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Making an RPG world feel inhabited

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by JoeStrout, Nov 17, 2014.

  1. Ricks

    Ricks

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    I'm all for it: less characters but give them a soul. That's the ones you remember.
     
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  2. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    I've said it before, the human brain is a pattern finding juggernaut. I have a little bit of a background in arts, and if you're curious just how powerful the human mind is at finding patterns, try to create tileable seamless images in any scale or size your choice give it a shot and let me know.
     
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  3. Teila

    Teila

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    I am touched by your concern. ;) No worries, I will invite you to be the first one to test.
     
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  4. RockoDyne

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    Engagement in what though? A melodramatic side story that goes nowhere? If your problem is there are too many flat characters, the solution in most development cycles is to have fewer characters. You just can't make ten thousand characters have unique dialogue, much less voiced.

    I've been playing the original Fallout where most NPC's just grunt at you, usually in a more polite manner than saying to piss off, and frankly I'm fine with it. I shouldn't be able to strike up a conversation with every housewife about how their taxes are going, because these are people with things to see and people to do. People in real life are pretty one dimensional until you actually get to know them.
     
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  5. RJ-MacReady

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    I just hope your ready for the kind of feedback I would be giving you... I would not hold anything back. :)
     
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  6. Teila

    Teila

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    If you did, I would be concerned about your health. :p It would be so unlike you!

    Besides, I know you will hate our game. LOL I have absolutely no illusions.
     
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  7. Teila

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    I would enjoy a game where I could strike up a conversation with a house wife!

    I happen to know a few hundred others who would like that too. Fortunately, that is a start. :)
     
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  8. RJ-MacReady

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    To be fair I don't really like any games where I can't smash something's head in
     
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  9. Teila

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    Yeah, I figured. Like I said..you won't like our game. So when you complain that there is no blood or gore, and that a smashed head kills you or takes time to heal, I will just smile and know that we did something right. :D
     
  10. GarBenjamin

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    This exactly is one of the reasons I grind on about too much focus on graphics. It is... well... just plain stupid to spend so much effort, money and time constantly trying to make games look better and have more presentation FX. They sink most of their budgets on this crap. Imagine if the games still looked they did 5 years ago or even 10 years ago but now those 50 GB were mainly data and the game world were populated with tons of intelligent people basically living out their lives. The story goes on with or without you. But you can impact it of course. You can be the hero or heroine. But unfortunately we will never see it because all people seem to care about is pushing more triangles around the screen.
     
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  11. RJ-MacReady

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    Dude, triangles sell

    Its like how many celebrity singers can't sing but they're famous because they're good looking?

    It's just easier to sell quantity than quality. If you say my game runs at 100 frames per second and displays 52 quadrillion triangles... That's a lot easier sell then to say I have the deepest story, or the most complex characters... The second one sounds elitist and ultimately it's up to a matter of opinion. Better graphics, specifically better computer graphics, that's really not up for debate and I think that's why you've seen the emphasis you have. But look at the indie games today there is a little bit of a change occurring more people are willing to play games with worse graphics, as long as they have a little bit of heart to them
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2014
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  12. RJ-MacReady

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    Also I always felt that the Pokemon worlds were not empty and I think that had a lot to do with the music and the overall feel of the gameplay. But also the fact that pretty much every NPC had some purpose to it, or they are even characters who would battle you. So humor and style is one way for sure.
     
  13. GarBenjamin

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    It's always been that way. Game developers (especially those who are artists) keep saying "it's what people want!! Better and better graphics!" and I say BS! It's what they want. The only reason players started judging games based on graphics if because it is the only area the developers continually push forward. Graphics, sound FX and music. Then when players talk about "those graphics rule!" the game devs twist it and say see I told you graphics are what they want. Nooo... they can appreciate the graphics but the way to really look at those kinds of comments is the only thing you have delivered on that stands out in their minds is the graphics! If you had focused on the game play making awesome interaction or maybe making this huge epic game that has 10x the size of other games then the players would be saying "dude.... the game is massive it goes on forever. You gotta play this thing to believe it".
     
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  14. RJ-MacReady

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    Sounds reasonable I'm willing to entertain the notion... Graphics are not going to get dramatically better from here on out. So I think they're going to get a chance to test your theory, because I think game length and content are becoming the most important qualities players are after now. Graphics are going to become am Achilles heel.
     
