Why don’t our NPCs…

 Posted by (Visited 31808 times)  Game talk
Jun 092006
 

In thinking about the UO resource system in recent posts (1, 2, 3), I also got to thinking about other things that we either wanted to or tried to get the NPCs to do. Today, NPCs have gradually evolved more and more towards being quest dispensers. Originally, we wanted NPCs that would give the illusion of life.

But there were a few bumps on the road, and today NPCs in all the games pretty much suck.


Moving around was actually one of the biggest bumps. One of the most obvious cues that an NPC is actually nothing more than a quest dispenser is to make them immobile terminals with hovering icons over their head. Yet this is what players demand. In early UO the NPCs moved about — there was even some attempt to make them move about purposefully, from trade implement to trade implement, but that failed. When the NPCs would move around while you were trying to talk to them, players objected, and then eventually the NPCs were frozen in place because their primary purpose was as a dispenser of items. I fought this for a long time because I hated the notion of reducing the NPCs back down…

Anyway, here’s some of the big areas that I think are hugely underexploited in NPCs today.

A sense of persistence

However, also in UO, all NPCs were “born” with a name randomly selected from a few baby book lists that we coded into the game. This meant that on different shards, the NPC tending the forge might have a different name. In fact, everything in UO was this way — there were no static, named NPCs or creatures at launch. This cost us the equivalent of “slaying Nagafen,” but it also led to other, different sorts of feelings.

For example, the feeling of coming to the forge one day and seeing that burly Bob the smith, with whom you have dealt for months, was no longer there. Instead, you saw Sarah, who introduced herself as his niece and informed you that Bob was in fact killed by MasTaKillA, an actual other player. I recall implementing a crude form of this, but I don’t remember if we ever deployed it.

Memory in general is underexploited in NPCs today. On LegendMUD, the shopkeeper Aasma will remember regular customers for a period of two weeks, offer them specials, and even let them run a tab. This sort of familiarity, even when you know it is all faked with simple tracking mechanisms, actually adds a lot to the experience. Imagine walking into a tavern and having some NPCs greet you as an old friend rather than as a stranger — a perfect candidate behavior to be on every friendly shopkeeper in the game. Even better if they can timestamp when they last saw you and say “it’s been a long time!”

Which naturally leads into…

Reacting to players

In UO, for a while NPCs would react to you based on your prestige. They’d bow when particularly notable players came by. Of course, first pass they bowed at everyone notable all the time, and as was usual in UO days, this led to the behavior being removed altogether, rather than being finetuned. One can easily imagine that after accomplishing a great deed, a very transitory variable gets placed on you, which causes NPCs to react strongly (bowing, scraping, cheering, etc), but then they forget how special you are in an hour or so. This is much more rewarding than the bland “only the quest dispenser knows what you did” approach that prevails today.

On Legend, there was a bootblack how hung around on the Victorian Isle of Dogs. If you were advanced enough, when you came by, he’d shout to the whole town, “Cor! Didja know Alanna was in town?” Many a PvPer cursed his name and slew him in revenge; many a player also worked to get to the point where they too could be announced.

Having some personality

Providing a distinct sense of personality to different NPCs is challenging. Elaborately constructed ones on Legend were all handcrafted at first, but some of the behaviors were so nifty that they were then inherited by many of the other NPCs in the game. Mrs. O’Leary, innkeeper in Gold Rush San Francisco, would kick you out of her inn if she caught you saying cuss words. Tika, innkeeper in Celtic Ireland, would react to every single social in the game, and if fights or aggressive uses of socials broke out, would call Angus from upstairs to eject the participants from the building. Eventually, some of Tika’s reactions

Trying to make some generic behaviors is a trickier task. In UO, we looked up the randomly generated intelligence level of the NPC, and also a randomly set mood, I think it was. Then we wrote 270 different ways of saying each thing they knew how to say. A stupid surly guy might greet you with “What the hell do YOU want?” whereas a highborn, educated snob might say “Much as it pains me to do so, I greet you.” These stuck, so you’d get to know the snob at your local bakery (at least until someone killed them).

This meant, of course, that there was a lack of specificity to what each NPC would say. 270 entries for “hello” is a lot of work, too. So we broke the speech into libraries, so that the baker would have a library of talk about baking, and a library of generic talk. The baking library didn’t have the amount of variation that the generic stuff did, but the flavor in the generic text was enough to give the NPC some personality.

Other generic things that all NPCs knew how to do included talking about the weather, giving you the time, and even giving directions to nearby landmarks or shops. This latter was accomplished by matching against keywords for what the player was looking for (“where” and “bank” in one sentence would do it), followed by a lookup into a table for the BANK spawn region. The closest one would be found, then the NPC would calculate the distance and direction, and a generic script library provided “You’re looking for the bank? It’s a little ways to the northeast.”

Showing some initiative

One of the big problems that we always ran into with UO and muds was the fact that interaction was keyword-based. This meant that when localization became dominant, it was of course swept away even though it allowed for far more diverse interaction than conversation trees. It also meant, though, that NPCs would butt into conversations between players, thinking they had heard something of import. NPCs taking action on their own is nonetheless something really cool when people get to see it.

In SWG in beta there was a random spawn of a slave girl who would dash out into the street and fixate on a player. She’d rush up and say “Oh please, please, you have to help me! They’re after me! Quick, take this, and don’t let them catch you!” She would then hand you a data disk. Then she would run away, spawn a troop of Stormtroopers who would hunt her down and kill her in one shot. The player was left with a datadisk and intrigue.

Alas, the data disk did nothing, It was a tease. Eventually this, along with all the other “dynamic points of interest,” were removed because of technical difficulties with spawning, primarily. I think this is a huge shame, because the dynamically appearing closed scenario quests allowed incorporation of a ton of extra variables to allow variability, and could appear almost anywhere.

But that’s more of a topic for a quests post. So let’s talk about Indiana Jones instead.

On LegendMUD, Indy was a mob that was only ever spawned as a joke by the admins. I wrote him mostly to get a handle on the scripting system. He’d appear, and announce on the global channels that he was putting together a party for a high-level adventure — I think it was actually to seek the Grail. Then he’d actually run around the mud, cracking jokes, using his whip, and pretending to be gathering up this party. If you met up with him, he had a large library of quotes and reactions drawn from the movies and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

In UO, beggars, as previously mentioned, would come up and beg from you. When at sea, the tillerman, the faux-NPC built into the ship who served as a method of controlling the vessel, would tell sea stories drawn from a library, in order to pass the time. Will O’the Green in Legend would stop you at the crossroads and demand a toll; pay it, and he’d let you proceed.

In fact, this whole class of what we might call “environmental quests” was a bit of a showcase for NPCs. In Viceroyal Lima, a wagon would periodically get stuck in the mud; get enough players to push at the same time, and they could free it from the mud. If you found Big Jim in the back room of the Salty Dog, you could play a crude version of blackjack with him for money.

Faking you out

In EQ2, there’s a collection of systems that gets called “the ecology system.” It’s actually, I believe, a set of handcrafted scripts that can be applied somewhat generically, primaily in the towns, to allow things like dogs chasing cats, that sort of thing. This isn’t really an ecology, of course — rather, it’s what I call stagecraft, much like billowing cloth and clever lighting replaces fire or water on a stage.

Stuff like dogs chasing cats is of course very very old stagecraft in the virtual worlds biz. Countless muds have had similar; in the Andes in medieval Peru on Legend, all the animals hunt each other appropriately, and some of them even venture into town. Jackdaw type birds sometimes steal baubles. And so on.

Stagecraft definitely has a huge place; not everything must be modeled to a high level of detail. My favorite system I have ever done along those lines is the nonhuman script in Ultima Online. As a primer, you may want to read A Grammar of Orcish by Yorick of Yew.

Based on my species, pick one of the following syllable libraries:

Orcish (heavy on the ughg gaghs)
Chittery (heavy on the kth chkhth)
Slithery (heavy on the ssiss sisshtsh)
Wispish (every consonant, plus the letter y)

Also based on my species, set a length of words (in syllables) and a length of sentence (in words).

Every once in a while, saySomething(with no parameters)

If you hear text, you have a chance of calling saySomething(with the overheard text as a parameter)

saySomething(text):

if the passed in text has any of the following words: food, eat, gold, any of the city names, any of the virtue names, any of the major fictional character names like British or Blackthorn, words related to combat, words related to gameplay

pick from the following list of other words: kill, eat, no afraid, scared, attack, hunt, ugly, puny, hate, love, etc.

Build words up to sentence length. If random chance hits, insert one of the list of words instead, or one of the overheard words. End the sentence with a bit of punctuation: ? ! . or … (and capitalize sentences appropriately).

Building words: grab random syllables from your syllable list, up to the word length.

This meant, of course, that if you were near a wisp, and happened to say the word “moongate,” the wisp might respond with “Zthgtts zzkzyz moongate? Yjjkkjwh virtue shrine.”

This led to a sizable number of people believing a large number of urban myths about wisps, including that they tended to hang around healers, that they healed you, that they gave quests, that enhanced bardic abilities, and so on. From the Seekers of the Wisps conference:

Khajja the Fang: On two occasions I have been helped by wisps. I was healed while fighting a gargoyale And once I was assisted by a wisp while fighting an orc mage. It casted offensive spells. That is all.

Aurora Sylvr says: Wisps have been known to do “unusual” things. We have had many reports of them aiding in unfair battles

Khajja the Fang says: So it is not unusual?

Aurora Sylvr says: It’s rare.. but not completely unusual

I don’t even want to think about how much dialogue we were saved from having to write thanks to this trivial little system.

Conclusion

Here’s where I editorialize a little bit. We’ve tended to, over time, focus so much on the quest and kill aspect of these games that we’ve reduced down other elements in favor of this. We no longer have NPCs with schedules because it interferes with getting a quest promptly and killing things faster. We no longer have NPCs that give directions because a radar map is more convenient. We no longer have NPCs that crack a joke when you say something because we’ve removed NPCs hearing you altogether. We no longer have NPCs that take initiative because all interactions must be through menus. We no longer have NPCs that fool people into thinking they are maybe real because it’s confusing.

