GTA Online Has NPCs, And It Isn’t Afraid To Use Them

Fear the real killer

Something is terribly amiss in GTA Online. The symptoms are obvious, the populace has gone violently insane and countless players are suffering from unprovoked attacks. It’s anarchy, it’s chaos. But the cause is unknown – could it be a conscious design decision or a terrible bug?

Reports of this plague have cropped up on all kinds of outlets, ranging from community forums such as Reddit to news sites like Kotaku. The earliest infection is thought to have happened as long ago as right after the release of the Bikers DLC update for GTA Online. Millions of $GTA are being lost due to the brutality. The end is nigh!

Or, at the very least, it sure seems like it for some people. Based on a handful of gifs, videos and personal accounts, something happened to the NPC AI in GTA Online turning the PEDs and drivers into violent psychopaths who just won’t have any of this Import/Export nonsense the players are making a killing with.

So, you want to deliver a car without any damage? You might as well perform auto-fornication if you ask the NPCs. These programmed masses of ones and zeroes will do everything in their meek virtual power to add as many numbers to your repair cost as they possibly can before meeting their inevitable demise.

The evidence of this aggressive behavior is as troubling as it is hilarious. From otherwise peaceful-looking cars performing break-neck maneuvers simply to ram the shit out of a player delivering an imported vehicle all the way to NPC driver doing several 8-turns just to slightly nudge an AFK player over, there are all kinds of odd displays of road-rage floating about.

In some cases, vehicles far ahead on the highway will take a completely illegal turn, off their projected course, with perfect mathematical precision in order to knock your ass into a rail or oncoming traffic. In other cases, simply sitting in a car and not moving is enough to trigger these bastards, compelling them to bust right into your side like they’re southern baptists and your number plate is 666.

Sometimes the freaks will gang right up on you, outright competing on who’s first to knock you off course. In other cases they cooperate, working together strategically to box you in while delivering the killing blow from the side – granted, in the least elegant and entirely uncoordinated way possible.

However all of that is topped by vehicles randomly warping sideways just to block a player’s path. Moving vehicles diverting their path just to knock you off is one thing, but defying the very laws of physics to which our world adheres is entirely different. These bastards have studied the arcane arts just to mess with us all and crash our rides.

Generally speaking, GTA 5’s AI is better than that of GTA 4, but a tad below the average of game AIs in the past few years. Most enemies only heard of the cover system in passing, and for all their magical powers of divination and freaking terminator aiming skills, when it comes to tactics and analytical thinking, the police are about as smart as three pebbles in a stocking.

That said, these normally neutral NPCs got a massive AI upgrade recently, and the approximation that it came in around the Bikers update is probably about right. They display behavior that clearly isn’t a product of chance, nor is it similar to how they behaved months ago. This can’t just be chalked up to differences between the old-gen and current-gen versions either, since older iterations of the Enhanced Edition were free of these murderous mobs as well.

The strangest thing about this is that as far as those of us not part of the Rockstar dev team can tell, there is no cause or trace of this change. Data-miners, who usually dig through GTA Online code and game files to uncover what the next unannounced DLC is, have tried to pinpoint the cause of this increased aggression.

However, the people who have uncovered and leaked all of Rockstar’s secrets consistently for years found absolutely nothing. Not one reference, not one code entry, that would explain this. In their own article Kotaku mentioned that they contacted one renowned (read: not full of shit; actually leaks legit stuff) data-miner TezFunZ2 for clarification.

As it turns out, data-miners don’t exactly dig too deep. Instead of heaving rock out of the figurative earth in this analogy, data-miners only scrape a bit of soil up to reveal the so-called “tunables” of the game which indicate content changes coming. This is how they get a hold of names, scripts and 3D models that can be loaded into editors and viewed. What these don’t reveal, however, are the inner workings and underlying programming of the game.

Naturally, this being the GTA community and the GTA community constantly blaming Rockstar and their conceived ‘greed’ for absolutely bloody everything, the most common theory is that this increased aggression is a conscious design decision on Rockstar’s part.

Now, from a persistent game-world perspective, this would actually be a stroke of genius. If you think about it, players have been blowing shit up, stealing, killing, robbing, murdering, battering, assaulting and performing all kinds of other illegal activities in the virtual city of Los Santos for three years now. Naturally the NPCs are getting pissed off by these folks wrecking their city, so it would make a whole lot of meta-game sense for their AI to become more aggressive over time.

Of course, instead of seeing this sublime but masterful scenario, players think Rockstar did it so they have to pay more for repairs and whatnot, making it harder to build wealth, making Shark Cards more attractive, and therefore increasing their sales. Now, this conspiracy theory might seem attractive to those who get off on antagonizing AAA developers, but considering Shark Cards were selling like hotcakes before this phenomenon began, so it’s not like they need this underhanded tactic to drive sales up marginally.

What is a more likely explanation is that the plethora of bugfixes that went into the game over the course of several patches included one minor change that catalyzed a butterfly effect of sorts but in code. Programming such a massive and complex game like GTA 5 is tricky business, and so many things are interconnected that fixing one bug might lead to three others. Or thirty.

Maybe something a Rockstar engineer fixed ended up changing something else which changed something else which changed something else again and boom, suddenly every NPC in GTA Online is a ravenous murderer. Of course, anyone remotely familiar with coding a game will know that that’s a vast simplification of the situation, but essentially it’s correct.

Whatever the cause of this virtual rage-plague is, there’s no sign that it’s going to change anytime soon. Players will have to exercise great caution whenever they play GTA Online. The NPCs are always watching, always alert. No place is safe, no PED harmless. Stay safe everyone.


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