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Rubber-Band A.I.

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This era also witnesses the dawning of the "No Bleeping Way Game," where you are playing out a "season" against the computer and doing a little too well, so the computer gets ticked and make sure there is no bleeping way you are winning the next game — dropped passes, improbable kick returns, random fumbles and so on. God, I hate the No Bleeping Way Game.

Picture this: You're playing Madden NFL. Your team is up by 13, there's three and a half minutes left until the end of the game, and you have the ball. Your victory is assured, right?

Wrong. Suddenly, the AI is twice as fast as you, knows what play you're going to run, and shuts down your offense, forcing you to punt - or, worse, your running back with a high "Hands" rating fumbles the ball, or an AI defensive back makes a miracle interception. On their drive, the AI marches down-field with no difficulty by completing several consecutive bombs, scoring an easy touchdown. Worse still, your clutch plays whether you control the offense or defense will be negated by penalties, giving the AI a sporting chance. Rinse and repeat, and before you know it you've lost what you thought was a safe lead. The video game has just experienced a Miracle Rally.

Why does this happen? The further you stretch a rubber band, the harder it pulls. It's the same idea here. Basically, the better you are doing at a game, the harder the game gets in order to continue to present a challenge. This isn't just the idea of making the game harder and harder as you progress further and further, this means that the level you're on right now will, for seemingly no reason, ramp up its difficulty if it thinks you're doing too well. This may, in some cases, be coupled with the computer actually cheating, rather than just getting better.

Of course, to be fair, this sometimes happens in reverse, with the AI easing up when winning to give you a chance to come back, stealing any satisfaction the player might gain from "victory." The classic example is a racing game in which opponents never gain a substantial lead on slow players but cling to the tails of even super-humanly skilled players, creating the impression of the AI's car being attached to yours by a literal rubber band. Sometimes gamers notice proof of rubber band AI (particularly in Mario Kart-style racing games) when their actual racing time in seconds when they take 1st place may be the same or similar when they race the exact same track and take as low as 6th place. Even though the times were the same, the racer's rank can fluctuate wildly due to rubber banding competitors.

Also seen in a few RPGs, where enemies are adjusted according to your character's levels, which can make any non-levelable stuff (like items) useless pretty quick. This is sometimes referred to as "punishing you for your experience." See Level Scaling and especially Empty Levels for examples of this sort of punishment.

The Other Wiki has a comprehensive article about Rubberband AI.

The reverse version of this trope is an Unstable Equilibrium. The trope also mixes with Do Well, But Not Perfect, where players in games with rubber band AI seem to be punished for simply being too good and aren't supposed to win that way.

Compare Dynamic Difficulty. May also overlap with (or even result in) Fake Difficulty. When a game allows human players in on it, it's a Comeback Mechanic. An easy race or level that comes after a particularly difficult Boss is considered a Breather Level.


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    Action Adventure 
  • Quite blatant in the hoverboard races in Ratchet & Clank (2016). No matter how well you do it is extremely difficult to get out of last or fifth place for the first two laps, and then you will suddenly shoot ahead to second place at the end of the third lap unless you make a lot of mistakes just then.
  • Ōkami features a bonus mission where you can race a character through a forest maze. Your opponent is much faster than you if you decide to take the normal route, so you must exploit every possible shortcut on the course in order to stay ahead. However, the race is split into three areas with load screens in between. If you were losing at the end of a section, the opponent will be far ahead of you at the beginning of the next section. If you were winning, no matter how far ahead you were, the opponent will suddenly be racing neck and neck with you in the next section. This leaves very little room for mistakes on any part of the course.
  • It can be quite frustrating when doing Goron Races in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask because no matter how well or poorly you do the racers will always be rocketing in front of you and then falling behind, meaning only the last few seconds really matter. On the other hand, even if you're terrible and keep crashing the AI won't get very far ahead of you. Presumably the other racers stopped to laugh at you.

    Action Game 
  • Magazine ads for Jurassic Park (Sega Genesis) claimed that as you played better, the dinosaurs would get smarter. It didn't seem to make much difference in the game, unless you count the raptors occasionally ducking your shots as getting smarter.

    Beat Em Up 
  • In Capcom brawler God Hand, enemies can "level up" depending on how well the player continues attacking and dodging counterattacks successfully, increasing in speed and strength. On the flip side, they de-level if the player gets smacked around too much or uses the "grovel" God Reel technique. There is an indicator on the side of the screen which shows you what "level" you're on. The more enemies you beat at a high level, the larger the money bonus at the end of the stage.
  • The arcade version of Turtles in Time adjusts the number of enemies that appear according to how well you're doing (e.g. if you got through three stages without losing a life they're everywhere, but if you had to spend several quarters it's much more lenient).

