Over on his blog, Coyote has a sort of double post, covering the first in a series on Destructoid about “Building a Better RPG”, and also an interview with Thomas Riegsecker about Eschalon: Book I.

The Destructoid piece covers some ground we’ve trod before. For instance, the length of games, in Games – Too Long? And the padding that makes them too long, in Quest-ionable Activities along with Why Should I Care? about your silly problems in the first place.

We discussed why games don’t seem to change in Old Wine In New Bottles, The Rut And Innovation, Do We Want Something Different?, and Who Wants Innovation? (a recurring theme, isn’t it?)

We looked at story in What’s The Story? and When Story Matters In RPG.

The one point the Destructoid article touches on that I haven’t really written about before is the “party NPC”. The “AI companion(s)” who take the place of the old player-created party members.

As I mentioned in It’s My Party, I’ve always preferred “rolling my own” to picking up strangers along the way.

One reason is, you never know what you’re getting until you’re stuck with them. And for some reason, designers seem to go out of their way to make these NPCs as unpleasant as possible.

I think back to Baldur’s Gate, and – aside from Imoen – there wasn’t one person who joined the group that I cared about in any way. It was much the same in the sequel.

In Neverwinter Nights, I managed to avoid that by going solo. Besides, all those “joinable NPCs” had their own little agendas, little jobs (usually finding some object) they wanted done.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible in Neverwinter: The Movie. I was stuck with a bunch of people I didn’t care about, whom I didn’t especially like, and who were, at times, incredibly annoying.

Yet it’s these same people who are supposed to be helping you save the world (again). Given what they’re usually like, you wonder why they’re taking part instead of following their own way in life.

And what do they actually add to the game? Certainly not any real companionship. If they’re meant to provide “an air of verisimilitude”, well, it’s an air of a different kind that comes to mind.

Personally, I believe games are usually better without the party of NPCs. Offhand, I can’t think of any RPG where I was happy with the idiot joiners tagging along.

Of course, that’s part of the bigger problem: the world never seems real, however fantastic the graphics. Pretty visuals alone can’t do the job. There’s usually nothing in the story or the NPCs to bring the game above the level of the mechanical.

We end up caring only about character advancement: becoming stronger, and equipping ever-more-powerful gear. All the rest is just window dressing, and not very important to us.

So yeah, we’ve been here before. If you want to revisit old ground, check out Coyote’s post.

More on Why RPGs Suck