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Interview Oblivion Q&A on IGN

Saint_Proverbius

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Tags: Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

<A href="http://www.ign.com/">IGN</a> has <A href="http://xbox.ign.com/articles/568/568240p1.html">an interview</a> with one of those <a href="http://www.bethsoft.com">Bethesda</a> guys about <a href="http://www.elderscrolls.com">Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion</a>. It's pretty long, three pages and all, and here's one from the first page:
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<blockquote><b>IGN: Morrowind was criticized by some for its extremely open-ended nature; other players considered that the game's greatest strength. Can we expect to see the same sort of freedom in Oblivion? Are you trying any new ways of orienting players towards the main story points?
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<br>
Todd Vaughn:</b> It's still a completely wide-open game, I think that's the essential ingredient to the series. What we're trying to do a better job at is the way that's presented to the player. We just need to do a better job of clarifying and showing the player what to do to progress in the game. I think the biggest risk in an entirely open game is the player getting bored, or not knowing if they are making progress, so that's something we acknowledged early and have many ways of addressing.
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<br>
We do a lot more now with NPCs talking and pointing you in the right direction, and the way your quest journal and maps work together to clearly show you where something is and what you need to do. There are little things that we can do in all areas to keep reminding the player what they should be doing and if they are on the right track. </blockquote>
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<br>
Farmer out on the middle of no where: <i>Hey, dumbass! He said <b>turn left</b> at the fork in the road! <b>LEFT!</b></i>
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<br>
Spotted at: <A HREF="http://www.homelanfed.com">HomeLAN Fed</A>
 

taks

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Oct 31, 2003
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heh, hell, if NPCs in Morrowind at least gave you a clue as to which of the 200 parsable words was the right one to select it would have been enough direction... instead, you had to browse through identical list after identical list and "hope" there was something that would move the game forward. dumbest.dialog.ever.

taks
 

The Exar

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There wasn't any dialogue at all. The NPC's were like road signs. No conversation, no emotion, nothing like classical RPG dialogue. Great minus.
Wide-open games aren't so bad, but sometimes it was very confusing.
 
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dojoteef

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Our new AI system, dubbed "Radiant AI," allows NPCs to have full 24/7 schedules and decide for themselves how to accomplish goals, even simple ones, like "go to the tavern and get food."

Since they seem to be touting this as the next greatest thing in AI, I hope it's done well. The problem is, it sounds like a HUGE CPU hog without really adding anything to the game. Most people won't even notice the difference I bet.

Do you feel you're taking any big risks with certain elements of the game?

Todd Howard: I'd say the "Radiant AI" system, and the NPC life. It's something no one has ever tried on this scale, and we're just starting to see how powerful it is, and how we can translate those NPC behaviors into meaningful gameplay. It's one thing to have hundreds of NPCs going about their lives, but it's another to have that affect what the player is doing, and allow the player to affect what the NPCs do. The other aspect of the design seems small, but it's the overall game balance.

At least they acknowledge the fact that it's risky. I'm not really sure how it affects the player's gameplay as they mention though. The only thing I can think of is that NPCs can be in different places since they can travel from place to place. That doesn't seem to be a good enough reason to add something like that in the game. Maybe I'm just being short-sided and cynical.

We'll try to get the game on as many platforms that can handle it as possible. We simply view it as "Oblivion," and plan on having it be the same regardless of platform.

PLEASE don't dumb it down like DX:IW. Take the extra time to make sure it's fun on all platforms and allows for the control conventions of that platform.
 

Mendoza

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dojoteef said:
At least they acknowledge the fact that it's risky. I'm not really sure how it affects the player's gameplay as they mention though. The only thing I can think of is that NPCs can be in different places since they can travel from place to place. That doesn't seem to be a good enough reason to add something like that in the game. Maybe I'm just being short-sided and cynical.

I don't know, I'd see having the npcs not being inanimate statues as being a big plus and adding a lot of atmosphere. I don't see it having a major effect on the gameplay.

We'll try to get the game on as many platforms that can handle it as possible. We simply view it as "Oblivion," and plan on having it be the same regardless of platform.

