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Discussion in 'Game Design' started by JoeStrout, Nov 17, 2014.
So has anyone here made a demo yet with a cities of hundreds of NPCs to interact with and observe?
No, but that is a good idea! Unfortunately, we are not ready for that yet.
I've certainly thought about it. But I need to stay focused on High Frontier for now! Someday, though, I'll do exactly that, unless somebody else beats me to it. (In which case I'll cheer them on!)
It'd be an interesting experiment for sure. Currently I have 10 to 15 hours per week for game dev that I have been splitting between two projects. Focusing on the platform game these next couple of days or so. But I might spend an hour per week on it just to fiddle around.
Our game will ultimately focus on a big city so it will happen, just will take time. We have to test everything in a smaller venue first, a village and then later we move to the big city.
After posting in the other thread I was thinking a bit more... one thing that crossed my mind about making a city with tons of more interesting NPCs is that idea of stereotypes or classes. Because I think ultimately we are wanting characters with a little more... character. The class stereotypes should support stronger character development. On a group level at least.
Anyway, one of things that could be done is to put an intelligence or Thinker rating on each NPC. If we made an (admittedly stereotyping again) assumption that a person who is a Thinker tends to be less of a Doer... meaning giving a situation such as a robber confronting an NPC on the street... the pure Doers would likely immediately engage the robber attacking and such. Or maybe immediately run away. The thinker would take more time engaging in small talk all the while thinking about their options. So, in this way the deeper thinkers would take more time to decide on what to do. In a development context this translates into their AI being able to sort out their reaction over multiple frames. Perhaps even 2 to 3 seconds worth of real world time. Basically I just wanted to throw that out as food for thought. We could make the thinker types literally do more thinking and a lot of the world would be more of the not so much thinking types.
And the doer types would complete their games a lot sooner than the thinker types.
I'd just like to put in my two cent's worth on this topic's original post.
Yeah, I can totally feel and have experienced the same feeling when playing RPG's and most MMORPG's... There is an exciting element in the very beginning, 'cause it's a new game, but the whole world environments have been so big and varied that... what was once a small game (years ago) which was (considerably) packed with NPC's quests, and things to do/look at, has now become a VAST, super-long, giant environment, where the same amount of work on NPC's, quest's, and things to interact with has not also grown in proportion to the size of the environment.
Sure, some games have "wilderness" which should be harsh, devoid of life, or having very little amounts of it. I can understand that. But when you have 40+ different cities to explore.... then you'd imagine that each city wouldn't be a ghost-town, right? (or feel like it. )
Props for starting this conversation. I'd have to admit that I hardly play any sort of RPG's anymore, and the catalyst for starting into Unity3d game development was wanting to play something that once again captured my imagination and interest.
My turn here to express my views, I guess
First of all I'd like to thank OP for this thread as well as several people that posted here. From Teila to Misterselmo that I feel both say true things from completely different perspectives, however trolly (is that even a word?) the latter tries to be (don't take it the bad way, I liked that). Also some very interesting links on this thread and that video that someone posted was superb.
Now on topic. This is a topic I'm greatly interested at, as I just started my own game and I'm quite in the dark alleys of concepting my world still.
This started as a thread about conversations and believable NPCs but around page 2 the word immersion was on the table. These are two completely different things I believe. Immersion includes almost everything in the game. From the graphics/shaders, sounds, vfx, AI, storytelling, I could continue forever. Believable NPCs are just a part of it and the hard thing with immersion is that everything works together.
I could play Skyrim, fire up the best texture/model/weather/Realistic Needs/Survival/Cold/Sound mods that exist and get lost in the scenery. That's immersion. Until of course I enter the inn and listen to the bard play Age of Aggression for the 11000th time, in a REBEL town. Then again I could play Fallout 3 with same mod library and have a perfect mod about shops, live it, feel it and finally fell like someone threw a rotten fish on my face when the shop keeper I go to speak has the perfect hand written dialogue but no voice-over in a game where even the rocks have voice-overs. On the other hand I open Dwarf Fortress and spend a day or two reading the logs of what every NPC did for the last 100 years, who he talked to what he said, under what statue he kissed his first girl and who made the statue and what happened to the statue after the dragon attack and the orc pillage of the burned down town, and then decide to play in that world and have to live with colored ASCII world.
