Dynamic difficulty

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A comic depicting the rubber band AI of Mario Kart 64.

Rubber band AI is a video game term which describes a dynamically changing difficulty level based on the player's performance in order to maintain a constant challenge. Stated simply, the better a player does, the harder the game becomes. The term "rubber band AI" is based on the fact that computer-controlled opponents in racing games which implement this behavior seem to always catch up to the player no matter how fast they're going, almost as if they were attached by a rubber band. Rubber band AI is most popular in racing games, but was adopted heavily in sports and fighting games recently, and isn't unheard of in various other genres as well. One of the most famous implementations of rubber band AI is in the Mario Kart series which uses it in various ways, the most obvious is how AI racers surpass their maximum speed when a player is ahead of them, guaranteeing that they will always be close behind the player.

When rubber band AI is implemented evenly, I usually don't mind it, but when benefits the AI over the player allowing the computer to "cheat," I despise it. I almost always prefer when games have discrete difficulty levels.

Successful Implementation

I find that rubber band AI works best either when it benefits players and AI evenly, or when it helps keep the game on track. I also don't mind when the AI difficulty ramps up, but it's level is clearly described to the player.


Here is a list of games that are important to me which utilize rubber band AI:

Title Released Description
Chrono Trigger 1995-03-11
Diddy Kong Racing 1997-10-21
Left 4 Dead 2008-11-17
Left 4 Dead 2 2009-11-17
Mario Kart 64 1996-12-14 Used in item randomization (which is fine), but also in the max speed of AI karts, but not the players, which is awful. The AI speed-up is so flagrant that, even if you use the track jump in Rainbow Road on each lap, and E-slide for the rest of it, the AI will still catch up with you by the end. In multi-player games, the AI will always dog the leader, but human-players will not benefit.


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