Rubber Band AI

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A hypothetical: You're playing Madden NFL. Your team is up by 13, there's three and a half minutes left until the end of the game, and you have the ball. Your victory is assured, right?

Wrong, because suddenly the AI is twice as fast as you, knows what play you're going to run, and shuts down your offense, forcing you to punt - or, worse, your running back with a high "Hands" rating fumbles the ball, or an AI defensive back makes a miracle interception. On their drive, the AI marches downfield with no difficulty by completing several consecutive bombs, scoring an easy touchdown. Rinse and repeat, and before you know it you've lost what you thought was a safe lead. The video game has just experienced a Miracle Rally.

Why does this happen? The further you stretch a rubber band, the harder it pulls. It's the same idea here. Basically, the better you are doing at a game, the harder the game gets in order to continue to present a challenge. This isn't just the idea of making the game harder and harder as you progress farther and farther, this means that the level you're on right now will, for seemingly no reason, ramp up its difficulty if it thinks you're doing too well. This may, in some cases, be coupled with the computer actually cheating, rather than just getting better.

Of course, to be fair, this sometimes happens in reverse, with the AI easing up when winning to give you a chance to come back, stealing any satisfaction the player might gain from "victory." The classic example is a racing game in which opponents never gain a substantial lead on slow players but cling to the tails of even superhumanly skilled players, creating the impression of the AI's car being attached to yours by a literal rubber band! Sometimes gamers notice proof of rubber band AI (particularly in Mario Kart-style racing games) when their actual racing time in seconds when they take 1st place may be the same or similar when they race the exact same track and take as low as 6th place. Even though the times were the same, the racer's rank can fluctuate wildly due to rubber banding competitors.

Also seen in a few RPGs, where enemies are adjusted according to your character's levels, which can make any non-levelable stuff (like items) useless pretty quick. This is sometimes referred to as "punishing you for your experience." See Empty Levels and Level Scaling

Casually, The Other Wiki has a comprehensive article about Rubberband AI.

The reverse version of this trope is an Unstable Equilibrium. The trope also mixes with Do Well, But Not Perfect, where players in games with rubber band AI seem to be punished for simply being too good and aren't supposed to win that way.

Compare Dynamic Difficulty. May also overlap with (or even result in) Fake Difficulty. When a game allows human players in on it, it's a Comeback Mechanic.

Examples of Rubber Band AI include:

Video game examples

Action Adventure

  • Okami features a bonus mission where you can race a character through a forest maze. Your opponent is much faster than you if you decide to take the normal route, so you must exploit every possible shortcut on the course in order to stay ahead. However, the race is split into three areas with load screens in between. If you were losing at the end of a section, the opponent will be far ahead of you at the beginning of the next section. If you were winning, no matter how far ahead you were, the opponent will suddenly be racing neck and neck with you in the next section. This leaves very little room for mistakes on any part of the course.

Action Game

  • Magazine ads for the Genesis Jurassic Park game claimed that as you played better, the dinosaurs would get smarter. It didn't seem to make much difference in the game, unless you count the raptors occasionally ducking your shots as getting smarter.

Beat'Em Up

  • In Capcom brawler God Hand, enemies can "level up" depending on how well the player continues attacking and dodging counterattacks successfully, increasing in speed and strength. On the flip side, they de-level if the player gets smacked around too much or uses the "grovel" God Reel technique.
    • There is an indicator on the side of the screen which shows you what "level" you're on. The more enemies you beat at a high level, the larger the money bonus at the end of the stage.
  • The arcade version of Turtles in Time adjusts the number of enemies that appear according to how well you're doing (e.g. if you got through three stages without losing a life they're everywhere, but if you had to spend several quarters it's much more lenient).


  • Many chess programs have an option to match the player's strength. This is probably done with rubberband AI: If the program estimates being ahead, it eases on its calculations, and if it estimates being behind, it calculates more aggressively. When properly implemented, it can work pretty well.

