Return to “Suggestions”

Post

NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#1
I've been browsing the forums for a few days now and I notice that there are lots of ideas around stuff like this, but the threads are huge and complicated and full of arguments. I'm curious how Josh/the forum hivemind sees the answer to a couple of interesting questions.

So, you start off as a bloke in a ship. Then you buy another ship. My question: who is piloting this other ship?

In the dev videos you see a "pilot name" listed, which implies there is an NPC piloting the ship. So, where do they go when you jump into it to ride it around? Into the ship you just vacated? And what are they doing while you're not using them? Sitting around in the hangar playing cribbage? Why don't you need to pay any more than the initial cost to get a crewed-up ship running?

At present it looks as if a ship comes with a generic stripped down NPC without any goals or motivations. It follows orders and just does what you say. That's *fine* if that's the way it is. Games are like that.

There are two ways I see that this could be theoretically "better" both in terms of plausibility and gameplay mechanics, however both of them also have potential downsides.
  • You have to hire a pilot if you want to get the ship to work for you. I know we don't have "crew management" but if a ship needs an NPC operator they must have to come from somewhere.
    Issues:
    • It would also impose a slowdown on expansion so that the cap of ~100 ships in a fleet becomes much more plausible from within the game world.
    • I haven't seen any indication that NPCs exist separately from their ships within the game engine, so a free-floating pool of unemployed shipless NPCs would be, if nothing else, a market problem. Does the game want to simulate a labour market as well as a commodities market?
    • You have to manage disparate personalities along the way. What's in it for an NPC to come fly for you for some amount of wages when they could, in fact, save up those wages, buy their own ship, and leave you looking for a new pilot for *your* ship? Fascinating from a realism point of view, but could become game-breakingly frustrating.
  • Or, the pilots of your ships are basically an AI (as in, I know everything is AI, but an AI within the game world).
    Issues:
    • This makes a great deal of plausible sense while missing out the "manage a staff" problem.
    • It would introduce a real conceptual and gameplay difference between flying with a fleet of ships you own and a fleet of NPCs who happen to be temporarily aligned with you for the purposes of a mission.
    • It also means that there could (perhaps) be a mid/late-game need to hire actual "full" NPCs to run various bits of your empire/corporation/naval fleet that the basic AIs can't do, although this might just shift the "managing personalities" aspect down a kilohour of play or so. (Still, it seems more plausible that an NPC would see the advantage in managing a whole mining network or carrier fleet for some money than they would see an advantage in becoming generic cannon fodder for some noob.)
    • The way I see Josh's design, I think he's envisaging NPCs as being basically "human equivalent" players - i.e. they can do everything I can do. So, can NPCs also purchase ships and run fleets operating with "Ship AI"? And at what stage does that become a computational bottleneck? It seems like that's an invitation to slam into the 100 ship limit like a brick wall across a highway.
    • You could just say NPCs can't run AI-based fleets, but then, why not? That's just an invitation for the player to run away into God Mode after a while.
So, is it simply going to be the case that ships come with a pre-manufactured generic NPC, who gets somehow disposed of without complaint when you scrap the ship? Again, if this is how it has to be, it's not a complaint. But it seems like it would be nice if there were some underlying system that made more sense.

Also pls to deliver the moon on a stick kthx.
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#5
Yeah I saw that. It's an interesting workaround conceptually and I really like it. However it doesn't really solve the problems specified from a functionality/computational POV.

1) Why would a "strong" AI want to come be your wingman indefinitely, why wouldn't they up and leave to pursue their own interests? What happens if they disagree with your notions of flying into that space battle because they think they'll die and they don't wanna?

2) If you have "strong" and "weak" AIs, and "strong" AIs can build/buy "weak" ones just like the player can, fleet scaling may well become quite the problem. Although I suppose you could just balance the economics to make sure it wouldn't.
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#6
McDuff wrote:Yeah I saw that. It's an interesting workaround conceptually and I really like it. However it doesn't really solve the problems specified from a functionality/computational POV.

1) Why would a "strong" AI want to come be your wingman indefinitely, why wouldn't they up and leave to pursue their own interests? What happens if they disagree with your notions of flying into that space battle because they think they'll die and they don't wanna?

