Poll Question 119 – Do you like to protect NPCs?

12th April 2009

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

Following on from last week’s poll, this week I ask about specific NPCs. The image above is taken from Azure Sheep, where if my memory serves me you had to protect Kate, a female security guard.

Beside the technical aspect of some of the minor bugs, which I am sure annoyed everyone, I found it frustrating to have to protect her.

The whole HL “thing” is about being alone and saving the world/Black Mesa/City 17 etc and having to worry about individuals is too much trouble for me.

I remember in Episode Two I killed Alyx by accident and the game ended with some text about “not protecting vital resources” or something similar. (If anyone is interested I think she was in the car and it fell over the cliff or something and I manged to jump out at the last moment!)

So, do you like to protect NPCs?

The Poll


  1. Kasperg

    I don’t.
    Over the years, my gaming skills have improved a lot. I know how to stay safe in most games (although Crysis in Delta difficulty mode gets tough sometimes). The thing is, friendly AI hasn’t improved that much over the years and I hate having to pay for some stupid NPC’s lack of common sense, orientation or survival skills. “Camp Trip” for Ep2 comes to mind right now.
    That doesn’t mean protecting an NPC can be an interesting story element and give more depth to the relationship between the player and the rest of the virtual world. Interrupting the game because that NPC died and you’re still alive an healthy is probably what I hate the most about the whole thing. Games should either make sure no vital NPC dies, or give the player the alternative of completing the game without that NPC, with a different ending, a different path throughout a level etc.
    People, please don’t make NPCs vital to a mission be able to die. Everytime I see a game_text like the one Phillip mentioned it breaks the immersion for me and reminds me I’m just playing a video game with a limited prefixed path. Most games are made that way, but it’s better if the feeling can be masked.

  2. No, I don’t like protecting nobody but myself.:p Unless you need that NPC to stay alive to open a lock door or something like that. Like in Opposing Force where you sometimes needed an engineer to cut open a door or a scientist to open said door.

  3. Polo

    It’s inevitable that some sort of interaction happens, depending upon the mod concept.
    Personally, I find the AI surrounding NPCs is quite bad. Protecting them can be almost impossible at times. I swear some have a death-wish, lol.

    Nope, the less I am involved with them the better.

    1. “I swear some have a death-wish, lol.”
      I think you have hit upon a great mod idea….
      You are Gordon Freeman, a psychatric nurse, whose task is to take 20 suicidal citizens from Nova Prospekt back to City 17. They follow you but will take every and all opportunites to end their life. How many will make it back with you?

  4. Ricki

    Always when I meet Barney, I try to keep him as long as possible. It’s fun when he helps me fighting.

  5. Mel

    Sorry Phillip as a story line that’s a bit sick.

  6. I hate to protect npcs but Philip has a good idea.


    what’s sick about protecting suicidals? is it not sick to kill thousands of people ? I think you should think about it. I wonder what do you think about silent hill and manhunt.

  7. Jasper

    I hate protecting NPCs. I’ve enough on my plate as it is thanks.
    I’m with comments 1 to 3 but Kaspberg says it best..

  8. your evil twin

    I didn’t have a problem with protecting Katie in Azure Sheep, because generally I’d just tell her to wait somewhere, then tell her to follow when I’d cleared out all the enemies. Occasionally there’d be some kind of surprise and we’d both be in danger, but she was reasonably tough and there was a special medkit for healing her.

    Anyone that took Kate with them into the final battle versus Special Forces and an apache helicopter would be a bit of an idiot – you just leave her inside and go out and fight alone.

    I had no problems with Alyx in Episode 1 or Episode 2. She was pretty damn tough, and it took several zombine grenade explosions in a row to kill her. (Or, driving the Episode 2 car off a cliff, lol.) I found fighting alongside Alyx great fun – she was tough and wasn’t easily killed, but the fact she was armed with a pistol meant that she wasn’t fighting all the battles for you either, merely lending a hand.

    I seem to remember bits in Sin Episodes: Emergence where you fought alongisde Jessica were alright too. Been ages since I played it though.

    Also, there’s games like Republic Commando, a squad-based star wars game, where if one of your squad mates is killed you can simply revive him. And if YOU get incapacitated your squadmates will run over to revive you. Therefore failure only occurs when you totally screw up and manage to get the entire team slaughtered in a matter of a few seconds.

