The first of these tools is the design stage of your bot. The entire thing - legs, torso, arms and head - are constructed here. Think along the lines of Lego and you might begin to imagine the fun you can have! You can mix and match parts from the 7 different types of bots (which all have weird alien names) and stick them together in all kinds of ways. It's virtually impossible to make an identical bot to another person, simply because the range of designs is limited only by imagination. After you have built your metal buddy, you can paint him! A selection of textures and colours await your perusal, which can be liberally, or sparingly, applied in a manner of ways. You have complete control over what your robot looks like, which enables you to spend silly amounts of time tarting up your lovingly crafted virtual warrior. I wouldn't be surprised if you spent more time here than when you built the bot itself!
After building and painting your bot, things start to get a little more complicated. Instead of controlling your robot like in Robot Arena, you give it an Artificial Intelligence and let it fight for itself. In a way this detracts from the fun of the game and the possibilities during combat, since a human at the controls will always fair better than an AI. However, the AI building screen does contain a lot of options which, if explored thoroughly, could yield a very clever AI indeed.
To explain how the AI is contructed is quite simple. An "if (condition X) then (action Y)" arrangement is used, similar to basic programming and logical thought, which makes the AI easy to build but difficult to master. Expressions such as "if health > 50% then attack high" can be used, along with links to zones and moves which are created along with the bot. Zone and moves are basically what make up your robots ability to attack and defend itself. Zones are areas outside the bot and simulate its area of vision. If a condition applies to that zone, for example the enemy robot entering it, an action can be triggered via the AI as a result. So if the opposing robot attacked from the front, your AI could be programmed to back off and then attack with it's long ranged weapon. Of course, without the moves being defined, your robot would just sit there. Moves are created using a snapshot system - a progressive list of freezeframes which define the critical points of the move, between which are movements filled in by the simulation engine. Using this method you can create moves as simple, or as complicated, as you want. There does however seem to be a restriction on the speed of the moves, for example you can't make the manouvere quick, like a jab, as all the joints move at a set speed. This makes the length of the move the only "speed" factor. After building, painting, animating and teaching your bot, you finally get to test him. This where all your work comes to fruition, your hours of painstaking labouring all amount to this one point in time. Load your bot into the simulator, and click play.
If your bot was anything like my first attempt, then what you will see will resemble something along the lines of a small pile of junk running towards another robot and perform some moves, and get damaged during the process. And then lose. After the simulation ended, the entire thing was replayed in a large, colourful arena, rather like gladiatorial combat. The idea being that once your robot has won, the movie can be saved to disk or uploaded to a website, which can then be viewed by others. It's not action packed compared to..well, pretty much every other game, but what it does show is your robots' exact responses and actions resulting from the enemy robots' performance. The data can then be analyzed in realtime and you can see for yourself if your robot is doing what you programmed it to. It sounds complex I know, but once you get into it, optimising your robot can become an obsession. So, what can you do after your robot is perfect and trouncing all the bots in the game? Play online of course! Roboforge.net host various tournaments ranging from newbie-style leagues to professional prize-winning ladders. No matter how good a designer you think you are, there is always someone willing you test your mettle (sorry) against theirs.
Overall, I was quite impressed with Roboforge. The chance to create your own online gladiator and pitch it against other peoples creations got me quite interested, but however many options there are, it still feels just a little bit limited. I could really only recommend this game to people who like to create rather than destroy, which probably rules out a fair few people. You need to invest time into your robot to get it to function properly, and as long as you're willing to accept the fact that trial and error is commonplace, Roboforge might be worth a shot.