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R0B0T0

Characters with Autonomy

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I think many would agree that currently our ability to simulate physical & social interaction within a game world is sorely lacking. I'm not speaking about a self-contained microcosm model where one is a passive observer, but rather the interaction between player and computer. This is mainly a practical issue, one that will most likely continue into the forseeable future barring some real innovation in input devices or interface design. (Voice control might have some potential, but we will still have to deal with the same cumbersome parser issues that we've been struggling with for decades in text.) The genre where this problem has the greatest implications is role-playing. If we don't have a rich set of tools presented in an intuitive manner, we can never hope to replicate human action, interaction and reaction convincingly. For this to be possible we would need a very broad but shallow feature set where the commands were mainly explicit, i.e. being able to ask who, what, when, why, how and where; passing through a darkened alley with a cocky stride and a gleam of menace in your eye; telling the jailer that "the price is great, but the service is awful" in a sarcastic tone; or giving just the right hint of bribery to the customs official to let your wagons pass unchecked (but not enough to alarm him if he isn't crooked). Most games tend toward a narrow but deep implimentation, that is a only a few possible actions which can be combined to produce varied results. Typical actions in this case are usually run, jump, attack, pick up, use, and so on. Good from a strictly gameplay point of view, but fairly useless for roleplay purposes. So, if we are limited in terms of translating the player's thoughts into game terms, what can be done to at least create the illusion of complex behavior and interaction? Here is one possible solution: place the weight of roleplaying on the character's shoulders, rather than on the player's. By introducing a layer of abstraction between the player and the character, we can grant our characters partial autonomy. For example, having a "threaten" command. After being insulted a knight might issue the warning "your presence here is offensive, I suggest you leave at once", while a thief may place a dagger to the throat and whisper "words like that can be dangerous to your health, friend". This could work contextually within a character type as well, so that a knight threatening a beggar would result in a mild "clear the way", while threatening a known criminal might result in a smack with the flat of the sword. Using this type of system would also tend to create more behavioral consistency in a character, as in a sense they would be always acting "in character". It would simply be a matter of creating a wide range of unique and creative contextual reactions, with enough variety so that repetition would not be obvious. As well, it would solve the problem of differentiating characterizations. A barbarian may enter a tavern aggressively, sweeping aside those who get in the way of his desire for ale and wenches. A noble would be preceeded by his retainers, and would pick his way carefully through the filthy commoners. The downside to this type of system is that the player tends to be somewhat more removed from the character. As someone pointed out in another post, this would in effect create a sort of pseudo-play, where you pick the star character and watch the action unfold under your guidance. Story driven games would benefit immensely from this implementation, however, as you could script very richly detailed character behaviors. To me this is an ideal way to add the "humanity" to CRPG's, but I imagine some might be averse to this idea. Your thoughts and suggestions? Edited by - R0B0T0 on July 26, 2001 1:33:43 PM

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These are good ideas and ones that I think would help computer RPing out alot. But the devil is in the details of implementation.

The deeper you make your simulation, the more content will become a problem. What, for example, should happen if you threaten the knight a second time, later in the game? You have to come up with more dialog. If the player does it a 3rd, or 4th time? More responses, more dialog.

The barbarian sweeping his way into the tavern? Good, but special animation is needed. Even if you had some kind of skeletal animation coupled with real physics, someone still has to create all the data sets for what are and are not acceptable poses, reactions, etc.


The closer you get to reality, the more fidelity users expect. (Otherwise, it''s just a gimmick.) But the more fidelity they expect, the more work for you to do.

btw, I don''t have my links available right now, but there were some posts awhile back about conversation as just another action (posted by Nazrix). I also posted about scripted action sequences for dramatic flair awhile back, too. I''ll see if I can dig up the links.



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Just waiting for the mothership...

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Hi, ROBOTO. Welcome to the Gamedev forums.

I like your idea a lot. There are a few problems with this system, some of which Wavinator has already addressed.

Another problem, which you already mentioned, is the distance this layer of abstraction puts between the player and his character. One of the best tools a game designer can make use of is the player''s attachment to his character. When the player identifies with his character strongly enough, it is possible to make certain emotions stronger. If a player is concerned for his character, a particular scene or sequence may work in a Horror game, for instance. But if the emotional attachment is not there, it is more difficult to instill this emotion in the player.

Another big problem is that the scripted behavior you mentioned must be in accordance with the desires of the player. Each player has his own idea of what a thief should be, and what he ahould act like. To threaten an opponent, one player might want his thief to stare at him, while another would prefer to throw a dagger.

