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Kill The NPC

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For some reason.... you rarely see the ability to kill an NPC in a game (I've yet to experience even one).

Now, NPC is a rather vague term that seems to include teammates in team-based battle games (like Halo coop mode)

For the sake of this, I am limiting NPC to only the characters in an rpg game that give quests or exchange helpful dialogue. And a bunch of games have ways to deal with players trying to attack an NPC.

Dragon Ball Z GBA 2 - The A for melee attack is also the "talk to them" button. Energy blasts pass right through NPCs.
Runescape - There is simply no option.
Pokemon: You can only call out pokemon in battle mode where there are no NPCs to be found.
Sonic DX: The NPCs are just walls that talk. Spins go around them, homing attack doesn't target them.

Now part of this thought came from a video about "If Pokemon Were Real" where there is a weak electric pokemon fighting a strong cocoon, and the protagonist realizes, why don't I attack the actual enemy instead of his pokemon?"

Is there a reason many games are so adamant about not being able to kill the NPCs (excluding killing them as part of the story as I hear how it is on God of War. I mean to deviate from the obvious plot by killing the ones who are supposed to give you the quests) Are most devs too lazy to accommodate for story impacts, is a plotline of that degree of nonlinearity just not realistic, or what?

The closest that any game has come to killing NPCs as far as I know is Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of Time/Darkness where you can try to kill a shopkeeper, but the shopkeeper turns out to be almost impossible to kill (if you can kill him, you may take all items from the shop). But outside of dungeons, you can't attack anyone. Are there any better examples, or is killing NPCs just taboo?

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I'm not a big rpg player but in the ones I played recently (Skyrim, Amalur) I could kill almost whoever I wanted. Exceptions being a few that are either instrumental to the plot or children.

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IIRC EverQuest you could kill any NPC. And like Japro mentioned, in the ElderScrolls series you can kill any (or at least almost any) NPC also (Never played Skyrim, and only played Oblivion for about 10 minutes, but Morrowind I could kill who I wanted).

Both those games (Morrowind and Everquest) are almost ten years old or older. I'm not up on recent console games or MMOs, but if I can name two ten-year old games that have it, there are probably dozens of games since then that also allow you to.

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Ultima Online you could kill npcs, they eventually made some invulnerable, but early on you cold kill every npc, later on you could kill a lot of npcs.

I made over 1 million gold (300-400 gold per kill) with a bard enticing (it was a skill to lure creatures with music) npcs out of guard zone, killing them, taking their gold, clothes, shoes, and sword and selling it to other npcs.

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Thanks for examples!

However, I understand that most of these (besides Skyrim) are mmorpgs.

So how does each deal with the killing of an NPC who would give a plot-important quest? Or is the main quest given right from the start?

Suppose NPC Bob were going to tell me that to kill the Spider Monster I first need to go and gather Red Fruit from the Underground City of Nephilim and I killed Bob before he told me this. Would Bob respawn for me to get a second chance at getting the information, or would I have to travel until I find someone else who also knows how to kill the Spider Monster? Or would the tooltip tell me I need this red fruit while I am trying to kill the spider without it?

More generally, what happens in those games when you kill an NPC who would have otherwise given you crucial information towards achieving an important goal?

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I Skyrim the "main quest givers" can't be killed. Side quest guys are mostly killable and you can fail quest or make them inaccessible by killing random people. Edited by japro

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In The Elder Scrolls 3 Morrowind and all Elder Scrolls before you could kill Every single RPG even if it destroyed the main quest and you couldnt finish the game anymore. I think it was best like that.

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[quote name='HelloSkitty' timestamp='1336860225' post='4939644']
So how does each deal with the killing of an NPC who would give a plot-important quest? Or is the main quest given right from the start?
...
More generally, what happens in those games when you kill an NPC who would have otherwise given you crucial information towards achieving an important goal?
[/quote]

[quote name='KenjiSenpai' timestamp='1336870526' post='4939674']
In The Elder Scrolls 3 Morrowind and all Elder Scrolls before you could kill Every single RPG even if it destroyed the main quest and you couldnt finish the game anymore. I think it was best like that.
[/quote]

But it's important to note that when you did kill an important main-quest required NPC it lets you know so you don't accidentally save when you weren't wanting to.