  15. GarBenjamin

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    Sadly the focus on improving graphics is far from over. In fact, looking at the posts around here (not game design but unity forums) you will find many people going on about graphics. How unreal engine can deliver better graphics. How their games have to suffer because they just can't get the graphics quality they need. It's like their entire focus is on how the game looks and this is why games never advance to reach their potential. If a shift had occurred 10 years ago where devs said ok graphics are good enough now to make any game we want to make. Let's focus on AI. Let's focus on modeling a real society. And so forth. If that had happened we'd likely see computers right now having some kind of AI chip in it much like graphics and sound cards advanced due to devs always pushing those things to the point that machines could barely handle them. That is what I would like to see. Maybe ultimately there would be some kind of NPC engine on a chip running at phenomenal speeds processing the AI.
     
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  16. RJ-MacReady

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    I kind of feel like this too when I think about it if there was some sort of behavior library instead of a graphics library then we might have huge decision trees and we might even have something that could create almost realistic human behavior, not to mention the fact that you might have some sort of learning networks for speech and language... Instead we have insane shining bump maps, real-time lighting... At any rate because of all this obsession we no have really fast computers unfortunately its up to you in the next generation to create these things. I say unfortunately because it seems like a lot of work for not a lot of appreciation.

    Maybe that's it maybe they focused on graphics because they got a lot of appreciation for doing it?
     
  17. TonyLi

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    I agree. It can't substitute, but it might supplement.

    The "why" is prerecorded voice acting, not an inability to generate reasonable conversation text. And perhaps also the realization (or dogma?) that when you want to tell a story to people, it has to be written by people.
     
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  18. RJ-MacReady

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    It's weird that you would think I didn't consider the possibility of voice acting is being the reason why they wouldn't pursue this.

    But anyway, do you have any idea how much money in development all that voice talent costs?

    They're working with budgets bigger than most motion pictures.

    And yet, they're completely uninterested in trying to create a sort of virtual conversation engine.

    I suppose I just tire of always assuming that the most successful development studios in the world are just big, clueless, lumbering, soulless empires who hate everyone and bombard us with crap nobody wants while stifling innovation at every conceivable turn.

    When this is needed, it will be created.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2014
  19. RJ-MacReady

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    I think it would take an institute, like a lab or something with several employees several years to build this sort of dynamic AI library stuff and make it usable by the public.

    Also have you ever considered that in Oblivion maybe the polycount on the models is why you don't see that many people at once?
     
  20. GarBenjamin

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    It would take time. But see that is what I mean. If the game devs ever get off the dang graphics "we gotta have more more more" kick and focus that same way on the other parts of the product. Like the important stuff. ;) Then say 5 years or 10 years down the road through many iterations and advances that AI chip would be awesome. It would be an iterative thing just like graphics, sound and music advances have been. With vendor companies springing up like Nvidia and such but focusing on AI. It is difficult to see what I mean maybe because all we have ever seen is a focus on graphics, music and sound... primarily graphics. But picture in an alternate universe, their games look NES but the characters are basically "real" in every other way. I am not saying the graphics need to be at that level. Just saying at this point why do these game devs still obsess over pushing graphics to the max. It is never ending. They are never satisfied with it. Take that same obsession and put it on other things. Things that actually matter. Conversations. Behaviors. Environmental interaction. Weather systems. And so on. Drive those areas forward the same way they kept making games pushing graphics cards to the point of burning up and bringing computers to their knees.
     
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  21. TonyLi

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    Procedural narrative generation is in many ways already solved in academia. There's an IEEE task force, open source libraries, critical analysis, games like Facade, and people who've made it their research careers. AAA studios are smart. They've read the research. But they also need to pay their employees and shareholders. There's no money in unvoiced dialogue right now. I suspect it will be up to independent developers to take this already-established technology and find a way to make it fun. The AAA's might jump in after that. Think of all the high-end games like Epic's Fortnite jumping into the Minecraft genre now that it's proved profitable.

    Rather than debating whether the technology can be done (since it's already been done), I'd love to hear thoughts on how it can actually be made fun -- that is, relevant to the player's sense of social connection and purpose. I think @JoeStrout is onto something with his example, although I could see @RockoDyne's point about running the risk of pointless melodrama. How do you make it relevant to the player's story?
     
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  22. RJ-MacReady

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    I personally do not find it very interesting or relevant to discuss ways to improve the way we use hypothetical, not yet in existence technology, or technology that exists but is in no way usable in a real world situation at this time. I do have lots of ideas on how to make an RPG world feel more alive, but none of them are achievable through technology which is still in the "what if" stage. So, with that, I won't be much use in that discussion.
     
  23. JoeStrout

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    I think RockoDyne just demonstrated that he wouldn't be into this sort of game. That's fine. I would, Teila would, a lot of her users would — and it's just as likely that there are games RockoDyne thinks are awesome that would seem pointless and dull to us. Tastes vary; that's OK.

