As much as MMOs are about other players in a shared area doing things and lending a sense of ambience to a game world, NPCs also bring life to things as they mull about doing a variety of tasks. That NPC and AI behavior was the subject of last Friday’s devstream from Star Citizen, which walked fans through the process of designing NPC behaviors.
Obviously, AI refers to an NPC’s brain, which has to be loaded up with desires and functions based on what job that NPC has; an engineer NPC is going to need to know how to navigate the game environment, find broken components, and recognize what needs to be done to fix them. The showcase started from absolute scratch with a blank NPC and a blank play area, with the devs putting together this example engineer. All NPCs have shared behaviors such as eating, sleeping, and socializing, but during the example the devs added unique layers based on what an engineer would be doing — in this case, working on a fuse.
What this means for actual gameplay isn’t just for ambience alone, as players could eventually hire NPCs to perform certain tasks, and hiring the right person for the job would thus be important. You wouldn’t want a bartender fixing your starship’s electrical systems, after all.