Purpose is what gives life meaning…

MMOs, in my limited experience, strive to do something that Second Life never did. Well, if I’m honest they offer up several things but for the purposes of this post I just want to look at NPCs and what they do when they are not dealing with players. In Second Life there were no such things as NPCs unless created by the users and the AI on offer (again coded by users) ranged from not very good through terrible to non-existent, but that was fine because SL was never about providing NPCs in the same way an MMO has to. In the vast majority of MMOs NPCs are vital as they provide ‘touch down’ points for players to interact with the game’s systems such as the story or inventory management or item upgrading. Bottom line is if every NPC in every MMO went on strike tomorrow the who damn shebang would fall on its arse in an hour.

MMO worlds are touted as living, breathing creations for us to explore and despite the huge amounts of available evidence to the contrary we believe this falsehood. Predominantly I believe this is simply because we want to. We want to believe our games are alive so we can more easily feel we too are a living, breathing part of them and that’s why when we are confronted with NPCs who just seem to stand on the same spot forever it breaks this feeling and upsets us.

Take LOTRO for example, I mean why are the street traders in Bree stood at their stalls all day every day no matter what time it is or what the weather is like? Do they never go home to their loved ones? If I stayed at work all night the missus would have my guts for garters and yet these guys happy to stay there way past their tea time? Same goes for the gate guards, why are they always the same blokes every single time you see them? Does their captain not rotate them? And then there are the old codgers in the same small room of Scholar’s Tower! How come they are always ruddy well there? Sigh… I could go on. Turbine’s Middle Earth is full of immersion-breaking static NPCs & disinterested animals, which is a real shame.

You see for a world to be alive the people in it must have purpose. We the players do, from slaughtering rats and bears and boars by the zoo-full to raiding the deepest dungeon for the sword of punchy slicey death but this is wasted when the NPCs are nothing more than glorified window dressing. When they never move, never interact, never do anything interesting or even mundane then the world no longer feels alive and instead begins to look flatter than a witch’s tit.

And that’s where I’m hoping Guild Wars 2 will improve on things. Arenanet seems to have worked really hard on making their NPCs live and work in their world and that really makes me want to explore just to see how far they have gone with this. So far I’ve found animals that attack each other, guides that show you around interesting areas, woodcutters that carry logs between piles, children that play games, guards that defend their posts and a dozen other little ways in which, at last, the purposeless are given purpose and the world comes that little more alive. I really hope Tyria is the first world I’ve found that really makes believe it is alive πŸ™‚


  1. To be fair, there are still some “static” NPCs in GW2 however, my favorite example of the sort of thing you described was when a fellow at the lumber mill in Queensdale wanted to blow up the nearby cave of skritt. After dutifully escorting him up there, and into the cave (killing numerous ridiculously cute skritt along the way – bonus!) I watched him set the explosives and then turn to me and say, “By the way… how fast can you run?” At which point he turned and hauled ass out of the cave.
    Not exactly a “static” NPC… LOL.

    There are so many examples of this sort of thing going on in the game. I’ve gotten caught up in whole “event chains” just because I saw an NPC running through the area I was in and decided to follow them to see what was going on.

    It really helps if you’re of the mindset as a player that you are there to “experience” the setting and environment. I’m pretty sure that folks who are just focused on “speed leveling” miss a huge amount of the more interesting content in the game. I’m optimisticaly hopeful that this game may actually change some attitudes about that. Regardless, it certainly enhances my playing experience to have so much complex detail in the environments, and I’m usually patient enough to see a lot of it.

    (There’s the infamous “cattlepult” in the Diessa Plateau also… I stood around for awhile there just listening to the conversation between the NPCs and laughing… oh, and there is a special kind of joy that comes from listening to an “asura pirate.” How do you make “Yarr” sound intellectually bored and dry? I don’t know, but they’ve managed it…)

    1. Blimey Archer! I totally missed the fact I hadn’t replied to you (work has me by the balls right now and won’t let go). Sorry man, but here I am now – always late but never better πŸ˜‰

      I’ve seen a crap ton of static NPCs in GW2 so I know Arenanet are not innocent in this respect and I hate seeing Sylvari (and others) just stood around in cities like Divinity’s Reach. They should have something to do – no one would just stand at the top of the stairs all day and night, every day and night for no reason. Make every NPC do something – anything! is my forlorn cry I suppose.

      As for just exploring, I love the idea of the new “Vistas” mechanic they have have added – again this has provided us with another reason to see what’s over the next hill. I so hope my old SL mate Fogwoman & her hubby try GW2 because they were both HUGE explorers in LOTRO. I also like the idea that critters that have been alive longer grant more XP – that way harder-core XPers than I will have a reason to explore if only to seek out the less trod path for another XP bonus.

      God damn this game is gearing up to be bloody good fun. This is going to be my other “Left 4 Dead 2”, by which I mean the game I can see myself just playing again and again because even though each play through is based on the same ‘stuff’ all the wonderful variables programmed in mixed with the exciting mess that is other people will mean that every run will feel different, exciting and fun! The nearest LOTRO ever came to that feeling for me was in their (rather good!) skirmishes but I can’t justify putting myself through *another* 20 levels of tedium and grind just to get to skirmishes.

