NPCs with Jobs Mod Interview

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For this week’s mod interview, I decided to ask folks within our Elder Scrolls modding forums who they’d want to see interviewed for the blog. It didn’t take long to get suggestions, and now I’ve got plenty of choices for future posts. Having noticed several requests to learn more about Sarkandar’s popular Oblivion mod, NPCs with Jobs, I figured he’d be a good one to start with.

Sarkandar, whose real name is Wouter Danckaert, lives in Hasselt, Belgium and is an application manager for a hospital lab. This November, he and his wife are expecting their first child, who they plan to name Martin Septim Danckaert (ok, I made that last part up).

How did you get started with this project?

I’m a MA in Computer Science, and did some specialization during my last year in the AI domain, as I was always interested in the matter. NPC with Jobs was already sketched out during my studies, it was codenamed “the mayor” back then. But as I couldn’t develop any graphics, the project never got further than a few c++ classes interacting a bit. Until I discovered modding last year. I didn’t even play the game that long.

NPCs with Jobs might sound pretty self-explanatory, but can you give summarize it for folks?

I’ll try to be short :)

The base of the mod is that we give the NPC’s certain needs. Hunger, sleep, thirst, social contacts, religion, romance, etc. These needs drive the NPC’s in their actions. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat or find something to eat (i.e. find a merchant selling food). If they’re sleepy, they’ll go home and sleep or camp on the ground. If they need social contacts, they’ll go to a pub or inn where other people are.

These needs will also have priorities (that can change) so that they will not conflict. They will also have to interact with other NPC’s, making choices even more complex.

Every NPC also has the default need for money, which is fulfilled with a job. If not performing any other need, they will do this job, which explains the title.

With every need we add, the NPC’s will have more choices to make, which will make them more complex and unpredictable. When we add enough needs, even we couldn’t predict the NPC’s behavior anymore, and it’s cool to trace their actions to figure out what made the NPC’s react like that. Or just find a neat spot and spend some time watching all the activity around you…

I called this whole concept Dynamic AI (DAI), and this a true AI in my opinion. All decisions of the NPC are made in the game; nothing is scheduled anymore, which makes this concept so unique.

But that’s not all. A second part of the mod consists of a new island called Aledra, set to be south of Tamriel. This island started out as a test case for our jobs, but it got a life of its own now. We’re creating a complex lore, fully consistent with Tamriel’s lore, and are sketching out player quests as well. Most of them are related to the NPC’s and their jobs (helping a worker out with something), but there is also a very intriguing and surprising main quest connected with the island’s history.

We are also trying to bring that uniqueness to the island, to make it something to be noticed, and have some really talented modders on board doing that. We plan to build five towns, each different in nature, and they will form an island economy where trade between those villages will be necessary for them to survive. Something we’re planning to do for Cyrodiil as well by the way.

Fortunately, I’m not doing this alone anymore. Since last year’s December, a real team formed around me and we managed to keep it together all this time, even increasing it drastically to a group of 14 active members. We have our own private forum (with a small public part) and are highly active there (we have around 13,000 posts for only 14 members). We have now pretty much all modding tasks covered and can design pretty much everything we want. We’ve become real friends and are determined to complete this project and lift it up to high standards. I couldn’t have gotten so far without their help so I’d like to give them a big “Thank You!” hug this way.

Is this your favorite mod you’ve created? What other mods would you like to share with the world?

This is the first one I ever created, but I have taken on several others meanwhile. I have released the player fishing mod, where the player can use a fishing line to actually fish slaughterfish, a little spin-off from NPC with Jobs. It is also compliant with the Alive Waters mod.

In the progress of modding NPC with Jobs, I also learned how to do animations with Blender, and I started an Idle Animations Resource Pack as well, which will add various little animations to the game, like sneezing and fingernail-looking, and add some more life into the NPC’s.

I’m also involved in the Farmers Unite! mod, a project to add farms to Cyrodiil, but that mod is mainly adopted by NPC with Jobs now, and in the resource packages from Mr_Siika.

And I would like to do a project with Shezrie of Oblivion Real Estate (ORE) eventually. We are currently writing a novel together that started out as a forum game, but we both discovered some pretty good writing skills and made an exciting story out of it, with a local fan base. We both feel we should do something with it one day, in the form of a quest mod.

What was the most troubling issue you came across creating this mod?

