Hakon speaks

And if Dark Lord Doombringer kills me and the world is annihilated, then that only proves that the world should have been more effective in stopping him. I am only one human in a world filled with humans. Its not my responsibility to stop the Dark Lord, though it may be my honor to do so.

While that may be realistic, it isn’t fun. People don’t buy a game to play some penniless wanderer in a backwater town, they want to be the hero. They want the world to revolve around them.

Got just the game for you, then.

Well, except for the datesim part.

And the graphics could use a little work.

AIs operating outside the player’s sphere of control are functionally identical to random number generators. So you might as well have some polished random number generators.

No hero can ever use time travel. The reload function is PREVENTING the Epic in gaming.

Got a question for you, then.

Do you honestly believe that, somewhere in a quiet woodland grove in England, are the ashes of a thousand manuscripts of “Lord of the Rings”, burned because Tolkein could only get 50, 200, 400, 800 pages in before the Fellowship died and the One Ring was lost to Mordor?

Well then, “Lord of the Rings” isn’t much of an epic story now, is it?


Why on earth would a game like this make the fail state that easy and ridiculous? The soul of the former Dark Lord? Give me a break.

No, what would be going on here is more like this. I’m working my way up to being a master thief. I pass through River’s Ruin, a foothill mining town. I’m looking for provisions and supplies, but I’m also looking to make a fast score. I case a local general goods merchant named Dwight. Dwight has a strongbox that I don’t think I could open – but I could steal it, and stop in a larger town, find somebody who can open it, and give them a cut.

I get a room upstairs at the local tavern and wait for nightfall. Then I carefully make my way, as stealthily as I can, to Dwight’s shop and break in. I take the cashbox, but as I’m heading out the way I came in, I bump into Dwight, who has taken a candle and come to investigate. I guess I wasn’t as soundless as I thought.

I may not be much of a fighter, but I carry a dagger for utility and self-defense. I can take a startled, out-of-shape, middle-aged shopkeeper. I stab Dwight several times and shove him out of my way. However, this process is not silent. I hear other people moving around now, and as I slam open a window and jump out, I hear behind me the fast, heavy tread of Dwight’s son Isaac.

I’m lucky I have my horse out here ready to bolt. I leap on and slam in the spurs, and we’re out of there with the strongbox under my arm. Behind me a hue and cry is being raised, but I should be okay. I’m headed for a big city they’ll never find me in.

So I hit the big city. I find a fence and make some contacts. I open the storngbox and use it as a nest egg for a legitimate business, even as I continue to practice some petty theft. This goes on for quite a while, and I become fairly prosperous.

Meanwhile Dwight’s business has gone under. The loss of all savings and operating cash meant that Isaac, inheriting the business as the sole survivor, is unable to continue it. He abandons the building and heads into the big city to join the army. Boot camp toughens him up, and he serves in a brief campaign against a neighboring city-state.

After the campaign, his unit is granted a period of leave in the capital. He’s drinking at the tables outside a tavern with some men from his unit when he sees a familiar face: me. He recognizes me instantly. He grabs his spear and heads straight for me.

After a second, I recognize him. I know what the deal is, and run like hell. Unfortunately, my career as a merchant has softened me and I’m not the survivalist I once was. I also don’t have a horse handy. However, they know me around here, and the toughs who guard the nearest moneychanger (a business associate of mine) assault the apparently crazy soldier. I vanish into the crowd while I can.

Back at home, I ponder what to do. I send somebody out to buy a fast horse, just in case. Then a runner from another business associate of mine (an influential smuggler) drops by to give me alarming news: once the moneychanger’s bodyguards had restrained Isaac and he’d calmed down, he made a formal accusation, saying I’d murdered his father. His army buddies backed him up. The local magistrate agreed to look into it. I am now a wanted man.

I get on that horse and I ride over to the nearby rival city that just lost a border skirmish with this one. I’m taken into custody by one of their border patorls. I tell their captain I have knowledge of their enemy’s military situation, and that I want to defect and be involved in operations against them. He kicks me up the chain of command and I’m brought before the head of their secret police.

He is suspicious and wants to test me. He gives me a dangerous job, one which involves using stealth to steal some documents from my former city’s embassy. I ask him if I can have some time to prepare. Fortunately, I can. I spend a grueling week training with acrobats and spies, losing my tubby merchant belly and getting my old stealth skills back. Then I steal the documents, which is pretty high-stakes work but turns out ok.