Driving Game

  • The Mario Kart series does this to an exceptionally annoying and inconsistent degree. Wipe out at the start of a race and it's a straightforward task to still win. Wipe out near the end of the last lap (having raced a perfect game so far), and there will always be 3 guys right behind you to snatch all the points.
    • And if you're good at hitting shortcuts, expect the computer to be able to suddenly hit a top speed well beyond what any human could do. The most blatant instance is Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 64, which has a shortcut that can literally skip 40% of the course (which is, to this date, the longest course in the game series's history). Even if you hit said shortcut on all three laps, the computer is still able to catch you on the last lap.
      • By turning on the map-view in Mario Kart 64 it's possible to watch opponents suddenly accelerate to unrealistic speed when they are far behind.
      • Similar to the example above for Rainbow Road, Maka Wuhu in Mario Kart 7 has an exploitable glitch that lets you skip at least half the track. If you do this while racing against the AI, they will magically catch up to you without fail. Then again you were cheating...
    • Mario Kart Wii, unfortunately, takes the rubber-banding to a new low (high?) after the fairly cheating-free DS game. The computer racers change their speed depending on your position in the race, and they also get much better items than you if you're ahead. This is all par for the series, though...until you realize that there are more drivers in Wii—12 instead of 8. The result is that driving too far ahead of the pack results in your getting bombarded with three or four items in a row, which requires impeccable coordination that only a computer could muster and adds at least five seconds to your lap time. This cheating is so blatant that it seems like Nintendo wants to discourage players from being good at the game, and leaves the results of races to nearly random chance. At least there's always online play...but then you encounter the really good players, the ones who have beaten the computer at their own game and then some.
    • One of Mario Kart Wii's tournaments had players race Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong while they had an infinite supply of banana peels. If you tried to get ahead of them, they would ROCKET up to you to make sure you couldn't stay ahead. While the AI never does this in a regular race, the two in this tourney outright broke that rubber band.
      • This happens again if you race against someone's Mii with the Street Pass feature in Mario Kart 7. The Mii you race against seem to be only focused in making your race difficult as possible. Are you driving in a kart with nearly maxed out top speed while the Mii is driving with mediocre stats all around? That Mii will always stay on your tail no matter how perfectly you race or how many times the Mii is attacked. Watching the map screen, you can see the Mii's AI gaining a big boost in speed to catch up to you while the other AI racers have their "normal" variances in rubber banding. If you fall behind, the Mii will then go very slow to let you catch up.
    • To add to this, the times the AI gets in GP mode is directly based on the player's time by some form of rubber band system, so for example, if the player uses a massive glitch shortcut three times to get a time of say... 30 seconds, the AI's times, or at least the top half of them, apparently beat the non-shortcut world record for that course in time trial. This can most often be seen on Grumble Volcano. On the other hand, if the player does do awful, the AI times of those that came after him are often ridiculous, whole minutes behind the player's, even if the AI was right behind them the whole way.
  • The Need for Speed series had an annoying feature known as "Catch-up": your opponents would drive faster the more ahead you were of them, and slower the more behind you were. Forget the traditional strategy of games like Gran Turismo, where you can focus on pulling a comfortable advantage over your opponents allowing you to make a couple of mistakes without screwing up your race: in Need For Speed Underground, you had to be extremely careful during the entire race, because your only chance to build up an advantage was to have the CPU crash against the incoming traffic.
    • The games allow you to view the statistics of your car as well as other AI cars. As an exercise, you could compare AI lap times when you're running perfect flat-out laps and to situations where you just park your car over the start/finish line. In the latter situation, the AI may be more than 40 seconds a lap slower than if you've done a perfect lap (where they would always match or beat your lap times even in inferior cars).
    • This series seems to be made of this trope. In Need For Speed Undercover, it is possible to be driving a maxed out Mclaren F1 with the pedal buried firmly in the floorboards and still have a K9 police SUV casually out-accelerate you and slide in front of you in a rolling block. It was also entirely possible to "Dominate" a race with a great time, but still come in second and fail the mission, making your "Dominate" race time worthless. The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard as well.
    • Nothing will drive the point home more than seeing your A.I. opponents crash full-speed into a wall, back up, and re-accelerate to full throttle in the span of 0.5 seconds.
  • The four words most often screamed by RC Pro-Am players: "The yellow car cheats!" If you get too far ahead in some races, or use your weapons to destroy the other cars, one of them (almost always the yellow one) will drive the rest of the course at ultra high speed, making it impossible for you to get first place.
    • The blue car was a more traditional example of Rubber Band AI. When you got ahead of him for a bit, his top speed would boost to slightly above yours so he'd catch up and pass you, but if he got far enough ahead of you, his top speed would drop a lot so you could pass him. Collecting a higher top speed powerup would keep him from catching you for that track though, since he worked off the top speed you had coming in.
    • Later on, each of the opponent cars do this a little bit after the start of the race. This fact is the reason that you want to upgrade your car as much as possible, because if it isn't at full performance by the time this happens, you're screwed.
      • There are two separate effects at work here. There the "super turbo yellow car", which nearly always kicks in only if you use your weapons enough times (roll cages don't trigger it, because they can use them too). This super turbo is faster than your maximum possible top speed. Then there are the late game tracks where any car that gets ahead of you after you get out of the starting block will instantly super turbo. Either way, a missile or bomb will stop the madness, and bring the car back down to earth, for now.
    • Also, whenever you drove over the turbo arrow for a temporary speed boost, all of the computer cars immediately got the exact same speed boost. Naturally, you did not get a speed boost when a computer car drove over an arrow, meaning you had to hit them anyway.
