On the western shore of the United States, there’s a theme park of some renown, what some may call the final form of our Manifest Destiny. Here, under the watchful guidance of Walt Disney Company Inc, you will be transported (via the enchanted parking lot) to a magical dreamworld, filled with employees whose primary job description is to be photogenic and smiling while interacting with the natives. This interaction does not require much in the way of coaching, as for the most part it is governed by a single, ironclad rule.
Don’t break character.
There are limits, of course. Captain Jack Sparrow cannot commandeer the nice woman’s Mercedes 500SL, hoist an Oakland Raiders flag on the hood and sail down the 405 while downing a bottle of rum. Yo Ho No, that is not allowed. What the Walt Disney Company asks is that its employees confine themselves to the rules of the universe as defined by current legislation. Thus Captain Jack does his best to be a charming, quirky, drunken but law abiding pirate, posing for pictures whilst casually slipping a note to Billy’s mother to inquire whether she would like to partake in sexual intercourse at a later date and time.
As a result, there is no grand theft auto, no lesson in the danger of dealing with pirates. The only theft that occurs is done legally, through the respected practices of corporate scrips, overpriced merchandise and unfair labor practices. Yet this is besides the point.
The point is, the rule of not breaking character is an important one, in that it works. The consequences for failing to adhere to said rule is immediate termination. As such, in the land of princesses, pirates, and Plutos, immersion is rarely broken. The same rule could be applied to games.
The first Neal Stephenson novel I ever read was The Diamond Age, which is analogous to watching The Matrix Reloaded before The Matrix (Needless to say I failed to understand the hullabaloo over the author until after I purchased my copy of Snow Crash). However, one thing I did enjoy about the age o’ diamond was the concept of the Ractor – actors whose everyday job was to play a role in a virtual reality.
I imagine a typical (r)actor would wake up every morning, log into the universe, and play the role of a shopkeeper, farmer, or tavern wench. They would respond to all the player’s banter, inane or quest related, sticking to that most sacred of rules, never break character. When the actor logged off to resume their daily life, the NPC would sleep, and if awoken they would offer a handful of pre-recorded responses, while politely asking the player to go to bed. The hours would be staggered, the work days varied, all to ensure the world achieved verisimilitude. This is a game I would like to play.
You may see where this is going. This is partly because you are clever, but mostly because you are reading a blog about Interesting NPCs. However, the goal of the mod is not to become a magical kingdom (although it could be easily bought by Walt Disney Inc, for the right price, interested buyers please contact my agent for details). The NPCs have been given dialogue that offers both freedom of choice and freedom from choice, because while the responses are varied, they ultimately keep you on topic. You cannot grief the actor and try to poke them like the Queen’s Guard, because the actor has already recorded their lines. Their character is unbreakable. The goal isn’t realism, but immersion.
If virtual reality is a defibrillator, then Interesting NPCs is mouth to mouth, with a little bit of tongue action. It is a simple and easy way to give your universe life.