When you kill one, a simple dialog box pops up saying:
[center]"[size=3][b][color=#2f4f4f][font=verdana,geneva,sans-serif][i]With this character's death, the thread of prophecy is severed.[/i][/font][/color][/b][/size][/center]
[center][size=3][b][color=#2f4f4f][font=verdana,geneva,sans-serif][i]Restore a saved game to restore the weave of fate,[/i][/font][/color][/b][/size][/center]
[center][size=3][b][color=#2f4f4f][font=verdana,geneva,sans-serif][i]or persist in the doomed world you have created.[/i][/font][/color][/b][/size]"[/center]

[left]If you killed minor-quest giving NPCs, I don't recall anything warning you. It just keeps you from progressing along that quest. Oh well![/left]
[left]If Alice has a good item she'll give you if you clear the rats from her cellar, but you kill her, you can no longer complete that quest. However, you might just be able to loot the quest reward off her corpse. I don't know if that's common or not, but I think at least some of the time it was possible.[/left]

[left]Another game were you could kill any NPC was my favorite game, "King's Field" for the Playstation 1 (super outdated game - a first person action RPG). There were no "important" NPCs, as NPCs only give you plot details, and nothing depends on their survival. Unfortunately, they don't fight back, so there's not really any reward or challenge if you kill the NPCs.[/left]

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[quote name='HelloSkitty' timestamp='1336860225' post='4939644']
However, I understand that most of these (besides Skyrim) are mmorpgs.
[/quote]
No, "most of these" are RPGs. Another one not mentioned would be Fallout 3 (don't know about prequels).

[quote]So how does each deal with the killing of an NPC who would give a plot-important quest? Or is the main quest given right from the start?[/quote]
In Oblivion you simply couldn't hit the important NPCs. There's actually a variety of ways to make it seem like you could kill every NPC and still make the plot advance. For example through events and cut-scenes, or you can make it so that at the next loot a certain scroll/book is looted that advances the plot.

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So it is probably not a good idea to let a player kill an "essential" NPC without informing them that they just reduced their chance of winning to 0.

Now, one last question --

From a player's perspective (as opposed to a developer's), is there anything that can be gained from an unkillable NPC? Or should all NPCs be attackable? Of course, some, like your mentor at the beginning of the game, will be too strong to kill.

The only reason I can think of to disable attacking NPCs is to prevent accidental attacks, which is why some games have an option to turn Friendly Fire off. But anything else?

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[quote name='HelloSkitty' timestamp='1336860225' post='4939644']
So how does each deal with the killing of an NPC who would give a plot-important quest? Or is the main quest given right from the start?
[/quote]

You can find ways to deal with it if you realy want to. You can make quests failsafe by leaving a note on the body, or leaving quest reward reachable after death of the NPC. Or your npc may not die in a plausible way, like teleporting to escape, a cutscene that saves him from players grip.

The main question is what do you gain from killable NPC's and how commited are you to the concept. Because it will haunt you all the way through the development as you implement guidelines to support this idea. It may also cause problems after release when you forget something and the players get stuck because of their ill decision.

I am personally in favor of attackable NPC's. However it is not without negatives. I have found the idea of killing NPC's only meaningful when the game permits player to impact the world. Otherwise disadventages quickly pile up against advantages, on a developer's point of view of course.

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[quote name='HelloSkitty' timestamp='1336931438' post='4939833']
From a player's perspective (as opposed to a developer's), is there anything that can be gained from an unkillable NPC? Or should all NPCs be attackable? Of course, some, like your mentor at the beginning of the game, will be too strong to kill.

The only reason I can think of to disable attacking NPCs is to prevent accidental attacks, which is why some games have an option to turn Friendly Fire off. But anything else?
[/quote]

In single-player RPGs the bonus for the player is that they don't accidentally stop themselves from finishing the game/having to redoing content.