  • In the Initial D Arcade Stage game series, two-player battles have a feature called "Boost," and like Need For Speed Carbon's Catch-up feature, it gives the trailing player a speed advantage. There is, however, an option to turn this off so that players can have a real battle.
    • The CPU also has its own boost when it falls behind by a certain margin (which is smaller for harder opponents), though it immediately slows back down to normal speed when it's back within the threshold. This is probably meant to be a Cap on the Advantage Bonus, since it's multiplied by the distance the opponent has left to go when the winner crosses the finish line. This can also cause the player's lead to sine-wave back and forth around the threshold value, even on a straightaway. Also, the CPU will go pathetically slow when it has a huge lead.
    • Initial D Arcade Stage 4 caps the opponent's disadvantage to about 190 meters.
    • Initial D Arcade Stage 6 has a strange way of applying this in Legend of the Streets mode: while the difficulty of your next opponent depended on what chapter you were, it was also controlled by how far ahead or behind you ended up at the end of the race. It is quite possible to beat Takumi with an aura with a one kilometer (!) advantage, only to get smoked by Itsuki of all people in the next race on the same course.
  • The first Wangan Midnight arcade game (and its revision Wangan Midnight R, which was eventually ported to PlayStation 2) has rubber band AI that's especially present during the final battle against Akio. If you get ahead of him you better be good at blocking because the Devil Z will be on your ass the whole time.
    • All the Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune games have rubberbanding which gets more severe the farther behind or ahead the computer gets. This is often counteracted by the individual stage quirks (slippery course, opponent will try to block you, opponent can't catch you on straightaway, etc.), but not always. It was by far the most blatant in the third cycle of the first game, to the point where everything before about the last 3 km was completely irrelevant.
  • Burnout. At least in Burnout 3 you can ram the caught-up cars, steal their boost, and regain your lead....
    • Burnout 3 had an abusable and abusive AI at the same time. The AI cars would move at considerably faster speeds than their stats would allow, having even the lowest series of cars keep up with the best cars in the game. However, beyond a certain distance, the AI opponents were logged as an order of numbers, not actually tracked. So if you could glitch out the car in second place (usually getting them hung on a wall) then outpace them, you could pull out a 1 minute+ lead on the entire field, as no cars would pass the second place car. This had the unfortunate effect that if the second place car DID get free, it would close that 1 minute+ gap in a matter of seconds, by having the cars move at you at several times the speed of sound. There's nothing more embarrassing than having your sports car passed by a 4 cylinder compact car while you're doing top speed and boosting.
    • Burnout Dominator has the charming tendency for opposing cars to make up lost distance while respawning. So you can crash, take out two or three trailing cars in the process - meaning as many as half the cars other cars in the race crashed after you did - and then reappear in last place.
    • Averted nicely, though, in Burnout Paradise. It's quite easy to gain a comfortable quarter-mile lead and coast your way to the finish line; just be sure not to crash. It was probably impossible to implement anything like this anyway, given the open-world nature of the game; since half the time you aren't taking the route the game thinks you should, it would be nearly impossible for the game to figure out how far the rubber band is actually stretched, so to speak.
  • In Sonic Riders for the 'Cube, AI controlled racers vanish from their positions well behind you on the track in order to suddenly zoom by without apparently passing through the intervening space.
    • Most of the time, the AI are actually taking shortcuts, and when you take these shortcuts, the AI struggle to catch up. Although the AI does have a notorious habit of taking shortcuts more often in 2nd place than in 1st.
      • Note that the Rubber Band AI of this game works less like Rubber Band AI and more like a twisted form of scaled levelling-if they're behind, they'll take shortcuts, speed up, or when neither of those is an option, literally vanish and reappear just behind you going half again as fast. But if they're ahead, they'll still speed up as you do. So about the only way to win a race in this freakin' game is to gain a lead in the first lap and then never make a freakin' mistake for the rest of the race. If you crash or run out of AIR even once, you may as well start over, because there is no making a comeback.
      • Rubberbanding happens on it's finest in Story mode where AI can pull out anykind of tricks from it's sleeves. From recovering from your super attack in second to do super attack for you when it ran out all of the rings.
  • In Sonic Adventure, during Windy Valley, Sonic is way behind you, then suddenly is right behind you. And no, flying doesn't help.
  • In Sonic R, there is an option to disable or enable rubberbanding called, "Catch Up."
  • Cruisin' USA for the Nintendo 64. Get too far ahead, and what we would call the "Annoying Blue Car" would catch up, even if you race perfectly.
    • In their original arcade versions, all of the "Cruisin'" games (USA, World, Exotica) not only did the computer cars follow the "speed up when behind, slow down when ahead" principle, but the games were also programmed to ramp up the difficulty with each race you won, not resetting until you lost one. By the time you won three or four races in a row, the computer cars were so good that you could literally drive a perfect race and still only finish third or fourth. This was likely put in to limit your play time, since those games usually awarded you a free race for winning a track.
  • In F-Zero GP Legend, opponents won't take game-breaking shortcuts unless they're following at the right distance to be marked by a "CHECK" marker, at which point they will.
    • In the Original F-Zero game it's physically impossible to beat the Death Wind course using the Golden Fox on the Master Difficulty. All the other vehicles have a max speed of 478 k/h and remain at that speed the whole race while the Golden Fox's top speed is 438. Not even a Tool Assisted Speedrun can win it.
    • Well, F-Zero is infamous for that. You can, with just moderate skill, give the enemy a full lap of advantage, and still win, at least in easy mode (and mind you, the race is only 5 laps!). But getting more than a few seconds ahead of the enemy is completely impossible. Combine this with the game's habit of literally throwing at you explosive cars in the final turns, and you have a recipe for disaster.
    • You can watch it by playing Time Trials in any course that has alternate routes. Say you are behind it, and both are at the bifurcation. He'll pick the default route, and you pick the shortcut route. At the moment you pass the CPU, it's cursor will shake a bit then teleport to your route, right behind you. If you stop, you can watch it pass you.
  • Midnight Club: Los Angeles has the variety that also works in reverse. They even (more or less) lampshade it.

