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Old 07-17-2009, 03:41 PM   #1
Drealoth
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Advanced AI in MUDs

The opening chapters of Mat Buckland's excellent book Programming Game AI By Example implements a state machine for a miner and his wife in a mud like world. The miner goes and gets gold, getting a little more thirsty each time, when he's thirsty he goes to the bar and at the end of the day he comes home and sleeps. His wife cooks, cleans and, well, pees. The source code and binaries for his book can be found here: Sample Files for Programming Game AI by Example

His idea here is quite simple, yet the results are quite convincing, especially in a text based world where animations and sounds don't get in the way of the simulation. Yet in MUDs, the behaviour of NPCs has been nothing but wandering around a fixed set of rooms. Of course, for the most part MUDs focus on player to player interaction, but I think that strong AI would at least serve to make the backdrop more convincing.

I close this post with a couple of questions:

To the developers, why do MUDs generally not have good AI? Is it something that players don't care about? Is it too difficult to implement on a large scale? Are these techniques not known or not interesting to MUD developers?

And to the players, do you think that more AI would add significantly to your favourite MUD, or would it just be extra noise?

Finally, if I am mistaken about AI in MUDs being lacking, I would love to be pointed to good examples of it in the wild.
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Old 07-17-2009, 04:06 PM   #2
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

Mobs like that have been around for a long, long time - the mayor of Midgaard in stock Merc, for example, walks around the city locking the gates at night (and unlocking them again in the morning).

The problem is that if you have too many mobs like that, it can end up becoming very spammy. In moderation it looks cool, but too much will end up detracting from the game.
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Old 07-17-2009, 05:48 PM   #3
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

In my game, I have implemented more advance AI with states and whatnot (partly based on the AI game programming book), but not exactly like your miner example.

The problem with your example is that (a) it makes the NPC less predictable which makes it more likely that players will encounter a frustrating situation ("Where did that miner go!"), and (b) most players won't notice AI like that.

However, I do have NPCs follow a 24 hour schedule, and even take breaks to eat. I use the eating, not for spamming, but to get the NPCs interacting with other NPCs during their lunch break. Players can listen in on this interaction and learn something about the NPCs... and use that information to futher the players' own goals, puzzle-like.

I don't do toilet breaks (at the moment) because they don't add anything to the player's understanding of the NPC's personality or puzzles associated with the NPC.
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Old 07-17-2009, 10:43 PM   #4
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

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Originally Posted by Drealoth View Post
To the developers, why do MUDs generally not have good AI? Is it something that players don't care about? Is it too difficult to implement on a large scale? Are these techniques not known or not interesting to MUD developers?

And to the players, do you think that more AI would add significantly to your favourite MUD, or would it just be extra noise?
To add to the points already mentioned, many mobs don't last long enough for AI as described with the miner to make much of a difference.
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Old 07-24-2009, 09:11 PM   #5
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

Mostly there's little point putting in AI like that into a MUD. The mobiles exist almost always to either be killed quickly or to serve as some sort of vending machine. So there's little benefit to the player from going to that much effort. I think that really you have to cut to the core of the game - how will improved AI affect gameplay positively for a player? Perhaps it could make them think more carefully about their combat tactics, or their group composition, or the time of day they attack someone, and so on. But there has to be some sort of real effect on the gameplay for it to be worthwhile, I feel.
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Old 07-24-2009, 10:38 PM   #6
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

I've got an area on my mud that has mobs that go to work, do an after work activity, head back home, go to sleep, and wake up to go to work. Players have to spy on the mobs to solve the main quest. One funny thing is that if you kill the rooster the mobs oversleep.

I wouldn't call this advanced AI though since it's pre-programmed behavior and has nothing to do with intelligence, which is the ability to solve problems.

Quote:
To the developers, why do MUDs generally not have good AI? Is it something that players don't care about? Is it too difficult to implement on a large scale? Are these techniques not known or not interesting to MUD developers?
The main problem is that you can spend a month to create a pc-like NPC that is lousy at PK, or you can spend a minute creating a NPC that slaughters people it doesn't like, or you spend a day creating a mob that cheats and is too good at PK.

DIKU (might have been Merc) did some interesting things, like setting the aggressive + wimpy flag on a mob would make it attack sleeping players. I don't think this flag based behavior has been improved upon much in other codebases.
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Old 07-26-2009, 05:40 PM   #7
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

Many reasons why AI isn't worth it but on NWA the reason is simple: A fully qualified, fleshed out, immensely entertaining AI NPC will never outplay or be as interactive as a roleplayed character.

