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Designing the Needy NPCs of The Elder Scrolls Online

by on March 18, 2014

So how do you make NPCs in a game as big as an Elder Scrolls game act in ways that don’t creep out the player? We’ve all seen what can go wrong when Skyrim NPCs glitch out, so we know the answer is “very carefully.” But  Mike Junbluth, an animator who has worked on The Elder Scrolls Online and other games, has a system.

Junbluth recently outlined his approach at the 2014 Game Developer Conference, in a talk called “Establishing an Ecology for NPCs.” It’s based in part on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory that puts the most basic human needs such as eating, breathing, sex, etc., on a lower fundamental level and our most esoteric needs, such as creativity, on levels built on this foundation. It’s most often represented as a pyramid.

Maslow's Hierarchy

OK, so already getting pretty deep for a explanation of how to make the zombie go to the place, but the way Junbluth uses it is brilliant. As The Escapist describes it in an article about the talk:

He did this using an example we all know from games, “the holy trinity of undead monsters”. Zombies are feral, hungry creatures so they don’t go beyond the first level of physiological needs – all they want to do is eat your brains. Skeletons are typically more militaristic, serving as a guard or a soldier, so they fall into the second category of “safety” more than any other. Ghosts don’t have either of those needs, being the ephemeral spirits of the departed, but they often want resolution from some familial member or lover so they fall into the “Love/Belonging” strata. Junbluth marked each of these typical NPC groups with the same color as their entry on the chart, and in that way, their intentions and objectives became “instantly more clear” and easily communicated among the animators working on a particular game.

Junbluth demonstrated how to place a character’s needs and other information to determine their behavior on a “one-sheet,” giving a complete psychological picture of the NPC.

So the next time an NPC seems so real you forget it’s not, or at least doesn’t walk repeatedly into a wall, think of guys like Junbluth and all the work they put into making that happen.

[Source: The Escapist]

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