[MUD-Dev] Respecting NPCs

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Sat Oct 27 10:19:46 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


Travis Nixon posted on Friday, October 26, 2001 1:12 PM

> To be fair, an alicebot could be configured to answer the types of
> questions players are most likely to ask.  Where can I buy a
> sword?  Where can I get something to eat?  Although, to be honest,
> an alicebot would have trouble with even those, unless there is
> only one place in the world to buy a sword, and one place in the
> world that serves food.  But even for those types of things an
> alicebot might be able to handle, it's...well, I want to say
> overkill here, but that's not really right.  Underkill?  You could
> give it a lot of responses, but it's not going to have any sort of
> depth to it at all.  You could get a lot more depth a lot more
> efficiently by simply parsing those sorts of questions and
> answering them based on worldstate.  Same result, but I wouldn't
> even consider calling it "conversation". :)

To be more succinct (so I'm not replaced by a chatbot), let me put
it this way:

Most NPC interaction sucks.  Chatbots provide the framework, no
matter how primitive, for more interaction.  The enlightened game
creators and coders among us know that this is a fallacy, an
illusion.  But ten seconds of conversation that fool "Joe player"
are ten more seconds than the average NPC fools anybody.

Chatbots would ultimately, of course, be the framework for context
unique to the NPC.  I'm not advocating a single chatbot intelligence
for every NPC, but with the basic framework to form questions, a
chatbot, coupled with a list of topics, will seemingly answer and
interact more intelligently than a mannequin that waits for the word
"sword."

This is the difference between:

  -PC wants to buy sword.
  -PC asks NPC about saber.
  -NPC response: "NPC doesn't know what you're talking about."

vs.

  -PC wants to buy sword.  PC asks NPC about saber.  NPC response:
  "I don't have a saber, do you want to buy armor?"
  -PC replies no.
  -NPC: "Do you want to buy a weapon?"
  -PC replies yes.
  -NPC: "Ah, I sell swords, staves, and daggers."
  -PC asks about swords.
  -NPC: "I have the following kinds of swords: falchion, long sword,
  short sword."
  -PC buys a different sword, realizing that a saber isn't in the
  inventory.

This is MUCH more satisfying than the dumb, "I don't know" response.
One of the things I've noticed with ALICEBOT is that it makes an
effort to get YOU to speak ITS language.

You could do this for any merchant NPC, who, upon being asked about
something it doesn't comprehend, responds with a series of what it
CAN do, modified by its inventory, circumstances, etc.  To make it
world or city specific, other module subsets about a particular
land, area, etc. could be added based on where that merchant is
located.

So a merchant NPC located in nowhere would only be able to conduct
the above conversation.  A merchant located in the steamy jungles of
Sosel (and indeed, most NPCs on the planet, perhaps varying based on
their Wisdom stat) could answer questions about the dinosaurs that
lurk there as well -- but a merchant from another planet wouldn't
necessarily know anything about them.

Simple.  Compartmentalized.  Still more intelligent than, "I have
this laundry list and if you don't ask the right key word I will not
interact with you."

I'm not advocating artificial intelligence by any means.  But
really, this is all about an enhanced version of Clippit.  We have
all the context within the game itself (a sword's value, its
condition, etc.), we just need to get the PC to understand how to
speak that language.

NPCs rarely bother to keep up their side of the conversation.  By
ASKING, they draw the PC in, make them interact in a way they might
not normally bother.  Less frustration and more encouragement to get
the PC to communicate with the NPC.

> The fact that so many people are fooled by alicebots says a whole
> lot more about people than it says about chatbots.

Right.  Players are people too.  I think.

Mike "Talien" Tresca
RetroMUD Administrator
http://www.retromud.org/talien

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