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Simulated NPC lives

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Am I the only person who finds simulated NPC lives really annoying? In typical games, important NPCs just piddle, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They don't eat, they don't sleep, they don't get exercise. They often don't even close shop after hours. Sometimes, they'll wander around their little area, interacting with the local environment or nearby people, but they don't wander off to do essential things. This is apparently highly unrealistic, and it seems that open ended games are moving away from this to simulate more realistic behavior. One person might go somewhere to eat lunch at 9 or 10 or 12, then go read a book at 6 or 7, then go to bed at 7 or 8 or 12. Is all of this really necessary? Does it really cost that much immersion to make them stay put? I can't seem to memorize who does what, where, and at what time for hundreds of random people. There are countless cases where I meet someone on their lunch break, or during their trip to home or work, get a quest from them, then never find them again. It's also somewhat of a pain to wander into a village at 12:am and have to wait in one spot for 10 hours for the shop to open. Do you think games will continue to move in this direction? Are there solutions to all of the problems that come with this? What do we gain with it? Is it worth the hassle? Also, I've only mentioned a handful of the associated problems. Feel free to bring up any that have annoyed you in the past.

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Shopkeepers ought to have apprentices to run their shops while they're away or at least send them to do their everyday errands. Waking up to serve a customer shouldn't be that bad either if they're compensated well enough.

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Certainly not the only one to be annoyed by it.

Most recently I had a few choice words to say about trying to sell things in Fallout 3 in the middle of the night. Not only did it seem annoyingly pedantic, it was compounded by the fact that alternatives existed but had been made useless - I could rest until day... but the only place nearby to rest would cost me money, which defeated the purpose of trying to sell things. Or I could get high lockpicking and break in... but again defeats the purpose of trading if Im stealing.


I think the problem is that its kind of an uncanny valley for AI. Yes technically its more realistic, but all it really serves to do is call attention to the unrealistic parts which previously could have been dismissed as "Its just a game". What really needs to be done is to pick and choose the realistic touches that will actually add to gameplay or the overall experience, or at the very least if you're introducing problems like stores being closed - introduce other realistic touches to solve those problems. Real life tends to be organic... where something is inconvenient, somebody usually comes up with a solution. For example, in any city of sufficient size it will become a problem that stores arent open all the time and somebody somewhere will capitalise by setting up an after-hours store.

I think thats the key... make sure the new "features" arent designed in a vacuum. When introducing things some thought needs to go into the players' needs, and in a setting that is supposed to be internally consistant, some thought needs to go into the NPCs' needs. (I suspect that often NPC and PC needs wont actually be too far apart, barring some meta-game activites)

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Original post by caffieneNot only did it seem annoyingly pedantic, it was compounded by the fact that alternatives existed but had been made useless - I could rest until day... but the only place nearby to rest would cost me money, which defeated the purpose of trying to sell things. Or I could get high lockpicking and break in... but again defeats the purpose of trading if Im stealing.
Learning how to play the game might help out a bit. ;-P
The "wait" function would have solved your problem in about 20 seconds.

As for my personal preferences ... I like the concept of simulated NPC lives a great deal. I enjoy the fact that NPC's aren't standing in one place all day. Just as long as the game gives the player tools to manage. The wait function in many of Bethesda's games being a perfect example. Quest markers, to show you where the person you're looking for has run off to. Etc.


I only take exception to it when the implementation falls short or is inconsistent. As Bethesda's games are wont to do.

If you're going to have simulated NPC lives ... then you should simulate all of the NPC's lives. Don't tell me Moria Brown has to close up shop to go to bed, while the crazy preacher in the center of Megaton stands in one spot 24/7. Don't just simulate people with names and then have unsleeping generic characters wandering around aimlessly ... Breaking consistency breaks immersion.


To the OP, if I might ask, what game is it you were referring to? What game prompted this post? Examples are always helpful.

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Original post by brent_w
Don't tell me Moria Brown has to close up shop to go to bed, while the crazy preacher in the center of Megaton stands in one spot 24/7.

Iirc, the preacher isn't preaching all the time, he's just out there at any given hour. I feel his character is served well by the fact that no matter when you swing by, he'll probably be there telling you how great atomization in a nuclear explosion would be.

I like simulated NPC lives as a concept, but I agree that the application is often flawed in games.

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Original post by kest
There are countless cases where I meet someone on their lunch break, or during their trip to home or work, get a quest from them, then never find them again. It's also somewhat of a pain to wander into a village at 12:am and have to wait in one spot for 10 hours for the shop to open.

This is annoying when it isn't done well, but there are simple solutions, as brent_w has already pointed out.

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Do you think games will continue to move in this direction?