2) If you have "strong" and "weak" AIs, and "strong" AIs can build/buy "weak" ones just like the player can, fleet scaling may well become quite the problem. Although I suppose you could just balance the economics to make sure it wouldn't.
1. I imagine that these strong AI would have human-level intelligence, and therefore prone to the same specious logic and irrationality as people are today. So some might offer to be your wingmen, some might so their own thing, just like we see with people today.

2. I want the NPCs to do whatever the player can do and vice versa. What do you mean by fleet scaling and why would It become a problem?

Night.
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#7
1) Exactly. If I want to hire a guy to be my wingman, I want to know I can reliably count on him to be my wingman. If the AI being my wingman has his own goals, what's to stop that AI breaking the contract and going off and doing his own thing? And what about mining? Why are they doing all this tedious mining for me when they could be doing it for them?

To get a little economicsy about it, one of the reasons we can have low wages and high rates of profit in the real world is because we have weak labour markets, monopsonistic controls, strong borders, high barriers to entry, and most importantly, a pool of unemployed people who act as a downward pressure on wages. If "employment" in the game is as easily acquired as buying a ship and taking a job, it means the wages required to beat that must be correspondingly high. Especially if the risk of the job is "death (and that obtains even if "death" is non-permanent, because we still want some mechanic where it's costly to the AI or they won't avoid it).

So early on you'd expect various NPC "employees" to demand high wages - higher wages than the cost of a ship. Or else to demand a profit-share, significantly slowing down early-game expansion. Even worse, you'd find NPCs who had already "made it" and taken control of a system keeping control of their monopolies by just buying every small to medium ship available, and then offering contracts to fly them for a wage. So you're not even a freelancer in this game any more, just an unemployed bum checking the jobs board for some menial entry level gig that you can hopefully parlay into a ticket to a better system after 4 years.

And that's the exact opposite of what you want. You need something that's relatively easy to begin to expand in, but then starts to slow down as you get bigger and bigger - the exact opposite of (the generalised case of) real world economics.

(This also raises issues of how "simulated" the economy will be, and why people even NEED credits if they're not going to expand. If I'm happy with my state of affairs and I'm a computer program, why do I need credits? And what, therefore, stops the economy from stagnating and deflation kicking in? I haven't seen much discussion about how much the economics will be simulated and how much will be baked in so far, but assuming it's all simulated you need to establish good ground rules to get end-cases that actually work from a "fun game" point of view.)

2) In the alternate case, fleet expansion becomes pretty easy. A system starts off with 100 NPCs which are, computationally, "strong AIs". These strong AIs, doing exactly what human players do, start delegating by buying smaller ships with "weak AIs" to do some of the work for them as well as posting contracts for "other people" to do the work. Thus a system which begins with 100 NPCs easily transforms, over a couple of years of game time, into a system with 75 NPCs each of which have an average fleet size of 10. (Assuming NPCs are a fixed stock in the game and cannot be renewed, which is it's own problematic assumption tbh.) If 20 of those NPCs are in a faction and 20 NPCs from another faction come through looking for a fight, that's ~400 ships in a battle. We already know that the computational limit should be expected to be ~100, and we've exceeded it by a factor of 4 without going out to some stupid edge case but just presuming that NPCs will behave approximately as we're expecting them to play based on what Josh has said about them.

Basically, this is a series of economics problems. Not science or lore or even game engine per se, but what makes credits important, what makes the growth curve both fun and playable, etc etc.
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#8
McDuff wrote:1) Exactly. If I want to hire a guy to be my wingman, I want to know I can reliably count on him to be my wingman. If the AI being my wingman has his own goals, what's to stop that AI breaking the contract and going off and doing his own thing? And what about mining? Why are they doing all this tedious mining for me when they could be doing it for them?
Well, that's exactly the kind of depth of gameplay I'd want. To not be able to 100% trust my wingmen if they have their own self-interested goals. Just like Jayne in Firefly, right?
McDuff wrote:To get a little economicsy about it, one of the reasons we can have low wages and high rates of profit in the real world is because we have weak labour markets, monopsonistic controls, strong borders, high barriers to entry, and most importantly, a pool of unemployed people who act as a downward pressure on wages. If "employment" in the game is as easily acquired as buying a ship and taking a job, it means the wages required to beat that must be correspondingly high. Especially if the risk of the job is "death (and that obtains even if "death" is non-permanent, because we still want some mechanic where it's costly to the AI or they won't avoid it).
Only a small number of markets have monopsonistic power, since most markets have low enough barriers to entry that other producers can enter the market if they see the potential for profit. You might get some monopsony/monopoly occurring for high-tech, specialised goods, but for commodities like fuel (deuterium/tritium), minerals, ore, etc. you can expect the market to be more competitive. This will be influenced by the level of information available to consumers, but provided there is close to perfect information, competition should be high and individual businesses should be unlikely to earn supernormal profits. This will also depend a lot on the ability of businesses in these markets to exploit economies of scale, in which case you might very well end up back with oligopolistic or monopolistic market conditions. Either way, I'm hoping to see good variety.

