Punch-Out & AI Scripts

What’s your opinion on the Punch out series?

Okay, I had a short conversation about Punchout on Twitter fairly recently, I think with Jason Brown. It was after I watched the punchout vod from AGDQ. I played the original Punchout for myself, made it up to the third league, about halfway through.

Like, Punchout is weird. I don’t totally know what to make of it. On first glance, it appears to just be a glorified rhythm game with some puzzle elements thrown in. I remember seeing an explanation of all the different fighters’ weak points where punching them would yield a star, so at first glance it appears fairly obvious that to win you just gotta punch them when they won’t block or dodge, then punch them at the critical moment to get a star. But then it gets weirder.

For example, take the early game enemy Great Tiger. His ruby shimmers right before he does a big attack and if you punch him at that moment, you get a star. So the obvious strategy is just to punch him whenever that blinks, then use the star to uppercut him. This can let you win in 56 seconds, which is alright, not great. The actual fastest stretegy is to jab him, triggering him to counter jab you, then you wait and do a body blow just as he does to get a star. Do this 3 times in a row, do 2 uppercuts, then do the counterjab strategy again, wait a little for the ruby to blink, can jab him again, wait a bit longer for his ruby to blink again, then uppercut to knock him down. he’ll get up two more times, but can be uppercut on each of these to instantly knock him down.

That’s actually fairly complicated, there’s a lot going on there, and I honestly don’t entirely understand why the above strategy works, knowing the whole thing would require more knowledge of how Great Tiger’s whole AI is programmed, and I can’t find any documentation of that (or any other punchout AI, if you happen to know of or find this, forward it to me please, I know luke miller has some tutorials on youtube for speedrunning punchout, regular and blindfolded, I have not watched those yet).

A recent subject of research for me has been boss cycles and phases, specifically how to deal more damage on specific cycles, how bosses modulate the amount of damage they take, how players can use the mechanics under their control to deal more damage, and when they switch phases and cycles. I think it’s something I’ve overlooked until recently, and punchout seems like the ultimate game for this type of thing.

Punchout AI follows scripts over the course of the fight related to the timer, RNG, and internal variables. They have reactions to actions you take. They go down based on different amounts of damage in relation to different parts of their script and reactions. So there’s a lot more going on here than just a regular rhythm game. The issue perhaps is how well this is explained or telegraphed, but I don’t have any final conclusions on this stuff. I just think there’s a ton of potential research here.

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