Basic Conversations, Relics, Traits, Laws, Next Six Months

Another big update this week! (Isn’t it great to see URR development actually moving fast? At least, I think it is). As mentioned last week, I prioritised getting the basic conversation system totally finished this week, which is to say the ability to ask any question to any NPC, and get a logical reply, or at least the outline of a logical reply with some variables (like “[nation]”) that need to be filled in later. We had a lot of progress, and almost, but not quite, got there. But don’t worry! Other essential stuff for this release has been done instead of focusing 100% on the basic conversation system; we have still moved much closer to release in the last seven days, albeit in a slightly unexpected direction, by adding a range of other world detail that NPCs will shortly need to draw on when they reply to the player. I can also now finally announce some pretty big and very exciting changes to my life coming in the next six months, some projects ending, some new projects on the new, and what this all means for URR in the next half-year. Read on!

Basic Conversations Almost Finished

Basic conversations have been developed further this week, with NPCs now responding correctly to almost 100% of the large number of “option” queries they can be asked – which is to say, questions that need to draw on some other information and are fundamentally different depending on the outcome of that information, rather than simply being sentences which say “My homeland is X”, in a context where all NPCs will always have the same basic answer to that question. Option queries need to draw on a range of traits in most cases (within the NPC) and a range of broader cultural and religious elements (outside the NPC), and most of this code needs to be hand-written for every possible question, making it a fairly substantial piece of work. From these screenshots you can see that some bits of wording still need tweaking, but I want to stress, these are totally random selections from the hundreds of possible questions; although they aren’t perfect, I’m still extremely pleased with how these look right now, how much variation there is, and the fact that only some fairly minimal tweaks remain to be done to some minor typos, plurals, that type of thing. (Both of these is me talking to the first character I find, hence why I’m clearly talking to people from the same civilisation as me for the sake of these tests):

Irrelevant Replies

This week I have also begun implementing “irrelevant” replies – meaning things like “I have no religion” as a response to “What is your religion?”, and so forth – which apply when an NPC is asked a question they have no valid answer to, or is entirely irrelevant. This means a massive range of potential answers, some of which are specific to the question – such as “I have no siblings” – whereas others are more puzzled. An NPC might be asked about a painting they couldn’t possibly know of, for instance, in which case they would say “I do not know of that painting”. There’s close to a hundred of these irrelevant replies, all of which (like everything else) need to vary between cultures and individuals. Some of these require quite complex sentences, although others are relatively simple, but this has definitely need a substantial task. I’ve now put about fifty percent of these in place, and NPCs do correctly use them, too! Of course, in some cases NPCs can’t yet give the correct responses – the coding for siblings isn’t in there yet, so everyone just says they have no siblings – but the code for generating a sentence once siblings are present is in place. Dealing with these kinds of familial relationships and the answers to some of the more complex questions will come partly before the release of 0.8, and partly in the speedy 0.9.

Traits

Added some new traits this week, with a focus on four elements that will influence substantially what NPCs know (and what NPCs can tell the player) about the world around them. These are all affected by the individual classes of NPC – generally speaking someone who is likely to be wealthier and better-educated is likely to know more, but there is also significant variation written into the system, and the knowledge of individual NPCs (regardless of their NPC class) is then varied further by ideological preferences of their homeland. For instance, people from an internationalist nation will tend to know more about foreign matters; people from a nation with a system of vassalage will know more about their own nation than average; those from a bartering nation will know less about history, as few records are kept; those from a free trade nation will know more geography, as they travel to trade; and so forth.

geography_knowledge

How much the NPC knows about the surrounding area. This doesn’t mean the nations and peoples and so forth, but rather purely a question of physical geography – nearby mountains, nearby roads, coastlines, deserts, animals, plants, and the like. Affected

history_knowledge

How much the NPC knows about the history of the world (inevitably heavily, but not exclusively, focused on their own nation). This means their ability to talk to the player about the historical events they are familiar with, how many events they are familiar with, and also knowledge about historical artworks, people, places, and so forth.

national_knowledge

How much the NPC knows about their own nation – where things are, who lives there, where towns and monasteries and mines and so forth are and what’s within them, information about important people, etc.

foreign_knowledge

How much the NPC knows about other nations; their locations, capitals, ideologies, religious beliefs, leaders, famous people, practices, etc. As with all the above, this varies across NPC classes, and is then modified by ideological beliefs of the nations in question.

