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It's Always Personal

Agree or disagree if you will, but regardless of your choice, it's always personal!

Author: 56KModem

NPCs and Things

Posted by 56KModem Friday February 1 2008 at 9:11AM
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Greetings, and welcome to my blog. Last time, I seemed to hit a little close to home with my ideas; however, this time around I may be able to provide a slightly different outlook. I will be discussing the nature and the behavior of the “bad” NPCs in video games. I will start by analyzing the three genres where the NPCs may need improvement and what I think such an improvement should be. As many of you have found out, read my blogs with a pinch of salt. Today the targets shall be: First Person Shooter (FPS), Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing  Game (MMORPG), and lastly Sports. I understand that this is an MMORPG site; however, I think that to create a good game of such genre, one must understand that in many instances, NPCs should work the same way.
FPS titles are to this date, home to some of the most unorganized and stupid artificial intelligence (AI) maps known to mankind. The enemies seem to literally be uncoordinated and not care about anything relating to anything but directly them. Examples include such things as: “Two soldiers are walking; one gets shot and killed. The other continues walking uninterrupted.” There have been many games that improve on the AI of FPS over the years, but generally speaking, they are still just about as clumsy as ever. I personally think that the NPCs in this genre should be just as what they would seemingly be in real life. Terrorists should go crazy trying to shoot everywhere and hopefully hit the sniper that just killed his friend. Enemy snipers should be well hidden just as though they were players. The smarter the game AI gets, the harder it is to win; therefore, in coalition with the above examples, I think that the difficulty settings should change the intellect of the enemy not the physical statistics.
MMORPG titles tend to introduce the monotony to the lives of the AI. Not only are they bound to wonder around aimlessly, but they cannot attack even though they are seemingly only a few feet away. Such a design of NPCs is fairly well done due to the simplicity of finding them for players. If every kobold knew that some warrior will come by and kill him to collect his whiskers, then the entire clan would hide or run. The main thing that I would like to see happen to the AI in MMORPGs is more teamwork and if that means increase the power of the players, then be it. If an enemy is “pulled”, such an enemy can bring his entire surroundings with him. In many instances, (Murlocks) that would be very bad for the player; however, if such players were stronger and would fight the enemies, the victory would go a lot higher. In the MMORPG genre, scripted events can make certain enemies seem to be much more intelligent then they actually are. I am talking about normal “mobs” in the middle of nowhere using some of their own tactics to take down an adventurer. I believe that both sides of the conflict should be given a chance; nevertheless, the player should have at least a slight advantage in order to come out on top.
Sports titles seem to have a fairly descent AI. The main reason for this is due to the fact that the goals are so simple and repeatable. In a racing game, the pursuit to the finish line is the only thing in mind of the enemy racer. The paths are scripted and determined with the NPC not being able to deter from such fate. Some sports titles have strategy involved, while others have reflexes and quick analysis. In the end, the enemy is determined to win no matter the costs. The AI in these instances could be modified to allow some random factor. Exactly how far is an enemy going to go to try to win? The players should be able to find that out first hand. All are things to consider while creating sports NPC are equally important as any other genre. A lot of developers seem to forget that.
The above are some of the things that I see how they are now. Also I would love to see the next top MMORPG of my choice feature some of the characteristics of the NPCs that make them distinguishable and challenging. AI should be the character that is played by a computer, not a dumb terminal (my puns suck). There is a line that has to be drawn as well when it comes to the actual intellect and scripting that goes into the game. The players are always number one and should be kept that way in all hierarchies of power in relation to the environment. If done correctly, the enemies will apply tactics, attempt to flank the opponent, and otherwise try their hardest to win; however, the hero being heroic and all should be able to dispatch of them all and get a great feeling of satisfaction out of conquering an enemy that actually “tried” to kill him. A smart enemy conquered is much better than dominating an idiot, just as long as there is the ability to accomplish such tasks. From the technical point, I believe that there are not that many limitations. The scripts and codes will all equal out to more space used on the hard drive or CD. Current technologies should have no problem supporting something that is so trivial.
I know that this topic has been brought up many times in the past. I apologize for the repetition, but I think that I am shining a different light on things. Stating my opinion in a slightly different way is what I love to do.  I believe that many may agree on this, “Nothing worth while is easy.”
Discuss if interested.
Atomy writes:

Hmm, quite interesting but your only looking into the interests of the gamer not the company.

Don't forget that the company making the game, is for one after money. Its actually more expensive then you might think of creating such game with high AI.

But to stay informative, i'll tell u a little secret why AI failes in games of today.

AI failes because Npc's, bots and mobs aren't as sophisticated as human beings. We learn from mistakes, scripted mobs simply can't beat us if we play long enough. We know how they act, and what they can do after a while.

Thats why PvP was invented, since when people get to deal with eachother its about who is prepared to go deep. Just like in life, its all about what are you willing to invest. And how far will u go.

