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Kris Schnee

Fantasy RPG Village Interaction?

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(Hello. Just rediscovering this site. Hopefully this post is acceptable; let me know if I'm being a n00b.) My current game design project is an open-ended, single-player RPG set on a stone-to-bronze-age tropical island chain. One aspect of the game that I'd like to firm up is how you interact with the characters, and I'd appreciate your thoughts on the topic. Here's where it stands. I want to do super-advanced AI, but I also want to have a game that's playable sometime soon! So, my goal for this game is to have NPCs who have a little conversational ability of some sort, a little memory of you and your actions, and the ability to serve as party members. Any random villager you meet should be able to say more than "Welcome to our town!" and to be recruited. The villagers are part of tribes that should have a little semi-random cultural flavor, like little legends and traits like willingness to ally with you. I've done some procedural generator work and have a general idea of how to do that. What do you think of having interaction with a village in this game be handled through a single interface screen and text, rather than having everything take place in real time in the main game world? Doing that would simplify things, because instead of having dozens of NPCs pathfinding their way around a village at once you'd usually only see the villagers who are actually in your party. So the experience would be that you walk around on the main map, then enter a village and go to a different screen. There you click on buttons and type stuff to interact with the village as a whole. But what kind of interaction would you want to have? A couple of obvious things would be: -Basic diplomacy: How do you enter the village, not knowing if they'll welcome you or try sacrificing you to the volcano god? What if you have to tell them you got their healer killed? -Trade: This could be straightforward RPG shop stuff (low-tech; think of Polynesia plus some bronze and bits of mysterious advanced artifacts), or a whole mini-game. "Three for this? You must be mad!" -Recreation: There should be something fun to do here besides prepare for the next adventure. Mini-games? Storytelling? Boasting? Item-making? Religious ceremonies? General socializing? -Recruiting: You should never be able to just click a button to get a party member. Instead you should have to get the tribe as a whole to have a neutral or better attitude, then offer to recruit somebody you met while doing something else in the village. This should set off other events sometimes, for instance if you convince the chief's daughter to come with you or you fail to bring back someone you recruited. What activities would you like to see in the village, and what do you think of using a text interface to actually type out what you say? I should probably prototype this. Screenshots for reference: Title screen w/new interface Procedurally generated maps Attempt at an OpenGL 3D engine... (old) ...And an isometric engine (old) Quick travel screen Current main engine w/placeholder character/interface art Zone map currently loaded for terrain data on a full zone; zones are huge scrolling tiled areas Inspirations here include "Startropics" for flavor and "Morrowind" for open-ended exploration and AI.

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Many older RPGs had settlements represented by menus, sometimes with accompanying graphics. I'm sure it's a good approach to handling it, if you have no real reason to have people exploring the towns.

I don't think it's easy to say what sort of interaction I'd want to have without knowing what sort of gameplay your game will offer. In fact, why do you need settlements at all if you're not sure what sort of purpose they'll serve? I find it hard to make suggestions without really knowing what sort of gameplay you have.

I think I would prefer not to use a natural language interface for most things though..

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I don't think it's easy to say what sort of interaction I'd want to have without knowing what sort of gameplay your game will offer. In fact, why do you need settlements at all if you're not sure what sort of purpose they'll serve? I find it hard to make suggestions without really knowing what sort of gameplay you have.

Interesting. That forces me to take a step back and rethink what the point of the game is. Idea One was to build a testbed for messing around with AI, which meant an open field with characters and objects -- and I've got that. Idea Two was an RPG where the pitch included:

"You and a group of other people wake up in an Earthlike world, with no supplies and no knowledge of how you got there. As the leader, it's your job to help keep everyone alive, find out what happened, and decide what to do about it... you begin with no resources but your characters' own bodies, and must find or make all of your own supplies... After an introductory scene, you and a group of about one hundred Non-Player Characters (NPCs) set up a camp, a colony, in the wilderness. Much of the game takes place in the colony."

So in that version the game would center around (1) leading groups of characters into the wilderness to do traditional RPG exploration to advance the plot, and (2) building up your colony with resources and skills gotten from exploration, to keep people alive and provide gear for adventuring. I got to the point of beginning a design document for this concept.

I was never clear on exactly how the colony would be presented, other than that there'd be individual NPCs with their own skills that you'd drag along on missions. "Hey, you, put down the tools and grab a backpack; we're going to the canyon to prospect for iron." With that idea there'd be only one "village" in the game, and it'd be important to present it to the player as more than a spreadsheet so that they actually care about it. But having played games like "The Movies" I don't find the micromanagement of exact shrub placement to be fun, so it's possible to have too much detail. I'd probably shoot for something between the interface of "Civilization" and Virtual Villagers in terms of detail.

I decided that the colony idea was too complicated and scaled it down to Idea Three, which has you explore an island chain and... what? Meet with various tribes and probably build up a fortune, a cool ship, and a good reputation? I'd rather do the full-on colony game -- I think it'd be more fun than just wandering aimlessly -- but am wary of the difficulty. I did build a prototype combat system and I've got the basics of wandering-around code and an interface, so what I'm worried about are the possibly large amount of "content creation" and the details of the colony mini-game.

Maybe where you could be most helpful at this point is in helping me refine the basic idea. Do you think it's a good idea to run off and try prototyping the more complex game, or build the simpler one first, or do something completely different?

Edit: Let me rephrase that rather than saying, "Design my game for me!". In the walking-around gameplay I've got basic physics of jumping, projectile motion, and collision, plus a potentially limitless game world made of big procedurally generated islands. I could also have caves/ruins/shipwrecks etc. to explore. (When testing a little demo where you sail a ship through the map with jumping and cannon-fire, I caught myself making sound effects for both actions, suggesting it was fun somehow.) Does that set of basic actions lend itself to any interesting game mechanics in the absence of the bigger, "colony" idea?

Or to look at my project a different way, how about if there were a prototype colony-manager game, where the actual missions are handled abstractly and the mechanics are on sending teams out to explore the world? That demo could either serve as the nucleus for the bigger game, or show me that the basic idea is dull.

[Edited by - Kris Schnee on May 5, 2007 1:28:17 PM]

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Quote:
Edit: Let me rephrase that rather than saying, "Design my game for me!". In the walking-around gameplay I've got basic physics of jumping, projectile motion, and collision, plus a potentially limitless game world made of big procedurally generated islands. I could also have caves/ruins/shipwrecks etc. to explore. (When testing a little demo where you sail a ship through the map with jumping and cannon-fire, I caught myself making sound effects for both actions, suggesting it was fun somehow.) Does that set of basic actions lend itself to any interesting game mechanics in the absence of the bigger, "colony" idea?


So, if I read this correctly, what you're saying is you have a bunch of building blocks all together and now you're trying to decide on what to build with them. Which would you rather work on, a playable game or an interesting AI? After you're done one you can always work on the other.

It sounds to me that you're already leaning towards trying to come up with something to breath a little more life into NPCs that you usually find in most games. If it were me, I'd do the same thing and gradually add ways for a PC to interact with the NPCs but I'd probably end up with something more like a virtual life program which may be interesting but may also lack interesting gameplay.

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Thanks for the advice. I think what I'm going to try is a version of the "colony" idea, focusing on that base-building aspect rather than the traditional action RPG stuff, and see how that goes. (I've already built some of the mechanics.) Meanwhile I've got a decent enough RPG world thing that I can work on the AI separately. I would definitely like to have AI characters that are more complex than you typically see in an RPG.

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