Julian: You seem to be struggling. Want us to slow down?

    • A patch was released for this game that makes the difficulty the opposite of Nintendo Hard for the first third of the game. The difficulty is supposed to ramp up after that, but if you get the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 and max the performance stats out, not even rubber band AI will make it challenging...
      • How much did Kawasaki pay to make the game do that?
  • Road Rash made good use of this trope: Whenever you fell from your bike and were left several hundred meters behind you'd catch up with a speed of 50 meters per second - but the closer you came to the lead the faster the AI driver was going (also happened when you got rid of computer bikes; they came back faster than the laws of acceleration would've allowed...).
  • Ridge Racer 1 and 2 for the PSP. On the already difficult MAX Tours, Namco lets the 3 AI cars spam Nitro Boosts when you pass them up. But on the final Ne Plus Ultra Tour (meaning: nothing more beyond), the AI can pull away from you faster than hell. And when you use nitrous at the last leg of the race, they can go even faster - without nitrous.
  • In Carmageddon, opponents will constantly respawn somewhere nearby, never actually going around the course. This means that it is impossible to lose the race to an enemy - you can only lose if your car is destroyed or you run out of time on the clock. However, it should be noted that this is probably intentional, as the point of the game is clearly to destroy your opponents rather than race them to the finish line. Destruction of opponents gives massive rewards, including sometimes the ability to steal an opponent's car and add it to your collection, so that it can be driven in future races. Also, destroying opponents, or seeking and running down pedestrians, adds time to your clock, allowing you to either finish the race more comfortably or (you guessed it) to destroy your opponents thoroughly.
  • Top Gear (or Top Racer in Japan) has this with your partner, if you have the red car (the fastest and oil-waster in the game) and your white car (the most slower but oil-economic car) partner goes way behind, the partner AI can go even to 240 km/h, when it's max speed is 210 km/h, without boosting!, but if the opposite applies, the AI goes to 150 km/h until you are closer. The non-partner AI in first place do the opposite, if you don't reach the first place near the last lap, they are too far or even more than a lap over you (on extreme cases, taking a lap over the second place), the on-screen speed? 190–195 km/h.
  • Diddy Kong Racing averts this... at least, from the outset. While the original game's racers did not initially rubberband or gang up on you, there was a secret code,[1] inputtable in the cheats menu, that activated this. Opponents got real cheap real fast.
    • It also doesn't help that on some emulators, computers will drive through the walls of the first track at random intervals if they're straggling (and they will).
  • Homestar Runner Stylistic Suck game Kid Speedy has two racers that run at constant paces and one that employs Rubber Band AI. Since Kid Speedy is... well, not speedy, the object is simply to not get last place, and the Rubber Banding competitor is typically (but not always) the only one you even can beat. Homestar is a Secret Character in the game, and humorously, the opposite happens: Homestar is a runner, so the Rubber Banding competitor is actually the only one Homestar has any trouble beating.
    • You can beat the slower "constant" runner if you can somehow maintain near-top speed for the entire race, which requires avoiding all the slowdown items. It is (occasionally) possible to get ahead of the rubberbander as well for a 2nd-place finish.
      • Comically, Homestar's opponents are always Kid Speedy (a fat little kid), Strong Sad (a fat, doughy nerd), and the King Of Town (a fat old man), meaning that even though he's Homestar Freakin' Runner, he's still struggling to outrun some fat doughboy who wouldn't stand a chance against him in a proper cartoon.
  • The races in Motorstorm are fairly easy early on but once you make it to the level 4 races the difficulty and rubberbanding goes up another obvious notch. You can complete a race and hardly make a mistake and the AI drivers will keep up with you and match your times. In addition to this there is a couple of AI drivers that are "destined to win" so to speak and will always drive astonishingly well if they crash or fall out of the lead and make their way back to first place. The other AI drivers will also gang up on you and crash into you, brake in front of your car to slow you down, and work with other drivers to block your path. Races with one path, like Rain God Mesa, make it very difficult to win on later tracks because of these AI traits and the rubberbanding. Mention Buggy Byway to anyone who's played the game and it'll bring back vivid memories.
  • Drastically averted in the original TOCA Touring Cars for the Playstation, in a way that was a revelation for driving games at the time. Sixteen cars on the grid at the start of the race, accurately modelled circuits with few walls and long grass runouts, pretty accurate physics meaning that if you put a couple of wheels on the grass at speed you were definitely going to spin out, and then when you do, the AI opponents give no quarter at all. Spin out at any point early in a race, and you'd do very well to even SEE the rest of the cars again, they'd be so far in front. Equally, on a short track, if you managed to nudge an opponent into a catastrophic spin, you'd have a reasonable chance of lapping him.
  • In Star Wars Episode I: Racer, you can upgrade your pod racer to the point where going two whole laps without even hearing another motor is a breeze. But as soon as the final lap music kicks in, guess who suddenly catches up and overtakes you? That's right: everyone.
  • In Forza Motorsport 3, cars in the same class as you will always have better performance than you if they have the #1 or #2 AI, even if you're fully upgraded to be one inch from the next class.

Fighting Game

  • In Guilty Gear Isuka, the higher the level you get at Arcade, the faster and more powerful the opponents become. Sometimes they will even run towards you while you perform a special move, only to suddenly show up right behind you, making you completely miss them.
  • Def Jam: Fight For NY was notorious for this. Get the computer into a corner, and suddenly the AI shoots up two or three difficulty levels, reversing and countering every single move you make.
    • Actually all of AKI's wrestling-games had this. In the N64-games opponents started countering anything reliably once close to losing. While it might seem that was meant to reflect the comeback-effect from wrestling, it doesn't work the same way for the player.
  • Some WWE wrestling games have this. Play without a loss for too long and the player will eventually be presented with a match where victory is impossible. The Rubber Band AI has snapped so far that enemy players will be completely immune to attacks and able to win via submission or escaping the cage without any problems. In some games the computer will cheat, by making the player so weak that a single hit will make the player unable to get up for long enough that the computer escapes.
  • In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, persistent victory results in harder and harder difficulty. The difficulty is TOLD to the player in a % stat on the lower right of the screen. The stat will lower itself back to "beatable" when the player loses.
    • In Mortal Kombat 9, opponents in both Ladder and Story will ease up on repeated tries, even bosses. If you can't beat Shao Kahn on Medium, he'll eventually reduce himself to doing a lot of taunts around the 4th attempt.
  • Many of the Soul Series games did this... Arcade mode of Soul Calibur II would CRUSH you if you got 2-0 victories 3 or more times in a row. I remember being hit by Ivy's various uber moves 4 times in a direct row, when most players have to practice for 3 hours to work out one of those moves. Cervantes's various teleport-jump moves would work constantly, and he'd use them constantly, when they only worked about 1/3 of the time for me, with minimum effectiveness. Case of The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, too.
    • In 3, this is really noticeable in the battle theater (a mode where 2 AI opponents fight each other), if you watch it a lot (it is quite addictive with custom characters), you will get used to seeing 1 narrow match, followed by the loser being a Perfect Play AI to the previous winner and a narrow 3rd match
    • Speaking of Ivy's Ubers, Summon Suffering seemed specifically designed to enable this and The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard. In practice, this move was so ridiculously difficult to pull off that even doing so in practice mode was difficult. Doing one in the heat of battle was impractical at best, while computer controlled Ivy would pull it off while obviously not requiring the time or movement that the move needed.
      • It's actually meant to be a reward to a technical player because each input only has to be performed within 50 frames of the last, so that a skilled Ivy player can go through an entire attack routine and Summon suffering seemingly out of nowhere because of the frame delay available between each input. While this doesn't mean the AI doesn't cheat it out, it also means that it's actually terribly easy to pull off the input on a joystick, as you can rapidly rotate the stick a few times and press the attack buttons, pulling off the attack flawlessly through input attrition.
      • Summon Suffering is the move that's so hard to perform that there's an achievement just for pulling it off.
    • Soul Calibur V seems to be an especially shameless offender for this trope, even for the Soul Series. Almost universally, the AI will act borderline catatonic for the first round or two, but once you start to pull ahead, it goes completely berserk and juggles you around the arena with reflexes and coordination that would shame the most skilled human player. Worse still, if you're still losing by round three, the game will take pity on you and behave like a drooling idiot, walking right up to you and lowering its guard.
  • Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 has the rubber band snap completely upon getting a finisher. The game crashing to prevent it from being used is not unheard of, but the opponent will usually run away like a wimp, reverse everything thrown at them, prevent you from getting a hit in, it doesn't matter what it has to do to stop the finisher from being used.
    • 2011 does the same thing until the opponent has taken a certain amount of damage, even on normal. While it is easy to get a finisher(or even a signature) early on in the match it doesn't mean the move will connect. This is in line with actual WWE programing though where wrestlers will attempt their finisher early and have it reversed if their opponent "sees it coming" or what have you.
    • Another Truth in Television in that in actual WWE matches, opponents will bail out of the ring early if their opponent is rolling enough to try their finisher in the opening minutes of a match to regather themselves.

