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NPC Scheduling

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It was tough being an NPC in the old days. They could only stand in one place or endlessly walk the same path repeating the same bit of dialogue over and over again. Obviously, this isn't very realistic, so game developers have begun to give NPCs scripted events causing them to appear at different locations depending on what time of day it is according to the In-Universe Game Clock.

NPC schedules, alongside adaptable AI, is one of the hallmarks of the Immersive Sim genre.


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  • Beyond Good & Evil has, oddly, NPC scheduling for the children on the Lighthouse island. They do different things based on the plot, that change as the story progresses. It isn't really useful for anything, though, and is probably a What Could Have Been remnant.
  • Deadly Premonition has every single named story character follow a routine, which even changes depending on what's currently going on in the story. They even change their routine depending on the weather.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - Every NPC moves about the city according to a schedule; and you even get a handy dandy scheduler that shows you when a particular quest is active. More importantly, if you choose to do Anju and Kafei's subquest, then she'll stay in town to wait for Kafei instead of going to Romani Ranch.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: While important main story characters, shopkeepers, and innkeepers are awake and in the same spots 24/7 as Anti-Frustration Features, most other characters have sleep and work schedules based on the time of day. Usually, Link only has to worry about this if trying to accept/complete quests with characters who are asleep (only a few will wake up when talked to), but one mystery quest in Kakariko Village involves investigating the schedules of several individuals who are suspected of being spies for the Yiga Clan.
  • Shenmue was one of the earliest 3D examples of this. Every character, no matter how ancillary to the story, has their own special routine for each day. The sequel downplays it in the sense that named characters still have a routine, but nameless "filler" characters no longer do, and many of the same pedestrians can be spotted both in Wan Chai and in Kowloon.

  • In Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, just about every NPC follows a daily schedule, with some even having unique schedules for certain days of the (in-game) week. Most of them aren't obvious until the game itself tells you about them, and they aren't recorded for you in-game, so if you want to memorize them, you'll have to write them down yourself. Interacting with characters (or just being there when they do something interesting) at a certain time is one of the main ways of earning Love (the game's equivalent of experience).
    • The developers of moon would go on to include this in several other games they worked on, most notably Chulip, which features a similar gameplay loop but with a very different premise.
  • All of the NPCs in Infocom's Deadline (published back in 1982) had schedules; figuring these out so that the PC could be in the right place at the right time to gather evidence was a big part of the challenge.
  • Ditto Cinemaware's It Came from the Desert (1989), an adaptation of the B-movie Them! with the Serial Numbers Filed Off.
  • The Last Express - every character, event, and the entire rest of the game runs on a strict schedule. The Save Scumming feature is even based around winding a clock back, mirroring the titular train's scheduled route along the stops of the Orient Express.
  • Laura Bow and the Colonel's Bequest: All of the NPCs can be found at different places (and their corpses can even turn up in random locations) at different times of the night; this is most obvious with Jeeves the butler, who can be seen going about his chores until you come upon his corpse in the attic.

