Sawbuck Gamer

Randobot

Good Luck With That

Randobot leaves too much to chance.

By Jason Reich • November 28, 2012

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.

Poor Randobot. Plucked from slumber like an unripe mango and dispatched on a mission before his circuits have an opportunity to fully charge, what he really needs is a few months of robot physical therapy. When are we going to learn, people? This is the kind of treatment that’s ultimately going to cause our mechanical servants to turn on their human masters.

The game starts with an interesting premise: Pressed into service prematurely, Randobot’s movement and weapons systems only have a chance of firing on any given attempt, so you have to allocate your limited power to the systems you think you’ll need the most. The problem with Randobot is that when your crippled systems don’t work, they simply…don’t work. Even when you’ve memorized the location and timing of every single pit, platform, and enemy in the area, whoops, sorry, guess your jump function failed that time. Back to the beginning. Challenge is one thing. It’s something else to repeat a level again and again just because you flipped tails too many times. If you’re masochistic enough to play the odds until you boost your abilities’ success rate to 100 percent, all you’re left with is a pretty dull game. Even the shadowy scientists who built this sorry bucket of bolts don’t seem all that upset about the potential destruction of the universe. Good thing, because Randobot is irreparably on the fritz.

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  • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

    This idea of an “unreliable avatar,” for lack of a better term, is a cool concept. It’s too bad that Randobot couldn’t make much hay of it.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      In small doses, sure.  Like in games where you get hit with a “confusion” spell and your controls are reversed.

      • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

        Ooh, yeah, hadn’t thought of that. Perfect example. I always find it fun (or at least funny) to have to re-learn how to move in the space of a few seconds—and then forget it just as quickly.

        At the New Hampshire state fair a few years back I saw one of those carnival booths where they set up a game that looks easy but is, of course rigged/very hard. This one was simple. It was a bike on which the handlebars were reversed: turning them left made the front wheel turn right, and vice versa, obviously. To win the prize, you simply had to ride the bike five feet. The carnie, of course, was able to demonstrate how “simple” it was to accomplish the feat. The entertainment value came from watching rube after rube take a shot at it—they would fall down INSTANTLY. It was awfully funny. I didn’t try it but now wish I had so that I knew what it felt like.

        • George_Liquor

          I think the original Soldier of Fortune FPS game sported weapons that would occasionally jam. It was frustrating as hell, but also a bit thrilling to have happen during a heated firefight.

        • Penis Van Lesbian

          Oo, I’ve tried riding one of those. Conscious turns aren’t the problem – you won’t even get that far – it’s the hundreds of unconscious micro-adjustments that get you…

      • Bad Horse

        Fission Mailed

      • http://gameological.com/author/jasonreich/ Jason Reich

        How about the drunk driving in GTA4? That was the only fun part of hanging out with your stupid cousin.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          EURGH!  I stopped playing at that mission and never went back, so not fun for me. =P  And I got sick of his phone calls interrupting me when I was trying to do my own thing, so I quit playing altogether.

        • WL14

          How about tripping over curbs in Silent Hill 2? I remember bumping up the difficulty level ’cause the game was so fun then FACEPLANT

        • Mike_From_Chicago

          I didn’t known SH2 had that feature.  Back in the late-90s I thought about how cool it would be if there were gigantic open-world games where you did things like ride the train and drive cars and shoot people and kind of go at your own pace.  One aspect of that was the idea that some things would just randomly go wrong – like there’s be an infinitesimal chance that your character would trip while running, or the gun would jam, or the car wouldn’t start.

          The gaming landscape today truly is like living in an adolescent fantasy, but I do wish games were trying to make things a little more chaotic and less schematic.  If that weren’t done just right it would be egregiously frustrating, but I think a well-built “run and gun and trip” engine could be fun.

  • George_Liquor

    Evidently, the possibility of a Robot Holocaust is being given serious consideration:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20501091

    I wonder if they know something we don’t…

    • DrunkPhilatelist

       the great thing about that study is that it’s being conducted by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. or as most people know it: the ol’ Cambridge CSER. i don’t know about you, but i feel a little bit safer knowing that somewhere, in a bunker deep underground, a group of scientists with (i imagine) Nietzsch-esque mustaches are giving serious thought to what would happen if ASIMO decided to put the smack down on humanity.

