DISCUSS: NPCS

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WIP
I'm not comfortable with any idea that can't be expressed in the form of men's jewelry
11363
Trying to start some more actual design discussion around here.

What are your thoughts about NPCs in games? There have been recent advancements in NPC "technology" with the likes of BioWare's KoToR and Mass Effect. I know in a lot of RPGs I've played, some games I want to talk to people and others I don't. Usually if I am very enthralled with the game and enjoy its world, I talk to more NPCs.

Do these highly interactive NPCs really matter to a game?
NoblemanNick
I'm bringing this world back for you and for me.
1390
I think it makes the experience all the more sweeter. It gets quite annoying to talk to an NPC and all you get is "Push the A button to jump". But if you talk to the NPC and it doesn't say the same thing or by turning on switches sit seems they know what's been happening, makes the NPCs come to life. Though NPCs wont save games that are naturally bad.
kentona
I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.
21237
NPCs won't make or break a game for me, but they can provide a good distraction/break from the gameplay, complement a good story, inject some humour, and increase the immersiveness of a game, which helps to increase the overall enjoyment.

BioWare games in particular have great NPCs. I love the conversations that you can have with some of them.
Same here. I hate NPCs that are always: "The Castle is up ahead" It's like yeah I already knew that, thanks, how about some decent info?

Some games treat NPCs as a source of almost useless information. NPCs that say different things, tell me about the world a bit, say something funny, stupid or when you get to do something mean to them. Thats what I like lol.

The more interactive and NPC the better. Of course, no one has the time for that.
WIP
I'm not comfortable with any idea that can't be expressed in the form of men's jewelry
11363
As a counter point, should the developer be focusing on polishing core gameplay or making a lot of interactive NPCs? Realize that most games do not have the ability to bake in a four year dev period.

I think there becomes a point of making the NPCs too interactive. When I played KOTOR, I felt really bored talking to so many people that seemed like unimportant bullshit.
kentona
I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.
21237
NPCs, besides being a source of quests, were often the main way of gaining Light or Dark side points, which translated into a tangible benefit for the player.

It falls back on to the old rule of thumb: "If it doesn't add to the game, don't bother adding it."
The NPCs in my game are fairly few, but they are either your usual shopkeep/sidequest, give you hints and/or explain things (not lol castle up kthnxbai) or they're cameos/quotes.

I like NPCs who have dialoge with a little thought put in (like, serving a purpose). That purpose may very well be humour, gameplay or just setting the mood (ie. stressed person, get-the-hell-out-of-my-way). Cameos or quotes (that I use in my game) can be a nice touch, as long as they don't distract from the actual game (like, homebrew PIKACHU sprite in 3D ADVENTUREFANTASY RMXP saying I JUST SHIT MY GUTS OUT NEED DRUGS BAD).
WIP
I'm not comfortable with any idea that can't be expressed in the form of men's jewelry
11363
Right, kentona, but I didn't feel like it DID add to the game. That's my point.
harmonic
It's like toothpicks against a tank
4120
My plan for LoD2 is to only populate the towns with essential functions while I'm building the game. IE Inn, shops, quest givers, etc.

Any extra NPCs will have a lot more stuff to talk about when the game is longer or done. It's kinda like having a newspaper for a town of 100,000 as opposed to a town of 5. More stuff in the world, more stuff happening, more stuff to discuss.
Most of my NPCs can't in anyway be considered interactive, but in the few times you talking to them, their personalities are sometime better developed than the main characters'. ;-;

Anyway, the only game I've ever played that had interactive NPCs was some old Star Wars Ep 1 PC Game. And on that, the conversations you had with them were pretty unexciting- it really felt like I just had to have all possible conversations, otherwise I might miss something. Yes, that's my OCD side. RPGs make me OCD..... No, anyway, I really gained nothing from it, and lost time, so since then, I've had somewhat of a dislike for dynamic NPCs... Well, ones that aren't necessary, anyway.

I view NPCs really just as distinct objects. That's why they are, were, and have pretty much always been so 2d and bland. 'The castle is up ahead' is a statement better reserved for a sign, rather than a mustached balding father sprite. Poor guy.
On the other hand, were a sign to say 'I heard the lord of the castle up ahead is a kind man...', I would be very concerned. NPCs can say different things at different times to suit the needs of the character/player, but empty interaction is really just a novelty that I find annoying.
If the choices of interactive NPCs resulted in any sort of consequences, then sure. KotOR and NWN had mostly meager results in a minor alignment shift. In NWN2, your interaction with your party members influences who would do what at the endgame, a much more significant consequence. In Fallout you could, through NPC interaction (and sufficient skill levels), defeat a boss without having to fight him.