      1. No worries mate! I’m low maintenance. I just enjoy your main posts and comment when they inspire me to – there’s never any expectation of replies necessarily, nevermind prompt ones.

        The Vistas really are a great addition to the game, and I’m looking forward to those quite a bit.

        To the point in the last paragraph of your reply; My most recent version of that style of gameplay was Borderlands. The gameplay itself was just great fun regardless of how many times I had “completed” a particular area before.
        And I really do agree that there is an element of that in the GW2 gameplay. All of my characters (seven thus far) have gone through the Queensdale map (human starter area.) In part, this was initially to avoid “spoiling myself” on too much of the game prior to launch (although I quickly lost my concerns on that point) but also to give myself a better basis for comparison of the various professions. By running each profession through the same area I could more easily judge how well each did, in addition to how well each suited my particular preferences.

        An incidental discovery from playing the same area with each profession was the fact that even on the seventh run through IT WAS STILL FUN.
        I’ve helped kill spiders in the orchard on every character, and fought harpies at the dam, and bandits in the caves… sometimes I’ve protected the water supply from being poisoned, while other times I’ve defended the bridge, and still others I’ve defended the windmill. I’ve escorted pygmy moa trainers several times, and helped cave-in skritt tunnels or kill wasp queens, and on 4 different occassions I’ve fought back the Shadow Behemoth in the swamp.

        There have been subtle nuances that have changed up the feeling from time to time but, even when it was exactly the same as a previous character’s experience it was still fun.

        Rather than being bored of Queensdale, I’ve become quite fond of it, and I’m certain that characters I create after launch will definitely each have their own travels through that map area regardless of their race… probably more than once.

        GW2 is setting up (in my mind) to be indefatigably re-playable. It’s really exceeding my expectations in that regard, and I’m looking forward to a ridiculous amount of hours in the game after the end of August.

        1. Oh I totally agree! Borderlands was one of a very small number of games with an end point that I played right through straight away & I can only imagine how much more fun it would have been with dynamic events!

  2. Yep, I agree. I believe GW2 has changed the entire NPC mould. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed exploring Lion’s Arch. I honestly spent a full hour if not more just standing around listening to the conversations going on around me. GW2 is meant to be explored, how else would you get to know this vibrant world. It’s meant to be taken in nice and slow and those players who don’t are going to be missing out on a large chunk of fun!

  3. Hiya! Just a little note. Have changed my nickname to ama so it can be linked to my other blog The Full Moon. Also have started a new blog in WordPress which I hope to dedicate to GW2, but Wp takes a bit of getting used to. It’s a bit more complicated than Blogger. Anyway sending you the link

    Hope to post some stuff real soon πŸ™‚

    Still haven’t decided whether to pull posts from The Full Moon over to Wp. What do you think?

    1. Brilliant! I don’t think you’ll regret it – WP is a lot better than Blogger in my humble opinion. As for transferring your original Blogger posts & comments I would do – in fact I did do when I moved this blog over from Blogger years ago πŸ˜€

      1. Righto then! I guess I’m going to be quite busy. πŸ™‚ Good, something to keep me out of the heat during holidays! πŸ™‚

        1. Just wanted to say that I’m glad you posted here about the new WP blog, I’ve stopped by and I’m enjoying it. Definitely added you to my regular reading circle, and I’m looking forward to hearing your opinions on GW2 also Ama. I’m especially keen to hear what you think of the ranger profession after the launch at the end of August. I’ve tried all 7 of the others, and this coming July 20th will be my first hands-on with the ranger.

          1. Well, so far I’m liking it, but then I have a soft spot for the ranger! I’ve played a human ranger in both BWEs and I’m enjoying it. The only thing which I hope they fix a bit is the longevity of the animals. The poor buggers get clobbered pretty quickly, but on the other hand they switch very quickly. One dies and one of your other pops out. Not bad I suppose.

            ……but the real fun part is galavanting around Tyria looking for all those animals you can tame. It became an adventure in itself! πŸ˜€

            …….and so far I just love the longbow! I really got into the swing of it. I fire my arrows at the beasties, shortening their life span, then, as they’re getting really close, I fire an arrow that knocks them back (oooh I so love that one!) and I can finish them without them ever touching me! πŸ˜€

            Yeah I love the ranger! I will have all the other races and professions eventually, but my main is definitely going to be a Norn Ranger. I guess I was influenced by Eir and my totem is going to be the Snow Leopard…..(a) because I love kitty-cats πŸ˜€ and (b) because I like the characteristics of the totem – stealthy and solitary and a good tracker! ……and I have to say, I do like the giants! πŸ™‚

              1. They are! And there are loads of pets to pick up having both terrestrial and amphibious. So you’re running around with a Kraytan Drakehound, you jump into the water and out pops one of your aquatic ones like the Jaguar…….so neat! The Drakehound is a cute little mutt but he has one mean howl! πŸ™‚

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