But there’s fun to be had in those things, and a sizable amount of humor to be mined, and springboards for much further development of other systems. There’s storytelling (will no one have a thought for Sarah’s pain and her desire for Burly Bob’s killers to be brought to justice?).

Players objected quite a lot to seeing the fictional dressing stripped away from the modern quest dispenser NPCs in SWG, seeing them as actual metallic terminals. And yet, that’s how our NPCs act today anyway. We should swing the pendulum back a little bit. I, and I think many other players, would gladly trade some inconvenience for a world that feels a little less like a pellet dispenser.

  75 Responses to “Why don’t our NPCs…”

  1. More Interesting AI Raph Koster has posted a GOLD MINE of information on the ecological / economic systems of Ultima Online (see part 1, part 2, and part 3), and a discussion on the”dumbing down” of NPCS in MMORPGs. Raph’s comments go on how these sophisticated plans for Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies were eventually deep-sixed in favor of maintainability and simplicity (not to mention catering to players who value predictability). Definitely

  2. because of technical difficulties with spawning, primarily. I think this is a huge shame, because the dynamically appearing closed scenario quests allowed incorporation of a ton of extra variables to allow variability, and could appear almost anywhere.Raph on quests I can not begin to tell you how much this one random spawn meant to me (which for the record, was in prod). I pored way too much time into trying to figure it out, into commenting and speculating and arguing about it on the official forums. I had a

  3. Raph Koster has posted a nice little bit on NPCs in MMOGs, with examples from UO, LegendMUD, and SWG. Some of the stuff regarding UO is interesting because he talks about things that were implemented, but later removed. He laments in today’s games NPCs are nothing more than quest terminals. It

  4. […] A sense of persistence However, also in UOUltima Online von Electronic Arts., all NPCs were born with a name randomly selected from a few baby book lists that we coded into the game. This meant that on different shards, the NPC tending the forge might have a different name. In fact, everything in UO was this way there were no static, named NPCs or creatures at launch. This cost us the equivalent of slaying Nagafen, but it also led to other, different sorts of feelings. For example, the feeling of coming to the forge one day and seeing that burly Bob the smith, with whom you have dealt for months, was no longer there. Instead, you saw Sarah, whoWarhammer Online von Mythic Entertainment. introduced herself as his niece and informed you that Bob was in fact killed by MasTaKillA, an actual other player. I recall implementing a crude form of this, but I dont remember if we ever deployed it. Memory in general is underexploited in NPCs today. On LegendMUD, the shopkeeper Aasma will remember regular customers for a period of two weeks, offer them specials, and even let them run a tab. This sort of familiarity, even when you know it is all faked with simple tracking mechanisms, actually adds a lot to the experience. Imagine walking into a tavern and having some NPCs greet you as an old friend rather than as a stranger a perfect candidate behavior to be on every friendly shopkeeper in the game. Even better if they can timestamp when they last saw you and say its been a long time! Which naturally leads into Nach meiner Ansicht ein sehr lesenwerter Beitrag, von dem ich nur wnschen kann, dass ihn sich mglichst viele MMORPG Designer hinter die Ohren schreiben. Wobei Raph Koster aber mit Star Wars Galaxies nicht gerade unschuldig daran ist, dass NPCs keine Persnlichkeit mehr haben. Ich teile allerdings nicht seine Ideen zu dynamischen NPCs, die geboren werden, leben und schliesslich sterben. Nicht weil ich das schlecht fnde, sondern weil ich glaube, dass man NPCs nur dann eine echte Persnlichkeit geben kann, wenn man diese von Hand programmiert, ihnen eine Geschichte und Charakter gibt, und das nicht generisch von einem Algorithmus erzeugen lsst. Link: Why dont our NPCsWeitere News zum Thema: WHO: GOA bernimmt europischen Support Raph Koster erklrt das Resourcen System von Ultima Online WHO: Screenshots vom 28.5.2006 WHO: Paul Barnett und warum man Game Designern kein Kaffee geben sollte WHO: Screenshots 22.05.2006 Diskussion im Forum:Frankenstein’s NPC, gebt ihnen Leben! […]

  5. I agree wholeheartedly. I really like the concept of NPCs with memories. Couple that with a dynamic ‘rumour’ system (IE Bob the Shopkeeper knows that a certain player is a cheat and a liar and proceeds to tell everyone in town until none of the other shopkeepers will sell or buy from them. Player is then forced to travel to the next town where they havent heard of him, though just maybe, the player’s reputation follows them…) It all seems relatively simplistic to implement. It’s unfortunate that most companies sacrafice developer innovation and creativity to follow the established money trail.

  6. […] Raph has written another great article.  He talks about a few of the ways that UO and LegendMUD handled NPCs.  It’s an interesting read, as usual.  It actually sounds like he might be gearing up for some new designs.  Bioware Austin should snap him up on the MMO Dream Team He says he “editorializes” a bit at the end, but he’s totally right.  NPCs have become vending machines.  This is less the designer’s fault and more the player’s.  MMOs have become a bandwagon.  MP3 players used to be a pretty niche market until everybody started getting into them.  Then Apple came out with a consumer-centric device that worked well.  Blizzard did the same thing with World of Warcraft.  Yes, I said it…WoW is the iPod of the MMO industry.  The only difference is that I’m happy as a clam with my iPod and I can’t bring myself to play WoW anymore.  Sure, the iPod has some things that I don’t like (iTunes being the top), but it still does the job much better than anyone else in the industry.  WoW has taken a step back in the industry. […]

  7. Ah the conflict between convenience and atmosphere… The ecology approach tries to add life to the world without interferring with the gameplay, but a lot of the impact of dynamics like you describe is probably due to the very fact that it causes inconvenience. Players can ignore peripheral elements, but they WILL react to the world causing them a bit of trouble.

    However, if players-at-large voice their preference of predictability over interaction, well… they might be right in the sense that it is more fun for them (I know it is for me). MMO-as-a-world vs MMO-as-a-game and all that.

  8. I just went back and re-read the last article and comments about the resources / monster AI system, wherein there was a lot of discussion about causality and whether players would ‘get it’ on their own or if they had to be told why things were happening.

    I think it’s interesting to compare that discussion to the comments in this article about the players assiging motives to the wisps and claiming that there was some underlying AI there, when, in fact, it was simply a semi-random bit of text that sometimes keyed off the players’ speech. There was a very basic causality there, but the players took it several steps further without any prompting by the developers, NPCs or the gameworld, creating myth, legend and interest on their own.

    So going back to the hungry dragon attacking a town, the first time, it may indeed seem simply random to the players. However, given some time and experience in the world, I think the players will have no problems with identifying and discovering causalities, and even creating their own! Of course, having NPCs with motivations and desires that respond to and comment on events around them would only help and enhance such an endeavour.

  9. Taking it to an extreme, what if we consider a situation where the quest NPC moves from town to town, and you have to actively track him down to return the item he sent you after? Horrible timesink, unless travel between towns was actually an adventure instead of trivial. Suddenly, simply having to track down a roving NPC goes from being annoying to The Whole Point.

    But then again, like Jare says, a lot of players will have more fun if they can ask ‘where’s the NPC for XXX quest’ and run right there to get that ‘ding’ feeling.

    I’d also be interested to see an end run around the NPC problem and give players the ability to give out quests. For example, a higher level player could ask a new player to collect 20 rabbit skins and ship them to him. If NPCs were of less practical ‘value’ to players, how would their role change?

    Eli

  10. Personally, I’m ready to be done with the ding. I’m ready for a game where you complete quests because you want to and because they are engaging and interesting and rewarding in ways other than +1 stat / level / experience.

  11. Some random comments…

    McMMORPG – McDonalds food is tasteless, high-fat, and high-salt, not because McDonalds has poor food designers, but because such food is the lowest common denominator. The food offends no-one (or at least the fewest number of people). McDonalds’ spicey chicken burgers aren’t really spicey because if they were, 30% of all burgers would be returned with the customer whingeing, “This is too spicey!” The same goes for NPCs that move around, etc.

    270 ways to say hello x 1000 NPCs = a lot of voice recordings. Of course, each NPC only has a few ways to say hello, based upon how much the NPC likes the PC and/or how formal/informal the NPC is with the PC. That’s still a lot of audio to record. (IMHO) Since voice recording is (almost) a standard feature, developers will soon hit a wall where voice recordings hamper their ability to make more intelligent NPCs, much as movie-games like Phantasmagoria hit a wall w/respect to playability due to their need to film real actors. Text-to-speech is ultimately required… but it’s not good enough for mass market.

    Other reasons for stupid/boring NPCs? – I find it interesting that text MUDs have had much better AI/NPCs for 15-20 years. Morrowind (released 3-4 years ago) has NPCs that are a step (or two) beyond contemporary MMORPGs. Oblivion’s NPCs are half a step better than Morrowind’s, and put any contemporary MMORPG to shame, despite the fact that “Radiant AI” didn’t live up to the hype.

  12. […] Comments […]

  13. I seem to remember the spawn of the slave girl in SWG even if I never been in beta. Maybe it was removed after launch or that I just dreamed it, like something I wish would happen.

    It really doesn’t take much to add a bit of fun to npcs. I remember the old hermit in SWG. There was such mysteries around him (and was hard to find) that it made some really good stories made by players. A lot of players were of course frustrated to no being able to find him but that too was part of the “magic”.

    Being a casual player, I never bothered with this till the day another player offered me quite a lot credits to help him to find the hermit. Of course, I was a ranger…

    Best quest I did and it was “PC generated”. That’s when, after all the “read-kill-read-reward” boring quests I had done, that I understood what I was really looking for in a mmorpg.

  14. The more I think about various issues of game developement, the more I think that the main reason for such bad trends in game design is the atomistic approach of developers. They seem to see their games as a kind of engine where they may add elements (atoms) to increase a feature list in the hopes that more people will find their games longer enjoyable.

