Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blast from the past ep.1 - Dat AI!

I really like going through old 2005-2008 posts and articles and uncovering what the game was supposed to be and comparing it to how it turned out. Nostalgia is my drug of choice.
To my surprise a lot of most innovative AOC elements never made it to the live game and those strong points were made it into AOC's weak points.

AI and scripting  was supposed to be most impressive, ground breaking part of AOC.

Just look at it:

We have made this neat AI not to create something we think will revolutionize gaming, making the world "real". I think all such claims are Utopian. We have done this to be able to let the NPCs be a little bit more intelligent than just "quest vendors" or "battle-monkeys" or whatever you will call the behavior of monsters / NPCs in todays MMOs. The NPC’s will approach a player and try to sell stuff, talk to him or interact if appropriate. The NPC’s will have loyalty to their leaders, and various degrees of social abilities.
It is important to note, though, that combat AI is quite a bit more linear. This is because for battles it is most likely more fun to interact with a predictable enemy than someone that seems "random".
ShackNews, 16th June 2006 (Gaute Godager)

It's 2014 and I can't really think of MMO that really pulled that kind of stunt off (or even attempted it). Quest NPC and MOBS pretty much behave the way they used to since ....well since ever I suppose? NPCs just hang out with exclamation marks above their quests and pretty much all you can do in terms of interaction is pick up the quests while reading some dialog (your choices are meaningless). Funcom briefly experimented with "dialog options have consequences" with the launch of ROGS where you could actually offend the NPC and lose that little bit of reputation. That concept was never taken further and is pretty much gone.

One example would be in a village where you will see different behavior based upon the time of the day and also the needs of the person you are encountering. And you'll also see the A.I. working with group behavior. If you are out in the countryside and one wolf is coming along you will probably be spared. But if there's a whole pack of wolf you might be attacked because they will have different behaviors depending on how many there are and also how many players you are with. Hopefully it won't be 100% for real because this is a game. It has to be a parameter of fun. So what is fun and what works will be kept. The player of online rpgs often like to have some hunting grounds, some regions which will be good for that as well. I guess the essence is that it should be to some degree unpredictable, it should be varied, and that is what we are trying to achieve. More than anything it should be fun though!, 2nd April 2006 (Jørgen Tharaldsen)

You can still notice that little bit of AI in animals in Potain (cows will run away when approached). This concept was again brought back in ROGS where some animals are displaying a bit different scripting (like wolf when attacked will call out the rest of his pack to join the fight, water buffalo will protect the calfs and so on). I guess it was supposed to be so much more than that.

With the need based system we are working on now, we can give all NPC's their own mind.. meaning they will be hungry, thirsty, sleepy etc and act accordingly to their emotions and needs. Some NPC's will avoid conflict, others will warn you not to come closer while others again will attack on sight. We are trying to make this as good looking as possible rather than having static NPC's who are just looking at you until you get close enough to fight.
Forums, 14th October 2005 (Mjoellnir)

Unfortunately AOC launched with just three possible "statuses" that NPC can be in: green and not attackable (quest NPCs), yellow-neutral and attackable and red/gray that are hostile and attackable. It is pretty much a standard behavior in all MMOs and it was super ambitious for Funcom to even attempt doing things diffrently. This kind of player-to-NPC interaction is usually reserved for huge, offline RPGs like Skyrim and even those major titles have abundance of game breaking bugs. The potential for AI abuse was huge and I can't imagine how this system would work with dozens of players present near the same NPC.

We can give every single NPC, dynel, item, puzzle, trap, quest and even playfield its own AI script, and this script can be very simple or very complex. That means that the entire world can be controlled with AI, something that give us the possibility to make a good, dynamic environment where nothing really is predictable unless we want it to be!
If I can help it, we will not have static NPC's, other than those who are supposed to stand in a certain area. I don't want to go into more details than I have in some of the other posts, but when we design and script the behavior of animals we try to see how they act in real. A migrating system is interesting and not impossible to implement, so I'll keep it in mind.
Forums, 25th August 2005 (Mjoellnir)
AOC is extremely static game. In fact I am considering that AOC's the biggest flaw. Despite the fact that players have obviously participated in world changing events (like killing Toth-Amon) it never has a bigger impact on the world than 1-2 lines of NPC text that pads the players on the back for killing XYZ. If I had to point to the single biggest blunder I would say that it's Tarantia Noble District where, imagine this, Nemedians have laid siege lasting since 2008. Nemedians are displaying some of the "trench warfare" tactics to say the least. I would love for Nemedian invasion to be a random event that just happens, you know, like invasions usually do?
The idea of dynamic evens was re-visited during path 1.5 with the launch of Tarantia commons. The zone is supposed to have dynamic evens with riots and players being able to control the outcome of the struggle between peacekeepers and rioters. I have always considered that content to be no more than a gimmick and few players ever have bothered with it (it was mostly made to spawn bosses that drop rare recipes). Again in ROGS there is a little more of dynamic elements like ritual in The Temple of Yun in Paikang (the ritual starts at 12:00 server time and player must participate in the dance to earn quest reward). However recent additions to AOC in a form of World Bosses and PvP Festivals are definitely step into right direction since those are dynamic, with limited spawn time and repeatable.  

If Funcom could pull of the AI system it would be revolutionary even now and I cannot imagine how that promise must have pumped people up back in 2005. I wish more of that old systems/concepts were present in the game today, but I can also see how that system could be easily abused and needlessly complicated. 

No comments: