The PC version of games, especially popularly modded games, always get the experimental mods. This trend continues as Skyrim on PC gets another mod that seems to be a game changer… pun sort of intended.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this mod is who made it: Researchers at Portugal's Universidade de Lisboa and North Carolina State University. They developed a tool within Skyrim and the resulting mod makes NPC interactions less like a scripted RPG and more like The Sims. This makes interactions with NPCs less predictable and more alive.
The tool, called CIF-CK, was built on the Comme il-Faut AI model which was developed in 2012, one year after Skyrim initially launched. The mod the researchers recently created uses this tool, based on the model, goes by the name "Social Skyrim". The mod was actually part of the Master Thesis of Manuel Guimarães, a student at Lisbon.
Interestingly, vanilla Skyrim already tracks NPC's affection towards players, but does nothing with it, perhaps due to a scrapped idea. But the mod creates variability in NPC interactions. NPCs can act on their changed opinions to not only the player character but other NPCs as well. This is where the comparison to The Sims comes into play. NPCs can interact with each other and gain or lose affection with each other without any player input.
The mod's description reads as follows:
NPCs … use social interactions (quests) such as flirting, complimenting, insulting, embarrassing (etc) to interact with each other. They try pursue romantic partners and insult those who they feel disgusted by. They try to make friends and introduce themselves to those that do not know them. The best part is that YOU can insult them too! Or flirt with them, or ask them to marry you, you choose!
Manipulate them, destroy their relationships or help them build one, or just wait and see what the end result will be without interfering.
“Most games now rely on scripts to govern NPC behavior,” said Arnav Jhala, an associate professor of computer science at N.C. State. “In other words, there are decision trees that dictate an NPC’s response to whatever the player is doing. That’s fairly limiting, and means that any two players that make the same decisions will have the same interactions with NPCs. We want to move beyond that, to a more immersive gaming experience," Jhala said. "And Skyrim was the game we started with.”
To clarify, the CIF program makes it so every NPC can be aware of all other agents, aka their affection toward others, but the CIF-CK allows developers to decide who or what the NPCs know or can act on, allowing for further customization.
Guimarães, Jhala and Pedro A. Santos (also of Lisbon) have authored a paper about their work, which will be presented Aug. 22 at the IEEE Conference on Computational Intelligence and Games in New York. Jhala's hope is that the mod brings attention to developers and can be used in more games in the future.
"This work demonstrates that tools like CIF-CK can be implemented on a large scale,” Jhala says. If the tools can be used, efficiently at that, in a mod for a game that came out before the toolset was even released, we can only imagine the implementation within a game built around it. "Social Skyrim" is available through Steam Workshop and NexusMods.