Drive Angry

There’s a list. Some of you are on it. You do not want to be on the list. The list includes heinous men of evil with names like ThinJ, MrGreen, ZeroKFE, SkeletonFrames and Edgar Newt.

Let it be known right from the top: They started it.

It would happen, as it so often does, on the tight corners of Circuit De Catalunya, the iconic corkscrew turn of Laguna Seca. Sometimes, as if just out of spite, it would happen on the long straightaway of the Brickyard. I would, as innocent as a newborn lamb, yet careful and precise as a watchmaker, be navigating my Subaru Impreza or Lexus LFA through the winding circuit in the spirit of friendly competition and fair play, and what would happen? One of these villains would come along and simply ram me for no reason at all.

No reason at all!

"Consarn it," I mutter at the screen as I hit the Y button to attempt to rewind this injustice from the world. Cars spin backward through time, the crumpled mass of digital metal that had twisted and contorted in the hairpin turn now back to an aggressive conga line of unimaginable momentum, inevitably careening to the same fate. Time restarts, and I adjust my angle, my speed; I try to come into the cacophony of jockeying AI a little cleaner and then — BAM! — there’s the front of Edgar Newt’s Beemer inside my passenger-side door. Again.

That was how it all started, how I taught my naive and young Drivatar that the only way to succeed in this world was to strike before struck. That was how I decided that watching Swat or Zero scream out of the race and spin into the dirt after what I like to call a “pre-emptive” pit maneuver was not only desirable, but justified. In my head, my Drivatar is watching in the shadows as I show him the dark arts, and he will go out and seek my vengence.

This is what makes Forza 5 possibly the best entry in one of my favorite series of all time. Also, probably the most infuriating.

When I first heard the word "Drivatar" said aloud, I was skeptical of both the name and the idea. While I’m now totally sold on the idea — and think it may be one of the best gaming innovations to come along in a while — I still can only manage at best to ignore the ridiculous name. Granted, if Turn 10 were really committed to the portmanteau, there aren't many better options. Ava-car? rAIcer? No, the only winning move to that marketing cul-de-sac was not to play.

But back to the concept, because it really is brilliant. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also pretty well implemented. Certainly if the Drivatar idea had just looked like any other standard AI, it would be largely forgotten, but it doesn’t. It really does feel like there is an element of the recklessness and fallibility of the human mind and spirit.

“Ah,” I can say to myself with smug satisfaction. “Of course Certis spun out into the grass coming into the Hammerhead turn. He totally would do that.” It brings a leaping of joy to my heart just to think about those moments when your formerly close friends and now mortal enemies make a meaningful and believable mistake as you drift cleanly by.

By "mistake," I mean I may have shoved him a little bit into the grass, but let’s not get distracted by details.

As we accelerate out of the long, bending turn of the console-generation's launch, there are glimmers here and there of what the next generation may hold in store. Moments where, in Dead Rising 3, you have a screen full of hundreds of shambling zombies. Twitch.tv integration on the PS4. The TV and Snap functionality of the Xbox One. And, to me, you can add to that list Forza’s simulation of the people you know and love to ram with the hood of your Dodge Charger.

This isn’t just reckless Forza love — I’d need a whole other article to encapsulate all of that. I’m thinking of the ways the Drivatar concept can hopefully inspire other game makers. I’m imagining a Battlefield where my friend Julian from the podcast spawns helplessly, runs around briefly aiming at nothing in particular, and then wanders headlong into my crosshairs. I’m imagining a poker game where some Julian analog goes all-in on the turn with a king-high straight against my flush.

What I’m saying is that Julian is bad at games.

There is a heightened experience of feeling like you're playing against your friends. Or at least this version of them where the system has learned their skills and their foibles. I can’t always have access to a game of Madden with a friend, but if the AI I were playing against played specifically like them, then I’m honestly more likely to feel engaged in and connected to the game. Unless it’s Certis — I don’t play Madden against him.

What I’m saying is that I’m also bad at video games.

It’s far from a flawless system, and there’s much room for improvement. I’m imagining, for example, a race where someday there isn’t a sixteen-car pile-up coming into the first turn. I’m imagining feeling a greater differentiation between the AI that sometimes still seems a little homogeneous, like a regular AI with a friend’s name stuck to it. I’m imagining the AI returning to its master saying, “Hey, here’s where everyone keeps beating me; could you maybe tighten this part of your game so I don’t look like an idiot, you jerk?”

