‘Project Zomboid’ studio explains how branching narratives work for NPCs

The Indie Stone plans to have a huge range of events for NPCs

Project Zomboid developer The Indie Stone has outlined how the upcoming branching narrative system will work for non-player characters (NPCs).

Planned for build 43, Project Zomboid will be receiving a narrative NPC system that the developers are currently working on. The planned event system will be able to add “context driven ‘storylets’ together into a somewhat convincing narrative for NPCs when they are away from the streamed-in world.”

According to the blog post, the system will define goals for the NPCs in Project Zomboid, and can evolve their situation, so that when a player eventually encounters them they have a convincing backstory. The systems will also “drive events with NPCs while the player is present, leading to interesting generated story events for the player to interact with.”

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Project Zomboid
Project Zomboid. Credit: The Indie Stone.

Events then set flags on NPCs, and move them along road networks and between houses, which are accessible by NPCs even though the game tiles haven’t been streamed in. The Indie Stone notes that it can add extra data and tags that will change the state of NPCs, allowing them to experience simplified narrative events which can branch and trigger randomly. These events also have dialogue lines attached to them that the NPC can recall to player characters later.

The Indie Stone also provided some text based examples of the kind of narrative events that NPCs might experience in Project Zomboid. But noted that “some massaging of the results has taken place,” as at present the system can produce some odd results.

A breakdown of how a series of events might form a narrative was provided as well. It showed how one narrative event might start with a line like “just before the shit hit the fan, my sister Annie got sick,” which can be followed up with something like “we tried to take her to the hospital… but the highway was blocked with traffic”. The highway being blocked can be due to a number of reasons, changing the story more as it evolves.

In other news, Bethesda has released the first bit of gameplay for the upcoming The Elder Scrolls Online expansion High Isle.

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