In a game with only 3 players, sure, you might want some AI running around. Personally, I'd rather interact with players and have coders build a a good, rich environment then have them spend months on a couple Super AI NPC's.
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Old 07-28-2009, 07:27 AM   #8
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

I think it's because MUDs aren't Sims. You don't -need- to know that "generic mob #47" has a full bladder. You don't -need- to know that "generic prostitute #34DDD" is up in bed with "generic customer #extra small" whose wife doesn't appreciate him and who has a fetish for tying up women with feathered boas and tickling their nostrils til they sneeze at least 8 times.

You -do- need to know, in a mud, that "generic mob #47" exists, and that this particular mob is employed by the local constabulary and will arrest or kill you if you break the law. You are given the freedom to assume that at some point during the day when you aren't staring at him, he goes to the bathroom to relieve his bladder. It's okay to assume these things about the mobs. It's also okay to assume that generic mob #47 has a spouse, but she is one of the hundreds if virtual people who are assumed to wander around the city all day long.
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Old 07-28-2009, 08:21 AM   #9
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

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I think it's because MUDs aren't Sims. You don't -need- to know that "generic mob #47" has a full bladder.
In most cases you don't need to, true, but if used in moderation such behaviour can make the world feel more alive - and more immersive.

It could also be tied in quite nicely with various quests/missions. For example, if you've been hired to assassinate Bob the Farmer, it's nice to know that sooner or later he will visit the latrines (or go home), allowing you to kill him without witnesses. In most muds he'd just stand there, perhaps randomly wandering a bit from time to time, and that doesn't really give you the opportunity to use tactics other than brute force to take him out.
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Old 07-28-2009, 07:33 PM   #10
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

I'd argue the typical "intelligent" mobs we see in MUDs (like the Midgaard Mayor) are not really examples of AI. The behavior of these mobs is scripted in the sense that they follow a pre-defined sequence of actions, with little if any variation or ability to recover when things go awry. AI, at least as I think of it, takes in the current situation, compares the probable outcomes of at least a few choices, and selects the best of them to follow.

Revisiting the Midgaard Mayor... his goal is to lock the gates at dusk and unlock them at dawn. It's a simple goal that mainly involves getting from wherever he is to the gate. So the best choice at each step is moving in whichever direction gets him closer to the gate.

On one MUD, I seem to recall that his path through town was hard-coded, so he was broken if anyone managed to push him off or somehow block his path. It would be more intelligent if a path-finding algorithm were applied at each step so he could get to the gate from anywhere in town (even opening doors as necessary).

However, this assumes the Mayor won't find himself in other situations, like a brawl or judging a Miss Midgaard contest. In these cases, his goal is different, and different choices need to be evaluated.
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Old 07-28-2009, 08:05 PM   #11
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

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I'd argue the typical "intelligent" mobs we see in MUDs (like the Midgaard Mayor) are not really examples of AI.
Perhaps not, but like the example used by the original poster, they are state machines that give an (approximate) outward appearance of intelligent behaviour.
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Old 08-06-2009, 10:56 PM   #12
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

Quote:
You don't -need- to know that "generic prostitute #34DDD" is up in bed with "generic customer #extra small" whose wife doesn't appreciate him and who has a fetish for tying up women with feathered boas and tickling their nostrils til they sneeze at least 8 times.
...I'd personally have a blast with my character eavesdropping on "generic customer #extra small" with a friend. Boy, would we talk up a storm in the town square, spreading the gossips about "Mr. #extra small". Perhaps even then a storyteller, immortal or what have you might come down and possess "Mr. #extra small" and have him try to start a brawl room fight with us because his wife left him over the gossip that myself and said friend were spewing. Then perhaps my character might try to sleep with his wife, given the opportunity by said storyteller, although that may be pushing it a bit. I'd personally be happy with a good bar room brawl scene.

As a player, I try to give my characters life. If you, the coder, want to give your world life (unlike so many MUDs out there) then please, I for one encourage it.

Quote:
You don't -need-...
I would really hope that any MUD, given that it's out of beta, would have more of what the players want and already have what they need set and ready for them.

I also hope in that long rant that I answered your original questions, OP. If not, then here's my answer; I would indeed enjoy intelligent AI. Do I expect it? No, because I can understand that that might be a bit too much work, and clutter.
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Old 08-06-2009, 11:37 PM   #13
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

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However, this assumes the Mayor won't find himself in other situations, like a brawl or judging a Miss Midgaard contest. In these cases, his goal is different, and different choices need to be evaluated.
That's the main problem people have with implementing intelligent behavior, they focus too much on accomplishing goals, and not at all at solving basic problems. In most muds mobs don't even know how to open doors, when best to attack a player, or how to compare the relative strength of items when wearing scavenged armor.

