Similar to the BattleBots competitions televised on Comedy Central, RoboForge allows players to design combat-oriented robots and enter them in online tournaments. The process of designing a robot is broken down into three stages: Construction, Training and Testing.
During the Construction phase, players put together their robot piece by piece in a 3D environment, selecting from a variety of Sensors, Joints, Controllers, Energy Generators, Weapons and Shields. Textures and colors are fully customizable. Once your robot is complete, it's on to Training.
Training is where players develop offensive and defensive moves by stringing together a series of movements. The physical attributes of the robot determine the effectiveness of a move. Then the robot's AI is programmed using a cause-and-effect system.
Testing takes place offline against training robots. In this mode, players can test out their robot's skills, AI and move effectiveness. If something needs to be changed, it's back to Construction or Training.
The culmination of this effort is the tournaments, which are held online against other RoboForge players. Amateur players can participate for fun, and professional players can complete in pay-for-play tournaments that offer cash prizes.
Is there a robot in your future? Most likely, there is. Robot mania is sweeping the entertainment world. From Mechwarrior to TV's Battlebots to One Must Fall, it seems like everyone is going metal. Clearly, this new release from RoboForge is exquisitely timed.
The premise for RoboForge is engaging sci-fi, to say the least. Here's the plot, from the website promo: "For millions of years a race of beings, whose evolutionary development infinitely exceeds your own, has scanned the universe for sentient life forms. Known as the Adjudicators, they have transcended the constraints of physical being, manifesting only as pure energy, and can navigate the universe effortlessly. Over eons these benevolent nomads have taken it upon themselves to nurture the seeds of civilization and to cultivate knowledge and peace."
The Adjudicators developed a novel means of nonviolent dispute resolution. Diplomatic stalemates are "adjudicated" in contests fought by the robotic gladiators owned by each adversary. The owner of the victor is "judged" to be winner in the dispute. It's all peaceful, nonviolent, and efficient. The background story sounds like any number of old Star Trek plots; the computer-generated warfare of "A Taste of Armageddon," in particular.
The goal in RoboForge is to design and create a tournament-ready robot, right down to the artificial intelligence that drives offense and defense. You'll "forge" a machine that blocks, parries and attacks on its own. You can even put a face on your robot, and other whimsy is allowed. You can micromanage the options, or let the AI guide you through with assumptions and shortcuts.
The missing interactivity is the first giant problem with RoboForge. Toned-down mechanical mayhem doesn't seem to be all that interesting. Once you build your fighting machine, you let the computer simulate the encounter with another unit. That's right, simulate. You do not control the vertical, the horizontal or the buzz saw. The AI that you programmed does all the work. All you can do is sit back like a parent and hope. Class valedictorian, or late-night police visit? Fumbling pile of clanking metal or ironclad Destructor? Frankly, I've had enough of that helpless feeling. I want to control my own destiny.
Unfortunately, adding interactivity probably can't be fixed without a massive amount of code. Too much code bloat might interfere with the goal of Internet distribution. So barring a big rewrite, maybe there's room in the exploding robot genre for a totally cerebral AI battle. Be content to let the computers fight it out, while the humans kick back and bid a few quatloos on the outcome. But the images have to be more captivating and worth cheering about.
The second missing ingredient is also going to take a lot of code: There are no flying parts, no shooting sparks and no whining machinery noises as a clanking machine emits its dying gasp. The effect of bashing another machine into a Found Art statue is a clean, antiseptic crushing. Mostly it stops moving. There are a few wispy smoke effects, but I didn't see pieces of metal littering the arena floor. There were no puddles of oil on the battle stage and no streaming jets of hydraulic fluids spurting into the front row.
Grumbling aside, the game has potential, and represents new directions that are a welcome step forward. It's bad enough that putting a robot together takes forever, and the combat is like watching paint dry. It's bad enough that I don't get to man the controller and have the satisfaction of battering an enemy senseless. All that can be forgiven if I get to see more detailed destruction. Give us damage -- metal damage!
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