But, as a proof of concept, the Drivatar is a triumph. Now, if only I could actually see the looks on people’s faces when my Drivatar is closing hard on the sweeping final corner of Atlanta like a scene from the Stephen King movie Christine. I imagine it as look of horror and hatred.

Xbox, record that!

Comments

Oh wait, this isn't the self-driving car thread?

For some reason I haven't paid much attention to what the Drivatar is actually promising, partially due to my skepticism of their ability to pull it off. From the sounds of it, they did. As the data is all stored in "the cloud" it could be converted to future games in the series as well, as long as they use the same parameters (which I'd hope they do: using similar parameters for future games means the odds of taking away the data from older games, similar to EA shutting down certain game servers, are slimmer).

Expanding it to other games, however, really would help a lot. I'm imagining a Gears of War title where I can assign specific friends to my A.I. partners. Friend A prefers long-ranged weapons like sniper rifles, so they'll play as my support. Friend B prefers shotguns and kicking down the door, they'll also do well. Friend C keeps hogging the powerful weapons, wasting the ammo, and then gets downed an awful lot...yeah, let's just keep the default A.I. there.

Hopefully this is one technology Microsoft will use for good.

I can't tell if the system is working or not. On the one hand, everybody feels much more human as a driver; on the other hand, I'm sort of surprised by the lack of "range." It feels like there's Mr. Timid, Mr. Linebacker, and Mr. LastLapSurprisePassHarHar the Third. I'm not sure if that speaks to an issue with programming, or the friends I surround myself with, however.

All this Drivatar talk has pretty much sold me on Forza being the first driving game I am going to buy (2nd ever in my 30 years of gaming). It just sounds really fun.

ccesarano wrote:

For some reason I haven't paid much attention to what the Drivatar is actually promising, partially due to my skepticism of their ability to pull it off. From the sounds of it, they did. As the data is all stored in "the cloud" it could be converted to future games in the series as well, as long as they use the same parameters (which I'd hope they do: using similar parameters for future games means the odds of taking away the data from older games, similar to EA shutting down certain game servers, are slimmer).

Expanding it to other games, however, really would help a lot. I'm imagining a Gears of War title where I can assign specific friends to my A.I. partners. Friend A prefers long-ranged weapons like sniper rifles, so they'll play as my support. Friend B prefers shotguns and kicking down the door, they'll also do well. Friend C keeps hogging the powerful weapons, wasting the ammo, and then gets downed an awful lot...yeah, let's just keep the default A.I. there.

Hopefully this is one technology Microsoft will use for good.

Or turn over to the NSA to determine terrorists in training.

Me? Me?

I don't even own an Xbox One yet! I haven't played Forza 5!

You're still on the list from 4.

Elysium wrote:

You're still on the list from 4.

You know the cut is deep when you're instilling a psychic pain that carries over to sequels whether you play them or not. You have arrived, ThinJ.

I'm looking forward to the pseudo-me that gets mad at pseudo-Julian in your single-player game for equipping the wrong gear.

What I'm saying is I'm a jerk in games. ;D

Great writeup, sir.

Drivatar is so brilliant and revolutionary that nobody seems to be even capable of realizing that its concept and original implementation was in the first Forza game on the original XBox. I wonder if people just talk like this is the first time it has ever existed because this is the first time anyone has cared about it due to the online implementation. The general idea in the first game was the same, but it was more sectioned off. You had to specifically train it apart from career races. No idea if drivatar existed in 2-4, since i never played them.

Certis wrote:
Elysium wrote:

You're still on the list from 4.

You know the cut is deep when you're instilling a psychic pain that carries over to sequels whether you play them or not. You have arrived, ThinJ.

This brings me joy.

So... next poker night at my house, I should invite Julian?

As terrifying as Elysium's Forza Drivatar is purported to be, lets all just take a moment to be grateful that EU: IV doesn't have some version of the Drivatar.

TheHarpoMarxist wrote:

As terrifying as Elysium's Forza Drivatar is purported to be, lets all just take a moment to be grateful that EU: IV doesn't have some version of the Drivatar.

