"I wouldn't call this unfair... precise timing just happens to be one thing computers are better at than we humans. It's not like I think Watson should try buzzing in more erratically just to give homo sapiens a chance."
Making a computer opponent for a multi-player game is hard, as our Artificial Stupidity and A.I. Breaker pages can attest. However, in almost any game, on max difficulty at least, they are skilled at Button Mashing, Combo Breakers, and any manner of task that requires good reflexes.
This is because they are the easiest things to program a computer to be good at. Tasks like finding a good position in a fighting game requires considering dozens of intertwining factors, but timing the button presses for a Combo Breaker are no problem; just tell the game to run the combo breaker routine at the appropriate time. As far as the player is concerned, the computer must have timed the breaker move correctly. In fact, it is easier to program a computer to break the combo every time, but less lazy programmers will simply give the game a percentage chance of defending it depending on the difficulty. If you've got a really ambitious dev team, this percentage chance might even change depending on the situation, with a set of factors deciding if the computer was "caught off guard".
Likewise, Smashing Survival is a piece of cake for computers. The computer can literally decide how much it wants to send a button pressing signal to the game, so it's all too tempting to make it inhumanly good in this regard to make up for things it's not so good at.
Usually not quite part of The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, as the concept of "cheating" gets abstract; the computer by necessity has to be the one drawing the action, and it's never really using a controller. The idea is that someone with Super Reflexes could theoretically pull off the same with a TV and controller.note In practice, display and control devices do have their own physical limitations ("lag") that would prevent even a superhuman player from matching an AI at full speed, so only a Tool Assisted Speedrunner could do it. Normal players, on the other hand, need to drive the focus away to something else that they can beat the computer at, often resulting in a single-player Metagame that in no way resembles the multi-player one.
The Perfect Play A.I. relies heavily on this, which is why they can time jabs at the exact moment that you are in their range, every time, and block anything the instant you attack. Sometimes they decide to outright cheat as well by blocking before your attack appears on-screen and "jabbing first" if you both time your attacks perfectly.
This trope applies to anything an AI can perform well in without cheating. Computer opponents can also be programmed with an impeccable memory, and a team of AIs can communicate with each other more quickly and accurately than any human team could.
This affects other computer fields besides video games. Computers are "fast but stupid"; they can crunch an awful lot of data, but will do it exactly as coded, and you can thank your lucky stars for that, or maybe not, frankly we're not sure yet.
Humans can do this too, in Tool Assisted Speed Runs, and, to a lesser extent, in games with Real Time with Pause.
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AI is inhumanly fast but not cheating
In Super Smash Bros.., especially the original and Melee, high-level AIs basically make anything that can be escaped from with button mashing almost completely useless. For instance, while you can pummel a grabbed character to inflict some extra damage before you throw them, the AI can potentially escape before you can even hit them once at low damage percentages (Where it would be the most useful). By the time you're even able to pummel them for any decent amount of time, they're generally already at a percentage where they can easily be KO'd.
They can also pull off perfect guards (block at the right instant to avoid shield damage and reflect projectiles) much more regularly than most humans can pull off.
In Melee, Ganondorf was probably the worst example of this with his ridiculously powerfulandfast jab and Up Special. In Brawl, there are numerous examples, but the most egregious are undoubtedly Mario, Luigi, and Mr. Game&Watch. They will pull unreasonable combos out of nowhere, and continue using attacks the exact second your shield goes down, your atttack is about to go into effect, and for extra obnoxiousness, the exact frame the "cooldown" of their previous attack ends. It gets ridiculous right about when Level 9 Luigi lands 5 successive aerial attacks on you to kill you immediately after respawning. Luigi can also hit-stun players, which is normally impossible in Brawl, but that's another trope.
The Mortal Kombat games have computers instantly pulling off all sorts of moves that require frame-exact timing or pushing a bunch of buttons in quick succession, causing many players to discard the stylish strategies they would use against other humans and simply repeat an A.I. Breaker over and over again. In particular is the simple uppercut, which the computer can pull off with a precision even the fastest gamer could not duplicate reliably.
Final Fantasy Tactics has the Calculator job. Basically, the Calculator would cast a spell on every single unit who met certain criteria. You could spend time looking up everyone's stats, grabbing their weaknesses and optimizing for damage. Or you could give the AI control of the Calculator, and watch them cast the best spell in an instant!