PLEASE don't dumb it down like DX:IW. Take the extra time to make sure it's fun on all platforms and allows for the control conventions of that platform.

It's a risk, but I'm reasonably confident, since Morrowind didn't feel dumbed down to me despite being on the XBox (although I have never played Daggerfall). It's interface didn't stop it selling a lot of copies on both platforms anyway, so hopefully they realise there's no need to consolefy it.
 

The Exar

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dojoteef said:
Our new AI system, dubbed "Radiant AI," allows NPCs to have full 24/7 schedules and decide for themselves how to accomplish goals, even simple ones, like "go to the tavern and get food."

Since they seem to be touting this as the next greatest thing in AI, I hope it's done well. The problem is, it sounds like a HUGE CPU hog without really adding anything to the game. Most people won't even notice the difference I bet.
Nope. It might take more system resources, but that's avoidable. Many will notice the difference. This will make the world more "alive" and surely the game will become more varied. That would be a large step in the right direction.
 

suibhne

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dojoteef said:
At least they acknowledge the fact that it's risky. I'm not really sure how it affects the player's gameplay as they mention though. The only thing I can think of is that NPCs can be in different places since they can travel from place to place. That doesn't seem to be a good enough reason to add something like that in the game. Maybe I'm just being short-sided and cynical.

It's not simply the player's "gameplay"; it's the player's enjoyment. The NPCs in Morrowind brought down the entire game - and were, uncoincidentally, well behind the curve in the context of the game industry as a whole. Morrowind conservations were handled so poorly that they were a goddamn chore, and this dramatically undercut any possibility of feeling like you're interacting with an actual world.

If you want gameplay without any of that pesky "context" crap, play chess. :wink:
 

Visbhume

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Having NPC's with complex behaviors could add inmensely to the inmersion in the gameworld, even if they don't affect the gameplay much. If I had to decide between nifty graphics and "believable" NPC's , I would choose the latter.
 
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dojoteef

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Well I'm saying this as AI programmer myself. I've always been interested in the subject and have a large repretoire of books on AI, even computer game AI as well. Having 50 or more NPCs each actively "deciding how to accomplish goals" can be very taxing on the CPU. Beyond that as well, people always want more believeable NPCs. That's a given, but within a game where CPU cycles are limited (especially so on a console), you have to choose what features to put in very carefully. Does having them decide how to do things a requirement to make the NPCs seem believeable? Many elaborate systems have been developed that when looked at empirically amount to something that could just have well been done in a more simplistic manner with a very similar result.

The way they are describing it to me makes it seem like they are doing something complex, which could just be PR. They might very well just have scripted events for the daily lives of the NPCs instead of something more akin to behavior seen in the Sims. For example if it's noon, well then it's time to eat. You can choose between 3 different places to eat, home, the tavern, or a restaurant. It makes it seem more random than it is because you tend to have very little interaction with most NPCs. If for instance it's an NPC that you talk to frequently, well just put more possible places they might want to go at any given time. It might take more scripting, but it would be less CPU intensive. If that's what they do I can see it working very well. If they are instead bent on having NPCs that have social, emotional, physical needs and based on their current emotional and physical state have them decide what they want to do and how they want to do it, the CPU overhead would be tremendous (at least for the percentage of CPU that is given for AI). They would probably have to cut back on the number of NPCs which ends up making a populated area seem very sparsely populated (kind of like you see in Bloodlines, very few NPCs in one of the most populated areas in the US).

Then again that's how I see things. I'm always the cynic so my friends say. I just try to bring people back down to earth, instead of finding out that what they did sucked. It doesn't sound like they've fully fleshed out what they mean to do with this "Radiant AI" of theirs, either. I would rather them have it worked out first and then share it with everyone afterwords instead of doing like Fable did.
 

