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I don’t really feel like playing the Witcher 3. I’ve played the past two games. I adore them. For most of the past year or two I’ve been frothing-at-the-mouth excited. My body was indeed ready for it. Now I just don’t give a shit.

 

NPCs and PCs in games are just pull-string dolls. I don’t know why I didn’t seem to realize, or at least really care about this until very recently. Geralt’s beard even grows now. It would be funny if you had to pull on it to make it do so.

 

Playing Pillars of Eternity was revelatory for me. My most cherished childhood game is Baldur’s Gate 2. I’ve spent a decade trying to articulate what I thought had been lost in the crpgs that had followed. POE made me realize it was a space for imagination. A controlled _lack_ of representation of events. Tell don’t show.

 

A month after loving it, I don’t know what to feel now. Still integrating. Wondering if it would have made a better book. Inflexible arcs feel like such a waste of a reactive space.

 

I have more production software installed on steam than I have games installed. I spend about an hour a week cruising the steam store trying to find something worth engaging. Drinking tends to follow.

 

I just want to be surprised damnit.

 

 

I hate what RPGs have become, what they’re stuck in.

 

Why is everyone always in the mood to talk to you? If a stranger walked into my room at 3am to buy some daggers they’d get exactly one in the gut. I wish Bethesda had kept their brokenly more complex radiant AI system where people would stab each other for cheese.

 

It’s sad that an npc in fallout becomes more interesting when you hit them with a pipe. From tree structure to a pathfinding attack engine with a tiny pack of data [target pos, armed status, health]. With just those three numbers the possibility space explodes far beyond what the tree of their badly written dialogue dreams of. This is not an endorsement of fallout’s combat. The ‘people’ are worse.

 

Game writers should go back to writing fanfic, campaign booklets, and trade paperback. Pulp plus simon-says is getting old at this point. The model is broken. Ubi and Bioware can’t fucking keep their shit together. The Poles managed to nail it this time around (from all I hear), but it’s still just a salt flat with an inch of water.

 

People aren’t functions. I know you treat retail employees like they’re functions. I watch you yell at then dismiss the barista behind the counter. The tech support guy on the phone doesn’t even have a face. Fix my fucking netflix goddamnit. Maybe it’s why you don’t bore of fantasy world puppet functions.

 

The emergence of the survival genre makes horrifying sense. Let’s not even fucking talk anymore. Give me the items. Give me the crafting. Man vs. nature. Other agents, other people are just objects to be dominated. Great practice for fighting for the scraps of our fucked future.

 

 

Been thinking a lot about my robits in Null Op. What do they want? How do they survive? How do they interact with their space. What would they make of you? In what ways do they exist outside of you. I want them to be not for me but for them.

 

The combat situation in the prior Null Op demo was swell. Chaotic, messy, unpredictable. It worked because I gave the agents a body before I gave them a ‘mind’. A zero-to-one-hundred bar is not body. It is an unquestioned tradition. It is the problem.

 

Your mind is more your body than you wish to admit. Your gut biota are fuckin up your beach body bro. You only enjoy Dopamine and Serotonin. MDMA was better than the best meal, the best sex, the best poem, and the best painting I’ve ever experienced.

 

Our NPC design is trapped in the prison of our bullshit personal narratives. ‘I’ needs to shut the fuck up. The prefrontal cortex is the libertarian douchebag of the brain. He thinks he’s the one that makes everything happen on the dance floor. Sorry Chet, the proletariat keeps the plumbing going, you only think you’re in charge.

 

A simulated model of mind is stale without a model of body. Needs flow upwards from vital pain. Why does no one ever have to take a shit? Or stub their toe. Or cut themselves pulling a dagger out of the sheathe. Or get a concussion. Bleed from the nose. Act erratic from now on. Get depressed all the time. Emotional outbursts. Kill themselves while you’re asleep.

 

Flaws which exhibit only in static branches are not flaws. They are cinematic contrivances. The psychopathy of npcs wears. Manic Pixie Dream Killer. 99 corpses of blood on the floor. Let’s play chess and flirt. BOOM HEADSHOT. Let’s talk about your feelings then fuck. Is this all a reflection of what we think righteous murder would be, or what we actually think it is? With friends like these who needs hit-men.

 

 

So I’m making a body simulation system now. Decided to start with a human. Organs, blood, nerves. If it had a brain it would probably complain that I make its lungs bleed too much. Smoking from 18-28 means my lungs may never feel good again. I should knock some teeth out of this thing once it has some.

 

I like the head space this experiment has had me in. Empathy with a body, even if its numbers, exceeds the puppets I used to play with. A visage isn’t enough. An animation and a sound clip don’t fool me. Your pain goes away when the state machine transitions. My simbody’s nerve damage is permanent. Until I turn off play mode. For now.

 

The human body sim is just a mid-point. Start big, pare back. My robits don’t have limbs after all. It’s a base point, a proving ground, a code structure exercise, a simulation ethics playground, a poetic reflection engine, a cathartic numeric voodoo poll.

 

There go its lungs, bleeding all over the place again.

