Current games often lack "wow" factor when it comes to NPCs. This is obvious when you look at games like Cyberpunk 2077, and see hundreds of NPCs walking around, but realize that all of them spawn/despawn without any impact on the world. They don't have meaning. Cyberpunk isn't the only game that feels this way. I'd argue in most single player RPGs, cities feel dead. They should be these extreme centers of life and activity, but are left to be backdrops for campaign or other missions. How can we fix this?

The most common solution to this is to script life into games through campaigns and missions. This is by far the cheapest solution and allows games to tell other-worldly stories in an extremely precious and powerful manner. The Last of Us and God of War come to mind here.

Now if you're goal is to tell a single story, this works for the most part, albeit the backdrop of these games losing their luster under a microscope (Red Dead Redemption 2).

What we really want is systematic emergent gameplay that feels real, and alive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnpAAX9CkIc

Breath of the Wild is personally my favorite single-player game of all time, and it does a stunning job at interlinking its systems. Watch the video here to learn more!

Although we already have some systemic games, I still feel that there's so much more they could be, and my opinion is that NPCs are the biggest opportunity for improvement.

I'm going to list some ambitious and pretty broad areas of improvement I see. Forewarning: Put technical feasibility aside for a moment.

My claims:

A first gut reaction to this might "the tech isn't there yet". I know, but it will be someday, and I think we're the ones that need to build it.

While thinking about this topic of NPCs, I wondered what kinds of systems we would need to create to begin to achieve some of the goals listed above, and importantly, how we could do so systemically rather than fully scripted. These systems should also give a more concrete goal and roadmap on how to achieve it. Here's what I came up with:

As we grow up, we learn the rules of society. What country we're in, the laws of that country, what we learn, going to college, getting a job, etc. Most, if not all, of these, are based on inter-subjective entities. Our AI NPCs don't have the luxury of learning these. Society isn't built overnight and the quickest way of recreating them is to cheat and hardcode them into inter-connected systems for our game to use.