      • George_Liquor

        To me, the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk sounds like it came out of a bet; like its original name was Centre For The Study Of The Goofiest Load Of BS We Can Come Up With And Still Win Grant Money.

        • DrunkPhilatelist

          the runner up was the Centre for the Study of Marry, Boff, Kill Scenario Adjudication.

        • Electric Dragon

          Existential Risk is my favourite board game.

  • His_Space_Holiness

    Having a machine be inexplicably unable to perform the task it’s designed to do is one of the most obnoxious, frustrating things to deal with in the real world. I don’t understand why someone thought it would be fun to have a virtual one.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Introducing the Office Space adventure game!  Try, just TRY to make that motherfucking copier work!  Looks like somebody has a case of the Mondays!

      • Electric Dragon

        Achievement Unlocked:PC Load Letter

    • Mike_From_Chicago

      Y’know what would be a fun game?  A game that doesn’t start at all and freezes your computer every time you try to play it. 

  • Cloks

    Having it fail randomly is such a bad idea when there are so many almost immediately obvious and better ways they could have gone with it. For example, what if you gave the robot fixed failure points that had be to solved with judicious use of other skills? What if the puzzles were set up in a way that you had to repeat them multiple times with different skills sets?

    Honestly, it’s a shame that they pushed out a half-baked idea rather than committing to a good one.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    Sometimes, good ideas are terribly executed. Other times, ideas are just terrible. Randobot is an instance of the latter.

    To go off on a wildly unrelated tangent, this game reminds me of speech checks in certain RPGs, where increasing one’s speech stat makes the player more likely to pass a speech check, instead of having a set threshold above which the speech check is always passed and below which it is never passed. I’m not fond of either system, to be frank, but dealing with an element of randomness in a speech check can be extraordinarily frustrating, especially when you’ve got a 90% chance of success on a check and still end up failing it.

    It makes me wonder: why don’t games adopt more sophisticated speech systems? And I don’t mean something like Oblivion’s atrocious spin-the-wheel speech minigame; I mean a speech system that reflects the actual act of conversation and doesn’t just come down to how many stat points you’ve invested in a speech skill. Deus Ex: Human Revolution came close to achieving such an ideal. There was no speech stat, and though conversations could be facilitated with the social enhancer upgrade, they still revolved around assessing an NPC’s temperament and responding accordingly. Alpha Protocol also had an interesting speech system where conversation choices worked almost like QTEs, and conversations didn’t have “success” or “fail” states. In that regard, they came close to replicating actual human interaction.

    It seems to me that developers have invested so much work into honing combat, crafting, resource management, stealth, and other game functions that not much has been left over to design great speech systems. It’s telling that many games boast realistic gun recoil and bullet trajectories modelled using actual real-world physics, but so few games have progressed beyond the level of a browser game on Newgrounds in the speech department.

    • DrunkPhilatelist

       have you played the Walking Dead games by chance? the conversations in the episodes i’ve played have been pretty satisfying. there’s obviously a lot of work put into them, and the characters will call you out if you’ve contradicted yourself or are acting inconsistently. i also like that you have a brief window of time to select your response.

      i’m glad you brought up oblivion’s conversation minigame. i loved that their idea of eloquence was rapid fire jokes interspersed with threats and flattery. i can imagine some heavily armed weirdo coming up to you and saying that you look beautiful today, but he’ll gladly break your legs if you don’t tell him where the key to the dungeon is, and have you heard the one about the 12in pianist?

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I’ve been meaning to try The Walking Dead episodes at some point. They’re on Merve’s List of Games to Buy During a Future Steam Sale Once He’s Put a Dent in His Ever-Growing Backlog. I quite like the idea of characters calling the player out for contradicting him or herself; I imagine it makes the dialogue feel like actual conversations instead of merely a system to be exploited.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      I’m still in awe over DE:HR’s handling of your conversation with the officer at the front desk of the police station.  One of the few (or only?) conversations where your view stays first-person, and ends up being really immersive because of it.  I was suddenly really invested in talking to Adam’s…er, my old friend from my military days.