    Driving Game 
  • The Mario Kart series is infamous for this trope. Wipe out at the start of a race and it's a straightforward task to comeback and still win, especially considering that the Mario Kart games have been known to give struggling players really strong items MUCH more often than they would the struggling AI racers. Wipe out near the end of the last lap (having raced a perfect game so far), and there will always be three guys right behind you to snatch all the points.
    • In Super Mario Kart, CPU opponents always finish in the order they start the race, plus or minus one depending on how the player does (so if, say, Bowser starts the race in the first position, he will remain there until you finish a race ahead of him, at which point he will always finish at whatever position he next starts unless he manages to pull out ahead of you again). This can be used to game the AI in amusing ways, especially in order to neuter the cheating ones that get weapons and powerups a human racer doesn't have access to.
    • And if you're good at hitting shortcuts, expect the computer to be able to suddenly hit a top speed well beyond what any human could do. The most blatant instance is Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 64, which has a shortcut that can literally skip 40% of the course (and N64 Rainbow Road, as of the Deluxe edition of Mario Kart 8's release, is still the longest course in the series' history). Even if you hit said shortcut on all three laps and use perfectly timed drifting boosts throughout the rest of the course, the computer is still able to catch up to you by the last lap.
      • By turning on the map-view in 64 it's possible to watch opponents suddenly accelerate to unrealistic speed whenever they are outside of the game's draw distance for the player. Allow a single CPU driver to get too far ahead in 150cc or Extra and they'll reach the finish line in times no human player, even drifting experts, can finish in- especially in hectic courses like Toad's Turnpike and Bowser's Castle.
      • Similar to the example above for Rainbow Road, Maka Wuhu in Mario Kart 7 has an exploitable glitch that lets you skip at least half the track. If you do this while racing against the AI, they will magically catch up to you without fail. Then again you were cheating...
    • Mario Kart Wii exaggerates the rubber-banding. The computer racers change their speed depending on your position in the race, and they also get much better items than you if you're ahead, far better than you would if you were in their position. This is all par for the series, though... until you realize that there are more drivers in Wii — 12 instead of 8. The result is that driving too far ahead of the pack results in your getting bombarded with three or four items in a row, which requires impeccable coordination that only a computer could muster and adds at least five seconds to your lap time. At least there's always online play... but then you encounter the really good players, the ones who have beaten the computer at their own game and then some.
    • A notable example is in one of Mario Kart Wii's tournaments which had players race Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong while they had an infinite supply of banana peels. If you tried to get ahead of them, they would go at breakneck speeds up to you to make sure you couldn't stay ahead. Even the AI never does this in a regular race, so the two in this tourney outright broke that rubber band.
    • This happens again if you race against someone's Mii with the Street Pass feature in Mario Kart 7. The Mii you race against seem to be only focused in making your race as difficult as possible. Are you driving in a kart with nearly maxed out top speed while the Mii is driving with mediocre stats all around? That Mii will always stay on your tail no matter how perfectly you race or how many times the Mii is attacked. Watching the map screen, you can see the Mii's AI gaining a big boost in speed to catch up to you while the other AI racers have their "normal" variances in rubber banding. If you fall behind, the Mii will then go very slow to let you catch up.
    • To add to this, the times the AI gets in GP mode is directly based on the player's time by some form of rubber band system, so for example, if the player uses a massive glitch shortcut three times to get a time of say... 30 seconds, the AI's times, or at least the top half of them, apparently beat the non-shortcut world record for that course in time trial. This can most often be seen on Grumble Volcano. On the other hand, if the player does do awful, the AI times of those that came after him are often ridiculous, whole minutes behind the player's, even if the AI was right behind them the whole way.
    • Mario Kart 8 adds the 200cc engine class, in which the AI zooms at unbelievable speeds to prevent you from winning. To be honest, however, even the AI has a hard time playing on this engine class.
    • Naturally continues in Mario Kart Tour, where if the player gets too far ahead of the pack (even on just 150cc), one of several things will tend to happen: Either one CPU player will get a Frenzy and run you down with items, multiple CPU players will barrage you with enough items to make the AI in Mario Kart Wii blush (it doesn't help that in this game, human and CPU players alike can hold up to three items depending on the circumstances), or the CPU players closest to you will just gain a spontaneous boost to their top speed without the assistance of any items in order to overtake you. They also appear to be smart enough to save their heavier hitting items like shells or certain character-specific items for when the player doesn't currently have any out to block enemy items with, especially when the player is in first place.
  • Jak X: Combat Racing has an extreme case of this, coupled with Gang Up on the Human. Because of this, a lot of races can be pretty frustrating to the point where it almost seems like the AI is just outright cheating.
  • The Need for Speed series had a feature known as "Catch-up": your opponents would drive faster the further ahead of them you are, and slower the further behind you are. Forget the traditional strategy of games like Gran Turismo, where you can focus on pulling a comfortable advantage over your opponents allowing you to make a couple of mistakes without screwing up your race; in Need for Speed: Underground, you had to be extremely careful during the entire race, because your only chance to build up an advantage was to have the CPU crash against the oncoming traffic.
    • Underground 2 actually allows you to turn "Catch-Up" off, letting you see just how effective it is. You can play a race with "Catch-Up" enabled and win by only a few seconds, then turn it off, play the same race a second time, and win by minutes.
    • The games allow you to view the statistics of your car as well as other AI cars. As an exercise, you could compare AI lap times when you're running perfect flat-out laps and to situations where you just park your car over the start/finish line. In the latter situation, the AI may be more than 40 seconds a lap slower than if you've done a perfect lap (where they would always match or beat your lap times even in inferior cars).
    • This series seems to be made of this trope. In Need for Speed: Undercover, it is possible to be driving a maxed out McLaren F1 with the pedal buried firmly in the floorboards and still have a K9 police SUV casually out-accelerate you and slide in front of you in a rolling block. It was also entirely possible to "Dominate" a race with a great time, but still come in second and fail the mission, making your "Dominate" race time worthless. The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard as well.
    • Nothing will drive the point home more than seeing your A.I. opponents crash full-speed into a wall, back up, and re-accelerate to full throttle in the span of 0.5 seconds.
    • Depending on what game you play, certain games like the classic-era games and Underground-era games, and especially Hot Pursuit games have opponent cars catching you up in a sudden (even fleets of police cars), while simulation-based games like ProStreet and Shift games can have you sandwiched between bumping opponents, depending on the track.
  • RC Pro-Am:
    • The four words most often screamed by players: "The yellow car cheats!" If you get too far ahead in some races, or use your weapons to destroy the other cars, one of them (almost always the yellow one) will drive the rest of the course at ultra high speed, making it impossible for you to get first place.
    • The blue car was a more traditional example of Rubber Band A.I. When you got ahead of him for a bit, his top speed would boost to slightly above yours so he'd catch up and pass you, but if he got far enough ahead of you, his top speed would drop a lot so you could pass him. Collecting a higher top speed power-up would keep him from catching you for that track though, since he worked off the top speed you had coming in.
    • Later on, each of the opponent cars do this a little bit after the start of the race. This fact is the reason that you want to upgrade your car as much as possible, because if it isn't at full performance by the time this happens, you're screwed. There are two separate effects at work here. There the "super turbo yellow car", which nearly always kicks in only if you use your weapons enough times (roll cages don't trigger it, because they can use them too). This super turbo is faster than your maximum possible top speed. Then there are the late game tracks where any car that gets ahead of you after you get out of the starting block will instantly super turbo. Either way, a missile or bomb will stop the madness, and bring the car back down to earth, for now.
    • Also, whenever you drove over the turbo arrow for a temporary speed boost, all of the computer cars immediately got the exact same speed boost. Naturally, you did not get a speed boost when a computer car drove over an arrow, meaning you had to hit them anyway.
  • In the Initial D Arcade Stage game series, two-player battles have a feature called "Boost," and like Need for Speed: Carbon's Catch-up feature, it gives the trailing player a speed advantage. There is, however, an option to turn this off so that players can have a real battle.
    • The CPU also has its own boost when it falls behind by a certain margin (which is smaller for harder opponents), though it immediately slows back down to normal speed when it's back within the threshold. This is probably meant to be a Cap on the Advantage Bonus, since it's multiplied by the distance the opponent has left to go when the winner crosses the finish line. This can also cause the player's lead to sine-wave back and forth around the threshold value, even on a straightaway. Also, the CPU will go pathetically slow when it has a huge lead.
    • Initial D Arcade Stage 4 caps the opponent's disadvantage to about 190 meters.
    • Initial D Arcade Stage 6 has a strange way of applying this in Legend of the Streets mode: while the difficulty of your next opponent depended on what chapter you were, it was also controlled by how far ahead or behind you ended up at the end of the race. It is quite possible to beat Takumi with an aura with a one kilometer (!) advantage, only to get smoked by Itsuki of all people in the next race on the same course.
  • The first Wangan Midnight arcade game (and its revision Wangan Midnight R, which was eventually ported to PS2) has rubber band AI that's especially present during the final battle against Akio. If you get ahead of him you better be good at blocking because the Devil Z will be on your ass the whole time.
    • All the Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune games have rubberbanding which gets more severe the farther behind or ahead the computer gets. This is often counteracted by the individual stage quirks (slippery course, opponent will try to block you, opponent can't catch you on straightaway, etc.), but not always. It was by far the most blatant in the third cycle of the first game, to the point where everything before about the last 3km was completely irrelevant.
  • Burnout.
    • A common problem with the early games. At least in Burnout 3: Takedown, you can ram the caught-up cars, steal their boost, and regain your lead....
    • Burnout 3 had an abusable and abusive AI at the same time. The AI cars would move at considerably faster speeds than their stats would allow, having even the lowest series of cars keep up with the best cars in the game. However, beyond a certain distance, the AI opponents were logged as an order of numbers, not actually tracked. So if you could glitch out the car in second place (usually getting them hung on a wall) then outpace them, you could pull out a 1 minute+ lead on the entire field, as no cars would pass the second place car. This had the unfortunate effect that if the second place car DID get free, it would close that 1 minute+ gap in a matter of seconds, by having the cars move at you at several times the speed of sound. There's nothing more embarrassing than having your sports car passed by a 4 cylinder compact car while you're doing top speed and boosting.
    • Burnout Dominator has the charming tendency for opposing cars to make up lost distance while respawning. So you can crash, take out two or three trailing cars in the process - meaning as many as half the cars other cars in the race crashed after you did - and then reappear in last place.
    • Averted nicely, though, in Burnout Paradise. It's quite easy to gain a comfortable quarter-mile lead and coast your way to the finish line; just be sure not to crash. It was probably impossible to implement anything like this anyway, given the open-world nature of the game; since half the time you aren't taking the route the game thinks you should, it would be nearly impossible for the game to figure out how far the rubber band is actually stretched, so to speak.
  • In Sonic Riders, AI controlled racers vanish from their positions well behind you on the track in order to suddenly zoom by without apparently passing through the intervening space.
    • Most of the time, the AI are actually taking shortcuts, and when you take these shortcuts, the AI struggle to catch up. Although the AI does have a notorious habit of taking shortcuts more often in second place than in first.
    • Note that the Rubber Band A.I. of this game works less like Rubber Band A.I. and more like a twisted form of scaled levelling-if they're behind, they'll take shortcuts, speed up, or when neither of those is an option, seem to literally vanish and reappear just behind you going half again as fast. But if they're ahead, they'll still speed up as you do. So oftentimes about the only way to win a race is to gain a lead in the first lap and then never make a mistake for the rest of the race. If you crash, die or run out of AIR even once, you may as well start over, because there is no making a comeback.
    • Rubberbanding happens in its finest in Story mode where AI can pull any kind of tricks from its sleeves, from recovering from your super attacks in seconds, to doing super attacks after you knock out all of their rings.
  • In Sonic R, there is an option to disable or enable rubberbanding called, "Catch Up."
  • Subverted in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The AI does rubberband, and will get the "Swarm" item (it sends giant insects to try to block the first place racer) a LOT if you're in first. That said, it also has a rubber band "snap", where if you're far enough ahead of the pack the AI won't even try to catch up anymore.
  • Cruis'n USA for the Nintendo 64. Get too far ahead, and what we would call the "Annoying Blue Car" would catch up, even if you race perfectly.
    • In the original arcade versions of all of the "Cruis'n" games (USA, World, Exotica), not only did the computer cars follow the "speed up when behind, slow down when ahead" principle, but the games were also programmed to ramp up the difficulty with each race you won, not resetting until you lost one. By the time you won three or four races in a row, the computer cars were so good that you could literally drive a perfect race and still only finish third or fourth. This was likely put in to limit your play time, since those games usually awarded you a free race for winning a track.
  • The Genesis version of Super Monaco GP averts this for the most part, with teams divided into classes according to the quality of their cars, but when you go into the second season of the World Championship (where you have to defend your title), C-class team Bullets will hire a new Brazilian driver called G. Ceara (any similarities to Ayrton Senna probably not intentional). If you secured a contract with paddock juggernaut Madonna (which would be like the Mercedes to Bullets' Sauber), you'll be in for a surprise: as it turns out, Ceara is quite the speed devil, and can completely outpace you at the first moments of the race, making it apparently impossible to catch up with him, even though he's driving for a backmarker team. To add insult to injury, if he beats you twice, he ousts you from your seat at Madonna and you get demoted to Bullets, and can never return to Madonna for the rest of the season even if you do beat him (fortunately, Ceara's rubber band always snaps at the third race of the season).
  • In F-Zero GP Legend, opponents won't take game-breaking shortcuts unless they're following at the right distance to be marked by a "CHECK" marker, at which point they will.
    • In a more egregious example, if you go round the track backwards, your opponents will also go round the track backwards (to the extent that you can let all 29 of them cross the finish line, go backwards several laps, then race them going forwards and still win). When opponents aren't nearby, the game simply tracks their position as a fixed value relative to yours.
    • In the original game it's physically impossible to beat the Death Wind course using the Golden Fox on the Master Difficulty. All the other vehicles have a max speed of 478 k/h and remain at that speed the whole race, while the Golden Fox's top speed is 438.
    • F-Zero is infamous for that. You can, with just moderate skill, give the enemy a full lap of advantage, and still win, at least in easy mode (and mind you, the race is only 5 laps!). But getting more than a few seconds ahead of the enemy is completely impossible. Combine this with the game's habit of literally throwing explosive cars at you in the final turns, and you have a recipe for disaster.
    • You can watch it by playing Time Trials in any course that has alternate routes. Say you are behind it, and both are at the bifurcation. He'll pick the default route, and you pick the shortcut route. At the moment you pass the CPU, its cursor will shake a bit then teleport to your route, right behind you. If you stop, you can watch it pass you.
  • Midnight Club: Los Angeles has the variety that also works in reverse. They even (more or less) lampshade it.
    Julian: You seem to be struggling. Want us to slow down?
    • A patch was released for this game that makes the difficulty the opposite of Nintendo Hard for the first third of the game. The difficulty is supposed to ramp up after that, but if you get the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 and max the performance stats out, not even rubber band AI will make it challenging... How much did Kawasaki pay to make the game do that?
  • Inverted, for the most part, in the "Brucie's Races" side missions in Grand Theft Auto IV, which feature AI that tend to get knocked out of the race or held back within the opening seconds of virtually every race, making the remainder of the race a rather dull cakewalk for the player...
    • ... except if you crash your car, in which case often a competitor you never even saw coming will magically appear on your tail or even pass you.
    • GTA IV also rubberbands AI cars if the game wants a specific narrative to unfold. So say you are supposed to get in a car chase and the enemy is supposed to get to a location, the enemy car will speed up so the player can never catch them, regardless of how fast the player is going. And the game never tells you this, in fact it will lie to the player. The mission objective will be "make sure Todd doesn't get to the escape point" and the game will speed up Todd so the player can never catch them.
  • In the Episodes, your support in the gang/drug war side missions are always behind you no matter how much faster your vehicle is to theirs. You can even see their blip on the map move at breakneck speed to catch up with you.
  • Grand Theft Auto V:
    • The third triathlon race, big time, though ultimately the rubberbanding is deceptive as it's still possible to catch up, even late in the race, even if at first it appears the competitors are miles ahead.
    • Some of the story missions are ridiculously bad about this, especially when you're supposed to be chasing a large, slow-moving vehicle like a garbage truck or a bus in a tricked-out street racer or motorcycle, you'll somehow be struggling to catch something you ought to be able to outrun in second gear.
  • The Getaway: At the latter stages for both Mark and Frank, where any gang starts chasing you, they'll always be faster than even the only sports car in the game, and only a crash will stop them from going to your side and empty their guns on your current car.
  • Road Rash made good use of this trope: Whenever you fell from your bike and were left several hundred meters behind you'd catch up with a speed of 50 meters per second - but the closer you came to the lead the faster the AI driver was going (also happened when you got rid of computer bikes; they came back faster than the laws of acceleration would've allowed...).
  • Ridge Racer 1 and 2 for the PSP. On the already difficult MAX Tours, Namco lets the 3 AI cars spam Nitro Boosts when you pass them up. But on the final Ne Plus Ultra Tour (meaning: nothing more beyond), the AI can pull away from you faster than hell. And when you use nitrous at the last leg of the race, they can go even faster - without nitrous.
  • In Carmageddon, opponents will constantly respawn somewhere nearby, never actually going around the course. This means that it is impossible to lose the race to an enemy - you can only lose if your car is destroyed or you run out of time on the clock. However, it should be noted that this is probably intentional, as the point of the game is clearly to destroy your opponents rather than race them to the finish line. Destruction of opponents gives massive rewards, including sometimes the ability to steal an opponent's car and add it to your collection, so that it can be driven in future races. Also, destroying opponents, or seeking and running down pedestrians, adds time to your clock, allowing you to either finish the race more comfortably or (you guessed it) to destroy your opponents thoroughly. However, it should be noted that if you run the game with the map on full-screen, the opponent cars will NOT teleport to your vicinity when they get out of range. But the moment you put the cockpit view on fullscreen, those cars will teleport again.
  • Top Gear (or Top Racer in Japanese) has this with your partner: if you have the red car (the fastest and most oil-wasting in the game) and your white car (the slowest but most efficient car) partner goes way behind, the partner AI can go even to 240 km/h, when it's max speed is 210 km/h, without boosting! But if the opposite applies, the AI slows down to 150 km/h until you are closer. The non-partner AI in first place do the opposite: if you don't reach the first place near the last lap, they are too far or even more than a lap over you (in extreme cases, taking a lap over the second place), the on-screen speed? 190-195 km/h.
  • Diddy Kong Racing averts this... at least, from the outset. While the original game's racers did not initially rubberband or gang up on you, you could enter a code that activated this. Opponents got real cheap real fast.
    • It also doesn't help that on some emulators, computers will drive through the walls of the first track at random intervals if they're straggling (and they will).
    • The game, however, gives the A.I. a speed boost, after they got the lead. While mostly not a problem, (if you know to let off the gas on the zippers) on maps with planes like "Windmill Plains" it's nearly impossible to catch up, if the A.I. has the lead for too long.
  • Homestar Runner Stylistic Suck game Kid Speedy has two racers that run at constant paces and one that employs Rubber Band AI. Since Kid Speedy is... well, not speedy, the object is simply to not get last place, and the Rubber Banding competitor is typically (but not always) the only one you even can beat. Homestar is a Secret Character in the game, and humorously, the opposite happens: Homestar is a runner, so the Rubber Banding competitor is actually the only one Homestar has any trouble beating.
    • You can beat the slower "constant" runner if you can somehow maintain near-top speed for the entire race, which requires avoiding all the slowdown items. It is (occasionally) possible to get ahead of the rubberbander as well for a 2nd-place finish.
    • Comically, Homestar's opponents are always Kid Speedy (a fat little kid), Strong Sad (a fat, doughy nerd), and the King Of Town (a fat old man), meaning that even though he's Homestar Freakin' Runner, he's still struggling to outrun some fat doughboy who wouldn't stand a chance against him in a proper cartoon.
  • The races in Motorstorm are fairly easy early on but once you make it to the level 4 races the difficulty and rubberbanding goes up another obvious notch. You can complete a race and hardly make a mistake and the AI drivers will keep up with you and match your times. In addition to this there is a couple of AI drivers that are "destined to win" so to speak and will always drive astonishingly well if they crash or fall out of the lead and make their way back to first place. The other AI drivers will also gang up on you and crash into you, brake in front of your car to slow you down, and work with other drivers to block your path. Races with one path, like Rain God Mesa, make it very difficult to win on later tracks because of these AI traits and the rubberbanding. Mention Buggy Byway to anyone who's played the game and it'll bring back vivid memories.
  • Averted in the original TOCA Touring Car Championship for the PlayStation, in a way that was a revelation for driving games at the time. Sixteen cars on the grid at the start of the race, accurately modelled circuits with few walls and long grass runouts, pretty accurate physics meaning that if you put a couple of wheels on the grass at speed you were definitely going to spin out, and then when you do, the AI opponents give no quarter at all. Spin out at any point early in a race, and you'd do very well to even SEE the rest of the cars again, they'd be so far in front. Equally, on a short track, if you managed to nudge an opponent into a catastrophic spin, you'd have a reasonable chance of lapping him.
  • In Star Wars Episode I: Racer, you can upgrade your pod racer to the point where going two whole laps without even hearing another motor is a breeze. But as soon as the final lap music kicks in, guess who suddenly catches up and overtakes you? That's right: everyone.
  • In Forza Motorsport 3, cars in the same class as you will always have better performance than you if they have the #1 or #2 AI, even if you're fully upgraded to be one inch from the next class.
  • This is wonderfully averted in the racing sections of Rage (2011); with max upgrades and decent driving skills, you can leave your opponents in the dust and the computer won't give them an unfair speed boost or teleport them behind you. This is particularly good because Rage is a FPS-driving game hybrid, and many people who buy the game will not be regular fans of racing games.
  • Quite a big problem in ModNation Racers. For the first quarter of the career mode, it's fairly simple and, while challenging, possible to win every race and get every bonus in each level. But then... At a clear point (the Flaming Jumps track, specifically), the AI's rubber band is folded over itself twice or thrice, and doesn't compensate for players who aren't as good. The slowest computer opponent can almost always drive faster than your maximum speed, and all constantly launch Level 3 targeting weapons at you, guaranteeing you'll run out of boost by the third lap. Not to mention the bonuses get practically impossible by this point. After struggling just to get 3rd place to continue the story, the game tells you to blow up "Nato's explosives," which aren't located or even mentioned before then, and to get 1st place at the same time. You can blow up all three of the explosives and, on the final curve, be exploded by a hundred missiles and come in 11th place, losing the bonus.
  • Crash Team Racing (and Crash Nitro Kart) does this in both directions. Getting wiped out, no matter how long you have to wait, will not take you very far behind the pack, and striking out ahead will cause them to suddenly get very fast in the last lap.
    • Similarly, the enemy racers change their behavior depending on the lap and your position in the pack. Characters in front of the player will shoot at each other much more often than any other character, giving the player the chance to "get lucky" and sneak to the front of the pack, and the AI becomes much more aggressive on the second lap and less aggressive on the third, making it so the player has to fight to get to first but then reducing the chances of having an AI racer skirt past seconds before the finish line.
    • The Boss races are extremely blatant; no matter how far you fall behind, they're still within range to make the race winnable. It's extremely difficult to get a lead on them for more than a moment, however...
    • Also, in Nitro Kart, your partner's placement will largely mirror yours. Leading for any length of time will cause your partner to pass you even if the pack is far behind. (it still counts as a win, though.)
    • Crash Tag Team Racing is an interesting example, as the severity of the AI largely depends on what difficulty class you play on. The Normal difficulty is pretty manageable, but the Insane difficulty will likely make you throw your television out the window in rage.
  • In the original Micro Machines video game for the NES, a car that was behind you would be faster than if it was in front of you. It didn't matter how far ahead/behind they were, however, so if that wasn't enough, there was no further help coming. It also featured a rather hilarious, and unintentional, inversion: if you put the fastest drivers in the fastest cars, the speed boost from being behind would be more than the AI could handle, causing the cars to leave the track and fall even further behind.
  • Completely averted in Gran Turismo. In career races with no class restrictions, a player can put in a super-fast Formula One machine against several low-level sedans. The difference between first and second place isn't just several seconds, but several laps if the race is long enough.
  • The AI in F1 2012 regularly pull out unrealistic laptimes in qualifying if you're performing too well in a car that shouldn't realistically be in the position it's in. This is particularly noticeable in Melbourne where the AI can improve their sector time by up to 6 seconds in the final sector.
  • Polaris Snocross had The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard levels of rubberbanding, at least in the PC version, which is complained about quite extensively in the Ross's Game Dungeon episode about the game. It essentially becomes impossible to win tournaments due to racers getting ludicrous speed boosts and perfect handling, sometimes even teleporting short distances to get a better spot to maneuver, and also near-instant recovery from being knocked off their snowmobile. Even digging into the game files directly to cripple the AI through variable alteration doesn't entirely get rid of it; at 19:02 in the episode, a lobotomized AI racer still zooms past Ross at the literal last second, at faster speeds than most airplanes can achieve, just to deny him first place. Oh, and of course you have to win the tournaments to unlock the vast majority of tracks in the game. Ross believes that he, and anyone watching the episode, are probably the only people outside of the dev team to ever see them.
  • Digimon Racing's rubberbanding becomes noticeable as you progress through the game. When I mean progress, it truly means the game progress, as in how much content you've unlocked in the game. Early on, when you begin playing through the game, opponents seem to hold back and, at best, they appear to be non-threatening at all to the player. If you've unlocked everything in the game, however, expect to lose easily due to how extremely quickly the opponents catch up to you and how spiteful they behave against you as they harass you with items and special powers.
  • Beach Buggy Racing, an otherwise fun kart racer for Xbox One, is hampered by rubber band AI, especially in the later tournaments. You can never be ahead of the pack for very long, since the AI will suddenly get infinite boosts to catch up and will often hit you with weapons to knock you to last place. A lot of times in the later races, winning feels like complete luck, which isn't how it should be.
  • Sega World Drivers Championship is suspect to this. From the very first Story Mode race, no matter how fast your Team's car is, you'll always have from 1 to 3 other drivers near you, even if all other drivers don't seem to do this. Only the cars that get in the way of the race's goal rubberband, so it's not uncommon at all for 4 drivers in total, including the player, to lap every single other driver in the race.