It turns out that the embassy was abandoned just before the recent hostilities and the whole thing was a trial run. The secret police now have real missions for me. I spend a great deal of time doing missions for them. I track down a man who made death threats against the ruler. I draw up a rough map of the other city’s defenses to aid possible invasion plans. I even infiltrate a dissident cell of traders who were ruined by the cessation of friendly relations with the other city and orchestrate their mass arrest. The secret police love me, and I am given a formal rank and some men under my command. It begins to turn into a desk job where I send men out to do the assignments my superiors hand down, and invest my salary in speculation and small business.

Meanwhile Isaac is witnessing an ugly chain reaction as my departure is investigated. My connections with powerful figures in both the government and the underworld is coming to light. (I had documents recording my transactions, and if I were a nicer guy, I’d have burned them before I left.) There are riots most nights.

With the collapse of a major part of the economy, the soldiers have gone unpaid, and they’re getting restless. Isaac’s unit is supposed to be keeping the peace, but they’re mostly just not reporting for duty, since why bother if there’s no more pay? Isaac is drinking with his pals again one night when a mob comes by looking to burn the pub down (because it’s one of my businesses, owned by a lackey of mine).

There is nearly a fight between the soldiers and the rioters, but Isaac makes a brief and intensely personal speech about the death of his father, the downfall of the city, and the corruption of the leaders. The soldiers and the citizens join forces and storm the palace. They fight their way to the throne room and kill the king.

One of Isaac’s companions, an old veteran, takes the crown and declares the city his protectorate. His fellow soldiers support him, and under the circumstances, so do the citizens. In the days that follow, soldiers and vigilantes are seen all over the city, killing suspected criminals and appropriating property. There is a heady period of redistribution of wealth.

Then winter comes. The new king, his age troublesome and his health poor, catches pneumonia. There was one surgeon who might have been able to treat it, but he was involved in the opium trade in conjunction with yours truly, and he was lynched. His body is still hanging from an old tree outside his family’s home when the king coughs up one last gobbet of blood and dies. With his last breaths he names Isaac his successor.

The people of the city are shaken by their new leader’s death. They reassess the situation and don’t like what they see. Most of them having seen someone killed, the citizens are now fearful of the violence and demand an end to continued military rule. Isaac is not ready to compromise with anyone. His response is to order his men to round up dissidents and make examples. The next morning, dogs are tearing at the entrails of ten impaled men outside the palace.

My position as a manager in the secret police and speculator in commodities and services insulates me from much direct contact with the ominous new face of the neighbors, but I’m kept well informed. I buy a fast horse. The missions they want me to do keep getting more and more involved with bringing down Isaac. Then a messenger from Isaac arrives and talks to my boss.

He says that Isaac is willing to sign a treaty. More than that, he’s willing to pay a tribute. And he’s even willing to give back the outpost that changed hands in that long-ago military campaign.

In return, he wants me.

I run. I have a horse outside. (Good thing I’m paranoid.) I jam spurs into the beast and tear out of town with the guards in pursuit. But this horse is the finest stallion in the two cities, and I can still ride like a champion. (I’ve even run in the horse races they have here, and won.) I outdistance them in the short term.

In the long term, we’re talking about being hunted by the armies of two cities. Bad stuff. But I know a little town in the foothills that I’ve been to before, a bit off the beaten track…

I’m going at top speed, and it wears my horse down pretty badly. The damn thing collapses and I have to walk the last couple of miles. But I get into that foothill mining town just as the sun is setting. That was quite a close one.

Then I notice the looks on people’s faces in the red light of that sunset. They recognize me. I try to run, but they throw stones. A few hits in the head, and I go down. Then they’re all over me.

They hang me as the sun sinks under the mountains, and my legs flail and the shit slides out of my bowels. After a while, I only sway gently back and forth, the rope creaking and the tree’s leaves sighing in the dusk. In the distance I can see an abandoned building, the roof caved in and one wall collapsed – the place where I set this all in motion.

Game over.

Got just the game for you, then.[/quote]

Angband’s great, but it doesn’t have NPCs. Just monsters. It’s not really what Koontz is talking about. Maybe if rival adventurers dynamically set up mini-kingdoms on various dungeon levels and fought each other and maybe you and there was a kickass diplomacy system. That would be cool.

Have you played Space Rangers? Do you think the game wouldn’t be diminished if NPC ships not in the same system as the player simply ceased to exist?

Books are not games. The conventions that work best for books are not necessarily those that work best for games. And vice versa.

