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Nytehauq

Providing the player incentives instead of "paths"

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I dream of a game that exists in a generalized world. The player controls a character that is customizable on a variety of levels, and the game doesn't provide a specific "purpose" for the player in the world. There isn't a straightforward level based progression scheme as in action games (Beat the first boss, go to the second level, beat the second boss, etc.) and no "encounters" are planned specifically with the intent of the player coming across them and beating them for reward. Essentially, you have a dynamic and shifting world powered by some simple form of AI, populated with non-player characters that have varying degrees of power and varying desires, all autonomously seeking out things in the world with their own artificial "self purpose." The player is thrown into this world to make something of him or herself. However, the player isn't given a path to go down. The game world is large enough with enough powerful entities (Dieties, etc.) autonomously shaping things and enough gameplay incentives to give the player reasons to explore the game world. You want the player to play so that they can experience the world and the stories that take place in it (Stories enabled by NPC's) and gain power/progress as a character for the sake of influencing, controlling, and building parts of the world. A good analogy would be "real life, unlimited" The world is full of powers beyond your control, people with their own ideals and motives, and people find reasons to do lots of things in the real world. Well, lets take that schema and dynamic and build a fantasy based simulation that functions on similar principles, but get rid of the "power ceiling" and allow the player to explore a world that approaches the dynamic nature of the real world but provides for escapism in allowing the player to garner more and more power and try and alter things as they see fit within the constraints of gameplay. Instead of a game populated with "leveling," "grinding," "quests," "bosses," "milestones," and other such arbritrary divisions, why not try and design a world where the player makes meaning out of what is given to them instead of prescribing it to them? If it were technically feasible to design an autonomous game world, would you buy into it? Lets say you take a generic MMORPG world and replace the typecast quests (E.g. collect y many of x item, escort x person to y place, kill x dragon for y reward, kill x many of y monster etc.) and characters (Characters exist on scales of power and morality. Conflicts in most games come in the form of the powerful evil characters taking advantage of the weak but good characters and you having to save them) and instead replace the static "questgiver" or "task" based gameplay with a system of autonomous non-static NPC's. Wavinator made a post about "reactive random events" some time ago, essentially a system where factions and entities could "control" certain areas of the gameworld and the player's experience would be shaped based on where they were in the world. If you were in "space pirate" territory, you'd have a high chance of running into space pirates. If you defeated them, they might decide to leave you alone for awhile. I like the idea, it's rational, but it's still random. Lets say you've got a deterministic world full of entities who have specific goals. There are bandits who like to rob banks, some like to kidnap people. There are evil sentient demi-gods who like to cause environmental havoc, and some conveniently absent good gods who need to call on you to do their bidding, and there are some neutral gods who swing either way at times. The conflict and interactions between the small (bandits, thieves, townsfolk) and the large (gods, devils, switzerland ;P) provide the player with oppurtunities to achieve. The "good" gods want you to fight off a demon uprising inspired by one of the "evil" gods, and the evil gods want you to help in their insurrection, and the neutral gods want you to get reconnisance on the evil gods without the good ones knowing. Which do you choose? There's the value in it! If you create autonomous beings in your game world with generic and easily modifiable motives and desires, you can essentially supply the player with an endless series of procedurally generated content, the product of the sentient and ongoing conflicts you have created via your world's varied characters and powers. In this way, the player can find incentives via moral dilemas and their standpoint on life, instead of a path to go down. The game doesn't "expect" you to side with the good, it is the objective staging ground for a bunch of fictional characters that all "seek" to control and modify it as they see fit. The player can then take advantage of the opportunities provided in these conflicts to experience gameplay, better their character, do whatever. If that's all to vague and esoteric for you, here's the simple version: Would you like to play in a fantasy world of apparently sentient gods and demons? Would you prefer making choices as to your progress instead of following paths planned out for you?

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AKA something like Oblivion without the storylines but keeping guild like quests?

