FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

Conversations with Nonplayer Characters

From the original Adventure onward, adventure game designers have faced the prob­lem of how to create realistic NPCs. Computer role-playing game (CRPG) designers must address this problem, too, but in most CRPGs, an NPC's conversation is defined by the character's role: blacksmith, healer, tavern keeper, and so on. The
player doesn't expect to be able to discuss arms and armor with a tavern keeper (although the games might be more interesting and certainly less formulaic if he could). But because adventure games are interactive stories, players expect the char­acters in them to be more like humans and less mechanical.

A good many games try to sidestep the problem entirely by setting the game in worlds with extremely few, if any, people. This certainly creates a mysterious atmosphere, but it suits only a limited range of stories. Imagine how Rick's bar in Casablanca would feel if it weren't full of people drinking and gambling. A world with no people seems artificial and sterile.

A few early text-based games tried to implement parsers that could understand lim­ited English sentences as typed by the player, but these seldom succeeded. NPCs either said, "I don't understand that," or gave absurd answers when the player asked a perfectly reasonable question; this left the impression that the NPCs were drugged or mentally ill.

In the end, most adventure game designers gave up on trying to create the impres­sion that the player could talk to anyone about anything and devised the scripted conversation, a mechanism that became the de facto standard for both adventure games and CRPGs. Chapter 7 discussed scripted conversations in detail.

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