Yes, as RPGs stress role-playing, which is improved greatly as game worlds get more realistic. Your role is a person in a world, not necessarily the center of everything.
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Are there solutions to all of the problems that come with this?

As demonstrated so far, yes. However, if there are further issues, please bring them up. I can't think of any unsolvable problems, but taht doesn't mean there are none.
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What do we gain with it?

Immersion, which is crucial in getting players to identify with their character.
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Is it worth the hassle?

Hopefully, it's not too much of a hassle. If you're talking about the difficulty of implementing it, I would say yes.

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I think the problem with most "life simulations" are that nobody does anything particularly interesting. I stand around in Oblivion during some of the quests and am forced to watch some moronic NPC repeat his "use hoe" animation a few thousand times. No jokes, no conversation, nothing.

In RL people get off on meddling in others affairs, like the soap Days Of Our Lives, or even Battlestar Galactica, watching all the personal relationships, lies, and general back-stabbery/insanity unfold is quite entertaining. By contrast NPCs have all the amusement of watching paint dry.

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Original post by brent_w
I enjoy the fact that NPC's aren't standing in one place all day. Just as long as the game gives the player tools to manage. The wait function in many of Bethesda's games being a perfect example.

Here's how that adds up:

Y is a problem.
A fixes Y, but causes X.
B fixes X, but causes Y.

Y = Unrealistic behavior
A = Realistic behavior
X = Gameplay holdups, annoyances
B = The wait feature

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To the OP, if I might ask, what game is it you were referring to? What game prompted this post? Examples are always helpful.

My own. I'm trying to decide how my civilian and shop characters should behave.

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I wouldn't say the wait feature is an overly unrealistic behavior. A good portion of real life is waiting around doing nothing. Having a button that skips it seems just fine to me.

In other words, I see the wait feature as unrealistic in the same way that quick traveling is. Sure, real life would include hours of down time, but it's not a terrible loss of realism. The gain (not breaking up gameplay with meaningless downtime) far outweigh the cost of realism.

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Firstly, waiting isn't unrealistic. I've definitely seen people waiting outside of shops IRL. Secondly, if they didn't have day/night cycles, then it would be harder to be a thief character. Some people in those games enjoy creeping around at night while the shopkeeper is asleep and stealing all their stock.

Without quest markers and a wait command it would be annoying, but I don't think it's annoying with those mechanics in place.

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So the shop-owner hires poorly paid overnight workers who can't stand their job but do it anyway because that's their only current source of income? Sometimes they despise the owner and occasionally just let you have the item you want if it's really low cost anyway???

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Original post by popsoftheyear
So the shop-owner hires poorly paid overnight workers who can't stand their job but do it anyway because that's their only current source of income? Sometimes they despise the owner and occasionally just let you have the item you want if it's really low cost anyway???

I like the idea of low-wage workers running shops and doing errands, it has a lot of potential.

Also:
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Original post by kestI see the player character standing around as unrealistic as NPCs standing around.

There's an easy fix to this. Require the player to sleep! If the NPCs need to, so could the player. Now the realism is in place.

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Original post by Gyrthok
I think the problem with most "life simulations" are that nobody does anything particularly interesting. I stand around in Oblivion during some of the quests and am forced to watch some moronic NPC repeat his "use hoe" animation a few thousand times. No jokes, no conversation, nothing.

In RL people get off on meddling in others affairs, like the soap Days Of Our Lives, or even Battlestar Galactica, watching all the personal relationships, lies, and general back-stabbery/insanity unfold is quite entertaining. By contrast NPCs have all the amusement of watching paint dry.



THAT for me is the problem exactly. They might as well be standing in one place. If all they have is cycles, that is just one step up from them walking around in circles. What I think needs to be done is scale back the actual size and build a game where each character has some kind of history and objective. It doesn't have to be very complicated or ambitious, but maybe at the weekend they could go fishing.

I think the problem is, most of it isn't simulated. It doesn't matter if nothing happens or a horde of bandits jumps over the fence and kills all the chickens, the peasant will still go to work the next day...

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Yeah... the closer you get to this whole real-life-thing, NPCs are going to start needing task-cycles, adapting to events around them, and eventually memory, at least for specific things - it just depends how far you want to take this realism thing.

While not impossible you would kinda have to build the NPC system from the ground up with this in mind.

Which breeds the question as to why people keep trying to imitate our world in games instead of coming up with other worlds (where things are different... not the same - maybe people don't sleep!). But yeah I guess that's another thread for another day.

I also like the thought of the shop-owner waking up in the middle of the night and charging a little extra for interrupting his/her beauty sleep.

