Not everyone can play online with GamesRadar editors. For starters, there’s just no way to get our Gamertags out to everyone. For another reason, we don’t want to play with most of you. It’s because of this (and arguably other necessitating reasons) that the non-player character, or NPC, was created. The goal of these characters is to create, as closely as possible, real people, when there aren’t real people to play with.
But we haven’t met a game that could fool us yet. Though some basic human interactivity can be simulated realistically, such as true love (see image, right). Complex emotions, like the feeling of having a teammate whose fatalistic attitude won’t cause him or her to b-line for the nearest inescapable death, have yet to be artificially recreated.
Will scripting and AI ever replace the experience of playing a game with other people? Yeah, they will. As of right now, however, there’s a huge list of things (eight of them) that your average artificial teammate is more likely to pull than actually “help.” We don’t know why we put “help” in quotes. Here are the biggest problems, gripes and ethical dilemmas created by having NPCs for teammates.
1. Sometimes they drive.
If a computer could drive a car, we’d all have robot chauffeurs to take us everywhere.
Most vehicles have at least two seats. One of the seats has a gun in it and the other usually has the steering wheel. Technically, you can usually pick whichever seat you’d like, kick your feet up and enjoy the ride like it was your mom’s minivan. The difference is that if you take the lovely woman who raised you out of the driver’s seat and replace her with a marine from Halo, you’ll end up off a cliff, parked on a live grenade or driving up the wrong side of the road, because – as with all NPC drivers – they can’t comprehend the distance of objects in the rear view mirror.
2. They laugh in the face of danger.
We appreciate our artificial buddies’ enthusiasm, but there’s a fine line between bravery and foolhardiness, and for most NPCs, any slenderness in that boundary just makes the line easier to step over.
Fallout 3’s most dangerous creatures often have ways of being dealt with besides running at them behind a protective wave of bullets – but not if you’re teamed up with an NPC buddy. For example, we unleashed this Super Mutant Behemoth on some unaware raiders and while we were perched on a comfortable vantage point, watching the helpful carnage unfold, we began to wonder what happened to our helpful buddy Fawkes.
Our will to survive is one of our most basic instincts. Therefore, shouldn’t a survival instinct be one of the first lines of code in a character’s artificial routine? Maybe something along these lines:
If (enemy is much bigger than me)
then (don’t run up to him and shoot him in the shin)
See, that’s how (we think) coding is done. Ctrl-c and ctrl-v that stuff into Fallout 4, please.
3. They laugh in the face of moving out of the doorway.
Have you ever been late for work because someone was standing in your hallway and you couldn’t get around them? Do you sometimes go to the grocery store but you can’t get out the sliding door for a similar reason? That’s right, neither of those things ever happen.
Above: Zoey is an unusual NPC, in that she’s always courteous and rarely gets in the way
If you’re the type of person who regularly finds him or herself walking into other people, you’re not doing a good job. If you’ve ever gotten stuck in a grocery store, you’re the only one. Nobody has been stuck in a grocery store because those automatic sliding doors are more intelligent than your average AI companion.
Above: Francis on the other hand…
4. Sometimes they die, and therefore, you die (of sadness, presumably).
This is only cool in real life. In fact, each editor at GR has a device attached to his or her heart that corresponds to an analogous device secretly planted in a world leader of their choice. Don’t worry, though, they don’t do anything until one of our hearts stop beating.
But what does this have to do with games? For us, nothing. But for other gamers, those who can’t protect NPCs with an unflinching vigilance and 100 percent accuracy rating, sometimes innocent people can die. There’s nothing worse than having an AI controlled character not defend itself well enough and cause a gameover. Like this:
It’d be nice for the developers to include a second option, or better yet, we’d like to play with someone smart enough not to get killed without close adult supervision – either solution is acceptable, though.
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