I guess you get my point so I stop with the examples. I just wanted to show the difference so we decide on which subject we're on. Are we still talking about believable NPCs? Or we're talking about a believable, immersive world?
If we're still on the NPCs, I may not have much to add from a technical standpoint but I can conceptualise as a gamer, an rpg lover, a roleplayer and a DM for the last 10-15 years.
While it might be possible technicaly to simulate dialogues generated in realtime there's so much more for the NPCs to do so they're concidered "alive" or "interesting" from a player view. In my first campaign I created as a DM I simply had the NPCs use some well written, prepared dialogues at least for what mattered and players were fine with it. Then in my next one they were bored and wanted something extra so I added different ways to speak for each NPC, then again I made a specific profile for each of 'em and then players started talking to random people on the street so I had to make an excel to generate that stuff on the fly. Then I added some quirks to each one of the NPCs (one would stutter, the other would always look behind his shoulder scared etc). Then I had to create a whole friggin' city of em so I knew who was the blacksmith or the innkeeper and where they were each time of day. To cut it short I had to create a whole world outside the campaign with gods/religions, racial beliefs etc. Now I took em to a LARP because even a world was not enough for them.
What I'm trying to say is that gamers will ALWAYS ask for more, you can't have the perfect system. Ever. To fix that in a game you simply have to put a line somewhere. What my game is like? What am I trying to show to the player? What my story is? Plan all that and you'll be able to find out that golden line for your game. I believe... I'm still struggling myself for my game
At least I know what it's about and it's a post apocalyptic, steampunk survival. While there will be people to interact with my main focus will have to be the enviroment first and then the characters. Even if I make the perfect NPC system if my world is a big grassland with a couple of hills and wooden houses it'll fail to reach what it is. A post apocalyptic steampunk survival. That of course doesn't mean that my NPCs will be there to simply hand out quests diablo-like. I want them to have a personality. I want my player to remember John after a month of playtime when he sees him again because John has a very specific way of walking with his crippled leg. And I want my player to know it's John from a distance. But that's my limit. I don't want John to be an AI engine himself.
You could always try to get a magical 80%ish by using voice recognition algorithms coupled with NLP ones and huge table of information about what each character knows and how he can react depending on his personality and even have the player speak to his mic or type anything he wants and have the NPC reply apropriatelly but that 20% is a big chance of failure and something you do not want to have in your game for a couple of reasons.
1) It'd be quite awkward if the player says something the machine won't understand so it gives back a responce not related to what the player said. Even borderline game breaking in some situations.
2) The player himself will need to know fluent english in order to play the game.
3) No voice-acting.
Anyways, got some stuff to do but i'll be around. This is one of the most interesting topics I've seen recently.
Well this is an interesting thread and im going to share my opinion on this matter. What I believe to be the problem with NPC's in RPG games are well mainly 1: They dont have much to say 2: they do the same thing day after day after day 3: The quests oh why the quests.
Now lets say you create a type of event system where what you do in the world changes the way the NPC's talk and feel about you giving you different methods of replying to them and so on. Just a slight change on conversation can change a game. Now obviously creating hundreds upon hundreds of replies for each character is just plain stupid but finding that line between too much and enough shouldnt be too hard. When I play a RPG I like to play and pretend im a part of that world not just wander around and pretend to have a good time.
Now on to the next point is it really that hard to get a character to just mix it up a bit? Lets say its raining make them run through the rain to get shelter instead of wandering around like mindless zombies if its warm make them go take a swim just make them do something even if its playing a random game of chess anything is better than walking just make it feel more alive by making them do normal stuff.