Speak for yourself. The player’s journey starts low in a lot of games. Look at MMOs, where you start out having life-and-death fights with rats and fawns and lost puppies. Look at Morrowind, where you’re an ex-convict released with little more than a loincloth. Or, again, Space Rangers, where you can begin the game hunted by four out of five governments. I for one welcome our new gritty realism overlords.

I agree. AI that could generate the kind of dramatically satisfying and yet unhappy end for the protagonist that Planescape had would be very hard to program.

Fast disclaimer voice: dramatic satisfaction in conjunction with unhappy ending not guaranteed.

Hard to program? Yeah, probably. And programming in general is hard. But read some of the stories people tell about their experiences in Space Rangers. This kind of thing already happens on a small scale. I play a pirate, I extort money from people early on, and later in the game they come after me with their new ships looking for revenge. I gun down a Gaalian liner and the Gaalian government declares a fatwa on me, but this one Gaalian planet in the system I operate out of is still cool with me because they asked me to kill a pirate a while back and I did. I take my life in my teeth every time I need to get repairs because the only extant pirate base is in a system with a human planet that launches battleships every time I jump in. All true stories from a real game.

Games where the player’s past actions influence the behavior of NPCs are not a pipe dream. I’ve been playing a lot of Civ 4 recently, and the AI leaders are very aware of the history of other nations. This stuff can be done. The extent to which it can be done right this minute is not of the same magnitude as the extent to which it can be done in theory, but steps can still be taken in the right direction. And steps in that direction are being taken, but I’d love to see more.

I agree with you, like I said, and have been coding my own little project along related lines on and off for a while now. I’m convinced better AI would not be equivalent to a random number generator, and would improve immersion. I just don’t think we’ll get to what you described, well, ever. That kind of power, once we have it, will be used for something way cooler than you described, which we will never predict.

Have you played Space Rangers? Do you think the game wouldn’t be diminished if NPC ships not in the same system as the player simply ceased to exist?[/quote]
So every turn the player takes, the system iterates through every craft and/or pilot in the game and has it act?

Somehow I doubt that. But even if it were true - what’s the difference between the price of gold on Gorbulon V being adjusted up and down as the game simulates dozens of traders coming and going far beyond anything the player can see, or the price of gold on Gorbulon V being adjusted to 100 +/- rand() percent, with some bonuses to the roll for there having been a lot of traders recently, minuses for pirates, maybe a military mod depending on how close it is to the “front lines” and how useful gold is in making warships?

Books are not games. The conventions that work best for books are not necessarily those that work best for games. And vice versa.

Well, tell me exactly how, after 50 hours of play, seeing “game over” and an FMV of the end of the world makes for an epic game.

The player’s journey starts low in a lot of games. Look at MMOs, where you start out having life-and-death fights with rats and fawns and lost puppies.

Yeah, about that. I kinda like the MMO that starts out with you cracking heads in a prison yard and then sends you out to take on the lower ranks of the forces of good from the word go. (And the one that starts out with you rescuing MENSA members from evil robots.)

Exactly what is the ratio of the time you spend tracking down rats to the total time you spend working up to take down the primal forces of the universe, in your typical MMO?


Really? Sign me up for that, then.

Really? Sign me up for that, then.[/quote]
I can’t. The tools you need to sign someone up for it haven’t been imagined yet. That’s how cool it will be.

I’m not saying that all AI ever will never surpass a random number generator.

I’m saying that AI operating outside the player’s ability to influence them may as well be a random number generator, in terms of psychological impact and/or their effects on the player.

If you want to lose a game because of factors you couldn’t foresee or prevent, go drop a coin in a slot machine.


If the game had algorithms for pricing that were sufficiently good that would be fine, but they don’t.

Imagine a situation where there is a wheat shortage on Bucket and a single trader from Foozeball decides to brave the Snarfle blockade. Whether he gets through will be the dominating factor in wheat prices on Bucket. Now, you would need to have a world that could generate agents like this when the player was around and have them behave as expected, if e.g. the player pirates the trader’s ship, and then have a totally seperate system for when the player wasn’t around that behaved exactly the same way, but didn’t use agent-based AI. First of all you have to write two sets of AI, and then you have to patch over the inevitable cracks.

I agree with your example in that one of the keys to AI is providing the world with a long memory. What hurts GTA so much is that noone remembers anything that happened, except in scripting. Thus there is nothing that prevents amoral actions from having no repercussions. Every NPC is made and remade anew… they are all newborn babes. I remember seeing an ambulance come over after I killed a few people and it RAN OVER three other people before stopping, and the paramedics got out and scampered over to the corpses I made, ignoring the people they ran over.