    Fighting Game 
  • In Guilty Gear Isuka, the higher the level you get at Arcade, the faster and more powerful the opponents become. Sometimes they will even run towards you while you perform a special move, only to suddenly show up right behind you, making you completely miss them.
  • Def Jam: Fight For NY was notorious for this. Get the computer into a corner, and suddenly the AI shoots up two or three difficulty levels, reversing and countering every single move you make.
  • All of AKI's wrestling-games had this. In the N64 games, opponents started countering anything reliably once close to losing. While it might seem that was meant to reflect the comeback-effect from wrestling, it doesn't work the same way for the player.
  • Some WWE wrestling games have this. Play without a loss for too long and the player will eventually be presented with a match where victory is impossible. The Rubber Band AI has snapped so far that enemy players will be completely immune to attacks and able to win via submission or escaping the cage without any problems. In some games the computer will cheat, by making the player so weak that a single hit will make the player unable to get up for long enough that the computer escapes. Of course, that's pretty close to how things work in the source material.
  • In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, persistent victory results in harder and harder difficulty. The difficulty is TOLD to the player in a % stat on the lower right of the screen. The stat will lower itself back to "beatable" when the player loses.
  • In Mortal Kombat 9, opponents in both Ladder and Story will ease up on repeated tries, even bosses. If you can't beat Shao Kahn on Medium, he'll eventually reduce himself to doing a lot of taunts around the 4th attempt.
  • Many of the Soul Series games did this... Arcade mode of Soul Calibur II would CRUSH you if you got 2-0 victories 3 or more times in a row. Case of The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, too.
    • In 3, this is really noticeable in the battle theater (a mode where 2 AI opponents fight each other), if you watch it a lot (it is quite addictive with custom characters), you will get used to seeing 1 narrow match, followed by the loser being a Perfect Play A.I. to the previous winner and a narrow 3rd match
    • Speaking of Ivy's Ubers, Summon Suffering seemed specifically designed to enable this and The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard. In practice, this move was so ridiculously difficult to pull off that even doing so in practice mode was difficult. Doing one in the heat of battle was impractical at best, while computer controlled Ivy would pull it off while obviously not requiring the time or movement that the move needed.
      • It's actually meant to be a reward to a technical player because each input only has to be performed within 50 frames of the last, so that a skilled Ivy player can go through an entire attack routine and Summon suffering seemingly out of nowhere because of the frame delay available between each input. While this doesn't mean the AI doesn't cheat it out, it also means that it's actually terribly easy to pull off the input on a joystick, as you can rapidly rotate the stick a few times and press the attack buttons, pulling off the attack flawlessly through input attrition.
      • Summon Suffering is the move that's so hard to perform that there's an achievement just for pulling it off.
    • Soul Calibur V seems to be an especially shameless offender for this trope, even for the Soul Series. Almost universally, the AI will act borderline catatonic for the first round or two, but once you start to pull ahead, it goes completely berserk and juggles you around the arena with reflexes and coordination that would shame the most skilled human player. Worse still, if you're still losing by round three, the game will take pity on you and behave like a drooling idiot, walking right up to you and lowering its guard.
  • The Tekken games also do this. Win a certain amount of matches (sometimes as little as two, though your streak can be as high as twenty) and the game seemingly becomes a gambling machine, setting itself to win no matter what you do.
  • SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 has the rubber band snap completely upon getting a finisher. The game crashing to prevent it from being used is not unheard of, but the opponent will usually run away like a wimp, reverse everything thrown at them, prevent you from getting a hit in, it doesn't matter what it has to do to stop the finisher from being used.
    • 2011 does the same thing until the opponent has taken a certain amount of damage, even on normal. While it is easy to get a finisher(or even a signature) early on in the match it doesn't mean the move will connect. This is in line with actual WWE programing though where wrestlers will attempt their finisher early and have it reversed if their opponent "sees it coming" or what have you.
    • Another Truth in Television in that in actual WWE matches, opponents will bail out of the ring early if their opponent is rolling enough to try their finisher in the opening minutes of a match to regather themselves.
    • If you thought the previous versions or Madden were bad then 2K17 is the true grand master of the NO!!! BLEEPING!!! WAY!!! mode. Backstage brawls are a great way to farm VC points, the in game currency, however after a few wins the game will show why it is The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard. Reversals will be switched off for you and you'll lose in two moves. That is, when the opponent chooses to finish the match. When they have a finisher and just keep irish whipping you then you may as well just restart, nothing you can say or do will make a difference.
  • SNK games were very deceptive about this, especially their fighting games. When you played an SNK arcade game, the screen would always show that the game's difficulty level was 4, which means normal. However, through dipswitch and debug screens, people later discovered that the game's level would shift between 4 and 8, the highest level, depending on the players actions, all while still having the Level 4 display at the bottom middle of the screen. During the final boss fights, the level stayed on 8. This combined with The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, and you understand where the SNK Boss trope comes from. Fortunately, the Neo Geo home console let you choose the difficulty settings for most games, and those settings never changed during gameplay.

