The petty, grudge-holding NPCs of Thousand Threads

“Things go wrong” is one of the best genres of videogames. Thousand Threads [official site] is an upcoming open world game that seems to embrace that philosophy, if the developer’s attempt to create a video demonstration is anything to go by. It features colourful meadows, peaceful woodland and half a dozen angry people in hats chasing and punching each other as part of an elaborate grudge match all because Sung stole three rocks from Dorinda. For goodness sake, Sung.

That looks very interesting in a promising prototype way, no? It’s billed as an open world game where characters remember what you do on an individual basis, forming grievances and fondnesses for both you and other NPCs. Here’s how the developers, Seamount Games, describe it:

Maybe you deliver an item for a guy. He gives you a reward and likes you a little more. Or maybe instead of delivering the item, you sell it to the highest bidder. Now the guy hates you. He tells his friends and they hate you. You’re rich, but on the run.

It’s not a morality system. It’s not a scripted story with branching paths. It’s a system of cause and effect. Characters have unique personality traits, memories, and goals, so they act and react differently. Your actions build your story.

Thems some lofty ambitions. Right now, it seems like stealing, punching and being punched because you are either stealing or punching are the only kinds of interaction going on. It’s still funny, but by no means a complete representation of what a system like this should be able to replicate. To my mind, the biggest design problem with things like this isn’t in making a simulation where people get annoyed with each other, but in making a game that can clearly communicate why people have gotten annoyed. Otherwise, something like this can easily just look like random chaos.

But hopefully we’ll see more when the devs make progress. I mostly wanted to post about it because I thought the video was a laugh. I love that the developer is constantly interrupted from trying to explain the deeper mechanics of the simulation because his angry creations are acting like petulant children.


  1. chuckieegg says:

    Ultimate battle simulator : Pocahontas Vs 8 Amish.

    Why not just wait till someone else has whacked Dorinda, then search her for cash?

    • Towerxvi says:

      Man, I don’t really go to the movies anymore, but I would certainly pay to see that as a disney sequel.

  2. poliovaccine says:

    I wonder a lot why more games dont use the simple 0/100 Dislike/Like social system every individual NPC had in Morrowind. It could raise or lower according to certain racist attributes right off the bat, before you even opened your mouth, or according to whether you had pants on, among other things… it allowed the ability to employ skill-check based persuasion and admiration for a deeper, more coercive Speech skill experience, it could forbid you from accessing an NPC’s services dynamically if you’d fucked with them too much. All just as a result of a simple 0/100 counter. I never understood why that wasnt more imitated.

    I say that cus it seems like this game, Thousand Threads, *does* imitate it, but then seeks to filter it through all sorts of additional parameters. Which sounds cool as hell to me. I’m no expert, but I’ve done enough modding and super amateur game dev that I’ve created some similar scenes to that video, and re: the concern about NPCs broadcasting their intent? In my unasked-for experience, it’s all in the shout and the animation they do to signal their change of state.

    The shout and the animation, it’s a singular dynamic duo capable of myriad different AI expressions, and an unsung staple of all the best AI. When they’re good, they’re so effective you hardly notice em. Thief, Hitman, Dishonored all get the shout-and-animation right. And when they suck, the whole game sucks. Like Lucius II. Not that better AI telegraphing was all you’d have needed to save that sick horse, but it would have made it at least “a dull game” instead of “an unplayable one.”

    Anyway, right now this game looks like it’s kinda lacking that, but I love what I see nonetheless, I love the potential for dynamic reactions snowballing out of control and I love the art style. Frankly I dont even care what it’s about, I’m already thinking about modding it, haha.

    That’s not totally true, I’m pretty well interested all around. Thanks for the looksee at something which, for an AI enthusiast like myself anyway, is critically exciting..!

    • ThePuzzler says:

      I like the Crusader Kings 2 system of tracking relationships where you have a relationship number between -100 and +100 and you can find out where it comes from. “Granted me a county: +40. Foreign culture: -10. Heretic religion: -15. Invited me to good party: +10. Tried to murder me: -100. Total: -75.”

    • Archonsod says:

      The problem with a system like Morrowind’s is it doesn’t work so well for tracking long term behaviour. Quite a lot of RPG’s have used it (Bioware’s relationships work exactly the same way) and they all have the same problem – murder someone’s only child and you can still get them to like you providing you bring them enough presents.

      • Bluestormzion says:

        Just introduce permanent modifiers to the system. Murdering someone’s child would give an immediate loss of 100, but also incur a -75 Permanent Modifier to be applied AFTER calculating everything else. So since the murder you’ve bought them a house, cared for their sick mother, rescued their OTHER child from drowning, and made them icecream. All that brings you back to 100… aaaaand then we incur that Permanent -75 and we have a total of 25, which is just BARELY high enough that they won’t attack you on sight or run screaming for the guards. But they still won’t talk to you, won’t sell to you, won’t defend you if werewolves are trying to eat your legs, won’t call for help if you’re on fire with a ball-gag in your mouth.