I don’t care at all about gritty realism, and I don’t think its about that. I wouldn’t mind starting the game as royalty, and being in a position to influence politics and the like. I just want an intelligent, vibrant, living world, and I think that kind of world can offer great gameplay, as it does on a much smaller scale and still nowhere near totally fulfilled way in Sims 2.

Regardless of whether the setting is gritty or refined, this type of game is not about advancing toward a single pre-set goal. There is no “winning” condition, like there is with RPGs at the end of the main plotline. Its about the player discovering, finding, seeking, learning about and dealing with, enjoying the game.

Maybe in my first game I’ll play a farmer and leap for joy at my first successful harvest, or become angry at the death of a farmhand at the hands of a raider, or try to scrape together some money, perhaps borrow some money, to hire guards. With an intelligent world, ALL of my actions become satisfying since they are all in response to intelligence, just as my actions in Sims 2 are fairly satisfying in that small-scale yet fairly intelligent world.

And after I’m killed or become bored I’ll play a king and applaud as my armies conquer a nation, or become angry at the death of a general at the hands of the enemy.

One day players will see that its not necessarily fun to play a king and not a farmer, gameplay doesn’t care who your character is. Small things can be satisfying, as raising a child in Sims 2 or having a successful harvest.

One day players will see that they don’t have to begin at Level 1 and become Level 60 to feel accomplishment, that accomplishment comes from deep interaction with a world that you respect.

And while you may cheer at your own success and cry at your own failure in such a world, even in the midst of your saddest tears you are happy, proud of this world that even in your faults you contribute to.

At your own death, you begin a new character, or take possession of a relative, and continue in this world you love.

“Do I have to be Level 60 to order groceries?”

“No… no you don’t.”

“Why do I enjoy ordering groceries?”

“Environmental AI.”

Because I recognize that liner, I saved him from pirates a while ago, which might have something to do with the fact that he’s hailing me and telling me about how I should try this profitable gold/medical trade route he’s discovered, and I scan him, and sure enough he’s got a large cargo of gold, and normally I wouldn’t do this but I need the money and his repair bot sucks and he has no shields, so I demand his cargo, but he refuses, so I open fire and rough him up a bit, and he screams for mercy and drops half his gold, which is enough for me so I let him go and take it to the planet and sell it myself, and then later when I’m passing through the same system again I see the same guy, and when I scan him I see he has a new shield now and a new missile launcher too, and he intercepts me and opens fire on me and apparently he’s radioed the other merchants in the system for help, because they’re all converging on me, and as the first missiles slam into me he offers to stop attacking for 1200 credits…

That’s the difference.

Where are you getting this FMV of the end of the world crap? I’m not suggesting that a game like this have that “soul of Lord Doom” thing you were talking about. There’s no reason, as I see it, to have a fail state other than player death. If somebody rises to become the evil overlord and takes over the world, then an evil overlord takes over the world. Eventually the world will be dominated by him, and every city will fly his banners, and the soldiers will be a bit meaner and the laws will be a bit harsher. And maybe a future hero will look at this and start looking for ways to depose him…

The word “epic” snuck into this thread because the existence of alternative results makes a given outcome more dramatic and meaningful. This is what people are talking about when they say that in GTA it matters more when you kill someone because you don’t have to; there was some element of player choice in it. This is unlike most games, where you are expected and even required to just shoot everything. (And it’s often not even true of GTA; there are plenty of missions involving killing people.)

The kind of “epicness” resulting from choice is the exact opposite of a game that’s supposedly “epic” simply because the good guys beat the bad guys. Are you suggesting that a 50-hour game WOULD (or COULD) be epic if it ended with an FMV cutscene where the world is saved? Depending on who you talk to and what they think of as epic, maybe so, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Once upon a time there were these games called rail shooters. People don’t play so many of those now.

Yeah, maybe the MMO thing was a bad example since everyone hates that. I was going to mention Arx Fatalis, but I felt that Morrowind was a better example, and they were too similar in the respect I was discussing to use both.

Do the primal forces of the universe EVER get taken down in an MMO? Everything’s got to be back to the same as it ever was by tomorrow, barring of course the occasional catastrophic gameplay update. I think in order to really take down the primal forces of the universe of an MMO, you’d have to go after the billing department.

Fair enough. I happen to like it in and of itself, and I also think it’s particularly appropriate to a world where the player has far fewer special advantages and no predetermined path, and the only fail state is player death, and there is more freedom in player behavior but player actions can have serious consequences.

