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Khaiy

AI Party Members and RPGs


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So, I'm steadily continuing design of my dream project, which is a single player RPG in the SNES tradition. I'm currently writing up part of my design document that allows the player to send characters on missions which will be simulated off camera, while the player can pursue something else, and this got me thinking about just how autonomous recruitable characters should be.

In most games of this type, characters surrender all decision making power to the player. They do not have their own money, they readily give up all of their initial equipment and accept any the player instructs them to use, await and then follow instructions verbatim in battle, and in some games even let the player dictate how their stats develop. Some games (the Persona series comes to mind) have autonomy in battle and nowhere else, even if the characters' decisions are generally terrible.

But assuming that it were implemented well, what system would you get the most enjoyment from in a game? My current idea for my game is that out of battle, characters will behave largely as they did in the 16-bit days. They'll follow you where you go and do as you say, but may have pre-determined limits on roles they'll take (I'll become a creature breeder/summoner if you say so, but I refuse to learn necromancy!), places they'll go, tasks they'll willingly do for you, and whether or not they will continue to work with you. Some may even be actively working to undermine your goals. These will vary by character.

In battle, I'm not so sure. Gambit-style direction seems like it might be a bit of a hassle, and good battle AI would be hard to program. Direct character control doesn't take much away for me, but some people may not like it, and it probably takes away some of the immersion. As for character development, would a pre-set progression of skills feel too limiting in a party character that isn't the player avatar? Or would you prefer more player input in character development?

Would direct control with a few caveats generally appeal to you in an RPG? Are there other considerations that you'd like to see addressed?

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During battle, I would prefer direct control over the party members. However, that doesn't mean that you have to micro-manage your units. The basic commands would include: move to target, attack to location, hold position, and in general <verb> <target - both mobile and location>.

The game would have enough smarts to automatically find a path for a party member to move, and auto-attack without player input. At any time, the player could step in and micro-manage their units.

The ideal would be RTS style control. The problem with complete AI control is that there will be times where the AI does what the player doesn't want it to do.

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I voted as I did (total control) because of two games I played recently: Dragon Age Origins (where without pausing and micromanagement my dudes died constantly), and the original Fallout (anyone remember Ian? I forgot about him until he unloaded several clips of burst-fire into the back of my head instead of walking one hex over). Apparently combat AI is hard to do.

Then I read your post, and it would be cool if the party members were their own people outside of combat (which wasn't one of the choices, and might not be what you meant). I wouldn't mind them having their own motives, or being able to go off on their own for missions, etc... even arguing about who gets the new Ice Sword +1 or whatever would be kind of cool (although I'd like the option to pull rank and take it, even if it means they were angry). But once they get me killed by being stupid in combat I start to lose the will to keep playing.

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[quote name='Khaiy' timestamp='1297985697' post='4775632']
They'll follow you where you go and do as you say, but may have pre-determined limits on roles they'll take (I'll become a creature breeder/summoner if you say so, but I refuse to learn necromancy!), places they'll go, tasks they'll willingly do for you, and whether or not they will continue to work with you. Some may even be actively working to undermine your goals. These will vary by character.
[/quote]
Some random thoughts:

I'd like that, I think that by doing this you will be able to tell a more complex story with your characters, but also if you make your characters more complex there is the danger that the player might not like them at all, and don't want to have certain character on the team. Maybe a system where you could "dismiss/recruit" characters would help. That will really affect the storyline though and you must be prepared for one big story tree.



[quote name='krez' timestamp='1298007644' post='4775720']
But once they get me killed by being stupid in combat I start to lose the will to keep playing.
[/quote]
<rant>
That happened to me when I played Final Fantasy Tactics on the PS1. Delita (a NPC) NEVER helped in battles NEVER and the worst was that he used one valuable character spot so I always played with one less character in the first parts o the game....I always ignored him and left on his own (always ended being killed in the first turns...) and I ended hating him the entire game!
</rant>
So what I mean is...poor AI in your allies can really ruin the game experience for the player.

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@krez, you should have voted "others".

it's true, characters doing their own thing outside battle but under control in battle so they don't suicide or kill me (I played Fallout too).

As for their personalities, if you make'em to have strong ones the player probably won't like some, so recruit/kicking out is a must.

A "ecosystem" of character inside the party is something I would like to see.

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[quote name='klefebz' timestamp='1298424515' post='4777786']
@krez, you should have voted "others".[/quote]
Yeah, I jumped the gun on clicking...

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I've voted Others for the simple reason that it depends on the experience you want to provide to the player and the type of RPG. AI is not something that should be at the core of the game design, but something that is tailored to make the game fun for the player.

With more party members, having AI controlled units becomes important to speed up gameplay, but with few members, the player should control them all or he will not feel involved. Another aspect is required higher-level thinking. If the tactical depth stops at casting Fire on a Fire-weak monster, I want the AI to take care of it. If I need to setup a skill combo between characters to win the battle, AI should stay out of it because they have trouble with this stuff and will not be able to read my mind.

For character progression, this depends on the number of characters in the party. More than 6~8 becomes a chore. There will be a few characters you rarely use or don't care about, but will feel obligated to make them progress. This leads to copy/paste builds where you just copy whatever you did to some similar character even though the character could use other interesting options.

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Thanks for the responses, everyone!

I'll expand a little bit on my idea for my game. I'm planning on having somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 recruitable characters who will be guaranteed to feature in the game story in some way, plus another 10 or so which may or may not be involved in the story. As the player moves through the game, they may meet these characters and can help them or oppose them in their endeavors. If a character's goals (marked by pre-set flags) match up with the player's, or if the character likes the player enough, they may join the player.

A character can be in the player's active party (currently set at 4 characters, including the player, as I'm envisioning an expanded SNES-RPG style battle system. I might end up switching to a tactical RPG system though, in which case I would add more character slots). For those not in the active party, but still "on the team" of the player, they can be sent as agents to affect story events without the player needing to be directly involved in everything that happens in the game world. A character not assigned a task like this will pursue its own goals, but be able to be assigned a task or placed in the active party.

My goal in structuring the game like this is to make characters more rounded rather than puppets for the player avatar. I don't want them hanging out in limbo when not in the active party, doing nothing until explicitly called but still tagging along with the active party, nor do I want them to suddenly abandon their objectives without complaint just because the player focuses on something else. But this adds the problem of how to develop a character when that character is not under the direct supervision of the player? My thought is that these characters will develop automatically when not in the active party, following their default job class without intervention. But if the player assigns them a new job class while in the active party, perhaps they will draw on the skills of both jobs. This got me thinking about how much NPC behavior to simulate, hence this thread.

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