MrSmileyFaceDude

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It's far, far more complex and flexible than you describe, dojoteef, and the NPC schedules actually don't need to involve scripting. We have new tools in the TESCS that make it easy to set up simple or complex "packages" to do a wide variety of AI tasks, and new stats on NPC's that can be used to govern how the NPC accomplishes those tasks. A designer can say "Every day at noon, eat something", and the NPC will obtain food in a manner depending on their personality traits, legally or illegally. Alternatively, the designer could say "Every day at noon buy food from this market and eat it at this tavern", and that's what the NPC will do. Where the designer is less specific, the NPC's personality traits govern behavior. It's a very cool system, and we've actually got it working really well already.

As far as CPU usage, all the NPC's operate at different processing levels, depending on where the PC is in relation to them -- sort of like AI levels of detail, so that helps balance out CPU usage. NPC's at lower processing levels don't update as often or make such complex decisions, so they have a minimal impact on performance.

We haven't gone into huge amounts of detail about much of the game yet -- notice we've said almost nothing about magic, for example -- but that doesn't mean we haven't thought it through or even implemented it yet :)
 
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dojoteef

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That's nice, a very prompt response. So it's sort of an AI scripting language package that you guys have developed? I guess what I was saying before is similar to what you're doing, but with the added ability of having personality traits which does make it more flexible, but it isn't like the Sims, where the useable objects use broadcast messaging. Or is it? Like I said I have a hard-on for all things AI (especially when it comes to believeable NPCs and interactive drama architectures).

I'm not sure how much you can say, but what sort of CPU percentage are we talking about here? How many NPCs are able to exhibit the more complex behavior trait type of tasks at once. Oh, and will it be available in the TESCS for people to play with?
 

Visbhume

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Yes, it's true that you can waste CPU cycles in a AI system whose game effects are not clearly perceived. I read somewhere that Halo had a much more complex AI system at first, but it got scrapped because the the players didn't notice its sophistication in the middle of combat.



No one says you have to devote equal CPU time to everybody's AI. You can use simpler methods with the "generic" NPCs, and devote more time to the important ones.

Also, you can assign less cycles to the AI of NPCs far from the player's current position, and more to the ones which are interacting with him at any given moment.

Edit: oops... beaten. By Bethesda themselves !
 

Deacdo

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I thought Morrowind was dumbed down and I think Oblivion will be dumbed down even more.

We'll try to get the game on as many platforms that can handle it as possible. We simply view it as "Oblivion," and plan on having it be the same regardless of platform.
Translation: "We'll sacrifice as much quality and content as we think we can get away with to push Oblivion out on as many platforms as possible." :|
 

MrSmileyFaceDude

Bethesda Game Studios
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Deacdo, and I mean this with the utmost respect, but that's a bunch of BS. Morrowind was not "dumbed down", and neither will Oblivion be.

Feel free not to believe me. But remember, I'm a programmer, not a marketing dude.

You may not have LIKED Morrowind, and you may not like Oblivion -- that's totally your prerogative and I have no problems with that whatsoever. But you're making claims that simply aren't true. "Dumbed down" is not in the eye of the beholder, it's a conscious decision and NOT one we have made.
 

Diogo Ribeiro

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MrSmileyFaceDude said:
It's far, far more complex and flexible than you describe, dojoteef, and the NPC schedules actually don't need to involve scripting. We have new tools in the TESCS that make it easy to set up simple or complex "packages" to do a wide variety of AI tasks, and new stats on NPC's that can be used to govern how the NPC accomplishes those tasks. A designer can say "Every day at noon, eat something", and the NPC will obtain food in a manner depending on their personality traits, legally or illegally. Alternatively, the designer could say "Every day at noon buy food from this market and eat it at this tavern", and that's what the NPC will do. Where the designer is less specific, the NPC's personality traits govern behavior. It's a very cool system, and we've actually got it working really well already.)

So basically, there's a chance we'll see something like, a hunter-themed NPC getting up in the morning and decide to find breakfast in the wilderness, while a rogueish NPC will atempt to steal something from a market?

Sounds cool. Do important NPCs, such as story-critical NPCs, have similar possibilities, or will they have diferent ones so that they won't risk getting killed or something?
 

