Remember those bots?

Not all non-player-controlled entities are this vicious.
Not all non-player-controlled entities are this vicious.

Most people hate the AI-controlled bots, that were based off the AI for the Left 4 Dead AI survivors and infected. It’s not hard to see why, as many servers rely on bots to entertain the few people in the server during quieter times of the day. They’ve become the pawns of those who run servers only to make a profit. Everyone’s favourite teacher of TF2 tricks, AngrySockPuppet, even made a video about how the abuse of bots is making life a misery for people who just want to play a game of Team Fortress 2.

These bots came in several flavours. There are three types of bot that are part of the official game, TF_Bots and Puppet Bots. Puppet Bots don’t actually do anything, they just sit around. Or they copy you. Or they do things you tell them to do. They’re blank slates and you do what the hell you want with them.

Then you have the AI-controlled bots (or TF_Bots) which are slightly better. Alright, the TF_Bots aren’t that great, since they lack free will and a general inability to use anything other than stock (bless their little cotton socks though, they try so hard), but they move around and shoot enemies and they can generally navigate a map. Technically, the map (the map’s navigation mesh to be precise) actually tells the TF_Bots where to go, whether the thing in front of them is a wall or a place for Snipers to stand and shoot you at. When you generate your own quick navigation mesh, if you read the console, you can see that the game calculates things like walkable areas, hiding places and sniper spots. But I’ve already gone through all the things TF_Bots do.

Finally, you have NPCs. NPCs, or Non-Playable Characters or Non-Player Characters or whatever other acronym you fancy, are common place in the majority of games. See that Vortigaunt? NPC. See that creep? NPC. Alyx? Hunters and Smokers? Headcrabs? All NPCs. The NPCs in Team Fortress 2 though are far less obvious, they just seem like minor obstructions unless they’re in any of the Halloween game modes. Of course, NPCs are all scripted creatures. They lack much intelligence apart from what they’re told to do, which is why Merasmus always buggers off and hides when his health hits 10% and you’re desperately trying to find that last damn prop so you can kill the bastard and get that stupid hat. It’s also the same reason that those robots from rd_asteroid are so fricking stupid. They’re NPCs too.

The thing with NPCs in TF2 though is that they’re either fairly sophisticated monsters who want to kill you or slightly glitchy things that so assorted other things. The bosses from the Halloween updates are all fine as NPCs, but then you turn to things like those robots and the skeletons from Helltower. Have you tried using a flame thrower on a skeleton? I don’t know if they fixed the issue with the rd_asteroid robots, but most on-hit effects, like fire, airblast, bleeding, critical hits and head shots never worked correctly on the skeletons. The plus side to these NPCs is that you can have a huge number of them. A few Halloweens ago, I made a (really poor) video showing just how many of the old TF2 Zombie NPCs I could spawn before my computer gave out. There must have been at least 50 of them. NPCs don’t add to the player count, so you can have far more of then than you can TF_Bots or puppet bots.

So where am I going with all this? Not very far, really. My thought is this: Why doesn’t Valve use NPCs more in this game? They could make a solo campaign or a more immersive tutorial with an NPC who talks to you and stuff. Or they can flip things the other way and abuse the numbers. Let us have a REAL horde mode, where we face LOTS of robots, rather than just a couple at a time. The opportunities are endless and they’re waiting to be turned into yet another Valve money-printing machine.

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