Friday, July 15, 2011

Changing the Rules: NPC's in Aurora

Remember what I said about changing the rules, and offering another experience? Let's focus on that a little more, with a juicy new feature in Aurora.

One thing quickly becomes clear when visiting any SL™ type virtual world- is that there's a vast expanse of uninhabited nothingness. Like a lone wanderer, I've passed through entire cities, 4 sims large, completely barren of any sign of life.

And this is a huge downer.

Once in a while you'll find the sculptified noob, perched precariously behind a counter or at a door, or a picture cut-out. But you know on first glance, there is no sign of life here. Those dull solid eyes, pixelated, as though a picture was stuffed into a glass casing. That image cut-out of Captain Jack Sparrow sitting behind a tiki bar evokes no more emotional response than a casual acknowledgement in passing of a cardboard cutout in a movie theater- it may even be scripted to talk, but it shows up in green text and immediately your mind blocks it out as spam- like a fortune teller bolted to its seat and programmed to flail its arms in a rigid manner and speak with a voice that sounds like a tin can.

Enter, the NPC. NPC's are crucial to games because they offer that simulated feeling of agency in an entity you know isn't real. Whether you be a sprite, cube, or cactus- the modality that the world in question presents you as will be the one you will associate with signs of life, be it human or not. (You know you've done it, you talked to every NPC in some RPG at one point, just to see all their responses.) NPC's have all the powers that you do in that game, so they feel like a comrade, or another living being, they move through the game world via the same mechanisms you do.

They have the ability to make you care about them, hate them, or invoke other human-human emotions towards them.

They are the ghosts within the machine, the characters of your story, they are the actors in your play unfolding- and now Aurora has taken its first steps towards enabling fellow world builders to fill their stages with life.

Their NPC API is still in its early phases, but the implications are immense. I'll be keeping an eye on this as development unfolds. Check out some code examples here.

I know I got a bit emotional here, but I have a special affinity for the avatar, and characters in general. In a sense, when we build, we're telling a story- and I know few stories void of characters.

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