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Robotics in video games, from man to machine?

Summer of 2013. On the set of America’s Got Talent, the crowd is cheering. The jury, including actress and model Heidi Klum, was stunned. A Kenichi Ebina has just performed a performance that will go down in history. Without warning, he has just materialized the fusion between man and machine, reproducing, with an incredible “mechanical” ease, the attitudes of a robot. In a minute and a half, this 38-year-old dancer declares a phenomenon and is propelled to the final a few weeks later.

Since the dawn of time, robots have intrigued man and fascinated more and more creators and entrepreneurs. So it won’t surprise you to learn (but you may already know) that former computer boss Bruno Bonnell is currently the head of Awabot and administrator of ROBOPOLIS while being president of SYROBO, the service robotics Union. It is a fact that we are at a turning point, where the gap between us and the machine is closing more and more. And unless there is an unexpected turn of events, these mechatronic devices will be part of our daily lives shortly.

Under these conditions, it is not surprising that video games, in turn, increasingly integrate robotics into their digital experiences. In the course of this dossier, we will return to its representation in video games, while drawing a parallel with the questions raised by the evolution of robotics and artificial intelligence.

The evolution of the robot in games

Year after year, the video game evolved the representation of the robot. Whether it’s boss or characters supporting the player’s progression, different types of robots are born in the imagination of developers. Initially, creators tended to rely on the seventh art and its representation of the robotic world. But with the transition from 2D to 3D, the reproduction of these metal machines became more complex, and many players were confronted with more than just titanium carcasses. Like Evangelion, the videogame productions then put forward entities capable of acting on their own.

Between science-fiction and anticipation

Whoever put their hands on the vast Steel Battalion stick must have felt a real sense of power. Considered an authentic simulation of mechas, this production made in Capcom has turned over more than one: joystick composed of 40 buttons (!), two joysticks, a pedalboard, and even a shifter! Elitist (because collector and expensive), this experience places us in the cockpit of a mécha and immersion is total! Instead of focusing on an external representation of the robot, the developers have chosen another approach that reduces to a game like Titanfall (when one is inside the mecha).

At the dawn of 3D, the developers opted for this visualization. In 1989, PC players discovered a certain MechWarrior. With his subjective view and his change of weapons on the fly, this show has left its mark on people’s minds. When the 32 bits arrived, we saw both original and staggered productions. On Saturn, we had the right to Robotica but also to experiments like Gungriffon (and its more successful continuation). Many mecha style shoots have also emerged. On the PlayStation side, sagas such as Jumping Flash stunned the players. You have to say; it’s not every day you control a robotic rabbit! A mix of platform and exploration, this game (and its sequel) delivered exciting sensations. The 3D allowed for depth, and the immersion was such that it gave Vertigo at times. Despite the emergence of this technology, 2D has long resisted and relied on several details. Robots, mechas and other machines have benefited from this profusion of sprites.
In contrast to a series like Mega Man, which is quite clean, the arcade and Neo Geo players were able to hallucinate (that’s the term) in front of the mechanical and robotic entities of the Slug Metal saga. With their incredible animations, these sprites have turned over more than one! From the 1980s to the present, the representation of robots has evolved but has always been able to maintain a certain “artistic “coherence. Whatever console you choose, you will always find a robot set, even on machines that have gone a bit unnoticed like the Jaguar.