[MUD-Dev] [MLP] NPC Complexity

Sean Kelly sean at ffwd.cx
Fri Apr 19 07:52:24 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


From: "shren" <shren at io.com>

> 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.)

Yup.  Unfortunately, beta was the high-point in UO's lifetime, IMO.
The comparison was what caused me to leave the game after a few
months into production.

I think the reason the ecology idea didn't work in UO was that the
world was just too small, and it was too easy to get around.  And it
like most MMORPGs cast players in the role of heroes with
non-players as either things to be consumed/killed or as support
characters.  Any ecology will fall apart if 70% of the entire
world's population (beasts included) are rampant consumers.

Asheron's Call solved this somewhat by increasing the world size and
increasing the non-player to player ratio, but the hero issue was
still there.

IMO, combat-oriented games that have the best chance of success, so
far as things like ecology go, are worlds where the world itself is
not the primary enemy of the players.

> 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.

Popped out of another orc somewhere else in the world?  Seems
reasonable.  Though with the incredible monster turnover in most
games, you would end up with tremendous orc populations in less
traveled parts of the world.  It would likely take some careful
tuning :).

> 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.

The idea in most P&P RPGs it to keep the difficulty pretty
consistent, regardless of player level.  If all the players were
extremely powerful, a mount-doom scenario would not be
insurmountable.

>> 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?

This was a feature I had originally thought was going to be a part
of UO.  The initial hype seemed like things like monster raids of
towns would not be unheard-of.  But I guess even if this were worked
into the code, the destruction of the ecology guranteed that it
would never happen in practice.

>> 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.

This is my goal with Neverwinter Nights.  And with the low (and
controllable) player density, I'm hoping it will be possible.  The
engine itself isn't completely suited to such a fluid world, but I'm
guessing a few programmatic backflips and the ability to save
game-state to disk will make this possible.

>> 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.

The question in my mind is if this can all be done with a reasonable
amount of computing power.  For NWN I'm betting it will, but for
MMORPGs it might be neccessary to offload AI onto a separate
machine, and perhaps have NPCs log in just like players do.  This
would make the world quite scalable whole decreasing the binding
between NPC and game engine.

> 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.

Yup.  This wouldn't work on a shared system.

Sean

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