U want to test perfect AI?

Create a FPS, replace the bots with real life people. Lets see how far u get.

In other words your FPS game just got improved to a multiplayer FPS.

The day that singleplayer is as interesting or even more exciting then multiplayer is when bots have a faster learning curve then humans, because THAT is godlike mode. Defeating something that is bound to defeat you.

The thing you want already exist, and the thing that already exists you want it to be implemented into something that can't exist. Atleast for the moment. And don't forget that this problem is highly complicated. It will bring thousands and thousands of problems along.

Like i said how far will u go?






Fri Feb 01 2008 10:03AM Report
56KModem writes:


You bring a valid points to my discussion that I might have overlooked.

The price of production and the learning curve of the mobs are definitely factors to be considered. I was not thinking of cost and time as a restriction in the actual creation, I wrote from the perspective "if possible".

PvP in my opinion is slightly different then just intelligent AI. People may range from smart to not so, from quick to slow. The computer should be applied personalities just like that in order to make it seem more life like and interesting. Some people also may not be into the mood of PvPing and may want to simply live the story or whatnot. Things tend to be different in PvP then in singleplayer. The differences are visible in vertually every MMORPG and FPS. Single = story, puzzles, time, feeling, emotion, response, and some personal development. Multi = kill, dodge, hide, and some objectives. If those can be mixed in a good way, then we may uncover something new.

In a game of chess, the opponent reacts accordingly to every move that you make. In fact the difficulty indeed increases the intelligence of the opponent in this case. I am not saying that the computer should learn, but I am saying that tactics and various signs of reason should be shown from them even if its the same from single types of mob (though variation could improve that). The adventurer should always be pressed with the knowledge that the computer is not a pushover and could indeed attempt to dominate the player. To the current extent in MMORPGs the mobs simply overpower the player rather than actualy show reason to vanquish the enemy.

Thanks for reading and posting Atomy. This topic is an old one and I thought that maybe its a good time to bring it up while new releases are on the horizon.

Fri Feb 01 2008 1:19PM Report
weg886 writes:

I dont like npc because i dont like to play a computor,   i like to play a real person to see who is the best .


Compittion is what i like!

Npc are for single player games!

Fri Feb 01 2008 1:38PM Report
Sornin writes:

Some FPSs are getting pretty good, in my opinion. A few months back I purchased and completed Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and found the AI to be superb. Well, it is not a FPS, but is in the same vein (more like Tomb Raider, really).

Enemies took cover, shot from behind cover, tossed grenades to move you from cover, coordinated attacks to pin you down, and would flank your position. All in all, on any difficulty setting past easy, it was a very tough game where the enemies truly challenged you.

Anyway, if you own a PS3, it is a must-have if that genre appeals to you, but I digress.

As for AI in MMORPGs, to me, MMORPGs have never been about intelligent AI. I am not even sure if people would like to see it, for the most part. A lot of the appeal of MMORPGs is the simplistic AI that is nothing more than pathing and aggro ranges, for the most part. Some games add in enemies that call for help or run when low on health, and of course some enemies have special abilities that allow them to be nuisances, but that is the extent of it.

The problem in cranking up the AI is that MMORPGs, more than any other type of game, are about ensuring the player can and will reach the end of the game. I always view them as more of a story that the developers want you to be able to read through, similar to those dead easy RPGs/JRPGs, while other genres are actually meant to test your skills and punish you until you improve. It is not like there are difficulty settings in MMORPGs (ignoring instancing), so they have to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Also, consider the financial model. If you buy Halo 3 and cannot even get past the first level, well, too bad for you, because the developers do not care much as they have your money and are not likely to lose much as a result of you presumably giving up on the game. In an MMORPG, the financial model necessitates players dumping money in month after month, so it is imperative to keep players who purchase the box happy. If the game is too difficult for some, those players will leave instead of happily questing their way to the top.

Then, of course, there are the technical limitations due to such a complex game. Bear in mind that most of what we call "intelligent AI" is heavily scripted and not very dynamic, which relies on the same conditions over and over for the script to work properly, things easy to achieve in offline games. Scripting is why instance bosses in WoW, for example, seem so tough/smart/etc. But it is not really practical to have encounters similar to these all over the place, unless all content is instanced.

Anyway, my point is that I do not think MMORPG developers have much motivation to improve enemy AI. Indeed, lots of developers are going in what I feel is a better direction and focusing on PvP (or RvR or GvG, depending), which of course exposes the player to the best and most varied AI of all and circumvents the entire problem.

Still, i would not mind seeing improvement, either. It would not hurt to have a bit more challenge to make grinding more interesting. Simply including more NPCs that do not just stand there and slug it out like a level 1 warrior with no abilities would be a good start. Have enemies that cast more spells, sneak around you to backstab, etc. Enemies that specifically seek you out instead of wander around would be pretty neat, too.

Fri Feb 01 2008 1:47PM Report writes:
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