    First Person Shooter 
  • SiN Episodes: Emergence was released with a much-touted Dynamic Difficulty system — kill the enemies too quickly and they'd send more next time, get too many headshots and the next group will wear helmets, etc. Unfortunately, encounters that were supposed to be easier or harder were counted in this, resulting in situations that a hard encounter would be made virtually impossible due to how quickly you dispatched an easy one. That's not getting into a bug where a pair of triggers for the system, which partly worked based on how short an interval there was between the player hitting them, were placed in such a way that they didn't disappear after being triggered - if you unknowingly lingered around the areas that had them, you could potentially trigger them multiple times per second, causing later encounters to become downright hellish in their impossibility.
  • The original Unreal Tournament had this with the final boss, a 1v1 to 15 kills. The boss would start at an AI level matching the difficulty you were playing on, and every time you killed him, he'd pop up a skill level. Thus, getting a killing spree was a very bad idea, as the boss would be up at Godlike skill in no time, and even when he got back down to your level after getting a killing spree on you, he'd be loaded with every weapon and full armor, while you'd have nothing because you just respawned. However, the converse is true too: every time you die, he goes back down one, to a minimum of where he started.
  • Left 4 Dead has this, thanks to the AI Director. If the group is doing very well, there will be fewer pills and med kits to find (not counting the ones in the safe room and the finales) and special infected will spawn at a more frequent rate. Also, a Tank is likely to appear if the group is playing too well and there's usually a high chance that after you killed a Tank, the director will spawn a Boomer, Smoker, and Hunter right after that to make sure you don't have it easy. Naturally, if the team is doing poorly, there will be more health items to find and enemy count is lessened somewhat. On Expert, the director will punish you every step of the way if you even spend as much as 10 seconds in one area. It should be noted that in the case of Left 4 Dead, this is seen as a good thing and generally works very well.
  • Inversely, in Left 4 Dead 2 the director HATES YOU and revels in your misery.
    • The game tries to discourage players separating from the group, by becoming cheaper and cheaper as a player survives longer on their own. Before long, a Smoker will spawn on the roof within 5 seconds of you looking the other way and tag you with an auto-targeting hose from 30 feet, requiring assistance from another survivor to free you. Or a Charger will show up as you reload and swerve to hit you as you try to dodge, or a Jockey will actually dodge your sights so it can jump on your head. When it says "stay with your friends to survive", the game is not kidding.
    • This actually spawned the meme of the Karma Charger, which came from the habit of Chargers conveniently spawning and punting a player halfway across the map whenever they do anything construed as less-than-perfect teamwork (the meme started in regards to team-killing, though Karma Chargers seem to take just as dim a view on anything from that to hoarding pills when a teammate is in slightly worse health). While any infected can do this, Chargers are the hardest of them to kill, and cannot be shoved off other survivors and must be killed.