In multiplayer RPGs it has the benefit of limiting griefing. Another player can't stop you from handing in a quest by killing the Q giver.

Personally I prefer having killable NPCs, it makes the whole thing more believable and less "gamey". Although in single player games it goes hand in hand with a decent autosave system.

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In Fallout 3, I encountered issues with unkillable NPCs. I decided to go bad karma for a while (okay, actually a quest glitched, I got annoyed, and decided to kill everybody in Rivet City by littering the place with mines and opening fire). One character was unkillable for quest reasons, an optional quest that I didn't want to take (or perhaps a mandatory quest I'd already done). He pretty much turned into the Terminator. It was slightly scary. What good is a questgiver that wants you dead and can't be killed?

For me the unkillability breaks immersion. Some warning would be nice, e.g. they give some dying breath message or leave behind a scroll, etc. Even what SOTL said about Elder Scrolls. Although that could go horribly wrong if your cousin plays for 5 minutes, kills an essential NPC, then doesn't tell you about the message. ;)

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The first reason s the one you mentioned: you don't want to accidentally shoot a fireball in the king's court, kill the entire royal family, and completely derail the story.

The second is that it may not fit the story at all. If you're a Pokemon Trainer, the you are a kid obsessed with these fantastical creatures, not a psychopath that will kill other kids and shopkeepers to steal their Pokemon and special items. If you're a paladin, then no, you can't kill that widow that asked you to find her only son, no matter how much her sobbing and pleading irritate you.

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[quote name='sciencewarrior' timestamp='1337256363' post='4940913']
The second is that it may not fit the story at all. If you're a Pokemon Trainer, the you are a kid obsessed with these fantastical creatures, not a psychopath that will kill other kids and shopkeepers to steal their Pokemon and special items. If you're a paladin, then no, you can't kill that widow that asked you to find her only son, no matter how much her sobbing and pleading irritate you.
[/quote]

Also, players are don't always good roleplayers or know what they want to experience, how they want to experience. Some times it's okay to limit them to deliver better experience. As for breaking the immersion, maybe you should work something out for a way to keep key NPC's alive without butchering believability.

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Yeah I think this is kind of like "friendly fire" being always turned off in multiplayer shooters. Too many people were massive dicks with the feature to make it a good game design decision, even if it increases realism or makes the game more interesting.

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[quote name='TylerBetable' timestamp='1337280273' post='4941002']
Yeah I think this is kind of like "friendly fire" being always turned off in multiplayer shooters. Too many people were massive dicks with the feature to make it a good game design decision, even if it increases realism or makes the game more interesting.
[/quote]
But that design decision depends on your community. There are games that do friendly fire very well, because it works with the community that plays the game. (It's not [i]always[/i] better to make friendly fire off, even if [i]most of the time[/i] it is the best choice. There are no blanket design rules [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img])

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I'm surprised no one has mentioned Deus Ex. It was another game that would allow you to kill almost anyone (other than key plot providers).

One time I was playing, and I walked into the 'ton hotel with my gun out - a bad move. Jock (the helicopter pilot who shuttles you around for half the game) pulled his gun out and started a massive fight that I couldn't win - he was invincible. It still made for an entertaining few minutes though, until I died and had to re-load.

To me, it comes down to what the designer wants. If you can think if alternate ways around things despite there being dead NPCs, go for it. In my mind it would help the immersion a bit (unlike the invincible helicopter pilot).

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I say if you do decide to make a game with killable NPCs DON'T make them plot-detail essential (use artificial means of plot advancement like the "angel" in Borderlands or whatever works for the game; OF COURSE this only applies if you don't want to make tons of extra branching events for world/social simulation) and DON'T just make the standard "kill NPC for XP and items at the cost of reputation/bail" design choice. I say that second part only to persuade you to be a little more creative.

Example: You cannot kill an NPC directly like you would an enemy, but you could pick them up and throw them at enemies like weapons or use them as bait in traps (plus a lot more I haven't thought of). In this way I think killable NPCs become more of a gameplay mechanic (like a 'resource') rather than just fluff for realism with a reward.

These are just my opinions. Use of them what you wish.

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