High Polygon Characters
Part of the Simulation
Some context is needed for readers who don't belong to the Gen-Z or Millennials. Let's understand Non-Playable Characters (NPCs). In a video game context an NPC is someone who:
- cannot be played (duh)
- has a programmed and a deterministic behavior
- has a limited dialog tree
- NOT THE MAIN CHARACTER!
However, the Internet extends the term "NPC" to the real world. On the internet, an NPC is someone who:
- has mimetic desires, opinions, and interests
- fall in the middle of the bell curve (boring AF)
- always on autopilot
Okay, that should be sufficient context. Being called an NPC seems like an insult (tbh it is) but they are some of the most cleverly designed video game constructs. In video games, NPCs are hard to implement mostly because:
- there are way more NPCs than Playable Characters (PC)
- all NPCs need a well-designed behavior tree (ex. what happens when two NPCs cross paths?)
- each NPC must be optimally rendered on the screen
Major game engines offer clever algorithms/models that direct how NPCs operate. I'd like to believe that the real world also has a sophisticated NPC management engine that makes people walk on predictable trajectories. For example, in India, guided by immense social pressure, a middle-class child will have the following trajectory:
- 12 years of school
- choose between science, commerce, arts
- become a doctor/engineer/accountant/psychologist/architect/designer
- go to undergrad and then grad school
- grind for a prestigious job or join the family business
- get married, have kids, and pick up a 20-year home loan
Some of the most interesting and fun people that I've met in my life have strayed away from the norm long ago (sadly I've seen former PCs become NPCs too).
Aware of the Simulation
I think a playable character is either extremely meta-cognizant or has no self-awareness at all. The former are people who woke up one day and turned off their autopilot. The latter are those who are seen as cringe, unhinged, or have a complete disregard for social norms.
Okay, enough about PCs. We just need to know that they:
- are not simulated
- don't fit in
- are found towards the tails of the bell curve
- bring main character energy
A while ago I read Anson Yu's blog: sparkly people and how to find them. This does a great job of laying down concrete markers for identifying PCs.
However, PCs don't interest me either. I know they exist and there are plenty of them.
Breaking the Simulation
Let's continue talking about computer graphics and understand what is a polygon count. A polygon count refers to the total number of polygons that are used to compose the 3D models in a scene, particularly within the context of 3D modeling, animation, and video game design. Polygons, especially triangles, are the basic building blocks of 3D models. Each polygon is a flat, 2-dimensional shape with straight sides. The complexity and detail of a 3D model are often directly related to its polygon count.
The higher the polygon count of an object in a video game, the more realistic it can appear. The more triangles you have the more details you get. However, this is what happens when you render objects with a high polygon count:
- drop in your frame rate (choppy images)
- overload on GPU (leading to crashes)
- memory overloads (leading to OOM errors)
- z-fighting: GPU struggling to figure out what to render at a coordinate
- physics simulation breaking: a huge chunk of simulation is spent in collision handling. High polygon count objects cause unrealistic physical interactions.
In short, objects with a high number of polygons push the limits of the simulation. It's a neat construct that can be extended to the real world too. In fact, polygon count is a spectrum. NPCs lie on the lower end of the spectrum. They are low-poly characters; simple, easy to render, and a deeply integrated part of the simulation. Towards the other extreme, are the high poly characters; with complex behavior, full of details, and will cause the simulation to malfunction.
In Sam Altman's piece on "how to be successful" he asks himself, "is this person a force of nature?" as a heuristic to determine if a person is going to achieve great things. The question is great for spotting HPCs too. But "achieving great things" only has positive connotations and an HPC may not be a good person.