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A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/58777/index
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M:TV NPC AI

Greg
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That acronym-tastic title stands for today's topic "Murder television non-player character artificial intelligence". Murder:TV depicts part of a not too distant future in which the penalty for any crime can be avoided entirely if a big enough fine is paid to the government. A rich, eccentric and deeply disturbed director has set up his dream reality TV show in which he abducts people from the streets and forces them to fight each other to the death. As long as the show’s ratings and income are high enough he can afford to keep doing it. The players take the role of people struggling in the show, either to kill the others and survive or to kill the director and escape. Previously, I'd talked about Battle Royale and The Hunger Games as inspiration, but thinking about it I feel like The Running Man crept in there somehow. The point is that this setting and theme requires there to be a lot of contestants.



This creates a game design problem. Requiring someone to get dozens of players together just isn't practical, so either each person needs to control several contestants or several of the contestants need to be automated by the game. As one of the main feelings I wanted to tap in this game is distrust and paranoia the first solution doesn't gel well, as one player controlling several characters has teams of allies that they know they can count on. So some of the characters need to be automated by the game, following some set of simple instructions the players can follow when it's time for them to act.



This creates a number of challenges, as the NPCs outnumber the players significantly and the players are naturally going to be more interested in their own progress than the movement of irrelevant entities around the board. This leads the AI to have the following desirable properties:

* Quick to execute: Players should spend more time on their own turn than someone else's.
* Easy to memorize: Looking it up every turn would kill pacing.
* Relevant to the player: Wherever possible an NPC should be reacting to the players actions (such as by shooting them).
* Reasonably smart: The theme falls apart if NPCs charge into combat with their fists or insist on searching for a stick when they're already in a tank.

Making that last one coexist with the first two makes me very jealous of the creators of Zombicide, Zombies!!! and Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game. and every other one of a bajillion games about zombies. There's a lot of discussion on the geek about why zombie games are so prevalent, a lot of it centers around being a fad that has lots of adherents at the moment but will die soon, but I think there's also a design reason in that zombies are very easy to write rules for.

The Murder:TV algorithm relies on consulting the directors card to see how NPCs behave. They have three simple choices, scatter (move away from other NPC contestants), hunt (try to seek out player contestants) and search (look for better weapons). All NPCs follow the card, but some will override the choice on the card to react to certain situations or player actions (has no weapon at all, has just been attacked). Where an NPC could legally take two actions, the player most loved by the audience decides, as the director subtly guides the action to benefit the favorite. The result is fairly quick and simple without causing too many stupid actions, but somehow feels like it's missing something important.

Let’s see if this weeks playtesting can help narrow down what that is
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