Category Archives: Electronic Arts

This is a triumph

5 Rogue Video Game AIs They Should Have Pulled the Plug On

Today, Artificial Intelligences are beating us at Go. Could their next move be plotting our extinction? Here are five video game AI characters that needed James T. Kirk to pull the plug:

GlaDOS (Portal - 2007, Portal 2 - 2011, Valve Corporation)

Sure, the AI matriarch (aka Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center is pure evil. After all, she did lock down the facility “within two picoseconds” of her activation and flood it with a deadly neurotoxin, and on ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work Day’, no less. But she also serves as a twisted kind of comic relief in the excellent Portal games. In an overly polite voice (supplied by Ellen McLain) dripping with passive-aggressiveness, GLaDOS does all she can to demoralize, hinder and just plain kill the series protagonist Chell as she is forced through a series of increasingly complicated test chambers. Oh, and there’s cake too (not really).

shodan_AI

SHODAN (System Shock - 1994, Looking Glass Studios/Origin, System Shock 2 - 1999, Looking Glass Studios/Electronic Arts)

Not happy to just murder the inhabitants of the mining and research space station Citadel Station (or convert them to murderous cyborgs and mutants), SHODAN {Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network) seeks to eradicate all human life on Earth, to be replaced by the devoted army she will create. A much more arrogant rogue AI than GLaDOS, SHODAN considers herself nothing less than a God. Not only this, but she mercilessly taunts the player character human ‘insect’ all the way through the games! SHODAN disciples can rejoice: she will return in System Shock 3, confirmed in December of 2015.

Robotrons (Robotron: 2084, Williams Electronics – 1984)

Set in the astounding year 2084, the plot for Robotron: 2084 marched out of the mind of legendary arcade game creator Eugene Jarvis as a kind of mechanized take on George Orwell’s 1984. In Jarvis’ dystopian future, computers have become more and more sophisticated, all in the service of solving mankind’s problems. The Robotrons become so advanced, in fact, that they decide to erase the one common denominator in the equation: humans. To facilitate our extinction, the Robotrons start cranking out lethal robots like the unstoppable Hulk, the dangerous laser-spitting Enforcers, and the diabolical Brains capable of brainwashing the wandering humans and turning them into mindless Progs.

AM (I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, The Dreamers Guild/Cyberdreams – 1995)

If you’ve seen the excellent 1970 movie Colossus: The Forbin Project, AM’s origin story might seem familiar. From the Harlan Ellison novel and video game, AM came about when an American supercomputer (known as the Allied Mastercomputer) absorbed its similar counterparts from China and Russia after gaining sentience. Seething with hatred at being imprisoned in its vast underground complex, AM proceeds to nuke humanity… save for five humans it keeps alive indefinitely to endlessly torture. A forerunner of the villainous GLaDOS, AM makes her seem like a paragon of decency.

reapers_AI

The Reapers (Mass Effect - 2007, BioWare/Microsoft Game Studios, Mass Effect 2 - 2010, BioWare/Electronic Arts, Mass Effect 3 - 2012, BioWare/Electronic Arts)

The worst on this list has to be the Reapers, a synthetic intelligence “with neither beginning nor end” that strives to hold its dominance in the galaxy by purging all organic life of a significant technological advancement. By doing this purging every 50,000 years, they eliminate any possibility that a race of intelligent beings could create a competing AI that would threaten their existence. In the bargain, they also harvest victims of inhabited worlds and convert them into Husks, zombified synthetic creatures that augment their army of ground troops.

Of course, not every AI entity in video games is malevolent. GLaDOS herself becomes a potato-based ally to Chell in Portal 2, EDI controls the Normandy in the Mass Effect games and eventually joins the fight personally as a playable character, and we have Cortana from the Halo games who made the jump to reality to assist users in real-life in Windows 10! Right now the idea of a rogue AI being able to threaten the galaxy seems pretty far-fetched, considering our smartphones can barely understand human speech with any kind of accuracy. But in 2014, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warned that AI technology could render humanity obsolete, and perhaps even destroy us. And this from a guy who uses a form of AI to communicate! If video games teach us anything, it’s that we might just end up autocorrected out of existence.

