More on Immersion: NPCs and the Players They (Sort-of) Know

Currently, I’ve been thinking about NPCs and interaction with the Player. My husband and I have been discussing immersion and gaming a lot these days – mostly because of actual gaming, to be honest, but it’s bled over in my thinking into how I’m considering design. And, well NPCs interacting seems natural and obvious to me as something I should do; it helps to my mind to make a more immersive, more realistic world (even if everybody has pumpkin heads or you’re having a serious conversation with a white dragon-griffin about the dangers in the Break).

Various game designers deal with this issue in their own ways, depending on style and choices they’ve made. For instance, GW2 players know by now that they can go into towns and hear some pretty interesting discussions going on between NPCs, and that they can themselves click on this or that one to get them to talk with them. Wow players don’t have so much of that, from what I recall; it occasionally happens that NPCs will take charge (the example of this I remember most is the guards, who are especially interesting when someone’s trying to invade an enemy city, but I also remember a pretty funny Forsaken in the low-levels who wants a pet murloc, and who goes on and on about it). LOTRO sadly doesn’t have a lot of this at all. I think I see NPCs talking randomly the most in Thorin’s Hall, and there’s a little bit of it in Rohan. I’m not sure why this decision was made, but it does make the world slightly less than it could have been, even despite – to me, at least – being very immersive already, thanks mostly to the amazing writing it’s based on.

Those are three different ways devs have dealt with NPCs and immersion; audiophilegamer’s comment from the last post got me excited because it gave me a key to something I myself I could do, but I know there are also other things I’ll figure out later on. I have no intention of going into the MMO racket, ohhhh no. I’ll leave that to bigger companies and much less sane people than myself (lol). Seriously, though, I want my NPCs to BE people rather than just 2D things standing around on a scripted level. Will that mean it takes me longer to put stuff out? Probably. Do I care ? No. I am looking at the ways other games are dealing with immersion, and seeing that there’s this thing that’s somehow getting overlooked a lot, likely due to time (since I know the big companies are under the gun to get stuff out fast) but also probably due to issues I already spoke of. Since I want to change that idea, to do something different with it – I know that the original Elder Scrolls stuff did some of what I want to do, with NPCs arresting people or getting pissed if you stole stuff from them, and so on – better start practicing now, so I don’t fall into habits I don’t want.

So:

1)have NPCs talking in cities/towns at random

2)don’t only have NPC talk to Player when they want a quest done

3)have environment interact with Player (not sure how to implement this, but I do know I’ll need it for certain other worlds I can think of) – and I don’t mean NPC environment, I mean more the game environment itself.

How does this apply to “Nikria’s Menace,” then? For one thing, I have battles in there I can make more dynamic. Yeah, in a text game. For instance, I’m having the guards in Ghlaana place barrels of salt and vials in the capital and along the roads when the first big volcanic eruption happens and fire imps and spirits are everywhere. The Player can choose whether or not to interact with them. The Player will get yelled at by the guards to do this – especially if he or she chooses to not fill up on salt. Somebody other than the Player will also be keeping track of his or her inventory, so if the NPC with them knows that he or she doesn’t have an item, it’ll be the NPC and not the game saying, “But you don’t have any silver polish to kill that rust spirit with!”

That’s what I can think of at the moment. To me, it’s exciting, it’s neat, it’s new, and it’s something I can build on. On a simplistic level, it’s like if I’m going around Terraria – where there’s some NPC interaction at least with monsters and merchants (I particularly like the wandering merchant who appeared in the last patch) and seeing how I could take those two aspects of the game and make them seem more real.

Number 3 of my ideas, my “to-do” list if you will, is the most difficult for me at the moment, being the most vague concept as of yet. I’m thinking it’s kind of like GW2‘s “living world” stuff, of which you guys know I’m a big fan. Depending on the world I do or don’t want it intense to that extent, but I do want something like it all the same. *G*It’s kind of like if Wow had mini-Cataclysms going on every few weeks – at the same time, I’ve noticed a hole in it. I’ve lurked on forums for GW2 and one of the most consistent complaints I’ve seen that has to do with this, is that “ok we log in every 2 weeks and then it’s interesting for a day or so.” I’m paraphrasing, but I do have to agree. Somehow, the world of Tyria’s changed, but there’s plot holes as far as I’m concerned, and every 2 weeks those holes appear once whatever world-changing event is over. Something is missing. I have myself tended to do the “log in every 2 weeks or so” thing, and pretty consistently, so I caught every event – up until this past winter when I missed the Lion’s Arch attack due to being sick, and then GW2 was having login issues for awhile. As bad as that was for me as a player, I learned something very important as a designer; when I finally did manage to log in it brought home to me the plot hole issue. One of my characters had been left in LA, so I logged in to that one – and certainly, the destruction was pretty impressive, but – well, ok LA was destroyed. No more portals, no more of most of the city. Aaaand – ok. I got a mail that sent me over to Divinity’s Reach, to a bar, where I only sort of heard about what happened from a long NPC discourse. My husband said there’s a group of refugees over at the LA refugee camp – that appeared a few patches and events ago – who talk a little more about what happened, but other than that, nada. The world’s changed, but at the same time it felt very stagnant. I found myself mentally comparing it to Cataclysm in Wow: there, the devs got a very impressive makeover of the whole fricking world, and so the NPCs in it had to change pretty much all over. Wow has a weird relationship with story, it isn’t a dynamic tale in itself (yes I’m expecting fans of it to yell at me for that comment, but it’s how I feel). I know LOTRO has changed their world around a little bit, though mostly just with xpacks, so I don’t want to do it that way. I’ve seen some changing stuff going on with Terraria that I do like – I think if I combined GW2‘s living world with the more epic world-changing stuff Wow did, I might have something. But it’s still vague.

My own writing style screams at me to make the worlds I create as realistic as possible. Whether it’s fire imps that you can kill with enough salt or giants who can either be herded off to places where they won’t bother humans, yeah I want people to feel like they’re in the worlds I’ve made. The same has definitely applied as I’ve delved deeper into game design; Prince Tiorollaan might not be bright enough to fully get how to fight off things, but Pheeghlaan will definitely yell at the Player. Because that’s him, that’s his character. I don’t have nearly enough of the issues I want settled done just yet, but dammit I intend to make a big dent in the way worlds are perceived.

 

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