The latest issue of Nintendo Gamer is out now
Fairness is a hot topic in Nintendo land right now. Why? Mario Party bleedin' 9. You sweat your dungarees off bagging 27 stars, and then a bunch of Boos nicks the lot and banishes you to last place. Boo indeed. Nintendo's always had a strange relationship with fairness.
Take Mario Kart. On the one hand, there's the spiky blue shell, with its literally unstoppable pursuit of justice for slowcoaches. On the other, there are the cheaters who snake their way through Mario Kart DS or exploit that upsetting shortcut on MK7's Wuhu Mountain Loop track - while Nintendo shrugs benignly from the trackside.
The Psychology of Video Games blog (read it: it's good) recently talked about the Dunning-Kruger effect: the tendency for average gamers to believe they're more skilled than they actually are. It's why online gaming can be a shock: you go in cheerful and confident, and emerge all battered and muttering darkly about the hollow futility of life's ceaseless struggle.
So in online terms, making things nice for newbies while placating the pros is a pretty tough balancing act. Skill matching is nice, but I honestly think a bit of manufactured luck (MK7 producer Hideki Konno has said he wants races to feel like "checking your horoscope") is helpful for stopping that one smug git going on a winning streak that only ends when the sun explodes. But what about offline, when developers break the very rules they themselves created?
You've doubtless got your own most-hated cheating AI. Somewhere in a dusty corner of the internet, you'll find a 10-year-old article where I weep and wail at GBA F-Zero's CPU racers, who manage to outwit Einstein himself by breaking the speed of light to catch you from anywhere on the track. Needfor Speed is good at that little trick, too.Then there are games you suspect are cheating, but infuriatingly can't prove. Exhibit A: Pokémon Black/White. Ever had a DS-controlled trainer suddenly pull out a heal move just as they're down to 1 HP? Or seen super effective moves arrive just that little tooeffectively? Sure, illusory deterministic patterns often emerge from non-biased probability distributions - but Pokétrainers are still cheating little basts.
But would I get rid of cheating AI? Well... maybe not. Because - and you've all been there - actually beating an unfair AI is among the sweetest, mostadrenaline-bathed victories of all. Developers throw their most crooked, cheaty-flavoured algorithms at us, and we fling back swear words and primal screams until, eventually, glorious gurning defeat over injustice is ours. So, I don't know, maybe 'make games unfair' is a better manifesto point. How could we do without that kind of satisfaction? Although, by god, I'd still like to wring that bloody Boo's neck, just once.