Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Realistic" NPCs

It occurs to me that the secret to making more interesting NPCs might not lie in making them more like people, but more like players.

Think about it. Real people are very boring, especially strangers. Even in a tabletop RPG, most of the random people a player accosts don't have anything interesting to say. The same thing is definitely true in reality.

The interesting characters in an RPG are the ones with a role to play. It's not that they have goals or a complex relationship schema, it's just that the GM wants them to hang around and do what they do.

All of the interesting characters - PC or NPC - are constantly in a subtle jockeying metagame. The characters "themselves" are "unaware" of it, if you can use those terms in relationship to a fictional fragment of personality. Anchrax the Archvillain doesn't understand that he's around to make life miserable for the players and then lose. He "thinks" he's trying to take over the world with his army of evil. But the GM still positions him to make life miserable and then lose: Anchrax's personality is a vague guide, but does not actually govern his overall activity.

I've been using quotes for a reason. A character never really thinks on his or her own. A character is powered by a person, a person who is trying to put them in specific situations so they can do what they do best.

Anchrax is not trying to conquer the world, and the princess is not trying to escape. They are playing those parts while jockeying to be where the players need them to be, when they are needed to be there, and who they are needed to be. An interesting character is only partially interesting due to their personality: it is as much a result of the situations that the GM puts them in.

Isn't that what we should be trying to simulate?

4 comments:

Patrick said...

Regardless of it's relative merit as a platform, this is what Storytron is designed to do.

Corvus said...

That's the idea behind my "mythic AI" concept. My goal is to simulate characters in a story, not real people.

Paolo said...

Seeing as most people are driven by selfish desires, perhaps the closer we can make AI selfish the more 'real' the experience will seem.

For example, bad guys won't just run out foolishly to get you unless there is sufficient gain for them or the consequences of not doing so are worse. Then the balance would be injecting an AI Boss that could give the baddies incentive to rush out. "Get out there or I'll kill you!"

In the case of a showdown between you and a boss character, it might seem more real if the boss only faces you when the deck is stacked in his/her favor. As soon as the odds change, the Boss orders his goons to jump in.

Right now, Lucas Arts is working on something interesting with their upcoming The Force Unleashed. AI has a sense of self preservation and will latch on to anything or anyone whilst falling or in the grip of the Force to avoid being harmed.

Craig Perko said...

Paolo: That is precisely the kind of thinking I'm arguing against. That doesn't produce more interesting NPCs. It produces more realistic NPCs. Totally the opposite.

Also, Patrick and Corvus: I'm kind of looking at a different way of doing things than your examples.