The quests well this is the one thing that annoyes my of rpg's im pretty sure there is as much trouble in a town as there outside. Why not make a npc give you a quest to go fetch money from another npc and because of that the other npc would talk to you differently because of that. The point being make them interact with each other the same as they would with you. Dont just make them give a quest to go kill bandits or raid a tomb. Example; If I have a fight with someone I wont just walk up to them and say a few words then waddle away id probably punch them. so make your npc's do the same. by giving them personalities or more of a method of how they would handle a situation is probably the key to making a city seem more alive.
Other than that add more travelers, gaurds etc obviously dont overwhelm a world just make it feel like everything fits. Some of the above comments were great in terms of Fallout 3 and so on. Making your world according to what your story is about is a good start.
And in the end this is a theory so take it with a bit of salt im actually in the process of making an RPG and figuring this out as i go will probably see what works best.
This is a very good example like the publishers of Crysis and many visualy amazing games have stated its becoming harder to amaze people with graphics and in the end this will be the same im not even sure if life will be able to amaze us in a few years. What is better than realistic??? What happens when we achieve as realistic as possible? My honest opinion is that the games arent the problem at all its the people who play them.
This is an extremely common problem, especially in large scale RPG's (Elder Scrolls series) and MMORPG's (tend to have huge worlds).
Packed Servers - Empty World
In particular, a great example is Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.
Even when it had 200,000 subscribers (although many couldn't even play the game without crashing, and most quit the game permanently after only a few hours of horrid performance) the servers were packed full.
Yet the world was so large, everything but the major cities / starter areas were barren. Not a thing in site for quite a ways.
It was a beautiful world, gorgeous landscape and graphics, yet even NPC's felt sparse until you found an area where they were inhabited.
Don't Starve, when it was first released, felt a little empty and barren. Then they added Reign of Giants, which transformed the world from a sparse wasteland into a stunning wildlife-filled landscape. I've noticed this trend in many games, where they add wildlife to make the world feel alive.
Even Ultima Online and Everquest had roaming animals, which helped to fill the gap between areas of interest.
It is an easy solution, adds enormous value to immersion, and should be a foundation for a greater system: More Wildlife.
As you exit the city, have a random encounter with a reset timer. You see a deer peak out, notice you, then prance away. You see rabbits being chase by a fox- maybe they get away, maybe the fox gets dinner. You see the brutality, the friendliness, the awe of nature while walking to the quest. It is better to over do it, than to not have it. Even better if you add gameplay to the wildlife. Make it harder than typical MMO's to find deer and successfully kill them. Make their presence have more value. Don't have NPC monsters the player can skin, making hunting deer useless. Emphasize crafting- not just leather armor and at best leather bags. Emphasize crafting that integrates into wildlife- Food, Entertainment, Druid Rares. Killing a deer with a big antler, is big money and lots of power for corrupt druids. Find a rare deer who dies of natural causes- and maybe a legit druid would want to use all its parts (and has magic to tell if the deer was murdered or naturally died. Making it a rare item based on a rare encounter.)
Random 'Animated' Encounters
IMO, 'useless' random encounters spliced with interactive random encounters is where it is at in designing a living, breathing world. It takes too much work to make tons of interactive random encounters, so pad them with animated scene (useless random encounters) or pair time consuming encounters with cheaper encounters which have less value. Try to counter any feeling the player may have breaking immersion, realizing the cheap stuff. You want them to FEEL like "This world is alive!" Not to THINK "That is obviously a filler NPC with no use in gameplay."
When designing around a feeling, learn what people think and why. Do people tend to want to chase after that fox to save the bunnies? Do most people not care? What type of encounters give feeling without drawing the player too much? Can you add lots of those without making it obvious? How can you mask or completely hide the "it's a game" aspect or trick the player into thinking it's real (not a computer programmed video game)? What immersion do other games give, and how/why?
Bustling Cities at Day, Empty Marketplaces at Night.
Really though, it is this concept: The World should feel Alive.
Cities should have bustling merchants. Tons of NPC's interacting, moving around, animating. In so many MMO's and even RPG's, NPC's do not move around. At least in Skyrim, they walk about and do their business. There are too few of them though.
I study realistic medieval populations. What was a medieval town, city, really like? Why does that dungeon exist? Who are those bandits in that fort? Realism adds Immersion, and designing around realism helps to bring the world to life.
