Wilhelm, over on The Ancient Gaming Noob, had a great post yesterday about the Saleman of Waterdeep. It was about his encounter with a wandering NPC in the town of Waterdeep, a location in the TorilMUD. It was just a script, this salesman, and fooled even itself as it encountered another script and tried to sell it stuff. (Proof positive that your computer does have a sense of humor.)
He mentions the robotic NPCs of Everquest I, and the better, but still not perfect NPC’s of Everquest II.
We’re on the right track with our new MMOs. They certainly look better. And we all know the “wandering salesmen” of our Warhammer and Warcraft worlds, slowly wandering paths outside of established population centers. Always looking to buy your garbage, and perhaps sell you rare items, if they’ve got it in stock, or give you a quest, or reward you for something.
I propose a new kind of NPC. Your best friend in the whole wide world.
He, or she, is only in existence when you log on, and returns to the ether when you log off. The all-knowing game engine, the GE, created them, maybe more than one NPC, specifically for you.
See, the Game Engine knows what you need. It sees your character, it knows what’s in your banks and bags. (Albeit it would not know what you’ve given to another player to hold in trust for you. That could be a hiccup here.) You’re a Witch Hunter, say, and you’ve never seen a Witch Hunter hat drop, not in nearly 100 hours of playing. Or you’re a Shaman, you raid, but you still have one green item equipped. Those bracers you’ve yet to find a replacement for.
“Random Chance?! Get thee behind me!” Because here is what I propose, and I think it’s kind of cool.
The Game Engine generates an in-game NPC, that’s got a quest, or quest chain, for you, and completing that quest will get you your hat or those bracers. It’s got what you need.
But it’s got to be slicker than that. It’s not a handout. This NPC does not simply spawn in front of you upon log in.
It should be an independent NPC, that’s got the programmed know-how on how to navigate a city, or a village and it’s surroundings. Remember the bots from Quake and how they were programmed to handle terrain and act intelligently?
You won’t know he or she is out there either. It’d be like winning a lottery, though with much better odds (or where would the fun be?), when the game decides to hook you up with a friend that’s programmed to go out and track you down. (Remember, it’s not a freebie.) And if you’re looking, maybe they’ll catch your eye and you’ll meet up more quickly. (I picture a Witch Hunter spotting a lost looking Human in the Dwarf city.) “Fritz!” “Mannfred! It’s been too long!”
Coach this friend in terms of a long-lost childhood friend who’s tracked you down. Probably your race, from your starting town. This friend’s heard you’ve become a Witch Hunter, or a Shaman, and “Ain’t that great?” Then, “Say, maybe you haven’t heard about…” and off we go. Come up with various quest chains, nothing anyone couldn’t solo, but not trivial, that this friend turns you on to. Complete the quests and acquire exactly what the Game Engine thinks you need. Soulbound/Bind to Player, and zero sale value, of course, and not disenchantable perhaps.
The quests would be level appropriate. Mid 30′s and your long lost buddy will send you to Stranglethorn Vale, perhaps. (Some friend, eh? Might explain the “long lost” part.)
“Fritz, your head. Now aren’t you cold? This autumn is particularly cold. I can’t bear the thought of you catching a cold. Hmm. You know, there’s a doctor I know. He has some friends in your line of work. You’ll find him with Breuers Regiment. Go see him. Tell him I sent you.”
Remember, not everyone will have a friend active at the same time, so the world won’t be swamped with NPCs looking for players. I think once a friend is spawned for someone, there should be a reasonable lifespan for it. Not indefinite, but a few weeks. Other players will see it, might wonder if it’s their friend, but won’t otherwise get anything from it. Other than a “Say, don’t I … no, that’s not you.”
This could introduce any number of “one-off” types of quests into the game. Not everyone will do every one of them, and no reason they couldn’t do the same ones that other people do, and random chance dictates. It’s really unlimited of what can be offered to the player.
Personalized online gaming, with more friends than you knew looking out for you. That would add a little more life to things.