First-Person Shooter

  • Sin Episodes was released with a much-touted dynamic difficulty system—kill the enemies too quickly and they'd send more next time, get too many headshots and the next group will wear helmets, etc. Unfortunately, encounters that were supposed to be easier or harder were counted in this, resulting in situations that a hard encounter would be made virtually impossible due to how quickly you dispatched an easy one.
  • The original Unreal Tournament had this with the final boss, a 1v1 to 15 kills. The boss would start at an AI level matching the difficulty you were playing on, and every time you killed him, he'd pop up a skill level. Thus, getting a killing spree was a very bad idea, as the boss would be up at Godlike skill in no time, and even when he got back down to your level after getting a killing spree on you, he'd be loaded with every weapon and full armor, while you'd have nothing because you just respawned. However, the converse is true too: every time you die, he goes back down one, to a minimum of where he started.
  • Left 4 Dead has this, thanks to the AI Director. If the group is doing very well, there will be less pills and med kits to find (not counting the ones in the safe room and the finales) and special infected will spawn at a more frequent rate. Also, a Tank is likely to appear if the group is playing too well and there's usually a high chance that after you killed a Tank, the director will spawn a Boomer, Smoker, and Hunter right after that to make sure you don't have it easy. Naturally, if the team is doing poorly, there will be more health items to find and enemy count is lessened somewhat. On Expert, the director will punish you every step of the way if you even spend as much as 10 seconds in one area.
    • It should be noted that in the case of Left 4 Dead, this is seen as a good thing and generally works very well.
      • Inversely, in Left 4 Dead 2 the director HATES YOU and revels in your misery.
        • The game tries to discourage players separating from the group, by becoming cheaper and cheaper as a player survives longer on their own. Before long, a Smoker will spawn on the roof within 5 seconds of you looking the other way and tag you with an auto-targeting hose from 30 feet, requiring assistance from another survivor to free you. Or a Charger will show up as you reload and swerve to hit you as you try to dodge, or a Jockey will actually dodge your sights so it can jump on your head. When it says "stay with your friends to survive", the game is not kidding.
        • This actually spawned the meme of Karma Charger, which came from the habit of chargers conveniently spawning and punting a player halfway across the map if they leave their group. While any infected can do this, Chargers are the hardest of them to kill, and cannot be pushed off other survivors and must be killed.

Platform Game

  • Canary Mary from Banjo-Tooie is a particularly bad example of this in her appearance in Cloud Cuckooland. You have to race her four times for Jiggies or Cheato Pages. The race is done by simply hitting the A button; the faster you press, the faster you go. The first three times, you can Button Mash your way to victory, no sweat. The fourth time, she employs Rubber Band AI, so if you mash the A button, you will lose. The trick is to stay just a little behind her for the entire race until the very end, but good luck figuring that out on your own, especially given that she's very beatable the first three times.
    • Actually, it is possible to beat her by button mashing, if you mash, pause, mash, etc. until you win.
      • Practically the only way that has been 100% proven to beat her is to have a N64 controller that is equipped with a Turbo button.
  • In Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the GBC, there is a racing mode in which you can race a Boo through one of 8 levels. Sometimes, the Boo inexplicably starts going really fast for what seems to be no reason, possibly causing you to lose the race.
    • The total time is the Boo takes is always equal to your record time, though. Not really a good example, if you can't beat your own time, you shouldn't be able to unlock anything new.
  • In the Mega Man Zero games, the difficulty increases or decreases depending on your rank. This combined with the games' Fake Difficulty makes it seem as though the ranking/difficulty system in question is the games' way of "taking pity" on the less experienced players; something that some of those players may take as an insult.
    • Worst case scenario: those players may see the system as the games' way of telling them that they "suck".
    • Want more? Get a low Rank or Escape a mission in Zero 1 and you'll get a silly codename.
    • It gets worse: In the second and third games, you don't get all the unlockables unless you manage to maintain at least an A rank.
  • Freeware game I Wanna Be the Boshy has a particularly unforgiving one in Sonic the Hedgehog. It is only at the start of his second phase, but one slip up will kill you, and it only gets worse when bombs start falling on you. Fortunately if you can survive this, the rest of the fight is (relatively) easy. Still, that one little section makes this That One Boss when the whole thing is already That One Game

Puzzle Game

  • The Puyo Puyo GBA game's first level's opponent always gangs up on you with garbage late in the level and just as you think you're doing good.
  • Exocubes is a match-3 game, where you can freely move blocks within a column, but needed to prevent them from touching the bottom (aside from a clear causing blocks to hit the bottom, but you had to wait when said blocks get "scanned"). The row generation based on how well you perform. If you performed well enough to clear a significant portion of the board, you could potentially fail that level faster than simply waiting. Even when a set of blocks in the process of being cleared touches the bottom of the screen.

