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Silvermyst

NPC-less world

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What would a world without NPCs look like? And why would a world be without NPCs in the first place? What would be the benefits of not having NPCs around? And what would be the problems? (just to start this, later more thoughts... all fun no work makes Silver a poor man)

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Quickly responding to my own rambling to beat you all to the punch...

With all the problems NPC AI causes (mainly communication-wise), why not create some form of world where we don''t need NPCs at all?

Players would simply deal with eachother instead of with computer controlled merchants, guards etc.

But, how would we explain that the world is made up out of
a) evil monsters
b) good (or evil) players who just bleep in every now and then only to bleep out later (log in, log out)

Well, let''s come up with a reason.

-the players are all gods who merely ''beam'' down onto this ''evil'' planet every now and then to fight evil (face it, technology will leave us with mainly combat-rpgs for a while)

-the world is a virtual world (how creative ) where the monsters are bugs. Just see it as Earth somewhere in the future, where the entire world evolves only with the aid of computers, but where a mishap has caused the computer to be infested by bugs. The players are hackers who have to cleanse the virtual world.

I seem to have woken up with only half my mind it seems, but maybe this is making sense to at least someone out there

Silvermyst

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NPC''s are all computer controled characters anyway, so as you say Silvermyst, a world of just Player Characters is what you''d get... Which restricts it to an Multi-player game ( or something like tetris or bolderdash... unless you wish to count falling blocks as NPC''s of course )

Some games, like "Starfleet Command" function very well without NPC''s its just two player controled spaceships trying to blow each other up, thats (basically) it, last one standing wins...

In fact something like that would work very well, even if the players were not constrained to one "map" and could run into each other (not literally ramming each other... unless that was the players intention) where ever they wanted to.

Players can only ''leave'' the world if they (for exapmle) landed on a planet... planet bombardment does nothing.



The benifits of not having NPC''s arround of course is that the programmer doesnt need to waste resources (memory) with NPC''s and any AI (depending on the control system, you may have some pathfinding AI) which means a BIGGER and or MORE DIVERSE world with more treasure, etc... (woohoo)

The biggest problem is having some system that prevents the bigger and stronger players picking off the newbies...




Thats all of my thoughts for the moment.... more to come.. maybe!

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Guest Anonymous Poster
well I have a design doc for a political RPG that I designed but probably will never make. The only NPCs are these big hive mind apes that work for you, you put them in shops and they make stuff and then people just grab what they want. The whole game is based around trying to control resources. There is no leveling based on time played or fighting, but there are powerups produced by sites which the territorial leaders can distribute to followers. The whole system is designed to encourage all types of gameplay: combat, spying, trade, political, and so on. Once I took the NPCs out of the game it all came together.

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quote:
Original post by Silvermyst

What would a world without NPCs look like?



Doesn''t this depend heavily on what you do in the game world? If you only kill things (not a value judgement, btw) then you''ve got 4 player Diablo in the dungeons, right? PvP or PvComp deathmatch interaction.

One of the problems I''ve found is that designing a SF RPG-like game at the starship interaction level is the problem of personality. There''s a sort of boring numbness when humans are removed. If you''ve ever played the Star Wars flight sim games (X-Wing, Tie Fighter) you''ll notice that they have this problem, as you only go after machines. Total Annihilation, the RTS where machines slug it out, also had this problem. It''s hard to describe, but there''s definitely something missing.

quote:

And why would a world be without NPCs in the first place?



It''s an abandoned, alien infested colony and the players are the surviving colonists. Or it''s a dark, accursed land, and the players, blessed by the High Templar, have traveled across the sea to rid the land of evil. Or the Sea Gods have chosen you all as champions.

quote:

What would be the benefits of not having NPCs around?



Likely several design and tech benefits. Fewer network messages, more simple interaction paradigms (probably kill stuff), more streamlined interface (no tree based or parser dialog methods).

quote:

And what would be the problems?



The biggest problem would be the Lord of the Flies rampant PKer effect if PvP combat is possible. You could cure that by not allowing players to fight each other, or forcing them to choose clans.

The next big problem would be lack of depth. What''s to keep you playing? Once you''ve killed Storm Elementals and Multidimensional Ramblers, homicidal depression sets in. There''s no more challenge.