    Platform Game 
  • Canary Mary from Banjo-Tooie is encountered in Glitter Gulch Mine and Cloud Cuckooland, and can be raced twice in each location, the first time for a Jiggy and the second for a Cheato page. To race, you just mash the A button. The faster you mash, the faster you go. The two races in the mines can be won easily just by mashing as fast as you can. The first race in the clouds is tougher, but still doable. The second race in the clouds cranks up her rubberbanding to the point that it's impossible to win through mashing alone (unless you have a turbo controller). The only way to win (aside from the aforementioned turbo controller) is to deliberately stay close behind her for the entire race and then pass her at the last second, essentially behaving much like a rubberband AI yourself.
    • While not nearly as infamous, and not predicated on button-mashing, the second Boggy Race in the original Banjo-Kazooie also featured this. If the player is simply running at full speed the entire race, what can happen is that you'll seem to blaze ahead for a sizable lead, only for Boggy to suddenly gain a huge surge of speed and pass you, almost invariably on the final stretch where it's too late to do anything about it. Similar to Canary Mary, the best strategy is to lag behind for most of the race, then pass him on the final stretch.
    • While not technically a race, Mr Vile also does this in his eating mini-game. The more points you're ahead of him, the faster he'll move, making it easier for him to grab the Yumblies and Grumblies to catch up. Thankfully you don't have to worry about it as much as the above examples, though the game is still a pain due to the random nature of how the Yumblies and Grumblies spawn.
  • In most of the Mega Man Zero games, bosses will only use their Limit Break on you if you come at them with at least an A Rank. In the second or third games, doing this is mandatory in order to unlock the boss's EX Skill for Zero, as it's often-times based on said Limit Break. This doesn't apply in Zero 4, however, as they'll use it regardless of rank and obtaining the EX Skill is reliant on you choosing to face them under weather conditions that give them an extra advantage and boost to their moveset or battlefield.
  • In Sonic Adventure, during Windy Valley, Sonic is way behind you, then suddenly is right behind you. And no, flying doesn't help.
    • In the Lost World stage, the player is chased by a massive boulder that rubberbands rather aggressively to be on your tail. Not only is it possible for the rubberbanding to break right at the end and hit the player for an unavoidable death, those who hit the checkpoint right after and then die can promptly watch the boulder utterly snap the band and move faster than Sonic ever has right down the slope behind them.
    • In Tails's levels, Sonic will always rubberband quite hard to catch up to you if you manage to get far ahead of him. The Speed Highway level has you racing against Eggman instead and his AI seems to completely lack any form of rubberbanding. You can easily skip huge chunks of the level and reach the end in record time while Eggman hasn't even gone through half the level yet.
  • Sonic Adventure 2 caps off the Hero Side intro stage, City Escape, with a G.U.N. Truck chasing Sonic down the streets. Compared to the boulder above, not only is the truck lenient enough to back off briefly if it hits Sonic, through careful movement you can cause the rubberbanding to actually reverse on itself and make the truck go backwards if you really want to screw with it.
  • Sonic Generations (for the 3DS at least) has you race against Metal Sonic, Shadow and Silver. You'd think Rubber Band AI would be put in so you couldn't just boost your way to victory. But it works more in the favor of the AI. Metal Sonic and Shadow boost right behind you, even if you left them in the dust 3 seconds ago. If they collide with you (and they will), you'll take damage and fall behind. And did I mention both characters boost FASTER than the "World's Fastest Hedgehog"?
    • Oh, even better. Silver teleports. And throws boxes at you. The only way to actually win one is to Boost yourself. BUT, Boost works differently in the 3DS version, meaning it doesn't last 5 seconds without proper (read: little) usage. The fever gauge works badly too.
    • On the console versions, however, you fight them instead. And it's MUCH easier.
  • Freeware game I Wanna Be The Boshy has a particularly unforgiving one in Sonic the Hedgehog. It is only at the start of his second phase, but one slip up will kill you, and it only gets worse when bombs start falling on you. Fortunately if you can survive this, the rest of the fight is (relatively) easy. Still, that one little section makes this That One Boss when the whole thing is already That One Game
  • Rogue Legacy has the monsters in the castle scale to your (castle's) level! In other words, you can't overpower the monsters, but they can easily overpower you instead, and all because you thought you could overpower them at all!
  • The Another Dimension areas in Kirby's Return to Dream Land have an Advancing Wall of Doom that will always be just offscreen. You can push it back with stars for a bit of extra time solving the puzzles in your way, which is very helpful for the much faster one in Extra Mode.