You have a point about kings and farmers being equally valid as characters in such a game (which might better be called a world). In fact, as I was writing my example, I was keenly aware that Isaac could be the player character.


Not really satisfying, but very educational!

Seems like half the time I play, my character is born in China.

Why can’t events (death of a family member, what type of job they get, etc. Not normal everyday tasks) in NPCs lives be determined from some sort of comparison to a statistical table? This way, rudimentary AI would handle the daily humdrum lives of NPCs, and a more dynamic AI system would handle the event driven “dramatic” portions of their artificial lives and since the events are non-standard, NPCs who participate would have a memory to reference, not unlike what occurs in The Sims 2.

And I’d like to see a game where if my character dies, I can continue to play as one of my character’s children. This was something I liked very much in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and something which was kinda implemented in Fate when you pass on an heirloom to a new character.

I’d also like to see a game world where things occur when you are not playing it. What I mean is, say you don’t play the Game for 16 hours. Well, the next time you start the Game, it’s 16 hours later in the game world as well. Nothing may have happened. Or something major may have occurred. I don’t know. It would be cool to imagine there’s another world which exists parallel to our own, but you can visit it.

Personally, I’ve been trying experiments in NWN to produce a module that “plays” itself, but with disappointing results. My biggest hurdle is coming up with a system which is self-sustaining in a closed environment. It seems in order to create homeostasis, the environment must be huge, or there must be inputs which exist outside of the environment. The first solution doesn’t work well with the NWN engine. The second doesn’t really allow for the system to fail, which should always be a possibility (although a slim one).

Fair enough. I happen to like it in and of itself, and I also think it’s particularly appropriate to a world where the player has far fewer special advantages and no predetermined path, and the only fail state is player death, and there is more freedom in player behavior but player actions can have serious consequences.[/quote]

A couple things…

You seem to be thinking the game will be “hardcore”. Death will be around every turn, hardscrabble living, etc. I doubt it.

For the world to be realistic the world has to be sustainable. If everyone went around shooting everyone else the world would depopulate. No more game unless horses have good gameplay.

There will be death of course, but just as in traditional reality the risk of death is considered against the value of the action that may lead to death (insane madmen will exist without this concern, but be realistically rare).

The core gameplay for most players won’t involve killing or being killed, it will involve economics or romance or education or something else.

For players who want to kill and be killed, they can always become a soldier or a violent criminal.

Even if, lets say, a farmer dies, that is not the “fail state”. Maybe the farmer dies in successful defense of his farm, and therefore can possess his son and continue managing the farm. If he ran away and lost his farm, he would have TRULY failed.

That’s something that makes this kind of game truly great… there is no superimposed fail or success state… every action you take can be second-guessed by yourself, and while you can construct successful outcomes (good harvest) and failed outcomes (death of a farmhand) the quality of these are subject to your own judgement!

I love the idea of looking back on my actions in the game, and trying to figure out what I did wrong and what I did right. Trying to figure out what actions had what results. In a deep enough, rich enough, intelligent enough world, this is a real challenge.

As far as this type of game is concerned, he might as well be.

Realistically, for this type of game to occur in the near future it would have to be quite limited. Perhaps a small world, even just a few cities and villages wth some countryside which works on a basic realistic level, but with the player character only being able to take on a few roles (farmer, soldier, merchant perhaps)… patches, expansions, and sequels could then add more PC roles, intertwined with the roles already there (town leader, bandit, blacksmith).

The first game to do this may well not be like this. My example was just one possible example. And it actually wasn’t that hardcore. Aside from the revolution in City A, the border war with City B, and me stabbing a merchant, nobody died of unnatural causes.

I do think that a game based on these principles could make good use of conventions like the peril of disease and the importance of food. Re-introduce a little human vulnerability to the blandly invincible avatars we’re all too familiar with. I wouldn’t say it has to, though. The core concept – a reacting world of NPCs who are in many respects comparable to the player – can work with a hell of a lot of different settings and core gameplay mechanics. Again, Space Rangers is a great example – totally different from my Dark Ages, takes-place-on-a-small-island-continent-like-Morrowind-did hypothetical.

