(Warning: Minor The Witcher spoilers)
My name is Geralt of Rivia. I am a Witcher – I kill monsters for a living. You may think of me as a more macho Van Helsing, but without the steampunk and I live in a traditional fantasy world. I’ve just left the graveyard in the city of Vizima, having cut swathes through ghouls and vampires – I’m sorry, “fledder” – and now I’m on my way, my sack tightly packed with trophies, to collect my rewards for the three contracts I’ve fulfilled in there. My first stop is the local dentist who took over the shop of the private eye I worked with briefly. He said he’d pay me for the teeth I pulled out of the festering mouths of the ghouls I killed in the graveyard, and he better make good on that deal or he can add his own teeth to his collection.
The door is open so I walk right in. Place is pretty empty. I notice he’s rearranged the furniture since he took over the place, but clearly he’s not home right now, so I leave the way I came. Well, Kalkstein’s lab isn’t far from here, I should turn this stinking bone marrow I collected from the alghouls over to him and get my money. I can’t be bothered knocking as I enter – he should be used to it by now. The messy apartment is devoid of the half-kooky alchemist, so I check the lab in the basement, but he’s gone. Gods know where he is. I poke around a bit, help myself to some useful ingredients from his cabinets, and then go through his portal, heading for Triss’ place. She was just there a few hours ago, so hopefully she’ll still be around to pay me for the magical sensors I placed around the city for her.
I emerge from the cold, blinding light of magic to a warmly lit empty bedroom. My eyes immediately snap to the stool in front of the mirror, but the sorceress is not there. I check downstairs, but no dice. She must’ve gone to do… whatever it is she does when she’s not staring at her reflection in the mirror or sleeping. I sigh and leave through the front door, heading for the nearest inn where I can hopefully get a room and kill time until somebody gets home to give me my damn money. Adventuring was never this dull in the bards’ tales.
(No more spoilers beyond this point)
And that’s the problem. Because The Witcher is a computer game, and adventuring shouldn’t be this dull. This is coming from a guy who loves downtime in games, often more than he loves the combat. My favourite part of Mass Effect is the Citadel where I enjoy walking around, exploring the areas, talking to people, running errands, and solving problems through charm or threats of violence. The Witcher has plenty of that, but it also has the boring sort of downtime – the downtime you spend running all over the city to look for somebody who’ll reward you for killing the latest monster, only to find he or she is out doing God knows what so you have to wait until evening when that person returns.
In theory, giving the NPCs in a nonlinear game a daily schedule is a great idea. Having your characters move around and appear to be doing things makes them seem a lot more real, like they have a purpose in the world, and because a given area will contain different characters depending on the time of day, your world will appear full of life. But it’s not enough. You need to help me out a bit because I don’t want to rest for 2 hours, then return to see if Triss is home yet, then go back and rest for two more hours, rinse and repeat. I want to know exactly how much time I have to wait until I can find her, or even better: I want to know where she actually is right now so I can go visit her and get on with my next quest. I spend way too much time in this game moving back and forth between fireplaces where I can rest and the homes of important characters who owe me money. I feel less like a monster slayer and more like a debt-collector. It’s frickin’ tedious, is what it is!
So please, augmenting your AI with daily schedules is a great idea, just find a way to let me know where people are. Put them on the map. Leave a note in their home saying they’re at work in the hospital from 9-5, or pin it on the door that they’ve gone fishing at the lake and will be back at noon. Hell, gimme a seperate journal entry with everybody’s schedules printed in it if necessary, or just put it in the entry you’re adding about every major NPC anyway, that’d be fine. Just don’t make me guess, because this is becoming less of a game and more of a chore.