    I would say that the hallmark of an ideal RPG is that the players create their own story. If I want to befriend a few random NPCs in some town in the world, and make their concerns my concerns, then you don't have to worry about it being relevant to my story, because that is my story. And it's way more fun for me because, instead of feeling like I'm everybody's errand-boy, I'm actually following my own interests.
     
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  24. GarBenjamin

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    I'm not knocking what can be done right now to make things better. I posted already off the top of my head about ways to push in that direction. Then I started day dreaming and sharing my vision for what I would have liked to seen happen and still would like to see happen. ;) I don't tackle projects as grand as Oblivion clones though. But am a big believer in interaction, AI and so forth. That is a goal for my platform game. The enemies will be better behaved than most I have seen for such games. Whether anyone will notice it or not is another thing entirely. Lol
     
  25. Teila

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    I have to go with Joe.

    Fun is relative, Tony. My players would love making friends with NPCs and getting involved in their conversations, housewives or war veterans. In our game, NPCs will fill many of the player roles because we do not intend to have a large player base in the game. Our goal is a small manageable multiplayer game, possibly several smaller servers of friends. NPCs would be hired by players to run their shops, work on their farms, server as body guards, and to do various other things. They might also work at the public bath houses, own the inns and taverns, and a variety of other roles in the game. The more interactive they are, the more fun they will be. I have even had requests from fans to allow them to marry NPCs. :) I am considering that request.

    As for pointless melodrama, do you not realize that for some folks melodrama is fun? While I hate reality shows, they seem to be the thing right now, even among my more mature friends. :) In game that is social rather than combat oriented, melodrama is fun!

    Joe is right. Because the player creates the story, he will also create his story around the NPCs he meets. It will be his story, even if his story is simply romancing the NPC gal to make her his wife.
     
  26. RockoDyne

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    For one, lets admit that the idea that players create their own story is a complete illusion. Maybe if we are talking about roleplayers coming together and acting, then maybe they made their own story, but at that point they might as well be in another system entirely. At best you can mix and match the part of the story you want, but you never are outside the bounds of someone else's creation. In case you missed it, this was the whole point of The Stanley Parable.

    I'll go back to Morrowind where the setting is the story. It doesn't matter what route you take, you will experience the same story about a doomed land and its people eventually.

    So much of what people seem to be looking for is a magical quest generator that will keep players busy. This does nothing for the world though. If you want a world to feel real, you should be looking at the bigger picture and not at one character's erectile dysfunction (or other shallow problem they'll have).
     
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  27. RJ-MacReady

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    It's so good to hear someone else touching on the higher level thinking.

    I said it before, but I don't need to look at the blueprints for your perpetual motion machine because there's no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. But but but... you didn't even look at my plans? Why are you so insufferable? Why are you such a douche? Why don't you listen to other people's ideas?

    basics.png

    If you can think of it in tiers, that's good. If you can't, think of it in terms of boxes within boxes. Russian nesting dolls. We live in a box, that being all the possible experiences that human beings are subject to. That said, it is quite a bit even for us. It would take quite a while of living in human existence to become bored of it. But people still do get bored of this massive box we exist within. Now, if you create a box within the box you live inside of, how can you expect for that box to have the same level of complexity as the box that you live in? For example, is it possible within human existence to create your own universe? No. You also cannot create human existence, or human beings for that matter. All you can do is "play" within your defined limitations.

    It is impossible for a system to equal or surpass the complexity of the system within which it is defined.

    So we can certainly make an RPG world feel inhabited through the employment of various tricks of the trade and tried-and-true storytelling techniques, but we cannot make the world feel as though it is inhabited by sapient, intelligent human creatures that will ever seem truly human. The uncanny valley was mentioned earlier in this post and it's something that, unfortunately, seems like has to be brought up again and again. The closer something gets to being human without being human, the more we notice those tiny little details that make it different than real humans. Here in vegas we have a Madam Tussauds exhibit. I went on my honeymoon. To be honest... even in the extreme dim light, these almost 100% perfect replicas of humans looked freakishly inhuman.

    The same will always occur if you try to recreate real life in a game, film or anything else. You must always rely on style and parlor tricks. I learned quite a few of these in my life. For example, if you put something in the center of a piece of art it will always appear to be below center. You must make it above the center for it to appear to be in the center. Sometimes, you must intentionally do it wrong for it to seem right.
     
  28. Teila

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    You know, in a game, everyone knows it isn't real. No one wants to recreate life. I think some of you miss the point entirely.

    If you believe that immersion is not important to all players because it cannot mimic reality, then nothing anyone can say on this thread or others is going to convince you that is has nothing to with mimicking reality. LOL But really, I don't care if you don't get it.

    But to think any of us (well, maybe one of us) are talking about some deeper meaning? We are talking about game development! Games! Fun, enjoyment, escapism.

