April 2013 Roundup

Every month, I read the old BoRT roundup before I write the new one – partly to use the same template, partly so I don’t use the same jokes. Last month I wrote about Easter eggs, but I am still eating those eggs! My seven year old self is shaking his chocolate-smeared head in disappointment.

This month’s BoRT roundup comes to you from a train to Scotland, where I wrote my entire submission on an iPad in an hour.

April’s theme was ‘VINPCs’:

“Non-player characters, or NPCs, make up the bulk of interactions in many games. Sometimes they provide a mere resting place for a bullet, other times some canned dialogue, but increasingly they’re becoming more sophisticated companions capable of being worthy party members or even love interests.

This month, we’d like you to talk about a memorable experience with an NPC. It can be a good or bad one, as long as it’s worth talking about! Alternatively, if you can’t think of any memorable experiences, what aspect of a game’s systems get in the way of good NPCs?”

‘Cunzy1’ at That Guys a Maniac has managed to keep the same Omastar from Pokémon Fire Red to Black 2, which is particularly impressive given the number of times Nintendo have changed their transferring technology. Can anyone better this? Is it possible to take a Pokéman all the way from Red to X and Y? Can you do it with one that isn’t rubbish like Omastar?

Cody Steffen is sorry to WWE referee Earl Hebner for virtually assaulting him in Smackdown games over the years. As he points out, this isn’t that different from real WWE matches. Then again, if you wanted a truly realistic WWE game the players would get a script before each match and you could compete to win or lose according to that script. You’d get more points for not breaking kayfabe.

… this is actually a really good idea.

Mark Filipowich examines Oracle in the Batman: Arkham games, a character who interacts with Batman even though she’s never on-screen. Mark makes a really interesting point that Oracle fulfils the same role as a helpful spectator, whether that’s a friend or partner. Since Batman is a pretty lonely guy, the Oracle character is a welcome inclusion in the game.

With NPCs in games become so advanced they practically play the game for us, Jed Revita (or as my iPad wants to call him, Jed Revitalise) feels like he’s the inanimate object. He discusses A Mind Forever Voyaging, a game where the player is a cameraman passively observing events. It reminds me of when I used to play Atomic Bomberman on the PC, but it was too hard to play alone, so I’d just watch the AI play itself in one big screen saver. Are other games in danger of becoming the same?

Edward Smith had a memorable experience hanging out with Jenny in The Darkness after he found his own name on the apartment mailbox. The seemingly banal experiences of every day life can be more compelling than overt fantasy, a subject also tackled by Jordan Erica Webber’s ‘Blood, Births and Backsides’ in the new issue of Five out of Ten. Come on, you knew I’d get a link in here somewhere.

Nick Degens argues that good NPCs should react to the player, which seems obvious enough, but there’s a big difference between some canned dialogue when you bump into a towns person and the shopkeeper in A Link to the Past who bumps you off if you steal from him. He also mentions Fable III, which is an interesting comparison because I thought its crowds demonstrated both and best and worst of the modern NPC: reactive and multi-faceted, yet also repetitive to the extreme and obviously fake.

Finally, some Irish guy wrote about Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite and whether her relationship with the player is a convincing one. I think people are going to be talking about Infinite for years, but perhaps not in the way Irrational intended.

And that’s us for the month! Join us early next week for another instalment of Blogs of the Round Table.

Final plug: if you haven’t read any issues of Five out of Ten yet we’ve also introduced a Triple Pack of our first three issues at a discounted price. There are loads of pieces by Critical Distance staff, so you’re indirectly helping the site by feeding its contributors. That and it’s a damn good read.

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