Emergent goal seeking AI for RPGs

Computer RPGs I’ve learned to play rely heavily on combat as the way to gain experience. Couple of previous post discussed about alternatives to combat, and Matt’s comment made me thinking about a bit different type of way to perhaps create emergent play in RPGs. No idea if this would work, but here goes.

Imagine there’s bunch of goblins guarding a treasure cave. Each goblin would have motivations, such as these:

  • Need for food (avoiding hunger)
  • Shelter (avoid rain for example)
  • Being safe (for example, sticking with a bigger group or perhaps running away)

And so on…

Now, our hero arrives near the treasure cave and thinks for a moment about the situation. In our typical RPG, you’d usually draw your sword and hack’n’slash em.

But what if we could instead have AI that reacts to different stuff. For example, hero could leave food near and make noises that attract goblins to check out the noises. When goblins go check noises (that would be programmed in a common “guarding behavior” AI), they would see food… and hungry goblins would remain there to eat the food. Others might instead return. If there wasn’t any food, all goblins would return back.

Or what if hero uses a rain spell: it starts rain and it causes goblins to scatter: some go find shelter at nearby trees… some perhaps would go back to cave.

These type of motivational goals, combined with behaviors such as guarding might create interesting or different options for players, without need for custom scripting for every single event. Instead of focusing scripting events, you would focus on creating new goals and behaviors.

Here’s some more motivational goals for creatures:

  • Ensure safety of your child (works for bears as well as humans)
  • Greed (wants gold)
  • Item collector (wants to collect for example different swords or beast claws or whatever)

Et cetera. By adding more and more of these motivational layers, and then with behaviors/intelligence on top of that, we might be onto something.

You could add there some scripting or random events: perhaps somebody else approaches the cave and goblins immediately attack that guy… leaving our hero to sneak past the goblins. Or perhaps hero decided to hire somebody to “ride near this cave the next midnight”.

Experience might be rewarded from trying different options, if there would be some sensible algorithm for that. Or, experience might be based on finding items or visiting locations, not killing creatures between you and the treasure.


What if there would be alternative to “combat” when dealing with conflicts?

hermitC’s comment on my previous blog post got me thinking about Dungeon & Dragons game. When I was 10ish years or so, we played D&D role playing game (I was wizard, yes). When our group encountered goblins near treasure cave, we had pretty close to one solution to this problem: combat!

Whatever we encountered, our swords and nasty fireballs would solve. We played D&D for some years and it was cool.

Decade later (or bit less) we tried to run again a campaign. This time things had changed. When we encountered goblins or orcs, we didn’t first shoot and … well, that usually did the trick earlier. No, we tried different ways to deal with encounters.

When goblins were guarding a lair, our group could do things such as:

  • Use sleep spell to get them – well – to sleep so we could go past em (earlier we could naturally have cut their throats of course… but now we just wanted to go pass em)
  • We could try bribe em: giving them gold coins which pays more than their current pay..
  • We could try persuade them that their job sucks and they should join us to attack the evil mage
  • We could have waited them to go to sleep… and then sneak past them
  • We could have tried capture leader of the group, and then use leader to get other goblins to drop their weapons
  • We could have tried to lure them away from the lair, by putting tasty food or such at distance… and then sneak in.

At older age, we tried to avoid combat and the playing style was much more different. Earlier it was hack’n’slash… now we actually were using brain to overcome challenges.

What if RPG would not give you one option – combat – to overcome challenge. What if instead there would be multiple ways to deal with the situation, and only if those fail – combat begins.

Sure, it might require work to get it done. It would require imagination to come up with alternative ways to solve things and think how these solutions affect gameplay, experience, mechanics, character relations, story and so on.

But could it be worth it?

Do RPGs really need combat?

Some days ago I tweeted about RPGs without combat. What would be left if [insert random rpg here] would not have combat?

Combat in RPGs is fine if it serves a purpose. For many gamers, the purpose of combat is leveling up, beating bigger monsters over and over again. Many gamers enjoy those things and decisions the combat offers. To me, games need to provide interesting decisions. Combat can be interesting. Choosing whether to attack good guy is an interesting decisions. Choosing best weapons for the next fight and planning attack can be interesting. Many things can be interesting.

But hitting a giant scorpion, running away and then hitting again that scorpion over and over until it dies is not interesting. That’s boring hit’n’run tactic where (1) I know I win if I do this and (2) I know I die and game is over if I don’t do this.

In Fallout 1, combat for me was most often only a roadblock. Combat kept me away from enjoying the story and seeing new things. In Fallout 1, combat wasn’t often so interesting. Seeing new guys, using some drugs that made your guy “combat drug addicted” during combat was pretty cool… but overall I didn’t really need all that combat.

In some games, combat is the very essence of the game. Monster Hunter series for example is built around the combat and is the meat of the game. In MH, I liked the combat.

In Fallout 1, the story and decisions were much more interesting and combat (to me) felt unneccessary.

In Battlefield 1942, combat was definitely okay. The whole game is about combat, and training your own skills in the combat field.

But what about RPGs? When we check top selling RPGs, I can almost bet that there’s 7 out of 10 some sort of “Diablo” clones. Those hack’n’slash games to me aren’t rpgs…

Why RPGs require you to combat & grind so that you can then progress with the story?