  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura - Partial example: salespersons walk into a back room at night to sleep, but stand completely still at their sales desk all day long.
  • The first two Breath of Fire games had this. A notable demonstration of this is in the first game, where you had to wait until nighttime to enter the village tower (the guards would block the entrance otherwise) to acquire the Earth Key.
  • Dark Cloud - There doesn't seem to be any set schedule, but aside from the shopkeeper all of the NPCs will wander about the town. You'll also get slightly different rewards from some of the residents at different times of day.
  • Several of the Dragon Quest games had this, particularly the later ones (#8 comes to mind).
  • Final Fantasy XI dabbled in this; in Lower Jeuno, there were a series of streetlights that needed to be lit every night, and if no player started the quest to do it, an NPC would spawn and walk down the street lighting the lamps. There were also shops that would be closed on certain days of the week and be restocked at particular times—although for some reason, they'd still hang around at their shop counter to tell you the shop was closed.
  • The NPCs of Gothic operate on a realistic schedule, and also judge player's actions based on the time. Standing just inside a shop door during the day is fine. Doing the same at night is considered suspicious behavior.
  • The Harvest Moon series - All characters have certain schedules set that they'll adhere to for certain days and times. Certain characters can only be found manning a shop on the shops open days, then found wandering around town when it's closed, for example.
  • When visiting Tony the arms dealer's shop in Jagged Alliance 2, his assistant will sometimes inform you that "Tony stepped out for a bit," and is thus unavailable to do business. Both his absences and the times of his return are unpredictable.
    • Father John Walker also has a limited schedule - he can't be found during the night, but during the day, he can be found at his church or at the bar.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Oblivion introduced "Radiant AI", a formalized system for NPC behavior. While seemingly just a marketing gimmick that didn't live up to the hype, its true value is understood by PC modders who also implement NPCs; it formalizes NPC behavior configuration where previously in Morrowind it involved a kludge of the scripting system. Similarly, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's "Radiant Story" system formalizes and expands the system that was previously a huge monster of a script system that governed random encounters in Fallout 3.
    • In fact (unless they're given an infinitely respawning item of food in their inventory) NPCs who don't eat regularly will starve and it's possible to assassinate an NPC by planting poisoned food.
    • Oblivion and its successors notably take this a step further than most games by not limiting scheduled events to a 24-hour period; characters will close up shop on weekends, then get up later and go to church; have a formal dinner with the count once a week, or go to stay with their cousin in another city at the end of the month.
      • All these behaviors also apply to Skyrim, which is built on a more advanced version of the same engine.
    • Morrowind had NPCs stand around in one place at all times (or, occasionally, wander in a fixed area) but a third party mod did create rudimentary NPC scheduling within cities.
  • Pokémon Gold and Silver (and Crystal) have lots of NPCs that only make appearance on certain days of the week or time of the day. There's even a set of 7 gift-giving NPCs that each appears only one day of the week.
    • Pokémon Black and White has the stadiums in Nimbasa town open and close at varying times across the day to prepare for and hold sporting matches, NPCs that only show up on the weekends or weekdays, Swarming Pokemon that change each day, and the changing seasons of the world (which change at the end of each month of real time), which will cause certain NPCs and areas to become available or be made unavailable depending on the season and the weather. Certain Pokemon are only catchable in the Winter, while a man who trades (the only) Munchlax in the game shows up in the summer, as well as a cameo appearance from Cynthia occurring then.
  • Radiata Stories had this as one of its main gimmicks. (Another was the fact that like 50% of those NPCs were Optional Party Members.)
  • The Rune Factory series - All characters wander around town and are found in their homes and shops at certain times/days.
  • Ultima has been doing this since 1988 at least. Ultima V was the first one in the series to have it, but since then it became a series staple.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 1 takes it to quite some levels. Every named NPC has a different schedule, and all non-named NPCs have at least a selected time of the day when they're active. And to top it off the game has loads of NPCs, and many of them either give a quest, or are involved in one somehow. Needless to say, this makes keeping track of where that one NPC is going to be when rather hard. Thankfully, one can turn the in-game clock to whatever time they want whenever they want, so if you're in a hurry to meet an NPC with an odd schedule, it's easy.
  • Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book: Shops are closed at night (except for the café) and the café has a different waitress at the weekend.
  • The Fable games have basic scheduling where NPCs travel between their homes, workplaces, and sometimes evening entertainment venues like taverns based on the time of day, with most workplaces keeping regular business hours. Also, in-game shops are restocked by deliverymen who arrive at regular intervals.

  • In Animal Crossing, animal villagers wander about town in real time according to the system clock. Mostly this sets whether the villagers are in their houses, outside, visiting each other or you (if you invite them over), or if they are sleeping. How much time they spend indoors or outside as well as sleep and waking times are also set by villager's personalities.
  • Magician's Quest: Mysterious Times is a bit like a hybrid of Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon's scheduling—the characters do wander somewhat randomly (like they do in Animal Crossing), but, like Harvest Moon, they have specific places where they're likely to be at certain times of the day. One character, for example, might practice magic at the ruins most afternoons, but spend most evenings by the beach.
    • Humorously, this was then copied back by Animal Crossing: New Leaf, in that the characters now drop by The Roost for a cup of coffee or visit certain shops or the museum at certain times of the day.
  • In Potion Permit, the residents of Moonbury Town all have their own schedules, and your dog can track them down if they're going around town, which is helpful if you need to fulfill their quest or start their Friendship Event with them. If a villager get sick, their schedule will be interrupted and you won't be able to socialize with them until the day after you cure them.
  • The residents of Stardew Valley too have their own schedules, which can be a pain when one wishes to build relationships with them if their schedules are particularly unpredictable and finicky, or shop from them only to find that they've taken the day off. To say nothing of rainy days and those who spend said days entirely in their room, and such rooms require at least two hearts worth of affinity to enter.

    Stealth-Based Game 
  • The Gregory Horror Show PS2 game implemented schedules for every guest as a major mechanic, as you had to observe them going about their day to know where they would be at any time. This was important because as you went though the game, each guest would become hostile after you got their lost soul, meaning that they'd chase you. You didn't want to end up being chased by 5+ guests at once.
  • The Hitman series relies on this trope. Most, if not all, of the characters in a given level will move about as time progresses; figuring out when and where is the best time to strike without being caught is how one earns the Silent Assassin rating. Some of the earlier games' missions (as well as a few of the Elusive Targets in later games) added to this difficulty by having the targets enter and leave the map on a schedule, giving you much less time to perform the hit and make your getaway. As the games got more complex, by the time Hitman: Absolution rolled around, the developers added the "Instinct" ability to track guard routines, but realised quite quickly how tricky the game would be without it, so it was implemented into the game proper. Considering Hitman (2016) and later has upward of 400+ NPC's in a level, this proved to be a very wise decision to make.
  • The Sexy Brutale has everyone in the mansion stuck in a time loop, justifying that everyone does things on a set schedule. Learning the schedule is key to saving the guests from their deaths.