Non-playable characters have come a long way with their AI intelligence. As the gaming industry has expanded on everything, developers have been able to make characters seem more real over the years, however, a lot of times characters in games are missing something. NPCs are often copied and pasted from one another in most open world games. Not only that, but they tend to make in-game decisions that are totally idiotic. It’s time for the AI in NPCs to be brought to the next level, not just intelligent, but humanized and having more character.
Let’s start with something simple. Often times when you are in a game like Skyrim, people don’t talk much. There are a few interactions between each other, but usually it’s for show and will repeat if you are in that area again. It also doesn’t help that there is one person who voices half the town with no alteration to his voice. At least make one sound like Christian Bale’s Batman, so it’s at least different.
How about when no one comes up to you to talk at all, since you have to make every first step into talking to people. I’m surprised people don’t tell you their deepest of secrets. It would be nice to have conversations that get them to the point of trusting you enough before they give you a quest of mission. It’s strange for these people to not only let you in on everything going on in their lives, but also to trust you with making everything better for them within the first few minutes of meeting you. Often times, some of these people would ask me to do quest I already completed. I would never return what they wanted. It was my way of showing them how stupid it is to trust someone so openly they never met before. Of course, they are AI and, no matter what, can’t change that about themselves.
Why can’t these people talk to you in the street as you’re walking by. Sure, games have NPCs walking around saying stuff to you all the time, usually saying, “don’t you even think about it” when you are crouched down by a door and the screen lets you know you can pick the lock. Maybe these people should have some memory of that? Why is it they see you doing something fishy, but if you talk to them right after it’s like nothing was going on? This goes for people that apparently hate you as well. There is a husband wife team that owns a shop right when you walk into Whiterun. When I first started playing the expansion Dawnguard for Skyrim some vampires attacked the town right as I fast traveled there. It was night, of course, and some town’s people and guards were fighting them and so being the good guy that I was, I helped. During this fight the wife died and apparently I killed her, because after that every time I walked into that shop the husband would automatically say, “I should kill you for what you did.” Now, I don’t remember even hitting her at all (it was chaotic), but I did see her dead body. So he hates me right? Except then I click on him to buy/sell stuff and he couldn’t be happy to work with me. Literally one second after saying he should kill me he is saying, “What can I do for you?” It’s things like this that pull me out of a game.
Also, why can’t the people on the street stop you to ask for help? And I don’t mean stopping in your tracks and zoom in on the face of someone automatically when the game demands it. Maybe as you’re walking by someone, they stop and start following you saying things like “Excuse me sir!” Even if you ignore them or don’t think twice about it and assume it’s just in game talk, have them do it every time you pass by until you talk to them. I would even like to see small things happen like NPCs walking into you. Have you ever noticed that? NPCs will always walk around you no matter what game. It would be nice to see them accidentally walk into you because they’re not paying attention , talking or any reason for that matter. It’s a small thing that happens in real life that would add just a little more to the experience to make it feel that much more alive and real. That is what we’re going for, right?
One major flaw about the way characters act in games like Skyrim, is how they attack you. Skyrim has dragons all over the place flying around and Bethesda made them free to do whatever they want with their AI. To a point, that is all fine and good, but dragons are often an easy fight. Just stay to the side of them when they land and slash away until they die. Sometimes they get intelligent and fly off, but only to land again. Even if they land on a rooftop or someplace you can’t reach, you can still use magic dragon calls to hurt them. I get it, you have to be able to kill them, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a game if five seconds into the open world, everyone is killed by dragons who completely take over. That’s still no excuse for bandits being so stupid. I can’t count how many times right after I killed a dragon, some bandits will start attacking me. They should have at least enough intelligence to say, “Forget this guy, he killed a dragon, lets wait for the next person to walk by.”
I think a major thing that NPCs could do in games is lie to you. Now, I can see where this would be super frustrating, but it would give a real reason to do more research on something before heading out. There are times when games like Skyrim, again, will have you talk to multiple people to find out where to go. This is obviously completely forced and just takes away from the experience of getting the information you need on your own, but imagine that not happening. When you go to where you thought you needed to be, you only to find out that you were sent on a wild goose chase. Again, that would be frustrating, but you’d learn real quickly to not trust everyone. Thinking about it, a world were everyone tells the truth? Is this some bad Ricky Gervais comedy? Oh wait… forget I said anything.
If NPCs lied to you randomly in game, you would think twice before believing everyone. Even games like Splinter Cell: Conviction, when it has you torture people by slamming their head into televisions until you get answers. What if those games opened it up more by allowing those people to lie to you, just to get you to stop? You know, like people actually do to stop from being tortured. Imagine if you went on a mission that you didn’t have to go on and was completely useless because the person lied and you believed them. You can lie in some games like how BioWare often gives you the option to lie in their games. Imagine the impact it could have in gaming as a whole if NPCs randomly lied to you. I say randomly because after your first time playing through the game, it would just end that random experience.
Sure people lied to you in L.A. Noire, but, come on, that barely counts—although it was a nice touch. That game never really seemed to be that open when it came to how things went down. My first time playing it I just played it through and let what happened be what happens. Sometimes I wrongly accused people of lying and sometimes I ate it up with a fork and knife. At the time, it seemed like it was all just going with the flow, but then I played it a second time and I used a guide to get five stars on everything. It was amazing and disappointing how so much still happened the same exact way, no matter what you chose. So even though characters could lie to you, it really didn’t change much depending how you replied to it.
Games have come around to do more with AI for characters in the world to make it feel more real. Games like Watch Dogs have shown some real improvements. Seeing NPCs stand around talking, reacting to each other walking down the street and even having simple car accidents together is refreshing. Watch Dogs isn’t the first game to have characters in the world talk to each other, but it does seem more real than most. Especially when you go smashing into the area they are standing in with your car because you don’t know how to drive. Not only can you see them stop and move away, but also push each other out of the way in order to save themselves. It’s a real nice touch. The car accidents that happen are amazing at first, but once you see that the characters only get out of their respective cars and look around, it puts a damper on things. Still, the fact that it just happens out of no where is quite awesome.
The AI in games have come a long way over the years, but with this new generation of consoles, it would be nice to see that next step be taken in making them even more intelligent. Making the AI of NPCs more intelligent will honestly make the world you are playing in that much richer, exciting and maybe even overwhelming. People talk about how some games can look very real compared to life, but how far will that get us if this is as far as we go with the intelligence of characters in games. Not to mention that a game looking unnaturally real is super creepy. Better AI could curb that from happening. Or maybe I am an NPC and all of this was to prove that AI is more advanced and human than ever… or I recently played Skyrim and rolled my eyes at every NPC on screen.