What makes a good NPC?

Nightblade50

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Hi
When making towns and such in games, what is it that makes the NPCs interesting to talk to and more like a person than a piece of scenery?
 

Milennin

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Well, for me there's a few things that can make me find an NPC interesting:
-They've got something to say that piques my interest. Like, tiny pieces of information that reveal more about the things I, as player, care about (maybe some unique information about the main villain, or about the road through the wilderness ahead).
-The ones that let you think for a bit. Maybe something that's established and accepted in your world, but that NPC there questions it for reasons.
-The ones that give you a dialogue choice that results in different outcomes, that's not just being an obvious good vs. bad choice.
-The NPC that looks like a regular, but actually is part of a good side-quest that leads to something cool.
-NPCs with distinct personalities that feel like they're more than just another object to fill up the town. Nice thing with NPCs is that they don't require much depth to be effective. You can go for a simple, 1-dimensional gimmick and it'll work because their role is so tiny anyway.
 

Failivrin

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I have an old resource thread with good examples of NPC lines, free to copy and edit.

https://forums.rpgmakerweb.com/index.php?threads/failivrins-freesources.78679/#post-757884

These lines were intended to be generic so anyone can use them, but with practice you can make NPCs even more colorful and interesting. Like @Milennin said, NPCs can give helpful hints or offer sidequests. For a developer, the real challenge is making NPCs with personality and depth.

First, you have to focus on the setting. Unfortunately, many developers treat villages as nothing but temporary stopovers for the heroes to recover and re-equip. NPCs in these settings never do anything but comment on the weather and give the hero advice in the form of “press X to not die.” To make compelling NPCs, here is the first important principle:

The village must have a compelling reason to exist.

Don’t overthink it. A compelling reason to exist can be very simple and modest. One very common example involves mithril/adamant. Let’s say the best armor in your game is part of an “adamant” series. Where does it come from? Show us the village where they mine the adamant ore. And while you’re at it, take that cave dungeon you’ve been working on and put it in the mountains outside the village. Now you have a meaningful setting, and the NPCs in the village have something to talk about besides the weather.

NPCs should talk mainly about their own concerns, rather than the heroes’ concerns.

After all, the heroes are basically tourists. Mining adamant ore and making adamant armor is a way of life for these people—and it’s their source of pride. Maybe it's a source of fear, since monsters have invaded the mines and some villagers have gone missing. Maybe they want to praise a friend who is the best smith in town, or share their jealousy about a rival. Whatever the case, they want to talk about adamant. Finally…

The heroes should get a unique reward for visiting the village and interacting with NPCs.

Some games throw the rewards in your face when NPCs give you rare items out of the goodness of their hearts. In most cases, this is not necessary. The player already receives two rewards for visiting the adamant mining village. First is a concrete reward: The heroes can buy full sets of the highest quality armor. Second is an aesthetic reward: “Adamant Armor” is no longer just a fancy name in the item list. The player’s vision of the world has expanded, and they will remember that village when they wear the armor (which, among other things, creates a real sense of fighting to protect the people of the world).

Some other ideas…

Behavior animations are gold. Unfortunately, they can be difficult and time-consuming for us mortals without artistic expertise. Think of creative work-arounds, and as always, Show, don’t tell.

Bad example: The player enters a mill. A bearded man who looks like all the other bearded men in town is standing next to some sacks of flour. When the player speaks to him, a tag appears above his head saying “Miller.”

Good example: The player approaches a mill. Before the player enters, a dirty man in overalls with no shirt bursts out of the door and pushes a sack of flour to a cart waiting in the yard. Then he returns to the mill and gets another sack of flour. The man repeats this behavior on loop, and if the player wants to talk to him, they have to catch him while he’s moving in and out.

The good example takes only a light dash of visual artistry, a little bit of eventing, and a bit of creativity, but the effect is an NPC that is much more life-like and compelling.

Finally, I would mention a particular kind of NPC that works great in almost any game: The Recurring NPC.