    The OP's question was about making the world appear more alive. People like that and they enjoy playing games like that. You might not, but a lot of people do.

    I think you guys are just reading way much more into this than the rest of us are. ;) Not a bad thing but as someone said in another thread, it ends up being a debate between two groups of people who are really talking different things. So some of the people here are really arguing that reality can't be replicated by making NPC's seem real. Others are arguing that making NPCs more interesting can make a game appear to be busier and therefore, more fun for the players.

    Obviously, the two groups are never again going to connect up here. :) The sad thing is it cuts down discussion all together. The good thing is that it appears we can branch off to another thread if we wish to do so.

    Not that your stuff isn't interesting, it just doesn't really apply to what the OP wanted. It goes way beyond and basically tells him he can't do what he doesn't want to do.
     
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  29. RJ-MacReady

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    "I meet an NPC named Bob, get him talking, and learn that he's unhappy because he thinks his wife (Jane) is attracted to another guy (Frank), because she seems to be spending a lot of time with him. So I go talk to Frank, and (because my charisma is very high) ultimately get him to confide in me. Turns out Frank is gay, and actually attracted to Nelson, who doesn't want anything to do with him, so Frank has been depressed too, and Jane (a childhood friend) has simply been trying to comfort him.

    OK, now there are some characters with some depth, and by this time I probably care enough to want to figure out how to fix this mess. So, for starters, I could just go back to Bob and explain, and he'd be happier right away. Or maybe I could go to Jane and tell him why her husband has been so glum lately, and let her fix it. Or I could try to find some cute guy for Frank, which will make him stop moping around, so Jane doesn't need to spend so much time with him, and everybody's happy (even Nelson, who was starting to get annoyed at Frank)."

    @Teila - Sounds like somebody is suggesting real people to me. ;)

    "The sad thing is it cuts down discussion all together."

    That's not up to me. I can further the discussion by presenting relevant thoughts, but a discussion goes both ways. @RockoDyne and I agree that the sort of thing @JoeStrout is suggesting is made impossible by the limitations of the system itself, and is not merely an obstacle of limited thinking regarding the subject.

    If you don't think that's right, I'm open to it. If you'd rather not discuss this, then there's no hard feelings... but you see, you're avoiding some very serious challenges that will be unavoidable if you move forward to develop a sufficiently complex system. Like in the case of the perpetual motion machine, it's just a matter of how long until it stops... it's just a matter of how long until @JoeStrout thinks this is a boring, lifeless automaton occupied empty shell of a city.

    The solution is not to take the "wind it up and let it go" approach, but to add an external source of power to your engine.

    Of course, you seem to be saying that I'm somehow off topic. That is the topic right there. Of course, your mileage may vary.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2014
  30. Teila

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    Oh my, that is a story. It is not real. It is based on a bunch of pieces of dialogue. It is a bit beyond anything I would do because I am not sure how they would finish the story, but I have seen similar stories with Morrowind Mods. Some of those mods are really in depth and they are not about simple quests. Plus they were created a long time ago so I have absolutely no doubt they can be done again.

    But regardless of how colorful the story is, I really believe the author of that realizes it isn't going to be "real people". If not, I worry about him. I believe he is describing it in a narrative rather than as it would work in the game.

    Things are not black and white. There is a lot of gray. The type of alive that would work in a game is gray.
     
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  31. RJ-MacReady

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    And that comes back to where we agree. Humans are the source of human stories. To fill a game world with human stories is what Rockstar has been doing for years. It's also mind bogglingly costly.

    I guess the way to make the world feel inhabited is to give every single character in the game a story. I just worry about what happens when they start repeating themselves... It's going to definitely feel like they are not human they're just artificial pod people. Computer clones. Thats why deep characters don't just stand around waiting for you to press A to talk to them they get on their way after the cutscene is over.

    You can always have role players play as the Npc characters and record all of their dialogue they type in and try to do your best you can to match up their responses to things that the player character can say and do.

    The character might make a joke about something in the environment or do a little fourth wall breaking, something you might not think of if you were just writing the script.
     
  32. Teila

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    Oh you cheated and added more to your post. lol

    No hard feelings just a misunderstanding. I am under no illusion that we can do anything to the standards that you think we have set. :) I know the limitations. Again, your concern is noted but we don't need NPCs that are alive, just a little more interesting.

    You are not changing the topic at all, just confusing my intent. Not sure why, maybe my descriptions are too colorful but then I am a writer, not a programmer. Trust me, I see very clearly that the NPCs will not be as natural as a real player but my mind fills in the holes. Does that make sense?

    That is how role players in a game work. We fill in the holes. In a tabletop game we don't have to do that because it is all in our imagination, in our head. In a game, we suspend disbelief for a short time, we fill in the holes that the game cannot create for us and we are fine with it. We don't require perfection, only the illusion of something that can feed our imagination.

