Recently, the team finished several prototypes focused on the NPC and player interactions for Matt's zombie game. Our designs examined how various NPCs with distinct character traits could affect a player's actions, as well as transfer information to the player, while trying to accomplish some goal (building barricades, reuniting with your party, etc.). After we presented Matt with our prototypes, he brought up a very interesting idea that I think the team should consider at some point in the future.
What would happen if the player was removed from the equation? How would the NPCs interact with each other?
I have always wondered why more games haven't considered creating NPCs that are more than shopkeepers or useless polygons that take up space in battles. What if they could perform tasks without needed the player to constantly guide them or follow their own goals? Looking at The Sims as an example, non-playable Sims complete their wants and needs without needing to interact with the human player as well as form relationships with other non-playable Sims. It would be interesting to bring that concept into other games where NPC free-will could possibly benefit the player and eliminate the anger (that at least I always feel) towards weak, useless characters.
I believe a problem with many games is that NPCs are almost an after-thought, not givent