Then again, players are likely to quit when an assassin NPC stalks them, waiting for them to go to sleep at low health before backstabbing them, and after a kill loots the best item to add to its current set of equipment.

Nor is it particularly helpful if wimpy mobs run to the nearest guard, who will come to their defense if you attack it. AI sounds great in theory, but in practice I doubt it'll appeal to a large audience.
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Old 08-06-2009, 11:56 PM   #14
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

I think that, ultimately, the value of MOB AI for MUDs depends on the style of the MUD. For an RPI, well-scripted and dynamic AI can be a great thing - for a PK MUD, anything beyond combat behavior is a distraction - and for hack+slash, it is somewhat odd when your immersive MOB is doing more roleplay than the players are. Certainly, for any MUD, AI should be considered in design and utilized to its most effective purpose for that specific game.
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Old 08-16-2009, 10:58 AM   #15
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

> Yet in MUDs, the behaviour of NPCs has been nothing but wandering around a fixed set of rooms.

This is not the case with NiMUD. We have a lamplighter, lunch breaks for our storekeepers, a tax collector, quest-AIs like the Scalleywag Pub, and with the new 'TRACE' feature you can act out the entire day of a MUD person complete with errands, sleeping, waking, breakfast, idiosyncratic behavior, planned interactions (meetings with other MUD AIs), with variations based on day of week, special 'holidays', the year, the weather, etc.

Also, there was this game called Imperium Gothique, based on Merc, which had an entirely simulated town .. but, no one played on it.
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Old 02-11-2010, 10:21 PM   #16
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

When talking AI for games, I think people get too caught up worrying about "realism" and forget to worry about "believability"

What is the difference? Realism is when we talk about making something... well... realistic. I enjoyed a book called "The Deceiver" which was a very realistic book about a spy during the cold war. In only one of the stories did he even cross the Berlin Wall, and that was only due to desperate need, and with a lot of planning. There was lots of signal-passing. Things like driving down a street, and if a particular window is open it means that the contact wants to meet. If the window is open and the curtains are closed, it means the contact thinks they are being followed, etc. The main character never took risks, which is why he was successful. When something even smells like it's not going 100% to plan, they'd pull out - it was a totally fun book because I felt like I was learning about what happened during the Cold War, and learning the techniques used by actual spies. It was very realistic that a spy would act like that. It's a career. They're doing their job. The want to make sure they come home at night and see their family. And, like most jobs, 90% of the time it's just dull and boring.

Believability is the opposite. Believability is when we make a story or event that is not necessarily realistic, but we give enough of "an excuse" that the audience can suspend their disbelief and accept the story as its being told. Alien 3 is a good example. Ripley ends up stuck on a prison colony with an alien queen killing off the inmates. They kill the alien. How realistic is that? Not very. If we look at everything we know about the aliens from the other movies, they can kill entire colonies. They killed trained marines who were armed to the teeth. Realistically, with the tools, support, and information that Ripley had, she should have died. But realism sometimes sucks when telling stories. What is *believable* is that there was a tough prison dude who teams us with her (because he also wants to kill the thing) and that they come up with a plan. An elaborate death trap involving molten metal? Not very realistic. But since the prison was an iron foundry, it's *believable* that they are able to pour large amounts of molten metal, and create a death trap. Ripley has to run down the corridor to flee the alien, a highly risky proposition. There are many near misses. There is an exciting climax. The rescue team arrives just a moment later, when the threat is taken care of. Realistically, considering they are *travelling through space* it's more likely the rescue team could either get there extremely quickly, or they'd have to wait weeks or longer, depending on the level of technology. What are the chances of them arriving within 30 seconds of the alien being killed? Never going to happen like that. But it's *believable* because we know the message was sent out, we know people are coming, we know the company wants a specimen. So it's believable that people arrive. And we know that it's unlikely, but possible for them to arrive at that moment. And we know it'd be much less dramatic if they don't arrive. So we accept it.

There are certainly story elements that might not be believable. I find many elements of Twilight unbelievable. The characters have been through the last few years of high school about two hundred times, but nobody notices? In the modern day of computerized school records? And they choose to continually go to school, despite the higher chances of getting caught, of needing to make excuses on sunny days, and the complete boredom that must overwhelm them when learning the same thing *again*? Wouldn't it be easier to, y'know, just tell people that you're home schooled? - I find that unbelievable. Give me a reason, give me an excuse to believe it. It doesn't take much. Maybe they usually don't go to school, but to establish their new identities they need to create a paper trail, including school records? Maybe there is something about the vampire psychology that makes them want to seek out others of their apparent age? Maybe Edward just loves learning, and wants access to the school library? Any of those excuses would work, but I need to have a reason, something to explain the otherwise silly behavior. Without that reason, it is unbelievable.

