robot Soccer has reached a high
level of popularity, particularly in academia. However, the chief problem with
these games was accessibility, as they require writing programs and not everyone
is a programmer.
RoboForge is the next evolution of this type of game, but adds robot design and
makes it a lot more accessible by providing a visual interface for everything
(including the programs). In RoboForge, by Liquid Edge, you build a 3D robot,
train it to fight (teach it moves), and design its AI. You can then enter your
robot in tournaments. There even is a Pro Circuit where you can play online
tournaments for money (PayPal or a credit card).
Installation was smooth, although in this day it is hard to mess up something like that.
Upon running the game, you are greeted with three options: Workshop, Tournaments, and
Archives. I like to always try the "incidental" selections (such as game options) first before
jumping in to the game, so I started with Archives. Apparently, the section is for game replays.
Unfortunately, no sample demos came with the game.
I then moved over to the Workshop option. There is a "Wizard" mode that gives you a
small set of options to start you out with a robot. Otherwise you need to use the
Workshop to design a robot from scratch. Given that the Workshop interface is very
imposing, I opted for the Wizard option.
The Wizard option gave me several questions. For example,
Controller, Energy, Sensor, AI, etc. However, most only had two options. Also, there was
little in the way of intuitive specs to compare some of the options. Once I finished
with the Wizard, I was in the Workshop with a readily created robot.
The Workshop appeared straightforward, but parts of it were very imposing.
There are five options: Design, Moves, AI, Profile and Test. Selecting Design
revealed a huge number of components. It was a little confusing, as it was not clear
what the components were for. They also each had a cost, weight, and damage rating.
This implies the likely existence of a maximal strategy, which risks reducing the
lifetime of a game. But it wasn't clear to me at this point where the balance was.
By this point, I was pretty confused. Although I later discovered a Flash tutorial,
there was a clear lack of an in-game tutorial. The Wizard lacks explanation so does
not really suffice as a tutorial. Also, while the interface is good (placing components
and the AI is drag & drop), there is a noticeable lack of tooltips or extended help.
Determined to check out all the options, the Moves section was good. You position your
joints, set the speed and power, and then take a snapshot. A move is typically two snapshots,
and the engine fills in the rest. The AI section was drag & drop programming, which
may be easier for non-programmers, but takes some mind-shifting for a programmer. A
direct script-editing mode like Colobots would be nice. A nice extension to the
customizability of your robot is full control over texturing. Given the time and effort
you could make your robot look pretty spiffy.
After this everything was straightforward. You can test your robot, or enter it in
a tournament. If you've done your job with the Design, Moves, and AI, then your
robot will do well. If not, then it will perform like a blind lemur in the Animal
Sound & Graphics: The 2D art is good, the 3D art is ok but that's not what the game is about.
The sounds are appropriate.
Interface: This game is all about the interface, which is very imposing
at first. It's a shame that the game lacks thorough tooltips, and extended in-game
help. That would make it a lot less imposing. Otherwise, the interface is straightforward
and easy to use.
Gameplay: There is clearly a lot of depth. I suspect there are some balance issues arising
from possible maximal strategies, but unless a game is as popular as StarCraft it could
take a long time for those to take shape. The incredible amount of control is excellent,
but also imposing. The lack of an in-game tutorial hurts, and a beginner mode might have
been a great replacement (one with an extremely limited set of options). Let users understand
the basic concepts before throwing 200 components at them. So the full control
is both good and bad.
AI: The game comes with some basic training bots, nothing great, although good places
to start. The AI editor works really well, although a scripting mode would have been
appreciated (granted, possibly only by a minority).
Final: In terms of the competition of building the best robot, this game has huge potential.
It is a welcome step to bring the C-Robots genre closer to the mainstream.
But it's not for everyone. You need to put in the effort to get over the steep learning curve.
If the idea is intriguing, the game is cheap enough that it is worth the effort. If you
have no interesting in doing what might seem like "work" to play, this game isn't for you.
For everyone else:
3 / 5 Stars
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