NPC Job System

I needed a picture at the BEGINNING... At least it's a place of work?

My day job is at full speed with my weekends being controlled by bike races (head coach) so development is coming in spurts. It's disappointing to watch the slow crawl of progress, but at least the bike team is placing first in the conference! 

Ok, that's not why you came here... But while your distracted, if you didn't notice I've added a discord channel. It's quiet atm but feel free to stop by if you have questions or comments.

The big focus for the past month or two has been the job system. It is designed to the allow the player to hire NPCs to do basic jobs. These jobs are created from tasks which contain specific actions. These jobs are then "posted" and the NPC uses a simple  value system to determine what job they want to accept. The goal is that these jobs are superimposed on top of the NPC's other needs or desires and that jobs provide money for the NPC to provide for itself. The jobs also intended to speed up the progress of the player - rather spend time to chop wood they can pay an NPC to do it allowing the player to become more efficient and do more. 

The job system has developed in three major chunks. Code backbone. User interface. Creation of actions. 

Code Backbone

The base Actions class

The job system needed a generic framework that could be expanded and extended upon. To do this I broke the design into three main classes; jobs, tasks and actions. 

The job class is the boss of the whole deal. It controls the flow of tasks that the NPC will do and is also the communication link between the rest of the game and the job as a whole.

Task scripts are pretty similar to jobs in that they control the flow of what actions the NPC will do. Having a second container with no real effect made sense in that a task can fail and if the job contains more than one task the NPC would still be able to accomplish something... There is also the option (not fully implemented) that each task can have a time limit. The thought is that a NPC shouldn't spend 3 days looking for kindling if they could also be mining for coal. I'm not 100% sold on the need for tasks, but will likely leave them in for now. 

Actions are where, well, all the action happens. Actions are pretty specific and an individual job or task will likely have several actions. New actions can be added fairly easily due to the base class that is easily extended. Actions will include searching for items, dropping them off for processing or selling them to a vendor and whatever else seems useful.

The three classes largely communicate and interact by checking the status of their "subordinate." That is the job checks and reacts to the status of each task contained in the job and each task checks and reacts to the status of each action contained in the task. When all the actions in a task are complete the task is complete. When all tasks in a job are complete the job is complete and checks to see if it should repeat. Jobs can be done once, daily, continuously or a set number of times. For simplicity the status of jobs, tasks and actions all use the same enum - not started, running, complete, failed or paused. 

User Interface

The ugly current state of the Job Menu

There's a lot going on in the creation and the assignment of a job to an NPC. So the UI is probably the most complex I've made so far in my short dev career. Can I really call it that? I hesitate to even show it as it's so damn ugly, but it's easier to post a picture than describe it all. 

Essentially the left panel is where the job is constructed while the right panel contains posted jobs, saved jobs and inventory items that plug into actions. Not the most refined, but it's working (mostly). 

The job menu has already been through several iterations. With many more to come. I'm trying to hold off on the fancier bits until the full design is complete or at least closer to complete. Each new action makes me rethink the design of the UI or at least the action interface. Once the set of actions are more complete the design of the UI should come together.

Creation of Actions

The first action created was a rather useless one in that it was a random wander. Not something you'd likely want to pay some one to do, but served as a good testing grounds for the system as a whole. 

I would like to keep the number of actions fairly small, but still allow a wide range of jobs for the NPC to complete. Hunting for the system that allows emergent behavior! Currently actions are focused on the collection and delivery of resources. I hacked Inventory Pro to use the item database for the job actions. This greatly simplifies what I have to create and also helps keep a common interface and database.

At the moment I have one UI prefab for all actions and I am simply toggling on/off the needed parts. I'm not sure this is the best solution, but seems to be working fairly well. The toggling is controlled by a series of booleans in the actions themselves - the info in this communicated when the action UI element is created. 

So far the available options are an item, location, range from location, and a number of times to repeat the action. These options are holding up well with the exception of needing to show or indicate the location. At the moment the location is a vector3 which is pretty useless to the player... 

The Results?

The results of this work is a functional prototype of a job system. It's not complete, it's not ready to be added, but it was a proof of concept. The job system is likely to be left out of the first alpha build, but should make it's way in once the first couple rounds of bug fixing and balancing.

What's Next?

The job system was the last major piece of coding that needed to be completed in the prototype phase. So now the working goal is a fully playable alpha build. 

This leaves me focused on the visuals. In particular I begun the process of modeling buildings and working to refine my terrain creation process. I want to include rivers and waterfalls both as eye candy buy also as potential energy sources (hyrdo), but getting a low poly waterfall to look decent is tricky... but more on that in my next post.

I'll leave you with a WIP render of some market stalls.

A WIP render of market stalls - yes I know the lighting isn't awesome