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Maybe I can do things the traditional/unrealistic way, but just find mechanisms and excuses to make it seem more reasonable.

For example, most shops are automated with bots and machinery, but I wanted to make the black market shops more personal with a thug at the counter (or in the corner). I can just make that dude sleep while standing or sitting up. If you find him snoring, you can just walk up to him and he'll pop back to life.

One pretty big advantage I have is that the sky is packed full of toxins and space debris, so it's always night. Well, there's a purple tint at night and an orange tint in the day, but it's always dark. In other words, it won't seem strange to catch people doing certain things during any specific time. There's no longer a designated sleep period.

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IRL I can't buy a gun in the middle of the night, or a sword, or for that matter even a new pair of jeans. At least when I go to my local 7-11 I can expect there to be someone there to take my money for my slurpee. Why couldn't a store in a game just hire on extra employees to handle the night shift? Real life night living is just as annoying as dealing with the night in an RPG. So I think they already got the immersion down perfectly.

I hate being forced to sleep so I don't mind too much having to wait for a shop to open so long as there's something else I can do in the mean time which doesn't keep me so preoccupied that I don't get to the shop that day.

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They do this a lot in the game I'm playing now (Rune Factory 2 for the DS). Except it's not as annoying because you can go to a fortune teller who will tell you the locations of everyone (for a small fee). Something like that is a solution but not a fantastic one.

If nobody ever moved from where they stood, that would be incredibly stale. I'd rather an npc walk around the town 24 hours a day than stand in one place 24 hours a day. At least movement gives a sign of life.

I just think there needs to be a way to track down people just as in real life (where you can call someone and find out where they are, or you expect them to be somewhere at a certain time because they always are (work, home, school, etc)

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I think the wait button breaks my immersion, reminding me this is an annoying game, more than NPCs that don't move. It wouldn't be so bad if there were things to do at night, but if the inventory is full and I need to sell, I'm not going back out to do another quest, so I have to wait to sell my stuff. If that means being using a wait feature then I will, but Id rather have something interesting to do till morning instead.

Kest, if the world is always dark like that then you have a great excuse for a larger than normal nightlife. Go the route of having cycled behavior but make some of them offset from the norm or even opposite and make places that are open 24/7 even if they are being manned by different people at different hours. Give the player places to do what he wants at any hour even if each place closes at times, others open, and some are open all the time or nearly all the time. Give the player things that are interesting to do at all hours even if they aren't all active all the time.

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I'm far more a fan of deep, complex gameplay than I am immersive gameplay. I think those who advocate realism forget how tedious realism actual is (try playing a flight sim without combat as an example).

I don't think the wait function cuts it. Waiting for merchants to regenerate cash in Morrowind was a lame solution to what I think is often a core design flaw in most RPGs: You want the player to feel like they're progressing, and so you give them more and more money/gold/etc. But they have to have something to put it into, so you have to give them things to buy which rise in price. Unchecked, this leads to the 50,000 battle helmet nobody but some guy in the boonies can afford to buy.

This is a basic problem of unchecked growth. But rather than addressing that problem, we get "Wait."

I don't mind having day and night cycles when it creates a tactical difference in the map. In the old Daggerfall it was a thrill to come into a town at night for the first time and realize that the normally peaceful city was now teaming with guards fighting brigands. But doing it because it's "realistic" only makes me fear that line of reasoning down the road (what's next, finding an appropriate bush to fertilize in the wild because you need to go???? It fits the same argument!)

Kest, I think in the future you can get away with all sorts of things. Who knows, maybe people are hopped up on stims, or have had the need to sleep surgically removed. If you do implement roaming NPCs, please give me a cell phone!

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Original post by Wavinator
If you do implement roaming NPCs, please give me a cell phone!

This has always been something in my design notes. Even if I don't go with roaming NPCs, the player won't need to run all over the place. You'll be able to hold the same conversations through your phone that you do in person. Likewise, anything that can be stored electronically can be sent to and from your phone with encryptions. Including fake IDs, fake passports, mission details, and money.

For example, you could call up your employer and get a job to rip off a new technology from Tratacom. So you call your "contact" to transfer some credits to him, and he sends back building layout data that shows which floor and room the desired document is located. Then you scale up the outside of the building, cut a window on the right floor, pop in, and pick or break the lock on the data storage room, find the right computer, then hack into it and download the data to your phone. Once you're done, you press the send key, and mission accomplished.

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Original post by Wavinator
I'm far more a fan of deep, complex gameplay than I am immersive gameplay. I think those who advocate realism forget how tedious realism actual is (try playing a flight sim without combat as an example).
Realism and Immersion are not the same thing. A player is perfectly capable of being immersed in an extremely unrealistic game.
The key element to immersion, as I mentioned before, is consistency not realism.