Our quality standards are quite high, so we do extensive bug-testing internally. Thus, we do find a lot of pesky bugs indeed. The most remarkable one, and the whole team will agree on that, is known as the “30-minutes bug,” a bug that always happened around 30 minutes of game time and froze all the scripts in progress. Even the windmill blades stood still. As you needed to play for 30 minutes to find out if the problem was still there, it was very frustrating. It took us almost a month to finally find the cause: an illegal use of a reference that in a rare case occurred (around 30 minutes).

Furthermore, we’re battling to overcome some of the scripting limits, but OBSE is helping us out for a great part there.

Are there any jobs that you decided were not a good fit with the mod or simply couldn’t get right?

For the moment, no job has been cancelled yet. The builder job might be a tricky one, building houses that can actually be accessed will be a real challenge. But we have a feeling of “nothing is impossible” so we’ll see when we get there. Some of our craziest ideas are actually taking form.

Do you think that one of your NPCs in each town should be a community manager?

We are planning on implementing a mayor job as well, which could be seen as a community manager. His/her job would be to decide which NPC gets which profession, so the town’s stocks will remain adequate.

He’ll also do some interviews from time to time. :)

Do you have any out-of-work NPCs that live with their parents?

We will have NPC’s living in poverty. They will become beggars or thieves, depending on their stats, or be dependant on community welfare. Unemployment will also occur if the economy is bad, when resource providers don’t find a market for their products, and could result in some nasty NPC behavior…

What projects are you currently working on for the mod?

We have recently released 0.9.8, the farming version, and have started with v0.9.9. I’m working on implementing a dynamic economy right now, where prices will follow the supply/demand market of a town and concurrency between merchants becomes possible, something I look quite forward to. Other team members are working on the towns and the other jobs. Some of our members are also involved in some mods on the side that we have taken under our wings. Alas, most of them are still a secret because they are so great in concept that we would like to announce them with a blast.

Is there something that you wish was available in the TES CS that would make modding easier for you?

Personally, I would like to see more scripting functions, especially for references, but the team from OBSE is doing a great job in providing them. CorePc, our Worldbuilder, will probably be happy with a less buggy and more intuitive LOD generator.

Outside of the Elder Scrolls, are you currently working on any other mod projects?

NPC with Jobs is taking up quite a lot of my free time already, and I’m also currently working on my house in real life. And we’re expecting our first baby in November as well, so not much time will remain for other things. I’ve grown out of gaming mostly, but I have been a TES fan since Morrowind came out.

Reader Comments

  1. Hi! My name is Noobkiller (aka Handsofmodder on TMO) and I run the video games blog, Pariah’s Guild (www.pariahs-guild.com). Anyway, your game, Fallout 3, looks amazing! In fact, it’s so amazing, that I would like to learn more about this game. In other words, I want to Interview you for the interviews section of the blog. Would you be interested? If so, then please email me at pariahsg@pariahs-guild.com or at Davlordofdogs@aol.com

    The interview is conducted by email. I send you a list of pre-made questions and all you have to do is fill them out and email them back to me. Please email me back if you accept or decline the interview.Thank you for reading this message.

  2. Noobkiller, I just sent you an email to your AOL address. I had issues sending to the other one when I got an email from you the other day.

  3. I’v been reading your company blog and looking at some of the realy amazing mods for oblivion, unfortunatley I play Oblivion on xbox 360 and I’d realy like to be able to download osme of these mods on xbox live. Perhaps you could work with microsoft and the mod creators to get some of the better mods downloadable on xbox live. Im pretty much assured of downloading any new oblivion content from live and already have shivering isles, knights of the nine etc. Oblivion’s a great game and I realy want some new content to keep me interested eough to play. Considering I have completed everything and I mean every quest line, miscelaneous quest, faction quest, house quests, etc. inlcuding those in shivering isles. Even though mods are geeraly free for PC users I wouldnt mind paying a reasonably small fee to ge them from live, but they have to be quality mods. I’m sure not just me but many players of oblivion on the 360 would like to have mods made available to them. (I’v sent the same message via the bethseda company site, but im not sure it will make it through all the corporate clutter).

  4. I’m with Ayrton. Is there a way to convert these mods to work with the 360 version? The NPCs with Jobs sounds intriguing, but I wonder if it uses up a lot of extra cycles that the 360 doesn’t have. At any rate, I would certainly pay to get these mods from the Xbox Live Marketplace. You could do some sort of profit-sharing with the modders, as I’m sure there would be some effort on your part to convert assets to fit within the 360′s capabilities.

  5. Microsoft is pretty strict about Xbox Live. There’s no way they’d let something as subjective as user-created content on it.

    Great interview. I’m super interested in AI and in this project. A few links to the project would have been cool! Maybe I missed them.