Relics

I’ve implemented the first part of the generation system for religious relics, which needed to go in now so that NPCs could actually talk about them. Naturally the image generation for these will take place at a later date, but for the time being the game can generate the names of religious relics, a little bit of information about them, and who they were originally owned by. Each religion will only ever create two kinds of relics, depending on their beliefs, and these fall into a randomly-chosen “major” and “minor” category. For instance, a religion might primarily produce “Crown” relics, but sometimes have a small number of “Bone” relics; or a religion might focus on “Book” relics with a small number of “Weapon” relics; and so on and so forth. Each has a unique generation system for selecting its name, and we can now end up with relic names like the following:

Twisting Key of Monn’morra
Slender Ring of Saint Ynnop
Wooden Garland of Grey Fox Running the Sacred
Orangejaw Moonblizzard’s Holy Engraved Locket
Fi-Un-Gat’s Pitted Skull
Consecrated Pointed Sceptre of Ibimmom, Sly Rose

The game also now keeps track of how many relics need to spawn in each church (which varies across different kinds of religious building) and ensures that an appropriate number will always appear. Generating the images for these is going to be a lot of fun, but isn’t going to come until 0.10 or somewhere beyond. Anyway, these are now in place, so NPCs will shortly be able to talk intelligently about relics, and specific relics will now be tied to specific reliquaries in specific churches and cathedrals!

Laws and Punishments

Three of the “list” questions (questions where the answer is often of the kind “A, B, C and D are examples of the X”) relate to the particular laws of a particular nation regarding various topics – currently “violence”, “trade”, and “religion” are the three listed in there. This means that nations now generate laws in each of these categories, and a set of punishments, and then assigns punishments to each broken law depending on the severity of the crime (as the nation sees it). Laws and punishments on trade are determined almost entirely by trade policy, but a nation’s perspective on smuggling is also affected by a range of other ideologies; “violence” laws are determined by a wide range of ideologies from across the eight main categories; “religion” laws are naturally primarily determined by the religious policy of the nation, with a few inputs from a couple of other policies.

To take trade as the example, there are now five possible laws that a nation can enact:

District Entry: how much money (if any) it costs to enter a district in the capital.
City Entry: how much money (if any) it costs to enter the capital city.
Foreign Goods: how much extra taxation is put on foreign goods (light, middling, heavy).
Black Markets: whether black markets are tacitly accepted or not, and if not, the punishment for using one.
Smuggling: the level of punishment for those caught smuggling/with smuggled goods.

Each of these then, if appropriate for the ideologies of that nation, has a value assigned to it. When punishments come into play, punishments now vary according to the five possible justice ideologies. I’m not quite clear on how the “Ordeal” justice policy is going to work out, so I haven’t really developed that element yet, but the other four now work nicely. The Frontier policy imposes fines on those caught breaking the law; the Vigilantism policy will see those breaking the law hunted by the general public, who for lesser crimes will demand items in recompense, or injury, or will hunt to the death in the case of severe crimes, the Penitentiary policy imposes a range of prison sentences, and the Gladiatorial policy involves battles to first blood for lesser crimes, and fatal battles for greater crimes. There is also something of the god system from DCSS here; I wanted to develop these in such a way that they would seriously affect the player’s actions in the future, and which nations they choose to take actions in, when they keep in mind what the potential ramifications are. Justice policies should now have a substantial effect on player decisions once implemented –  and, of course, NPCs can now talk about them, listing all the policies that are worth talking about in the area in question.