There are two common kinds. The first is a Traveling Merchant who is off on her own adventure but happens to share the same route as the heroes. The player learns to recognize this NPC and, knowing she carries a good stock of cheap potions, is always relieved to stumble across her in the middle of the Deadly Swamp or Castle Dungeon. At each encounter, the merchant briefly narrates a bit of her own adventures (such as why she got thrown into the Castle Dungeon), then gets right down to business. The Traveling Merchant NPC is a great way to add color and flare to the relatively mundane and repetitive act of buying and selling.

The second kind of Recurring NPC is the Weapons Master. He is a quixotic character touring the world for the sake of meeting new challengers. Usually, the player has to bet money to fight him, in return for a larger sum of money or a rare item if the player wins. The Weapons Master keeps things interesting by constantly changing the rules of combat. He fights with a different weapon each time and shows off a good strategy that the player might be able to mimic. Sometimes he sets conditions; for example, only one hero can fight him at a time, or MP and HP are reversed during the battle. Fighting the Weapons Master is never necessary for game progression, but it’s a fun diversion and a challenging way to engage players in the game’s battle system.

I’m sure there’s more to be said for this topic. I look forward to new replies.
 

Rockenberg

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Whenever I think of NPCs, I think of farming games like Harvest Moon.
The NPCs in those games all have fairly legitimate lives and schedules that work alongside your own.
Not saying NPCs from an RPG should work that same way, but it should be something to at least consider.
They have their own lives, their own problems, their own families, etc.

Unless something's happening where they live or around where they live, they should probably be focused on their own lives, almost to reflect the real world in a way.

There should be a level of detail put into them rather than giving them a single line of unchanging text throughout the entire gameplay.
 

Kes

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NPCs aren't a mechanic as such.

[move]General Discussion[/move]
 
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In my first game, Royal knights, I put some serious effort into my village NPCs, these were people the main character would know well, so them just saying “hello, lovely day, what would you like to buy?” Wouldn’t have felt right.

I had a family of shopkeepers, the daughter was jealous of the MC because she thought she was trying to steal one of the few young men left in the village that she had a crush on. And she mentions this in snide asides.

I had an apple tree farmer who mentions a brother who left the village many years ago after a fight, who later in the game you would eventually find and reunite them.

there was a girl who’d gotten engaged to someone who’d left the village to train for something and she was waiting for him to return so they could get married. You met him in the big city, and eventually you’d receive an invitation to their wedding.

none of these NPCs were particularly important story wise, but I felt it rooted the character in the village, let the player see that the character wasn’t just thrown in there.

I think that’s important. Also, for more interesting NPCs, an example is a grumpy character. Maybe he doesn’t like heroes or adventures, maybe the tramp round his house, or shop and cause a ruckus. Every time the player visits with him there’s a short conversation, he gets mor annoyed over time and eventually give the player an option to ask why. And the man reveals that his daughter married a hero and was left abused and destitute as the heroes fam grew and they decided they wanted a life of fast women, beer and gold and left the daughter.

it could elect some feeling in your player. I don’t know. Just an idea of how it could work.
 

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I don't think they've all got to be good. Having a large amount that just exist to fill the world is decent. Trying to give them all character is going to come off as forced, however there's been a few games I've played where instead of a name on the dialogue box it's instead a few words describing the NPC. Like 'Man looking scruffy' asking if the player has any money.

Just let the people live and exist in the world, having them react to the world they're in is what I'd consider to be a good NPC.
 

Switz

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I just prefer they progress with the story. They don't need to say much. Just a sentence or two. But once you have the capability to re-visit towns via story direction, vehicle, etc - then they need to stay current-ish on current affairs in the world.
 

tehrin

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Some NPCs that I've really liked in past games were ones who would say different things depending on who was the party leader. For example, if Bob is the party leader, the main hero, he might run into Joe who is his childhood friend. He'll confide in him a bit and reveal a little tiny tidbit about Bob or the world. Nothing huge or world-changing, but something that helps to solidify this world and story we're engaged in. If you switch the leader to Julie, he says something else because he doesn't really know Julie all that much.

I've also liked in games where you may not talk to or interact with an NPC directly, but you can read/hear some of their dialogue with other NPCs. So you might get a little information about the world. It just helps to feel more realistic.

I prefer these types over random characters that just say "So it's come to this." over and over and over again whenever you approach them after you've reached x-moment in the game.
 

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