        Since people (naturally!) remember the bad more than the good, don’t include any permanent plus modifiers. Unless we want to get into political affiliations, but that would get messy.

        • poliovaccine says:

          *Exactly,* THANK you. It isnt that it’s an unsolvable dilemma, it’s that it’s never been a special priority to allocate resources to fixing it. You come to a very similar conclusion as myself – NPCs dont need a genuine long-term memory, they just need to not be completely amnesiac about the most severe things you can do to em. It’s as simple as – “Ohhhh no, *you* deal in stolen goods! You’re not welcome in my shop anymore!” or a little bit of, “You killed %NPCname=flagged !relative. You think money is going to make me forget that??”

          Obviously, I spent some time working on a Morrowind mod with similar aims. I also tried making a faction-loyalty system for the Free Ride mode in Mafia, where you could do “radiant quests” (before we had that term to describe em) in the form of randomized NPC assassinations for either Salieri, Morello, or the Mayor (i.e. the city/police). The idea was that each would comprise a separate “gang” and you could never win the allegiance of all three at once – at best you might strike a balance of general neutrality, but I tried to tilt things so that was virtually impossible and you had to pick a side. But that game was a fucking nightmare to mod, not least because the code for the unique, inhouse-developed LS3D engine was written by *Czech* developers – usually you can intuit a certain amount from the names of commands and so forth – “player.additem” is fairly self-explanatory, for instance – but not so with Mafia. I only tried because back then I loved that game even more than GTA3.

          I’ve actually found early, buggy releases of my mod still available, but I cant find the final v1.3 release anywhere, which was the only one where all the features really reliably worked. Which is too bad, cus I was proud of what we did – it started with just 14 year-old me and a friend, but wound up accruing a whole international team by the end. We created enterable interiors, street races to either do yourself or spectate and bet on, back alley boxing with the same options (a standalone “Boxing Mod” was actually my first ever release), those aforementioned assassinations, we added rival gangs based on different territories – Hoboken was openly hostile, for example – we added various little goodies like barbershop quartets performing for a dollar on the street or games of craps going on in back alleys that you could jump in on, you could save at phone booths, the whistle that was inexplicably left in the game without a purpose could now hail taxis with a whole set of locations where you could have them bring you, we even built a primitive dialogue/response-selection system.

          Point being (besides to brag about my awesome Mafia mod), is that even old-ass games were capable of a lot more in that direction, should it have ever been a special priority for developers to go there. But ultimately, I think the population of people who care about those things is smaller, amongst gamers, than those who dont. Even if developers care, their schedule demands a different allocation of time and resources. It’s only really avid gamers who even notice this stuff, and as much as graphics and physics have evolved to eerily near simulacra of reality, AI simply isnt so important when it’s only going to be onscreen for as long as it takes you to kill it. But these things are surprisingly solvable – and I’m hopeful that, with graphical advancement sort of meeting a forced cutoff at the level of quality perceptible by human eyes, combined with modern gaming finally starting to grow up, maybe now some of the extra resources generated by ever-improving tech can go towards beefing up AI simulation and generating a more dynamic experience overall.

          We just need a proper “Havok” system but for AI – some template which can be translated across into any number of games, any number of engines, to act as a paradigm for how AI should be in a general, modifiable way. Devs shouldnt have to reinvent the wheel every single time, that’s understandably wearying. But if such a thing already exists, I’m unaware of it.

    • Seyda Neen says:

      Irrelevant to the actual discussion, but it’s nice to see a Morrowind modder here. I did a bit of that and participated in the community on the Bethsoft forums a little bit, though I never put out anything substantial. Hello!

    • wfw-rps says:

      hi could you elaborate a little on what you mean by The shout and the animation -system- is it literally the character shouts out a sound and plays an animation (eg ” im happy ” and does a little happy dance)?

      • Phasma Felis says:

        I would guess they mean something like that, though not necessarily so overt. A wordless sigh, coo, or growl, facial expression and body language, can say a lot.

  3. Ghostwise says:

    Right now, it seems like stealing, punching and being punched because you are either stealing or punching are the only kinds of interaction going on.

    That’s not a bad description of some companies I’ve worked with…

  4. Premium User Badge

    Dios says:

    ” It’s billed as an open world game where characters remember what you do on an individual basis, forming grievances and fondnesses for both you and other NPCs.”

    The scavenger tribes in Rain World actually work like that. The tribes(there are several) have an opinion of you, as well as the individual members. This also applies to everything else, so you can actually make enemies into friends.