    Puzzle Game 
  • Puyo Puyo GBA version's first level's opponent always gangs up on you with garbage late in the level and just as you think you're doing well.
  • Similar things occur in Pokémon Puzzle League at the higher difficulty levels, particularly if you've got them on the ropes. You might think you have the match, and then they will not only get out of the corner, but send a monstrous cascade of garbage blocks your way.
  • Exocubes is a match-3 game, where you can freely move blocks within a column, but needed to prevent them from touching the bottom (aside from a clear causing blocks to hit the bottom, but you had to wait when said blocks get "scanned"). The row generation based on how well you perform. If you performed well enough to clear a significant portion of the board, you could potentially fail that level faster than simply waiting. Even when a set of blocks in the process of being cleared touches the bottom of the screen.
  • Prevalent on GameTek versions of Jeopardy! where if you go too far ahead of your AI opponent(s), they will suddenly start buzzing in faster than you and providing all the correct responses. Earlier versions allow you to ring in as soon as the clue is exposed, meaning the computer will buzz in before you have the chance to read the clue. The SNES version deserves a special mention. The AI opponents in this version buzz in on the first possible frame, meaning even if you play it frame-perfect on a tool-assisted emulator, the computer will still ring in before you. In a sense, the game cheats so hard that out-cheating it is impossible.

    Real Time Strategy 
  • Homeworld 2 is notorious in some circles for doing this trope badly. Each level's enemy fleet is based solely on the makeup of your fleet as you start the level. This has the obvious abuse potential of selling all or most of your fleet at the end of each level, leaving you with enough resources to buy a new fleet in the next level capable of defeating the much weaker enemy fleet. What is truly bad however, is how far this over-adjusts the enemy, especially towards the last missions. If the player has a cap-sized fleet, in one mission, the enemy might as well destroy what the player is to protect before his heavy ships are even in firing range, and even then, are badly outnumbered, without the targets hp getting adjusted at all; a later mission lets the enemy start with as much as seven battle cruisers, while the player is capped at two ... This would be more threatening if they didn't attack one at a time with minimal support.
  • Sierra's outer space RTS Outpost 2 features this not only with enemy AI, but also with your population. You can opt to research items that improve the quality of life in the colony, however by doing so, the colony knows it exists and demands that you meet their needs. If you research any weapons systems, unless the enemy already has them, the computer will start attacking your base. You could say researching anything that remotely deals with these two aspects aren't worth researching.
  • In the unconventional strategy game Multiwinia, being behind other players gives you a better chance to receive powerups and faster unit spawning. The maximum spawn bonus can be set anywhere between 0 and 90%.
  • In 8Realms, barbarian hordes attack players with a scaling frequency depending on how far into the game they've progressed.
  • AI War: Fleet Command gleefully uses this as its core mechanic, with careful manipulation being the player's best strategy. The AI is content to ignore you and only send small raiding parties into your systems as long as you don't attack crucial AI installations like their command centres. If you go and make a nuisance of yourself by methodically conquering every AI system like you would in other RTS games, you'll make great progress - right until the AI sends an unstoppable wave of doom your way, swats your fleet aside, destroys your stations and you lose. More adept players try and obfuscate their progress by leaving any planet alone that neither threatens them nor contains something truly valuable. In many games of 80 planets, only 20 or so are ever conquered by the player while they build up their forces for a lightning-quick attack on the two AI home stations to win the game.

  • The Binding of Isaac: Beneficial version. The Star of Bethlehem item travels to the Boss Room of a floor. It will speed up or slow down depending on how far away Isaac is from the Boss Room, allowing a greater chance for him to benefit from the stat boost it provides when he's in it.

    Role Playing Game 
  • Final Fantasy VII:
    • Bizarro∙ and Safer∙Sephiroth's stats are based on a ton of variables, one of which is your party members' levels. Having all of your characters at level 99 makes Safer one of the strongest final bosses in the series, only surpassed by Orphan. Of course, by that point, you probably have Knights of the Round.
    • Casting Knights of the Round on the earlier fight against Jenova∙SYNTHESIS adds 60000 HP to Bizzaro and 80000 HP to Safer. Granted, at high level this is significantly less health than you can take off with one casting of it.
  • In Final Fantasy X, there's only one blitzball game that you play as part of the plot, and the difficulty is extremely unbalanced in that game in order to let the AI win. It is devilishly difficult to get the ball, trivially easy to lose it, and even high percentage shots will fail with a frequency that belies statistical probability. Your only hope is to complete the cutscene that lets you get the Jecht Shot (and you might not even know it's there at first). The best way to win is go for an early score, then abuse the back of the net glitch to wait out the rest of the match.
  • The fishing Mini-Game in the Fate series adjusts its required reaction time based on how fast the player is. It is believed to shoot for a 50% success rate.
  • Chrono Trigger had a bizarre little racing minigame in the ruins of the Bad Future. Your opponent is almost literally attached to you with a rubber band: if you're in the lead, he'll pull forward, if you're in the back, you'll pull forward. Aside from a few boosts, you have no control over your acceleration, and the only means of control you have over your place in the race is to block your opponent from passing you (which pushes him back, after which he springs forward to try again). Of course, since the rubber banding works both ways, you don't really have to do a thing until just before the finish line, unless you're trying to win the items awarded for staying ahead of him for large portions of the race.
  • Many games in the SaGa series — especially Romancing SaGa — are open-ended titles where the player can go anywhere at anytime, so random monsters are designed to suit the party's power level at all times.
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, enemies would get better weapons and armor as you leveled up. It got a bit silly late-game however, when common highway bandits wore the best light armor available. If they can afford that, why are they highwaymen? One aspect worth mentioning which does not level with you in the game are AI allies. Thus, quests where you get others to help you in a fight are much easier at low levels, while doing the same quests on high levels would get your allies killed instantly.
    • As a Wide-Open Sandbox type game, there's nothing stopping you from getting Infinity +1 Sword items at very low levels (except not knowing where to go to do it). Because the designers knew there was at least a possibility that a level 1 character might be running around with legendary artifacts, quest rewards are scaled to the player's level at the time they're earned so they don't completely unbalance the game. This means a legendary sword whose name is spoken only in reverent whispers will, if you obtain it when you're level 3, be hopelessly outclassed by vendor trash drops you get from common mooks by the time you're level 15. One of the more popular mods for the game is one that re-calibrates quest rewards the PC has earned earned as the player levels up to keep them relevant throughout the game.
  • Cyber Punk 2077 has an egregious example in the street races. The competitors are simply terrible drivers if you are behind them and rarely manage to get into a position you can't catch and overtake easily in about twenty seconds...if you're behind. Meanwhile, you can take a vehicle that runs rings around them, easily passes them when they fall behind, make one slip in the final section, and take last place. If you are terrible but come out clean in the last 1/5 or so of the race, you will almost certainly win. If you mess up in the last section, even if you've been perfect and driving a faster vehicle, expect no mercy whatsoever as they zip past you with speed that they can never replicate as long as they're in front of you.

    Shoot Em Up 
  • In the arcade Lethal Enforcers, enemies started out taking a long time to shoot you, then gradually getting faster and faster until you'd need truly superhuman reflexes to get them in time, slowing down only after you took a hit. Lethal Enforcers II was even worse. This was removed from the SNES port, and the PSX port resolved the issue by fixing everyone at a ridiculously fast level.

    Simulation Game 
  • There is a minor version of this in the Crimson Skies PC game. Even if you are flying a much faster plane than your computer opponent, you can't fly 'away' from them. You will get a certain distance ahead, but even if you are pulling 400 mph and they are doing 150, as soon as you turn around, they are right there in your face.
  • Wing Commander had a "dynamic difficulty" system that scaled the enemy's abilities based on how well the player was doing. It did not, however, change the wingman's performance or take it into account. So if for some reason the wingman was doing poorly (making the mission hard to start with), and the player pulled off a miraculous save, things got a whole lot worse for the player. And wingman.
  • The difficulty of mission-related enemies in the X-Universe games scales with your combat rank. The enemies don't get any smarter, they just start building battleships.
  • Pocket Stables uses this during the horseracing part of the simulation, especially if your character is in the lead.

