Monday, March 28, 2005

NPC Behaviour

One of the many problems with games that try to portray the vastness of a city (like the GTA series) is that the inhabitants almost always wander around aimlessly. Stay and observe the behaviour of one of the many digital citizens and the suspension of disbelief quickly falls apart; you're not in a big city and these are not real people around you. With a big city comes big landscapes for the machine to render, making AI for the citizens a luxury the coders can't afford.

One possible solution could be to equip the digital citizens with various data defining their basic needs, much like how the needs of a Sim in The Sims is presented on various meters, though in a simplified form. When the meter for hunger goes over a point, the citizen then heads towards a diner, etc. This would of course add extra burden on the processor and it would be very difficult to create and track unique values for every citizen, but the data could be randomized and spawned at the same time as the characters. As a result, the citizens would actually seem to have some sort of goal, at least short-term. If the player decides to stand back and just watch he would see something that at least resembles real human behaviour.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Player Interaction

It's interesting that games, that are supposed to engage the users more than a purely visual media like movies due to the player interaction in the games, still suffer from the extremely linear storytelling that plague the more traditional media. At most players get to make small decisions with no direct impact on the main story, such as which weapon and way of approach to a puzzle. When players are given the choice of different responses in conversations with Non-playing characters (NPCs), the choice seldom matters, as the conversation almost inevitably leads to a predetermined conclusion.

The problem is quite obvious; the more options the player is given the more resources need to be spent on developing those options. At every branching of the storyline you'd need to spend twice as much resources on the parts after the branch (assuming the branch has only two options). Add another branching later on and you can easily end up using four times as much time and effort on a game with four different endings than a game with a single storyline and one ending. The choices speak for themselves, and for the most part, publishers see the economics of the situation.

One gameplay mechanism that could reduce (or hide) the linearity would be to, instead of giving the player for example, a number of different dialog choices to present to the NPC, you would instead give the player the ability to present various objects to the NPCs and receive pre-scripted comments. Of course there would be no way of knowing what objects would give the information necessary for progress (as well as requiring an incredible amount of info being coded about various items, as the number of interactible items would need to be quite big in order to create some sort of consistency). Though the risk of the system back-firing if the player can't find the correct item to present may be too big.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Concerning blogging

I have to admit that I'm not too fond of blogs in general, simply because not all of them contain writing of the kind I enjoy. This is due simply to statistics (or the rules of averages); most blogs fall in the median of writing, with a percentage going above and a percentage going below. (Not that I have read enough blogs to be able to give an informed opinion on the subject.)

One of the strengths of the blog, the lack of editorial input, is also one of it's weak points. Noone controls what a person can put in his/her blog (apart from what's stated in the TOS of the provider), so there is no quality control of any kind, which requires a bit more effort from the reader in finding material he/she finds worthy of reading.

Another thing that the lack of editorial input adds is the heavy presence of sloppy language. (I will say right away that I don't like spelling errors, especially when I am the source of them.) Spelling errors, improper capitalization, and a high presence of slang and technical/area-specific jargon, all contributing to making the text more inaccessible for the uninitiated reader. The subject of how internet is changing language (for better and for worse) is something that one could write essays about.

The name comes from my so-called column at the Antell Software homepage, I noticed when creating this blog that the aworkinprogress-prefix was unavailable, so I can only assume that is in use by someone, and I apologise to the writer/maintainer of pre-emptively for any confusion. Let's hope we can all co-exist peacefully.

First post

Carefully treading out to see if the ice holds...

I just realized when trying to write something about myself how difficult it is to find the words to describe oneself. How are you supposed to distill the essence of yourself into a sub-1200 character text?