(There is one similarity between the two that bears mentioning because I think it is important: the ability to trade and the existence of a market in commodities. This creates – as you mentioned in your “farmers who need seeds” thing – gameplay opportunities and adds depth to the world. It’s basically another level of not only interaction but also existence. NPCs in a world with a commodity market aren’t just their hit points and dps and maybe faction affiliation, but also their assets and commercial relationships. It opens up not just the ability to do merchant stuff, but also the ability to steal, and to have non-weapon/armor/potion reasons to want money. If there is also a market in housing and other buildings, that’s good too. Ideally, everything in the game that would be somebody’s asset in real life is treated as some character’s asset, and that character can sell it or lose it or give it away. There should also be stuff out in the world that doesn’t necessarily belong to anybody, like trees in the wilderness, that can still influence this system and be a part of it – you can cut down the trees and haul wood back to town on a sledge and trade it to a builder for a discount on that new house you want. A commodity system is also a necessity for many professions and an important part of a crafting system.

This should vary. I don’t think every game should be limited enough that it would be impossible to have in-game events play out that result in mass death. It happens in the real world. Perhaps with a game this open-ended, the question is not one of the particular game’s theme, but rather the player’s preferred options, like in Civ. So you could start a game with War enabled or disabled.

Absolutely true.

I definitely like the idea of player character succession – becoming your children. Perhaps there can be a default option where you have the option of which of your children to become, and then a freeform option where you can become any existing NPC, and maybe even one where your new identity is chosen randomly from among existing NPCs.

The become-your-descendants issue also encourages the player to tie his character into the game more. You may not get married, but you’ll have to have sex with somebody. And you may not stick around and help support and/or raise your child, but if you don’t, you won’t get to shape the person they’ll grow up to be, and they won’t have the added security of your income. If you DO start a family, you’ll be connected in important ways with NPCs – your spouse, your spouse’s family, your children, their friends, etc.

Damn right. No more high scores. No more “Objectives” lists. No more binary quests (either you have the bandit’s head when you talk to the captain of the guard, or you don’t). And, incidentally, no more spending your life doing favors for people who really ought to be doing this stuff themselves. The real cops don’t operate by asking other people to investigate crimes. When I walk into the nearest convenience store, the clerk doesn’t ask me to man the register for a while, or (sadly more typical) kill the suspicious guy loitering out front. They can do that stuff themselves now. If you want to help them, it’ll be on those terms – maybe the city watch will actually hire you as a watchman. Maybe the merchant will go into a partnership with you. But you won’t be delivering somebody’s fucking letters unless there are circumstances that would genuinely prevent them from doing it – or in other words, you won’t be doing it unless there’s a reason for it to be interesting. If it’s not necessary to have somebody else deal with the letter, he’ll walk down to the destination with the letter in his hand, and if you try to take it, he’ll be upset. He doesn’t need your grubby “adventurer” mitts on his letter. He can handle it himself.

Yeah. I was thinking small island continent, like Morrowind but probably smaller. A single city could work. (My overall concept of a game like this has been heavily influenced by Europa 1400: The Guild.) Every person in the world can have a “class” (as you say, farmer, soldier, merchant, etc.) which they acquire when they come of age based on their childhood (economic status, who they’ve spent time with, where they’ve been – so a poor boy who spends most of his time at the docks where his father is a longshoreman might spend a lot of time with the sailors and become one when he grows up).

Basic mechanics can include trade, combat, theft, “living world” stuff like burnable buildings and choppable trees, and a few selected interesting professions, like farming (because it’s where food comes from), blacksmithing (because it’s where tools and combat gear come from), tailoring (because it’s where clothes come from – highly variable and customizable clothes would be great). Some professions might be NPC only, like miners (who sell ore to blacksmiths), or fishermen.

It would be good to have a possible career progression that takes characters from the trenches of their profession as they become experienced and successful, and promotes them to have more responsibility over other people. For example, you might start out as a recruit in the army, but as you gain seniority, you may be promoted to sergeant, or a demonstration of loyalty might make you a lieutenant. (Again, Europa 1400 is an inspiration here – you start out managing a small shop of some sort, but gradually you have more employees, and eventually you can buy other businesses and hire people to run them for you.)

An expansion to a game like this that covers a single city might add a neighboring city reachable by water, and now include sailors (who can rise to hold an officer’s post on a ship or even become captain), expand merchants (now you can trade overseas), add pirates (the original probably has bandits or thieves – or perhaps just the possibility of theft or robbery), and have another city where many of the same things go on but there is a distinctly different flavor, and probably somewhat different game mechanics as well (perhaps they grow different crops and make different commodities).

Other expansions might involve more detail being given to the city-states (adding diplomacy, laws, leaders, trade agreements, nobles, questions of succession, potential coups), NPC professions (maybe fishing and mining can be revisited as full player professions), commodities (more uniqueness, especially in crafted products), service professions (like physicians), maybe a bigger and more detailed wilderness (hunting, herbs/fruits/berries, exploration, cartography), or war (enemies, campaigns, tactics, strategy, equipment, training).

