Evil and Wickedness
by Scott Holliday
Several years ago, I took a trial account on a MMORPG that I had never heard of before. As a good player, I decided to read up beforehand so I wouldn't be totally lost. I was quickly pleased with the interesting world-setting and the factionalization of players into good and evil. Next, I went to a few forums and guild-sites and poked around. In short, I learned that evil was almost always on top. So... I decided to build a truly good character. By that, I mean good to the point of "do no harm."
Very pleased with the concept, I leapt into the game and found myself in the tutorial. In the second room, as a requirement to pass, you were required to kill all of the bunnies in the room. Kill the cute little bunnies? I tried for about an hour to figure out a way past that room. I even tried to contact the staff, but they weren't very interested. Thinking about it, I realized that every single player in the game HAD killed these bunnies. What did that say about the players? Disgusted, I left.
On the other hand, when I see a good-centric game, I often try to play evil. In other words, I try to build a character (or concept) that can make friends with the "monsters" or whatever the "bad guys" are. In fact, for one game I remember, I tried my very hardest. During character creation, I took all the abilities that I thought would ingratiate myself to the bad guys. I even took a spell that was supposed to strengthen monsters. What do I learn? They still attack me anyway... but now stronger. What's the point of that spell? The only use I could figure is to PK other players indirectly. How disappointing!
I remember back in the early 80s, there was a simple text game that I really liked. It was called "Dragon" or something like that. The idea is that you were a poor soul that had just stumbled into a dragon's lair. The dragon is hungry, but he's also lonely. The goal is to keep him interested as long as possible. Mention food... chomp. Mention gold... he might talk a while. It was critically important to listen to him and respond intelligently, or he might just decide you were rude. This was in the 80s... on those pitiful 80s computers. How far have we regressed?
Unfortunately, computer-run NPCs are not just simple to program. For Orphan Crown, I'm trying to avoid computer NPCs whenever possible. Not that I can't do them. Rather, I don't think that I could do them well enough that I would be happy as a player. It's easy to build ravening killers. A talking, expressive personality that you can interact with is quite another story. A few mindless killing machines might be interesting, a world filled with them would be boring. And yet... that seems to be the model of most of the online games out there.
The dream of course is to have CNPCs that a player mistakes for real players. Depending on the nature of your game, this is often directly related to the good versus evil question. So... since I like lists, here's my list of NPC design thoughts:
Naturally, all of this can get quite complex. The work involved in building a word recognition library can be quite extensive. This is doubly true when you consider how individual words must be taken in context. Likewise, tailoring personal friendship as opposed to faction-based relations is something I imagine most developers don't even want to think about. Games lately have been coming out with more and more backstory. Deeper and deeper plots. How better to support the feeling they've generated than to have NPCs that fit into their world rather than detract from it?