Next Six Months

In other news, some big changes are happening, which are going to lead to some very exciting things. Firstly, I’m leaving my position as a postdoc at the Digital Creativity Labs at the University of York – although keeping my current secondment as a Researcher in Residence at the UK Digital Catapult – and taking up a new six-month postdoctoral position at Goldsmiths, University of London, to study paper puzzles (crosswords, Sudoku, etc), and those who play them, design them, implement them, with a view to developing a new set of paper puzzles that might one day be able to challenge Sudoku in national and international print newspapers. Such an outcome is obviously an immensely ambitious goal, but that’s one of the many things that attracts me so much to this project; the potential to make such a big impact into the game-playing lives of so many people is incredibly exciting. I’ll keep you all updated on this goes as time goes by; this might lead into further research in this area, though I also have a range of other irons in the fire for the longer-term future.

Secondly, during this summer, I’ll be taking up a range of visiting fellowship positions at numerous institutions around the world. Firstly, the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where I’ll be giving talks and running and contributing to seminars on professional gaming and the intersections between video games and gambling practices; secondly, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where my focus will be very much the same; and then the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where I’ll be researching the histories of professional gamblers, specifically with a focus on how professional gamblers are represented and talked about in news media, films, literature, and so forth. Somewhere in the middle there I’ll also be giving a few talks at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore on my research, and potentially travelling to two other countries I’ve never visited before as well to offer guest lectures and further develop my Esports and live-streaming research, although those are still in discussion with the relevant parties. If you live in any of those areas, let me know – maybe we can meet up! The few times I’ve met fans in person has always been awesome, and I’d certainly be keen to do so again.

What does all this mean in practical terms? Well, firstly, my brain is going to be a lot clearer to focus on URR 0.8 and finishing my first book in the next four months. Travel has always been something that galvanises and focuses me tremendously well, and these, combined with a new position more closely aligned to my research interests, will do a lot for me. People who read this blog regularly will know the last few months have been tough for a range of reasons, and these new positions are going to be a big help with some of those issues. Onwards, to bigger and better things!

Next Week

Having really pushed on URR this past week, I need to focus on my academic work this coming week, so next week will be a games criticism entry; then by the week after I’ll be aiming to actually finish off the Basic Conversation system by fully implementing the answers to list questions, and making sure that the range of “irrelevant replies” are all implemented and functioning correctly. See you in a week! When we will be talking the notorious “P.T.”, or “Playable Teaser”, and its clever implementation of environmental puzzles…

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13 thoughts on “Basic Conversations, Relics, Traits, Laws, Next Six Months

  1. Hey man!

    Kudos to your great progress! All this sounds very exciting!

    And I have to say the mechanics of laws blew me away. A very clever implementation that will definately help form the gameplay depending on nation. I really like the potential of this system 🙂

    But I can’t for the life of me understand how you manage to do all the stuff you do – and so good at that. It’s incredibly impressive. And I have to admit you’ve grew as a bit of a role model for me in terms of passion, creativity and devotion! Keep on rockin’, friend!

    • Hey Uggo – thanks! And so glad you like how the laws system is shaping up; I’m really pleased with it, and especially pleased with the variation it’ll yield and the kind of quite complex strategic decisions it should lead to on the part of the player.

      And wow, thanks! That’s *so* nice of you to say, my goodness. I suppose the solution is cutting out a lot of things in my life which aren’t my academic work or URR, and outside of keeping fit and spending time with my partner, that’s pretty much all the leisure time I have. It has been tough in the last year partly due to work reasons, and partly due to URR 0.8 still not being released (as it’s hard to put in so much work and not yet get the public response), but with these new positions, and 0.8 being almost done, I think things should improve very much in the next few months. Do please let me know if I ever swing by wherever you live, and I’ll happily buy you a drink!

    • “And I have to admit you’ve grew as a bit of a role model for me in terms of passion, creativity and devotion! Keep on rockin’, friend!”

      Well, I have to say that I’m really admirative, too. I’d like to have your talent and capacity of work, too…(I have debugged…for…hours…and I’m a but tired !)