So, sorry for writing an essay already... how does this tie into muds? Easy. We shouldn't worry about realism. We're not building a simulator, we're building a game.
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Old 02-11-2010, 10:23 PM   #17
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

One of the biggest sins of game design is when you create content that isn't used. Half-life had this great mechanic, where some creatures could track by the smell of blood. That means that if you get injured, and they come across somewhere you've been, they'll follow that trail back to you. And if you flee, they'll be able to find you again, while the other creatures wouldn't. But know what? Who cares. No players knew that feature even existed! I only discovered it because I was reading the source code documentation. Why? Because whenever you see one of the creatures, you shoot it until it's dead. To make that mechanic meaningful, the game designers would have needed to make me aware of it, and give it a use. Maybe if I left a blood trail, and there were animations of the creatures specifically going to the trail, and sniffing it as they followed. And if I had some way of hiding, so I could see them doing that. And then some puzzle that makes use of it (maybe a network of air vents, with grates, so I can see where they are and what they're doing. And have a need to get the creatures to somewhere specific. So they could then "lead" the creatures with their blood)
THEN it's meaningful. Until that point, the programmers wasted their effort. They might as well just had the creatures run towards the player.

So... if an NPC needs to pee... how does that affect me, the player?
If I'm talking to the NPC, will they walk off to pee? If I walk into the bathroom, will they continue talking, or chase me out? Will they make comments about needing to go to the bathroom? Can I collect their pee in a jar, and use it for something? Can I booby trap the toilet?

Unless your NPC is going to do something with their pee, or unless you're able to do something with their pee or the fact that they're peeing... please... just leave it out of the game. All it can do is distract the players.

I'm not saying that the NPC shouldn't pee. I'm saying, if you put that code in, *make it meaningful*

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The problem with your example is that (a) it makes the NPC less predictable which makes it more likely that players will encounter a frustrating situation ("Where did that miner go!"), and (b) most players won't notice AI like that.
Making the NPC less predictable is fine, if that is worked into the game. For example, instead of the miner always standing outside his mine, he might wander around, or be inside digging, or whatnot - as long as the player has a way of finding him, then it's fine. If I can walk up to any other NPC and say "ask about miner" and they say "Oh, he's probably at the bar right now" or "He'll be in the eastern mine" then I can still find him. But does this unpredictability add anything? In some cases, yes. Maybe I can try mining gold while he's not there to spot me, and knowing where he is can let me guess how much time I have. Or maybe NPCs can report crimes, so if I'm fighting someone, and the miner walks in, I get jail time. Or maybe he helps out friends, so if I'm friends with him, and I'm fighting someone and he walks in, he pulls out his pickaxe and joins the fight. But if he does none of these things? Then the only reason not to have him just standing in the same spot would be because it seems silly that NPCs never move. In that case, just having a few random locations where he can be found would achieve the same goals. During the day he's at the mine. In the evenings he's at the bar. At night he's nowhere (and we assume he's at his house) - we don't need to know how thirsty he gets, we can *assume* he gets thirsty from mining.

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I don't do toilet breaks (at the moment) because they don't add anything to the player's understanding of the NPC's personality or puzzles associated with the NPC.
Exactly.

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The mobiles exist almost always to either be killed quickly or to serve as some sort of vending machine.
Depends on the mud, but yes. Nobody wants a vending machine to move.

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Originally Posted by Kylotan View Post
how will improved AI affect gameplay positively for a player? Perhaps it could make them think more carefully about their combat tactics, or their group composition, or the time of day they attack someone, and so on. But there has to be some sort of real effect on the gameplay for it to be worthwhile, I feel.
Mmmm hmm. Although in more social games, there are other ways of making things meaningful. A very simple example, in Ironclaw we had a plot about how there was a lot of crime happening lately in a certain section of the city. The "NPC vending machines" started vanishing at night, rather than staying in the same place, and some of them moved to new, safer locations. The NPCs couldn't actually be hurt... but that's not the point. The players feel like evenings happening in the game have an effect on NPCs - and also an effect on themselves. They have a 50% chance of not being able to use the vending machines until the current plot is resolved (and it gets resolved by player action, not by staff deciding that it's gone on long enough)

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Many reasons why AI isn't worth it but on NWA the reason is simple: A fully qualified, fleshed out, immensely entertaining AI NPC will never outplay or be as interactive as a roleplayed character.
Yes. But they can solve other roles. For example, a guard on a door. No player wants to stand there stopping anyone from entering 24/7 - but it's ideal for an NPC. What's more, if the NPC is placed there by a PC, it becomes a meaningful PC action. A player can protect the door by choosing to put an NPC guard there, without having to stay online. Presumably their supply of guards is limited, or costs them something.