On Call of Duty's Veteran Mode, the AI can turn fully around, quick-scope and get a headshot on you within 2 seconds—even in the console versions of the game.
Touhou games have their Bullet Hell directed by mathematical formulas. In the Phantasmagoria installments, this translates to the AI opponent being able to pull off ridiculous dodges due to knowing exactly where every bullet is in relation to its own hit box. In essence, they are "pushed" away by bullets. AI Breakers aside, the computer is invincible until it decides (via RNG) to commit suicide.
Interestingly, these are the specific (non-fighting) games in which there's enough randomness to produce an A.I. Breaker: chance can produce completely inescapable bullet patterns that the computer can't see develop in time to not be in the area. (In contrast, a computer could probably play any of the "normal" Touhou games perfectly.) It's the reason the extra stages give each opponent a period of actual invincibility.
In League of Legends, the bots are able to pull off combos (Especially Annie, Renekton, and Ryze) with superhuman reflexes. This is what makes them dangerous, and while the bots aren't generally known for their tactical genius, the burst-oriented bots are as good as more skilled human players in this one aspect.
This applies to everything for the bots, of course...use a blinding attack on a human and it might take them a bit to realize it, but a bot will automatically know and run away. However, this is especially apparent against Intermediate bots, who get the ability to use their summoner spells. If a bot near you has Ignite and you're low enough to die from it, you're dead; end of story.
Chain-stunning is a particularly nasty ability of bots. When trying to kill you, they will gladly make sure to apply their stuns or other control effects end-to-end. Whereas even good players can accidentally apply two mutually exclusive control abilities at the same time, the bots never do this, nor do they allow any time in between two different control effects taking place. This can result in you standing still for six or more seconds in a game where most control abilities last for 1-2 seconds.
This has gotten even worse with the introduction of several new champions whose abilities were more complicated, like missle spells that don't auto-target. When Lux or Morgana fire their movement restricting missle ability, if you keep moving the way you were, it WILL hit, requiring you to make a half-second reaction to dodge it.
Karthus Bot might as well qualify as a Demonic Spider. Karthus has an ability that takes three seconds to fire, has a very visible casting animation, and hits everyone on the map. Karthus Bot knows exactly how much damage it can do, and exactly how much damage each champion can take before they die. If this ability is available, and anyone on the map can die from it, it WILL be fired off (and won't be used for anything less than a kill), and the only way out is to heal, shield or increase your defenses enough in the next three seconds. This is usually not an option. When playing against Karthus Bot, it's best just act as if you have somewhat less health than you actually do.
Cassiopeia Bot is similarly bad. Her spell combo involves a delayed activation poison, followed by a spell which is spammable on poisoned targets. Her poison never misses, and her spams will hit you 100% of the time you're poisoned, and never accidentally hit you unpoisoned. Word of God says it initially made her better than any human player the game has.
Some Street Fighter games have AI with tournament-level combo skill on even the easier difficulty settings.
They also have the right counter at the right time every time, you can see this in 4 because it's a bit "slower" than the 2d fighters. Do a move and the computer has the right move set up or a super waiting on your recovery (if you get to recover).
The CPU does cheat in many games. In fighting games you generally get 30-60 frames per second, and you get 1 input per frame. So a move like a fireball which is down, down forward, forward + attack would be 3 frames at the absolute fastest, which is really only achievable by the fastest players using a hitbox (which is a fighting controller with all buttons) consistently. The computer can do all moves in 1 frame without jumping or anything else for 360 motions. So if you drop a 1 frame link (a combo you must hit at the right time with 1/60th of a second interval) the computer will counter with a super move IMMEDIATELY, when it should take 6 frames or more depending on the move.
In Guild Wars, there are customizable allied NPCs called heroes, and this is often taken advantage when choosing skills for them. Heroes are often able to use "interrupt" skills on spells that only take a quarter of a second to cast, for example. Unfortunately, they are terrible at deciding which spells are worth interrupting...