And I don't see acquiring a job as necessarily being as simplistic as that; in Restrictions On Equipping Modules, I discuss the idea of qualifications that the player and other agents have to acquire to show competency in a particular area (e.g. piloting, weapons control, shield management, trade, etc.), and these qualifications will be visible to other agents. On the labour market (which is one of many types of markets that I believe should be included in Limit Theory), employers will be able to filter by qualifications to find a suitable person to handle a contract or fill a vocational position. Because of this, I'd like to see wage rates vary for different types of jobs/contracts and different skill levels, since you'd get different elasticities of labour supply in these different markets. A menial, low-complexity type of job would have high elasticity, so the equilibrium wage rate in that market might be low; whereas for a position like Expert Quantum Mechanics Researcher, you can expect the supply of labour to be far more inelastic, and therefore the equilibrium wage rate to be higher. Variety! :ghost:
McDuff wrote:2) In the alternate case, fleet expansion becomes pretty easy. A system starts off with 100 NPCs which are, computationally, "strong AIs". These strong AIs, doing exactly what human players do, start delegating by buying smaller ships with "weak AIs" to do some of the work for them as well as posting contracts for "other people" to do the work. Thus a system which begins with 100 NPCs easily transforms, over a couple of years of game time, into a system with 75 NPCs each of which have an average fleet size of 10. (Assuming NPCs are a fixed stock in the game and cannot be renewed, which is it's own problematic assumption tbh.) If 20 of those NPCs are in a faction and 20 NPCs from another faction come through looking for a fight, that's ~400 ships in a battle. We already know that the computational limit should be expected to be ~100, and we've exceeded it by a factor of 4 without going out to some stupid edge case but just presuming that NPCs will behave approximately as we're expecting them to play based on what Josh has said about them.

Basically, this is a series of economics problems. Not science or lore or even game engine per se, but what makes credits important, what makes the growth curve both fun and playable, etc etc.
I guess this is just a matter of balancing NPCs in such a way that several hundred don't end up going to war with one another at once. Maybe NPCs should be more disposed towards forming low-quantity high-quality fleets? I don't know.
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#9
Well, that's exactly the kind of depth of gameplay I'd want. To not be able to 100% trust my wingmen if they have their own self-interested goals. Just like Jayne in Firefly, right?
OK, but a) other people won't want that. b) Are *you* going to still want that when your supply chain buggers up because miner 56 decides she'd rather be chillaxing on the beach in Space-Barbados? Or, in other words, when the game turns into Sim-HR (In SPACE!)?

This is sort of what I meant with the gameplay differences between playing alongside strong AI and weak AI. Yes it's fun, but sometimes you just want that bastard mining ship to keep mining unobtanium.
You might get some monopsony/monopoly occurring for high-tech, specialised goods, but for commodities like fuel (deuterium/tritium), minerals, ore, etc. you can expect the market to be more competitive.
Because Exxon and Standard Oil aren't a thing? Because reasons? I mean, OK cool you *say* that but *why* are you saying that? Part of monopoly/monopsony power is the ability to artificially create barriers to entry. What stops them, aside from a rule saying "the game won't let them do that"?
This will also depend a lot on the ability of businesses in these markets to exploit economies of scale
Which is rather the question being put, here.
I guess this is just a matter of balancing NPCs in such a way that several hundred don't end up going to war with one another at once. Maybe NPCs should be more disposed towards forming low-quantity high-quality fleets? I don't know.
I'm not expecting you to know :)