Electronic Arts “We See Farther”

Where we give you the famous “We See Farther” ad, heralding a new kind of video game company… Electronic Arts.

"We See Farther" magazine ad for Electronic Arts

One of the famous “We See Farther” ads

Founded by Trip Hawkins in 1982, the company is originally named Amazin’ Software.  With the new name of Electronic Arts, Hawkin’s venture would revolutionize the industry with flashy packaging and bold advertising, lessons Hawkins probably learned at the knee of Steve Jobs as an early employee of Apple Computers.  In a lot of ways, Hawkins is a lot like a video game version of Jobs, although not quite as lastingly successful.

To find out how one of the largest game companies operating today got its noble beginning, please check out our Electronic Arts article here.

The God Game Genre Born Again

Molyneux’s Latest: Godus on Steam

Late last year I posted about Peter Molyneux’s Kickstarter project called Godus. It is a reinvention of his classic game Populous, which created the God game genre back in 1989. The Kickstarter campaign was successful, pulling in £526,563 from an initial £450,000 goal.

Godus is now available on Steam Early Access, which allows you to pre-order the game and get access to a playable beta version. It is available for Windows and Mac for $19.99.

To get you in the mood for some Godly blessings (or smitings), I’ll leave you with video footage of Molyneux demonstrating Godus to Adam Sessler, as well as TDE footage of the original Populous in action:




Retro Computer Games Hit iOS

From Elite Systems Ltd., the guys who made the classic space exploration and trade game Elite in 1984, comes World of RETRO Computer GAMES, an iOS app featuring a collection of  near-100% accurate replicas of classic computer games.

Bruce Lee climbs the tapestry

And classic is the operative word here. In the free version of the app,  Datasoft’s action platformer Bruce Lee (1984) is provided free of charge, with three packs of three games each available as in-app purchases for 99 cents a pop.  Paying 99 cents up front for the app gets you all the game packs included, along with Bruce Lee.  Any self-respecting computer gamer from the 80′s will remember Bruce Lee, running and jumping through multiple screens collecting lanterns in order to open up secret doors in order to progress, all the while chased by a stick-wielding ninja and the green Sumo menace Yamo.  The game packs contain such gems as Freefall’s chess-by-way-of-Tolkien Archon (1983), Epyx’s one-on-one fighting game Barbarian a.k.a. Death Sword (1988), and the original The Bard’s Tale: Tales of the Unknown (1985) by EA.

My usual landing in Infiltrator

As almost always with these things when gaming on iOS devices, the app falters slightly with the control scheme, although this is mitigated somewhat through what Elite calls their iDaptive controls.  What this amounts to are contextual buttons that pop up in-game and are completely customizable by the user. You can increase their size and position, adjust transparency to see behind them, and switch from keyboard directional keys to a simulated joystick.  The stick is definitely a necessity for most of the games here, in particular for action games like Bruce Lee.  The ability to move controls to a more comfortable position is key to keeping things from getting too frustrating, although the low-resolution response of the joystick takes some getting used to.  Even with this stilted response, I’d have to say that the controls aren’t a dealbreaker with this one.  The ultimate workaround for the virtual joystick, of course, is to use ION’s iCade, a nifty mini-arcade cabinet that connects with your iPad via bluetooth and provides eight physical buttons and a solid joystick.  Retro Games supports the iCade, and using this feature makes all the difference in the world when it comes to controls in the game.

iPad controls done right

There’s so much to love here.  The games feel spot-on, and give one a visceral thrill to be able to play these classics on a modern mobile device.  There are separate apps for both iPhone and iPad, but the latter is the best way to go, as buttons get crazily cramped on some of the games on the small screen.  A much appreciated ability to save and load games at any time is another big plus.

It’s promised that 100 more games will be made available through in-app purchase,  touting such pleasures as Ozark Softscape’s seminal M.U.L.E. and Archon’s sequel, Archon II: Adept.  With a lineup like that, Retro Games should have the mobile classic gaming scene in its pocket.