Real Time Strategy

  • Homeworld 2 is notorious in some circles for doing this trope badly. Each level's enemy fleet is based solely on the makeup of your fleet as you start the level. This has the obvious abuse potential of selling all or most of your fleet at the end of each level, leaving you with enough resources to buy a new fleet in the next level capable of defeating the much weaker enemy fleet.
    • What is truly bad however, is how far this overadjusts the enemy, especially towards the last missions. If the player has a cap-sized fleet, in one mission, the enemy might as well destroy what the player is to protect before his heavy ships are even in firing range, and even then, are badly outnumbered, without the targets hp getting adjusted at all; a later mission lets the enemy start with as much as seven battlecruisers, while the player is capped at two ...
      • This would be more threatening if they didn't attack one at a time with minimal support.
  • Sierra's outer space RTS Outpost 2 features this not only with enemy AI, but also with your population. You can opt to research items that improve the quality of life in the colony, however by doing so, the colony knows it exists and demands that you meet their needs. If you research any weapons systems, unless the enemy already has them, the computer will start attacking your base. You could say researching anything that remotely deals with these two aspects aren't worth researching.
  • In the unconventional strategy game Multiwinia, being behind other players gives you a better chance to receive powerups and faster unit spawning. The maximum spawn bonus can be set anywhere between 0 and 90%.
  • In Eight Realms, barbarian hordes attack players with a scaling frequency depending on how far into the game they've progressed.

Role-Playing Game

  • In Final Fantasy VII, Bizarro & Safer Sephiroth's stats are based on a ton of variables, one of which is your party members' levels. Having all of your characters at level 99 makes him one of the strongest final bosses in the series, only surpassed by Orphan. Of course, by that point, you probably have Knights of the Round...
  • Final Fantasy VIII. However, since the ability to draw magic and junction it to your stats was technically separate from the Character Levels gained from actual battling, it was very easy to unbalance the game with some ingenuity.
    • The combat level of enemies was determined by the levels based off your active party members. Predictably, the game is not even remotely difficult in this case. But for most bosses, they have a level cap.
      • Of course, the first-time players and people who didn't know how to exploit the system were horrendously screwed. Normal enemies became insanely powerful, and Bonus Boss Omega Weapon was nigh-unstoppable at level 100 (and the game would cheat and punch Omega up ten or so levels if the character average was 90 or so).
        • Depending on the version, Omega Weapon might be at Level 100 regardless of what your actual average level is. It can be at any level in the PC version.
  • The Wanted Battles in Skies of Arcadia are adjusted based on your characters' levels, so that putting them off will result in horrendously difficult battles when you try to go back for them, to the point where many are much easier if you're at a lower level. Quite literally punishing you for every experience point you dared to gain.
  • The fishing Mini Game in the Fate series adjusts its required reaction time based on how fast the player is. It is believed to shoot for a 50% success rate.
  • Chrono Trigger had a bizarre little racing minigame in the ruins of the Bad Future. Your opponent is almost literally attached to you with a rubber band: if you're in the lead, he'll pull forward, if you're in the back, you'll pull forward. Aside from a few boosts, you have no control over your acceleration, and the only means of control you have over your place in the race is to block your opponent from passing you (which pushes him back, after which he springs forward to try again). Of course, since the rubber banding works both ways, you don't really have to do a thing until just before the finish line, unless you're trying to win the items awarded for staying ahead of him for large portions of the race.
  • Many games in SaGa series, especially Romancing SaGa, are open-ended games where you go anywhere you want at anytime, so random monsters are designed to suit your team's power level at the moment you face them.

Shoot'Em Up

  • In Shoot'Em Ups, which don't feature a player going up against apparently identical computer opponents, the feature where the machine becomes more efficient if the player does better is known as "rank" and is often an expected part of the game.
    • The Shoot'Em Up Warning Forever is based off this trope, being nothing but a Boss Rush with the boss changing depending on how you beat it the last time, how well the different weapons worked against you, how fast you beat it, etc.
      • Rank was designed originally to avoid Unstable Equilibrium. When they started putting powerups into shooters, you'd get to the point where it was easy with the powerups, but impossible without them. So someone came up with the bright idea of making the enemies more aggressive if you powered up, so they would still be a threat to your powered ship, and then when you died, they would go back down to normal so you had a chance at recovery. Before, they instead had to balance the enemy power to what you'd have if you didn't die, meaning that if you die once you might as well restart. Hence, rank. This is not usually considered a bad thing, as making recovery from death impossible is considered worse. The real hate is only when it ratchets up too much when you powerup, meaning that not powering up in the first place was preferable. Fortunately this is rare, but see Battle Garegga below.
    • Battle Garegga is a particularly guilty offender. You have to keep your shot power and number of Attack Drones low for the first five stages, as well as limit your shooting and avoid collecting excess powerups. Failure to do so would make enemies more durable and shoot more bullets, items fall off the screen faster, and overall make the game nearly impossible to survive.
      • Razing games are designed to punish the player for playing them wrong. In this case, you are supposed to play the game for score, to give you extra lives so you could die more often to lower the rank. Fortunately, most of them aren't that bad... Battle Bakraid actually lets you beat it by playing the game traditionally for survival.
  • In the arcade Lethal Enforcers, enemies started out taking a long time to shoot you, then gradually getting faster and faster until you'd need truly superhuman reflexes to get them in time, slowing down only after you took a hit. Lethal Enforcers II was even worse. This was removed from the SNES port, and the PSX port resolved the issue by fixing everyone at a ridiculously fast level.

Simulation Game

  • There is a minor version of this in the Crimson Skies PC game. Even if you are flying a much faster plane than your computer opponent, you can't fly 'away' from them. You will get a certain distance ahead, but even if you are pulling 400 mph and they are doing 150, as soon as you turn around, they are right there in your face.
  • Wing Commander had a "dynamic difficulty" system that scaled the enemy's abilities based on how well the player was doing. It did not, however, change the wingman's performance or take it into account. So if for some reason the wingman was doing poorly (making the mission hard to start with), and the player pulled off a miraculous save, things got a whole lot worse for the player. And wingman.