    I think that a holistic approach would result in a complete different game development where such NPCs are not just »neat« but important for the whole. Unfortunately, game design (especially live service) seems to be like evaluating whether or not a single element (atom) is fun or not fun and then make adjustments, while totally lose sight of the »whole«, which is in my opinion more than the sum of its parts. (I am aware of problems in the tradition of such approaches, like around Gestalt Psychology).

    I am currently a (so called) Senator in SWG and would wish the developers over there would see the game more from this angle. I am also quite amazed by the recent articles (ressources, npcs) that there is so little from it in SWG. In my book, SWG is known as that MMORPG were the NPCs/mobs just stand around in the desert nearby their lairs doing nothing. Which is even more amazing when I think that Raph Koster created it in the first place.

    Its spooky, maybe the players are the EVIL who anticipate the nice things. 😉

  15. Ah, SWG is a whole other kettle of fish, and merits its own articles someday. Probably not anytime soon, however.

  16. the main reason for such bad trends in game design is the atomistic approach of developers.

    Hm… that makes me think of the problems with software development in general. Being characterized in feature lists and such. A lot of the software-as-service and service-oriented architecture stuff and web 2.0 have been making an effort to fix that, as well as the push for paradigm shifts in development cycles, though most of it is more hype than substance.

    It would be interesting for a game to be designed based on how they expect the user to experience it. They could use Personas to replicate player types……… *muses*

  17. SWG a whole other kettle of fish? Merits its own articles!?! Someday!!?!! Not anytime soon?

    KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

    oops I mean:

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  18. […] Bloggers Matt Mihaly is blogging 7 min 4 sec old, Raph’s Koster Website Training Your Players to Whine 1 hour 32 min old, KillTenRats – Ethic Avatar-Based Marketing 3 hours 4 min old, Raph’s Koster Website Reports From The Field — Second Life Transhumanism Seminar 3 hours 58 min old, Grimwell Why don’t our NPCs… 4 hours 38 min old, Raph’s Koster Website Oh where have you been? 5 hours 58 min old, Brenlo (Alan Crosby) Spring 2006, Week 10, Day 5: Vacation Begins 6 hours 8 min old, Geldon Friday Links 6 hours 30 min old, Amber Night Pwnage and the Lobbyist Grind 7 hours 40 min old, Terra Nova – Academics playground It’s The Dancing, Stupid 7 hours 41 min old, BrokenToys – Lum Enter Fat 9 hours 56 min old, KillTenRats – Ethic Blizzard settles out of court with eBay guide author 10 hours 13 min old, BrokenToys – Lum The Internet Saves Everything 10 hours 36 min old, BrokenToys – Lum Breaking unwritten rules 10 hours 43 min old, Tobold Dark and Light, Free and Not 10 hours 44 min old, AFK Gamer – Foton Do It Yourself Gaming Detox 11 hours 26 min old, AFK Gamer – Foton You need help. Yes, you. 14 hours 37 min old, BrokenToys – Lum Game of Warcraft 17 hours 53 min old, Tobold Spring 2006, Week 10, Day 4: Mehfulness 18 hours 3 min old, Geldon Net Neutrality — Why You Should Care 18 hours 59 min old, Grimwell Hints and Riddles 1 day 5 hours old, Raph’s Koster Website selectparks – MMO surveillance questionnaire 1 day 7 hours old, Raph’s Koster Website We are live 1 day 7 hours old, Amber Night Guild Wars – One More Time For Fun 1 day 8 hours old, KillTenRats – Ethic This Just In: Girls Declared Cooler Than World of Warcraft 1 day 9 hours old, BrokenToys – Lum more […]

  19. There are some examples of what you’ve mentioned in the well known games today, but nothing to the extent you mention here. What is the actual barrier to this? I would imagine that this would be a nice system if it was combined with the static NPC characters. If I have 30 min to play and I wanted to do X quest I don’t want to search for the quest giver for 10 min, so I definetly understand wanting some predictability. But as long as there is a good mix (i.e. keep lots of static quest giving NPC’s) I think players would embrace this.

  20. UO being such an old game, its safe for those who were involved to talk about it, and share the lessons learned.

    SWG is still an actively-running MMORPG, and no doubt the people who worked on it are still bound by various confidentiality agreements and so on. There are probably things Raph can tell us about it and things he can’t, and figuring out which are which might take more effort than the telling of them.

    By the way, mad props to Mike Rozak! I’ve read about half of his writings on Deeply Random Thoughts lately and there’s a lot of interesting stuff there, written in a very accessible fashion. Game design, like programming, seems to be one of those subjects that is best learned by osmosis.

  21. […] I’ve been thinking about plot generation. There’s a lot of difficulties with plot generation, and a lot of the solutions seem to involve hundreds or thousands of hours of work.But what if instead of plot generation, we do emergent plot?This is hardly new, but I think my idea is relatively fresh.Most people, when they think of this kind of thing, they think of plots which adapt to the player’s choices. For example, if the game lets you shoot someone important and can still ad-lib the plot convincingly, it’s cool.Sure, but that’s not really emergent – it’s just self-repairing and/or variable. Emergent implies that a complex situation comes together from a set of simple rules.To some extent, self-story games feature emergent stories by using the player’s drives and preferences as a catalyst. For example, in many tabletops or LARPs, players often decide that they want to experience a particular kind of story. They want to be the redeemed bad guy. They want to be the faithless clergyman. They want to experience a particular plot arc or just experience the world from a particular angle.In a tabletop or a LARP, this works great because the game world adapts nimbly to these people. If one player is working through a redemption story and another is working through a challenge of faith story, they will tend to naturally harmonize with each other and prod the story along. The game world itself will change to facilitate this, if the GM is any good.Basically, when you’re building a story in a live game, you see kernels of opportunity in the game world and other players. Overtures to work these things into your personal story are usually successful, as the other players bend a little to work you into their story. When it works, it works wonderfully. It’s an emergent narrative, and it’s usually the most interesting part of any given game.There’s two problems with it.First is the obvious problem: it relies on the adaptability of human beings. Computers have a much harder time adapting.The second problem is much more insidious: these plots are fueled by in-game opportunities. It’s become clearer and clearer that players think in terms of using what they are shown, not engineering new content. Even the players which are exceptions to this rule and think in terms of engineering new content and long-term plots are insufficient to do the task: they simply don’t have the means to provide other players with opportunities that those players can latch on to.Now, the first problem is a problem which faces computer games. The second problem is a problem which faces live games, but can be solved by computer games.So, I’m going to concentrate on the first point: adaptability.Usually, when I talk about a generative plot system, I talk about an incremental system. That means that a player is given a little bit of data, then makes a choice and is rewarded with another event and more data. These are not pre-planned chains of events. The path the player will follow is forged as the player walks it, but in such a way as to convince the player that they are in the midst of a complex and interesting plot.The idea is that there is a kind of rules system for determining what kind of progressions there are. There may also be a kind of “guide” system which keeps the plot on track rather than letting it wander around at random – there are lots of ways to do it. It is, either way, a highly complex system.So, I saw Raph’s NPC post, right on the tail of his ecology posts. I didn’t get any further than the first sentence: “In thinking about the UO resource system in recent posts (1, 2, 3), I also got to thinking about other things that we either wanted to or tried to get the NPCs to do.”(Yeah, I read it later, but the rest has only a little do to with this concept.)I thought to myself, “hey, ecologies of NPCs have been tried before. In fact, I’ve tried them before. But there’s a nugget of newness here, descended from Chu Chu Rocket and Carnage Heart.”So this is the “chu chu carnage” theory of emergent plot creation.Imagine your NPCs are components on a 2D field. The Incredible Machine style – lots of weird kinds of components.The basic idea is that the player can run around and tweak these components. The player can point them in a new direction, or change the color of their laser, or even move them if they are moveable components. This is pretty similar to the Incredible Machine in most ways, but it runs continuously instead of play-stop-rearrange.It would be fun: the player would get to experiment with making components do fun combinations of things. Instead of a simple reward system, you make a really complex reward system. If you fire a green laser here, you get a bonus, sure. But you also get a bonus if you create a blue laser feedback loop or if you can pop fifteen balloons in three seconds. Instead of having all your goals as specific to a level, you have goals which are universal to all levels. Such as blue laser feedback loops: any level you get a blue feedback loop in, you get a bonus.Of course, this is just an example. The real goals would be far simpler with far more complex results. For example, any laser feedback loop, but the color determines what kind of bonus you get.Now, here’s the other half of the equation: that TIM-like image is just what you see when you design the game. The player simply sees the city he is wandering around in, and talks to people. To him, our “blue laser” is “love” or something. If the game world is complex enough, we might allow the player to see the real logic map as well, as that way he could plot out his course. But I imagine that level of complexity is not needed.The idea is that the player will be running around hooking people up or making people angry or whatever. Instead of having generic NPC AI systems which adapt to this, each NPC is a kind of “component” that deals with the various social stuff in relatively simple ways. Simple but malleable and adaptive – changing even without the player there to tweak it. For example, a common component might fire a blue laser at anyone who fires a blue laser at her. Or another person who fires a blue laser at everyone of the other gender within reach.The rules governing the objects would be relatively simple and not something that can always be ruled by the player. For example, maybe that waffling component will only settle down when focused on by a single blue laser for some time, so the way the player gets the waffler to settle is by interfering with anyone else who wants to fire a blue laser at her.Anyhow, the point is that you don’t have a bunch of largely interchangeable NPCs. You have NPCs which are carefully placed and designed so that they have the potential to create a fun plot. I’ve used primarily romantic examples, but the same basic idea could apply to getting people to go hunt a dragon with you, or convincing thieves to rob a bank, or anything else. The idea is that the components are carefully placed so that there is a system-wide reaction when the player changes something significant, and that system-wide reaction is a plot.What makes this different from a normal plot, aside from the difficulty of designing a level? Well, first, it gives the NPCs a feeling of being alive (if handled correctly). Second, when the situation gets complex, it allows the player to be innovative. For example, if the player knows the situation well, he can plan ahead and tweak a critical piece, causing a very different cascade than the one you originally planned for.Also, you could allow players to have a lot of control over creating their own plots by “pushing pieces into place”. Imagine a tactical game where the members of your team are these kinds of components, and the team itself has fun social dynamics. I think it would be a whole lot of fun to try to get the team socially working together.I’ll try to work out a more specific implementation soon, but I think this “chu chu carnage” social system could work really well. 🙂 […]

  22. I have become disenchanted with the genre, and this blog details one of the major reasons why.

    These modern MMOs are deviating further and further from the “worlds” we once played in. What we have are pellet dispensers, and each pellet is a chunk of achievement, or, faux achievement anyway. It seems that the mass market is easier to penetrate by selling them the sense that they are really doing something relevant, even if they aren’t. This is most apparent in South Korea and Asia which is often referred to as “the future” by poor misguided souls.

