Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

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Zhukov
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Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by Zhukov » Tue Mar 30, 2010 9:28 am

BioShock's Big Daddies are far and above the best enemy NPCs I have ever seen in a video game. Period.

Image Image

Allow me to explain.

(Yes, this is going to be long. Go get yourself a cup of cocoa or something.)

In most games the enemy NPCs exist for the sole purpose of, well... being enemies. They dutifully spawn and charge forward then attack the player one at a time or in manageably small groups so they can be gunned down, hacked up or otherwise despatched. They constitute a formless mass of minor annoyances which, if not done correctly, can actually detract from the overall quality. Games like Assassins Creed, Red Faction Guerilla and Just Cause 2 ended up feeling like trying to have a picnic on an ant nest. Even extremely good games like God of War and Half Life 2 have a tendency to take the faceless horde approach (although they more then make up for it with stellar implementation).

A slight variation is the RPG method which treats enemy NPCs as aggressive little buckets of XP. The player chews through a certain amount of enemies to fill their little experience gauge, then levels up and moves on to fill their next gauge by chowing down on slightly larger buckets of XP.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with these approaches. As mentioned, there are some truly excellent games out there that follow this pattern. However, I think it can still be done a lot better. This is where the Big Daddies come in.

(Warning: I'm about to engage in some extended fanboy gushing. Get your umbrella.)

Image
(These images do not represent a futile attempt to imitate Wilbefast. Not at all. Nope.)

The foremost difference between Big Daddies and your generic video game bad guys was that they did not attack you on sight. In fact, they would completely ignore you unless you provoked them. If you approached their Little Sister then they would start growling, adopt an intimidating pose and shove you away. But they wouldn't actually attack until you did.

This relatively minor behavioural tweak had some very interesting implications. First off, it gave the Big Daddies a purpose independent of the player. Sure, from a gameplay perspective they're just something else to shoot at, but within the context of the game's story and setting their purpose is to protect the Little Sisters at all costs. Which is exactly what they do. It's little touches like this that can really bring a game to life.
Secondly, the neutral behaviour of the big Daddies meant that the player was always forced to take the role of the aggressor. This added a little pinch of moral ambiguity to the encounters. After all, you were never given any reason to hate the Big Daddies. Personally, I always found myself thinking "sorry mate" each and every time I opened fire.

On top of the non-standard behaviour (and bloody excellent visual design) the Big Daddies exhibited a range of little embellishments that really brought out the benevolent side of their character. Most of these embellishments had to do with their interactions with the Little Sisters. The Big Daddies would gently help them in and out of their hidey-holes, placidly follow them about on their rounds, occasionally give them an affectionate pat on the head and, of course, whisk them out of harms way when the shooting started. Oh, and don't forget the utterly adorable Fluffy the terrible moniker of Mr Bubbles.

Apart from providing occasional "aww" moments, this benevolent aspect made it all the more shocking when a Big Daddy was provoked and suddenly went from lumbering gentle giant to thunderous engine of violence. The game's high quality of presentation helped amplify this effect all the more. Seeing a Big Daddy enter the fray, roaring like a whale with a hangover, managed to give the impression of a creature that has been truly enraged, as opposed to an enemy that has simply gone into "hostile" mode.

Image
"I am being savagely mauled to death by an overprotective golem! And he is awesome!"

Lastly, the fact that the Big Daddies were tough enough to present a significant threat meant that the player developed a certain respect for them. (Actually, this point is kinda debatable. BioShock and its sequel are both very easy games, and there are plenty of game-breaking techniques that can reduce even the Big Daddies to minor annoyances.)

On one occasion while playing I had become dangerously low on health and ammo, so I decided to take an indirect approach to the next Big Daddy takedown. I gathered together about 15 explosive objects and piled them up in a corridor. I then gathered every nearby dead body and piled them up next to the explosives. After a short wait a Little Sister came along to harvest the bodies, presently followed by her Big Daddy. I took aim ("sorry mate") and lobbed a grenade into the whole mess. The corridor erupted in a fiery explosion. I was in the process of smugly congratulating myself for my cunning tactics when the Big Daddy, half dead, on fire and extremely pissed off, came barreling through the flames and proceeded to hand out a righteous curb-stomping.
In any other game this situation would probably have provoked irritation on my part. But in the case of BioShock, all I could think was "Big Daddies are f**king awesome".

Because they are. Fucking awesome, that is.


See? Fucking awesome. In high def.

That is all. You can go now.



(By the way, the sudden rush of wall-o-text posts is due to me being sick for a week or so. I actually feel fine, but the doctor says I'm probably still contagious. So my housemates have placed me in quarantine with nothing but unlimited mugs of cocoa, Just Cause 2, and an internet connection to keep me occupied. Just in case anyone was wondering...)
Last edited by Zhukov on Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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zoidberg rules
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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by zoidberg rules » Tue Mar 30, 2010 12:19 pm

1) i must now officially play bioshock

2) another game where the enemies presented big time danger is in the series of "monster hunter" games for the PSP, but becaue of the way the game works, i dont know if they really count

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by Freshbite » Tue Mar 30, 2010 1:12 pm

I think that another set off NPCs that implies to this context are the giant mythological creatures of Shadow of The Colossus, which by the way also are fucking awesome.

They are not hostile (well, some of them actually are... if you get too close) and it is YOU who choose whether or not to fight them (eventhough they have to be beaten to finish the game).

If not for YOU, the creatures would still have lived their peaceful lives, which kind of is the same case as in the Little Sister / Big Daddy situations.



I'm going to go play Shadow of The Colossus right now. Be right back.