If you were to allow players to do everything that NPCs could do, then you could get interesting interactions in terms of trade and cooperation. But you''d have to design things so that players actually NEED each other.

You would also need to find a way to protect newbies (the Clan concept could work). I''d personally have a problem in this environment with people playing out of character: CoolDood the Dwarf would break my immersion, but then, that''s why I don''t play MM games as a rule anyway.

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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Note that a world without NPC''s does not neccessarily mean a world with lots of PCs. I can solve the world of evil guys and player characters bleeping in and out with 3 words.

No other characters

I''ll give one example of a world without characters

How about you are the lone survivor on a world decimated by an asteriod? Your goal might be to try and find your way to a spaceship, launch it with you inside, and head for a colony. There would be absolutely no fighting. Some might consider that a benefit. Also, you''d be free to explore the world as long as you like. No nasty guards to tell you not to step on the roses The problems would be the game might seem kinda lonely. Also, games without challenges aren''t fun, so you''d need some kind of challenge. Logically things like.

The world would sorta break down without other people. Any available machinery still working would grind to a hold or be destroyed.

Maybe their are now sharp cliffs and hole where ground use to be, so walking is dangerous.

Don''t forget lava pits.

Now, one question might be, why would you survive and no one else. Well, if you were on a spaceship coming back from the moon, and a really big asteriod hit while you were in space, everyone would die, and you''d be alive. Launching a rocket may be a little difficult, maybe that would be the challenge of the game?

I''ll leave you guys there.

Another example of a world without characters would be, say the world was destroyed by a mutated virus, then promptly died off without anything to infect, while you were protected some how? You''re goal would be to
a) Find another human
b) Fly off to a colony, assuming there is one
c) Try to survive
d) If it is a sci-fi game, go back in time and stop the virus

-Blackstream

I''m feeling creative today

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WAVINATOR:

Well, I was thinking along the lines of an online ''rpg'' world (ala Everquest and Ultima Online) but where players would take on the tasks of the NPCs.

I wish we could think even further, to a game where each and every living being is player controlled (read: NPC and MOB alike would not be there).

You''re right, there has to be a NEED for players to work together... and a REASON for them to not work together.

The problem with ''players'' is that they can''t play 24/7. You have to count (hope) on about 1 or two hours per day. That I think is a nice target to aim for. So then, what kind of world would it be, where entities are only there for about 5-10% of the day?

I think to create a game like this, we have to drop most of the ''rpg'' conventions. But I think there''s a possibility out there to create something. Something that works. Something that makes sense.

I think that the ''virtual world'' idea might work. Throw in a lot of Gibson (I hope that''s him... the guy that wrote Neuromancer) and really keep in mind the fact that players will only be online for a short part of the day... and that players will control everything that goes on (except for ''events etc)

You''re right in that one of the benefits would be that designers wouldn''t have to spend time/money on creating NPC structures etc.

One thing that might help to avoid the player-time problem is to let players set up auto-tasks that their characters can perform online while the players themselves are offline (which would in game terms make the character an NPC).

Silvermyst

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Hmmm, you post a topic like this and would not expect me to challenge it? Me! The NPC activist! . Anyway... I say that worlds at the moment pretty much have no NPC''s anyway... They just have a few pixels and a couple of comments. But without these, the world would seem empty. They actually REALLY need to advance NPC''s before people can consider whether or not to remove them. Anyway... I say that you could remove NPC''s altogether in MMO[ex-]RPG[-ish], but only if you could give the players the ability to roleplay the blacksmith and the shopkeeper etc... Otherwise your game WILL be empty...

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - Site:"The Philosophers' Stone of Programming Alchemy" - IOL
The future of RPGs - Thanks to all the goblins over in our little Game Design Corner niche
          

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Well, as they are practically non-existant...

And as it seems out of our reach to let NPCs become a real part of interaction (communication and response), why don''t we see if we can come up with a game where we don''t need NPCs.

NOT a game where we scrap NPCs, but a game where we design from a standpoint that does not NEED NPCs.

And I guess we should aim for a game that will let the player choices about what to do with his or her time while playing in the virtual world that the game will provide (which almost makes it into a rpg, although rpg is VERY broad in my views).