Cities should be insane. Especially at places like the marketplace during daytime. There should be hundreds of people cramped together. Difficulty moving through crowds of people. Tons of thieves, merchants, tradesmen, peasants, children playing, beggars crying, guards screaming. Then at night, it should be a barren wasteland. Anyone you find should be a rare encounter or something fun to chase. Remember Dragon Warrior 3's Day/Night cycle? It was awesome. Every town was different at night. This made such a huge deal. I would love a RPG where you have to wait until night to purchase from a secret merchant. That same city which has a bustling marketplace in the day, should have a thriving Tavern at night. Make it obvious the life is inside that tavern or gambling den.
Towns, unlike Cities, should have significantly less people. A quaintness about them. Still, they should seem active during some times of day: More Children. More Families.
Where are all the Children? The Families?
This is what is truly missing in every RPG town and city. There are, at most, 1-4 children for the entire city, even if the city has a hundred adult NPC's.
Useless, quest-less, incapable, burdensome children. Families, mothers yelling at their kids to behave. Children dancing and running through the street. Fathers raising their hand to their child or picking them up and walking away. Hugs & affection, brutality and crime. A dynamic AI, and even better if that AI reacts to player action. "Let go of that child! I will not let you abuse your kid!" Even better if there are repercussions. "Little Jimmy is now dead. His father's anger was so much worse because of you. JIMMY IS DEAD ALL BECAUSE OF YOU! YOU ARE NO HERO OF MINE!!"
What is it like when you go to the mall? It's not all young single males with quests to give. It's a lot of boring crap. You don't want that. You however do want the feeling of a living world. Not mundane IRL crap like at your local mall, but exaggerated adventure-level life like at popular spots in major cities like NYC or Tokyo. You want an immersive world where the player doesn't focus on any individual NPC (only to realize they're stupid or worthless). You want an immersive world where, while the player is focusing on a task, quest, storyline, or gameplay, they can't help but notice the living world around them.
Anyway, this has gone on too long and my thoughts are wandering. End of rant.
To be honest, I'd be more interested in a Skyrim or Everquest (original) RPG which is entirely confined to a SINGLE MAJOR CITY, rather than a huge open world. Hell, I spent a large portion of my MMO wonder years never leaving EQ's Qeynos or UO's Moonglow.
If you have only one major city, and that's the entire game- I guarantee you that city will be amazing. The artists will make it feel alive, rather than spend only the amount of time and effort to "get it done" so they can move on to the next required content. Want more than one city? Hire more than one artist team. Allow them to make each city their own, and make them entirely different cultures and regions. Implement that into your gameplay.
Want a dungeon? Treat it like it's a city. Give reasoning for everything. Make each design team justify every building, every NPC. Push them to fill the game with a smart AI.
Obviously the above is only possible with AAA money, but that is the point. AAA money usually brings content that is no better than what an indie could do - except that it is shinier and prettier. The AAA money gives MORE content, not better content. This leaves indies responsible for quality content (rather than quantity, hence the popularity of PGC). What a mistake... many of these developers have enough money for both quality AND quantity, yet they choose only Safe Quantity.
That is the mistake of AAA developers. They believe that it's all about the graphics- the texture resolution, the polygon counter.
Instead, people aren't amazed by that anymore. Especially with the slowdown of tech advances in computers.
You can certainly still amaze people, but not with graphics. With art. Art design is more important than polygon count. A real artist knows about color theory, feeling and emotion from artistic pieces, and how to create atmosphere.
I've seen games by indies which have such a beautiful, immersive atmosphere- even on a small budget, that it puts AAA graphics to shame.
Amaze people with Art & Atmosphere, not Texture Resolution & Polygons.
I think you raise some really good points. And I like your idea of focusing on a single city instead of a huge open world. I think of some of the fantasy fiction I've read over the years — sure, some of it is continent-spanning epics, but a lot of the best stuff took place in a single, very well-developed city.