If the options don't have any consequences ("NPC: Please save the world! You: Choice A: Yes. Choice B: Yes *scowl*"), then no, interactive NPCs are just wasted effort that could be better spent elsewhere for better results.



Aside: And neutrality is a very important option. Interactive NPCs have an annoying tendancy to be "I am a Saint and I give all my money to starving orphans on fire" or "I EAT BABIES" which just hurts. Don't use extremes without a middleground.


*edit*
I think KotOR2 had exposition in the dialogue choices of your character, which is nice too. Really, I think Obsidian did choices better than Bioware, but I can't say for certain as I never beat KotoR1/NWN1)
I don't mind NPCs but i will rarely talk to them in any game unless my mission is to obtain something from one of them around a town or something, because you have to. I kinda like NPCs to be more interesting and entertaining. In Demon Destiny i have made most of my NPCs more interesting by them giving you items or hints and tips on quests or the storyline. I mainly lost interest in them when i would talk to them and hear them saying stupid things like this.

"I seem to have broken my leg... how clumsy of me".

I've never really gotten into dialog trees. I'm not sure exactly what my issue with them is, but it really feels like they take something away from my personal immersion in the game world.

I suppose what I should say is that I'm not into dialogue trees the way Bioware does them. Technically I guess Phoenix Wright's system of dialogue forms a tree, but they feel a lot better to me.

There's every possibility that the typography involved is key here. Or the lack of numbers and a simple list of dialogue choices--the ability to have many different dialogue chains without specifically choosing from a small number of choices might be part here. I hear Mass Effect gets around this, but I haven't played it, so I don't know how well I'd respond to it. I suspect I'd like it more than NWN or KotOR's way of doing things, though.

I realize these thoughts have had more to do with the interface than the NPCs themselves, but I feel like it's basically on-topic. But just in case, I'll comment on the other stuff that's come up in here.

Also: as a lot of wRPGs and Final Fantasy 12 (probably others as well, but I can't think of many off the top of my head) have shown, you don't have to be able to talk to every NPC in the game. I think it's entirely fair to just have NPCs as decoration and only give lines to the important ones.

There are other options, too. While a lot of people tend to forget or look down on Radiata Stories, one thing I enjoyed about that game was that so much of what went on was centered around a single central hub (with a few populations centers elsewhere, but basically it was a small world with only a few major NPC areas), and was able to make basically every NPC in the game fairly significant. A huge number of them were potential PCs, but even those that weren't often had vignettes, daily schedules, and lives outside of the hero's activities. Majora's Mask did the same thing. Basically, because the raw number of NPCs was reduced, and the hero could be expected to run into the same ones a bunch of times, they were able to do a lot more with them than you generally see.

Personally, I felt like that made for a much stronger move than dialogue trees do. The characterization was strong(relatively speaking--it was strong for fairly insignificant NPCs. If we were talking PCs, it'd obviously barely register, even less so if we were talking a purer storytelling medium), just more or less set in stone--that's sort of the trade off, and it seems to be the biggest difference between jRPGs and wRPGs in general. jRPGs sacrifice some player freedom for better characterization. Generally, they feel more personal to me, and that's a feature I find more important than being given a plague of options. But it's a matter of taste, so your experience may vary.
I agree with kentona. If it's not a highly interactive game, which you have to constantly interact and do things with the NPCs, also don't bother adding it UNLESS it is needed. For example, just an NPC that says for example "The morning is great!" only needed to be there to give the town an example of a population instead of just being a blank town.

An example of important Non-Playable Characters are those who give depth to the game itself, for example the Old Sage (or something like that) that feeds the player information about the gaming world's history, et cetera. NPCs that have a lot to say that is important to me are considered definately appropriate to put in a game. A highly interactive game would be Razkertim. Also like demondestiny, NPCs are also important because some are destined to interact with the player to give them something, such as a item that is important to a quest or a mission briefing, all of that sort.

I would not recommend NPCs in the middle of no-where because they have a tendancy to add to the question "Why is a person, all alone, right in front of the boss monster?". A GOOD reason is that they can give information to the player about the area they are in (like a certain danger or how to do things), which is usually replacing the normal all-powerful SIGN. Usually, NPCs are a great aspect of RPGs because they contain everything that the player needs, which I have said above. Also they give a 'balance' to the game. If nobody has already thought about it, NPCs are essential to the game, balancing gameplay within a game with the story in dialogue. On the other hand, sometimes bland dialogue is boring...
Npcs, (at least the type that inhabit towns) are very versatile.

They can do anything from help set the mood, provide you with extra / free items, or even give the player a good chuckle.

If you want to have good npcs, it's important to establish early in the game their worth. A small and easy fetch sub quest is (I think) a good way to inform the player that some npcs will have fun or useful things.