    Sports Game 
  • In the Commodore 64 game Hardball, if the AI was behind in the final innings, it wouldn't swing at anything outside of the strike zone and would hit everything inside of it making it impossible to strike your opponent out for a win. Even worse, the AI's team would suddenly become power hitters, either driving the ball deep into the outfield, or as often as not, hitting consecutive homeruns.
  • Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup: If you dominate the other team to the point where when the Snitch-catching starts, they have little to no Snitch/boost bar, there's at least a chance for the opposing Seeker to come out of nowhere and take the Snitch JUST before you can.
  • As mentioned in the trope description, Madden NFL is one of the more shining examples in modern gaming. Bill Simmons of ESPN coined the term "No F***ing Way game" for the times when the computer makes an unbelievable Miracle Rally while your own players become inept clods. It is often accused of featuring an "AI catch-up mode", in which opposing teams inexplicably become drastically more potent in the final minutes of a close game, often to the point where preventing them from completing long bombs and scoring touchdowns seems like an impossible task (sometimes called "Robo QB"), even when the AI controlled team showed absolutely nothing in the earlier portions of the game to indicate that they were capable of this. In most cases, the AI level of rubberbanding is directly related to the difficulty level. On the easiest difficulty level, the AI doesn't rubberband at all: the same tactics, the same plays, over and over. As difficulty level goes up, so does the degree of rubberbanding: on the highest difficulty level, as soon as the player reaches anything approaching a lead, the AI responds aggressively - players for the human-controlled team become utterly inept, well below what their rating would justify, while players for the computer controlled team become unstoppable juggernauts far beyond what their ratings would justify. Furthermore, the rubberbanding does not work in the opposite direction, however. The AI just goes back to the normal difficulty.
  • NBA 2k and NBA Live actually have this as a feature, Clutch Factor and CPU Assistance respectively. It does work both ways, though. Doesn't make it any less irritating to see Kobe Bryant missing clutch layup after clutch layup. (Truth in real life for that last one after game 7 of the 2010 NBA finals, where Kobe shot a horrible 6-for-24 in the biggest game of his career.)
  • The original NBA Jam would frequently job you out of victories with miraculous, last-second, full-court shots. It got to the point where a two-point lead with just seconds to play was an almost certain loss if the computer got the last shot. The player had a similar ability, but not nearly to the same extent as the computer. This feature is called "computer assistance" and is also on in human versus human matches. A full court shot for the tie or for the win has over a 70% chance of going in, ALWAYS. Unless you use the "no cpu assistance" code.
  • The NFL Blitz series is infamous for rubberband AI too. Again, it's always active against the CPU, but can be turned off with a code against a human. Manifests usually through fumbles and cheap interceptions, or people just magically blowing past blockers and sacking you.Points after Touchdown are fully automatic; you choose it and the game says "It's Good!"... but it might turn out to be "No Good!" if you were too far in the lead.
  • The arcade game Pigskin: 621 A.D. (released as Jerry Glanville's Pigskin Footbrawl on the Sega Genesis) is a game vaguely reminiscent of rugby and American football, though set in the Middle Ages. You could punch other players out, or get into a brawl (read: two characters collide and turn into a dust cloud) on the field. If one side is losing badly, the crowd starts chanting, "Send in the troll!" At which point a big green troll enters the field for the losing side. He's immune to the game's weapons and much more difficult to knock down. If the fortunes reverse and the losing team starts winning, a troll can come in for the opposite side as well, to even things up. Then of course, if one team is truly getting a spanking? Simple, TROLL BOWL!!! Every player is swapped out for invincible, immortal Trolls! It does bear mentioning this applies in Player vs. Player too, in which case it's probably more of a Comeback Mechanic.
  • The otherwise superb Tiger Woods PGA Tour series uses this heavily in career mode. Shoot well under par, and computer opponents will put up absurdly good scores on the next round. Play poorly, and they'll all post mediocre scores. As a result, the easiest way to win tournaments is to Do Well, But Not Perfect the first two days so the computer will hover around par, and then step on the gas in the later rounds.
  • Tecmo Super Bowl for the NES was pretty open about featuring the Simmons effect ("computer is pissed") manifestation of Rubberband AI. The more consecutive games you won in season mode, the more difficult the AI would become until it eventually entered what modders call "juice mode". In juice mode, every opposing RB is nearly at Bo Jackson's skill level, and the defense will either anticipate your play, sack you with no resistance, or intercept your weak passes about ten thousand times as frequently as they did in the 1st game of the season. Experienced Tecmo-ers learned to intentionally tank the final game of the regular season in order to tone the AI down to easy levels for the playoffs.note 
  • UFC Undisputed did this in the career mode. The title fights were significantly harder than the regular bouts

    Third Person Shooter 
  • The first Max Payne proudly touted this as one of its features, with arguably less-than-optimal results. Even on the "easy" difficulty setting it ramped up the durability, accuracy and reflexes of the enemies until you died at least once per level. To quote a user from the Quarter to Three forums:
    Why did they even bother giving you difficulty options? As far as I could tell your options were "insane / insane / insane / impossible / impossible with a time limit."
  • Red Dead Redemption did this with some of the minigames, especially Horseshoes. If you gain a large lead on an opponent, expect their next horseshoes to land very close to the pole, even getting ringers on the higher difficulty levels. Conversely, if they're leading you by 8 points, neither of their horseshoes may even make it into the box at all.

    Turn Based Strategy 
  • The multiplayer game M.U.L.E. will inflict whichever player currently has the highest score with with bad "random" events, while whoever is bringing up the rear will only have good things happen to them. At least, that's the way it's supposed to work. Leading players can still receive good random events, but it's true that when there is a bad event during production, it ALWAYS hits the lead player. Also, whoever is in the lead loses the tie, barring racial exceptions, like the long-necked one always winning ties in land auctions.
  • Common in X-COM games and their Spiritual Successors. The better you are at handling terror sites, shooting down UFOs, putting alien bases out of commission, and keeping your sponsors happy, the angrier the aliens will be. This may range from them sending more ships to annoy your sponsors, sending bigger ships for tasks that they usually do with smaller ships, down to trying to attack your bases.
  • Once you control a majority of territories on the map in Pokémon Conquest (e.g. nine of 17, five of eight, four of seven, etc.) the opposing warlords will jump the levels of its mons to match yours. Except it doesn't work correctly: the level jump is decided by your strongest nation (regardless of how many people are in there) and how many nations you have adjacent to their territories and how strong their allies get. Which means if say you have someone surrounded on all sides with 6 warriors in your strongest nation with a strength of 1500 and they have 4 people their levels will jump up to match yours but because it's split between 4 instead of 6, they're a hell of a lot harder to beat. On the other hand, this can fail spectacularly if it messes up and instead they'll be at half your strength instead.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • A racing sequence early on in The Saboteur uses rubber-banding very, very obviously: The developers intended for the player to feel like they were steadily progressing from last place to second throughout the race, but the result is that for the first lap of the race, the player becomes perpetually stuck in 8th place, until the second lap when the other racers suddenly start driving much slower and the player can catch up and move up to 4th place for the rest of the lap, etc.

Non-video game examples:

  • Many chess programs have an option to match the player's strength. This is probably done with rubberband AI: If the program estimates being ahead, it eases on its calculations, and if it estimates being behind, it calculates more aggressively. When properly implemented, it can work pretty well.

  • Used frequently in The Hunger Games, where the sadistic game makers will introduce disasters to the arena whenever the tributes aren't fighting each other. Katniss even makes her plans around such events, basing her decisions to move or not on how many days it's been since a kill and whether the audience will be bored enough for a pull on the rubberband.

