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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

God NPCs are Boring

Don't you think?

I was contemplating this on the way back from work today. NPCs, in the World of Warcraft at least, as pretty uninteresting folk. Sure they provide you with quests for this and that, and on occasion you can build a bit of a back-story - but my gripe is this: They're always in the same place, they always give up the same quests, rewards and say the same things.

Now, Ok, you need a certain level of consitancy within a game in order to develop paths through which a player can progress which, while challenging, are none-the-less fathomable and achievable.

But I'm sure there is room for MMOGs to develop their NPCs a little further.

How about this. Devise a system whereby NPCs are given a personality of sorts, a set of rules which defines what they like and dislike, their moral persuasion and the solidity of their alligence. NPCs should be able to interact with one another and develop 'relationships' based on the rules each NPC has, so for example Jack Swashbuckler might get on well with Joe Pirate, but not so well with Johnny Copper, unless of course Johnny Copper's view on the law is prone to persuasion.

What I'm getting at is couldn't you have a system whereby NPCs are able to change over time, based on the experiences around them and their interactions with both players and other NPCs. Perhaps an NPC will give you a slightly better reward or more guideance if you 'hit it off'.

Also NPCs sit in the same place all the time. Why can't NPCs have, at least limited, mobility? Again you could tie this in with NPCs forming relationships such that when a player comes to try to find the NPC to hand in a quest he's advised by another NPC 'Well, its 8pm on a Friday so Jack will probably be with Joe in the Drown ur Sorrow tavern.' A little more interesting than the hard and fast responses you get currently.

Throw in a little NLP (natural language processing) and I'll bet you could even get some variety in the way NPCs talked to you, even if the general message was the same.

Because such a system would feed from players actions and NPCs 'random' interactions with one another you would probably also find that each server for a game would have it's own unique environment with NPCs personalities differing, locations varying etc.

While I'm sure there are questions of game design and AI restrictions that I have glossed over here I still think this would be an interesting avenue to follow. WoW is a fantastically immersive game as it is, but an MMO with a little more variety and characters to interact with rather than wooden extras, I think, would suck the player in more.

Whether that is a good thing or not is another debate!

Any thoughts? Do you know of any games/MOGs that try to do this, or why they shouldn't/don't?

11 Comments:

Blogger The Truth said...

i think your ideas are very good on paper; each one of them would probably make gameplay quite a bit more immersive.
the problem, in this and many other cases, lies in player exploitation. if there were a way to influence npcs to act in any way that was even mildly inconvenient to others, there are plenty of players (at least on my server) who would make it there mission in life to accomplish this.

like it or not, MOGs, and online communities as a whole, are the playground of the pseudo-bully. if that kid who gets picked on in real life can put in a little time online and become his tormentor under the veil of anonymity, he's sure as hell going to. i've heard it referred to as 'the greater internet fuckwad theory', and i think it's aptly named.

11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the idea of ai thinkning what it likes and dislikes could very well be a good idea, altho in games like stalker where it is the foundation of the game they are implementing this idea and as many know the game has been developing this for many many many years :p. to add it to an mmo dosent seem that fesable, then u need alot more server memory for the ai ect but the defined paths for the npc sound nice, mabey 2-3 paths chosen by a randomizer which they can travers threw there given city/area, i agree the npc aspect is rather dull ^^ it could use improvement but i gues blizz will say "its an mmo the players are the mean feature >.>"

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Ttouf said...

While I don't doubt all of your suggestions could add to the value of WoW, I think some are more realistic and efficient than others.

Having NPCs be semi-mobile within a smaller area is a great idea and very simple:
Guy 1 - four possible areas to move around in. Outside Inn, inside at bar, upstairs at tables and a little away from the inn at the liquor store.

This way he still is "locked" to certain patterns, but he doesnt stand still and it feels more dynamic. He shouldn't stay at each place the same amount of minutes, nor should he necessarily walk from area one to two to three to four to one. He could go back and forth between the same etc.

Having more detailed interaction and dialogue between you and the NPCs is also pretty simple to add and I like that idea too.

The intelligence and memory you suggest, experiencing things that changes his future behaviour, is way more advanced and time-consuming to develop. Though a good goal to have in mind.

