There are no NPCs in the current Build 41 version of Project Zomboid, but NPCs will be added to the game with Build 43. And so for Project Zomboid new era will begin. These NPCs will include not only human NPCs but also NPC animals. Developers also stated that there will be advanced group behaviour systems and all NPCs will have their own family tree. Now let's move on and dive deeper into what awaits us in Build 43 and how NPCs will look like in Project Zomboid.
How NPCs Will Work in Project Zomboid
What we will talk about in this article is what we know so far about the future of Project Zomboid and our predictions.
In a blog post published on March 3, 2022, the developers talk about how long they have been developing NPCs. There are lots of cool systems and possibilities here, but right now nothing functions together as a whole. So the disclaimer here is that anything ahead is basically still in the planning phase and could change at any moment. You’ve been warned.
So what are the first versions of the NPC system going to look like? During the first announcements about the version that will include NPCs, the development team said that the NPCs will not be related to any Story Mode in the game.
It took a really long time to add NPCs to the game, but the developers don't want the game's story to be overshadowed by the lack of NPCs. Their first explanation is that they're going to deliver a shallow experience, a little bit of everything, and they're going to gradually add a little bit of everything. Also, the game is going to be missing a lot of the content that was planned for the first release.
Now from here on, the devs start talking about actual features. Currently, they are planning for Project Zomboid NPCs to be able to actually join your group and be a part of your survival story. Just like in the Rim World game, you will be able to recruit NPCs to your community and they will help you with crafting, cooking, building, or hauling items to your safe house. Moreover, you can prioritize your people with Rimworld style priority. You will also be able to kill all the zombies in Project Zomboid together on your travels.
Next, the devs give us a look at the framework NPCs are built upon in Project Zomboid. Previously the developers called this framework the “metaverse” or “metaworld”, which, thanks to a popular social media site owner they are still not sure about the name. They will probably need a name change sometime soon. The whole idea behind this framework is that NPCs will not live solely on your screen. When they are not loaded into your nearby area, they will continue to live out their life, experience events, and continue to be changed by the world around them. Just like our character.
Every action they take has the potential to trigger a range of events and in turn, they make different decisions and different outcomes for these events than any other person that might experience something similar.
Every single Project Zomboid's NPCs you meet in the world has lived the apocalypse. Maybe they decided to leave their homes, unite with their neighbors and form a new community. Maybe they set up base in a nice location in Project Zomboid. You can meet one of the members of this group. When you see this person again elsewhere, he may tell you that his wife was infected with a zombie infection due to a mistake made by someone in the group and that he has been living alone ever since. They left the group, and have been living alone ever since. There will be many more procedural story event systems like this. By creating a library of chained events, the game's developers want NPCs to be more involved and alive in the game as possible.
This is just an example I’ve pulled out of my imagination, but the developers give pretty similar sort of examples. The point is that these events occur off-screen as part of this immersive framework, and completely change the course of the game. Helping NPCs brings more life to the game and provides a different story with each playthrough. They will recount these stories to players in different ways, depending on the events and how they unfolded. It cannot be overstated how incredible this system will be.
Here is a full roadmap:
Story and over-arching narratives like this around non-essential characters can be what gives life to a game. We form attachments to that characters and that ultimately leads to the player being more involved with the game and more invested in the stories unfolding them.
Other Changes with Build 42 in Project Zomboid
Following on from the explanation of this world that the NPC live in outside of the player’s visible screen. Indie Stone developers talk about the improvements they are making at the same time as working on NPCs.
Vehicle driving systems, combat, advanced behaviour scripting, threat prediction, and even job systems are mentioned here. However, the multiplayer rework that the team decided on has disrupted a lot of the areas that the NPC code relies upon. It’s going to be a significant job for the team essentially make this workable again on the new Build 41 multiplayer branch.
Then there is some rather interesting footage taken before the MP rework interrupted the development of NPCs, which includes a stress test with 500 NPCs on the map at the same time. They all go about their survival behaviors, like finding the best weapons in Project Zomboid and exploring. Some are within close proximity of one another and others are spread out around the map. Also in this video, you can see the driving tests of 400 NPCs and their reactions to a player driving badly. You can see that it seems to run pretty well. If you would like to view the 500 NPC stress test, you can access it from this link. They also mention that there is a fair few videos that have been collected, and we may be lucky enough to see some more on future blog updates.
In the last paragraphs of the blog post, the developers talk about the challenges they faced in designing these stories that will unfold through NPCs and how these events will take place off-screen. They also talk about how these NPC events will take place when there are other players around.
It then links to an article written by Lemmy, the lead developer of Project Zomboid. The article mentions that the NPCs in the game will copy the movements and behaviors of real players, making them more meaningful. Again, you’ll be able to find that here if you are interested.
The next step is to analyze NPC events in the game and add new ones, as well as mine data about how players are witnessing them.
NPCs Will Work for You in Project Zomboid
And lastly, if you have ever played Rimworld, the Indie Stone devs have made reference to this game before as being a bit of inspiration for them. In the future of Project Zomboid, we may see something similar to this game's job system.
Just imagine, you come back to your safehouse after a loot run and your NPC is growing crops, chatting socially over a bite to eat. Maybe arguing and causing conflict between each other that you can catch up on and interact with. The whole way this thing is going just gives so much hope for Project Zomboid’s future.