Roleplaying games - and their gamers - have always sought to create as realistic and believable - or at least as interesting and engaging - worlds as possible. A big part of these worlds, and perhaps the most important part as far as plot and motivation go, are the Non-Player Characters which constitute them. It would be a long and boring campaign without any other intelligent NPCs to interact with, and even in the cases where there are engaging, realistic NPCs to talk and play with, they are still usually limited by their programming in a computer game, or by time constraints and the imagination of a Storyteller or Dungeon Master.
I didn't realize when I first came up with the idea for this blog that HxfTenor's next blog would address a similar facet of the idea, and discussions in the forums helped to kick it off, but it has always been a facet of NPC existence that no game has yet to truly master: getting NPCs to feel alive, intelligent, and dynamic without a living human being pulling their strings and speaking through their mouths 24/7. For the purposes of the WODMMO, then, I'd like to propose an idea or two that I think would help with this particular aspect of the game, and make it that much more difficult to tell NPCs from PCs, especially if those NPCs are vampires.
The first basic premise of the idea is this: make everybody play by the same rules. This means that NPCs - or PCs - don't get any special powers or abilities that the other side wouldn't get - if NPCs can punch through walls with Potence 5, PCs should be able to punch through walls with Potence 5 as well. If NPCs get immunity to Dominate based on their Generation, but PCs only get a resistance, then something's broken, and this widens the gap between the two aspects of the world. This also means that NPCs need to have realistic Attributes and Abilities, and can't enjoy a constant immunity to damage like we've seen done in a few computer games - or even worse, institute a weird "only quest-integral NPCs are immune, but the rest of the world can be killed". (So you could level a whole street of NPCs... except for one guy who stands unharmed in the middle, because it turns out he gives a minor kill-collection quest for newbie Sabbat players.) CCP has done this already in EVE Online, where each NPC ship in existence is a chassis fitted with "real" mods and weapons and rigs that players can create (or buy) and fit onto their own ships.
The second basic premise of this system is to treat NPCs on a smaller scale - no raid bosses, no "final boss fights", and no huge questlines where you need to talk to a dozen different NPCs around the city just as an excuse to get you out of your haven. In fact,the less NPCs have to do with questing, the better for a politically-complex MMO, says I (but that's the subject of a future blog). Instituting NPCs in the roles of Contacts, who only show up when you need information, or to help you in battle for a limited time, is a good idea, and one of the things I liked from HxfTenor's last blog. Obviously, some roles will still need to be filled by NPCs, and only NPCs - such as animals one speaks to with Animalism, or shop merchants that handle the trade while the player-owner is offline. But the less integral the NPCs are, the more fun the players can have with them - no not being able to feed from that ghoul in Elysium, because they're the "Harpy Points" tracker/reward machine - no watching an NPC sail through a pitched battle unharmed, because that's where they're programmed to run away from a scripted NPC-on-NPC mugging scene, where the only option the player has is to kill/intimidate the mugger for a Humanity bonus. By making all NPCs play by the same rules, and by making them less important to the overall scheme of the game, they'll fit in much, much better in the World of Darkness than in a more standard MMO.
With these two premises combined, it puts a great deal less pressure on the developers both on the programming level - for whatever they do to one side, they can simply duplicate for the other, as they share the same rules - and on the story/plot/motivation level, as most of the actual content of the game should be handled by player-on-player interaction. It also makes the much closer in function and interaction with PCs, which is the goal. Looking at two characters on the street, we should have a VERY hard time telling which one is a PC, and which one is an NPC, because not only do they look the same, not only can they do exactly the same things, but they also "play" the same way. If you attack an NPC, they should attack back - and with powers that you would expect from their appropriate franchise. No mortal gangbanger who gets True Faith 1 because that makes them "a higher tier"; no vampire who gets a Crinos Form because they're "a Gangrel elder with magical boogedy-boogedy abilities". If you converse with an NPC, it opens up the same dialogue options you'd see with any player-character (see my "Nature and Demeanor" blog especially for one way this could be done). If in the early game you conspire against an NPC of high office, and beat them, you then have the option to fill that office, being appointed by the NPC Prince until somebody takes his job.
