Just a practical example of better AI…
Lets say there’s a more realistic economy in a game like Morrowind. So farmers now actually farm, have to get their seed in some cases, plant their seed, tend them, harvest.
The gameplay difference here for the player is he can now take part in this process… selling the seed to the farmer, working to plant, working to harvest, raiding the farm.
The farmer also has to transport his stock to town, or sell it to a middleman warehouse or trader.
The gameplay difference here for the player is he can now take part in this process… acting as a bandit and stealing the goods, act as a guard for the transport, raid the warehouse, be the trader.
For the farmer… no seed means no crops. If the crops get stolen and the farmer has little money he may not have money to buy more seed.
If the farmer is successful and profits he may spend his money to hire guards for the farm, or buy more land and hire more farmhands.
If the farmer goes broke he might sell the land and get a job and home in the city.
Introducing a realistic process makes the agricultural world come alive, and the player has a real effect on that world by his actions.
As a gameplay example, lets say the player walks up to the farmer and engages him in conversation, and the farmer insults the player. In current RPGs the player works some conversation tree or does some quest that might turn the farmer’s attitude around or shallowly injure the farmer. Now the player has much more realistic options at his disposal… he can cause the farmer’s bankruptcy by repeated raids… he can ambush the wagon transporting the farmer’s goods. He can make his own “quests” from inside the enhanced world AI.
Extended further, the city’s agricultural AI can also be improved. Townspeople would have to eat on a realistic basis, so they would have to buy food at the market. If the supply of that food is reduced due to your raiding of the farms, any farmers or traders with food would be able to charge higher prices to the city merchants, who would pass that cost along to the townspeople.
If you were identified as the cause of the high agricultural prices and economic trouble, the city’s police would go hunting for you to bring you to justice.
So you managed to create a “raid the farm” quest, a “ambush the wagon” quest, and a “flee from police” quest, all non-scripted and allowed by a fairly simple AI system that is rarely implemented in the heavily scripted (and shallow when they aren’t scripted) games of today.
Note that GTA is not too far from this… you can run over a pedestrian you don’t care about, and be chased by the police. The difference is that pedestrian is nameless and meaningless… there is no context surrounding the killing. No larger AI system at work. And noone has any memory… the police forget about you. The murdered apparently has no family or friends that care, etc.
The system could be extended much further, depending on CPU limitation… as agricultural prices rise the townspeople have less money to spend on non-agricultural goods, bringing hardship to that section of the economy, etc.
The way to have “real effect” in the games of today is to fulfill a quest that creates an artificial change in the world. The change is kind of magical… there is no process involved… just the DING fulfillment and the DING presto chango.
It would be cool to be walking in town and see some policemen running by, asking them what they were doing and them saying they are chasing a suspect who has been reported as a thief. Normally if this happens in a game its a scripted event with no meaning outside of the policemen running by. In a realistic AI environment, the policemen actually would be chasing a suspect reported as a thief… the whole process of the stealing and the reporting and the police action would be realistic. The results are as you can determine them to be… perhaps you are friends with the thief and you then rush off to warn him… perhaps you fail and then bail him out of jail. Perhaps you were the one to report the thief and are happy that the police are helping.
Current RPGs are about constant movement, constant player development, constant doing something new, but in the end nothing you do is very interesting. The city is boring so you leave the city. The countryside is boring so you kill monsters. Killing monsters is boring so you get loot. Getting loot is boring so you take quests. Doing quests is boring so you win the game and try the next one.
In the end its about a silly kind of ego boost… “I beat game X!”.
Its possible to create a game that is much more than that, and AI is the key in getting there.
Games like Sims 2 are exciting because they are good AI, albeit on a very small scale. More goes on inside a Sims 2 household than in most epic RPGs that span, according to the developer, “thousands of square miles!”.
If only that realistic, sims mindset could be applied to a world instead of a household.
Thousands of square miles… OF WHAT?
The biggest argument for scripted quests is that they allow for a lot of creativity, as shown by the various GTA games. While “raid the farm” and “ambush the wagon” aren’t particularly creative, the value is in the player choice, the player experience of deciding what to do. The player discovering the repercussions of his actions in a truly alive world. The player finally respecting NPCs, as they gain true motivations and start to take intelligent action.