    Also, it’s ok to have dumb/easily killed NPCs when their survival isn’t critical. I recall the excellent HL1 mod Sweet Half-Life had numerous NPCS, including security guards, scientists, soldiers (like oppoisng force), and even scientists in HEV suits that could use all the powerful guns of the game. If they died, there was no bad consequence, but if you could manage to keep them alive, you could amass an absolutely gigantic army of 10 gun-toting NPCs. I won the alien spaceship bossfight using my NPC army!!! Which was reward enough for the difficulties of keeping them all alive, and getting them to naviagate corridors etc.

  9. Neuromante

    I always have hated the babysitting missions. In every game.
    It’s not because I don’t care about my fellow humans, but to take care of a deficiently programmed AI. Maybe in determinated spots (IE: The end of Ep1) it’s fine, but take care about a NPC for a whole title (Hello, Alyx, I don’t care about you and your dialogue lines. Go back and let me do the job, thankyou), mainly due situations like the one of the “car falling from a edge”: When a normal guy (well, when a guy who have a PHD, and it’s an action hero) would just jump from the car, the AI don’t, so the whole game got screwed not for your fault, but game’s.
    I don’t mind being punished for running through the battlefield with my underwear in the head while screamin “COCOCOCOCO”, but I do hate being punished due a stupid AI wich don’t even know how to take cover crouching behind a box.
    Obviously you can make your companion (cube, hehe) almost indestructible (Like Alyx, who looks like to be supra-human, as long as she can take a AR1 grenade and survive without scraps), wich destroy the “I’m protecting her” illusion and transform it in a “I’m using her as beacon for the enemies”.

    I would have voted the “short periods of time” choice, but for me, a “Short period of time” it’s “less than a minute”, like in HL when you had to take scientist to open you a door.

    Oh, and Azure Sheep was a GREAT mod. “Wait here, I’ll do all the work so we can continue without problems” ^^ Good old times.

  10. MattyDienhoff


    Reason being, programming AI to be intelligent enough to make it through complex situations without recklessly endangering itself one way or another is very difficult. Unless the developer is willing to spend a lot of time and effort on it, chances are the irritation of keeping the NPC in question alive will far outweigh any feeling of achievement the player might feel for having done so.

    As I’m sure anyone who’s played an escort mission in which they have to protect some thick NPC that you can’t control at all knows, there’s nothing more frustrating than failing because of some factor beyond your control.

    That said, I do like looking out for NPCs in most of the games I play, but if it’s *mandatory* and you have to restart if something happens to them, it opens the door to a lot of frustration.

  11. Whenever I’ve played either HL or HL2, whenever the NPCs come into the scenes, my tendency to begin with is to protect them–it took a while to figure out that some of them were *meant* to be cannon fodder to thin out the enemy herds!! That doesn’t mean I don’t like sending them out to get slaughtered, if I find I need them further on, I’ll try to protect them the best way I can, and then lose them when the game wants me to lose them.

    Case in point: the scene in HL2, where you come out of the underground, pick up a squad, walk out into a mess of combine/CP tossing manhacks at you, under an old collapsed overpass. When you’re done with the hacks/CP/combine, you lose your squad because you have to run to the parking garage and battle the strider and the snipers that show up, and you eventually pick up Barney. In those battles, if you lose your squad early, you lose alot of health and armor just battling the manhacks and enemy, and don’t have much left for the strider/snipers; but if you manage the squad, you come out a bit better off.

    Also, if a game designer made *better* squad AIs that worked with you alot better, it would make trying to protect them a reward, rather than a burden (see Diablo2 and the NPC you could carry along for assistance).

  12. Evan

    let me put it this way, I like to protect alyx (or rather not kill her), but I shot the barneys in hl1 myself because they mere sometimes quite annoying

  13. SMB

    I find it odd that while I don’t like to protect the NPCs, I still feel compelled to do so when they’re there. I just don’t like the feeling I get when a squad member goes down in front of me, so I usually order them to stay out of the way(Which kind of defeats the point of having them there).

    I don’t really have the same problem with the vortigaunt, Barney or Alyx, though. For the most part, they can take care of themselves, and their health regenerates very quickly. I also don’t have that problem with friendly antlions, probably because they’re not supposed to resemble intelligent creatures, so I don’t really care if they die. I’ll gladly abuse and expend them if it will give me some advantage. I did give the different antlion skins names though; Stripey, Limey, Sprite, and Spot.

  14. I don’t “like” protecting NPCs, but I generally do it anyway. I’d like it a lot more if the NPCs had a little more sense, and you had a little more control over what weapons they used and able to give them medkits and such.

  15. Green

    in hl1 I would protect the NPC’s and if one of them died I would kill my self so I can try to protect them one more time 😛
    but I really only did that to a few NPC’s that opened doors or lockers with supplys in them…

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