    I hope we can get our act together over on this side of the pacific and make games that are entertaining for reasons other than making feel like you’ve done something semi-important. Otherwise, well, is anyone interested in starting a time machine fund? Back to when games were an escape from real world achievement, not a substitute for it?

  23. The biggest issue is that our games focus mostly on achievers. Achievers want the path to achievement streamlined so that they can predict their achievement. Trying to find an NPC for a quest “wastes” time. Having random NPCs makes things more confusing. Having dynamically generated quests means there’s no cheats for when they get stuck.

    And, frankly, many people just don’t care. Meridian 59 has had fairly interesting NPCs with detailed backgrounds and conversation triggers as Raph explains (even with moods!), but even the hard-core fans tend to ignore the “flavor” of the NPCs. And, it’s certainly not anything that has attracted or retained players in the game. (Maybe I should post a bit about how NPCs in M59 work on my own blog….)

    Really, trying to apply most of what Raph’s talking about here requires going after a largely different audience than the one playing current games. This is going to be a hard sell all around: hard to convince the investors that it’s worthwhile, and hard for the indie developers to do without a large marketing budget to reach the audience that traditionally doesn’t pay attention to our games.

    My thoughts,

  24. I don’t agree that this is all something that only appeals to non-achievers. I think everyone, first time through, enjoys the sense of immersion. I think that these days, now that everyone is a jaded veteran, we tend to forget that.

    And achievers only find it grating when it’s useless and repetitive and therefore a delay. A quick greeting when you walk into the tavern isn’t necessarily that (an NPC schedule, obviously, may be).

  25. I think MikeRozak hit it almost square on the head– it’s a CS issue. When people get confused about where to find NPCs in a game or how to interact with them, one of the things they do is call Customer Service with naive questions and get angry when they’re told “You should ask your fellow adventurers about that”.

    WoW solves this problem a little too neatly by making it blindingly obvious how to solve their quests from the detailed log. You’d think that with all the money they’re making they could afford to give us a richer (albeit more confusing) world.

  26. There are two level of implementation to think about:
    1. A feature level
    2. A flavor level

    A full blown feature level implementation may annoy the achievers (which are the majority of the player base). However, a flavor level or somewhere in the middle may not annoy the achievers so much, but draw in other player types. SWG is still going on because it still have some of the functions that non-achievers find interesting enough to pay the monthly subscription.

    The question is, for a MMORPG develop, what are the basic features that should be included at launch. From previous launches, it appears that quests and quest dispensors (add a whole lot of eye candy) are all that the budget and time allows for 🙁

  27. […] Raph Koster blogs about current NPCs in games in a recent post. […]

  28. PEZ heads, that’s all the NPCs are. 😀 (I think that’s an old joke)

    Raph, even today on the official UO boards at stratics you can find the occasional post about missing the old NPC actions.

    The Wisp thing was cool. I swear I was healed by one once. I checked my text journal and generally thought it all over. There was no player spell text, nothing else was around, I was using healing and not spells, yet there I was hit with a heal spell. Maybe it was an invisible GM adding some spice to it all, who knows. But it was an interesting thing all the same.

    Those were “the good old days”.

    Tholal said:
    Personally, I’m ready to be done with the ding. I’m ready for a game where you complete quests because you want to and because they are engaging and interesting and rewarding in ways other than +1 stat / level / experience.

    I think the shallow game play of the current designs is hitting this wall. Experiance is, after all, the best teacher.

  29. Raph wrote:

    I don’t agree that this is all something that only appeals to non-achievers.

    I don’t think it only appeals to non-achievers, but that it mostly appeals to this group. You know as well as I do that the successful games focus on achievers quite a bit. Online games include aspects for the other groups out of habit and core requirement. Tools for socializers are present because we know that online games are all about community. 😉

    I think everyone, first time through, enjoys the sense of immersion. I think that these days, now that everyone is a jaded veteran, we tend to forget that.

    Sure, everyone enjoys it the first time through. But, to use your own book against you, once people learn the pattern behind the behavior it’s not quite so impressive. The NPC isn’t saying “Hail, friend!” because he’s happy to see you, the text is printed on your screen because a function was called when you entered the room. Gamers are excellent at stripping away the window dressing and getting to the game underneath. Or, did I read your book wrong? 😉

    And, keep in mind that the majority of our audience is these “jaded veterans” you mention. We tend to pitch our games to the existing audience, and it takes a lot of money to reach new audiences: the costs of market research and marketing the game to the new audience tends to be out of the reach of most game budgets.

    A quick greeting when you walk into the tavern isn’t necessarily that….

    Yes, but what does that really add to the game? You can add a greeting every time someone walks in, but that gets boring. So, you add in a random chance, but that feels impersonal. Add in variables so the NPC “remembers” you and gives you a custom greeting, but now you’re writing 270 different greetings. Suddenly your quick greeting is a major aspect of development.

    Is it better to do a half-assed job of interactivity and immersion, or is it better to ignore it completely and focus those resources on other aspects of development? Personally, I think this stuff could work on a more niche-focused game. I don’t think the masses, as defined by the audience currently paying for these games, really value this type of interactivity. Some people will appreciate it, including me as a player, but you’re not going to challenge WoW with a game that includes this. Unfortunately, that’s what most investors want these days.

    My thoughts.

  30. 270 ways to say hello x 1000 NPCs = a lot of voice recordings.

    but now you’re writing 270 different greetings. Suddenly your quick greeting is a major aspect of development.

    Maybe this is one of those areas that should move to middleware? Rather than each developer painstakingly going over the same ground again and again, a middleware voice/interaction/thingy solution could be built up over time, perhaps?

  31. 270 ways to say hello x 1000 NPCs = a lot of voice recordings.

    No, 270 voice recordings. Nobody does unique voice recordings everywhere; generic NPCs tend to repeat from generic banks of recoridngs, with perhaps a couple of variants.

    I don’t think it only appeals to non-achievers, but that it mostly appeals to this group. You know as well as I do that the successful games focus on achievers quite a bit.

    Yeah, but it’s achievement with MASSIVE doses of other things (no pun intended). Even the pure achievers would be disgusted (and mostly are) by games with no fictional veneer whatsoever. They’re attracted to the genre in the beginning because of the fantasy, not because of maxxing out stats. Maxxing out stats is a means TO that fantasy.

    But, to use your own book against you, once people learn the pattern behind the behavior it’s not quite so impressive. The NPC isn’t saying “Hail, friend!” because he’s happy to see you, the text is printed on your screen because a function was called when you entered the room. Gamers are excellent at stripping away the window dressing and getting to the game underneath.

    No, you read it right; a large part of the virtue in having this stuff is actually in what I called “delight” in the book, not in actual fun, which wears off very quickly. However, some of it is in fact renewable gameplay, particularly in a social setting where you can say “hey, have you seen what Tika does if you…” and drag someone along.

    Is it better to do a half-assed job of interactivity and immersion, or is it better to ignore it completely and focus those resources on other aspects of development?

    Leave out the interactivity and immersion, and you will fail; I have no doubt about that. Down that road lies ProgressQuest. WoW spent a tremendous amount of effort on stuff that only results in delight — and here I am thinking of the artwork.

    you’re not going to challenge WoW with a game that includes this

    I have actually seen many many reviews which cite the humor and personality of WoW as a major factor in its charm. So I wouldn’t discount it. But the point is not to challenge WoW ONLY with this. I agree that if this is all you do, you’re taking the wrong path. But much (most!) of what I described can be accomplished by one scripter in one afternoon. We’re not talking a crazy amount of work. Even the 270 hellos, goodbyes, and everything else only took me a couple of days to write.

    Unfortunately, that’s what most investors want these days.

    Only the dumb ones, far as I have seen; most seem to recognize that going up against WoW directly is a bad way to spend money. Doing something orthogonal to WoW but that shares in some of the characteristics (notably the revenue model or the microtransaction model from Korea) is what seems to be getting a lot of investor interest these days.

  32. Psychochild said:
    Yes, but what does that really add to the game? You can add a greeting every time someone walks in, but that gets boring.

    Killing mobs gets boring but it doesn’t stop developers from including it.

    Ok, that was a little joke, I don’t mean to destroy the constructive discussion but, this is silly. It’s true, many players will mentally strip down the systems to the bare bones, and see a triggered script instead of an emotional barkeep. But, many players WANT to see the emotional barkeep, even if they know it is code.

    Are you trying to say that “achievers” will actually be upset with points of immersion? I think that’s ridiculous. Very few people want to play these games just to level or farm gear; it’s just that progression is what has been forced on them, streamlined to them, and made to feel like the “purpose” of the game. If you’re afraid of losing the people who want that streamline garbage, don’t worry, they’re good at ignoring things that they aren’t interested in.

    At the very least, if “everyone” enjoyed immersion the first time through, would there not be a sense of nostalgia for an immersive environment? I’ve been battling with myself trying to figure out if I actually want an immersive environment, or if it’s just nostalgia from my first games. Even if it is though, shouldn’t most people have that same feeling?