    Oh, the stories I could tell. :) Honestly, and I tell you this with all sincerity, you are absolutely missing my intentions here with my game. But again, your concern is touching even if a little misplaced.

    I think Joe has similar ideas but not sure. I can't speak for him.
     
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  33. RockoDyne

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    The problem I have with immersion is that people actually think it requires them to be transplanted into an almost perfectly real world. Somehow suspension of disbelief and any notions of Tolkien's secondary world isn't enough for these people, and they won't accept a game that doesn't melt their dick off because they chose a female character.

    My main point is that there are far more ways to flesh out a world that doesn't involve padding out a few hundred thousand NPC's with their own drama. I'll go back to Fallout where characters grunting at me doesn't hurt my immersion, because it's internally consistent with the setting. You could apply any reasoning as to why they don't talk to you, and they would all probably be true at some point.
     
  34. Teila

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    I wrote a very long answer to this but I think I will start a new thread since it is hijacking the OP's thread and has nothing to do with the subject. But I think it could make a very interesting discussion and maybe bring some new people to our forum. :)
     
  35. JoeStrout

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    I think Teila and I are on the same page here. Of course a world doesn't have to be perfect to be immersive. But I'm telling you, from recent direct experience, that I found the thin NPCs in the game I was playing to be jarring. I don't see how you can argue about that — it's the experience I had. This thread is how to prevent it.

    If this topic is not of interest to you, that's fine. Nobody's forcing you to participate in it. We have evidence that there exist players who would like worlds to feel more inhabited, and we would like to discuss how to design a game to accomplish that. If you don't want to discuss that, then please don't.

    So. It seems to me that it basically comes down to two things:

    1. More characters. If you're modeling something like the capital city of a large world, there should be quite a few people going about their business during the day. This one seems pretty easy, though as a practical matter, it does tend to drive away from voice acting, and possibly more aggressive LOD on the models.
    2. NPCs should be more believable. We've discussed above techniques for that. This is harder, but I think it's doable.
    Again I'll make the analogy with buildings, though I don't know if this is resonating with anyone, but it's all I've got at the moment. :) Many large city-based games (e.g. Spider-Man 2, Infamous) have tons and tons of buildings, but you can't get into any of them. So you know they're a facade. I can forget for a while if I try, but the disbelief is always there in the back of my mind: I'm not swinging around a city full of buildings; I'm swinging around a bunch of big blocks painted like buildings.

    In Oblivion, they fixed that. In my mind, every building has a detailed interior. Have I actually checked every building? Of course not, and as a game designer, I'd be shocked if there aren't a fair number of buildings that can't be entered which are mere facades. But enough of them can be entered, and have been modeled in enough detail, that it's very easy for the player to assume that they're all like that. So, I really do feel like I'm exploring a big, real city.

    But this only exacerbates the problem of it feeling so empty. Now my mental model of the world has expanded to a realistic city, but inhabited by only a handful of wooden dummies. So socially, it feels even more empty.

    So, one solution is to throw your hands up in despair, claim that nothing can be done, and design games that don't even attempt to feel socially rich (at least, as far as NPCs go). But I don't think it's that bad. You just need lots of NPCs, and the ones the player talks to need to have more depth to them.
     
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  36. JoeStrout

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    Here's a possible way to cheat in a single-player game: suppose you have 1000 NPCs in your city. A real city would have far more than that, but of course you don't see most of the people most of the time, and 1000 is too many for the player to learn to recognize them all on sight. So, I think 1000 or so would probably be enough to create the illusion of a fully populated city.

    Now, let's assume that creating 1000 detailed personalities is too much. (It might not be, if they're created procedurally, but suppose for now that each one is quite a bit of work.) OK then, create 100 detailed personalities, but don't assign them to specific NPCs at the start of the game. Classify both the NPCs and the personalities on a couple of attributes — affluence, gender, species where applicable, etc. — and then, pick a personality for an NPC when the player first talks to them. And then stick it there for the rest of the game.

    So, looking at this from the player's point of view: wow, here's a city with a lot of people in it! Let's talk to one! ...Wow, that guy had a lot of character to him! Can they all be like that?!? Talk to another... hey, she's pretty interesting too! OK, I guess I should get on with the quest... this fellow looks interesting, I'll chat with him on the way... wow, these people are amazing!

    At that point, the player probably gets on with the quest, now convinced that he's in a world containing thousands of highly detailed people. Happiness ensues, if you're me or Teila. (Grousing and grumbling ensue if your RockoDyne or Misterselmo, but they should probably be playing a different game anyway.)