Expanding on the mood point, a happy, prosperous town would naturally be filled with various ware peddlers, tourists and wealthy / happy citizens, while an impoverished town will be filled with hobos, vagabonds and the like. Not only do they add that necessary extra something to a town; but they can provide general information on the current situation of the area in a convincing way (IE: Player talks to a hobo, and hobo mentions for no apparent reasons that the mayor of the town is doing something suspicious, when it would be much more convincing to have him and his friend complain about getting "screwed over by the man")

Whether or not the game world is interesting or not, it's pretty much necessary to have NPCs in every town, so you may as well take at least five minutes to make them a little more interesting than "That sky looks like ground".
author=Nightblade link=topic=970.msg13270#msg13270 date=1209177211
Whether or not the game world is interesting or not, it's pretty much necessary to have NPCs in every town, so you may as well take at least five minutes to make them a little more interesting than "That sky looks like ground".

That's the thing you DON'T want in NPCs. All sorts of bland dialogue, like the following (do not use these!):

"The morning is nice!"
"The evening sky is fading."
"I wonder... (etc)"

Learn interesting words.
author=loki123546 link=topic=970.msg13279#msg13279 date=1209183910
author=Nightblade link=topic=970.msg13270#msg13270 date=1209177211
Whether or not the game world is interesting or not, it's pretty much necessary to have NPCs in every town, so you may as well take at least five minutes to make them a little more interesting than "That sky looks like ground".

That's the thing you DON'T want in NPCs. All sorts of bland dialogue, like the following (do not use these!):

"The morning is nice!"
"The evening sky is fading."
"I wonder... (etc)"

Learn interesting words.
But avoid using them unless they're sensible. Because you don't want every character to sound like yourself, especially if you're a nerd who has a tendency to use words that only about 20% of the population knows. That's one of the biggest mistakes that amateur (hack) writers make--thinking that just because they know obscure words, they're obligated to use 'em. I speak from experience here, but I at least like to tell myself that I sound more like a cloudcuckoolander than I do someone with Asperger's.

Anyway, using normal words in interesting ways makes for more coolality. Especially if you can make the ideolects unique to the characters who use them....but only the major characters need this sort of thing. It'd make things less interesting (not to mention it would approach the impossible) to give Johnny the Janitor Whose Only Purpose in the Game is to Give the Player the Blue Key a unique and interesting way of talking.

Every character sounding like a nerdy high-school-to-college student (*cough*The Inheritance Cycle*cough*) or worse yet, an old british Historian (*cough*Lord of the Rings*cough)is way more bland than a party full of people who talk, variously, like a chav, a pop culture junkie, a stoner, an airhead, a looney and a scholar.

Also, hooray! I got to use the word "chav." Chav, chav, chav.
You guys seem to be discussing the mechanics of NPCs, which while good, is not necessarily indicative of good NPCs. I'l just ignore WIP's topic and expand on Nightblade's point here. =)

I think most RPG Maker games struggle at making NPCs relevant. That is, they only really exist to give a piece of information and be forgotten about afterwards. Unless you are required to talk to a certain set of people in a town, it's probably better to forget about these NPCs and get on with the game - because if the NPCs are irrelevant, you will also unlikely be rewarded with sidequests, items or other boons.

Good NPCs don't necessarily need to be interactive or 'deep'. They should, however, get you more invested in the world. Give them personalities, give them interesting things to discuss. Make your characters talk with them. Change their dialogue after events. Give them mini-quests that give reasonable rewards or advance a subplot.

An rm2k game worth looking at in this regard is Love & War, which while unsuccessful in some respects(particularly pacing and gameplay) excels at plot and character design. The NPCs have distinct personalities, the main character communicates with them, and sometimes asks interesting questions. Hell, I suggest downloading LaW and exploring Davenport, the first town. The Cathy NPC - a character totally unimportant to the plot and never the least bit essential - does all the things I suggest in the second paragraph over the course of the game. Some of the guys in town even end up being involved with the plot later. Pretty cool stuff! This isn't a terribly difficult task, either, it just takes a bit of time.

In game design, rewarding the player for a certain activity(to cite Brickroad's article) will increase the chances of them repeating that activity again. Rewarding the player with interesting characterization(and possibly sidequests or items), when interacting with NPCs will make it more likely they'll continue doing so, and thus get more invested in the world, and ultimately find the game more enjoyable.

And yes I'll be discussing this in my storytelling articles as well.
I put very little effort into NPCs, quite honestly. I always figure whatever attention and work I would put into them is better served funneled toward the main cast. Also, usually they're among the last things I actually add to a game.

Yes, Love and War did have very good NPCs.
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