  33. I’m going to claim I’ve spent as much time as anybody trying to make NPC’s life-like. I don’t know how many high-level scripting languages and state machines I’ve come up with over the years. I had NPC’s solving several major quests on MUDs in the mid-90’s, including fighting, healing, walking back to the store to sell empty bottles and buying new healing stuff.

    I loved programming that stuff. If I found that stuff in another game, off in a corner, I would indeed be filled with ‘delight’, Raph’s apt description.

    But I have to tell you, in spite of all this, the third time the town crier greets me with some predictable fantasy crud, I just want to kill him. It adds nothing. It enrages me. I’d so much rather he were mute. Static dialogue in popups and such is different; we all easily switch into fiction-reading mode… but the trivially constructed attempts at dialogue, I’m not sure we really do those for the players… it’s mostly a matter of indulging the world building urge.

    What I do want to see is genuine complicated behaviour. I think any generated behaviour that is basically trivial should be deleted, because it’s better to do nothing. But anything you can add that is a decent approximation of the semi-chaotic, semi-ordered way in which humans actually act is a good thing. Simply having a living breathing city with a few hundred NPC’s that actually went about the kind of business people go about in a day — now, that’s the kind of thing everybody loves to have around, doesn’t get in your face, is fun as hell to write, and doesn’t have to be that complicated.

  34. Psychochild wrote:

    The NPC isn’t saying “Hail, friend!” because he’s happy to see you, the text is printed on your screen because a function was called when you entered the room.

    I get your point, but just to nit pick:

    My NPCs do this (unless I accidentally broke the code already). If they really like the PC (or if they have a topic of discussion to bring up) they will say “Hello”, “Hi”, etc. If they know the PC’s name they’ll say, “Hello, XXX”. (By the way, if the player hasn’t told the NPC their name, the NPC won’t be as friendly.)

    As I said above, how the NPC says hello indicates how much the NPC likes/trusts the PC, which is valuable information for achievers. It’s very important for mechants since it affects prices, as well as quest givers, who won’t give important quests to players unless they like/trust them. (Or who may give nasty quests to players they dislike/mistrust.)

    Conversely, if the NPC doesn’t like the PC, it’ll say “Get lost”, even if the NPC is a merchant. Or, if the NPC doesn’t like the PC’s guild this could happen, since a guild’s reputation, an average of individual members towards the NPC or the NPC’s faction, affects the status of individual players w/regard to the NPC. (Not sure if my game will last long enough for PC-based guilds to matter though.)

  35. People build multiplayer games ‘cuz AI opponents just aren’t convincing enough; and it seems that building AI people whose job is to act like people–in a world full of actual people–is even harder for even less payoff.

    People are going to ignore fake people in favor of real people anyway. So the Warcraft strategy, of cramming as much flavor into the Pez as possible, seems a sound one.

    I agree with Zell: ambient NPCs good, half-assed NPCs who want to play with you not so good.

  36. I think the distinction between ambient NPCs and ones who want to play with you is pretty thin. Players have an expectation of being able to interact with the ambient NPCs — people click on everyone and everything.

    Really, all we’re talking about IS the WoW approach, but with more varied and interesting flavor to them.

  37. I think perhaps the trick with interesting NPCs, is to make them integral to the play experience of those who prefer them.

    Woo, circular rhetoric! As an example, those players who like to kill ten rats would get that quest from the fellow on the street corner with the big glowing icon. Those players who want to explore the town and meet the NPCs and watch the interesting interactions…they would get that quest by interacting with NPCs in interesting ways.

    As players interact with NPCs more, then NPCs get more interesting towards them. Players get invited to their weddings, or to join their guilds, and so forth. But if you just want to kill ten rats, you don’t have to bother. You have those other guys standing on the street corners, waiting for you with their big glowing icons.

  38. Raph wrote:
    They’re attracted to the genre in the beginning because of the fantasy, not because of maxing out stats.

    Yes, but how are brilliant (or should I say “radiant”) NPCs part of this fantasy, really? NPCs give the world touchstones for the players to rely on for gameplay, but do they really add that much more to the game?

    I think the thing a lot of people are missing here is that our games are about other people. mjh said it best above when pointing out that multiplayer games have gained in popularity precisely because AI tends to fail so miserably. It’s the other people that make the game.

    Does the Achiever max out stats to one-up the NPCs?
    Does the Socializer want to chat up the NPCs?
    Does the Killer want to dominate the NPCs?
    Does the Explorer want to share his knowledge with NPCs?

    In every case the player is interacting directly or indirectly with other players.

    Leave out the interactivity and immersion, and you will fail; I have no doubt about that. Down that road lies ProgressQuest.

    I was referring to interactivity and immersion in the context we are speaking of. Do you really think I’m advocating removing all interactivity and immersion and saying ProgressQuest is the ultimate game?

    Obviously it takes more than a trivial amount of work to do what you’re saying here, Raph. Otherwise, I’m sure you could have found some time to implement this stuff over a weekend in UO and we could have seen it in action instead of just chatting about it years later. You know as well as I do that schedules are limited. So, answer me this: What other features get cut from the “standard” MMORPG development schedule in order to make room for this type of AI?

    Only the dumb ones,

    Yes, that would be the majority. 😉 Sure, there’s some out there that don’t display that level of stupidity. But, if they were really that smart they would have caught onto that business model when Matt Mihaly was using it years ago.

    damijin wrote:
    Killing mobs gets boring but it doesn’t stop developers from including it.

    Any game that focuses on combat where killing mobs gets boring that quickly will die a quick death. It took the better part of a year before I got bored with WoW gameplay. Think the barkeep saying “Hello!” will stay fresh even for a year? I don’t think so, either.

    You make sweeping generalizations about player behavior with very little to back it up. In fact, Achievers actually do want to play these games to level up and farm for gear. I was the freak in my WoW guild in that I actually wanted to read the quest text instead of just clicking through on the buttons and getting my rewards; quite a few people in my guild were people I play pen-and-paper RPGs with on weekends, too, so it’s not just because they don’t like roleplaying. Raph does have the right of it in that players don’t come to the game with the intention of maxing everything out, but that’s what they do when they get there.

    This discussion seems to have shades of the old role-playing debates we had in text MUDs and early online RPGs. I love role-playing and would love to play a game where everyone role-played a vibrant character. Unfortunately, few people have the ability to role-play effectively, and most people will ignore role-playing in favor of just playing the game and socializing on a personal level. I think role-playing makes a nice bullet point on the box to get people interested in the game, but I won’t claim that role-playing is going to change the whole gaming experience.

    My thoughts,

  39. Raph:

    I think the distinction between ambient NPCs and ones who want to play with you is pretty thin. Players have an expectation of being able to interact with the ambient NPCs — people click on everyone and everything.

    I would actually respectfully challenge this. I think players automatically sort in their head the NPC’s that are important to their continued progress in the game from the ones that really are just there for ambiance. In a sufficiently complex world with thousands of interlocking non-linear dynamic quests the distinction might be artificial, but for a de-facto player in a de-facto game, you know very well that some of the NPCs are loaded with scripts for some interesting plot line and you really want to find them.

    I do agree that players would be willing to toss this distinction, and god knows I want to work to reduce the distinction as much as possible — but as long as our simulation of society is as simplistic as it is now, it’s dishonest to demand that the player pretends it isn’t there.

  40. Why doesn’t it seem possible to auto-generate a whole bunch of NPC’s with interesting behaviors and interesting quests? Well, writing convincing fiction is hard, let alone compelling fiction and let alone auto-generating it. Beyond that, the problem is existential, and the answer isn’t comforting: eventually, everything gets boring.

    Blizard tried to make a convincing world by overloading it, but they ended up just packing it with interchangeable NPC’s and quests. It’s quite obvious they instituted some formulas to generate quests and NPC’s. This on one hand produces a more convincing world by virtue of the complexity and detail, but on the other hand, the detail lacks in quality, making the world full of boring minutia.

    I don’t think minutia is necessarily bad, but the trouble is, ‘how well can I ignore it?’ WoW doesn’t let me ignore enough.

  41. Yes, but how are brilliant (or should I say “radiant”) NPCs part of this fantasy, really?

    Bad joke! I admit the AI in Oblivion did not exactly knock my socks off. Its still a damn sight better than anything I’ve seen in an MMORPG though.

    I’m sure I’m in the minority, but I’d actually WANT to have to go wake up a questgiver in his bed if I’m trying to get a quest from him at 2 am.

    Incidentally, in World of Warcraft there are plenty of NPCs who roam around the city on preset paths (mostly guards and incidentals, but a couple of questgivers do this too). Its nice because it adds some color. Same with the girl chasing the boy who stole her dolly, and the boy who walks around selling kittens, and so on. Even some weak flavor is better than no flavor at all.

  42. A few separate thoughts….

    I’ve caught myself, a player who loves mysteries and roleplaying, just banging away at the quest givers in WoW. This is even though I suspect there are some hidden things, little mysteries and rewards, in that game.
    (I knew my time there was soon to end, even with the competition as it is.)
    A side note, I did find something interesting, hidden. It was a ghostly cat statue that could be had if you did the right things, one use items of summoning. But I also discovered that, while I could get them any time I wanted, they were fixed in level so that it quickly became useless. This is a big reason to add onto the many that I don’t like level based games, or sill based when the range of power is so string that it divides players into groups.
    At any rate, I found myself bumping through the quest givers because nothing else but levelling mattered. The game told me so in every way.
    Now, if a game told me through experiance that there is more to things, that NPCs and other things in the world are worth paying attention to, well, that’s much more interesting.
    My point is that players actions can be the product of the gaming experiance.

    Barkeeps saying hello every time you walk in….yeah, so what if players start to ignore him? It’s better than a stump of a log standing there everytime you walk in. But more is better, and if that barkeep is walking back and forth, picking up things and moving them, actually serving drinks by placing them in front of you, and telling stories of recent events, or relaying troubles in the area, now we’re talking about a bartender. The only thing missing is the ear for listening to your troubles. Even that might be simulated, hehe.

