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The Most Dangerous Jobs for Video Game NPC’s

I’ve been playing a lot of Assassins Creed 2 lately, and it got me thinking that being a Venetian Archer has to be one of the most hazardous jobs for any video game NPC in history. You have a pretty short life expectancy, then you end up sliding off a roof into the street after getting a throwing knife in the back, or an assassins blade in the lungs or heart. To add insult to injury, you then get your body looted and are dumped in a pile of hay. At least the people of Venice are appalled by the looting of your body – although I notice none come to your aid.

Things have never been great for NPCs though. You can pretty much guarantee that, as an NPC, if you are dressed the same as a bunch of your mates, you are not long for the game. You might re-spawn eventually, but, much like the Cylons, I’m sure it’s not pleasant. Think of all the poor henchmen in Batman: Arkham Asylum. They stand there in their identi-kit clothes, while Harley and all the important side-kicks and other villains have great outfits, but at least Batman never actually seems to kill anyone. Wearing a Nazi uniform is also pretty much immediate death in video games!

NPCs are carrying on a great tradition of ‘extras’. I’ll bet the first extra that put on a black hat in a cowboy movie figured that someday he would be a lead actor – how wrong he was. Yes, just stand on that roof… and be sure to stick your head out, cover is only for the good guys. The same was true of any red-shirted Star Trek crew member picked for an ‘away mission’. Guy FleegmanI don’t recall anyone ever surviving a hostile planet in Star Trek if they were wearing a red shirt, at least NPCs in today’s video games usually get camouflage outfits. Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) in the great Star Trek spoof “Galaxy Quest” knew this – “… I thought I was the crewman that stays on the ship and something is up there and it kills me. But now I’m thinking I’m the guy that gets killed by some monster five minutes after we land on the planet.” – and it made for a great running joke. Ricky Gervais aside, has anyone ever stood up for the lowly ‘extra’ ?

Very few NPCs get recognition, they are, like their movie counterparts, the nameless rabble in the background. You can be memorable if you are the ‘love interest’, like Chloe or Elena in Uncharted 2 (the lovely Claudia Black and Emily Rose respectively) … but does anyone really remember who even the main bad guys were?** If a character-driven blockbuster game like Uncharted 2 doesn’t even make being an NPC a great gig, what hope do lesser NPCs have! Most games just assign their NPCs as expendable, run-of-the-mill military types, aliens, horde, or cutesy characters … how many ghosts did Pac-Man kill in the 80’s, and where are PETA while Mario is still killing Turtles by the shell-full?

If you’re a regular reader (which pretty much narrows it down to ONE of my children – you know who you are!) you know Zombies feature big for me. As an NPC, if you spawn and you realize you are, in fact, a Zombie, you may as well just start writing a will. There is the odd chance you could be a “special infected”, but only the elite zombies are playable – so it’s still not looking good for you. If you find yourself in a bathroom, standing in the corner of a hotel room (facing the wall), wallowing in mud, or wandering around the food court of a mall, get your affairs in order… and for God’s sake, if you hear a clown, don’t follow him!

As Josey Wales said, “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living”.

** As an aside, Harry Flynn (Steve Valentine) and Zoran Lazarevic (Graham McTavish) were the ones I had in mind.

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