I also think you make a very good point about kids. Where are they, for pete's sake? And yeah, there are very well-understood and strong emotional bonds between parents & children, and among siblings, that could allow for some really interesting scenarios, if you want to interact with them. Or, maybe you don't interact with them, but they're there, tearing around in the background like children do, making the town or city feel alive.
Thanks! I've thought about this stuff alot, ever since I played Vanguard and noticed how empty the world was even when the game was thriving in beta. Ever since, I notice it in every game I play that feels empty, and have since tried to think of every possible way to enhance the experience.
Part of why I love Game of Thrones so much is because of how realistic it is. They don't sugar coat how horrible life was back in the medieval times.
Realistic Worlds Kindof Build Themselves
A Realistic world and immersive experience was a heavy focus in a RPG I was creating, which was based on realism. Even the worldmap was realistic, down to the reasoning for the population of all towns, hamlets, villages, and cities. The way the rivers formed (with help from a group we call "The River Police"). It was all well researched and legit. IMO, actually learning how landscape forms IRL actually makes it EASIER to develop worlds. The way things work in real life are rational. It makes sense, and flows to help generate itself- and it looks good afterwards. Nature has a way of being beautiful by default.
The game had a heavy emphasis on traveling, because I loved (in PnP RPG's) filling my pack with rope, rations, pots & pans, tents, and 'pointless' doo-dads and trinksets used for traveling and adventure. I was the PnP nerd who would rather spend an hour packing his backpack spending copper pieces than to draw a golden sword to slay a goblin.
<-- (The Major City of Kwaynos, inspired by my love and times in Everquest's Qeynos which I discovered was pronounced differently than I knew as a child.)
With dwarf-fortress inspired procedural generation for every possible individual in cities with thousands of users (with art that would look identical to this:
) With regions of the city you can visit in game. I wanted half the game to focus on the abstract world maps / city maps- to give it a grand scale and help encourage the feeling of adventure and meaningful travel. (It's a medieval high fantasy RPG that is mostly about traveling and grand adventures inspired by The Hobbit. I wanted the player to have the experience of "The Hobbit" each time they left their home city in search of adventure. Less adventures, longer adventures. Less content, higher quality fun.)
Anyway, I studied in depth what type of professions and population distributions in medieval cities using different regions of the world in the 14th century. I learned how many bakers, tanners, cooks, maids, barkeeps, innkeepers, bankers, nobles- were in a medieval 14th century city. Do villages even HAVE blacksmiths? What is the distribution of wealth? All of this data really helps to mold and design an immersive experience.
Real life, just *fits*. It just makes sense. You feel immersed simply by the fact you think "Seems legit!" Your sense of learning about real life medieval times, helps to pull you into the immersion. "I never knew blacksmiths were so rare in medieval villages. All I can find are tons of cobblers."
Although it is important to note I never got the chance (yet) to test whether or not other people felt more immersed based on how real games seemed to be or actually were. It's just a theory derived from my experiences as a gamer and designer. It just seems to be, games like Neo Scavenger, really pull you in- make you feel like a homeless frail human in a brutal post-apocalyptic world where nature is one harsh beast- but a dragon you can slay and then prosper (with a sense of accomplishment after overcoming the odds stacked against you in such a cold world).
You can find an extremely detailed calculation of my entire population world map HERE.
I used very specific numbers in all my algorithms to generate the correct population densities per race, per region, and per world.
Continent Population is 57 million.
You can even figure out statistics: "1 out of every 3 people in The Frozen Expanse are Zombies."
Never got to the point where it took that number and used subdivision to generate Cities, Towns, and Villages. There are specific criteria required for each. The major cities would be hand-crafted content (very few actually existed in medieval times, but they were huge). The rest would be procedurally generated. Same goes for all content (hand crafted content would always be supported by lots of PGC content).
In this way, I can both keep my scope to a practical level of game development by a small team, provide a good amount of content, but also throw in some quality content. All combined, with the goal of creating a living, breathing, immersive world.
A world full of cobblers.
Ever played old FF games, Xenogears, Chrono Cross(and Trigger)? There worlds felt inhabited, and "real" in terms of the universe they're in. And you know what they have in common?