I'm not sure how great this would be. What sort of cut-off are you thinking about - can you talk to npcs? Do they talk about events that happen... do they get you to do things for them ('quests')?

What is the difference between a quest, a path or an incentive?

I just feel like you would be wandering around with no real purpose... players want progression in an rpg-like world. If it was coop this may be different, but a game really needs to place a target for the player, provide them with something to do. As long as there were plenty of interesting things to do, then it would be great.

I've had a look around and I believe that it's hard to dynamically generate different interesting things that happen.

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Original post by umbrae
AKA something like Oblivion without the storylines but keeping guild like quests?


Not really...Oblivion is still a planned out game with a "branching" storyline, but those branches are still written into the game. You can choose which branch you want, but you're still going out on a specific branch.

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I'm not sure how great this would be. What sort of cut-off are you thinking about - can you talk to npcs? Do they talk about events that happen... do they get you to do things for them ('quests')?


Essentially, each NPC is an automated AI with its own "desires" and wants. You might have a farmer NPC that interacts with his environment by tending to crops and has a set of reactions to certain types of events (If bandits come into town, this NPC is programmed to try and protect his family but will leave the bandits be if they don't threaten him or his livelyhood). This NPC might need some help with something that falls outside of his normal list of actions but still serves to fullfill his programmed desires (Needs a different type of seed for his next crop, or was attacked by bandits and wants someone powerful to help him get revenge). Essentially, you populate the world with characters with opposing desires and motives and the player finds things to do by "helping" those characters fullfill their "personal" desires. Any reward is incidental - there may be a farmer you don't choose to help because you either disagree with his motives or the payment isn't worth your time. Contrast this with a game where you're better off just doing "everything" every questgives tells you because there is one linear type of progression. The key is that you create a world where NPC's don't exist for the sake of the player. That farmer might ask another NPC for help instead of you or the next random hero that walks by. He might even distrust you because you're a stranger. More detailed NPC's create a more detail world, ripe with roleplaying oppurtunities (if you're dealing with an RPG) or unplanned "progression." You can interact with these NPC's through contextual menus, each menu scripted to be populated with issues that may be of concern to the NPC, based on their character makeup.

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What is the difference between a quest, a path or an incentive?


Why do you do a quest in a standard RPG, except for the fact that it gives "experience?" You're expected to do quests, because that is the defacto point of the game. Get more experience points, get more powerful, get better gear etc. The player is given a path to follow.

Now, in life, are you given a path to follow? You're born into a world with a number of options open to you in most cases, and you choose which opportunities to capitalize on. That's the difference between a "path" and an "incentive." Life is full of incentives, games tend to be full of paths and quests, and false choices.

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I just feel like you would be wandering around with no real purpose... players want progression in an rpg-like world. If it was coop this may be different, but a game really needs to place a target for the player, provide them with something to do. As long as there were plenty of interesting things to do, then it would be great.


Well, if you're thrown into a game where there is engaging gameplay and a method of progressing said gameplay (Your gameplay oppurtunities increase as you improve your character via pursuing the incentives that you choose from your dynamic and changing environment), you're left with this choice:

Where do I want to get to with my character, and how do I want to get there? In most games, you choose a character "class" and you complete "quests" until you get to the ultimate end of progression. It's linear. You go from point A to point B.

A better proposal, in my mind, would be to challenge the player with mastering the world instead of just "beating" things and getting "more powerful." The objective of this system would not be to "be the best" as much as "explore and master as much as possible." There's a fine difference between the two.

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I've had a look around and I believe that it's hard to dynamically generate different interesting things that happen.


Have you ever though about how the few interesting things that happen daily in life happen to be? Or, how that car crash you drive by every once in awhile happens? If you put any person into a sufficiently advanced simulation, they will happen upon meaning. It isn't placed there for you, but you find it anyway.

