[MUD-Dev] [MLP] NPC Complexity

shren shren at io.com
Wed Apr 17 06:39:55 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

On Mon, 15 Apr 2002, Peter Tyson wrote:
> From: shren [mailto:shren at io.com]
>> The NPC Complexity issue is doing rounds again.  This was posted
>> on slashdot today but is probably relevant, or at least
>> interesting: http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2002/04/rauch.htm

> I thought that was a fascinating article and perhaps that kind of
> complexity can be applied to MUDs one day. However, none of those
> systems assume there are players in the model ;). Would they screw
> up a carefully balanced NPC world? I guess they might if their
> actions impacted on the rule-sets of NPC agents.

I played around with alife simulated rules.  (I remember talking
with R. Koster around the time I did it about virtual ecologies) I
even made it so I could walk around my virtual world.  I never
managed to unbalance my artifical realm.  Sometimes chopping down a
single tree would have an immense effect on where the trees ended up
in future, but there were always trees.  I worked only with plants
at the time...

At the same time, a lot of the things that I was thinking about for
animals (and was thinking would be neat to have in an online game)
were already in Ultima Online - flocking, reproducing, and so forth.
Koster told me, however, that such things were never seen out of
beta, however, because the players kill everything in sight.  (I
guess "dynamic ecology" and "use based skill system that uses animal
bits as components" don't go well together in retrospect.)

I've always wondered what would happen if monsters spawned out of
other monsters and wandered in packs from there instead of spawning
in a specific site.  Every time you kill an orc, an orc pops out of
another orc.  Even if you started off with the orcs evenly
distributed across the world, after a period of play they'd be
compressed out of regular player areas.

Something interesting about this is that it *should* make the mud
get harder for the players automatically over time.  If you start
with thousand square miles of virtual space and one orc per square
mile, and the players drive the orcs out of half of the world, then
the rest of the world is two orcs per square mile.  The tighter you
compress them, the more orcs there are in any one place.  You'd
probably have the world stabilize with all of the orcs in one "mount
doom" sort of area.

> Fascinating would be virtual villages and towns which responded to
> surrounding events. If NPCs left villages (and closed
> shops/abandoned buildings) and moved to the city (Growing the city
> and the guards/tax revenue there) due to player combat/banditry in
> the region, would other players respond to put down the bad guys
> so they'd continue to have shops to do business with?
> To me, the lack of NPCs 'doing things' is something that I miss
> most about CRPGs that PnP RPGs had (at least with a good GM). I
> miss the feeling of being in a living society. It bothers me that
> towns in MUDs have NPCs who work 24/7 and don't have a house to go
> to, it bothers me they don't have their own issues and agendas
> with each other and their governments. :)
> I'm sure it would be possible with the right engine (to
> accommodate a changing world) and the right (and very carefully
> constructed) rule set to create a slowly evolving society that
> would respond to certain player inputs in a realistic way.
> However, there has to be a reason for this beyond simply adding a
> cute feature. I propose that you could use an evolving rules-based
> NPC society prompt the players to change their own behaviour,
> particularly if it was destructive to the game design over-all.

I think it goes a little bit beyond "cute feature".  It's simply the
act of finishing something that was started a long time ago.  Right
now, most of the things in online worlds are props, cardboard
cutouts of sorts.  The difference between a tree and a rock are
often just graphical - both are static, immobile, and impede
movement.  Like the cardboard cutouts on a stage, they are there
just to make things look good.

They can be a whole lot more, but you have to pay a huge bill in CPU
time.  I used a multi-user HP box to run my grass/shrub/tree
simulation, and it used enough power on that box that I came to the
attention of the system administrators.

The sysadmin taught me how to use the 'nice' command, and told me if
I ran my sim again without it that I'd find myself lacking an

> Of course, balancing it would be.. very difficult. Perhaps
> simulations could be run with virtual players, greed and
> obsessiveness set to very high ;)

Won't be complete untill the virtual players post on usenet
complaining that your game is unbalanced.  *grin*



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