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I don't think the wait function cuts it. Waiting for merchants to regenerate cash in Morrowind was a lame solution to what I think is often a core design flaw in most RPGs: You want the player to feel like they're progressing, and so you give them more and more money/gold/etc. But they have to have something to put it into, so you have to give them things to buy which rise in price. Unchecked, this leads to the 50,000 battle helmet nobody but some guy in the boonies can afford to buy.

This is a basic problem of unchecked growth. But rather than addressing that problem, we get "Wait."
The wait function was not designed for the purpose of getting more cash on vendors. It worked for that purpose, but that's not what it was for.
You are correct in mentioning the true source of the issue, a design flaw, but don't blame the wrench for being inefficient tool at driving nails.

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I don't mind having day and night cycles when it creates a tactical difference in the map. In the old Daggerfall it was a thrill to come into a town at night for the first time and realize that the normally peaceful city was now teaming with guards fighting brigands. But doing it because it's "realistic" only makes me fear that line of reasoning down the road (what's next, finding an appropriate bush to fertilize in the wild because you need to go???? It fits the same argument!)
*disbelief*
This line of reasoning is simply absurd!
Just because it's funny to see your friend trip and fall doesn't mean you're going to shove him off a cliff.

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Original post by brent_w
Realism and Immersion are not the same thing.


I think you're technically correct, but in most arguments for immersion a realistic depiction of things is what I hear being argued for, be it involving NPCs with complex lives or the the accurate scattering of light to simulate an atmosphere.

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A player is perfectly capable of being immersed in an extremely unrealistic game.


Can you give me an example? What game would you call very immersive without being realistic?

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The wait function was not designed for the purpose of getting more cash on vendors. It worked for that purpose, but that's not what it was for.


What would you say that it was for in Morrowind? If I remember correctly, you couldn't heal with it in town, shops didn't have day/night cycles, and you didn't regenerate anything. You could use it to wait out bad weather, but not for someone to return or anything.

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Original post by Wavinator
Quote:
Original post by brent_w
A player is perfectly capable of being immersed in an extremely unrealistic game.


Can you give me an example? What game would you call very immersive without being realistic?

As badly as they design some gameplay, Bethesda are masters of immersion, so I think Oblivion would be the best example for this. Magic is a good example of an unrealistic element that doesn't break immersion.

While that line is pretty easy to see, a more complex issue is gameplay abstraction. Is toting around fifty weapons and twenty pairs of iron armor pants, while still being able to hop around and fight with a sword realistic? No one seems to complain about that.

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I do, id much rather the decision of what to carry be an interesting choice where taking to much weighed me down. Id also like it if the game didn't encourage me to make 5 trips to a cave I just finished to carry out all the loot. That whole system is crap to me and IF i ever make a game, I will only have small easy to move items that are worth much and the rest will be worthless so the player isnt motivated to take loads of crap to sell.

The fact that I can take so much at once just reminds me to ask why I even want to.
I don't, but I'm rewarded for it, so I do it in the face of it's un-fun-ness.

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Original post by Kest
As badly as they design some gameplay, Bethesda are masters of immersion, so I think Oblivion would be the best example for this. Magic is a good example of an unrealistic element that doesn't break immersion.


I should have made my point better because what I'm trying to get at is a slippery distinction. Your next point is perfect for it.

Your original point was talking about realistic behavior and I sort of slipped into realistic graphics (sorry for that). What I was trying to argue was that even if we're talking a fireball, you'll get people arguing for how the fireball should cast light, which in turn should affect shadows and reflections, rather than whether or not the darn fireball should support complex gameplay. But OTOH, if someone calls something like World of Goo immersive, I'd be impressed (and want to know why).

More to your original point, I think arguing for complex NPCs with webs of social relationships and day and night cycles because it's realistic misses the opportunity of adding such things because they create complex, layered gameplay. Even if someone asks for it because it makes them feel like the world is real, I'm still going to be the cranky old man if you as a player can't leverage it in terms of gameplay. A shop owner going to sleep and having a family should present for me a series of strategic opportunities or it's a waste of time to put it in.

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While that line is pretty easy to see, a more complex issue is gameplay abstraction. Is toting around fifty weapons and twenty pairs of iron armor pants, while still being able to hop around and fight with a sword realistic? No one seems to complain about that.


Excellent point. I think when we think about something like this or your original point we have to go back to what the purpose of the game is in total. If an RPG is supposed to make the world come alive and put you in a particular role, there are far better ways to do it than simulated lives, especially if their only purpose is either realism or immersion.

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