Post-Play'em - Observations on Game AI

Skyrim: Pardon the Interruption

This is a quick one. I have seen this numerous times in my few hours of playing, but I haven’t captured as many of them on video as I would like.

“They neglect to take any sort of context into account.”

People in Skyrim obviously have a proximity trigger with your character. If they have something to say, they will say it either when you get in range of them or vice versa. While this makes for some great immersion at times, they neglect to take any sort of context into account. They don’t observe what is going on and decide whether or not they should talk to you.

I don’t recall anyone doing it while I was in an active dialog tree, but there are certainly times when I am listening to something important — and especially if I am obviously part of a group discussion (such as in the two examples in the video). People doing their random walks will pass close enough to me to trip their trigger (so to speak) and say their piece. It’s horribly distracting.

“Real people have an awareness of unwritten social rules.”

The reason that this breaks immersion is that (real) people have an awareness of unwritten social rules. This is notoriously hard to get right in games. Richard Evans has been working on it for years — most notably with his work in The Sims 3. However, we aren’t solving for behaviors such as “don’t walk in on someone where they are taking a leak.” We are simply saying, “if I’m involved in something important, don’t interrupt me.”

If it is, indeed, the case that there is a boolean to not interrupt when a dialog is active, this is a simple fix. Apply the same boolean flag to when something important is going on that the player must listen to. In the case of the street preacher in Whiterun, this isn’t as big of a deal. By definition of his role, he is going to repeat himself. However, in the cases shown in the video, this is a one-time thing with important information… don’t play your random engagements.

“If I’m not
looking at you,
don’t speak to me.”

Another way of solving this is through a slightly more complicated method of simulating “eye contact”. That is, if I’m not looking at you, don’t speak to me. Let’s face it… that’s a common one that we all use in public anyway. In the case of the examples in the video, the 2nd one would have fallen into this category. The guard just happened to be walking by — behind me — and decided based on proximity to say his line. In the first video, at least I looked at the guy.

In effect, many of these rules can be combined together in some form of rule-based system… even an additive one using cumulative values. By assigning values to the various considerations (including a value on the importance of the message itself) you can define a threshold above which you are allowed to say the line. That solution would be much less brittle than the simplistic one that is being used here, and yet it is still lightweight and easily customizable by designers and programmers.

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