Are you sure? There's a dark logic behind how Burgundy tends to play in my games..

If you're France, you deserve everything you get!

You know where this sort of tech would be killer? Street Fighter 5.

LarryC wrote:

You know where this sort of tech would be killer? Street Fighter 5.

Fightars?

McIrishJihad wrote:
LarryC wrote:

You know where this sort of tech would be killer? Street Fighter 5.

Fightars?

Fistitars

Drivatar is so brilliant and revolutionary that nobody seems to be even capable of realizing that its concept and original implementation was in the first Forza game on the original XBox. I wonder if people just talk like this is the first time it has ever existed because this is the first time anyone has cared about it due to the online implementation.

Your point that the Drivatar has been around is true -- and there's a good reason its execution in Forza 1 is largely forgettable. The functionality and effectiveness of Forza 5's Drivatar is to my mind so substantially advanced and better/differently implemented that it is for all intents and purposes an entirely new feature.

I honestly can't wait for the "workatar" to be developed and do my survival day job for me so I have more time to play games.

TheHarpoMarxist wrote:

I honestly can't wait for the "workatar" to be developed and do my survival day job for me so I have more time to play games.

Haha, all it will do is post on GWJ all day.

Elysium wrote:
Drivatar is so brilliant and revolutionary that nobody seems to be even capable of realizing that its concept and original implementation was in the first Forza game on the original XBox. I wonder if people just talk like this is the first time it has ever existed because this is the first time anyone has cared about it due to the online implementation.

Your point that the Drivatar has been around is true -- and there's a good reason its execution in Forza 1 is largely forgettable. The functionality and effectiveness of Forza 5's Drivatar is to my mind so substantially advanced and better/differently implemented that it is for all intents and purposes an entirely new feature.

Exactly. It's the first time anyone has cared about it. But it's been there. And it still remains that what the original drivatar set out to be and do is still the base of the current one. That's the part that drives (sorry, no pun intended) me crazy as it hasn't even been mentioned and the talk is always as if the term never existed before.

But my guess is only people who stuck their noses in the menus of the original even have a clue it existed then. so I'll just be over here in the corner throwing my own little internet nerd rage party. Especially since the only MS console I have owned / intend to own is the original Xbox.

That's the part that drives (sorry, no pun intended) me crazy as it hasn't even been mentioned and the talk is always as if the term never existed before.

Until someone reminded me, I had forgotten it existed too. I think Turn 10 did that on purpose too. It's very much like they rebooted the idea, and seemed perfectly happy to not have anyone remember they tried this before.

I know the feeling you're talking about though.

FWIW, the drivatar (or drunkatar) is making it really hard to not grab one of those shiney XBOnes I see on my local store shelves.

I love how Sean's drivatar has been so maligned on the podcast that he has had to declare that it's really every one else's fault.

It's like the old anti-drug PSA. "I learned it from you, alright? I learned it by watching you!"

Sean's Drivatar is the new Chuck Norris.

Sean's Drivatar drinks molten lava when its thirsty.

While being intentionally walked in a baseball game, Sean's Drivatar managed to hit a home run.

The only thing that can destroy Sean's Drivatar is Sean's Drivatar.

Sean's Drivatar told total and utter silence to shut up and things got quieter.

Sean's Drivatar met the true Buddha on the road, and not only killed him but also killed like twenty other guys. For funsies.

Someone tried to challenge Sean's Drivatar to a duel, but before the glove had even hit Sean's Drivatar face, Sean's Drivatar had gone back in time and murdered that person's parents before they had even met.

Sean's Drivatar played MarioKart and Nintendo ceased to exist. Like, I have no idea what this particular thing refers to.

Sean's Drivatar can not only grind diamonds to coal, he can do the reverse.

Nightmares have nightmares of Sean's Drivatar.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody was around to hear it, Sean's Drivatar heard it. And subsequently chopped down the rest of the forest for waking him up from his slumber.

Such joy in my metal heart.

I really want to play the First Person Shooter with a drivatar system so I can shoot you in the face.

Or something like that.

I will point out I actually have a TROPHY from Sway that says "Julian Murdoch: Pretty good at games actually."

I only drive like a weenie because Certis's Drivatar ramming me from behind in every single friggin' Forza race I enter. I blame him.

I only want you to be better.