    (Of course you'd have to have a handful of generic personalities that can be reused if some obsessive player really DOES talk to more than 100 NPCs in the city... but I think that would be rare enough that most players would never see it.)
     
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  37. Teila

    Teila

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    Joe, I did start a thread about immersion which you might enjoy. :)

    I absolutely agree with you, Joe. Exploring how to fix what can be seen a problem for a significant number of game players and developers is a good idea. It always amazes me how we can have threads and threads of people talking about making enemies more real, combat more immersive, and death more realistic, but when we start talking about something as simple as dialogue and NPCs, it turns instead into a discussion of how it can't be done, it will never be realistic enough, and why try? LOL

    So...why have enemy AI? Trust, me that guard walking the same path, itching his butt at the same time on that same path, and approaching the player character whenever the PC hits that same invisible spot on the floor is not interesting or realistic. It doesn't make the 20th time you kill that same NPC or one of the 100's of NPCs exactly like that one any more challenging or any more fun.

    Having spent hours killing identical mobs spawned in the middle of empty plains, I can tell you, it isn't fun. Even if those mobs have slightly different stats and some of them are bosses, nope, no fun.

    Fun for some of you? Yeah, maybe, which is why it is okay for you to have your threads that talk about this stuff. But for some reason, Joe and I are dreamers, unattached to reality. We can't even explore the options, talk about it without all this, as Misterelmo calls it, negativity.

    Keep dreaming, Joe. :) I like your ideas and your thread was exactly what was on my mind all these months and years. I had a friend even say to me the other day, "A discussion about better NPCs! Cool!" (I am paraphrasing just in case he reads this. lol)
     
  38. 0tacun

    0tacun

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    Before this thread enrails and gets closed like another thread in this forum I would like to analyse Oblivion to give some points how to actually improve the inhabited feeling (and some points still applies to Skyrim):

    - Low Population:
    Due to hardware limitations when that game was released it was not possible to display many npc's at the same time on the view of the player. And I think this hurted a lot, when walking around in the capital city of the game only few characters and one tumbleweed where visible. So if you can't display many characters, never bring the player to an enviroment where he thinks "this place should be crowded".

    - Stiff Animations:
    The npc's were pretty lifeless, not because they told after a while only the same thing, but because they were very generic. Almost every person had the same anatomy and same animations. Character for a npc can very easily generated through the outer apperance and his behaivour: The alcoholic in the pub could already sleep on the bar, people could dance, or sitting on many different positions on a stool (in Oblivion they sat bolt upright like an examplary student. Maybe they were reading a book), an arogant person could press his chest outwards and so on. This would mean that every npc needs traits which would then blend between the different animations or just play an appropriate one. Furthermore this doesn't mean the graphics need to be most realistic. It is just necassary that the npc has good animations which could define them.

    - Reaction To The Enviroment:
    In Oblivion, in one of the Kings dinning halls, I sometimes ran into a table and all the consumables flied through the room. And no one bat an eye. Even the maid.
    However it doens't need do be so precise, sometimes it is sufficiente when the npc's notices that the player ran against them ( look at GTA ). Furthermore, what I most dislike in Oblivion, is that I could easily walk into a house of some unknown and check out how they live. They didn't care that a complete stranger sightsees thier house, a simple dialog popup where the owner asks the player what's his buisness is (where the player could ask for shelter or whatever) would be a proper response.

    - Player/ NPC Interaction:
    This leads me to the interaction between them. Since Oblivion is a kind of Openworld Sandbox RPG it is in some aspects pretty simple: Every bandit wants you dead. There is no other way to interact between this kind of human npc, which is a bit frustrating. "Oh hello, I'm sorry that I stumbled into your cave, I guess I haven't read the sign outsid WOAH HOLD ON STOP ATTACKING ME!" It would help to have an option to talk yourself out of this situation like in the old Baldurs Gate etc. But I think Oblivion was designed to be more combat orientative.

    - The World Rotates Around The Player:
    Sure it is logical that the world resolves around the player, but I think in Oblivion it was too much obviosly. When a city was attacked by demons, the npc's told the player to move immediatly to help, but the player could choose to first travel around the world. The decision was not impacting the world, it would be great if more demon gates would appear due to the lack of help from the player. I know the game was designed this way, but I often had such a feeling that you as a player are essantial for the evolving of the world.


    Ah well, maybe someone else could provide more examples or solutions.
     
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  39. Teila

    Teila

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    Excellent analysis! I will admit that I didn't play Oblivion long enough to notice all this although part of the reason I stopped playing is because I did not feel immersed in the game. Maybe this is why?

    I think there are some really good examples of what not to do in our games. If we know, we can avoid them. It shouldn't be hard to make characters look different, with different body shapes, different positions based on their purpose (drunks slouching in the alley, soldiers marching, etc.) and adding different animations shouldn't be impossible.