This is the point of the exercise. We know the approximate game mechanics desired. We know they will be mostly procedurally generated. The question is what starting assumptions can be put in place to get us as close as possible to the desired end result, and minimise balancing rules like "NPCs have a fleet-size limit of 45 ships".
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#10
McDuff wrote:
Well, that's exactly the kind of depth of gameplay I'd want. To not be able to 100% trust my wingmen if they have their own self-interested goals. Just like Jayne in Firefly, right?
OK, but a) other people won't want that. b) Are *you* going to still want that when your supply chain buggers up because miner 56 decides she'd rather be chillaxing on the beach in Space-Barbados? Or, in other words, when the game turns into Sim-HR (In SPACE!)?
Yes, I totally would. :D

I don't want it to happen very often - after all, in real life if I hire a person, I should be able to able to rely on them to do their job and they generally will - but I do want the possibility to exist. And if Miner 56 decides to take an unauthorised break? Well, YOU DUN FUCKED UP TYRONE. I'M COMING FOR YOUR ASS. In real life, most people can be counted upon to do their job without the threat of death. In LT, it will be possible to threaten people with death as well, I assume, at least if you're operating a criminal organisation. So the incentive for people to do their jobs should be there, and in the rare case that they don't do their jobs, you get to choose a creative way to punish them for it. Or, you could just defer all this management to the human resources (sentient program resources?) division of your corporation.

I'd also like to design my supply chains to account for these kind of disruptions and work around them. Right now, I'm taking a Distributed Algorithms course as part of my degree and one of the things it deals with is how to detect and work around process failure. Because in real life processes fail, and you can see people taking unauthorised breaks as a process failure within the whole framework of these logistics systems.
McDuff wrote:This is sort of what I meant with the gameplay differences between playing alongside strong AI and weak AI. Yes it's fun, but sometimes you just want that bastard mining ship to keep mining unobtanium.
Then I make sure I either give him a strong incentive to keep mining or a strong disincentive not to stop mining. ;)
McDuff wrote:
You might get some monopsony/monopoly occurring for high-tech, specialised goods, but for commodities like fuel (deuterium/tritium), minerals, ore, etc. you can expect the market to be more competitive.
Because Exxon and Standard Oil aren't a thing? Because reasons? I mean, OK cool you *say* that but *why* are you saying that? Part of monopoly/monopsony power is the ability to artificially create barriers to entry. What stops them, aside from a rule saying "the game won't let them do that"?
I don't want anything to artificially stop a market developing monopsonistic/monopolistic conditions, save perhaps for a Limit Theory-equivalent of the Competition Commission. :ghost: Yes, the oil market is an example of a commodity market that features oligopolistic control and all the crap that goes along with it; last time I checked, OPEC controlled 2/3 of the world's supply of oil and 47% of its reserves, giving them strong control over the price of oil in other countries. However, commodity markets in general are likely to be the most competitive, and I think the agricultural market is a good example of a relatively competitive market. Not the retailers, like Waitrose and Asda and such, but the farmers that grow the actual food and then sell it to distributors. In Ship upkeep costs, I propose that ship and crew maintenance relies on the distribution and consumption of mechanical and organic consumables respectively, which would constitute homogenous commodity goods, and therefore allow for the possibility of competitive market conditions.
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#11
Right now, I'm taking a Distributed Algorithms course as part of my degree
Pls to assume other people are not taking distributed algorithms courses as part of their videogame experience. :)

Look, I'm all for complexity. But part of the deal with the game (it seems) is that engagement with that complexity can be optional. You can follow the rabbit hole or not. If you have to manage 100+ NPCs for every aspect of your operation, it means the "NPC Management Sim" part of the game is not optional - it's bolted onto any aspect of the game that involves owning more than one ship, which is pretty much all of it.

It also seems like one of those things that is very difficult to automate or set and forget. It's not putting ore into a supply chain and getting battlecruisers out the end. It's the sort of thing that, in the real world, nobody does in units of more than about 10-12, unless you're dealing with slaves or bonded labourers building a pyramid or a railroad. And EVEN THEN you always have squads and work gangs and middle managers and overseers figuring out the lumps and bumps - but in this game, a middle manager is another NPC you have to manage!

Contracting with/employing some NPCs is a good thing. Having to do it *every* *single* *time* you expand your operation is, frankly, too much like real life, except in weirder economic territory.
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#13
You can have complex systems that work together.

