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VR - Gamers filling the roles of NPC's

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Hey Everyone, this is my first time posting on gamedev.net before so please excuse me if I'm a little green with all of this.

As VR games become more mainstream and better game mechanics are developed and refined, I've been theorizing about new and interesting ways to create interaction between players and NPC's. Currently, in the field of RPG's in particular, all quests and world interaction is delivered by NPC's or by other objects in the world such as job/killboards. Even if a quest has been fully scripted, this form of data transmission is extremely static and inflexible. It doesn't allow the player to progress the story in their own way or to have flexible conversations where the quest is defined over the duration of said interaction.

Because of this, I've been taking a look into how machine learning and other forms of AI could allow for a user to receive quest data in more organic ways. Maybe we could have an AI that could process voice chat, analyze what was said and then produce conversation pieces geared toward the quests they are offering. But with no experience in the field of machine learning, I wouldn't even know where to begin.

But that's when it hit me, why try to create smarter AI when you could just use humans to do the job for you? And so I searched high and low on the internet for any game that may have done this but the only games that came close were EVE:Online, with its player-driven trade market/encounters, second-Life (for the same reason), and maybe Fallout76 with it's lack of human NPC's. Nowhere else could I find player characters being the primary drivers of social, economic, and character growth.

Is it so radical to think that a game and it's questing systems could be completely player driven where no NPC's exist? With VR in particular where games Like VRChat and Rec Room are redefining social interaction, hasn't the time come where we can make questing an interaction between player and player versus player and NPC?

I was wondering if anyone could point me in the direction of a game that would come close to this idea?



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Hey R3ST4RT,

It's an interesting idea.  But it's also a dangerous one.  The Fallout 76 team had a similar idea of having the players be the NPCs and the community hated it.

The first thought I have is give tools to the players who want to create quests.  Let players design the dungeon, enemies, and loot.  Basically give them a mini level editor to create quests.  A lot of player find joy in creating this sort of content.  You would have to put some things in place to prevent trolls, I could see someone making a room full of spikes.  For examples of this check out games like Happy Wheels, Portal Knights, or Tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons.

The problem with letting players be the quest givers is everyone wants to be the adventurer, no one wants to be the villager.  Also, do the quest givers have to give up their hard earned loot?  Few are going to want to do that. 

Maybe you could have a varied and unique class system where only certain classes can do certain things, and they are required to make quests to get the resources they need.

For example:
- Player A is a Warrior.  She wants to buy a new weapon.
- Player B is a Blacksmith.  He wants an enchanted crystal.
- Player C is a Miner.  He wants gold

So Player B creates a quest: "Bring me an enchanted crystal and I will create a custom weapon."  Player A takes this quest.  But Player B needs iron ore so he meets with Player C who is selling ore for gold

This sort of interaction works because the classes can't do each other's jobs.

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Thanks for the reply Jbarrios, you bring up some good points! I've been letting the idea percolate for a while now and I think I have a better way of framing it. 

Like I was saying in my original post,

  • Static quests are boring 
  • Quests from NPC's are not engaging
  • Games such as MMO's are the most fun when played with a community
  • VR can make social interactions in games way more compelling

To frame the idea, lets use an example of a game that could have the framework built around it:

  • A town where at the center of it is a dungeon with multiple levels. These levels are generated by the game developers and increase in difficulty as you progress through them. Essentially taking the elements of a roguelike for the dungeon, slapping a town around it, and then populating it as an MMO or auto-populated lobby.

With the above environment I would want to create a system where players are incentivized to dungeon dive but are not directed to do so by developer created quests. Rather, to progress through the dungeon, there is a need for the player to interact with others. This interaction would be needed due to potential limitations on what class a player had chosen, what professions they have picked, or what roll they played in a party. Essentially having only 30% of the puzzle pieces but the need to complete 100% of the puzzle. This effectively removes the need to "quest" but also creates the social interactions that most MMO's or other social games are based on and thrive from.

As VR develops, the ability to socially interact with others is going to become a driving factor in how we play through a game. While I'm sure there will be games out there that fit the traditional mold, I envision games where this social interaction can drive the story from start to finish rather than just being a parallel mechanic.

In my redoubled efforts to determine what game comes closet to this concept, I again came back to EVE:Online and it's player driven economy and storyline. While there are NPC quests and new expansions that further the overarching story of the universe, the majority of in-game events are completely player driven: 

  1. People mine for minerals and sell them on the market
  2. People buy those minerals and ship them to processing facilities
  3. People build ships out of those processed minerals and sell them on the market
  4. People buy those ships and then use them to PVP and kill the miners and shippers
  5. Factions take offence to these killings and redouble their efforts to exterminate the pirates
  6. All hell breaks lose and you have high quality social interaction that never needed quests to be fun

In what I envision, the social climate of EVE:Online could be replicated, made a tad bit less dry (more fun), and then supercharged by the fact that it's being experienced in VR. The town/dungeon described above would be player populated, run by a player made economy, and supports the exploration of deeper levels of the dungeon.

If people can mine for literal hours in EVE:Online, then I'm sure some of them would want to be a blacksmith in the town, fulfilling orders for would-be adventurers haha.

I'm not sure if this concept can be fully realized in an effective manner that would be more fun and engaging than EVE, but I would love to hear anyone's thoughts on the matter!

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Games are generally made to entertain players so they spend cash.

NPC's are there for doing the menial tasks, like giving out quests.

If you want to make a game where players create quests, it's probably best to have that be the only gameplay available for players and make that gameplay as fun as possible. (there are plenty of games who do this)

(There 's also plenty of games where creating quests is a detail to help gameplay, like bounty-systems)

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Actually, quite a while ago, I remember reading in this forum that there was a project to combine various games around a single database, so that the monsters and creepers in your typical RPG would be actually defined from human players in a casual-player-friendly Dragon-City-like creeper-breeder game, where farmers and their farms in your MMORPG landscape would actually be farmville players, where their game-problems would become player-generated quests for MMORPG players, where such quests would be smuggled around by Endless-Runner-type players, and wars over territory would be managed by 4x-players.

All in all, I thought it would be a convincing setting because most of it would be breathing and an individual player's actions would meaningfully impact the world in myriads of ways, whether they succeed or fail in their endeavours, which is something which never happens in ANY MMORPG to my knowledge, apart from the now-defunct Matrix Online.

I wonder what happened of this project.

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