Asynchronous Interaction and Faux NPCs

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AltarofScience 101 Jan 26, 2012 at 19:48

Crossposted from my thread on MMORPG.com because they don’t necessarily have the ability to see the developer perspective:

I would have put this in the Sandbox Subforum, except the administration couldn’t spend 5 minutes to make one…
I am primarily looking for feedback from Sandbox leaning players, both in relation to my game and about this type of thing in general. I think it would allow for some great socializing and infact add incentives to socialize to gain access to these features as well as making it possible to defend and attack and do economic things even at non peak hours.
I guess I can’t stop themepark players from coming here but I will ask that they try not to derail, or flame sandbox games and things like that.

If you read any of my posts you know how I feel about so called “persistent worlds” and “MMOs” of the themepark style and how they are really just coop RPGs with graphical lobbies instead of text lobbies.
As part of my game project I have been trying to create a truly persistent world style. I want characters actions to have permanent or really semi permanent effects on the world like killing creatures and having them gone for ever and having non instanced housing and having creatures launch real time raids on player made settlements.
One of the problems is that dynamic content can be missed and that a raid could happen while a lot of players were offline.
I have also been on a quest to add REAL social functions to games. Not just stupid world chats. World chats and seeing other players in the graphical lobby as you run by while neither of you perform an action which actually effects the other person are not massively multiplayer features.
Since the possibility for synchronus interaction in the game world is limited because people have lives I have been forced to attempt to come up with forms of asychronous association.
This is one of my efforts in that direction. Faux NPCs. Faux NPCs cover many different features that I have integrated into one overarching structure.
I want to make a game with no NPCs. None. Screw that. No premade towns and shops. No quest givers. No town guards.
How do Faux NPCs fit into this framework? Aren’t they NPCs? Didn’t you just say you want games with no NPCs? How do “NPCs” fit into any sort of social system?
The answer is simple. The “NPCs” in the Faux NPC system are players. Just players that are offline.
The Faux NPC system covers many different features:

Player shops. This system is designed for Fantasy games, so no we do not have robo servitors to run shops. Shops can only be interacted with in a few ways:
Listservs. This is a pun, god. The permissions systems including storage and guilds and kingdoms and such are managed with lists. These lists provide both access to chat channels, and every single chat channel in the game was created by players except the worldgate chat where players spawn, and these lists can be used to set permissions. For instance a guild is composed of a series of lists:
Main guild chat- Every player on the guild is on this list and may chat here. This list is assigned to guild strorage and buildings based on what the leaders want to be accessible to the rank and file. For instance it may be used to permit access to a guild hall or let you use guild crafting capital or for a chest containing basic gear so that every member of the guild can start with half decent stuff.
Any number of specialized chats-This can include the guild leader and/or a guild council chat/permissions list, maybe you have an elite group in the guild lower than council but higher than member. You can have as many tiers of positions as you like. Maybe the crafters in the guild have a private channel just for themselves to organize.
The way this functions with shops is that you can set storage facilities in your shop to allow people to take items and put an amount of gold in another storage device. In this way you can have say a box for each of your most loyal customers and when you finish a custom order for them you leave it there and they put in the purchase price in gold in return.
Similarly you might keep a supply of lower level gear for sale as public or guild storage. This may not be the safest thing but its a sandbox so do as you please.
I call these system listservs because you have a permission list and you can serve those people without actually being there if you think they can be trusted.

That is one thing you can do with shops. There is another and this is the part which is actually a Faux NPC feature. When you log off the game your character is not logged out. Ever. Come on guys, truly persistent worlds need a truly persistent populace. You can set orders for your offline character. For instance you may want them to travel back to the worldgate because its a sort of safezone. But that isn’t the real purpose of the system.

The real goal of Faux NPCs in shops is this:
You can set your character to travel to your shop while you are offline. A Faux NPC can perform many of the actions of a real player. You can sell goods with the merchant system Essentially you set items in the store to a price and any player who wants the item opens the merchant dialogue. They then pay the cost and receive the item just like an NPC shop interaction.
Similarly a player can put in a crafting order with the Faux NPC. Then that NPC can craft that item as if you were actually online to do it. You would have to set the orders for this and a price for items. You would get the same crafting experience as if you crafted the item yourself.
A note here: If I create the crafting minigame system I want insted of a click to craft system, you may lose a % of efficiency in the result of the crafting since you aren’t online. The computer will act as if you had been on and crafted at say, 70% efficiency or something. I haven’t worked this all out yet. Some crafting functions like enchantments may not have a minigame and should perform at 100%.

