What If?

What if it were possible to simulate real-life people’s actions in an MMO, but in with NPCs? I’m not talking about the standard, brain-dead mobs that populate MMOs now. I mean what if it were possible to simulate the wildness or randomness of human players to a convincing degree? Would people still play with others?

I’m asking because the current playstyle really isn’t all that massive. In MMOs now people either solo, or exist in small groups with little real interaction except background. The only real interaction happens when you pit player versus player: otherwise once players settle into an MMO, they tend to act in small groups or guilds. If the experience was much smaller, against much smarter AI wouldother players matter as much as we think they would?

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3 Responses to What If?

  1. Tesh says:

    It really does seem to me that for all the “massive” arguments over the nature of MMOs, indeed, we tend to play solo or in small groups. That’s perhaps a function of human nature.

    Direct interactions tend to be small scale and with a “guild” of people that we see relatively frequently. Indirect interactions are the foundation of the larger groups of people, from town to state to country to world. We have this notion that there are other people “out there” doing their thing, but we don’t particularly care about them.

    I think it’s that indirect sphere that NPCs can populate easily (like the Death Knight starting questline, with the town being ransacked) to believable status. It’s the direct interaction that is harder to fudge with NPCs, and why static questgivers are so unbelievably silly. A more robust AI would be useful in selling the world, to be sure. *Any* AI beyond “stand here and dispense quests” would be a step up.

    We see a little of that in PvE combat with Guild Wars henchmen and heroes.

    That’s all a bit tangential, though…

    If we’re talking about AI that can stand on par with PvP players, I’m not sure that will ever replace humans. I can play against the computer in Street Fighter, and it’s just not the same as playing against a player. Sure, AI could be written that simulates a random human, or a world champion player, but at some level, PvP is about mind games and reading your opponent, including playing hunches and experimentation. AI doesn’t function the same way with current tech.

    Also, if we *could* write AI that could pass a PvP-flavored Turing test, perhaps we should be using it for other things, say, industry or engineering. Games are lower-impact places to test out new AI, but they really aren’t the best use of cutting edge tech.

    …all that aside, if AI could simulate other players, I think that personal preference comes into play. I enjoy playing GW with henchmen and heroes, but sometimes I still want to play with other players. Maybe it’s just the chat, maybe it’s the randomness, maybe it’s just curiosity, but AI doesn’t cover all the bases. If it could, though, and we never needed other players, well… yes, it would change the social tapestry of a game.

    That’s why I’ll never agree with game design philosophy that demands devs make games where players *need* other players. That should be a playstyle choice the player makes, not a game design mandate from on high. Then again, when I’m making a game, it’s all about giving players tools and toys. Some devs want to play Big Brother and mold players to their ideal. Sometimes that’s about money, sometimes it’s philosophical. It just isn’t the way I play or design games.

  2. Tesh says:

    …which is to say, if a game were made such that AI could replace players, I’d consider it another tool or toy, and not be bothered at all. It would allow another playstyle to flourish, and that’s fine with me.

  3. Dblade says:

    If I remember right they actually did a fighting game with AI modeled after real people. Virtua Fighter 4 had a “quest” mode where you fought against NPCs, some based on the top players in Japan. Usually though AI is too rule-based to making CPU fighting fun.

    Thanks for the comment as always Tesh

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