The essence of any story is conflict. If you have enough varied sides and factions with a multitude of different motivations that often conflict with each other, your world will be populated with interesting conflicts for players to work around and through and to ponder. Good writers create intentionally conflicting characters to create interesting plots and stories, why not add a little automation to it for the purposes of a game? I'm not sure how hard it would be, but the merits of an idea aren't based on its ease of accomplishment.

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I'm one of the biggest proponents of Procedurally generated or "Randomized" components of games.

The one key is that you cannot replace quality content with randomized content. The two must be made to work hand in hand.

Anything you randomly generate will be hollow and shallow. If you are talking about missions and quests, the key is to have alternate static content that the player can use, or to place it in well made man made areas.

Here some examples.

Lets say that you create an RPG with a random map, to balance the overall blandness of the map, you need a compelling storyline with pre-generated quests stories, and events. You can randomize the placement of these, or tie them to key actions of the player. However, if you randomly generate the quests as well, then you end up with hollow missions in a hollow world, and the game will not be good.

If you instead go with generated content. You need a good world, with compelling characters who generate missions based off of. On top of that, you need to have great man-made portions of the random generation system. Things like the various tile sets etc, must be made well, and must be made in enough variety to hold off the feeling of repetiveness.

A fully randomized world will not work, not until AI increases to a point beyond where it is at the moment.

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Original post by robert4818
A fully randomized world will not work, not until AI increases to a point beyond where it is at the moment.


Well, true and not true. You could effectively procedurally generate the questlines that most RPG's rely on, minus the crappy storyline tie-ins. The key here is that nothing is random. It's deterministic, the difference is in the details. Ideally, such a world would be "seeded" with certain advanced plot elements and typecast events and NPC conflicts, and the "main" plot of the game world would have to be advanced by the steady hand of the designer. But much of the world would be autogenerated.

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For a long time I have wished for a game very similar to what Nytehauq has described. I have wanted a randomly generated world with randomly generated NPC's and quests. I believe that the randomly generated world could be accomplished. I have played very limitedly with Pandromeda's MoJo World (it is basically a fractal terrain generator but it is designed to generate a whole world) and think that a very beautiful and complex world could be dynamically created using similar programming. Now parsing the generated world and finding appropriate sites for cities, trade routes and other story based locations could be difficult but possible.

The rest of the story content could also be generated. It would require a vast amount of quality content expertly written in modules or templates. Great care would have to be taken to create templates more like the C++ Standard Template Library rather than MadLibs.

I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons and would very much like some of the free form play we had but with beautiful graphics, music and sound that computer games can provide.

I have never liked level grinding. I have done it but only because I wasn't strong enough to finish a quest or kill the level boss etc.. I have always liked Myst for it's tough puzzles but not for it's static story line.

If there are enough factions, opposing forces and tough puzzles designed into such a randomly generated world, it would work and people would like it. So maybe the emphasis is not on getting to level 40. Maybe just being a good person in game lands you Mayor of the town. Maybe your little group of bully buddies gets hired as thugs in the big city.

I think it could be done. It will be difficult but it will be awesome!

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One of my goals is to figure out methods of automating stories in games in a similar fashion to what you describe. I've only got as far as a basic understanding of the magnitude of the problem - right now I'm focusing more on general game development with an aim to slowly work towards something similar to what you describe in the future.

However I don't think I'd say the "bosses" and "milestones" are a bad part of the genre - I think they form a good rhythym to the pacing of an RPG which make it more enjoyable. If possible I'd like to recreate that in an automated story world.

I'm also not sure why you've got a problem with random elements in a procedural world. If everything is truly deterministic there's a higher risk of everything becoming predictable. An element of randomness can make things more interesting.

I'm not sure exactly what more you wanted for your question: your question seem to be focused on whether people were interested in the idea (I tend to get sidetracked into writing more than I should for these kinds of questions in the design forum, so I won't try to answer any questions you haven't asked!) - so I'll just reiterate that, yes, I am interested. You can hunt down some of things I've posted in the interactive storytelling and automated story threads if you're interested (I think I remember you posting in some of them earlier).