Basically, the game would have to let/force the players to take care of all the things that NPCs take care of now. This actually might prove a more difficult task than to let the NPCs do them, as NPCs can be programmer controlled and easily adjusted, but player characters might prove harder to keep in control.

Silvermyst

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I think that if you are implying that we remove the poor excuses for NPCs that we have now, then it comes up with another problem. If you are intending to tell a story, then you would have to do so through cutscenes or (like myst) messages left on the ground. For people who have read Fiests books, remember when Pug went to a desolate world to save Ganima? He had to figure everything out for himself, and there were only a few things around. He figured out how to use magic and also figured out how to talk with the glyphs (forgive my memory, but it was a long time ago that I read it... I am nearly up to it again).

Anyway, an NPCless game would probably be suited to a puzzle solving game, which then would be useful in Naz''s story-less game. I think that the combination would work.

As for me helping with removing NPC''s from games - I think it would be a conflict of interest.

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - Site:"The Philosophers' Stone of Programming Alchemy" - IOL
The future of RPGs - Thanks to all the goblins over in our little Game Design Corner niche
          

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Have you ever played Underlight?

They have no NPCs (except monsters). They basically have real players playing teachers who teach players about the game and give them stuff. I didn't play the game very long, but it seems like the idea had potential.

Actually, Silver, are you specifically talking about multiplayer or single player...or just games in general?

I think NPCs play drastically different roles in single vs. multiplayer games


"All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be --Pink Floyd
Need help? Well, go FAQ yourself.



Edited by - Nazrix on November 1, 2000 6:05:24 PM

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Yeah, in single they hint to the story, or tell it. In MM they just trade and occasionally give out quests (they do this in single too).

No, I haven''t played Underlight, but being a bit strapped for cash, I am unable to get my hands on much. When I do get some money together I will be forking out on 3DSMax anyway Maybe with some [ex-]RPG[-ish]''s along with it

Anyway... Even in single player you can have a world devoid of life. I would like to see a myst style RPG[-ish] game. There are no people, just clues everywhere. You have to discern what you have to achieve and how you are to achieve it. Make it that the whole world is being held captive somewhere (or something like that) and you must find a way of bringing them back...

Anyway... That is just an idea

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - Site:"The Philosophers' Stone of Programming Alchemy" - IOL
The future of RPGs - Thanks to all the goblins over in our little Game Design Corner niche
          

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Well, Underlight is free for 30 days plus it''s a free download (like 25mgs though). I couldn''t really get into it but I respect their idea to try something new.

In my personal opinion, I agree with dwarfsoft. I would like to see deeper NPCs before throwing them out. I think deep NPCs offer more than no NPCs, but that''s just my opinion.


"All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be --Pink Floyd
Need help? Well, go FAQ yourself.

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To stick completely with the idea of an NPC-less MMOG, think about a couple of things.

dwarfsoft mentioned something that I think needs to be looked at: Why do you have NPCs in the first place? Why do they do, and why does it have to be done that way?

Take the shopkeeper for instance. He acts as more than just the trade site, even if he does nothing but sell items. For a fantasy RPG, he fits into the world fiction (he''s expected), and he makes the world a bit less lonely.

But you could just as easily replace it with something magical or, for future RPGs, automated. The automated item dispensers in System Shock worked fine for this.

NPCs often serve not just as elements of story, but as dispensers of information, virtual companions, and service workers.

I''m a bit nervous about the idea of players becoming shopkeepers and blacksmiths. From the feedback I''ve gotten here I don''t see a lot of enthusiasm for exploring the nuts and bolts of nontraditional roles (doctor, engineer, bank robber). So I have even less hope for more pedestrian roles like baker or tailor. I know Ultima Online forced you to do these activities, but there was no game there. Just gathering required items and clicking.

If it were me, I''d make a world whose world fiction supported teleporting. VR is a bit too nebulous to grasp (in my view). The world would be filled with ancient alien ruins, and people would be "gating" in to study, explore, and maybe get rich quick.

Much of the game would involve negotiating traps, exploring the environment, and fighting off the biomechanical nightmares that guard the place. Services would all be automated, and players might even have to figure out how to get them working to change the environment (i.e., need ammo? better get that nanoreplicator online! need air? better get those filters up and running).