    I absolutely agree about the reactions of the NPCs. That bothers me about a lot of games. Couldn't a simple trigger cause the NPCs to react when a stranger comes into the house? And if Baldurs Gate could allow the player an alternative way of dealing with an aggressive NPC, why didn't Oblivion? Could be the emphasis on combat I suppose or maybe the designers just figured most people who would play Oblivion wouldn't care?

    Sounds to me like Oblivion just wasn't entirely finished when released. :)
     
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  40. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    Can we make it a rule that no one can say "if you don't like the topic, then F*** off?" Personally, I have rarely known people to actually understand what the root problem is, and this reeks of being a symptom and not the cause.

    The issue I see is you weren't able to suspend your disbelief and accept it's lack of depth as a facet of the world. Although I'm going to spoil some things about Oblivion:
    It's all shallow. There are only four kinds of dungeons. All the houses are filled with automatically generated crap, so it doesn't matter that all the houses are real because they are all the same with only a couple special cases that are all set pieces. Most of the NPC's are boring because there isn't anything special about them (there are some subversions though that still aren't likely to make an impact).

    Seriously though, go play Morrowind (and mod it to high hell).


    At the very least, can we agree that most of this should come down to location, location, location. If the person is busy, should I be able to have a deep conversation with them? Hell no. What if a person is relaxing in a bar? Absolutely. In the rush to shoehorn context into everything, you are just as likely to rip out context.
     
  41. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    Well, let's not get too much into Oblivion-bashing... on the whole it was a great game, I think. But it's obvious that believable NPCs were not its strong suit.

    0tacun's points are excellent. Maybe what's needed is some sort of framework for social norms — things a person is expected to do or not do in a situation. Often these could be tied to a location: you don't enter a person's home uninvited, you don't bash into the table in the king's dining hall, you don't run around mostly naked (especially in an arctic zone), or approach the queen with your sword drawn, unless you're part of her guard.

    We'd need a bit of code for each of these expectations, to detect when they're being violated. And then NPCs would need reactions. These could range from simple exclamations ("Put some clothes on, young man!" or "Mind your manners in front of the king!") to action (a maid scrambling to pick up food from the floor).

    I also like the idea of giving NPCs a few more options between "aggressive" and "non-aggressive." If you wander into a bandit's camp, at least sometimes, somebody should come up to you and demand to know what the hell you think you're doing there. If you can't give a convincing answer, then sure, then they attack. But just maybe you want to join their gang, or make them a great deal on steel arrows, or fence some of their stolen goods for them, and you should have a chance to say so.
     
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  42. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    I think a better rule would be, "if you have nothing constructive to say, then say nothing at all." Telling people that their feelings about a game are invalid is, pretty much always, not constructive. Someone's reactions to a game are a data point, which a good game designer should accept as ground truth; telling them that they should have felt differently is just silly.

    On the other hand if you're really trying to help us get to the bottom of the problem (in this case, making an RPG world feel more inhabited), then great, please continue.

    No. The issue is that I don't want to accept its lack of depth; I want to explore how we can make our games deeper. The topic of this thread is how, precisely, to do that (not whether it should be done).

    Based on your (and others') recommendation, I'd love to, but apparently it's not available for any of the game systems in my house (PS3 and Mac).

    I'd say that's more about what activity they're engaged in than the location they're in, but yeah, basically I agree with this. I'd be perfectly fine if I approach a vendor, and all he wants to talk about is selling me something — especially if there are other customers about. "Look, I'm busy, you going to buy something or not?" NPCs don't have to be nice to be believable.
     
  43. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    Exactly. Better social awareness, like we discussed earlier in this thread. From a design standpoint, how would you do it? Hand-code each norm (e.g., buckets don't go on heads) and gradually build up a huge library?
     
  44. Teila

    Teila

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    I only wish that was the rule, Joe.

    I have decided that some people just like to be right. :) Since many of us know that all of this is simply opinion, we can move on. But those that see the answers as black and white have a tougher time. Nothing we can do about it.

    The fact is that people react very differently to different games and if a designer ignores this fact, if they dismiss some of the players as naive or unimportant, then they lose in the end. Oblivion is a great game but many people did stop playing it. It could have been greater. Same can be said of a lot of games.
     
  45. Teila

    Teila

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    Here is my plan unless someone comes up with something better.

    We have a huge catalog already of NPCs with lots of dialogue. It only needs to be entered into the Dialogue System. I am going to sit down with my lore people and figure out some alternative dialogue for each NPC. Since we already have a AI that sets tags on NPCs and Players based on reputation and some other factors, we can tie those into the dialogue. We can also have the sets of dialogue triggered by events, such as day of the week, time of day, weather, etc.