Faux NPCs are not only shopkeepers. They can perform any other actions.

You can set your character to have battle orders of many kinds with different triggers. If monsters raid the city while you are offline you can have your orders set so that your character protects the town. You can allow for an automated defense script or you can customize the actions of your character in battle.
You could have them man the walls or defensive implacements or cast spells if they are a mage or join other Faux NPCs in archery from the walls. Bascially anything you could do normally but without being as smart about it.

I have an idea about a thief functonality which I think about for entertainment purposes but which probably won’t go in the game. Essentially players can try to rob other players, and you can set magic and physical, traps and have walls and chests and locks and such. And you can set your character to defend your property or even circle the town and try to stop theives, sort of like a guild or town police force.

One of the other really interesting aspects involves guilds and friends. You can set your character to be controllable to a degree by any other player using the list permission system. For instance if your guild is doing a raid and you aren’t online they can follow the guild and assist them in combat missions as a Faux NPC.
On a more personal level you could allow guild explorers or research gatherers to bring your character along to help protect them while they are gathering resources. You could carry resoureces for them also.
This sort of functionality will make the game a much more social experience and allow players with social or guild connections to essentially “find a group” even though there are no NPCs and no stupid LF tools.
It allows for you to help protect group assets even if you can’t be one, so that you don’t feel so pressured to log in all the time if you have a life. This will allow casuals to contribute to the game. Indeed players will be able to level fighting skills and gain map information and level crafting and such without being online.
There will be some restrictions like people not being able to steal your gear and screw you over and such.
What do you guys think?

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Stainless 151 Jan 27, 2012 at 09:53

It depends how you handle death.

If death is permanent, then this system will end up with a brief influx of players, followed by a rapid exit of everyone.

Imagine you have built your character up over several days of intense game play. You have set up all the scripts. Churned dungeons to get money, traded with everyone you can find, bought the best armour and weapons you can afford, etc.

Then the caffeine finally fails, and you have to sleep.

12 hours later you get up and log on, only to find your character was killed in a raid while you were asleep and you have to start again.

VERY pissed off player.

The other issue is how long these faux players exist. I log on, create a character, then hate the game. So I never log on again. How long will this faux player continue to exist in the game world?

Will the world rapidly fill up with faux players and you end up with a kind on massively multi-player online version of Conways game of life?

(That would actually be a very interesting thing to watch….)

Those are two issues you would seriously have to address before you start investing your time in development.

It might be useful as well to design in some players with extra access rights. So you have the equivalent of moderators in a bulletin board.

Maybe make them a kind of police force that can arrive in the nick of time if needed

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alphadog 101 Jan 27, 2012 at 14:41

If you have no NPCs, you have a chicken-and-egg problem. Most new players will see an empty world, get bored and leave.

You’ll have to solve that one before moving on to other issues, like how complex it actually is to run a PC-as-a-bot-while-offline in a convincing enough manner to entertain online users.

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__________Smile_ 101 Jan 27, 2012 at 19:06

Wow, that is almost the same as my idea!

Death problem is not limited to such systems. Additional tweaking of amount of lost goods will be required, but it’s the same for every MMORPG. If you assign tough offline task for your character be prepared for respawn at next login!

As for bootstrapping problem, in my idea I permit existence of “true” NPC, but they absolutely indistinguishable from offline players. In my idea players spawn to children of certain age, and if nobody wants to respawn to a certain child, he(she) gets a role of “true” NPC (peasant).

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AltarofScience 101 Jan 28, 2012 at 21:33

The game will not have permadeath. Well it does but as a choice by the player to use some special items. Death penalty is usually being kicked back to a bound spawn point, maybe take gear damage. Well could be other things.
Offline characters do not play as players. They have specific things they can do and in non shop and crafting contexts like raids or escorting they will function as NPCs would.
As for player density, this is a serious sandbox style game. I don’t care about lazy casuals. If a character is not use for an amount of time by a logged in player, based on how many hours of logged in play are logged :) it will be logged out. It will still exist but it won’t be in the game.