 

NPCBleeding

 

 

 

8 Responses to “Tangents and Bitangents”

  1. Yhancik

    “I want them to be not for me but for them” is what I loved in STALKER’s AI (or what it initially was supposed to be – or what it was with A-life mods). I love this story from the development of STALKER that a NPC could finish the main quest in your place. I wish they kept it like that.
    Bethesda worlds still insist on making you feel like the centre of the universe. Half-Life 2’s combines were always too obviously put there as obstacles on the player’s route. But in STALKER, you were all in this shit together. It was an interesting achievement (even if they eventually backed up a bit), and it perfectly made sense from a narrative point of view. It ruined many other games for me.

    Reply
    • anton

      Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ve never gotten around to trying out the stalker games (at the time I had read of their incredible instability), but reading makes we want to give it a shot just to study the context. Are their agents persistent/have a perma-death logic to them? Do you have any links to interesting reading about them?

      Reply
  2. Kirk

    I feel similarly about NPCs, to the point that I can’t bear to bring myself to complete any of the RPGs I have installed in my computer. Occasionally I’ll load one up and wander around, but staring at the “press A to talk” that pops up on the screen fills me with dread. Nothing that they say will interest me. It feels so lonely. I don’t want to be the only person in the world. Spelunky is more interesting because the world changes, forces me to adapt. It has rules, and those rules can be learned, are predictable. But it isn’t claiming to be a society; it’s a game in the purest sense of the word. A test of skill.

    I wonder if computer game NPCs are a model for the pure instrumentalization of people under capitalism. The hollowness of the NPC designed to accommodate the sociopathy of the player.

    You sound like you’ve already read some stuff like this, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend Alva Noë’s “Action In Perception” and Hubert Dreyfuss’ “What Computers Can’t Do”. Both are about the centrality of the body’s role in cognition and perception. They are often very critical of the assumptions that underlie computer science and AI research, but I think given your current feelings on video games you may find some empathy in that critique.

    Reply
    • anton

      Your feelings on all this resonate with me deeply. The tone of this whole piece was very much coming from a fitful place, of all the sudden realizing that this thing I’ve loved since I was 12 was not at all the thing I thought it was.
      Regarding your comment on capital, I couldn’t agree more. Though i think this design trend is likely an emergent one. We’ve evolved _from_ a place where these experiences were purely of amusement, challenge and reward, and have then attempted to weld more complex nuanced narrative and character contexts over them. I think the npc-as-function/instrument ends up being a symptom of the underlying narcissistic structure of the experience leaking through.
      Thanks for the reading links! I think I read an excerpt of “What Computers Can’t Do” ages ago, but never the full text. They are both now queued for my evening reading for this week.

      Reply
  3. DasBilligeAlien

    “The emergence of the survival genre makes horrifying sense. Let’s not even fucking talk anymore. Give me the items. Give me the crafting. Man vs. nature. Other agents, other people are just objects to be dominated. Great practice for fighting for the scraps of our fucked future.” I think multiplayer survival games are mostly living of the player to palyer interaction. These moments in Rust when people scream in chat that they dont want to be killed. Ir asking for trade, but they dont trust you so it needs to be a save location. These Player filled worlds are extremly interessting if you give them the right tools.
    In Rust you dont have Zombies or what not. Just Humans. I really like that. But I would love more methogs of communicating.

    Anyway. I think you absolutly right. I feel the same. I want NPCs with an agenda, with desires and i dont know… character?

    PS.: in ARK survival something your player avatar does need to take a shit.

    Reply
  4. Yhancik

    Sorry I’m only seeing your reply now! After a few patches, the STALKER games get reasonably stable. Unfortunately they had to limit a bit the a-life for release.. so for both Stalkers I played, I had to install a mod to make it a bit more free (I’d rather have a more surprising AI at the cost of some bugs, than a smooth but boring experience). I remember reading an interesting article about the evolution of the a-life through the project, but I can’t find it. There’s this more technical one, though http://aigamedev.com/open/interviews/stalker-alife/

    Reply
  5. Cai

    There is a lot of depth to what you have written here. I had a moment playing an MMO when I realized I was playing with a doll, and I felt a bit sick and haven’t played that game since. A doll is like a tricycle for the imagination, an augmentation of bodily machinery, but one that is safe. As an adult, I want the training wheels off. I want a motorcycle, I want something that scares me a bit, and I think that there is something deeply, wonderfully frightening about realism that that MMO was utterly indifferent to. When we see reality mimicked, I think provides a path out of Plato’s allegorical cave, toward some new more higher understanding, though perhaps we are actually being coaxed into it. Either way, it is terrifying and gratifying at the same time, and VR presents a new frontier in, well, reality.

    Have you read Mogworld? It may be a response to the depersonalization of NPCs. Reading it, it was startling to find how much I had missed the experience of being with or being a marginalized character in a video game world. Bending the rules that hold characters in programmatic prisons, either in game or irl, is a wonderful catharsis. Throwing out the rules altogether – the first rule being that the world is LARGER than you – is alienating because it carries the implication that there is something wrong and unacceptable about a vast and uncaring universe, when it is really a wonderful thing, it is the vital pain that you speak of.

    Reply

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