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Rampant Coyote on Advancing Computer Role-playing

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Rampant Coyote on Advancing Computer Role-playing

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 14 July 2012, 14:31:56

Tags: Rampant Games

Jay "Rampant Coyote" Barnson, the Frayed Knights developer, has put up a series of two blog posts on "advancing the role of role-playing", describing how CRPGs should, in his view, simulate the kind of complexity found in pen and paper RP games. It's a very simulationist approach indeed, and one that I personally don't share for the simple reason that I don't really care about the kind of "role-playing" it strives for...

[In CRPGs,] aside from some canned dialog or story options, there’s really no way to express the subtleties of character. You can’t wink at a barmaid to try and catch her attention, or bribe some of the street urchins to tip you with information when they catch site of your rival, sneer at the mayor as he welcomes you to the town, or treat your horse to an extra bit of oats and an apple and a good brushing to reward it for its courage and the hard run it made to bring you back to the town in safety.​

...but it's a pretty interesting read. In particular, the first article provides a list of "ingredients" that the author believes CRPGs should contain. These include "Consequences for Everything", "NPC Perception of Player Actions", "History / Memory", as well as the following two:

Generalized, Abstract, Flexible Actions

One solution is a generalized, abstract mechanism to simulate a variety of specific actions. As I’ve suggested before, The Sims series provides a good template for this kind of thing. Players can fill in the specifics in their own minds. In multiplayer, perhaps the players could provide more description to the abstract actions. In game terms, the player may be talking to an NPC using a number of social skills – or skill settings – intimidation, seduction, diplomacy, oratory, whatever. In a tabletop game, a player might describe their actions in specific terms, and the game master does his or her best to translate it into more general game terms. In a CRPG, the player himself may have to provide that translation. But it’s possible.

I’m not saying that everything should be abstracted. And I’m well aware that this could cause a horrifically complicated UI. After all, if there’s all these things you can do with an NPC besides attacking them or talking to them, ALL THE TIME, those choices have to be represented somehow.

A Different Approach to Game-Building

In traditional scripting of quests in an RPG, an NPC might have a key piece of information that you need to complete the main storyline. What happens if you piss that NPC off?

Generally, you can’t, or he’ll have to give you the information anyway regardless of attitude, or the designer has to create some custom alternatives. Traditional game-scripting tends to follow pretty exact sequences of events. The player must follow rigid steps in sequence to advance the storyline, although there may be alternate paths to give the player some choice in his or her approach.

If some of the above ideas above get implemented in a more open-ended, simulationist CRPG world, things can get out of control with this approach very quickly. In response, a designer could abandon the idea of deep human-generated storylines and create a Daggerfall-esque game of procedurally generated content. Appropriate, but not very satisfying.

Or – this might suggest a completely different approach to how CRPGs get scripted. Is it possible to have the game decide how to trigger specific events at run-time based on game state? To delay the binding of who is an “important” NPC in the game (with critical information or quests) until the player has selected these people through their own interactions? To set up the quests as more generalized events and triggers that leave the player more freedom on how they accomplish (or fail to accomplish) goals?

This would be a pretty cool thing to experiment with on a small, indie basis. I see it being far too risky for a big AAA game, and something like this would probably need to go through several prototype iterations of varying degrees of suckage to get right. But it’s something to noodle on.​

The second post expands on all that, presenting an idea for a small-scope CRPG that would further advance NPC AI and character interaction. Have a snippet:

Anyway, here’s the twist: The exit is a magical portal that requires one living person to remain behind (willingly or unwillingly) in the room. That person will face almost certain death.

All four of the party-members know this fact from the get-go. One of them is going to be sacrificed – willingly or unwillingly. Yet their best chance of surviving the treacherous journey to the portal room are together as a group. Keeping each other alive maximizes their chances, because it’s not a limit on how many can leave the dungeon – it’s the limitation that at least one must stay behind.

Every action undertaken by anyone in the party – especially the player – gets evaluated by the other party members in this light. Will the other party members turn on them, knock them unconscious or bind them with rope? Will it be every man (or woman) for himself in the portal chamber as everyone races to the portal, with the slowest or weakest left behind? Or will one (or more) of the party members make the noble sacrifice and willingly stay behind so that others can escape?

As there’s really no way for characters to get away in secret to make pacts or alliances, it’s all in how they treat each other. The AI characters may actually try to misdirect their intentions through their actions – being extra nice to the character they intend to betray. And the player character may be that person.

[...] And at the end of the game – in lieu of having life really continue beyond the magical entrance – the game spills out some information for the player on who these characters were that he spent the last few hours surviving with. Their character traits, and their relationship with and assumptions about each other.​

Relationship statistics, so fun.

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