Sports Game

  • Perhaps the most noticeable example is the Madden NFL games, which are often accused of featuring an "AI catch-up mode", in which opposing teams inexplicably become drastically more potent in the final minutes of a close game, often to the point where preventing them from completing long bombs and scoring touchdowns seems like an impossible task (sometimes called "Robo QB"). Some Madden players, however, dispute the existence of Rubber Band AI in the game, arguing that this is more likely the perception of players who are unable to adjust to the AI's late-game all-out offensive strategy, so Your Mileage May Vary. It may also be possible that the difficulty level may have something to do with it.
    • In most cases, the AI level of rubberbanding is directly related to the difficulty level, particularly in EA Sports games. On the easiest difficulty level, the AI doesn't rubberband at all: the same tactics, the same plays, over and over. As difficulty level goes up, so does the degree of rubberbanding: on the highest difficulty level, as soon as the player reaches anything approaching a lead, the AI responds aggressively to shut down any hope of winning...much like what sports teams do in real life. The rubberbanding does not work in the opposite direction, however. The AI just goes back to the normal difficulty.
      • NBA 2k and NBA Live actually have this as a feature, Clutch Factor and CPU Assistance respectively. It does work both ways, though. Doesn't make it any less irritating to see Kobe Bryant missing clutch layup after clutch layup.
      • Truth in real life for that last one after game 7 of the 2010 NBA finals, where Kobe shot a horrible 6-for-24 in the biggest game of his career.
  • The original NBA Jam would frequently job you out of victories with miraculous, last-second, full-court shots. It got to the point where a two-point lead with just seconds to play was an almost certain loss if the computer got the last shot. The player had a similar ability, but not nearly to the same extent as the computer.
    • This feature is called "computer assistance" and is also on in human versus human matches. A full court shot for the tie or for the win has over a 70% chance of going in, ALWAYS. Unless you use the "no cpu assistance" code.
      • The NFL Blitz series is infamous for rubberband AI too. Again, it's always active against the cpu, but can be turned off with a code against a human. Manifests usually through fumbles and cheap interceptions, or people just magically blowing past blockers and sacking you.
      • In Blitz, Points after Touchdown are fully automatic; you choose it and the game says "It's Good!"... but it might turn out to be "No Good!" if you were too far in the lead.
  • The arcade game Pigskin: 621 A.D. (released as Pigskin Footbrawl on the Sega Genesis) is a game vaguely reminiscent of rugby and American football, though set in the Middle Ages. You could punch other players out, or get into a brawl (read: two characters collide and turn into a dust cloud) on the field. If one side is losing badly, the crowd starts chanting, "Send in the troll!" At which point a big green troll enters the field for the losing side. He's immune to the game's weapons and much more difficult to knock down. If the fortunes reverse and the losing team starts winning, a troll can come in for the opposite side as well, to even things up.
    • Still, win or lose it was a fun game, trolls notwithstanding..
    • Then of course, if one team is truly getting a spanking? Simple, TROLL BOWL!!! Every player is swapped out for invincible, immortal Trolls!
  • The otherwise superb Tiger Woods PGA Tour series uses this heavily in career mode. Shoot well under par, and computer opponents will put up absurdly good scores on the next round. Play poorly, and they'll all post mediocre scores. As a result, the easiest way to win tournaments is to Do Well, But Not Perfect the first two days so the computer will hover around par, and then step on the gas in the later rounds.
    • Just like Tiger. Hmm.
      • Only not really. Tiger often destroys his opponents in the first (and or second) round and then sits back shooting rounds of 70.
  • Tecmo Super Bowl for the NES was pretty open about featuring the Simmons effect ("computer is pissed") manifestation of Rubberband AI. The more consecutive games you won in season mode, the more difficult the AI would become until it eventually entered what modders call "juice mode". In juice mode, every opposing RB is nearly at Bo Jackson's skill level, and the defense will either anticipate your play, sack you with no resistance, or intercept your weak passes about ten thousand times as frequently as they did in the 1st game of the season. Experienced Tecmo-ers learned to intentionally tank the final game of the regular season in order to tone the AI down to easy levels for the playoffs. Funnily enough, this ends up being like real-life NFL teams learned to do this in the 2000s, benching their key players for the last week of the regular season to avoid injury and give everyone a week off).

Third-Person Shooter

  • The first Max Payne proudly touted this as one of its features, with arguably less-than-optimal results. Even on the "easy" difficulty setting it ramped up the durability, accuracy and reflexes of the enemies until you died at least once per level.

"Why did they even bother giving you difficulty options? As far as I could tell your options were "insane / insane / impossible / impossible with a time limit." -- curst, Quarter to Three forums

    • Of course, name any first or third person shooter where you didn't die once per level. All in the name of fun, of course.

Turn-Based Strategy

  • The multiplayer game MULE will inflict whichever player currently has the highest score with with bad "random" events, while whoever is bringing up the rear will only have good things happen to them.
    • At least, that's the way it's supposed to work. Leading players can still receive good random events, but it's true that when there is a bad event during production, it ALWAYS hits the lead player. Also, whoever is in the lead loses the tie, barring racial exceptions, like the long-necked one always winning ties in land auctions.
  • Common in X-COM games and its Spiritual Successors. The better you are at handling terror sites, shooting down UFOs, putting alien bases out of commission, and keeping your sponsors happy, the angrier the aliens will be. This may range from them sending more ships to annoy your sponsors, sending bigger ships for tasks that they usually do with smaller ships, down to trying to attack your bases.

Wide Open Sandbox

  • A racing sequence early on in The Saboteur uses rubber-banding very, very obviously: The developers intended for the player to feel like they were steadily progressing from last place to second throughout the race, but the result is that for the first lap of the race, the player becomes perpetually stuck in 8th place, until the second lap when the other racers suddenly start driving much slower and the player can catch up and move up to 4th place for the rest of the lap, etc.
    • Though you can simply just cheat. Before each race you just aim a gun at each racer and they will get out of their vehicle with no penalty to you. After doing so to all the vehicles you can race with no competition.
      • Or just use the machine gun upgrade to your Aurora to destroy the competition.

Non-video game examples


  • Used frequently in The Hunger Games, where the sadistic game makers will introduce disasters to the arena whenever the tributes aren't fighting each other. Katniss even makes her plans around such events, basing her decisions to move or not on how many days it's been since a kill and whether the audience will be bored enough for a pull on the rubberband.