    Raph, if you think back to my suggestion of ownership rules and crime and justice, this is where a part of this comes in.
    If the bartender sells you a drink and sits a mug in front of you, it can be tagged as your property, and anyone else taking it would be flagged and you can “interact”. This is part of my whole thinking there.
    On top of that, with ownership rules, now that bartenders tables and chairs are tagged as his, or better yet, as owned by the tavern. Move them around, ok. Steal them out of the tavern and the NPC tavernkeep is going to raise an alarm and you are going to be flagged. Even a fork might be noticed if a player tries to take one. Or a good thief might be able to steal it unnoticed.
    Dancing room can be made, tables can be moved together, chairs gathered around, plates of food and mugs of ale served, etc.

    I’m sure I’m in the minority, but I’d actually WANT to have to go wake up a questgiver in his bed if I’m trying to get a quest from him at 2 am.

    Yeah, me too Moo. If players knew that this is how the game worked, If this kind of “delay” in getting the quest was common, it wouldn’t be an issue for most, I don’t think. Instead, it would be the way things are for everyone, not a once in a while delay.

  43. I think it’s possible to use NPCs, if they’re less generic, to give a lot of extra flavor to the world. This doesn’t even require advanced AI or anything, just treating them as something besides window dressing.

    What if, say, the NPCs in safe areas (the ‘newbie’ zones?) were all lounging around, gambling, sleeping and what have you, but as you neared more dangerous areas they were gaunt, dirty, dressed poorly, there’s a bandaged up soldier in the corner, shady looking foreigners, etc.

    Or even just having more idiosyncratic NPCs within a zone; a pompous fat nobleman who will throw money at you for doing menial chores, an ancient shopkeeper who can never remember what goods he has (a random rotation of items for sale? Perhaps you can find rare items to buy tucked away on shelves or in boxes?)… much of this would be possible using little more AI than current NPCs have, but at least they would actually add something instead of just standing around.

    That’s the kind of thing, like the art direction in WoW, that really does a lot but doesn’t make a good bullet point.

  44. Here’s an AI spectrum w/respect to games:

    Platformer – The “core game” is the challege of jumping and moving. No AI worth mentioning.

    Traditional IF – Moving exists. (Jumping exists in graphical ones.) The “core game” is the puzzles/challenges created by the objects. AI is limited to mechanical object behavior.

    CRPG and PvE MMORPG – Some object-based puzzles/challenges exist. The “core game” is combat with AIs.

    PvP MMORPG – The “core game” is using the combat mechanics from a PvE MMORPG against other players.

    God game – The “core game” is about hearding (AI-based) cats. Combat exists, but it is secondary to the challenge of cat hearding.

    PvP God game – The “core game” is to heard cats to attack one another.

    People game (ala: Chris Crawford and friends) – The “core game” is the individual NPCs. If combat and cat-hearding exist, they are secondary to the NPC game.

    PvP People game – The “core game” is to compete against other players via NPCs… office politics.

    Intelligent NPCs are necessary because they produce an entirely new game genre, a “people game”. I don’t want to go into detail because a handful of teams/people appear to be heading in this direction, and I don’t want to give away all my (perhaps idiotic) ideas.

  45. After reading the interesting comments so far, I have some of my own random comments.

    Amaranthar said:

    At any rate, I found myself bumping through the quest givers because nothing else but levelling mattered. The game told me so in every way.

    It’s a feedback loop between developers and the current core market. The WoW team probably knew that they were making a very streamlined and polished PEZ dispenser, but they were also focused on making the PEZ dispenser really nice.

    Do a comparative analysis of the type and amount of PEZ dispensers between different games and you’ll see what kind of dynamic activities that are “rewarded”. Can’t program a static puzzle as the solution will be recognized. Program a semi-intelligent MOB as a challenge and you can reuse it many times. Coming up with an semi-intelligent follow-the-NPC-rumor-mill quest may be new, but it’s probably easier to spend the time to upgrade the combat AI 🙂

    Using the hotel metaphor, it’s the difference between an economy hotel or a 5-star hotel from the same hotel chain. WoW is like the 5-star hotel that got lots of nice bells and whistles that gives you “reward” points for using some of their services. All the hotels got a gym or a swimming pool (which are easily build), but the 5-star hotel got the really nice spas and what-not. These extra nice services are hard and costly to add. So, going all the way, the management decided to create a Disney World as a separate line of business and to create demand for your hotels, which is all well-and-good. However, next thing you know someone else build an Universal Studio “world” right next door 🙂

    ***
    Intelligent Design: When designing a resource, an ecology or an NPC system, there has to be an active intelligent design to it and the causality must be revealed as rationale to the players (e.g. does it make sense to most poeple). If the NPC design is a static “Chinese-menu” design, then the pattern will be easily recognized by players and play-guides. However, if the design is thoughtful and interactive (like the interaction of spells in Magic: The Gathering) the possibility space is greatly expanded and players can take years to explore the interaction. If there is a fear that the interaction will “break” and result in “bugs” the decision can be made to de-tune the effect to be non-consequential at first and then carefully scale up.

    ***

    In any case, there is realtively slow progress on the NPC development front. I like to see innovative, or effective adaptation of old ideas, in this area.

    Frank

  46. From my somewhat limited understanding of interativity as concept I draw the conclusion that a mmorpg uses the brains of real people as the “think” component of the ‘listen – think – speak’ cycle of gameplay, rather than the processing power of computation.

    This leaves the processing power of all involved computers to deal with the listen and speak components where things like clever AI becomes part of the players vocabulary. If this reasoning is correct the designer of the system (read: universal human language) has the task of developing clean language. As this genre ages the levels of abstraction which can be utilized towards transmitting human connections increases, the direct communication is written (or nowadays voice) chat, the abstraction levels can possibly be seen as something that goes down a path from the directness of text through levels, equipment, guild, server-firsts and whatever vocabulary the game design allows the players to communicate reliably across cotherwise culturally unconnected humans.

    The actions a player take within the gameworld are words of the designed vocabulary. It would make sense to spend more processing power towards the goal of increasing the type of information our language can relay properly also at the higher levels of abstraction.

    Which is what I would believe Raph has been digging at for a while. (Just dont make the language muddy.)

  47. […] Why dont our NPCson Raph Koster Why dont our NPCson Raph Koster Quote: […]

  48. No, 270 voice recordings. Nobody does unique voice recordings everywhere

    What a crime 😉

  49. Here’s where I rant about how meaning is derived only from things that change the world. If the AI “flavor” has no actual impact on the world then it will be quickly ignored as players realize that it has no meaning. There may be some small, intangible gain for some subset of players with your 270 personalities but the ROI is so low as to be easily ignored.

    Good AI is very, very hard. Probably even harder than creating stable, player-friendly ecologies. There are good reasons that we have been working on AI for more than 50 years and don’t really have a whole lot to show for it (Big Blue, et al, are just very big, very ugly “hacks” with arguably very little to do with “intelligence”). What expertise we do have is sufficient for some scripted behaviors in combat, quests and other challenges and investing in good scripts for the key challenges is currently the wisest investment (from a fiscal standpoint). Neither 270 ways to say “hello” nor a dog that chases a cat are going to get or keep even a subscription. Players are far more interested in chasing each other around and interacting with the thousands of *real* personalities that are logged on to notice any of that.

  50. I mean Deep Blue of course. 🙂

  51. Really great reading so far….
    Statistically to me it would seem that the market saturation point for WOW has been reached. The achievers have achieved and are now seeing the MUDflation effects going into the new expansion. Yes you have a new tier x and +1 sword to obtain, and yes you’ll need 40 of your friends to get it. This only indicates to me that they have opted for less immersion, more time sink, and a higher brass ring. In other words a holding and retention pattern.

    Are there players who will bite, and go find the new pez dispensers? Yes, because at this point they have an investment of time, money and emotions. And loyalty to thier guilds (especially end game power gamer raiding guilds) Are these same players bored (leveling a 5th alt and having tried all classes and doing the SAME quests over again?) are there whole entire large guilds bored but going through the motions until the next game comes along? I think so. Really big, colorful malls are nice, for a bit until you’ve been thorugh it 3-5 times, and realize , yes indeed it is just a mall.

    Ambient and Radiant NPC’s?
    I think all players want some immersion to a greator or lessor extent. Weather its player generated, systemic rulesets:
    (Swg example)
    I was on my speeder, suddenly it blew up and 2 bounty hunters were on me, an imperial and a rebel BH, saber TEF isnt all that fun sometimes, I have to hide my jedi status in star ports, but man what a rush! it was just like the movies……
    (DAOC example)
    I was out near Odins gate, looking for some Hiberian or Avalonian ‘s who were scouting to come out and take some keeps. Its great being a hunter…..

    Or AI, System Generated Rule sets:
    Even ambiant NPC’s should react and have something to say, even if the reaction is pulling out a blaster I know as a player its based on my faction. And maybe I should avoid them. Or maybe its my status (Jedi) and a transport just landed and dumped 20 troopers and a probe nearby.(which will result in player BH comming after me!) Thats passive immersion, and even as an achiever its greatly appriciated.

    Radiant NPC’s thats a harder call, theres definately an expectation in the player community, even by players who enjoy bland malls, its an eye candy expectation, sure it’ll be stripped down to a How To guide on some spoiler site within a week but whats missing from this discussion is that players (at least I do anyhow) appriciate the effort, the effort to add content, and keep us immersed into the world, even if we feel there could have been more. If at least SOME immersion is there via NPC we at least know that the designers are capable and concerned and maybe will add to it later on.

    And this in the end results in a question of trust between the players and the developers(as far as I can tell). As a player if you dont have something for me to believe (my realm, the Empire) in how can I trust you as a developer to provide it later?