In Bayonetta, the fights against Jeanne include Pummel Duel phases activated by Action Commands. In Easy and Normal, winning the duel isn't difficult; in Hard mode however, you have to Button Mash inhumanly fast to win and take quite a lot of damage if you lose. Thankfully, you can also chose to dodge the attack rather than engage the duel, which also lets Jeanne's guard open for a moment.
This trope is neatly illustrated in an AI project for Infinite Mario Bros. If not for the debugging information, you'd think this was a Tool Assisted Speedrun!
This is the bane of many RTS players' existences. The computer appears to be doing several dozen things simultaneously, which a human player cannot. This is, in fact, not the case; the computer is just doing them all one at a time at speeds humans can't match.
Every Mario Party has a few minigames requiring players to do something really fast on the controller, and computers on the highest difficulty are nearly impossible to beat in many of them. The first game had a couple of stick spinning games that were incredibly hard to beat except with unorthodox methods such as using the palm of your hand to spin the stick, forcing Nintendo to give away gloves so players wouldn't get a rash playing the game.
When set to hard, the computer players can actually input button commands (A and such), faster than what an actual, physical N64 computer is capable of registering per second.
In Pokemon Puzzle League, computers at the highest difficulty level can pull off the most ridiculous chains thanks to the precision and speed they boast. In fact, even the first opponent in Super Hard difficulty can be potentially more problematic than the last opponent of Very Hard difficulty if you're not careful. Expect to use lots of continues in S-Hard as you hope for a lucky break against several of the later foes. The 2nd encounter with Gary, in particular, is specially grating, as not only does he pull enormous chains as often as he can (something that all but the most skilled players would be hard pressed to replicate, even to the degree that he does), but if you lose to the next opponent, Puzzle Master Mewtwo, then you have toface Gary again.
A key to supercomputer Watson's success in Jeopardy!, where a signal lights up after the clue is asked and the first player to buzz in gets first dibs on a response. Watson had to use a mechanical finger and use a light sensor to know when it could play, but was still very fast and completely consistent with the buzzer in cases where it knew the response. Ken Jennings explains on the third question of this Q&A. Even Brad Rutter's Super-Mario-fueled reflexes were little match, though Jennings improved his speed considerably throughout the two-day event.
This is the whole premise behind high-end computer chess programs. A human grandmaster is capable of calculating somewhere around 500 moves in three minutes (the length of an average turn in a grandmaster-level game). Deep Blue, the supercomputer that defeated former world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, was capable of calculating approximately 200 billion moves in three minutes. This is why the difficulty settings on a recreational chess program typically involve adjusting the number of moves the computer is allowed to look ahead and/or adjusting the maximum amount of time the computer is allowed to think before it must make a move. The further it's allowed to look ahead and the more time it's given to calculate moves, the more challenging it becomes for the human player to win.
Calculation speed isn't the only factor in chess computers, of course. In recent years high-level chess play has been possible on commercial hardware, not just super-fast purpose-built machines. In 2009, a chess program called Pocket Fritz 4 won a tournament with grandmaster-level play calculating 'only' 20,000 positions per second. It was running on an HTC mobile phone. The trick is to do the same thing human grandmasters do: figure out what moves (and sets of moves) are bad, and don't waste time thinking about the huge number of moves that happen after one of those horrifically bad moves.
AI designed to react realistically
In Concentration Room, a card-matching game for Nintendo Entertainment System, the player turns two cards face-up and keeps them if their emblems match. Otherwise they turn back face-down. The computer opponent can remember the emblems on all cards that have been turned over and in theory play perfectly. But it intentionally forgets a percentage of emblems based on the difficulty level in order to model human-like memory.
The patch notes for Team Fortress 2 reveal that the AI actually use a virtual mouse and keyboard, complete with the jitters and jiggles that human hands might experience.
This becomes especially apparent in Mann Vs. Machine, where you can circle-strafe entire swarms of enemies at once.
AI players in Black & White physically move over the map at a limited, moderately fast pace, and must (slowly) draw a spiral in the air to use the Gesture system and trigger their spells. You, on the other hand, have a variety of shortcuts and snaps to move around the map much quicker, and can Gesture much faster than them with some skill and experience. The one advantage they do have is in the "reach outside your influence" mechanic. A human player may be able to reach a decent distance. The AI can reach all the way into yours to grab trees, when its influence is on the other side of the map.