NPCs are also good for things like running shops (the player might be able to hire an NPC and give it items to sell) delivering messages (an NPC runner could send an in-game letter, rather than having some game paging or chat channel) reacting to PC actions (they might clap and cheer if a skilled PC plays the violin, or laugh if a PC fails an acrobatics roll) and the like.

NPCs can also help set the tone. If it's winter, having NPCs that make snowmen and throw snowballs at each other sets a very different feeling than if they shelter around burning barrels trying to keep warm, and moan about how they don't have enough food to last the winter. In Ironclaw, for that "setting the tone" we cheat quite heavily - in crowded areas there are general, random emotes describing passer-by actions like that, but we don't actually put an NPC object into the room. That makes it very easy for us to just edit the list of random emotes when things change.
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Old 10-08-2010, 10:59 PM   #18
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

One of the best (working) examples I've seen of AI in muds so far would be that on many of the animal NPCs in the wild in certain areas on Armageddon.

Experimenting a bit with the coffeemud platform, I think they probably have a lot more code in place to ALLOW the npcs to be much more intelligent and interactive (such as the speech databases, various other scripted behaviors and so on), but the issue there is finding a coffeemud that's not just out and out H&S, where the staff have taken time to USE this intricate code.
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Old 10-10-2010, 12:46 AM   #19
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

In my experience, affirmed by reading this thread, 3 distinct types of game AI behavior can be separated out:
1. Behavior based on a daily/monthly/etc. cycle.

2. Behavior based on/triggered by PC arrival/action/etc.

3. Behavior during battle.
While each of these can take many forms and soar to new heights of 'realism', I'd like to add another vote for not wasting time on any behavior that's not made part of a player goal.

In my world, some talented builders used mob scripts in the 90's to creatively incorporate #1 and #2 into some mid- and high-level zones. Daily cycles make certain mobs vulnerable/accessible in a restricted but predictable way. Triggers, of course, make sure that the little stage-play only unfolds when there are human eyes watching (no trees falling in an empty forest).

As for #3 (battle behavior), stock DIKU has mob memory and hunting mobiles that can cross the whole world, regardless of size, if you let them. With stock support for customized attack messages, some builders have done a good job of giving their bosses "special" attacks. In a few instances, special procedures for mobs were added to manipulate the environment in a super-magical sort of way (opening passages between rooms, melting or changing items players carry, whatever else can't be done in script)

I know there are levels beyond and above that, but unless you're talking turn-based, who can really absorb more than that in real time? To put things in perspective, MUDs are already impossibly hard for most people. And even turn-based games with advanced AI like the Civilization series just throw CPU cycles and increasingly complex relational databases at our (let's face it) nerdy selves, not "texture" or "lifelike" behaviors. It's not an accident that when most people hear AI, they think "Deep Blue" and not "the Mayor of Midgaard who can have an impromptu conversation about the medicinal qualities of unicorn dust." It's the state of the technology. Sure, I can waste a lifetime coding unicorn dust conversations only to find that some players really want to talk about fairy dust. And most players, of course, don't really want to talk at all.

On a final note, I believe a lot more in a lot less time can be accomplished by simple trickery. The player doesn't know or care what happens in the magical city when they're not there. But if they get there and someone tells them "You're too late!" and if, while leaving, someone tells them "We'll never forget what you did!" then they'll feel like the city has a life of its own, before and after them. Illusion is cheap, and effective. I think that's because people come to a game expecting to be tricked. While trickery is part of entertainment, reproducing the complexities of their mundane world, in all its hunger and pee, is not--it's what they're running away from.
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Old 10-31-2012, 05:08 AM   #20
jeremystratton
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Re: Advanced AI in MUDs

I think Guild Wars 2 has shown that an overwhelming number of people like it, or at the worst, it doesn't interfere with those that don't care.

In the world of graphical MMOs, mobs behaved pretty much like they do in MUDs, except for GW2 now.

They built events around completely circular activities that NPCs undertake, and many of them interact with each other during part of each of their separate activities.

An NPC tells his son to get a boar head for a feast while he goes and gets wood for a fire. They play out all those actions; each getting into more activities, to eventually come back around to the beginning.

I like that, especially in a world that tries to be a world and not a videogame. In that sense, it always affects the players.
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