The Days Are Dark Because Skynet Blackened Them :: Surviving an AI Apocalypse

The gist of this post is simple; Cataclysm DDA was never meant to be just a zombie apocalypse. We can see this in the world already; there are triffids and robot cops and meteor impact sites and a whole bunch of creepy-ass Lovecraftian stuff. And now, since zombies have gotten fleshed out more a bit recently (pun), I think it’s about time we turn our collective eye to something else. I have chosen robots, because robots offer a lot of diverse gameplay options beyond ‘shoot them’ and ‘trap them in a window and hit them with sticks’. I think there’s a lot that can be done here, especially with the future plans to make the various creatures of the world spread over the map, but specifically right now as well.

To start with, some ideas for robot foes that I believe would make good additions to the game, without breaking the current atmosphere too much.

The Protectro 4000 :: Standing guard on street corners for the last five years or so, the 4000 model of the Protector series is a Certified Complacent ™ AI that will accept US currency in exchange for a temporary span of bodyguard work. Sporting a resilient quadruped chassis, mounted tasers with computer-guided accuracy, and a net gun for those quick getaways, the Protectro will keep you safe throughout your day, and even carry your shopping for you!

In game terms, the Protectro is either a stationary neutral mob that will only react if attacked. Zombies will ignore it, usually, since it’s not alive. And it only cares about protecting its client, which could be you! Finally, a use for those money bundles as something other than kindling. Beware, though. Sometimes these things could spawn ‘hired out’ to already-zombified individuals. They’re smart enough to know the difference, but apathetic enough to not care, and they will fight you if you try to take down their ‘clients’.

Farmer-class ML11 :: Just like a good farmer, the ML11 tends to its fields diligently. The difference, of course, is that a normal farmer plants seeds and reaps fruits and vegetables. The ML11 plants mines, and reaps a harvest of blood. Capable of reprocessing the matter of detonated explosives in its patrol path back into explosives, the ML11 will maintain a stable minefield within its target area. It isn’t armed; all that fancy internal factory machinery takes up space that we can’t waste on ammo. But it’ll follow orders well enough, if you’ve got the command rank to give them. Smart. Efficient. Just like a solider; only it makes its own bombs.

The Farmer is a good lead-in to what’s coming next, but to start off, it too has a method of subversion like the Protectro. Give it a military ID, and it’ll follow you like a puppy. A very explosive puppy. Otherwise, it’s content to follow its previous orders laying a semi-permanent and replenishing minefield. Sometimes, though, these things will be on the AI network, and taking orders from something a bit above you, so be careful. If you see one change patrols, you know that it’s likely to self-destruct if you approach it, rather than follow your orders.

Primary Matriarch :: What’s known in the language of the science fiction future as a Seed AI. The Primary Matriarch is capable of learning, and improving itself at an accelerated pace. It knows what it wants, it will stop at nothing to get it, and it thinks you are in the way. The two of you are awfully similar, aren’t you?

As far as the game goes, the PM is a late-game boss fight waiting to happen. As with fungal spires or triffid hearts, the longer you leave her to wait in her office highrise, the more you’ll see her robotic drones appearing in the world. If you manage to reach her, she’s an easy kill. Good luck with that, though, since every day means more and more deadly autonomous weapons put together by her robotic engineers and the survivors-turned-machine cultists that follow her. It will start small; a few scout drones, nothing to worry about. But soon, you’ll be seeing spider tanks and hunter-killers moving through the cities. They don’t care about zombies, either. Why should they? They have no flesh to eat. They just want to make sure that no living human is left to oppose their future.

These are just some basic ideas for potentially friendly to outright aggressive robot mobs that we could toss in. The use of projectile weapons by robots makes them a huge threat to players, and really pushes you to get some guns of your own. Also, this makes explosives really valuable, as well as giving a use to that stock of EMP grenades we all have. It also gives a way to ramp difficulty up as the game progresses and zombies become less of an issue.

As far as NEW gameplay goes, I have a few ideas. If you manage to sneak up on a robot under cover of darkness, there are a number of potential new tools you can make via the electronics skill. A simple short EMP (perhaps replacing the grenade in terms of material use) that will disable it for a time, allowing you to disassemble it for scrap or just leave it as a roadblock. A self-destruct trigger which would provide a more flashy solution. And, if you’ve got some computer skill to go with it, a hacking port that would let you take complete control of the bot. I’m sure there’s more ideas to be discovered, too, but these alone give a few options for players that don’t like guns and want to have some alternate paths to dealing with the robots.

Robots will also track you for longer than zombies, and are more dangerous as individuals, but don’t tend to travel in packs. This actually starts to make the trapping skill more useful, as players can rig up corridors of doom that would be useless against a zombie hoard, but are perfect against a single strong enemy. This is also a good reason to have a sturdy home to retreat to.

And that’s it. My ideas for robots. Add your own, critique mine, do your thing. You all know how this goes.

You got some nice idea there, more enemy beside zombie is always welcomed in my book, especially enemy with ranged attack (No insta-win when you find guns). The only problem right now is the game doesn’t have much mechanic to (monster) ranged attack and stealth. Like duck/evasion and cover so ranged combat right now is pretty one-sided, whoever left standing win. I hope that once the mechanic is in, the developers will consider added more ranged enemies - those robots you suggested are really good candidates IMO.

Some neat ideas, but the bolded bit there. Don’t take this too seriously, because it’s Cata and it’s a game, but;

When you detonate explosives you are creating an exothermic chemical reaction which expels energy into the environment around it. You are taking chemical energy and converting it into kinetic energy, heat, and light. The molecules that you have left over after detonating an explosive compound cannot be reformed back into something which contains the same amount of energy that it had before. If this worked, you would have a ‘free energy’ machine. Something which can create an infinite amount of energy with a finite amount of material. Physics would never allow it!