I remember a project which TSR came out with a while back. It was a series of games which included audio CDs. When the game reached certain points, the DM was supposed to play certain tracks. The audio was supposed to add atmosphere to the game.

Sometimes it worked very well. When players explored subterranean caverns, it was nice to hear water dripping and echoing in the background. But when the characters'' voices were heard, the game was ruined. The voice acting was nothing like what many players would have liked. It was certainly nothing like anything I''ve ever heard in an actual gaming session.

Moreover, the recorded characters would do and say things which the player never would. The end result was that the CDs were next to worthless. The best one could do was to record the water dripping soundtrack over and over on a tape, and then play that.

If the behavior and voice acting were of sufficiently high quality, and if there were several customized versions to choose from, this could be a very good system. But as Wav has already pointed out, this would entail a great amount of work.

Keep the ideas coming!


Jonathon
quote:
"Mathematics are one of the fundamentaries of educationalizing our youths." -George W. Bush

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quote:
Original post by Wavinator
btw, I don''t have my links available right now, but there were some posts awhile back about conversation as just another action (posted by Nazrix). I also posted about scripted action sequences for dramatic flair awhile back, too. I''ll see if I can dig up the links.



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Just waiting for the mothership...


Here''s one of Wav''s posts about coversation http://www.gamedeveloper.net/ubullboard/Forum12/HTML/000034.html.

Here''s the conversation as another action http://www.gamedeveloper.net/ubullboard/Forum12/HTML/000026.html

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Thanks to Wavinator for suggesting those links ,and to Nazrix for digging them up. Very interesting discussions which have helped to clarify some ideas for me (although it can be somewhat disconcerting to have one''s "unique" thoughts so precisely parallelled by others).

Wavinator: I understand your reservations about the work involved in this this type of system, but for argument''s sake lets assume the feedback system was something akin to text (ignoring for the moment its commercial viability). There is much less work to do if the action is played out descriptively (a story) rather than literally (a movie). There are only so many basic types of actions and events a human can engage in, but combined together and embellished with contextual (or even generic) flavour text it would give the impression of a greater depth, the details of which would be fleshed out by the players mind.

Regarding multiple attempts and repeated actions, this is one of the things I was aiming to tone down by incorporating
this system. Would a character realistically bother an NPC over and over for information or other assets as we so often do in CRPG''s? I think in most cases this type of behaviour amounts to abuse in game terms and is generally out of character. Once a result has been established (Threat made, question answered) the character would not be able to engage in that action again until either a sufficient amount of time had passed that it would be reasonable, or something happened where it became relevant again. This could of course be modified somewhat by character type (persistant/overbearing vs shy/reticent).

Jonathon: when I was speaking of being removed from one''s character, I was referring more to control. I would tend to disagree that it would necessarily cause emotional detachment or lack of identification. On the contrary, I would say that giving the character some autonomy could actually help in these areas. When you are playing a game where you control the character''s actions in terms of roleplaying, you don''t identify with the character, You ARE the character. There is no real emotional bond between you and (a representation of) yourself! However, consider a good story. You develop a fondness for characters precisely because of their differing characteristics (both good qualities and flaws), not because they are exactly like you. Most of the time we admire what we want to be, not what we are. I feel it would be rewarding to be able to pick a character that exhibits behaviours one is interested in seeing, and watching these acted out (even if this may conflict at times with what the player would do themselves). Good point about the voice acting, though, oftentimes movies or even novel covers have totally ruined my mental conceptions of a character. (I''m really hoping Peter Jackson can pull off LOTR...)

Thanks for the ideas and encouragement gentleman, I have a burning desire to execute my vision and naysayers be damned

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Guest Anonymous Poster

There are already several games that include some degree of
dissasociation between the player and the character.

Baldur''s Gate had scripted dialog and interactions between the
characters in the adventure group (between characters that
were included with the game, not ones generated by the player).
This is a small scale version of this. At the more extreme
end of the scale, games such as Creatures and The Sims
make the characters almost completely independent and limit
the player to god-like interventions in their lives.

I think ideas like this will be used more and more in future
games.


Simon Hibbs

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Until we find a way to give PCs SOME form of inteligence we are not going to have much in the way of interaction. Yes I know computers are getting more sophisticated and all but the interaction between player and PC is limited to our using a restricted set of valid options and the PCs ability to react with programed instinct nothing more. This instinct can be quite complex but it remains largely unchanged. Even AI(I use that term loosely) that is made to adapt to player strategies is nothing more then programed instincts. Until we can understand the nature of inteligence I fear we wont get much in the way of interaction.

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