It's infinitely more expensive and time consuming to get voice actors to read hundreds of thousands of lines of dialogue, than to have the script loaded into the game and have the player read it. Hey, if the devs are good enough, they can have a random dialogue creator that picks sentences that fit together, and create dynamic speeches for every character, and NPC.
The games I listed above took days to beat if I played it straight(no side quests or anything), while new RPGs take 10 hrs to beat straight. Meh.
This is actually a very big reason we have such dull and uninnovative dialogue systems in most games.
AAA studios are the ones with the money, capable of innovation. Without their innovation, we are left with low budget indie developers who dream big but have limited resources and capabilities. (Very often in an indie team, the guy who is suppose to innovate a feature is also suppose to design the core functionality...and the gameplay...and program everything else...and sometimes also do the art...and game design....and play testing...)
AAA studios decided to go with voice acting, because it is shinier. With voice acting, the amount of dialogue you get back per dollar invested, is miniscule compared to dialogue authors. Text is also less cumbersome of a computer resource than audio files. (Although that is irrelevant these days.)
So you have billions of dollars being poured into voice acting, with true innovation being impossible due to the expense per line of dialogue. This is why you see games like Skyrim, have repeating NPC's, Mass Effect games with limited dialogue choices, SWTOR with only 3 options which are often mundane or dull choices.
On the opposite end, you have text content. The weakness is quite a hard sell to AAA investors. Voice actors have higher quality, less quantity. The typical Indie v. AAA conundrum. Dialogue, however, has a huge strength of being capable of both tons more dialogue, heavier story-telling, and a plethora of choices even for the most basic of games. (This is why we often see up to 5 choices, rather than only 3, in games with text dialogue.) Adventure games are an exception to that rule, since they are almost entirely voice dialogue, text dialogue, and dialogue choices.
There are things like THIS which seek to innovate on written dialogue- making it more dynamic, more procedural (less random but also less static). However that is some indie dev doing a fun thing in his downtime. Imagine if AAA resources and professional teams of programmers went to attempt innovation with written dialogue, dynamic storytelling, or procedural adventures.
If indies are put in charge, you will see innovation- but in small steps and very slowly.
If AAA are put in charge, you will see massive leaps in technology and tons of content- rapidly churned out of the corporate machine. Unfortunately, all the cool ideas are risky or less profitable.
The whole voice-actor thing may be changing. Wasteland took a stand and said "no voice actors" for exactly the reasons above: they wanted freedom to put in as much dialog (much of it probably generated procedurally) as they want. I applaud this move, and from what I've heard on the street, it seems like most gamers are generally pleased with the result.
@CarterG81, your world sounds amazing, and I'd enjoy spending some time in it. If you ever get around to making it, you'll want some fairly advanced AI for all those NPCs... look me up when you get to that point. I think I've spent as much time thinking about NPC behavior and interactions as you've spent thinking about geography and demographics, and I'd love to help!
Thanks, I'll try to remember. It'll be awhile, but I will definitely be making that game at some point. (Not sure if it'll be my second, third, or fourth game. Depends.)
While developing my current game and trying to make some design elements tangible, I've learned AI is kickass for any game. I'd absolutely love to have some amazing AI in next game (which will hopefully be that world). Especially in those cities and towns, and in PvE combat.
I know it's a bit off topic, but relating to the world I built (Post #115) I actually was incorrect about one thing.
I forgot I actually did get to that point. I have those algorithms too. The results are pretty interesting.
I finally dug up (took me awhile to find) my game design document. It's a massive excel file, so after an hour of sifting through it- I finally discovered where I hid my endless pages of data about populations, cities, villages, etc.
Here's some examples of what it looks like (theres tons of pages of this type of stuff. I spent a lot of effort researching and creating the algorithms and balancing the values for the game- it was a TON of fun)
In the first image, it shows how many "Major" location there are. 35 total for the entire world. These would be the potential developer hand-crafted content. All minor locations would be procedurally generated (especially since there are literally thousands of villages).
