Jester, my constant companion in Steam soccer-with-cars smash hit Rocket League, thinks he’s funny. He is not, and he can go fuck himself.
OK so, I recently moved to a new apartment and don’t have a reliable Internet connection yet (I’ve been working out of a Starbucks every day; it’s great fun if you enjoy bad acoustic covers of the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” and weird people begging to cut your hair on multiple separate occasions), so I haven’t been able to spend much time online with Rocket League. To counter my crippling addiction to how goddamn good the game feels, I’ve been playing season mode with and against NPCs. They’re not amazing, but they put up a solid fight every once in a while.
Except Jester. Jester is my idiot car problem child.
He’s a member of my three-car team, and I let the game randomize his name and appearance so he has this stupid fucking hat. Look at that fucking hat. The only fashion statement you make with a hat like that is “I am a pedophile (and yes, apparently cars can be pedophiles).”
Jester makes me wish I was Brock Lesnar even more than being one of nearly seven billion human beings inhabiting the planet Earth makes me wish I was Brock Lesnar. He just... he really likes scoring, even if it means walloping the ball right into his own team’s goal. He does this a lot. I would say once or twice per game, easily. Sometimes more. It is infuriating. He could swerve ever so slightly and swat the ball off its trajectory toward our goal—save the fucking day, be a hero. He does not do this. If he sees a ball going toward a goal, any goal, he makes absolutely goddamn sure it goes in.
(It should be noted that other AIs make this mistake occasionally, but not like Jester. Jester does almost nothing except make this mistake. It really does astound me.)
Jester wasn’t always my four-wheeled, zero-brained teammate nemesis. His career got off to a promising start. Hell, when I was still wrapping my head around the game—getting a feel for when to leap, when to boost, how to backflip off walls and pull off trick shots that make me feel like a majestic dolphin who ate most of a race car—he carried our team. Our other teammate, Wolfman, did well enough, but we wouldn’t have had a winning record if Jester hadn’t been doggedly pursuing balls all the time.
Right around the time I started getting good—properly good—something changed. Maybe Jester was jealous. Maybe he thought scoring on his own team would be funny, making it His Whole Thing even funnier (I mean, his name is Jester). Maybe he got addicted to cocaine. Whatever happened, he started sinking shots into our goal at an alarming rate. Some games, he would be the only person... er, car who scored for the opposition. I felt like Wolfman and I were less his teammates and more his personal butlers, always cleaning up his idiot toilet messes. “We’re down two points and it’s the final minute because Jester decided to eat his own vomit again. Time to get to work.” We still won more games than we lost, but we were driving on eggshells the whole time.
This story isn’t an entirely tragic one, though. It was the first game of the play-offs, final minute. We were down a point, and I was doing my damndest to claim the ball from the other team—which, given that I was outnumbered, consisted more of haphazardly flinging myself at the ball than anything else. I began to lose hope. Then, as the ball whizzed away from the other team’s goal yet again, Jester appeared out of nowhere, like a flash of lightning. His timing was perfect, his aim impeccable, and a gentle headbutt put the ball in the other team’s goal. Suddenly, we were back in the game, which we went on to win.
He played similarly in the championship. It was like the old Jester was back, like he finally ditched the cocaine. I was kinda proud, especially given how nicely it fit the bizarre narrative I made up for this consistently obnoxious AI in my head.
Of course, he immediately reverted to his idiot ways in our first match on all-star (read: hard) difficulty, so his renaissance was short-lived. I guess the moral of this whole story is, Rocket League’s AI can be weird, and also Jester is a fucking moron who can go die. But also-also, that sometimes weird kinda shitty things can make games—even really good games, like Rocket League—better. Jester is infuriating, but he’s mine. He’s my story. I play the game and imagine elaborate reasons for why this NPC does the things he does, and it gives an otherwise story-free competitive game more personality. Really, Jester has both helped and hurt my experience of Rocket League.
So screw you, Jester. But also never change.
OK, story time is over. Now it’s question time: what’s the weirdest or most memorable video game AI you’ve ever run into? What were they like? Did you love them or hate them? Both?
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