We frequently hear MMOs and many other games advertising their PvP potential - "Beat the other side, conquer the world!"... at least until server reset. But we almost never hear games advertising their PvE or NPC facet - it's pretty much a given that there will be NPCs, and they have a function to fill in the world, but outside that very narrow function, they are a nonentity. By making NPCs and PC follow the same rules, and by making NPCs less firmly anchored to a specific time, place, or function, PvE actually has the potential to become a much more integral part of the gaming experience that fully separating the effects of PvP from the effects of PvE. Imagine the same pitched PvP battle mentioned earlier - only half the combatants are NPCs. Half on the one side, half on the other, or an NPC army battling to the death against a PC army - because - and here's the kicker - for once in their miserable existence, NPCs can match the power of PCs, because they play by the same rules. This means that NPCs can be a threat to players - two Gangrel elders, alike in dignity (*cough*) will for all intents and purposes be the same, whether they be NPC or PC. This also means that PCs can be realistically threatening to NPCs - if you want to go ahead and assault the Toreador Primogen and steal their job, go ahead - there's no game-breaking power or immunity that prevents you from doing exactly that.
The search for a fully dynamic and integrated gaming experience has been a long one, and there have been some surprising stalls along the way. Over the years, though, developers have become better at programming, making more sophisticated AI scripts, and to be blunt, finding little ways to cheat to make the experience more challenging for players. By closing the gap between NPC and PC capablities and functions in the game, however, the developers will have the freedom to make the world much more dynamic and living than what we've seen in a vast majority of games so far. No more respawning the same NPC questgiver over and over again - if one of your quest-giving Contacts dies, then find a new one! If there's an old and cunning werewolf in the park, get the posse together and skin it alive - no waiting around until you've collected X rabbit feet from Y dungeons to craft Z potion to dump on the Garou to cancel his developer-given immunity because it makes for a much longer - but not necessarily more interesting or believable - storyline. Making NPCs more like PCs - and PCs more like NPCs - the whole world of the game will inch closer and closer to becoming "real".
263 days ago
Fantastic blog, Rick. I agree on all points. The biggest roadblock that I can see is how would the developers handle scaling? In other words, if NPC's are treated the exact same, it would stand to reason that their power and ability would/could steadily grow over time. The problem then is that all the NPC's completely overmatch new players/characters. So the developers will constantly have to cycle in new NPC's just to provide an appropriate challenge for fledglings and neonates.
263 days ago
Just like new players keep joining in the game (hopefully), there could be a steady supply of new vampires being "Embraced" off-screen, and inserted into the game wherever the developers need them. These NPCs can "sire" and create new fledgelings for fledgeling player-charactes to combat. Mortals, of course... you can just throw in mortals anywhere. This is at least one big city, meaning a million mortals or so that keep being born, growing old, and dying. I can hope that a lot (maybe even most) of the people we see on-screen will be player-characters, meaning less need for NPCs. Fewer NPCs hopefully means a more polished job on the ones they do put in. ---- "Respawning" NPCs is nothing new in computer games, and I'm sure it's fairly easy to write up a code to spawn one that's "physical spec", one that's "mental spec", and one that's "social spec", assigned a number of dots equal to their supposed power level.
265 days ago
damn...i agree with so much here, most in fact but i have to add a few points to the Thought Experiment.... c-o-d-i-n-g n-i-g-h-t-m-a-r-e...as it is, the BEST you can hope for in the computing resources available is highly interactive complex scripts...the old "if this/then", now don't get me wrong, for 90% of what you need an NPC to do it works great, even with a lot of what you are saying.... add to that my total agreement that NPC's shouldn't have anything the Players can't have or make to clear up a lot of that, and to give the Devs room for a lot, might i speculate a solution for some of the Problem here? Generation if no Player can be higher than say, 8th gen when sired...you can deal with a lot just by having the NPCs you want to keep around...a Prince say, be 6th or even 5th....the gap in Power is big enough that few are even going to try it, add his Retainers/Henchmen and some of the Primogen...or even his/her own Clan...well, you get the Idea thanks for the good Read....i can't wait until we start getting some more details from CCP ....
265 days ago
That's the glorious thing about this set-up: it's a coding nightmare, but you only have to do it once. If NPCs and PCs are the same in everything except who's controlling them, then all the programming you do for the one you just copy over for the other. It's still a hell of a lot of work, yes - none of my ideas are EASY on the developers - but I'm hoping the developers are prepared to put a lot of work into the WODMMO. ---- As to the Generation thing... I'm pretty much opposed to having players be anything lower than 10th Generation... at the start o the game. I'm okay with seeing a pretty steady progression as the game grows older, though. Even if you have a Methuselah Prince in a game of 13th-Generationers, there should be nothing stopping the players from assaulting the Methuselah if they want to.