Time to post something mecha-related, even if it’s a game.
Right now I’m playing Armored Core: Formula Front on my PSP. If you could define playing as “designing mechs and their AI in order to fight other AI mechs”, that is. Being a newcomer to the Armored Core franchise (yeah, I haven’t played anything except that Nine Breaker game, then got whacked out too much by the learning curve), I’m not competent enough to achieve those crazy stunts my friend can pull off. As a longtime AC player, he claims that all he needs is a nice light AC setup, a cheap machine gun with lotsa ammo, and magazines.
And as having played FF for the PSP as well, he admits that it’s difficult for him to play manually. Which is why he grew tired of it pretty quick, and returned to his RPGs. My dreams of trying to play FF manually have been utterly shattered. Sure, I’ve had experience with using the shoulder buttons for sidestepping functions (thanks to Lost War Chronicles for that), but combat in LWC was never as frantic as in AC. Add the complicated lock-on system and I find myself dazed as the enemy mech dances around my lock while pummeling me to death. Ah, my poor mech.
So simply put, I view the AI feature as a great boon. The game itself even states not-so-subtly that you are an AC architect, first and foremost. Formula Front lore states that manual control is more trouble than it’s worth, so what I’ve been doing from the start is set up an AC and its AI for every battle. It’s a little hassle, yes, but I do like the feeling of winning with my config, thank you very much.
The AI feature is, thankfully, complex enough to imbue a unique fighting style to outfit any AC. You can set the AC’s default behavior, which influences optimal range, movement patterns, and offensive/defensive stances; there’s also AI performance-grading, which relies on spending points to prioritize different aspects of AC combat (usually how the AC does well in controlling heat and energy consumption, proper weapon usage, etc); and the chip system, which I haven’t gone into depth yet, because it involves inserting action chips at certain timestamps in the battle (ex. 30 secs into the match, engage the enemy in close range). These chips are unlocked, as I’ve learned after moving up in the rankings. So more chips, more awesome specific actions you can make. I need to start winning Regular League matches then.
But the AI is just one half of the problem. Of course, you have to design your AC first, before you even think of a correct AI configuration to match with it. This is where I’m a total klutz, having almost zero experience in proper AC design. I asked my friend a lot because the default ACs all had different legs (medium biped, chicken legs, hover legs, quad legs, and tank treads in that order). After piecing together what little info I understood, I started tinkering with them. FCS too shallow, use wider one (mental note to decrease jumping frequency when I get to AI). Machine Gun has too little ammo, replace with one that has more, install magazines, oh shi- overweight, tune up the weight stats, etc etc. I guess this is just one of the wonderful parts of fully-customizable mechanized combat, and its bane, too. Sometimes the sheer amount of figures I have to juggle with cause my mind to overload.
I’ll admit, AC is still hard, manual or AI-controlled. If your AI-controlled AC loses, you have no one to blame but yourself (or your kid brother who messed up your perfect config). When I first lost, I felt as if I was the one controlling my AC myself. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. It’s still fun, being able to customize your own mech’s parts, giving it your custom paintjob (I’ll have to give my team Amuro Ray colors now), and even giving them fancy names. Not as high on my fun scale as tearing Gepelnitch a new asshole with reaction weaponry (see Macross Ace Frontier), but much more fun than trying to dodge an entire missile volley from a renegade SDF-1 (again, see MAF). I’ll probably be engrossed with this until the end of the year.