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Hmmm... there's some cool ideas here, but to react to the initial post:
I think there's an inverse relationship between quality and openness of gameplay. As a stereotypical example, take Half-Life 2 - zero options and total linearity; but that lets the designers get really intimate with the player and control his experience to the second, deciding what he sees, what he hears, and (to a large extent) how much health and ammo and knowledge of the world he has at any moment. Now, compare that with your game idea - the designer has very very little control over what the player sees and does, so it's very difficult to provide meaningful detail, humour, symbolism, consistency, pacing and many of the other things that create immersion. The player could easily end up not knowing what to do, or repeating a boring task again and again to convince a god that he's on their side, or spending vast amounts of time just moving around, or hanging around waiting for an AI to do something interesting.

I'm not saying that your idea is bad; just that it's the limitations, not the freedom, that make a computer game.

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If you put any person into a sufficiently advanced simulation, they will happen upon meaning.

Agreed, but it might take a hell of a long time.

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I have made an idea and let it grow from this.

Picture yourself playing a first person RPG with almost real life graphics.

NPCs go to work, walk home, eat, sleep, talk, shop, anything that could happen in life could be seen happening to NPCs or even your player.

The player could do anything from work in a shop for money or even to find the best time to steal something perhaps to joining a band of adventurers that fight dragons and pile up their wealth.

Quests arent the same. If the player thinks something sounds like a quest he personally types it in his Quest Log and gives it a name. Example: Bob (the player) just heard two citizens talking about a reward for the capture of a criminal. He then types "Criminal killed a shopkeeper in a nearby town and escaped, large reward for capture." He then does some detective work and finds out about two men suspected. Bob writes the names down and watches what they do and asks about them. As he watches the men he finds out one of them works until midnight and decides to break into the man's house and search for evidence after writing this all down. So far he has written what the peasants said, the two men that were prime suspects, where they live and what their schedule is, how late they work, who they are friends with, and now finds out the first man is innocent but the second is hiding a large stash of stolen goods. He then takes this stash to the guard post and receives a nice large reward. In other words the player writes out suggestions to himself, what he has been told, and what he found out on his own without somebody doing all that for him.

Also no quest will ever be seen by two characters. Similar ones might but not the exact same people, places, objectives, etc. The game would have no real quests, only things leading to a quest.

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e player could do anything from work in a shop for money or even to find the best time to steal something perhaps to joining a band of adventurers that fight dragons and pile up their wealth.

Quests arent the same. If the player thinks something sounds like a quest he personally types it in his Quest Log and gives it a name. Example: Bob (the player) just heard two citizens talking about a reward for the capture of a criminal. He then types "Criminal killed a shopkeeper in a nearby town and escaped, large reward for capture." He then does some detective work and finds out about two men suspected. Bob writes the names down and watches what they do and asks about them. As he watches the men he finds out one of them works until midnight and decides to break into the man's house and search for evidence after writing this all down. So far he has written what the peasants said, the two men that were prime suspects, where they live and what their schedule is, how late they work, who they are friends with, and now finds out the first man is innocent but the second is hiding a large stash of stolen goods. He then takes this stash to the guard post and receives a nice large reward. In other words the player writes out suggestions to himself, what he has been told, and what he found out on his own without somebody doing all that for him.

Also no quest will ever be seen by two characters. Similar ones might but not the exact same people, places, objectives, etc. The game would have no real quests, only things leading to a quest.


Again though the problem is that the AI is not to the point of making that sort of conversation up.

Part of what makes RPG's good is the dialog, and scripting in them. To this day a computer is not able to spit out a creative story or even a decent conversation. Look at the poor workdone in Oblivion on the character "conversations" they had.

Computers are decent at creating "things" but nowhere near as good as a person.

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