[MUD-Dev] Respecting NPCs

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Thu Nov 1 07:54:54 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


Adam Martin posted on Sunday, October 28, 2001 10:20 AM

Hmm.  I'm not making my point clear:

  Chatbots are still better than the basic interaction most NPCs
  have now.  Want AI?  Thinking programs that don't emulate, but
  actually generate, unique conversation?

  We'll have to wait a couple of years.

I'm talking about what can be done now -- right now, NPCs are drones
to be ignored.  They are, as someone else said, the equivalent of
talking vending machines.  That's it.  I don't talk to a vending
machine -- I wouldn't even spare it a glance.

But I've watched people coo over Furbies for hours.  Why?  Because
on the conversational scale, it's still higher than the vending
machine.

As a new player who doesn't necessarily have the ability to judge
the conversational NPC, I'm more likely to be impressed by one that
holds my conversation longer.

> I mentioned I'd seen a lot of people come away from Alicebots
> deeply unimpressed and disappointed by them - how is that behavior
> going to translate in a game where people are investing a lot more
> of themselves in the experience, where they care a lot more about
> the conversation than mere mild academic interest?

I've seen a lot of people come away from the silly AI Alicebot with
stars in their eyes.  Why?  Because they didn't know for SURE it was
a chatbot.

I can put a disclaimer on a MUD that says, "Warning!  At any time,
NPC may be controlled by a human being."  Then put in a chatbot and
never actually interfere with the NPCs.  The illusion is all a
matter of the PCs conversational tolerance -- they might not ever be
sure if they're talking to an intelligent being or not.

And haven't we all wondered about the intelligence of the other side
of a conversation at one point or another? >:)

There seems to be a lot of cynicism around this -- and I submit it's
because I'm talking to an audience of experienced gamers.  We all
know the difference.  I can remember my new player days.  I was
horrified that the NPCs I interacted with couldn't even respond to
normal conversation.  I would say, "How are you today?" "Can you
tell me how to get to Keystone City?" "What's your name?" and get
absolutely no response at all.  Answering those three questions
would have changed my opinion of that NPC greatly -- at the minimum,
the conversation provides some sort of utility.

This practically BEGS NPC to be treated like non-living drones,
worth only the exp from murdering them.  People should be full of
information and have value if you talk to them.

Imagine: NPCs begging for their lives, screaming in horror, weeping
over the death of their loved ones.

Not particularly effective if you made no other effort to give NPCs
personalities.  Much more effective if you've already invested in
Talien, who has a wife and two kids, will tell you about them, and
is fond of strong ale.

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

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