  2. Great and Good News Mark, Finally an End to the Conversations System Devlopment. Now it’s just Wait until 0.8 Release 😀 Now a Questions(Again… but about very late dev sugestions, possible Problems, etc.):
    1- The Convertion of currencies from other nation be by Weight or Market value(like 3 xcoin equals 1 ycoin)? And How the Black Market and by Profiteers merchants will try to Deceive the player(a bit confuse to me but i think you will understand it, it’s a bit different of majority of the roguelikes because URR has more than 1 currency)?
    2- If you win all combats of Punishment of a Gladiatorial nation will you be free(it makes sense but who knows, maybe they release 100 lions or all gladiators against you maybe the adversary will be invicible whathever the player stats and weapons[Will they give weapons and armor too?].)?
    3- You Get an item, this item is illegal on X nation, this item wasnt indentified by the player and the player is using it, the guards will advice or just arrest the player?
    4- I know there are some battles that was fought in X mouns, on Y plains but, how to know where is these places? If the battle was very old, the terrain will not be the same, the people of the town/city(wich know about Geography or history of course) will tell to you where is, how to reach that place or give a direction or even(if archeologist[good class of npc to add in the future]) give more especific awnsers or have knowledge about something.
    5- If we talk to an Noble NPC and challange him(or her) to a duel we could get some reputation or influence with him country(depending on policies, maybe it drives to an important change that affects something.) or even an relic?
    6- Gas warfare as Discoveries. Well i think Gas warfare will not fit good as a “discovery” but think this is an idea rather than Gunpownder as discovery, gas bombs or flasks can be used as weapons in battles too. ^^ Good Luck Mark!

    • Thanks Gustavus! 1) Conversion will be a question of market value; all coins and items have a hidden “true” value, and then exchange rates will be modified somewhat. Deceive the player: yes! 2) Yes! 3) Hmm. Good question: not sure how that will work just yet. 4) As for where things were, that should be stored in books, on ancient maps, in paintings, that kind of thing… (once all those are implemented!). 5) Heh – yes, definitely! 6) I have been thinking about some unusual weapons – I came across Greek Fire, naptha grenades, etc, so something like that definitely might make it in!

  3. Congratulations on your new postdoc position! And safe travels on your ’round the world trips. Here’s a random idea for new newspaper print puzzles: integrate a daily puzzle into a long-term ARG-type puzzle, such that solving each daily puzzle brings you a step closer to solving a larger puzzle, or uncovering some sort of prize? Could become a national phenomenon. I’m in the middle of listening to the novel “Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore”, which features a long-term competitive puzzle vaguely like that.

    The law generation system also looks interesting, especially since it will directly affect how a player approaches the game. For example, if your character is a highly skilled fighter, you might be more tempted to break the law (e.g. stealing Orangejaw Moonblizzard’s Holy Engraved Locket, since who wouldn’t want that?) knowing that the potential punishment is a duel that you’re likely to win. Or if you have a lot of money, you can easily pay any fine lawbreaking might incur (a tactic that seems to be quite popular among powerful real-world corporations…). Or maybe as part of your quest, you might actually need to break the law in a Penitentiary system in order to be thrown into prison, where you know a certain prisoner has information you need. There are a lot of possibilities here.

    • Thanks crowbar! Oh yeah – I am *very* interested in developing that kind of long-term ARG-esque puzzle, but I don’t think this is the project for that. We already have a prototype and we’ll be building on the back of that. That might be something I do when I’m older and have the kind of time and resources to build something of that sort in my own time; I’ve always been very interested in games in that space (I’m writing an academic paper on ARGs at the moment), but as I say, we already have something of the direction for this project laid out. But hey, never say never…

      Laws: that’s exactly my thinking, relating the laws of a nation to the nature of one’s character and items (as you say – health, wealth, etc), when considering what to do that might involve breaking the law. I think it’s a system with a lot of potential; in 0.8 it’ll just be reflected in speech, but hopefully in practice before too long…

  4. I’m not sure if this has already been answered (probably has), but will npc always answer your questions? Can they refuse to answer if they don’t know you? It would be strange, for example, if all army high-ups would give away their strategic info a complete stranger.

  5. Any Chance we’ll see some sumptuary laws in some more strict cultures? Making wearing certain colors or using certain dyes illegal. Laws against modestly revealing clothes etc. etc.?

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