A fun part of the game would be fitting together alien artifacts to create services. For ex., you could get components to make a building more secure, and provide a makeshift hotel. Or you could pull together defenses, and make a bunker, or an armored bank. Players then could have an investment online and off, and have to think about both what could happen to them while playing and after they log out.

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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Guest Anonymous Poster
dude I''m telling you guys my ape idea is all you need, unless you have some sort of plot you want to put in your game. What you do is you go to the wild ape tribes and steal their eggs (yes these apes lay eggs). You bring them home and give them to your Clan leader. He has a spell that taints the egg, instead of being gray it is now your team color. The ape that hatches has fur in your team color. It will obey any commands you give it, but there are only like half a dozen "follow" "carry" "work" and so forth. You have one follow you to the work area and tell it to work. It starts working and produces goods which it just throws in a pile for people to take. It you put it in a mine it mines metal. If you put it in a armor making place it makes armor from metal. Of course items wear out, otherwise there would be no need to make more. Also there would be like 20 unique products and it would be impossible for your empire to make more than half a dozen, trade would be very important.

So you''d have players grabbing stuff from their shops and running off to trade it with another empire. Opposing teams of course will set ambushes along important trade routes. The rest of the game is fun enough that there is no need for monsters or NPCs who can talk. Monsters are just other players, and instead of having quest giving NPCs you have a leader to report to. The game would run three hours a day at the same time every day. So if you play the full three hours you don''t miss a thing. Even if you only play an hour or two you are able to be there for most of it. It wouldn''t just be endless killing either (there would be a lot of killing though, people like that) there would be a lot of running and hiding, and bargaining, betrayal, it just goes on and on, you don''t need significant NPCs. Shopkeepers aren''t needed either if you design a dynamic trade and resource system based on territorial control and interdependance.

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Why hasn''t anyone mentioned System Shock (2)? The only "NPCs" are robots and mutants, and the story is advanced via e-mails and old voice records. The original reason why they didn''t include NPCs in SS was because they didn''t think multiple-choice or linear dialog was good enough solution for communication.

-Jussi

"Show me your hands. No, not your feet!"

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hehe, i was just thinking the same thing reading through the thread...re SS2...good that i finished reading

Here''s some ideas about System Shock 2...guys, I hate to admit i''m a chicken, but that game was scary. lonely. and gruesome. just walking down the hallways, and the sounds of "we are, we are, we ARE!" sending shivers down my spine. ARGH!

i think we need NPCs. We need them badly. But we have to advance their technology first, as you ppl said. That we cannot do by flinching from the challenge, like the guys who programmed SS2 did. I do think it''s a great game. But this atmosphere...i don''t know. I hate it when it''s both scary and lonely. Can''t imagine people getting kicks from that.

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The biggest problem with making more complex NPC AI in MMORPGs is that every extra CPU cycle used by the AI code is multiplied by all the NPCs in the game world. This adds up to a lot of extra hardware needed to support the game which cuts into the game developer''s bottom line. This combined with the fact that present MMORPGs don''t even have _enought_ NPCs to make the game world seem fully inhabited makes it kinda hard to concider better AI.

-Daedalus

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Guest Anonymous Poster
ok I think there are two seperate issues here, multiplayer and single player. Many single player games benefit from having well done NPCs, some games require good NPCs. Multiplayer games on the other hand should not have NPCs. If they do need NPCs then some other part of your design is flawed, and you are trying to use NPCs as a bandaid.

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quote:
Original post by Daedalus

The biggest problem with making more complex NPC AI in MMORPGs is that every extra CPU cycle used by the AI code is multiplied by all the NPCs in the game world. This adds up to a lot of extra hardware needed to support the game which cuts into the game developer''s bottom line. This combined with the fact that present MMORPGs don''t even have _enought_ NPCs to make the game world seem fully inhabited makes it kinda hard to concider better AI.

-Daedalus


Personally, I don''t think that NPC''s in an MMORPG[-like] really do cost much in CPU time. The AI code may be multiplied by all of the NPC''s in the game world right? But you have lots of users with machines who are not doing the AI! So you can share the NPC AI code out to each of your users. MM really allows a LOT of SMART NPC''s instead of very few but very stupid ones. But the real reason people tend to use NPC''s is to tell the story, so in MMORPG[-like]''s they become redundant. Maybe designers should find a new use for them if they intend to use them...

