Human Life Cycle Part 1: Romance

When building a comprehensive model of human behavior, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the human life cycle. On some level, it’s the cornerstone of every real human civilization, as there wouldn’t be any humans around if it weren’t for our participation in the life cycle. The same holds true for your expedition in OC. While new NPCs can join your expedition from the outside via migration, new people being born into your settlement are an extremely important part of expansion. Furthermore, this mode of population expansion lets you mold new citizens from birth in all sorts of ways, which isn’t possible with migrants.

OC models all stages human life, from infancy through old age. These stages and associated gameplay are discussed in a series of life cycle articles, starting here, with the spark that kicks it all off: romance.


Data related to a new romantic relationship.


  • Romance is the driving factor in the human life cycle. Romance in OC can be thought of as a set of actions, conditions, and underlying motivations that can ultimately lead to new people.  For people in OC, though, it’s much more than just cold mechanics. It has a profound impact on their daily lives, it can dominate their moods, feelings, and memories, and it can drive a huge portion of their leisure time activities.
  • Romance starts with attraction. Whenever NPCs socialize, an attraction assessment is made to determine how romantically desirable the partner NPC is.
    • Attraction is determined by a variety of factors, derived from both the physical and mental models of each NPC.
    • Likability is the basis for attraction. This is determined by the result of socialization, which is mostly determined by personality compatibility.
    • Personal preferences are another very important part of attraction. Many of these are derived, to varying extents, from cultural norms. Every person is a bit different, though, and while culture is a good predictor of group behavior at a macro level, its tenets don’t necessarily apply to individuals. Personal preferences apply to both physical and non-physical features. A person can like a particular hair color, eye color, or physical property, like stamina. A person can also like certain professional experiences or certain personality traits.
  • Once an NPC deems another sufficiently attractive, the romantic progression can begin.
    • Romances can progress through a variety of stages.
      • Stages in romantic relationships are expressed in terms of social networks. NPCs’ relationship types will vary as their relationship progresses.
      • Stages in romantic relationships vary significantly and are almost fully dependent upon the NPCs’ cultures.
    • For a romantic relationship to begin, one NPC must initiate the relationship. The initiation can be accepted by the partner or rejected, and there are many factors that determine the outcome.
  • It’s important to note that romantic feelings are unidirectional. This is to say that one NPC might deem another attractive, while the second NPC might not  share the sentiment.
  • Once two NPCs have engaged in a romantic relationship, they’ll exclusively socialize with one another to a greater extent.
    • This can result in relationship progression through culturally defined stages to more significant pairings. For cultures that have marriage and nuclear families, successful progression leads from dating -> marriage -> family building.
    • Relationships can also be broken off during their progression. This is usually because a more desirable partner is identified.
  • While romance is extremely important to your expedition and its individual NPCs, it’s generally not something you can control on the individual level. You can adjust your expedition’s cultural parameters, which impacts tendencies at the population level, but your NPCs are mostly going to decide for themselves what to do in this regard. These interactions are all extremely important, but at the personal level, you’re mostly just along for the ride as the expedition’s leader.


Attraction is the basis for all romance in OC. Without some level of attraction (the threshold can be quite low, under some circumstances), a romantic relationship isn’t possible. There are a multitude of factors that determine one NPC’s attraction to another, and it’s outside the scope of this article to describe them all. Different factors are also important in different ways for individual NPCs. A good set of general rules to keep in mind for attraction are:

  • Likability is extremely important. Personality compatibility can be the single most important factor in attraction calculations.
  • Physical attractiveness can count for a lot.
  • Personal preferences for certain physical features can count for a lot. Some NPCs like redheads, some find hazel eyes attractive. It depends on the individual, but these points can add up.
  • NPCs can find certain kinds of experiences attractive. Many cultures esteem certain jobs highly, and these sorts of jobs are often deemed attractive. Being a fighter pilot will probably help a person’s attractiveness more than being a software engineer.

There are a bunch of other factors that go into attraction calculations, but it’d be impractical to cover them all here. Attraction  mechanics really deserve an article of their own, but since we’re just giving an overview of romance here, a general description should suffice. Let’s just take a look at two NPCs that have deemed each other sufficiently attractive, and hopefully the example will help to demonstrate some of the concepts involved.

For our example, we’ll follow Jon Plath and Arden Potsami, a pair of fairly typical, thirty-something Core Worlders who have just started a romantic relationship.


Social network and event data for a new romance.

