Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Parting Ways With Our NPCs

Brenda Brathwaite | 29 Sep 2009 12:26
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I miss Rodan Lewarx and Drazic.

I abandoned them in Wizardry 8, and it's probably safe to say they're never coming back. At the end of the game, I blew up the universe, and before I could put a new one together, the series itself and the company that created it blew up, too. The Wizardry games, a magnificent series that defined and shaped my youth, and Sir-Tech Software, the company that published it, were no more. No matter which ending you take, in the game or in the real world, neither Rodan nor Drazic survived.

I miss them.

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Though I've created hundreds of NPCs, these two were special to me. Rodan was an Umpani and Drazic a T'Rang. The Umpani and T'Rang were sworn enemies dating back a full decade in the Wizardry series and their rivalry, expressed in part through their distinct strategies and personalities, led to seemingly endless ideas for sabotage, aggression and alliance. Players weaved between the two, deciding whom to work for based on their own tendencies. The Umpani were militaristic but fun-loving. The T'Rang were more domineering and dangerous and took orders from Z'Ant. I recall how much I enjoyed seeing a player as he reacted to Z'Ant's genuine (A.I.) hurt when the player was busted working for both sides.

At some point unknown to the player, Rodan and Drazic were captured by a roving group of Rapax, and as they whittled away their days in captivity, they came to realize that the greater danger was not in each other, but in the Dark Savant; so long as their races continued to fight one another, the Savant would continue to destroy both. The player didn't need to accept their assigned mission in order to win the game, nor did she need to fight an exceptionally uphill battle to get the sworn enemies to agree to a truce, but the rewards were worth it if she did.

And after all of that, after all the player and NPCs' effort, I rewarded them with ... silence. There could have been more, but we'll never know now. So, I miss them.

For Tom Hall, Creative Director at KingsIsle Entertainment, the attachment is much more personal. "I deeply miss Commander Keen," he laments. "He was based on me at 8 years old. Plus, I'd love to complete that original story."

Whether the NPC is a mirror of the designer or merely a construction of his or her imagination, the longer we stay with an NPC, the more he or she seems to grow on us. We deeply internalize them so that, as their puppet masters, we can craft the perfect response to any given game situation. And when the game goes away, sometimes the puppet does not. Designers feel a need to complete their stories, a need that has no outlet when the series stalls.

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