MrSmileyFaceDude

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Role-Player said:
So basically, there's a chance we'll see something like, a hunter-themed NPC getting up in the morning and decide to find breakfast in the wilderness, while a rogueish NPC will atempt to steal something from a market?

Yep.

Role-Player said:
Sounds cool. Do important NPCs, such as story-critical NPCs, have similar possibilities, or will they have diferent ones so that they won't risk getting killed or something?

That'll be up to the designers to control. I imagine that crucial NPC's will have tighter controls put on them so that a) they stay alive and b) you can find them when you need to.
 
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dojoteef

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I guess the real question is, did you put enough emphasis on making the characters themselves believeable? Having them be able to move around based on some parameters isn't going to be enough to make the characters believeable. It would also require the use of dialog which shows awareness what's going on. So I am assuming there are other measures that you guys took to increase the believeablity.

If you haven't, which I highly doubt, I do have some ideas that you guys could use. You might have already implemented stuff like this, but here goes anyway.

You could have degrees of urgency for different tasks. Depending on the urgency of the task that the npc is undertaking, they might brush you off or might have the time to discuss matters in length with you. You might even be able to set up a meeting time with an NPC at a later date if there is something that you need to discuss, but they don't currently have the time to.

You could also add in mood swings for the characters depending on a frustration level that they have in trying to accomplish a task. If the task is difficult and they are busy that might be very curt. You could also factor in relaxation time after work where they would be more eager to have conversations, etc.

BTW, you guys wouldn't by any chance have an opening for a junior member that'll be graduating in December with a dual major in CS and Math would you :D?
 

krathax

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This Radiant AI system sounds -vaguely- similar to what is found in Gothic1&2. It does indeed help with immersion.

Krathax
 

Volourn

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"Morrowind was not "dumbed down""

I agree. It still sucked; though. :D
 

Eclecticist

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krathax said:
This Radiant AI system sounds -vaguely- similar to what is found in Gothic 1 & 2.

That is what I was thinking. It isn't anything entirely revolutionary, and it annoys me that it is being touted so with a fancy name, etc.

But still, it is definitely a GOOD thing for Oblivion. I am pleased it is being incorporated.
 

triCritical

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How about taking more of what made Daggerfall good and bringing that back into the ES games. I played an awful lot of MW, but I do not think I could play it anymore, and I think the reason is that it misses what made DF such a great game. A lot of the quest, that were nothing more then fedex quest should be randomized. So you are not looking in the same place for the same object each time. I think there should be a lot more randomization. Another thing is that there should be more then one legitimate way of completing a quest. Sure you can always kill the dude, but there should be more ways depending on the characters strengths.

Finally something must be done with the archaic dialogue system. Randomization is not enough. Dialogue needs to be regional, and should include different styles of speech, or something that makes the NPC more believable. Furthermore, something needs to be done that makes the important quest and story related dialogue stand out. I think what ended up hurting MW for me was the lack of believability in the NPC's, and this hurts a game that emphasizes immersion.

BTW, the AI is certainly a gigantic step in the right direction.
 

MrSmileyFaceDude

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Actually, the dialogue system in Morrowind WAS regional. But dialogue is getting an overhaul in Oblivion as well. Lots of changes and new features.
 

triCritical

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Eclecticist said:
krathax said:
This Radiant AI system sounds -vaguely- similar to what is found in Gothic 1 & 2.

That is what I was thinking. It isn't anything entirely revolutionary, and it annoys me that it is being touted so with a fancy name, etc.

But still, it is definitely a GOOD thing for Oblivion. I am pleased it is being incorporated.

I haven't played Gothic1or2. However, from what I have heard it described is basically scripting. For instance, you may be wandering in the woods and you might see animal A hunt animal B and essentially a bunch of NPC's on timers. Not to mention the game was quite linear, which makes things a bit more simple.

AI is more like what the dude from Bethesda is talking about, a character has a brain defined by their personality and is given a chore. The chore is then completed based on their brain, something that is entirely unscripted.
 

Volourn

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"How about taking more of what made Daggerfall good"

Eh. DF sucked even worse than MW. Leave it stay dead.
 

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