Because I recognize that liner, I saved him from pirates a while ago, [/quote]
Missing the point.

If you’ve never been to Gorbulon V - if you are in fact, just starting out in a star cluster far away from Gorbulon V - should the game begin with some preprogrammed value for gold or should it run AIs through the three thousand years of galactic civilization to determine the starting price?

Actual AI is only necessary inside the player’s sphere of influence. You can’t give the AI outside the player’s sphere of influence (and this could be any AI) access to anything dangerous enough to destroy itself and/or the player, because RNG ganking has already been done, whereas for a hard-coded, scripted villain, you can easily give him pocket nukes or whatever because you know he’s not going to pull them out to deal with a traffic jam.

I mean, let’s face it, the Evil Overlord List is funny, but if the Evil Overlord actually stuck to it it’d be a rather short movie and/or novel and/or game.


Also, when you’re not looking at it, this post is in German.

I agree with you, but I want to add some qualifications.

The reason I agree with you is that developers already have familiarity with creating economic systems, some of them have even created realistic ones similar to what would be used by this type of game. Players are also by-and-large very familiar with basic economics and would feel comfortable with this system.

That being said though, for the development of this type of game to be effective every AI system has to intertwine with the rest of the game. So if the game has 10,000 NPCs, most of those have to interact with the economy in some way for it to be worthwhile. That hardly seems like a problem in the case of a small-scale world, but that principle applies to other AI systems as well. You wouldn’t want to create a romance AI system on a planet of eunuchs, for example. The AI systems are based on the details of the world you are creating. In a world filled with paranoiacs who can’t get close enough to each other to shake hands, you’d throw the economic AI system out the window, or at least greatly modify it to take into account NPC behavior.

What I was thinking about was my “roles” statement, where I proposed farmer/merchant/soldier. Farmers and merchants can intertwine reasonably well (certainly economically), soldier would intertwine economically and militantly (defending them and expanding the potential land available to the farmer)… but if another role would intertwine more deeply it might be good to use that instead. By “intertwining” you reduce development costs, since you’re creating one system and the various roles emerge organically from the AI.

One of the cautions with this type of game is that while you can create a realistic AI system on a small-scale filled with NPCs that will have no complaints at all about your game, every role available to PCs will have to have enjoyable gameplay, which definitely takes more than just AI. If the gameplay of a farmer is boring, for example, then its not going to be enough for the player to have a cool economic model at his disposal… he’ll complain that the farming is boring. The basics of gameplay that the games of today have to get right to be successful will still be necessary in the AI-centric games. Good AI is not some magic formula to make a good game.

Yep, at least in the types of worlds we are familiar with. A farmer could raise sheep, shear the sheep, sell the wool to a weaver, who takes it from there.

Now if you’re a PC playing a weaver, you have to be concerned with your relationship to the farmer, who is supplying you with your goods, you have to be concerned with the status of the farmer (hopefully not being hit by raiders), maybe the farmer is becoming more successful and you want to cement the relationship by marrying his daughter, etc. Since the farmer is an NPC, maybe your extra intelligence allows you to see the need for him to have guards, and you enter a business relationship with him to buy guards for the farm, they defend the farm successfully, and the farmer is grateful…

Not on a small-scale, or very rarely. Most mass death is nation vs. nation, or tribe vs. tribe, or religion vs. religion. Assuming a few cities/villages or even less in the world and a realistic world, those cities/villages would likely be part of the same tribe/religion/nation and therefore not be subject to mass death.

Of course, all of that is pretty arbitrary, and even my examples used bandits who you could say are a “different tribe”. Enough bandits and they could besiege a city, perhaps resulting in mass death. Bandits however have no large settlement (if they did, they would be their own village, not just “bandits”), so have no realistic basis for an attack on a city under at least most historical realism models.

I don’t like “war enabled or disabled” because that is another superimposed ruleset. The way I see it working best is for a player who wants war to play a soldier, and for a player who doesn’t want war to play a merchant or farmer. The soldier will of course have his training for war and waiting around for trouble, but he’ll see plenty of violence too. The merchants and farmers will likely see bandits or some other violence at some point, but they’ll spend a large majority of their time in non-war gameplay. One of the big benefits of this type of game is the wide range of gameplay available, thus theoretically appealing to a wide player-base.

