I think we should include a bit of AEGIS with PEGASUS with a little of AEGISUS thrown in for good measure.
May I add yet another acronym to this fracas?
To go back to what Josh originally said
about NPC traits, these are the five things he suggested that NPCs would need to decide about "in the NPC's evaluation of the world" (followed by the one side of his AEGIS axes related to each of those five kinds of actions):
- Death (aggressive)
- Information (explorative)
- Money (greedy)
- Technology (intellectual)
- Relationships (sociable)
It's been a month now since he posted that, so his plans for world-gameplay actions might have changed since then. But assuming they're still valid, I hope it's OK if I offer a modified version of what I described in this post
. I'd now like to suggest the following six axes for personality traits:
- Feeling (prefers to understand the meaning of things) / Thinking (prefers to know how things work)
- Reserved (prefers to have a few close allies) / Sociable (prefers to have many acquaintances)
- Aggressive (prefers quick action) / Cautious (prefers to assess situations before acting)
- Creative (prefers to add new resources) / Conserving (prefers to minimize usage of existing resources)
- Acquisitive (prefers to keep the profits of winning) / Charitable (prefers to help others do well)
- Sociopathic (care only about themselves) / Empathic (care about other people)
AEGIS and PEGASUS are nice acronyms, to which I offer FRACAS.
These six trait axes apply in the following ways to (my versions of) Josh's five action areas plus the proposed "morality" action area:
- Research (Technology)
- Feeling NPCs trust their emotions for making decisions, not cold technology
- Thinking NPCs prefer to solve problems through new inventions
- Relationships [Factions?]
- Reserved NPCs like to operate independently of other NPCs
- Sociable NPCs are comfortable belonging to organizations
- Combat (Death)
- Aggressive NPCs are willing to take survival risks for immediate gain
- Primary: tends to attack directly; ignores damage to their assets
- Secondary: willing to take big risks for potentially big financial gains
- Cautious NPCs avoid survival risks and generate plans before acting
- Primary: tends to use local environment to snipe; runs if damaged
- Secondary: prefers to build capital slowly through investment in "sure things"
- Resource Management (Information)
- Creative NPCs seek to expand resources through discovery of the unknown
- Primary: exploration of unknown space
- Secondary: prefers researching new base technologies
- Conserving NPCs seek to preserve scarce resources by emphasizing what's known
- Primary: defense of existing assets (e.g., ships, territory, structures, people)
- Secondary: prefers to research modifiers to existing base technologies
- Commerce (Money)
- Acquisitive NPCs seek to maximize their financial gains
- Primary: prefers actions that improve production capabilities
- Secondary: explores in order to find new resources to exploit
- Charitable NPCs seek to do well enough by helping others do well
- Primary: prefers actions that improve trading capabilities
- Secondary: explores to make connections to new civilizations
- Sociopathic NPCs don't consider the reactions of other characters when making choices
- Empathic NPCs carefully weigh the reactions of other characters when making choices
The above formulation does a few things I believe are useful:
1. It changes some of the words from Josh's AEGIS terms -- and their opposites -- so that none of them are clearly negative traits ("greedy," "close-minded," "primitive," etc.). Instead, the words I suggest for both sides of each axis are all generally positive. They only become negative when taken to extremes.
To explain this, suppose each axis goes from -5 to 0 to +5. A -3 on the Aggressive/Cautious axis would denote an NPC who is willing to take some reasonable chances for a potentially valuable reward, while a -5 would indicate an NPC who has no sense of self-preservation and will almost always choose the most aggressive option available.
By generating NPCs according to a bimodal curve, with peaks around -2.5 and +2.5, you get a universe where most characters are pretty reasonable -- they have distinct interests but aren't raving lunatics in some way. In other words, most NPCs you'll encounter aren't all "0" on every axis (boring!), but they aren't a -5 or +5, either. (Although some will be.
) Most NPCs will have normal-strength preferences, allowing the universe to function but still permitting some outliers to keep things interesting.
As usual, it would be great if this curve is something players could tweak at world-generation time. I'd like to be able to select:
- a "boringverse" derived from a 0-centered bell curve
- a bimodal distribution with peaks around -2.5 and +2.5
- a flat line (no curve), meaning that all possibilities are equally likely
- a "crazyverse" from an inverse bell curve with peaks at -5 and +5
(Note: "Sociopathic/Empathic" is the exception to the attempt above to use positive terms to describe each trait axis according to the "normal"-level preferences on both sides of the axis. The Sociopathic NPC is a -5 to the Empathic NPC's +5. The -2.5 and +2.5 positions on this axis might be something like "Independent" and "Caring" respectively.)
2. I believe the "Structured / Unstructured" preference is actually pretty important for real people. (My Gamasutra article on gamer play styles explains why.)
But I don't think it's as useful for Limit Theory. It seems like what Josh is after in the Relationships area is just a way of deciding whether an NPC is likely to join a faction or to prefer to operate solo. I think the Reserved / Sociable axis covers that pretty well.
3. Defining morality as "considering the reactions of others" reduces the performance cost of letting NPCs test the reactions of other NPCs to their planned actions.
Josh feels it would be too expensive for every NPC to recursively assess the reactions of all affected NPCs to their planned actions. Defining morality as "considering the reactions of others" instantly reduces the number of NPCs who would do this kind of assessement as only the more Empathic NPCs would need to check reactions. Average NPCs would only check one level deep of their closer allies, while Sociopathic NPCs wouldn't need any reaction checking at all.
If any amount of testing what another character might think is just always going to be unacceptably expensive, then morality is still useful if it's implemented as a number indicating how much the NPC cares about what happens to other characters. To decide whether to take some action, that static number could be multiplied by the likely damage to another character if the planned action is carried out successfully -- a high result reduces the value of that action in the NPC's planning. Some algorithm for guessing at the "likely damage" of an action will be needed, but I believe that's mandatory if indirectly peeking into another character's brain is off-limits.
4. Three of the personality trait axes are specific to one (each) of the gameplay action areas of Limit Theory, while three have a primary on one area of play and a secondary effect on another area.
Research, Relationships and Morality are simple gameplay areas; their traits apply only to those areas. You either like new tech or you don't; you like to be around people or you don't; and you care what other people think or you don't.
Combat, Resource Management and Commerce are more complex. The trait axes for these gameplay action areas do apply directly to those areas, but they also apply in a secondary way to three other areas. Specifically:
- Combat preferences have a secondary effect on Commerce (how money gets made)
- Resource Management preferences have a secondary effect on Research (base techs or modifiers)
- Commerce preferences have a secondary effect on Resource Management (explore for resources or to meet new people)
The value of this is twofold. First, it provides a well-defined way to calculate an NPC's preferences for certain specializations within a main gameplay area. For example, the preference for Creating versus Conserving is mostly about Resource Management -- it determines whether the NPC prefers to explore to find new stuff or make the most of what they've already got. But that preference also pretty neatly (I think) explains why an NPC for whom Research is the most important action area would rather look for new base technologies or expand on the base techs they've already unlocked.
The second virtue of this minor complexification is that it makes NPCs not quite as one-dimensional. People don't usually focus monomaniacally on just one goal. By letting trait preferences have effects on more than one gameplay action area (such as Research being affected by both Feeling/Thinking and Creative/Conserving), most NPCs become a little more plausible as people and a little less easy to manipulate.
I think this feels right for a game like Limit Theory. Others, though, may feel that being able to easily manipulate NPCs is an important gameplay element. If something like this were to be implemented, it would need to be tested to make sure it's fun for the majority of the intended players of Limit Theory.