    Live-Action TV 
  • For various reasons, the producers of The Amazing Race create what are known as "bunching points" or "equalizers," usually involving operating hours of businesses or transport schedules, so that no team gets too far ahead or behind: Logistically, it's easier to keep the crew in a single country at a time and you don't want to tie up locals in assisting/judging tasks for days on end. Dramatically, having wins or losses be a Foregone Conclusion every week is boring. The first season didn't have these equalizers, and two teams got so far ahead on leg 9 that it was impossible for the other teams to catch up, and the next three legs before the finale were pretty much pointless.
  • The first half of a Fort Boyard episode requires the team to collect keys. In some of the challenges against a human opponent, they would be less difficult if they knew the team was short on keys, and be extremely difficult if they knew the team obtained or exceeded the key quota.
  • Teal'c faces a Rubberband AI in an episode of Stargate SG-1 - every time it looks like he's winning, the game throws in a new twist. New twists include more enemies (and making those enemies tougher by making the usual method of killing them ineffective and giving one of them the power to turn invisible), and having NPCs who are supposed to be on Teal'c's side suddenly turn on him at the worst possible moment. It's eventually revealed that this was unintentional: the game was based on Teal'c's own mind, and Teal'c believed, deep down, that his fight was ultimately a fruitless one. The game was throwing impossible scenarios at him because Teal'c himself subconsciously believed his fight was impossible to win.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Old World of Darkness games had something like this at one point. Success of an action was determined by rolling a number of dice corresponding to one's skill. Rolls higher than a target number were successes, lower were failures, and 1's cancelled out successes. Having more 1's than successes constituted a botch, in which the action not only failed, but led to disastrous consequences. A character with more dice, constituting more experience and power, would therefore be more likely to spectacularly fail than an inexperienced one. This was thankfully revised in later editions, to where a botch also required that no successes at all had been rolled. A simple example follows. Say you have a difficulty 7 roll, where 7 or greater is a success. With one die, your odds of a botch are 1 in 10 if you don't get to reroll your 10. Odds of success are 4 in 10. If you are rolling two dice, then there are 100 possible outcomes. ELEVEN of them are botches, for 11/100 (11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 31, 41, 51, and 61). However, 56 of them are successes, for 23/50 chance of success. The chance of success went up 16%, but the chance of a botch went up 1%. The effect of rerolling 10s is really hard to calculate, but at higher difficulties, it was not enough to make up for it.
    • This math falls apart for dice pools representing competent characters. note 
  • And the New World of Darkness discarded the "botch" rule for just that reason. "Dramatic Failure" requires that penalties completely erase your dice pool, and that you roll a 1 on the "chance die" you get instead (which only succeeds on a 10). Instead of "The better you are, the harder you fall", it becomes "If things go against you, you're going to suffer". It's still possible to botch, but only in certain situations. For example, making any roll involving Presence as a Nosferatunote  not only reinstates the botch rule for that roll, but also removes the ability to re-roll on 10's.
  • Shadowrun mirrors the World of Darkness system considerably (Shadowrun, however, uses standard six-sided dice rather than ten-siders). In earlier editions, you rolled dice so as to get at least a target number (if it's more than 6, you had to roll for 6's and then reroll to add onto their total, hoping to eventually reach the number), and 1s were always considered a fail. The 4th Edition changed it so that "hit" was simply anything at least a 5 and you tried to get a requisite number. 1s are still bad as a majority of 1s results in a "glitch", a setback that occurs even if you succeed (unless of course, you roll a majority of 1s and no "hits": the dreaded "critical glitch").

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic operates like this since he's basically just toying with the ponies for his own amusement. His powers are essentially unlimited and he could easily abrakadabra their lungs away and win right then and there if he wanted to, but he continually just barely steps up his game to keep just on top of them because it's more fun. When they outdo his maze by flying or magic, he takes their wings and horns. When Fluttershy outdoes his brainwashing Breaking Speech, he just brainwashes her by force. On the flip side when they lose his game, he tells them where the Elements actually are located, and when they've given up he basically leaves them to their own devices to enjoy the World Gone Mad.

    Real Life 
  • This can actually happen in the real world, in certain economic systems. There, it's called the "ratchet effect", and the AI is your competitors or some third-party agency. A good example: In the former USSR, the planning agency would reward the enterprises that made more than their quota. However, they'd base the next quota upon how well the enterprise did, so the harder you worked, the worse it got. The right strategy, of course, was to produce ever so slightly more than the quota.
    • For publicly traded companies, stock analysts' quarterly earnings forecasts work much the same way. A company that misses the forecast by even a trivial sum loses market value, but beating the forecast by a wide margin raises next quarter's forecast.
    • In Macro-Economics, there is a concept called the Catch-Up Effect where poorer nations will have Real GDP growth rates at something like 9.5% or even 10%, that leads to the country overall moving towards a first world economy status at a faster rate, than those countries closer to that status than itself. However that also means that when it screws up and you get high inflation rates or even hyperinflation, which pretty much means the currency will lose something like 10% of its value in an hour, Zimbabwe being an example with the treasury having released a $100 Billion Zimbabwean Dollar note set to expire on December 31 2008 (notes traditionally don't expire they just don't get replaced), which ironically would lead to further devaluing of the Zimbabwean Dollar.
    • And you white collar workers thought you were safe? There is a theory — The Peter Principle — that if you show competence in a position, you will be promoted to a new one. If you keep getting good at these new positions you'll get assigned to higher ones. The resultant effect is that a person will keep getting promoted until they reach a position in which they prove incompetent. Which has led to "The Dilbert Principle", named by Scott Adams. Companies now leave good workers in their current positions, and only promote incompetents, because they can hurt the company less as management. Adams snarks that this does not prove to be the winning strategy one would imagine it to be.
    • A similar problem is when a higher power allocates a budget to your service. If you're under-budget at the end of the term, some managers will "reward" your service by cutting the surplus from next term's budget, so people usually waste company money on trivialities to prevent this. This is the standard operating procedure for the U.S. Federal Government. This is made worse by the fact that most departments far overestimate what their budgets will be since they are usually given less than what they ask for. But they usually still end up with more than they need.
  • Most tournament bowling leagues impose handicaps that are inversely proportional to a player's average, so if you play poorly, you still stand a good chance against a much better opponent, so long as you play better than your average. Likewise, if you are a very good player, your chances of losing to a beginner aren't too bad either, particularly if you don't play as well as you normally do on that round. Of course, like in any other game with Rubber Band AI, you can abuse the system. This is sandbagging. The essence of sandbagging is to win small and lose big. Once it is clear that your team is not going to win this time after handicap, then it is in your best interest to tank every shot. When victory seems possible, then it is in your best interest to keep it close, so as not to raise your handicap too much. The natural tendency of players to give up when they know they can't win doesn't help matters, so accusations are difficult to prove. The only sure way to spot one is if a team continues to win small and lose big. In theory anyone who would want to sandbag should move to a scratch league, but there are plenty who know they aren't good enough to get the money in one, but who can sandbag and get away with it in a money handicap league.
  • In team sports, when one team gets a significant (but not insurmountable) lead, the trailing team will often come to dominate the course of play, due to both teams playing to the score: the leading team goes into a defensive shell, while the trailing team attacks desperately to try to even the score.
    • At least at the high school level, it's fairly common for the coach of a team which is far ahead to bench the first string entirely. This accomplishes several things: 1. it allows the first string players to rest and recuperate for the next game; 2. it gives second (third, fourth, etc.) string players a chance to play in a "big game" instead of just in scrimmages; 3. it helps avoid the appearance of poor sportsmanship in the form of "running up the score" against a weak opponent.
    • When millions of dollars are spent on players who can be sidelined by an injury, benching your best players when you're crushing it is not a bad idea. This is seen in many professional sports. Consider an NBA star player making $10M USD a year. Now imagine them tearing an ACL and needing about a year to recover. Now imagine being up by 20 in the fourth quarter with five minutes to go in a game that really won't change the standings. Why have your best guys on the court? Tell the big shot to have a seat, send some of your rookies to get some more experience playing in the big game, and keep thinking about how the rest of the season is going to play out. If you really need the W and the other team starts a Miracle Rally, you can still call in the A-team, and they'll have rested a bit.
    • North American pro leagues usually have an "Entry Draft" or "Amateur Draft" for teams to acquire players entering a given league that is intended to function like Rubber Band A.I. over the course of years. In these drafts, the worst teams from the previous seasons get the first picks, ostensibly getting more promising and talented players, so that in a few years those teams might not suck out loud any longer. The drawback is that this actively incentivizes teams who are simply mediocre to stop trying entirely and lose as often as possible to get better draft picks. Leagues like the NBA and NHL have a "Draft Lottery," where the order of the first handful of picks is selected semi-randomly among the worst teams, in order to not guarantee the worst team the best pick, and to not automatically punish the second worst team for not losing more.
  • In Peewee sports leagues if one team is dominating the other in terms of points it's a common practice to "cap" their score. For example, if one team has ten more points than the other, even if they continue to score the additional goals (or what have you) won't be counted. In addition to not making the losing team feel too bad (they're kids after all), it's also intended to keep the game going so the other team has at least has a chance of catching up.
  • In stage races in professional road race cycling like the Tour de France, the beginning of each normal (non-time trial) stage is a bunch start. This race structure means that cyclists who are very far behind on elapsed time can (and usually do) strike out ahead of the pack in a "breakaway" to try to not only win the stage (which would be more difficult if their start was delayed by the amount they were behind the leader) but also potentially make up for lost time. The rules effectively "rubber band" the overall race to make later stages more competitive than they would otherwise be.


Video Example(s):


Windy Valley Tails Race

As this Speedrun shows, no matter how quickly Tails progresses through the level, the A.I. makes sure Sonic is always just behind him on the race progress tracker.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / RubberBandAI

Media sources: