It is hard to imagine most video games without the huge array of other characters programmed to either fight you, assist you or even guide you. Even if you do not know what a Non-Player Character (NPC) is, you must remember Nigel from the Dwayne Johnson film Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. This 2017 remake of the classic film is based on a fictional video game of the same name, so this live-action movie features many common aspects of standard video games. You’ve got character features, lives, maps, levels, and of course, NPCs. Nigel is the first NPC you meet and acts as a guide to the players. He is characterised by the fact that he speaks and acts like a human player, but cannot do anything beyond what he was programmed to do.
Since the inception of video games, NPCs have been an integral part of every gaming experience. Apart from the characters in multiplayer games controlled by a real human being, NPCs are often necessary to move the plot along.
The massive impact that technology has had on the gaming industry is rather evident, and it has also significantly changed the way NPCs function. The next time you take a break from work, struggling to combine pdfs, take a closer look at the way NPCs in your favourite game behave.
NPCs in the past
Believe it or not, NPCs were first found in tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons. Sure, this was not a video game, and all players were humans, but one among them took on the role of a gamemaster or a dungeon master. This person did not get involved in the actual game. He set the scene, instructed the players, and was also in charge of enforcing various rules.
Then emerged video games and arcade games. Video games in the past were often single player and having a world filled with objects, without other characters besides the player would have been unthinkable. Imagine how strange Ms Pacman would have been if it didn’t have the four monsters/ghosts. While two of these ghosts followed a specific pattern of movement, the other two moved a bit more randomly. This meant that players could not plan out a particular strategy based on predictable movement patterns.
While NPC typically refers to characters who are bystanders or helpful to players, hostile NPCs are usually called mobs or enemies.
NPCs in the past were controlled by the computer after being designed by a team of developers who essentially played the role of a game master. They designed them in a way that NPCs carried out certain actions once the player did something or clicked on a specific dialogue. The player’s actions that triggered NPC behaviour could be anything from movement to attacks. A few games from the past even gave players the ability to change the script of the NPCs and modify their behaviour.
In RPGs of the past, the NPCs appeared alongside dialogues that gave the player a basic understanding of what type of character it was. While they gave insights about the game, they also responded to the player’s in-game dialogues. As the years passed, the NPC characters became a bit more advanced, and players could now choose from an array of options while interacting with these NPCs. The NPC behaviour and dialogue changed according to the option chosen and even affected the progress of the game.
Advancements in the field of NPCs
Today, game developers are much more innovative about determining the player’s abilities in the game. The Last of Us 2, one of the biggest releases in 2020, featured two characters that the player could control and a huge assortment of NPCs that interacted with them. What made this concept even more interesting was that the two playable characters were enemies and the player got to know about each person’s side and fight with different abilities. But towards the end, when they faced each other in combat, one of the characters turned into an NPC while the player controlled the other.
Artificial Intelligence has also become a big part of the gaming world the same way it has affected most other industries. With the help of AI, developers today can create NPCs who can make more unique decisions rather than follow a script. NPCs can change their tactics when the player makes a particular move, and enemy NPCs can even think together to come up with better strategies.
We have come a long way from the simple ghosts that chase you as you try to reach your goal. You must be familiar with the “bots” in multiplayer shooting games such as PUBG or Call of Duty. These are AI-controlled NPCs designed to mimic the behaviours of a human player. You will often encounter these bots when you first start playing the game or if there aren’t enough human players to constitute teams. While many of these bots are easy to defeat, there are also ones who can give you a run for your money. These bots are obviously designed to find and attack you while following specific strategies.
The world can no longer survive without video games. Apart from being a billion-dollar industry, it is also the primary source of entertainment for many around the world. NPCs have always been an integral part of any gaming experience, and in the future, we can expect them to be even more advanced.
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