[MUD-Dev] DESIGN: Personal NPCs

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD llocr at btinternet.com
Fri Nov 18 02:22:05 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005


Mike,

By sheer chance, I read your article yesterday, and found it to
raise some interesting ideas. The implementation of such a system
seems like a tall order, considering that enough variety needs to be
designed in so that players experience a variety of quests, but also
such that they're all of a similar level of difficulty. I'll
explain...

--- Mike Rozak <Mike at mxac.com.au> wrote:

> In GUT, I used an example of an old woman asking for help as a way
> to produce a sympathetic goal. While this works to align the
> player's goals with the NPCs, it is limited because:

> 1.  The old woman character can only be used for a few quests. In
> a MMORPG, most NPCs hand out only one quest. A few NPCs hand out
> as many as five quests before they're "used up". Either the NPC
> has no more logical quests left to hand out, or the player's
> character becomes so powerful that he no longer frequents the
> static location where the NPC stands.

> 2.  No matter what a player does to help the old woman, she will
> always be standing on the street corner soliciting help (from
> other players) for her cherry quest. She is too static.

> 3.  In a problem unique to MMORPGs, other players will also have
> completed the woman's quests, which is fine for picking berries,
> but problematical for heroic deeds like saving the woman's
> life. For one, any NPC whose life needs saving 250 times a day
> probably isn't worth rescuing. Second, a player cannot fail to
> save the woman's life because that would mean no-one else could
> undertake the quest ever again. These limitations weaken the
> experience, and further objectify the NPC.

Very important points. It often bothers me that many quests which
seem very heroic (rescue the girl, recover the magic item, whatever)
seem very important, but happen several times every day.

What's more, because players don't care about the NPCs, they don't
care what happens to them. I remember a particular quest in one MUD,
which would started by meeting an old man on the roadside. He's
looking for an adventurer to rescue his daughter, who has been
captured and taken into the local beast-infested cavern. After
venturing into the cavern, killing beasts, weakening the beast
leader by stealing his crown, killing him and finally finding the
girl, the player could guide his character back to the old man for a
reward. It was then quite the norm (especially for 'neutral'
characters who wanted their alignment neither good nor evil) to then
kill the pair of helpless NPCs for a bit more experience and gold,
knowing that in 20 minutes they will have respawned and the whole
process can begin again.

Players aren't exactly loyal when it comes to NPCs.  This disloyalty
also encourages 'farming' NPCs for their loot. Log in to a new
MMORPG, and gain a few levels and ask people for advice. They'll
happily tell you that if you're level 10, you should make sure you
go and kill the goblin servant in a particular room in a particular
castle, because you'll get a cool mace+1.

> The character archetypes that Fable employs cannot be used in a
> MMORPG because:

> 1.  All of the above reasons.

> 2.  Players will find it very improbable that each of their
> characters grew up in the same town, all had fathers that died,
> and sisters that were kidnapped, etc.

If you have a list of 10 NPCs (old man, old woman, small boy,
shadowy figure, etc), then as the player base gets larger, the
players will come to recognise them.

   "Oh, you're level 15? Has your quest NPC turned up yet? Mine was
   an old man."

   "Yeah, it was a penniless bard for me. I had to collect berries
   for him."

   "Berries? You're lucky - I had to kill a troll"

   etc

Perhaps (and I know this would take a lot more work), a system could
be made so that the NPCs turned up at different times, and with
large differences in quests.  i.e., Some people have an old lady
turn up at level 5 and ask them to collect berried, but others don't
get anyone turn up until level 30, but have to collect dragon heads.

What I do like is the idea of quests that can always be done, time
after time after time, but without actually feeling like quests.

For example, lighting lanterns in the local city when it gets dark:
As soon as the sun sets, players can walk up to a dark street
lantern and turn it on. They get 10xp for each one. But they can do
this -every single night-, because it always needs to be done.
Perhaps NPCs could be doing the same, so that at least some of the
city is lit up, but you get the idea.  Other suggestions might be:

  Delivering ore/coal from mines to the cities.

  Helping to 'keep down' the infestation of pests in the sewers

  Gathering power cells from around the world for the city's failing
  reactor.

As a result of this, the NPC (and perhaps, the player's
city/guild/clan) will benefit, and there is a still a consistant
world going on.

C.
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