It all comes down to priorities. Will Blizzard hire or assign a handful of people to this area or will they rather not?
Economy isn't that much of an issue and I doubt there are any downsides to this, so nothing is holding them back from hiring some to begin developing this. It won't make their other jobs slow down or anything, since no reason to take time from already occupied developers.

3:23 AM  
Blogger J L Borghead said...

For some of the NPC interaction you'd like to see, you should try Oblivion. The NPCs have a schedule. They'll spend the day talking to people outside and then after dusk they'll retire to the local tavern for a few drinks.

As for the development of their own loyalties & friends, that's something that would require a bit more work. For a single player game, the player doesn't know of any events outside of their own actions to change an NPC's loyalties. But in an MMORPG there's a lot more potential for that, if you wanted a world that wasn't persistent - something that could be really fun in an MMORPG, if done well.

4:15 AM  
Blogger J L Borghead said...

For some of the NPC interaction you'd like to see, you should try Oblivion. The NPCs have a schedule. They'll spend the day talking to people outside and then after dusk they'll retire to the local tavern for a few drinks.

As for the development of their own loyalties & friends, that's something that would require a bit more work. For a single player game, the player doesn't know of any events outside of their own actions to change an NPC's loyalties. But in an MMORPG there's a lot more potential for that, if you wanted a world that wasn't persistent - something that could be really fun in an MMORPG, if done well.

4:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try Fable.
There the NPCs walk around, go to bars, open and close shops, light streelamps at dusk, go to bed at night etc.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous bengstra said...

I have to admit, the last thing I want to have to do is hunt for the NPC I need to turn a quest in to. For me that would not expand the game ... it would make it more tedious. As a casual player bringing his 3rd toon up to 60 (I run out of things to do at 60 given I never have enough time to raid) ANY change that adds to the run around aimlessly factor would hurt.

For my part I'd prefer more dynamic quests, not NPC's. Branching quests that are not always the same, possibly class or race driven, would enliven things more for me than an NPC that suddenly says something in a different tone of voice.

And then there is what the truth said ... 12 year olds with hard ons to be disruptive could make life hell if they could actually influence game mechanics.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Play Gothic if you want your NPC's to have a live.

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Project Rogue said...

Anarchy Online already has NPCs run by paid employees that log on to play in character. They talk to players at their post, they also continue the story line by taking certain actions.

The game also incorporates forum posts specifically dedicated to the ongoing argument of the warring factions. It's a slightly different approach to online RPGS, and it's a workable formula. Blizzard isn't going to run a program like that though, they prefer total control. Different strokes for different folks.

If you played Radiata Stories, you'd probably like their NPC interface a lot more than WoW. Then again, that game is based on one player, not 7 million.

While it's a good idea, a lot of people wouldn't buy the whole "moving" / "relational" NPC. It would take up more grind time and end up just being a frustrating mess. I can't sell this item to this guy because he doesn't like me. Now I have to find out how to get him to like me, and "grind" my rep with him. I don't know about you, but that sounds like life after you hit 60. Kill enough of X, and you'll be exalted in reputation.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what you're sayin is that Blizzard developers should develop, single-handedl might i add, over night, AI. The most advanced science labs in the world with unlimited funding can't yet make this real (although i'm sure it's close) and you want this feature in the next patch.... They all sound good, but come on man be a realist, or at least don't be stupid.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Woah, woah!

No-ones suggesting that Blizzard develop AI. That's a far reaching and disperate goal.

With some far more mundane techniques you could introduce more interactive NPCs. As other posters have noted other MMOs/fantasy games already implement this.

I guess the great thing with an MMOG is that you are not restricted by home PC capabilities, only the hardware you choose to implement. Which might make the task more plausable - forgetting the obvious extra complexity of having thousands of players and the interactions they would generate.

I'm not suggesting full cognicent NPCs, just those with a few more patterns and perhaps some sort of 'faction' leveling based on how you deal with them. Not so much it affects your ability to be able to interact with them in terms of gameplay, but perhaps in a way that you can succeed in getting better offers because you've completed 20 quests for an NPC, or sold loads of goods to them.

I'm not even suggesting this is something I think Blizzard could, or should implement. It probably doesn't fit with WoW.

But in a genre of games that relies so heavily on immersion to keep players interest more interactive and interesting NPCs would be an interesting step to see.

2:12 PM  

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