But that is just a nitpicky detail. Some fun ideas. I’ve always been a fan of the AI-Run-Amok trope.

Phased fertilizer bomb launcher in the 40-watt range.

But yeah, surviving a non-living, non-undead hell would be interesting.
“Damn AI’s polluting nature on purpose! The wildlife’s dying. How the hell am I gonna get through this?!”

Awesome ideas.

Yeah, I kind of realized this as I was posting it. The boring way to fix it is to have them just stop laying mines after a while. The more interesting way is to have them return to their base to resupply when they run out. That would make it possible to stalk them to find the locations of military bases or the AI factories, which I think would add a neat dynamic.

Skynet is cool, but it should have to contend with stepping on Cthulhu’s territory. And Cthulhu doesn’t take kindly to that. And the zombies don’t take kindly to the deep ones. This game is a sort of mish mash of lore.

Been a proponent of more robots since I started playing the game. I just want to see some poor, hapless cop-bot trying to arrest a whole town of criminally offensive zombies and jam them into a jail or prision until they sober up is up (and then catching you for breaking windows, away with your weapons and into the cells you go.)

I’d think that an ‘seed AI’ would likely be sequestered away underground more often than a corporate high rise, could even be a more threatening, proactive lab type. May or may not have varying goals aside from ‘acquire resources, disregard meatbags’ (sorta like humans) but in contrast to most NPCs, they are an immobile facility, rather than a singular bandit, or territorial asshole.

I imagine the minefield robot being roughly a small solar powered car (only 4 tiles) with a small electric motor and most of the power taken up by a bomb fabrication unit. The mines being cheap disposable things manufactured from small items or even corpses, and not so powerful nor reliable in the long term as larger, manual mines.

Perhaps the mines are even launched via a short ranged morter, making the bot somewhat more proactive it it’s guardianship?

I mostly suggest the bit about the minelayer using some car systems because I think large robotic enemies may be a good place to start when considering multi-tile creatures (since we already have vehicles using a multi-tile system.)

Why not have them powered by biological matter? Have them hunt down corpses, stray meat chunks and even clothing lying around. More interesting than another solar-powered machine.

With ideas like this, I feel it’d be great if it only came up in some games (like the different branches on DCSS), this would mean that in some of your randomly generated apocalypses you’d have to contend with skynet, and in others Triffids and in others netherspawn and so on. That’d really make it a complete cataclysm simulator!

I contemplated that, and even mentioned that it may use corpses as a possible material in it’s explosives (most explosives are chemically organic) but as a power source? A mine-tender doesn’t strike me being able to take good advantage of a predatory diet. Their purpose would be to hold an area and prevent trespass, not pursue or even necessarily kill prey. The sedentary and low-energy lifestyle of such a creation would be a good match for solar power, as most of it’s time would be spent replenishing it’s mine reserves or patiently waiting for something to happen. Now a ‘Mechanical Hound’-esque assasin bot, or an anti-zombie drone the govt eggheads whipped up in a few days desperation? Sure.

To be fair, that already happens to me if using a single city or forest as basecamp instead of roaming widely in murdervans and lootwagons, normal spawning densities already prevent ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING from occurring within most full screens of an overmap. I haven’t seen a fungaloid in 3-4ish characters, and an ant nest in almost 7.

Not the mine drone in particular, just as a general comment. Although a swarm of street cleaner bots that roamed the road eating corpses and stray items would be an interesting addition.

Automated cleaner bots would be kind of cool. Perhaps they only come out at night, have lights attached to them so there’s a pool of illumination in their immediate area, and they fetch up items and clean up graffiti. After a few hours, they return to their public works facility to deposit any intact items in the lost and found, while unknown, dangerous, or broken items get dumped in the furnace. They make noise, but zombies won’t attack them, just wander toward them. This may complicate stealth at night, but can also be a tool you can work with. Also, since they will clean any visible graffiti, you can leave a series of tags to lure them into your clever trap, giving you ample time to harvest their delicious lights, batteries, and cargo.

Automated cleaner bots would be kind of cool.[/quote]
And There Will come Soft Rains…

Upon further reflection, I have a question to pose to everyone. Would having a Seed AI as an always-hostile enemy be the way to go, or would it be worth waiting for NPCs and factions to be implemented and having the AI’s actually act like people?

I can think of a number of ways that second one makes it a bit more fun, while the first one simply ups the gradual increase in challenge that the world presents. If AI’s are people, then each individual Seed and their army/factory could be negotiated with AS A WHOLE. How cool would that be, to be able to bribe your way into a non-aggression pact with an entire region of otherwise-hostile robots, or to accidentally EMP and disassemble the wrong scout bot and find out later that you’re on the bad side of several dozen of the things because you cut off part of their hive mind.

It’s not even that much of a stretch in programing terms. If anything, it would be easier to program a faction where all the units share the same intelligence than it would be to make that make sense when dealing with humans. This might be a good starting point for factions, honestly. No need to worry about which NPCs are members at any given time, or who has the authority to broker deals with you; they’re all one individual, so that simplifies the problem immensely.

Just a thought.

Probably best to wait for factions to be properly implemented. I’m personally hoping for all monster factions to be eventually fleshed out, but AI would be the biggest candidate for an intelligent faction after other humans. Of course, while the central Seed AI might be reliant on the faction stuff, some of the simpler nonsentient robots could be implemented without it.