Some rules help make decisions for worldbuilding (making it easier to build the worlds, and naturally it becomes logical at the end, creating a more CONVINCING town.)
For example, the rule:
"Towns will only have walls if threatened frequently."
That makes perfect sense. People, when collected in a group, would only spend the resources and energy to build defenses- if they needed them.
Towns constantly invaded, would make building walls a HUGE priority. Yet in video games, you get quests about constant raids in a village with no walls or defenses.
Following realistic rules and logic to build rules, help immersion simply for the fact it creates intelligent NPC's. No longer would the player think, "If you are raided constantly by orcs, why the F*** dont you build walls to stop them or form a town militia? Dumb *** NPC's."
To implement this, you add those type of rules in the PGC system. "If invaded, wall priority is increased. If constantly invaded, build defenses / form militia / do whatever until danger value is reduced to a lower priority- then continue building the rest of the town."
I say it's dwarf-fortress inspired, but I didn't know about DF when I did all this. However, it's a great way to show how it can actually work in a game. DF takes world generation rules and makes them have value in a video game- and it WORKS! Especially for hardcore gamers.
I'd also like to note this type of realism also GREATLY helps the level designer build the game world. If you first create the world, following the rules for rivers, mountains, and terrain formation- then you have a naturally created, logical world. Based on this and some known rules for the formation of dense populations, you can immediately start seeing spots where it just makes sense to place the major cities. BASED ON THOSE MAJOR CITIES, you can then place surrounding smaller major towns. After all that is done, you can scatter the countryside with tiny villages (which are in the thousands).
The rules help make decisions for the designer and take away a lot of the smaller responsibilities, allowing them to focus more on the important choices.
Thus you have an incredibly naturally developed, hand-crafted kingdom that just makes perfect sense to the player. "Oh, that makes sense this is the capital. They have that HUGE river next to them which connects to many other cities, lol." and avoid the immersion breaking nonsense "Wait...they have this huge mine to collect mithril...but how do they transport it to the rest of the world without boats?"
Great thread! Got a lot of inspiration from it.
Here's my summary of some points that I think might increase the believability of NPC:s:
Believable reactions - If you steal something or walk into someone’s house, people would likely react. Could also make better use of states or moods, as when people experience something bad, they would probably not recover immediately but be in a state of chock, influencing their other behaviors significantly. Serious actions should also lead to permanent changes in behavior.
Independent behavior - Not just idling, waiting for the player to take action, but appearing to mind their own buisiness, living their own lives, taking initiatives and acting for their own reasons. Not existing only for the player. Probably doesn't have to be a complete need-based simulation, but should give the appearance of it.
Deep conversation system - In most games, conversation is the most obvious form of interaction with NPC:s except fighting, so is probably important if you want to make NPC:s more interesting. Conversations can be made deeper through more choices, more believable responses, more varied language, more background stories, more initiatives by NPC:s, stronger consequences of your choices etc.
Personalities - Variations to all of the above based on personalities, beliefs, background and similar.
Social relations - Put more focus on relationships between NPC:s, the player and factions. Depending on their relation to you, or to each others, their reactions and responses should vary, and important behavior change. Players should be able to influence all of these relations. This would probably be the most complex "memory" that the NPC possesses, because relations are so dynamic and change quickly through actions and conversations.
Major events - Let major events turn NPC behavior and relations upside down. Challenging, but if done well should make things much more interesting and alive.
I'm repeating a lot of what have been said already, but I kind of like summaries. Did I forget something important? All of these points deserve their own discussions, so feel free to improve upon them.
Wouldn't be simpler to make the NPC very busy and the player not able to enter homes or workplaces There is noise and activity from homes and workplaces. The player can only enter most places with a prior appointment. Thus the RPG settlement can have lots of people.
Create paths for your NPCs that are affected by day/night cycles. They to the field or shops during the day, hang out at the fountain at certain times and at dark, they go inside houses. You could tie in weather too. Whatever weather system you use, have the NPCs react to the rain.
A lot of complication and work for a relatively minor part of a game. You have lots of NPC around and then the PC will want to talk to them and their dialogue handling is an enormous task.