The Secret Lives of NPCs – Fable 2

Much has been said of the developer's perennial quest to create an immersive world--the cliched "living, breathing world".  Of course, one item on that agenda includes the NPCs that populate said world, and presumably are doing the living and breathing.  In this series, I take time out of playing a game to follow around a single NPC, observing the actions of that character for a single in-game day.  The character is chosen randomly from those that populate the environment but do not directly tie into the quest or narrative experience.   The idea is to see how well crafted the illusion is.  Does it hold up under scrutiny?

I'm approaching the end game of Fable 2, doing the side quests before the final mission or two.  Taking a break for this experiment, I reached the city of Bloodstone at just about midnight, so I headed to The Leper's Arms, which is the name of the bar in the town.  Since it's near the end of the game, my character is quite famous, and since I've been playing as a good guy, he's generally quite well liked.  This means that in pretty much any city but Bloodstone, the NPCs follow him around singing his praises.  This would make it difficult to observe without interfering, and I don't want to kill any quantum kitties.  Fortunately, my character is not as well liked in Bloodstone, and right there in the bar he found a specimen that would pay little attention to him

Mandy the Thug

She's an aggressive, straight, tough, unfriendly chick who absolutely hates me.  She likes the Furniture Graveyard (apparently a building in town), she likes the Bloodstone Tombs, and she likes Pretty Necklaces.  She dislikes the Bloodlust Roar.  All this info comes directly from her profile in game.  My character takes up a position at a respectable distance, from where he will observe her actions creepily for the next 24 hours.

  • Midnight - 2 AM - Mandy paces around the interior of the bar.  She occasionally stops in positions (observation reveals them to be at least partially non-random).  She doesn't take any particular actions in those places, even when she stops directly at the bar, facing the bartender.
  • 2ish AM - Mandy walks outside, and generally continues the same sort of behavior on the patio.    At some point, she talks to Kyle the Thug, telling him something like "Every Friday night without fail you'll find me at the pub.  Unless I stay home."  He responds by taunting her: "What kind of a beast are you? Surely not a lady!"
  • 4ish AM - After pacing about randomly for awhile, Mandy stops on the edge of the waterfront staring out over the harbor.  She appears to be watching the moon set.
  • 6ish AM - I thought for a moment that Mandy was going to leave the area of the bar, as she was heading up a path to the next level of the town.  Perhaps she was going to go home after a night of not-really-drinking.  She fooled me though, and just paused a bit up the path before returning to the bar's patio.  Around this time she also exchanged inaudible taunts/insults with Leyla the Thug (I could tell it was an unfriendly exchange due to the animations that played).  She also chats with Dave the Thug, but I am too far away to hear that exchange either.
  • 8ish AM - She's back on the edge of the waterfront, this time watching the sunrise.  This is among the most convincing of her behaviors, particularly since it has been timed with great views of the moon and sun so far.  Also, it just made me realize that I'm pretty sure the moon set on the same side of the sky that the sun rose on.
  • 9ish AM - She tells Kyle the Thug that he can find her at the pub every Friday night (again).  He responds by telling Mandy to get back in the kitchen.  This isn't the first time that I wonder if the two are married in the game, but the only way I can think of to verify that involves having my character try to sleep with Mandy right in front of Kyle, which would interfere with the experiment.
  • 11ish AM - She's wandered back inside the bar.  She stands at the counter, right in front of the barman, but doesn't speak or play any animation.  Honestly, this would creep me out if I were the barman.
  • 1ish PM - Chris the Traveler enters the bar, encounters Mandy, and uses the same insult that Kyle used previously.  She doesn't dignify it with a response.
  • 3ish PM - Leyla the Thug is back.  No insults this time, instead Leyla says "The Reaver can have me as often as he likes, and he does!"  Mandy responds with "Very Mysterious..."  Personally, I didn't find much mystery in the comment.
  • 4ish PM - Cathy the Traveler is staggering around drunk and bumps into Mandy.  Mandy screams after her "What's the matter?  Scared?!"
  • 5ish PM - She exchanges inaudible taunts with Vikki the Thug.
  • 6ish PM - Mandy wanders back into the bar for just a few minutes before wandering back outside.
  • 8ish PM - She returns to her spot on the edge of the waterfront staring out over the harbor.  No celestial bodies doing anything interesting this time.
  • 10ish PM - Ted the Stone Cutter mentions to her that he should get his mother a present.  Mandy helpfully points out that there is a "shop in that sells that in town."  I think she's referring to the stall that is pretty much right next to them (closed at the moment).
  • Near to midnight - After nearly 24 hours of avoiding direct interaction with Mandy, she finally spots my character and starts Boo-ing.  I look at this as a decent time to call the 24 hours of observation over.

After watching her for a day, I actually wonder if random chance might have gotten me a very boring NPC, or if any of them would have been so dull under this intense scrutiny.  Of the various characters she interacted with, both Kyle and Leyla were also in the vicinity the entire time.  On the other hand,  Chris, Cathy, and Ted definitely came through from elsewhere and then moved on after a time.  Ted was presumably working at his stone cutting stall at some point.  While there were a few interesting interactions between Mandy and other townsfolk, I never saw her doing anything else beyond walk around and pause.  For someone who spent all day in the vicinity of the bar, she never drank or ate anything (I did see one NPC sitting at a table with a drink).    I've seen NPCs entering/leaving their houses, and I've seen or heard them in their houses sleeping or eating or talking to family members.  Mandy did none of this.

I guess that gets to the point of this series though.  As I do this with other games, I pretty much expect that none of the NPCs are interesting when watched this closely, and the moments of entertainment they provide during normal gameplay exist only because they are in the background.  On the other hand, I think there's something to be said for creating a strong enough simulation that it remains compelling when brought to the forefront.   In any case, the next game I'll cover will probably end up being Red Dead Redemption.

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One Response to “The Secret Lives of NPCs – Fable 2”

  1. BentleyHG Says:

    Really enjoyed this post. Can't wait to see more like this as the series continues,