Monday, April 12, 2010

Arwen's Tweaks and Companions

I've made complaints - some might consider them accusations - the last couple days about the performance of my companions (lack thereof, rather) when Arwen's "improved" AI is in effect.

Specifically, while the modified NPC AI will react to and attack the player from much greater distance, NPCs so modified do not react to each other at similar distances.

Rather, my companions know they're taking fire, but cannot "see" the enemy at the range they're attacking from. My girls, doing as they're supposed to, take cover and begin searching for their adversary.

Practically, what this results in is the companions sitting tight, and refusing to follow you close enough to react to the enemy. You end up taking on the whole group yourself, which sort of defeats the entire fucking purpose behind having companions in the first place. Coupled with the increased limb crippling rate induced by Arwen's mod, life gets real interesting real fast when you've stirred up a hornet's nest of a dozen raiders. More so when said raiders are modified by Einherjrar's ALIVE plugin, and are packing belt fed weapons and explosives...

I'm not positive that its necessarily a mistake in practice or setting on Arwen's part. Odds are good it's an engine issue - that the game engine was never designed to allow NPCs to react to each other at those ranges, short of a scripted event. Unfortunately, the engine is something I can not do something about, so I have to look where I can actually change things.

A secondary issue is that modified NPCs tend to "hesitate" considerably. This happens with both companions and enemy NPCs. Once contact is made in close-quarters, they oftentimes will wait up to five seconds before actually opening fire.

v4.2 made these issues even worse. Rather than just having a short sight, now the girls won't attack anything until it's close enough to smell its breath. Since all enemy actors and creatures naturally attack me first, this is not a good thing for my survivability.

In the past, I've simply not used the AI module, which conveniently solved my problem.

Regrettably, Arwen opted to streamline her mod with this last version, and merged several of the plugins together; resulting in only three where there were ten previously.

True to my usual luck, the AI module was merged into the 'main tweaks' core file. This, for those of you who rode the little bus to school, means that the AI module can no longer be turned off.

This leaves me with only two choices:

1) Stop using Arwen's Tweaks. This is not my first choice. I like the changes to weapons, armor, damage, chems, experience, skills, and stats. I like the idea of the AI module, and I like the way it increases the awareness of NPCs to things like the bullets from silenced gunshots striking something near to them.

2) Create a patch, to revert whichever setting(s) is causing the problem to game default; or at least closer to game default to mitigate if not outright remove the issue.

I've run almost six hours of testing in various methods this afternoon and evening, eliminating as many variables as possible.

I ran three of my own companions with 4.2 of Arwen's Tweaks active.

I ran three of my own companions with all of Arwen's mods turned off.

Results suggested that the tweaks were the culprit. But, I wasn't positive. After all, combat differs from fight to fight, area to area. Any NCO worth his stripes can tell you that more often than not, topography has a huge influence on the tempo of a battle, and the exact tactics required to prevail.

So, I decided to run a direct comparison. Two runs; one with Arwen's work, one without, against the same enemies, on the same turf.

My chosen battleground was Grayditch. Our test-bodies, the fire breathing ants of doom.

As a control, and to see whether it was only my companions that were fucked, or all companions, I activated Jessi and Kelsey, and took them along with Ellie; to see side-by-side, real time performance differences between my combat style, and the ones from the default game, as modified by Arwen.

Jessi and Kelsey both use the FollowersDefaultRangedStyle, for the record.

I ran interdiction, using my 12 gauge to cripple the ants' legs, and generally keep them focused on me; to give the companions ample space to react and fight.

Immediately, I remembered why I have my fireteam made up of my own companions.

From the start, Jessi tried to go fisticuffs with the ants - she wouldn't equip her G36.

I watched with a massive sigh as Kelsey and Ellie hid behind the partition while Jessi went bare-knuckle.

Eventually, I got sick of it and popped the ant with my shotgun.

A quick dialog order and a mental kick-in-the-ass later, Jessi had her G36 equipped.

We moved into the town, where spaces were more open and terrain mostly flat.

Ants were clearly seen all over the place. Again, no fire was sent until the ants were uncomfortably close - as close as five meters in some cases. The ants were virtually always within fire-breathing range by the time the companions opted to shoot.

They spent - as usual - most of their time hiding behind cover, shouting combat alerts and occasionally running in a circle like a decapitated chicken.

When they did opt to shoot, it was pathetic. Jessi and Kelsey "fought" by running flat out while hip-shooting on full auto in the general direction of the enemy. One round in twenty might have hit. It took on average two full mags each for them to down an ant.

Ellie, driven by my combat style, performed slightly better. When she did finally opt to fire, she did so in controlled, aimed bursts of two and three, before rinsing and repeating. Ironically enough, she was doing with a half dozen rounds of 5.7x28 from a Five-seveN handgun what the other two were taking sixty rounds of 5.56mm NATO to pull off.

Plus, Ellie was way cuter in a DTO than the other two...

...but I digress.

Once we had finally cleared out Grayditch, I closed the game, switched off Arwen's Tweaks in full, and restarted it.

Picked up Ellie and Sabine, and headed for Grayditch.

Fuck me.

It was like watching Delta Force run a MOUT course right after a group of reserve police finished.

Sabine and Ellie were moving from cover to cover, engaging targets with aimed bursts out to a hundred odd meters.

I paced off two kills (since FO3 doesn't have a range finder) at sixty and sixty-two paces, respectively; there was a third that was a good 50% further near the diner.

At one point, Sabine pulled a move that would make any SEAL proud. Caught an ant out of the corner of her eye, turned, raised the M60 to her shoulder, fired a three round burst, killing the ant. At the same moment, another ant made the mistake of coming around the corner, and straying into her detection range. Without dismounting the Pig, she swung sixty degrees left, and fired a two round burst, putting both into the ant's head, which promptly exploded.

At another point, the girls were doubling up on targets, when Sabine's M60 ran dry (I still haven't figured out how to make the girls pull a tactical reload at the end of every fight). Ellie stepped forward and engaged the ant with her sidearm while Sabine reloaded.

I also witnessed one of the fucking coolest things I have ever seen in FO3, and even managed to get a screenshot.

While near the diner, the girls noticed another ant over in the empty lot, and moved to engage. Rather than firing, Sabine charged forward and took cover behind the junked car. Dropped to one knee, she was protected while the ant's fire breath harmlessly hit the car body.

While the ant's attention was occupied, Ellie flanked it and put the bastard down with her OC-14.

Of course, FO3 didn't take the screenshot on the first button press, so it didn't catch the fire-breathing like I had hoped.

You can see Sabine hiding behind the car, and Ellie moving up on my left. The ant has noticed her just in time to realize how wholly and completely fucked it is, a quarter second before a 7.62mm bullet pierced it's buggy little brain.

What continually amazes me about this sort of behavior, is that it isn't scripted by me. They do it on their own. Also, it works with any of the companions. Maeva and Engel back each other up all the time - as do Sabine and Mai, but I also see the behavior occur on random groupings; like here with Sabine and Ellie.

I've really got to get that dialog issue fixed, and the 1.8 pack out. I think the girls will astound a lot of you. I can say without hyperbole that they are without a doubt, the best companions I have ever seen in game. Not only do they kick ass right and left, but they use chems, heal you, and now even use stealthboys.

Just have to get that reload issue worked out.

Wouldn't you hate to be facing that down? I know it's a nightmare from a camouflage staindpoint, but I just love black and red. So imposing.


Now, it looks like I get to go global by global in Arwen's AI module, and try to undo whatever it is she's done to screw them up so bad.

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