If I have to choose between accepting the fact I might just be bad at this game or believing the AI is employing an improbably complex set of algorithms to destroy me at all cost, I say “rack ’em up you cheating cheater, rack ’em up.”
The original Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was both endlessly entertaining and furiously frustrating – a quick Google search and you’ll find the role-playing puzzler is just as likely to be praised for its addictive gameplay as it is to be cursed for its cheating AI, a claim refuted by developer Infinite Interactive. Though some of the passion verges on hysteria, I can’t blame fellow my Questers for their love/hate relationship with this game. Nor for their doubting the integrity of their virtual opponent, having myself been forced to watch – on numerous occasions – the seemingly omniscient AI move one lousy gem to trigger an impossible and devastating combo cascade, leaving me clutching my DS and weeping quietly. Oh so quietly.
Even though extensive therapy has finally rid me of my delusion that the AI is conspiring against me (even though it is, you bet your sweet ass it is), that hasn’t stopped Puzzle Quest: Galactrix producer Marcus Savino from trying to convince me further still that the second iteration, a Hexic-inspired science fiction odyssey, isn’t hiding in my closet THIS VERY MOMENT, ready to heap red space mines upon me the second I reach for the light pull.
“I didn’t program the AI system but what I can say is that every system in ‘Galactrix’ has been refined since ‘Challenge of the Warlords,’ so I’m sure optimizations were done. But [the AI system] was never cheating in the first place so we didn’t have to fix it to make it not cheat!”
“What I can say about the AI [in Galactrix] more than anything else is that, for sure, it doesn’t cheat — guaranteed,” he said. “One of the cool things about the way this game works is it there is a sort of randomness. The way the puzzles pieces come on the board at the beginning of the battle is random — it’s like a roulette wheel or something like that. The logic of how the pieces come together doesn’t always favor the enemy or the player; sometimes it favors you and sometimes it favors the AI.”
In Warlords, the AI examined the board and graded immediately available moves and spells and determined the best score, always picking the best one on “Hard,” one of the top 10% on “Normal” and one of the top 50% on “Easy.” And though its insidious “suggested move” function almost always set you up for disastrous consequences, Infinite Interactive stands by the claim that it never looked ahead, or at least it wasn’t meant to – I am pretty sure my copy ACHIEVED SENTIENCE during the boss battle against Dugog. But just to be sure, the AI in Galactrix will perform better “anti-cheating,” actually analyzing and avoiding lucky drops to give the player a fighting chance.
Still, look for “Galactrix AI is a cheating motherf*cker” threads to pop up on forums web-wide when the game drops early next year for PC, DS and Xbox Live Arcade. “Some people think that anything that’s random is actually rigged, but the computer player is just trying to make the best match possible. It’s exactly the same break you have. Sometimes the computer makes good matches and sometimes the computer makes matches that you wouldn’t have made.” Translation: sometimes it makes good matches and sometimes it makes GREAT MATCHES. But, regardless of how ultimately conniving the AI, if Galactrix is anywhere near as fun as Warlords, I say bring on the double-dealing. My therapist is gonna be thrilled.