If, say, you have issues that perhaps hiring someone does not mean 100% of the time "Sir, yes sir!", there should be mechanisms in place to deal with that sort of thing.

For example, if you hire this guy again and again, there'll be rapport generated between you two and you'll know his rep as trustworthy.

If you're constantly barely paying any money for a job or don't pay people the full amount, you may gain a rep of untrustworthiness.

If you go after those that don't fulfill their end of a bargain, you could be seen as someone others don't want to cross (but not necessarily underhanded or untrustworthy).

But since rep does play a big part, NPC on NPC actions (kinkyyyyyyy) would also expose some rep too. Chances are you'll be trying to hire a wingman, and if you see one that isn't that trustworthy by far, you're not exactly going to hire them.

Choose your interactivity with complexity is a hard slider to put in place if the options and code behind it are not simple to implement.
Image
Early Spring - 1055: Well, I made it to Boatmurdered, and my initial impressions can be set forth in three words: What. The. F*ck.
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#14
Which is a bit like the economic argument that if you get poisoned to death by the free market arsenic in your food, you can shop around until you find the food that doesn't kill you.

Point is that information like reputation is only available in hindsight. Incomplete information (which information always is, absent time travel) leads to market failures.

OK so here's the thing. Already in the game we know there's strong AI and weak AI. Missiles are weak AI. Probes are weak AI. Drones, should they emerge, will be weak AI.

Weak AI here in game mechanics terms is a computer system capable of doing what it's doing but lacking any of the high level "I want to find self fulfilment".

The contract system allows you to invoke as many NPCs as you want on an ad hoc basis. Say you have a mining station somewhere and you want to get your stuffonium from System A to System C. You can simply put out a bunch of contracts and say "I want people to do this job for me," at which point NPCs will come along and take (or "bid on" if they need approval?) the contracts, and you have a bunch of reputation management, economic market based systems in place to take it over. And if it's powerful enough every single interaction could, in fact, be run on the contract system. A contract to find X number of >Y% yield asteroids, a contract to mine said asteroids, a contract to ship the mined goods from A to B. Upsides are you don't pay upkeep on any ships, same as any other outsourced/subcontracted system. Downsides are the same as any other system run entirely on subcontractors - complexity and variability.

But that's a different kind of mechanic to "I own these ships and I want them to do what I say." As I say, you'll already have that if you have drones. You don't put out a contract to an NPC that says "I want you to sit in this system watching it indefinitely," you use a drone.

Edit: also an issue is whether or not the AI will actually be able to deal with something as complex as long-term employment within the contract system. I mean, I wouldn't like to say that it *won't*, but it's a non-trivial problem because it's clearly a different magnitude of transaction to "I will deliver 100Kgs of stuff here in 2 days." Emergent problems are a bastard.

So the question is, can we use the ship ownership system as a way to bypass the complex mucking about with the contract market for those parts of your operation where you'd rather have a better level of overall control?

Whether they're in game "weak AI" automatic computers or ad hoc generated "weak AI" NPCs stripped of goals and motivations, that provides a variation in gameplay which enables you to do that.

At what point do we want "weak AI" to stop being a thing that is useful that forces you to engage with the contract market?

Obviously there are people who want that to be "as low as possible, if not lower." Some people are going to want it to be "never, fuck those guys and their personal goals, I hate people." Personally I'm somewhere in between. I'm happy for something like "manage this system for me while I'm off on a jaunt to Space Barbados" to be something I contract out to an NPC, less so with having a contract for every single pilot flying every single ship on every single mission.

Does that make sense? I don't want to strip the NPC management/contract side of the game for people who want to do it, or who will be running their trade empires as more of a brokerage system than a corporation. But I would like some way of ensuring that a mine-depot-refinery-factory chain doesn't require a HR manager to run.
Post

Re: NPCs vs Autopilots vs Redshirts

#15
Options:

Player Rebellions On/Off
AI Faction Rebellion On/Off

That's about it really.


It helps to avoid any one faction including the player just taking over everything, i'm all for a bit of a challenge now and again in the late game.


As for the issue of AI or NPC pilots people are over thinking it, gameplay should trump realism here. A pilot module is usually the way to go, one that can eject once the ship is destroyed.

Online Now

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests

cron