    Proivding a Pez dispenser and a half assed story line dosnt cut it with players who play games for long periods. Immersion, emotional attachment, trust, these are it seems to me the things that development should be concerned with capturing.

    just some observations

  52. StGabe said:
    Neither Neither 270 ways to say “hello” nor a dog that chases a cat are going to get or keep even a subscription. Players are far more interested in chasing each other around and interacting with the thousands of *real* personalities that are logged on to notice any of that.are going to get or keep even a subscription. Players are far more interested in chasing each other around and interacting with the thousands of *real* personalities that are logged on to notice any of that.

    True, but there’s two points here.

    First, comparing two games that are identical except for the 270 ways to say “hello” or a dog that chases a cat the one with these things is going to have an advantage, assuming both games are top quality (so they don’t both lose customers to a different game altogether) and that these things are implemented well.

    Secondly, considering player interaction, to have more with real meaning you need a game world that offers way to give their interactions meaning.
    NPC AI like what’s being talked about is one of several ways to help give the world meaning. It’s not just hunting the dragon, it’s also bands of orcs growing into a sizable war party and raiding player settlements, etc. And Raph’s point I think is that this is a way to do it without further efforts by a GM staff, and so saves a bunch of time. It’s meaningful game play (or can be) designed in from the get-go.

  53. First, comparing two games that are identical except for the 270 ways to say “hello” or a dog that chases a cat the one with these things is going to have an advantage, assuming both games are top quality (so they don’t both lose customers to a different game altogether) and that these things are implemented well.

    Sure. But I don’t think that’s a very compelling argument. You could add lots of things to one of those games that would make it better than the other. Most of those things would have a generally better ROI than this. I just can’t see justifying over all the other areas where a team could spend effort.

    NPC AI like what’s being talked about is one of several ways to help give the world meaning. It’s not just hunting the dragon, it’s also bands of orcs growing into a sizable war party and raiding player settlements, etc.

    I think stuff like that is great. It *does* have meaning. It’s just not at all feasible at the present time. No mud or MMORPG has made anything even approaching this complexity because it’s way out of scope with what we have the craft to do right now. I’d love to work towards that but as a short-term goal I just can’t see anything like this making it through the first pass of a realistic design process.

  54. Sounds like ages old argument about “true” DM style. Is DM job to maximize “reality” of his world? Is his job is to provide maximum fun for players? The goals are conflicting. In “real” reality NPC do move, have schedules and motivations and can even (omg!) react or hurt the player. In streamlined fun world they narrowed into neat duality of avatar-shaped quest-dispensing UI or cannon fodder with all appropriate blue/red/tombstone labeling. Obviously there is no clear answer. If players are after “alternative” yet “real” reality, they will expect and (hopefully) accept the pains of living in that reality. If they are after just having a good time it will be perceived as dumb road bumps on pleasure trip.

    That the theory. The practice (WoW) is probably best indicator *how many* players are voting with their feet for less real, more fake and more easy/fun world. life is hard enough, and games *are* a form of escapism these days. Who needs one more “darn, bloodstone shortage again, its up to 4 platinum per [wooden] barrel, what the heck Lich-King is doing???”

    Also, all these NPC features are somewhat like lipstick for the corpse. Current worlds are SOOOO fake and unrealistic, fixing NPCs not going to change it much. NPCs are NOT dominant world population. Any EQ/DaoC/Wow/etc. city has dozen of NPCs per hundreds of players running around. It doesn’t fell like high fantasy medieval world at all. It feels like AOL chat room with 3D avatars. Players doesn’t depend on world as whole or specific NPCs a single bit : they won’t die from hunger, don’t have to relocate to different city if innkeeper stops selling them food, etc. When whole canvas is so fake, small tidbits of reality don’t make it less fake – just irritating.

    Lets assume we want to try to do “real” reality. NPCs should outnumber players by factor of hundreds. Players should depend on all services and civic structures represented by NPCs. Basically the core premise of high fantasy genre – one gifted hero per hundreds of average population rising up to the challenges should become true. Assuming just 1M players with x100 NPC factor, we talking about the world with 100,000,000 active and mobile NPC. Ha! Sad truth, but with so much factors pointing toward “fun, easy, player populated world with cosmetic NPCs” it’s very unlikely that paradigm will change soon.

  55. This conversation is really interesting, and may prompt a blog post of its own, but for now, I’ll state the following things:

    1- we’re not talking about “good AI” here. We’re talking about little touches that are absurdly simple to implement. If you go back up through the list in the original post, you’ll see they are mostly trivial.

    2- We spend a lot of time on NPCs now as it is, writing custom dialogue, recording custom voice lines, creating custom appearances, naming them all, etc. I do believe there is a minimum threshold that is a player expectation. No named NPCs in a Western MMO would stick out and register as “poor quality” to the current userbase, I think.

    3- Having distinctive NPCs is important. It serves a number of useful purposes: “signposting” the world (“find the blacksmith with the obnoxious attitude, not the friendly one, he’s the one with the quest”) which players frequently use today; it serves to polish up the overall experience even if it is just window dressing (no designer should ever ignore the importance of window dressing!); it provides something for players to talk about, crack jokes about, and otherwise enjoy, however fleeting.

    ALL the content we put in is fleeting; in scale, spending a week on a half dozen little NPC behaviors like this is pretty minor. And the fact is that there aren’t “lots of things” one can add with this low a cost that can offer a significantly more distinctive experience.

  56. […] Ambition is a funny thing. I’m speaking here of the ambitions that we might have for our work, the hopes that it might entertain or touch people, and the hopes that it will do well financially. It was interesting to read the comments on the posts on interesting NPCs and UO’s resource system (1, 2, 3.) and see so many of the players get excited about possibilities — and so many of the developers wonder if it was worth the effort. […]

  57. Is DM job to maximize “reality” of his world? Is his job is to provide maximum fun for players?

    Somewhere in-between. You ever had a DM who actually took on the role of quest NPCs you were interacting with? Attempting to display his personality and have a conversation with the players rather than just saying, ‘OK. Sam the Butcher says there’s orcs on the west side of town. Get your dice ready for combat.’

    It’s quite a different experience.

  58. I think you bring up a very important point. If the NPCs were again dynamic and interactive and spontaneous, it would be fun just to exist in the virtual world, without putting all of the emphasis on playing the world as a game.

    Also, about the SWG random-spawned quests… are you sure they were taken out during beta? I definitely remember that same circumstance, or atleast something very similar happening to my character in SWG at one point.

  59. Let me be clear here: I’m interested in a good discussion. To be honest, I share your interests in more interesting NPCs, Raph, although I think I approach it from a different angle. I am interested in finding good reasons and explanations for why to spend time on making the NPCs interesting.

    As I explained in the other blog entry, “because it’s easy to do” isn’t a good reason to do something. Programming is just the first step, you also need to consider issues like maintenance and how it interacts with the dozens of other major systems in the game. I guarantee that even a simple NPC system will lead someone to want to base another system off of it, perhaps pricing off of moods or goods they buy/sell on personality. I don’t have any hopes of a one-off system remaining completely separate from the rest of the game, so it makes sense to plan for this from the start.

    Most of the issues I bring up are what I see being the major hurdles. If we can work through these issues, we can make a system like this a reality. But, like most design work, it requires a lot of forethought and planning.

    I have enjoyed the discussion, Raph. It’s the main reason I keep coming back to your blog when dozens of other sites could demand my attention. 🙂

  60. Psychochild wrote:

    I am interested in finding good reasons and explanations for why to spend time on making the NPCs interesting.

    I can’t offer much myself other than to say that Raph’s explanation of these “window dressings” as bringing what he terms delight, is spot on. Whenever I met up with a random encounter in SWG, or when I would sit and watch the ecology system where hundreds of brontosaurus like creatures would run around in herds if a carnivore came by, just made me happy. In EQ2 as well, the NPCs that would speak out without any prompting, for example one in the elven race neighborhood in Qeynos that spoke about his singing, even though I had heard them say the same lines every time, it felt good to know that “this is the guy who keeps yammering about his song rehersal”, it just made me feel more at home in the environment.

    On the other hand, I think you have a good point that it would be very hard to make a solid system for this window dressing and not want to link it in with other parts of the game. Unless you could commit yourself to not making it any more complicated than a script to move a cat around the alleyways, you’d definitely have to put some planning into it.

    On the topic of types of window dressing: What about NPCs that converse with eachother? I was reading some of the old Mud dev archives, and in a conversation about .hack//sign, they sort of diverged (that seems to happen a lot) into the fact that most times players do not spend much time talking to complete strangers spontaneously.

    So when an NPC runs up to talk to you, even though as I mentioned above it feels cool, it’s a dead giveaway that they’re an NPC, not a fellow player. What if the NPCs spent their time talking to other NPC friends? This of course gets into a more complicated system of tracking which NPCs are friends with which other NPCs, and thus bumps into the “is the effort worth it?” issue mentioned by Psychochild, and in the Ambitions blog post.

  61. Speaking of NPCs talking, what if NPCs bundled knowledge packets and carried them, sort of like “baggage”, and shared these with other NPCs they meet, as well as with players.

    Here’s a general example. Dragon attacks village, takes some livestock, and gets away. A NPC tanner is in the area living next door and witnesses this, so he gets a little bundle of knowledge “A dragon took {name, player or NPC}’s sheep (or other) {time ago, as in “two nights past”}.
    Now an NPC hunter comes to the tanner, because he’s got a load of hides to deal. As these two NPCs interact, they share “knowledge bundles”. So, now the NPC hunter carries {tanner’s name} bundle of knowledge and shares it again with other NPCs he deals with. As the hunter goes about his business, he carries his next load of hides to another village, and goes first to the local tanner and shares this bundle, and then his AI tells him that he’s hungry and thirsty so he goes to the closest tavern, where he shares this bundle with the barkeep.

    Players could access these bundles through keywords. “Dragon”, the name of the innicial owner of the lost livestock, the name of the last passer of the bundle, etc. (I’d suggest that instead of NPC’s just speaking up at hearing keywords, that they first must be addressed by name to start a conversation, which would send him into a conversive mode for a limited time, and at this point he now would hear what those around him say and respond. Otherwise assume he’s busy doing his own thing and not paying attention.