One problem with that is that PC gameplay is going to be limited, such that the lives of most NPCs will not have PC gameplay associated with it. Maybe eventually…

The other problem with it is that part of the passion of players for this game will be in building their life and in building the world around them. Your children are already intimate parts of your life… they are naturals to be possessed. If you want other NPCs to be possessable I propose this system…

Relationships are most likely going to be important in this type of game. Farmer and farmhand, farmer and farmguard, farmer and merchant, farmer and weaver, farmer and tax collector, etc. The NPCs are programmed with the awareness that upon a PC death, that PC can possess an NPC and take over gameplay. NPCs therefore, as part of their AI, should be able to bestow upon a PC transfer rights, if they feel especially intimate with the PC or as a reward to the PC or to honor the PC.

So its not necessary to have children to continue your existence in the game, although that’s one way of course. The other way is to have such a good relationship with an NPC that the NPC WANTS you to possess him upon your death… the NPC sacrifices himself for you.

Also, to extend this further, your NPC children should be allowed to reject your possession of them upon your death, depending on what they think of you.

NPC child: “Dad?.. Fuck Dad.”

PC: “Nooooooooo.”

If you allow random transfer into an NPC you are removing one of the core greatnesses of the game… building your existence in the world.

And they may very well not allow possession ;).

Yep. No need for “Savior as FedEx delivery man”. The friendly NPCs are moving from helpless fools who do nothing to living creatures with growing AI, the PC is moving from having lots of superimposed tools which make him a god to a regular joe (albeit with all of the abilities and intelligence of a real human as opposed to an AI), and the enemy boss NPCs (if they develop in the game) are moving from artificial superimposed gods into regular NPCs that through circumstances within the regular AI achieve considerable power within the game.

These kinds of “enemy bosses” are very exciting. Lets take the farmer model… lets say an AI farmer is especially successful. Maybe he began the game with awesome quality land. Maybe he was a successful bandit who decided to settle down and proved adept at farming. For whatever reason, his farming empire grew. He bought out other farmers, he managed the farms well and they prospered. His old bandit ties provide him immunity from the bandits who only attack other farms. Now he’s rich and he starts buying homes in the city, getting into real estate. Maybe he gets arrogant and starts making demands on the city… do this or I restrict the food supply… start paying me taxes or I get my guards to attack you… etc.

An organically emergent boss is so much more satisfying than an artificial one. That’s what strategy games have had for so long… NPC empires that began small, just like the PC’s empire. RPGs have never known that.

This takes a while of course, and perhaps the player is progressing in the game as well. Maybe he’s the town leader that the farmer is making demands on! Now he enters a political/military struggle that may well provide the player-judged win or loss point for the game.

But lets say furthermore, that the farmer wins a military fight against the city and takes it over, killing the PC in the process. Oh no! However, a key soldier who was away at the time gave possession rights to the PC, and may be able to convince the bandits to help him foment a rebellion…

Most of your ideas seem reasonable, but I think this would be very difficult, since you’re supposing a superimposed progression system, an artificial hierarchy, and… other problems.

Think about it… on a small scale, 3 city world, just how many positions are there going to be for a soldier, and how many of those would be superior ones? A soldier can guard the town, can explore crime within the city (policemen/detective), can attack bandits… he can lead an army of course but if the world contains a total of 10,000 NPCs this won’t be a very big army, hence there won’t need to be a whole lot of lieutenants and sergeants and the like.

Another problem is that if the gameplay is fundamentally different for a general than for a common soldier (as it should be), that’s a whole different PC Class, with respect to developing gameplay for it. Its probably not practical at this early stage to have two different gameplays developed for something with as limited a difference as general/soldier, unless you can create plenty of overlapping gameplay yet still keep the roles realistic.

The biggest problem in what you describe is that I see the value of this game being in the core gameplay/PC-NPC interaction system itself, and you are talking about a progression system where the PC’s gameplay goal is to progress, rather than experience. Basically you’re just transforming the levelling system into a rank system.

Its important that the game is dynamic… land is gained and lost, humans you care about are gained and lost, your wealth is gained and lost, but the basic goal is not necessarily to gain land and wealth, to buy the planet eventually and then Game Over. If it is, that’s the player’s own Judgement that provides it, rather than the game design.

If indeed the player’s goal is to buy everything, the AI should see that, become concerned (as they did with the “enemy boss farmer” in my earlier example), and ensure that the PC is a “good dictator”… thus the PC should be put under constraints even as he builds his empire. Maybe the PC will raise taxes too high and be killed by rioters…