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Wavinator

All dressed up and nothing to say...

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What do you really expect out of NPC conversation? A friend and I were playing Baldur''s Gate:Dark Alliance for the PS2 when we both (almost simultaneously) commented on how boring it was to have a village full of townspeople who had absolutely nothing to say. (Why did they bother putting them there in the first place, if you couldn''t interact with them? An animated backdrop would have been much more efficient.) It got me thinking about what it is that we really expect our NPCs to say to us. Sure, name, job, current state of events and this or that quest to kill foozle... but what else? In many games generic NPCs have either nothing or a few one liners to say. But even if you had an army of people to sit down and write out content, would giving them reams and reams of conversation be all that significant? Honestly, in most games we''re there to kill somebody, get something, solve a puzzle or two, grab some money and go home. Conversation that doesn''t dovetail into that purpose often seems pointless. Even if an NPC could chatter on and on about friends and families, hobbies, aspirations, etc., etc. ad naseum... what would be the point? A more immersive world? Not if you couldn''t affect anything they were talking about. Unless you were doing a Shenmue type story game, it seems to me conversation has to be imminently practical and relevant. Anything else, to me, implies dramatically different gameplay. -------------------- Just waiting for the mothership...

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What would you want out of Baldur''s Gate? You seem to be that no conversation is boring, but conversation that doesn''t directly deal with the task at hand is pointless.

I would like to see a dialog system that adjusts itself according to what you''ve done, even in the little things. Had to run away from a monster to come back to town and heal? That should be just as much a topic of conversation as you successfully beating the monster. Did you rough up one of the townsfolk? That should get around too. What you do to affect the game world should be reflected in how the game world talks to you.

Take care,
Bill

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quote:
Original post by Wavinator
What do you really expect out of NPC conversation?

It got me thinking about what it is that we really expect our NPCs to say to us. Sure, name, job, current state of events and this or that quest to kill foozle... but what else?

In many games generic NPCs have either nothing or a few one liners to say. But even if you had an army of people to sit down and write out content, would giving them reams and reams of conversation be all that significant?

I agree that there should be no superfluous conversation.

That said, the definition of superfluous is up to you. It''s ok for an irrelevant NPC to talk about his job if he shares some backstory when he does so. And it''s ok for another NPC to mention some sort of rumour which turns out to be false. It''s all adding to the game.

I don''t remember any "one-liner" NPCs in Ultima 7. Not all of them were interesting, but they all had something relevant to say. And there were a lot of them. I don''t think it''s too difficult, given a little thought.

[ MSVC Fixes | STL | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost | Asking Questions ]

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Relevant conversation...
  • NPC''s choice of words is indicating his attitude towards you. Is a fight about to happen because he did not take kindly towards your bumping into him as you crossed paths?
  • NPC works in the service or merchant industry and is assessing your needs and attempting to provide service for you.
  • NPC is a local or passerby and has information about the world around him.
  • NPC is carrying out a deed and relates what that is and how that works; essentially a more specific example of above.
  • NPC is interested in contracting you to provide a service or sell something. This is the inverse of the NPC being the service or retail merchant.
  • NPC needs help for some task.
  • NPC is a swindler and a scam artist and you are his next victim. Lucky you.
  • NPC is passing a message (or threat) on to you.
  • NPC is commenting on your behavior in an attempt to steer you into being a more effective individual.

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Well, here''s an idea, although it may be a little specific for some people''s use.

You identify your centers of conversation. Taverns, town squares, etc. For each one, create a database to keep track of ''information topics.'' So if you mess up in one village, there''s a chance the people in the next one won''t have heard about it.

Then, give each character ''character values'' which affect their opinions on the news events. If you were to talk to a grumpy old man about having killed a monster, he''d just say something like ''bah, there''ll only be another one next week.''

Then, you can combine the two - and, voila! An instant gossip system. NPCs can only talk about topics which they have flagged in the database - the others are ones that they don''t ''know'' about. Trying to talk to an NPC about an event they''re not aware of will generate a different results depending on their character values. They may want to rush off to the pub straight away to find out about it, or they may not care.

Superpig
- saving pigs from untimely fates
- sleeps in a ham-mock at www.thebinaryrefinery.cjb.net

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I don''t know. It seems to me having more superfluous conversation would mean players didn''t automatically assume that everything people told them was relevant to the task at hand. Just like in real life, you meet people on the street (well, admittedly I don''t go up and start up conversations with people, which is a rather silly convention of RPGs, but anyways), and they may ignore you, they may shun you, they may discuss the weather, and they may have something of interest to say about local events.

I thought the Fallout games did a pretty good job with NPC conversations. Even if some NPCs only got short lines, they were usually somehow relevant to the game world. They were superfluous in the sense that they didn''t necessarily benefit your immediate mission, but they added flavour to the game world and I appreciated this.

R.

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If anyone here wonder how tons of extra conversation from npc''s can be an entirely good thing.. well, I got but one thing to say. Ultima 7.

That you could talk lengthy with anyone you met, were just one of the things that worked perfectly in that game. What other games has made such a realistic world like that? I remember how it seemed that every npc in that game were an individual with his or her own way of living.

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Well, the last 2 replies were kind of what I was saying. Nothing should be ''useless'', and I think it is a waste of time adding stuff like chatterbots to games just so that NPCs can have a pretense of being able to talk when they are still conveying no information whatsoever. But there is more to ''useful conversation'' than directly pushing the plot along one notch. It''s not at all hard to come up with something interesting for an NPC to say. And if you are really struggling, then does that NPC need to be there in the first place? So anyway, I agree that the conversation should be practical, but not necessarily relevant. Something that may seem irrelevant to the player at one point may be relevant later on. Or may give a better understanding of something else. It''s a terrible waste if you limit NPCs to merely being another plot flag device.

[ MSVC Fixes | STL | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost | Asking Questions | Organising code files ]

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I have a question related to this topic:

Lets say the NPC can handle a wide variety of topics, how does the player talk to NPC about them?
The classic approach is to present player with multiple choice lines, so player just chooses a topic he wants NPC to talk about. This works fine for small set of topics, but what if there are like 50 things? the multiple choice list would be too messy.
So what''s the alternative?
I suppose one could make a parser that analyzes what player types in, sort of like a search engine. That has its own problems. Can you think of better approaches or should I pursue the parser idea?

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I was musing about a sort of Meme based system, where NPCs would talk with each other and transmit knowledge units between each other. I discarded it as being uselessly realistic. I like the town hall idea, where each NPC has a chance to know some meme, and will tell you about the various things he learns / has access to.

As far as interface, you could have something like the Zork - Nemesis system. You can ask a character about anything on a map, anything you''ve recorded or photographed, anything you have in your inventory, or just sort of respond ( angry, threaten, like, interested ) to the character.

in our current case, if you walk up and talk to a NPC, he may lead the conversation with something that he thinks you might be interested in that he heard, ( dragons in the hills, etc ) with something that you are rumored to have done ( the widow metlis had her hut broken into and her 1 gold peice stolen and her cat shaved. ), or wait for you to direct the conversation.

You could direct the conversation by asking him about a note you were given, a item you have or whatever.

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