  62. By the way, in that post I hope you can see that here again the issue of ownership comes into play. The NPC wouldn’t take note of the incident except that it’s a crime, so that’s the trigger here.

    Another thing to tie into this is that players could have the ability to issue knowledge bundles to NPCs through some mechanic, maybe saying “I want you to know”, or writting a letter to the NPC. Obviously there’d need to be some limiting features here, such as limited text space, timing out of bundles (a week or two?), a limit to the number of bundles from a single source, etc.

    With this players could now advertise player events, and town criers might shout out these text if paid, or NPCs might simply respond to keywords (tagged by the player) about the event.

    More importantly, players could use a system like this to pass along secret info. A thieves guild in a large player town might use NPCs to pass along business issues with secret passwords.

  63. Dundee and I made the NPCs react to players in Ackadia (UO Emulator), as well. I wrote a bunch of little things that the NPCs would say to the players as they walked through the door (sometimes about other players), and Dundee made it so the NPCs would say ’em as players came near.

    As for UO, I was in it after most of the NPC stuff was already taken out, unfortunately. Even so, I have fond memories all these years later of Monroe, Dexter, and their green cloth. What a hoot that was.

  64. […] Also, it’s more than a little ironic that we’re talking about this shortly after Raph discussed how the UO team implemented a similar hand-crafted system into UO. https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/06/09/why-dont-our-npcs/ Name Email Website Your comment […]

  65. […] Raph Koster ber NPCs in Onlinespielen einer der Onlinespiele Gurus, der u.a. Spiele wie Ultima Online, Star Wars und Everquest II mit designed hat, schrieb einen sehr interessanten Artikel ber NPCs. Darin sieht man, dass NPCs immer weniger real wurden im Lauf der Online Geschichte und was es fr Mglichkeiten gbe. Sehr anregend zu lesen! https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/06/09/why-dont-our-npcs/ "In thinking about the UO resource system in recent posts, I also got to thinking about other things that we either wanted to or tried to get the NPCs to do. Today, NPCs have gradually evolved more and more towards being quest dispensers. Originally, we wanted NPCs that would give the illusion of life. But there were a few bumps on the road, and today NPCs in all the games pretty much suck. Moving around was actually one of the biggest bumps. One of the most obvious cues that an NPC is actually nothing more than a quest dispenser is to make them immobile terminals with hovering icons over their head. Yet this is what players demand. In early UO the NPCs moved about there was even some attempt to make them move about purposefully, from trade implement to trade implement, but that failed. When the NPCs would move around while you were trying to talk to them, players objected, and then eventually the NPCs were frozen in place because their primary purpose was as a dispenser of items. I fought this for a long time because I hated the notion of reducing the NPCs back down Anyway, heres some of the big areas that I think are hugely underexploited in NPCs today." Mehr, siehe beigefgten Link. […]

  66. […] I WAS exited about nwn2, but recent news has been turning me increasingly off. First there were the allusions to the memory footprint of outdoor areas. Since the amount of memory that 32 bit windows (64 bit is explicitly unsupported) can support in a single process is rather small, this puts an instant kibosh on large worlds unless you go to a server cluster rather than a single server. This is still viable, true; but considerably more expensive to support than a single server. The issue with the lack of DM client at launch seems to have blown over, but two other things haunt me. A regular on the bio boards pointedly asked if there will be a standalone server and as yet, a few days later, no dev has given an definitive answer. That gives me the impression that it is on the to do if there is time list and there is never enough time in software projects. The pessimist in me expects nwn2 to ship without initial support for a standalone server. Having to host a PW from the player or DM client makes it that much harder to host one 24/7. Lastly, it is not yet clear exactly what must be pre-downloaded by the players before they can connect. In any case the walkmesh will have to be downloaded. If it were just the walkmesh, it would be annoying, but not the end of the world. It would mean that server updates could not go online at will, but would have to be announced in advance so everyone could get the new files downloaded. If it includes other info beyond the walkmesh, then we are in for a new era of enhanced metagaming. What Id like to see in general (not limited to any server): Everyone mentions dynamism. Dynamisn is HARD to implement. Real dynamism https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/06/09/why-dont-our-npcs/ You can kind of fake it with a couple of things: […]

  67. […] FFB: Raph Koster recently posted a post on his weblog with great examples of making NPCs something MORE than just random quest dispensers. Certainly, most of these examples are things that we probably won’t see for some time in an MMOG, at least not all of them together. But can you tell us if there are any plans to make NPCs in PotBS more immersive? For example, I read that it will be possible to actually get relationships with certain NPCs, do you still have things like this planned? JL: We have a very extensive and dynamic single-player storyline planned for PotBS. And by dynamic, I mean that the choices you make as a player will change the way the story unfolds around you. For example, if two NPCs offer competing missions, then there will be rewards and CONSEQUENCES for the choices you make. The NPC you help out will develop a relationship with you, treating you as a friend, while the one you snub will treat you as an enemy. Certain new missions will be open to you, while others may close. Beyond the single-player experience, there will be an element of diplomacy to the overall game as well. If you make it your life’s work to hunt down the Bloody Arms Pirates, then they’ll likely, well, hate you—which means they’ll target you whenever they get the chance and never offer you any missions. But at the same time, the British Navy might smile on you for cleaning out the riffraff (even if you’re not a member of the British nation), offering protection on the high-seas and special missions in their ports. Of course, in persistent areas you’ll also see NPCs going about their daily lives. In pirate towns, NPCs can get into fights. In military outposts you’ll see soldiers going through drills. In the taverns you’ll see drunks, well, getting drunk. You can expect a lot of pirate-themed activity on the wharfs and in the towns. Gambling, cat calls, street-musicians, peddlers, swimmers, fishermen . . . nearly anything you can image happening in a town in 1720 you will find. […]

  68. […] After a week in Coalbrookdale, near Ironbridge, near Telford playing with iron casting, smelting and liquid metal, my thoughts are much more situated in the natural world than the computerised one. To ease back into my technological side, here’s a strange structure which bridges the gap between the two: an animal-controlled version of Pac Man, with crickets acting as ghosts (look for graduation projects from 2003/2004).From creator Wim van Eck’s colleague’s blog:In his project he build a Pacman game, in that the player can play Pacman against real crickets, that controls the ghosts in the Pacman maze. By doing this he analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of real-time behaviour of live animals in comparison to behavior-generating code in computer games. A very clever approach to examining AI in computer games. More of a trawl through the bursting RSS feeder exposes that Raph was thinking along similar lines (without the crickets) in an essay he posted about what we need (and should start to expect) from NPC characters. He focuses heavily upon MMOGs, but the points he raises are relevant across the gaming spectrum. Via his blog:Players objected quite a lot to seeing the fictional dressing stripped away from the modern quest dispenser NPCs in SWG, seeing them as actual metallic terminals. And yet, that’s how our NPCs act today anyway. We should swing the pendulum back a little bit. I, and I think many other players, would gladly trade some inconvenience for a world that feels a little less like a pellet dispenser. There are still a few issues to work out in Eck’s project before crickets become the benchmark for in-game AI, however. At one point, a bug shed its skin thus rendering the colour-detection system completely ineffective. Game over. The NPC challenge still remains, and is one of the hardest nuts to crack in the mainstream acceptance of gaming as an artistic and respectable medium. […]

  69. […] In games where even spear-carriers are promoted to special status, by features such as more varied NPC conversation systems, capabilities to give rumors, persistence (such as persistent randomly-named but killable shopkeepers, like UO had), or even procedural quest generation, then you end up wanting to make even your spear-carriers have these characteristics. If Falstaff happens to be rolled up, has something memorable attached to him, and hangs around in the bad part of town for six weeks until he is killed and never returns, that can be of real value. His hat can still be a trophy. […]

  70. […] My favorite is still the stuff that surrounded the wisps in Ultima Online. I wrote about it in a blog post about NPCs: Stagecraft definitely has a huge place; not everything must be modeled to a high level of detail. My favorite system I have ever done along those lines is the nonhuman script in Ultima Online. As a primer, you may want to read A Grammar of Orcish by Yorick of Yew. […]

  71. […] I wish I had known about Mr. Koster’s blog a long time ago, there have been some great posts there. In particular, I love this one: Why dont our NPCs […]

  72. […] Raph’s blog and what he is saying. How I forgot to have Raph Koster’s blog listed eludes me. But recently he talked about the ecology that was originally planned/attempted in the early UO and the reasons that it didn’t work (Part 1, 2, 3).Which is very interesting to me, since I have been reading up what I can. In a strangely related piece UO had helped me while reading “Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity”. In the preface Dr. Holland uses the word “untrammeled”, which is a word that I never expected to see in print and only know the meaning because of the facet debates (putting it nicely). Someone had found and listed the definition of trammel: literary restrictions or impediments to freedom of action and is the name of the non-pvp facet in UO (I can only guess that the designer that came up with the name might not have liked the idea of non-pvp facet). Side note, the book is pretty good, but it can be hard reading for a layman and probably a bit deeper than what could be workable for a game setting.Raph also has a great write-up about NPC’s. Where he compares them to “pellet dispenser”, which isn’t far from the truth. Also nothing breaks the suspension of reality when you have a NPC with a big green “!” above their head.I can only hope that the right people are reading Raph’s ideas (despite my desire, I don’t kid myself about being able to build something so complex). Who knows, maybe someone with lots of money to throw around could get Raph and Richard Bartle together to design a MMO. […]

  73. […] by Michael Chui on Mon Oct 01, 2007 11:07 pm Scopique wrote:And don’t forget the stuff that didn’t MAKE it into UO, like the dynamic ecosytem.If you have no idea what he’s talking about,https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/06/03/uo … ce-system/https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/06/04/uo … em-part-2/https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/06/05/uo … em-part-3/Also,https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/06/09/why-dont-our-npcs/ […]

  74. […] great example comes from this Raph Koster blog entry where he discusses (under “Faking You Out”) some shenanigans pulled by UO. Stagecraft […]

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