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Post by Zhukov » Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:03 pm

Freshbite wrote:I think that another set off NPCs that implies to this context are the giant mythological creatures of Shadow of The Colossus, which by the way also are fucking awesome.
Indeed. I loved Shadow of the Colossus. It was a very powerful depiction of that old saying, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions". Sadly, not owning a PS2 I only got to play it once at a friend's house. (I hate the practice of exclusives.)

However, I always considered the Colossi to be singular characters in their own right rather then non-individual NPCs.

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by Blorx » Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:07 pm

I always loved the dragon in Adventure...ahhhh gaming in the '70s. :D

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by Armored Wolf » Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:52 pm

Imitate Wilbefast? Are you sure you don't mean Grayswandir? Or did I miss something...

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Post by Zhukov » Tue Mar 30, 2010 4:16 pm

zoidberg rules wrote:1) i must now officially play bioshock
Oh dear. I shall feel terribly guilty if you end up hating it.

Therefore, some warnings:
- It's way too easy. If you have any experience with FPS games then you will breeze through it. I recommend playing on the hardest difficulty and turning off the vita-chambers in the options menu. You may even wish to handicap yourself by not getting health upgrades and/or avoiding some of the more overpowered weapons.
- The final act of the game displays a distinct drop-off in quality. It's still pretty good, but not as good as the rest.
- The hacking minigame gets old pretty quickly. Luckily, it can be avoided.
- Regarding the Big Daddies specifically. There are few too many. After you've killed Big Daddy #11, the awesomeness starts to get a bit diluted.

Right then. My potential guilt is thus averted. Go play it.
Armored Wolf wrote:Imitate Wilbefast? Are you sure you don't mean Grayswandir? Or did I miss something...
No, I meant Wilbefast. See, he peppers his posts with images, videos and plenty of emphasis. (Example.) However, he generally posts in the SPF, so yes, you have missed something. Something good.

Anyway, his methods seem to be well received so I decided to give them a try.

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by invertin » Thu Apr 01, 2010 1:08 pm

I haven't played enough of Bioshock and I probably never will get any further, but I know what you mean. The big daddies have a massive presence, as soon as you see one, you are constantly concious of the fact that it's there. Hell, I had some fun hanging around with a big daddy for no reason other than to watch it wander around. It obviously didn't take too kindly but it didn't attack me either.

They don't really seem like enemies. It's difficult to describe. I suppose it would be the same feeling as being in a room with a tank being driven by professionals. You know that thing can blow you apart without thinking about it, and even though you know it won't, that doesn't keep you from thinking about it.
zoidberg rules wrote:2) another game where the enemies presented big time danger is in the series of "monster hunter" games for the PSP, but becaue of the way the game works, i dont know if they really count
Maybe it's just my experience, but the monsters for the most part seem to be actively hostile against me or completely ignorant of my existance with no inbetween, and if they do notice me they immediately attack me. I'd probably agree with you if they interacted with eachother ("holy crap that dragon thing just ate that pig thing" instead of "why is the pig thing trying to kill me as well")

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by Ragdollmaster » Fri Apr 02, 2010 6:16 pm

Meh. I usually just lured Splicers to a Mr. Bubbles and while he slaughtered them, he usually took a fair bit of damage. At this point I would open fire and usually mow him down with a half-clip of Armor Piercing Tommy Gun rounds, then happily loot all of the bodies, then pick up the Big Daddy with Telekinesis- because, next to explosive barrels/grenades/etc, they're the deadliest Telekinesis-compatible projectiles in the game, and let's face it- there's something about throwing a giant with your mind at a crazy wrench-wielding woman that's ever so fulfilling.

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by zoidberg rules » Mon Apr 05, 2010 9:35 am

invertin wrote:
zoidberg rules wrote:2) another game where the enemies presented big time danger is in the series of "monster hunter" games for the PSP, but becaue of the way the game works, i dont know if they really count
Maybe it's just my experience, but the monsters for the most part seem to be actively hostile against me or completely ignorant of my existance with no inbetween, and if they do notice me they immediately attack me. I'd probably agree with you if they interacted with eachother ("holy crap that dragon thing just ate that pig thing" instead of "why is the pig thing trying to kill me as well")
yeah they do that, but i wasnt really relating them to big daddys that deeply, just in the fact that they actually present a clear and present danger to you almost all of the time, plus those pig things will be the death of you against some of the bigger monsters so watch your back

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Post by Zhukov » Wed Apr 14, 2010 8:21 am

Skomakar'n wrote:I actually did make a cup of hot cocoa just because you told me to.
Well... I'm happy to hear that I was able to contribute to bringing more cocoa into the world.

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by Assaultman67 » Wed Apr 14, 2010 9:38 am

Because that was the real goal of this post ... to make people drink more cocoa :P ...

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by Aspen » Wed Apr 14, 2010 7:34 pm

I was contacted by Nestle today. They want me to talk Zhukov into joining their advertisement department.

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by Sandurz » Wed Apr 14, 2010 7:58 pm

I got BioShock months ago, but Win7 doesn't support it very well, and it crashed all the time. :(
I REALLLY want to play it though, it sounds like such a fun game.

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Re: Ode to Mr Bubbles - Enemy NPCs done right.

Post by nerodx » Wed Apr 14, 2010 10:21 pm

Did you happen to play Bioshock 2 as well? Remember the last time you fight a big daddy towards the end? That was one of the most amazing emotional events I've ever played in a game, right next to the end of Half Life 2 Episode 2. And it wasn't even an important part of the plot!

Sorry if I gave anything away in the form of spoilers to anyone, I tried being as vague as possible. But seeing a big daddy discussion made me HAVE to bring that up.

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