Why not progress & enjoy the story and decisions without combat?


This is how a seemingly harmless, pretty useless feature can provide amazing gamer experience & great stories

Last night, my bro and I played a fierce NHL ’12 match (PS3, mics on). The match was really tough, first I managed to get 2-0 lead, then he managed to get even to 2-2 and even take lead 2-3. Few minutes before end of the game I managed to score 3-3, so it was time to play overtime. The next one to score wins the match.

Overtime was tough fighting as well. Luckily, my bro got penalty and I managed to rule the match in his area. I managed to trick defenders, pass to superior forwarder while goalkeeper was on ice. My attacker had clear shot, nothing could possibly go wrong.

…except stick broke when he took the shot.

Goddamn broken stick! The stick went to pieces, puck went to corner where my bros defender got it… passed to one of his attackers who got break-away situation and scored overtime goal. He won 4-3 on overtime.

So, the tiny feature that made the difference:
NHL ’12 (I think it was introduced in NHL ’11 though) has this new feature that there’s small chance your player’s stick will break when he takes a shot. It doesn’t happen often, but it does every now and then.

If there wasn’t this feature, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. I would have won the game and it would have been yet another played match, forgotten.

But thanks to that stick break, there’s now drama. There’s a story to discuss (or “laugh” like my bro puts it). Seemingly minor feature “stick can break” made a huge difference. I thought I had certain win… and then boom, my dream was broken.

Amazing thing.

Is there such minor, tiny – almost “useless” – features that your game could have? Features that can generate new kind of gamer experiences?

Valve’s Steam Box could be nice, if…

It’s been rumoured that Valve might be bringing something called Steam Box. Rumour has it that it basically could be some sort of PC/windows system that would “replace” console. You would use a controller to play games… and I’d suspect if such thing appears, Steam shop would be well integrated there.

If there would be “PC console”, I think it could work…:

  • If there was a proper controller. PS3 bluetooth based wireless controller is superior. If Steam Box is ever made, it would require this.
  • Controller based UI without keyboards or mouse. This I see hugely important: the reason why I like playing my PS3 is that I just press couple of buttons and it’s all good. Nice big TV, comfortable sofa. With PC, I need to go to my basement and mess with mouse and keyboard and stuff. It would be hugely important to have user interface that you can easily control: PS3 has great, simple user interface.
  • If it would play movies and such too… now that would be a big deal. PS3 is a really nice media player as well, but it’s sometimes bit hassle to play movies from the hard drive. I first need to do magic in my PC, and then move my Moomins to PS3 before watching. If Steam Box would be PC powerered… all this might become simpler.
  • Moddable parts: strenght (and weakness too) of PC is moddable parts. Bearing in mind that Steam Box is all rumours… I feel that if it ever was done, and if I could easily change or add a new hard drive… or increase memory or change video card, then it might be interesting take on console world. In a way it’s bad as things get bit complex to develop when there’s no standard device, but in a way that might be such a new approach into console gaming that it might be fun.

And of course it might require some millions of people to purchase the thing…

It’s all rumours at this point, but Valve might be doing a big favor to world with this thing. It opens up development possibilities for indies for sure. Xbox, PS3, Wii and other consoles don’t like indies as PC does… so having a PC console would rock quite well.

Waiting to hear more about this matter.

“PC gaming is dead”, yeh right…

Thoughts on game lengths, hours and stuff

As far as I remember, I’ve never really paid attention to how many hours of gameplay certain games have. I’ve always read from reviews if the game is long or short. Recently, buddy of mine described that Skyrim is epic game with huge amount of content and places to explore. This was enough for me to describe the fact that Skyrim can provide hours of gameplay. I don’t know if it’s 10 or 20 or 152 hours, but something pretty big. I know my buddy, and when he says that there’s tons of stuff in game, I know what he means.

Portal 2 on the other hand is relatively short game. People describe it as short and that’s enough for me. Short, medium, long are pretty close to the accuracy I can accept for games. To me, seeing that game has 20 hours or 100 hours of gameplay doesn’t tell much about length of those games. If one game is 8 hours and other 16 hours, which one is larger? I doubt that 8 hours game is half as short as the other game. I doubt that very much.

It’s different with movies and books. Movies can be 2 hour long. Books can have 400 pages. These tell you something about how much stuff there is.

But for games, the “game is 12 hours long”, in my proud opinion is:

  • Very subjective figure given by developers, and doesn’t really tell much about how much stuff there is.
  • While time as unit is quite same to all of us (who don’t travel as fast as light), then 60 minutes to you is pretty close to 60 minutes to me. But, when you and me play game X, you might say that it provides 7 hours of gameplay and I say 14 – we both are right.
  • Accompanied with other information (ranging from game budget to different reviewer’s opinions to filesize to whatever factual information), we can get some idea whether game is “2 hours long” or “perhaps closer to 30 hours long”.

Bottom line is, these estimations are given by developers.

The same developers who say that “adding feature X is no biggie, I’ll knock it together in 2 hours” and when you come back 3 days later they say “I’m 90% finished, but there’s some bugs that appeared after adding feature. This might take couple of hours more”.

To summarize: I never paid attention to “hours” listed. I don’t see much idea why they are used or generally accepted as a way to tell “how big game is”.

What you think?