Live-Action TV

  • For various reasons, the producers of The Amazing Race create what are known as "bunching points" or "equalizers," usually involving operating hours of businesses or transport schedules, so that no team gets too far ahead or behind: Logistically, it's easier to keep the crew in a single country at a time and you don't want to tie up locals in assisting/judging tasks for days on end. Dramatically, having wins or losses be a Foregone Conclusion every week is boring. The one season they didn't set up these equalizers, two teams got so far ahead on leg 9, that it was impossible for the other teams to catch up, and the next three legs before the finale were pretty much pointless.
  • Teal'c faces a Rubberband AI in an episode of Stargate SG-1 - every time it looks like he's winning, the game throws in a new twist. New twists include more enemies (and making those enemies tougher by making the usual method of killing them ineffective and giving one of them the power to turn invisible), and having NPCs who are supposed to be on Teal'c's side suddenly turn on him at the worst possible moment.

Tabletop Games

  • The Old World of Darkness games had something like this at one point. Success of an action was determined by rolling a number of dice corresponding to one's skill. Rolls higher than a target number were successes, lower were failures, and 1's cancelled out successes. Having more 1's than successes constituted a botch, in which the action not only failed, but led to disastrous consequences. A character with more dice, constituting more experience and power, would therefore be more likely to spectacularly fail than an inexperienced one. This was thankfully revised in later editions, to where a botch also required that no successes at all had been rolled. A simple example follows. Say you have a difficulty 7 roll, where 7 or greater is a success. With one die, your odds of a botch are 1 in 10 if you don't get to reroll your 10. Odds of success are 4 in 10. If you are rolling two dice, then there are 100 possible outcomes. ELEVEN of them are botches, for 11/100. (11,12,13,14,15,16,21,31,41,51,61) However, 56 of them are successes, for 23/50 chance of success. The chance of success went up 16%, but the chance of a botch went up 1%. The effect of rerolling 10s is really hard to calculate, but at higher difficulties, it was not enough to make up for it.
    • And the New World of Darkness discarded the "botch" rule for just that reason. "Dramatic Failure" requires that penalties completely erase your dice pool, and that you roll a 1 on the "chance die" you get instead (which only succeeds on a 10). Instead of "The better you are, the harder you fall", it becomes "If things go against you, you're going to suffer".
  • Shadowrun mirrors the World of Darkness system considerably (Shadowrun, however, uses standard six-sided dice rather than ten-siders). Earlier editions, you rolled dice so as to get at least a target number (if it's more than 6, you had to roll for 6's and then reroll to add onto their total, hoping to eventually reach the number), and 1s were always considered a fail. The 4th Edition changed it so that "hit" was simply anything at least a 5 and you tried to get a requisite number. 1s are still bad as a majority of 1s results in a "glitch", a setback that occurs even if you succeed (unless of course, you roll a majority of 1s and no "hits": the dreaded "critical glitch").

Web Original

Real Life

  • This can actually happen in the real world, in certain economic systems. There, it's called the "ratchet effect", and the AI is your competitors or some third-party agency. A good example: In the former USSR, the planning agency would reward the enterprises that made more than their quota. However, they'd base the next quota upon how well the enterprise did, so the harder you worked, the worse it got. The right strategy, of course, was to produce ever so slightly more than the quota.
    • For publicly traded companies, stock analysts' quarterly earnings forecasts work much the same way. A company that misses the forecast by even a trivial sum loses market value, but beating the forecast by a wide margin raises next quarter's forecast.
    • In Macro-Economics, there is a concept called the Catch-Up Effect where poorer nations will have Real GDP growth rates at something like 9.5% or even 10%, that leads to the country overall moving towards a first world economy status at a faster rate, than those countries closer to that status than itself. However that also means that when it screws up and you get high inflation rates or even hyperinflation, which pretty much means the currency will lose something like 10% of its value in an hour, Zimbabwe being the best example at the moment with the treasury releasing a $100 Billion Zimbabwean Dollar note which will expire on December 31, 2008 (notes traditionally don't expire they just don't get replaced), which ironically will lead to further devaluing of the Zimbabwean Dollar.
    • And you white collar workers thought you were safe? There is a theory—The Peter Principle—that if you show competence in a position, you will be promoted to a new one. If you keep getting good at these new positions you'll get assigned to higher ones. The resultant effect is that a person will keep getting promoted until they reach a position they are incompetent in.
      • Which has led to "the Dilbert principle", named by Scott Adams. Companies now leave good workers in their current positions, and only promote incompetents, because they can hurt the company less as management. Adams snarks that this does not prove to be the winning strategy one would imagine it to be.
    • A similar problem is when a higher power allocates a budget to your service. If you're under-budget at the end of the term, some managers will "reward" your service by cutting the surplus from next term's budget, so people usually waste company money on trivialities to prevent this.
      • This is the standard operating procedure for the U.S. Federal Government. This is made worse by the fact that most departments far overestimate what their budgets will be since they are usually given less than what they ask for. But they usually still end up with more than they need.
  • Real Life example: Most tournament bowling leagues impose handicaps that are inversely proportional to a player's average, so if you play poorly, you still stand a good chance against a much better opponent, so long as you play better than your average. Likewise, if you are a very good player, your chances of losing to a beginner aren't too bad either, particularly if you don't play as well as you normally do on that round.
    • Of course, like in any other game with Rubber Band AI, you can abuse the system. This is sandbagging. The essence of sandbagging is to win small and lose big. Once it is clear that your team is not going to win this time after handicap, then it is in your best interest to tank every shot. When victory seems possible, then it is in your best interest to keep it close, so as not to raise your handicap too much. The natural tendency of players to give up when they know they can't win doesn't help matters, so accusations are difficult to prove. The only sure way to spot one is if a team continues to win small and lose big. In theory anyone who would want to sandbag should move to a scratch league, but there are plenty who know they aren't good enough to get the money in one, but who can sandbag and get away with it in a money handicap league.