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Finishing Forza: Drivatars and Impatience

Finishing Forza

One of these days, I plan to finish everything in all of the Forza Motorsport series, and write about my thoughts regarding the series’ evolution. Today, I’m firing Forza Motorsport 4 back up with the mission of completing the game’s event list once and for all.

It’s interesting how a Drivatar can change your willingness to race.

I’m not much of a fan of direct competitive AI in racing games, but I understand their necessity. We can’t expect other people to be on call for specific races 24/7/365, after all.

It actually feels silly to state something that obvious, but stick with me here.

AI cannot perfectly emulate human driving behavior in a racing game. Even if it were to get close to driving like a human, the experience is lost. You can’t give props to lines of code for a good pass. You can’t demonstrate anger or frustration towards them for a boneheaded move in a way that leaves a lasting impression and makes them want to improve. It’s lines of code. It can’t care. It’s not made to understand. Maybe one day we’ll build AI that’s responsive to human emotion in racing, but by that point we’ll be handling far more complex problems like Skynet or some other end of humanity to a new machine race.

War-against-robots doomsaying aside, AI best serves as a metric. Assuming it plays by the same rules and physics as humans, if I can’t beat it, I’m not good enough at racing that car/class/track at that level yet. If it makes a successful pass on me through a turn, then I’m probably not handling that section of track as well. It’s there to show me my strengths and weaknesses in racing, and much like it can’t care, it also can’t judge if I decide to plow it off the road to quickly gain the lead because I’ve turned it down to the easiest difficulty. Some games might have the AI become more aggressive towards the player when it gets knocked around, but unless there’s a punishment mechanic in the game for contact or bad driving, there’s nothing much lost by trying to force my way into the lead in the first few turns.

Why race so recklessly to the front against terribly easy AI? When I’m trying to finish a single-player career, sometimes I just want to run clean laps without facing contention. I’ve earned enough credits using minimal assists that I don’t feel a need to prove anything in Forza Motorsport 4 anymore. The point isn’t having a good race, the point is finishing and winning the remaining races quickly so that I can be done with the game’s content.

…that actually sounds rather pathetic, but I’m sure other people have written about the achievement/trophy/100% completion urges to the point that there’s pieces of a well-beaten horse in a field somewhere, slowly rotting. For the sake of this whole series, let’s assume there’s some merit in wanting to complete games entirely and leave those pieces of dead horse in their stupid field.

This is not professional driving, and among friends, I shouldn't have to think twice about this kind of awesome.
This is not professional driving, and among friends, I shouldn't have to think twice about this kind of awesome.

I’m nowhere near completing the single-player in Forza Motorsport 5, despite most of the races being shorter than Forza 4 and the requirement for gold only being a podium finish in most circumstances. The latter change is very good, don’t get me wrong – having to win every race has always been unrealistic and silly – but every time I run a race I might not be prepared for, or a race where I feel a need to force myself to the front so that I can run some clean laps and just complete the race, that will reflect in my AI as my friends take on my Drivatar. They’ll face a wild, aggressive, and reckless driver who’s not afraid to scrap, and in a lot of ways, that kind of sucks for their experience, even though it’s way more human. I received a lot of messages during the early weeks of Forza from people who were experiencing frustration with my Drivatar’s behavior.

Here’s where the whole scenario of recklessly rushing through a race has consequences: When you become the AI.

This is not all bad, mind you. I’m actually a huge fan of the Drivatar system, and overall it’s created a much more realistic and human experience in single-player. It’s trying to humanize those metrics so that they aren’t so much a static metric and more a challenge similar to the kind we’d face in a multiplayer race. That helps the immersion, and although we’re still lacking the immediate feedback for poor behavior by either player or AI, it’s an interesting step in the right direction. It’s reminding me to execute proper passes and race more realistically against AI whenever possible. The cost of more refined, realistic, and professional driving, however, is extra time spent battling AI of any difficulty, focusing more on side-by-side racing with an opponent than a time trial. Again, it’s not all bad, and for a normal race, this is far more realistic, but from a completionist perspective, it can be a nuisance.

With that in mind, it would be nice to tell the Drivatar system to look away once in a while.

Even if there was a cost involved, such as car tokens or in-game credits, sometimes I’d like to race just to get through a series, and how I’m driving isn’t necessarily representative of how I want to take on human opponents. This includes the sillier races I take on with my friends during Race Nights with intentionally ill-handling cars. Driving Jeeps with excessively bouncy suspensions is fun in a sick way with friends, but that’s not exactly something I want communicated as who I am for Forza 5’s single-player mode.

In that sense, there are real consequences for not taking a race seriously in Forza Motorsport 5 and beyond. Some people might not care about these consequences, and that’s fine, but I’d rather my AI be a challenge to other players by its driving, rather than its willingness to want to force its way to the front or pick silly cars. It’s a trade-off as the Forza series moves forward, putting more of an emphasis on clean, serious driving. Maybe I’m overstating the issue this causes for those of us who just want to rush through old content, since we’re kind of an outlier at this point, but I’m less comfortable jumping into Forza 5’s races than an older game like Forza 4, which doesn’t have the Drivatar system. Every bad move is another problem I’ll create for another player, friend or otherwise.

Progress in Forza Motorsport 4 as of August 9th, 2015.
Progress in Forza Motorsport 4 as of August 9th, 2015.

(Forza Motorsport 6 supposedly has a method for reigning in bad Drivatar behavior, but I’ll withhold my thoughts on this feature until I’m able to try it out in about a month.)

Thankfully, I’m still enjoying Forza 4. There are no consequences for racing fast and wild for fun, and it’s still some of the most enjoyable driving the series has ever offered. The remaining races on my event list will hopefully be completed soon, though they are all 20-25 minute affairs, and there’s about 32 races remaining, by my count. I’ve been down this road before in the last few years where my resolve and patience break down before I knock the remaining races out.

It would help if I got back to that racing rather than writing, anyways. I’ve been watching my Lotus Evora run cooldown laps around the Nurburgring GP circuit for the last half hour or so.

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