But it would be rather bad once you set up your system and the first user makes the FIRST appearance on your MM server... And there is NOBODY there... That is when you need NPC''s

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - Site:"The Philosophers' Stone of Programming Alchemy" - IOL
The future of RPGs - Thanks to all the goblins over in our little Game Design Corner niche
          

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Come on, my idea has to have some merits. A world without NPCs doesn''t have to mean goggles of PCs.

(start crazy thinking)
Hmm, what about a multiplayer game where you never see the other players, but rather, the effects of what those players did. Like, um, you would share the same world with the rest of the PCs but you couldn''t see them because they are on a different plane or something. Then, to communicate, you couldn''t talk, but you had to manipulate the environment somehow to get their attention. And you could solve puzzles by making areas that only people in certain planes could get in or something. So, to get in, you''d have to find someone without knowing where they were.
(end crazy thinking)

To answer the last post. What if, say, you had a world with so many NPCs, and after so many players came in, 1 NPC got killed by a dragon or something, so eventually, it was just players in the world? That way, when somebody first entered your game, there would be people there, albit dumb, and eventually, all the "dumb" NPC''s would disappear and only leave the PCs.

-Blackstream

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quote:
Original post by Blackstream

Come on, my idea has to have some merits. A world without NPCs doesn''t have to mean goggles of PCs.




I realise this... I am writing up a bit on this thread in the GDCorner doc which is based purely around single player. It gives you a Myst like world which has been abandoned. And Ecco the Dolphin also comes to mind when thinking about a world devoid of life... Though Eccos world wasn''t devoid, it was still teaming, just his family was gone....

quote:

(start crazy thinking)
Hmm, what about a multiplayer game where you never see the other players, but rather, the effects of what those players did. Like, um, you would share the same world with the rest of the PCs but you couldn''t see them because they are on a different plane or something. Then, to communicate, you couldn''t talk, but you had to manipulate the environment somehow to get their attention. And you could solve puzzles by making areas that only people in certain planes could get in or something. So, to get in, you''d have to find someone without knowing where they were.
(end crazy thinking)



I think that they still count as NPC''s if they do stuff, even if you can''t interact directly with them. I think it may even require more AI than currently used for just the simple dialog tree conversations that some NPC''s have as their total AI.

quote:

To answer the last post. What if, say, you had a world with so many NPCs, and after so many players came in, 1 NPC got killed by a dragon or something, so eventually, it was just players in the world? That way, when somebody first entered your game, there would be people there, albit dumb, and eventually, all the "dumb" NPC''s would disappear and only leave the PCs.

-Blackstream


That didn''t escape my notice... I was just stating that you need something there at the start... You could remove them later

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - Site:"The Philosophers' Stone of Programming Alchemy" - IOL
The future of RPGs - Thanks to all the goblins over in our little Game Design Corner niche
          

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Actually, when I was talking about the plane shifted world, I was talking about a world void of NPCs. The characters you would be interacting with would be PCs. So there would be no dialogue trees or AI. The only special coding you have to do is make the other PCs invisible and intangible to the other PCs. Then you could see some dang weird stuff like floating rocks and stuff Of course, coming up with a point for the game would be interesting. Maybe your quest would be to align the planes back to normal or something. And yes, this multiplayer game would have to be non-static.

And actually, I kinda thought that if there were NPCs, they would be on a realm that all PCs could see. Kinda weird, it would be like this
Plane 2----------PC #2
Plane 1-PC #1----|
------------|----|
------------|----|
-------------\--/
--------------\/
Plane 0------NPCs

In other words, a PC can interact with all NPCs, NPCs can interact with all PCs, but PCs can''t interact with other PCs. The story line might be that there was a great magic battle between wizards at your town, and the planes were torn apart. Some people were unlucky enough to be at the place where the plane was torn apart, and were thrown into another plane. The people who play the online game would take the role of those people. NPCs would be the people who weren''t caught in the plane tear. And your goal would be to figure out a way to realign the planes. Could be anything from an RPG, to a Mystery Game, to an adventure game. Heck, it could even be a FPS, but that would be streaching it.

But that has nothing to do with the no NPCs thing, and I''m going off on a tangent. Bascially, I''m just suggesting a weird version of a NPC-less world, where you can''t see the PCs, but they are there.

-Blackstream

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