    NPC's without lots of dialogue can also be useful. This is where a generator would be useful. I know when I run into people in our town we say a few pleasantries and move on. Unless they are very close friends, we don't spend lots of time in deep conversation. Hi, how are you, nice to see you, sure is cold today, how are the kids, they must have grown, see you around, bye...that is about it most of the time. :)

    Will things be repeated? Sure they will be. It won't be perfect. But one thing I learned from my years of working with role players on fan forums is that they have the ability to suspect belief. Just the presence of NPCs who greet each other and have conversations about the weather, their family, etc., will be enough to add atmosphere to the game. Each NPC will also server a purpose, not only to add color, but to get information about the world, fluff, tidbits that they might use in their role play.

    It would be nice if we could do more, but right now, that is the plan. Anything extra will be the cherry on the ice cream sundae. :) This is what I need for our game.
     
  46. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    Teila likes this.
  47. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    I'm thinking of a hierarchical approach, starting with "normal behavior" and then classifying deviations from that in tree form.

    So at the top level, we might have: impressive (positive) behavior, negative behavior, and puzzling behavior. Negative behavior could be divided into rudeness and aggression. Aggression could be further divided into threatening language, threatening behavior, and outright attacks. And so on.

    The case of putting a bucket on an NPC's head might fit in somewhere like: negative behavior / rudeness / invading personal space / placing things on someone else's person. There would be a detector for that, which would catch any case of putting something on somebody else (bucket on head, sign on back, etc.).

    Then here's where the benefit of the hierarchy comes in: responses could be coded to any level of the hierarchy. So a particular NPC might not have a specific response for placing things on person, but might have one at the level of invading personal space ("hey, back off pal!") or rudeness ("knock it off!"). So at least you'd get some sort of reasonably appropriate response, even if you haven't included a response for every situation.

    I also think that NPCs should be grouped into a hierarchy of classes, with responses defined at any level of the hierarchy. So, if you wanted a specific response for some fairly unlikely situation, you put it at the root level, and now everybody has a response (varied by that dialect concept you explained earlier). For something that's likely to come up more often, you may want more variety, so you put that down lower; in the extreme, you give a specific response to each NPC.

    One other trick from my chatbot days: when I say "response" above I don't mean a specific bit of text, but rather a selection of responses to be chosen from randomly (and then passed through the dialect mapping). This also increases variety and belief, since real people don't always say things the same way.
     
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  48. Teila

    Teila

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    Sounds good, Joe!

    We also have a value/moral system based on actions of NPCs and PCs. Our system will take into account a number of social actions and ranks, such as how religious one is, how famous they are, how law abiding, etc. Since our game is more focused on social interaction and building community, these will be tied more into relationships with NPCs and how the NPCs react to players. Player's actions in the game will influence the players rank. Going to church might make them more religious while being elected to an office might make them more famous.

    NPCs might run away from a notorious killer but they might approach a hero and want blessings. :)
     
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  49. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    Slightly tangential, but still valid. Any attempt at trying to be realistic is almost destined to fall into the uncanny valley, and there is nothing more immersion breaking than the uncanny valley. You are trying to chase a monster without realizing how easy it is to become one.

    The irony to all of this is I've been mulling over the idea of game with a central city that would feel lived in, the catch being not by the player. The player/protagonist isn't a part of the game world and that's the point. Using a Majora's Mask-esque groundhog day loop and some building mechanics, probably somewhere between secret of mana and dark cloud (ostensibly creating thousands of cities out of just one); it is meant to be saudade, to convey a sense of longing for a place you've never been and for people you've never seen, as much through player action as through inaction while letting the cogs of the city turn on their own. The one answer I would never give to a question like "what's the point of including this" will be "just because people like it."


    Also, all the systemic behaviors being mentioned are actually used in Oblivion. Trespass into someone's home when they are their and see.
     
  50. Teila

    Teila

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    Did you see anyone here talking about uncanny valley? Why are you trying to push us there? :)

    A game does not have to be ultra-realistic to be immersive and it doesn't have to be ultra-realistic to please most players. Players, especially role players, have this uncanny ability to suspend belief. It is why text games are still around and why even games like WoW have a collection of role players even though the game certainly does not cater to them.

    I have absolutely not seen one single person step over that line yet. Can you give us specific examples? NPCs who react to each other? Hmm...they do that in a lot of popular games these days.

    A discussion of Uncanny valley is again a fascinating topic. Why don't you start a new thread? :) I wish Gigi and Hippo would utilize the split thread utility. We loose to many great discussions because posts don't fit into the main discussion and are thus ignored or the OP tries to wedge them into the wrong discussion and they tend to be more annoying than interesting.
     
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