Nowadays developers win endless brownie points with the press and gamers when they come up with a neat way of enhancing our enjoyment in some way we hadn't considered - like Valve's ongoing background efforts to guide our eyes towards things we need to see without resorting to a clumsy "Something's Happening" button prompt, or Skyrim's nested menus that condense a lot of inventory management into just a few screens and clicks - so why can't our enemies be designed to complement our entertainment as well?
Splinter Cell: Conviction and Batman: Arkham Asylum are both examples of games that are already getting this right. In both cases the player-character is a silent predator with an arsenal of gadgets that allow us to stalk people and stylishly incapacitate them, and in both cases the developers decided that the rank-and-file bad guys should therefore be smart but generally dopey enough to wander into dangerous territory quite frequently. In Splinter Cell's case they even have the decency to howl hilariously repetitive dialogue into the gloom to help give up their positions, which is nice of them. SHOW US HOW YOU DID IT AT THE AIRFIELD, FISHER. They are food for the hungry jaws of sexy game mechanics and little more, and I kind of love them for it.
Then of course there's the Metal Gear Solid series, where not only are your enemies generally there to be savoured rather than chewed over unhappily, but even the bosses are memorable for good reasons most of the time. Who didn't gasp when they first figured out Psycho Mantis?
So it can be done, and if any forward-thinking developers are reading this (and not grinding their teeth and wondering who the hell I think I am for telling them their business), then I've got a good starter checklist for things that I would personally like to see enshrined in enemy design from now on.
Here we go. First, does your enemy's health bar ever replenish itself at any point without warning? Then he is a jerk. Does he teleport behind the player? Then he is a jerk. Does he respawn when you exit and then re-enter the room? Then he is a jerk. Is he impervious to an attack that has worked on every other enemy in the game and only succumbs to an obscure tactic you vaguely mentioned in the tutorial and haven't asked us to think about for the last nine hours since? Jerk.
I love video games. I have been playing them since I could barely walk, I have made a career leeching off their popularity and it's beginning to look as though I will continue to enjoy and be amazed by them until long after things like the Daily Mail are dead, which is a nice bonus. But please stop filling them full of jerks. I will tell my children about Psycho Mantis. I will not tell them about that guy who burrows under the ground and pops up behind me. The power is in your hands.