So, I work in a small local supermarket, doing the general shelf-stacking/stock rotation/other boring monotonous wank that only a student can really lower himself to. I've been there for about a month and in that short time, I've already come across a fair few strange instances of real people. Tonight, as I was facing up (The process of turning every single item in the shop around to face the front of the shelf. It really is as fun as it sounds), my mind wandered to a point that often gets raised about games, but never really expanded on, or looked at in any real detail: The AI of random NPCs.
Sometimes, A-rated titles (usually sandbox games) get marked down by some people for the random NPCs (Townsfolk, crowd, background characters etc) having little to no 'believable' behavioural patterns. For instance, in San Andreas, the NPCs inside shops will simply stand for eternity, staring at the same beige sweater. As a result of this, there's often a call to ramp up the behaviour of said peripheral characters.
Until tonight, I never understood why.
One of the biggest arguments is that it "Breaks the sense of immersion into the game"
. Does it? Really? Were you any less immersed into Ocarina of Time because people in towns and villages were content to stand on the spot, spinning with all the grace of a legless ballerina with leprosy whenever you ran rings around them? Or in a more realistic game like Shenmue, did it really bother you that the people you'd see milling around Mr Tomato weren't bundling packets of rice and noodles (Because obviously this is all anyone eats in Shenmue-land... Obviously...) into a shopping basket, then bitching at you for taking too long picking up your Outrun soundtrack? If a highly atmospheric game like Bioshock had some random, non-splicer scientists staring through a microscope at samples of the creepy little sister you just callously harvested for your own material gain, but he then did nothing else, would it genuinely bother you that much?
I don't think so.
Infact, if anything, I'd say the current level of AI is more
realistic than people give it credit for. Working in said supermarket, I have actually witnessed a woman spend HALF AN HOUR staring at a wine rack. She didn't pick up a bottle for closer inspection. She didn't seem to be moving her head around to actually look at anything. For all I know she could've been contemplating how to shove the damn thing up her rectum. She just stood. Standing. Staring. Doing nothing. A real life NPC.
I think some of us overestimate the intelligence level of most of the real life equivalent of NPCs. Take, for example, this story that happened tonight, which sparked this whole train of thought in my head.
Having just taken the main grocery delivery of the night, I was out on the shop floor, filling up the crisp (chips, to our American friends) aisle. Next to me, I had a trolley with half a dozen boxes of crisps on, next to a large, wall-mounted rack of said potato snacks. I'd been doing this for about ten minutes, when a woman, about middle-aged but obviously still with most of her mental faculties, approached me with that sort of confused, bewildered look that people get when they want help. The conversation that followed went like this.
Her: "Scuse me, can you tell me where your crisps are?"
Me: --Smiling politely-- "Yeah, they're... here."
--I point at the rack I'm now pressed against, since she'd moved my trolley. Which was full of crisps.--
Her: "Ah, thanks."
--A few seconds pass--
Her: "Is this all you do?"
Me: "Yeah, this is our crisp section."
--Few more seconds--
Her: "So you don't do anymore then?"
Me: --keeping polite smile-- "...No. No we don't. This is it. This is our crisp section."
Her: "Oh, ok. Thanks."
--She walks away--
Now this, coupled with the wine lady and various other small instances I've ALREADY picked up on in a month, have made me realise that the AI some of you think would make games more realistic would actually vastly detract from them.
So no, based on this, I think the case for stronger NPC AI is a bit moot. Well, I did, until tonight. Now, I know exactly why some of you want it.
You want to kill them.
I know this because I agree, now. I want to merrily hack my way (Dead Rising meets Postal style) through a varied mix of loitering chavs, neglectful parents and their screaming, demanding brats, the guy who, try as he might, just can't remember his pin number, unforgivably thick people and yes, even those sweet old grannies who smell of urine and try to buy a pack of mints with postage stamps. I want to destroy them all.
And since the law here prohibits me from doing so in real life, I'm now joining the camp of people who demand higher AI in NPCs, so I can fulfill my bloodlust and feel damn good about it.
But until I develop my Checkout Jockey Supermarket Simulator, it's unlikely to happen, I suppose. I guess I'll just have to stick to putting their eggs on the bottom of the bag, under a big fat slab of meat. HA! Vengeance. read