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Project Zomboid NPCs will have complex, dynamic stories

The system for handling NPCs in Project Zomboid is complex enough to generate its own Walking Dead style narratives that you can interact with

Project Zomboid characters wear red hard hats as they rebuild the walls of a house.

Now that everyone is settling into Project Zomboid’s lively multiplayer modes, developer The Indie Stone has its sights set on another transformational addition to the lo-fi zombie survival game. The NPC system, which the studio revealed earlier this year, is shaping up to be a complex narrative engine that generates detailed individual stories for each character – and you’ll be able to become part of any one of them.

The Indie Stone discusses the NPC system in a blog posted this week. When they arrive, Project Zomboid’s NPCs won’t simply be holed up in various houses or fortresses, they’ll be in the process of working toward their own goals, and they’ll be able to relate their stories to you around the campfire.

The post is an interesting peek into how games are made. Each NPC in Project Zomboid – once they arrive in update 43 – will start with a set of circumstances that determines the opening of their story. From there, the NPC system will send them out into the world, where the system will track where they are and what happens to them. A family might set out to reach the Louisville hospital when they discover one member has fallen mysteriously ill, but have to leave their vehicle when they encounter a military roadblock on the way.

From there, the developers say, the NPC ‘meta’ system will be able to pick from a few possible outcomes, each one sending the family on another branching path. If your character happens to intersect with an NPC’s journey, Project Zomboid will spawn the NPC into the game, and that will create a new dynamic narrative branch in the NPC’s story.

Basically, the short version of this is that Project Zomboid is going to be keeping track of what NPCs are doing even when they haven’t spawned into the game, and because of this, the dialogue trees they’ll have available will be able to reflect their actual journey through the virtual game world, without a developer having to sit down and write a story for that specific character.

The Indie Stone says the ‘storylets’ it’s creating for characters will have natural endpoints, but that they also have the potential to flow into another – one group of survivors might encounter another group, and instead of starving to death, they’ll join together and continue to survive in the zombie apocalypse.

Update 43 is still a ways off – Project Zomboid’s next patch will update it to version 41.69, so there’s still the entirety of update 42 to work through before the meat of this NPC system arrives in the game.