Examining the screenshot above, we can see the event information for a new romantic relationship. Jon Plath just became the girlfriend of Arden Potsami. This relationship initiation is the first step in a romantic relationship for Core Worlders, and receiving an acceptance from such a request is a positive experience! Good for these two.

Examining their social network data, we can see that both of their networks are updated to reflect the new status. Additional information is displayed about romantic partnerships, indicating the extent to which the person actually likes their partner. Interestingly, we can see that Jon really loves her boyfriend. The “Loves partner” designation is the highest status a romantic link can achieve, and it indicates that Jon genuinely likes Arden in a big way. If we look at Arden’s link back to Jon, however, we can see that he merely tolerates her. This is a rather low status for a romantic link, indicating that he doesn’t even really like her. This sort of disparity affects the way that feelings are conveyed between the two and can affect the way they behave toward each other.

So, why do these two feel this way about each other, and how did the romantic relationship come about? Let’s dig a bit deeper. Our first stop will be physical properties.


Physical properties of Jon and Arden.

The first thing to note is that both get fairly low values on the general physical attractiveness property. But, as the saying goes, every bread has its cheese, and looks aren’t everything. Physical attractiveness is a trait with a normal distribution, and, just like in the real world, most people aren’t super models. People with very high physical attractiveness ratings have an easier time pairing up (discussed further below), but practically anyone in OC can find a suitable partner. That being said, Arden’s attractiveness is significantly higher than Jon’s (a full 2.42 standard deviations below average), which explains a part of why Jon likes Arden much more than the other way around.

So, let’s take a look at personality and the social aspect of the pair’s interactions.


Personality data for Jon and Arden.


Socialization experiences between Jon and Arden.

The deeper we dig, the clearer the picture becomes. Arden is a bit of an old school tough guy. Jon is something of an unassuming, plain Jane. If we look at the socialization memory data, it tells more of the story here. Jon finds Arden’s personality quite agreeable, and she thoroughly enjoys their interactions. Arden, while he doesn’t dislike Jon, is fairly indifferent about the time they’ve spent together. So, we see that she likes him, and he’s on the fence about her.

How does the relationship get off the ground, then? The final, and in the case, most important part of the equation is desperation.


Getting a bit old, getting a bit lonely, getting a bit desperate.

For Arden Potsami, despair rules the day. Built into the relationship acceptance logic is a modifier for despair, and this is tied heavily to a person’s age and experience. Arden has been rejected repeatedly by other potential partners, and he’s now 35 years old. Jon, too, is 34. Around this age, most humans will basically give up and accept whatever sort of partnership they can secure. It’s a bit bleak, but it’s how these two, and many others, ultimately pair up.

Hopefully this example makes some sense and provides some insight into attractiveness calculations. There’s more to attraction than what’s described here, but in dissecting one specific set of circumstances, we can get a feel for how these two NPCs are operating.

Romantic Relationships & Their Effects

What does a romantic relationship do for the specific NPCs involved? One of its most important effects is that the two will prefer to socialize with each other more often. As long as they get along and don’t have a completely dysfunctional relationship, this is very positive for both NPCs. The higher frequency of more positive social interaction alone creates more nice experiences and helps improve mood. As such, it’s generally good for NPCs to be paired up.

When does an NPC decide to pursue a romantic relationship? In general, NPCs will only look for this kind of socialization if their other, more basic needs are met. If an NPC is starving to death or going insane from sleep deprivation, they’ll try to address these needs ahead of aims to find or grow a romantic relationship. Once those needs are met, though, most NPCs will make romantic relationships a fairly high priority. In general, aggressive, ambitious NPCs will purse these goals with the most vigor. In the course of normal socialization, all adults are performing background assessments of partners’ attractiveness, and once a sufficiently good one has been identified, they’ll go for it.

Bear in mind, though, that a proper romantic relationship is a two way street. A request to begin a romantic relationship can be rejected if the recipient of the request doesn’t much care for the requester. Sticking with our example of Jon and Arden above, let’s rewind the clock and look at a past experience:


Jon Plath being rejected by Kal Feron.

In the past, Jon Plath liked Kal Feron enough to approach him and request a romantic relationship. This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Kal’s assessment of Jon must have been rather low to dismiss the request outright. A part of this is because the two were younger, and desperation played less of a role. The second is that, while Jon ends up with Arden later, he wasn’t really her first choice. She liked Kal better in the past, but given her experience of rejection, she’s regrouped, moved on, and lowered her standards.

What effect does romance have on an expedition and its people? It’s actually pretty interesting, and depends largely on the age groups involved. When people are young adults (in the 18-25 range), they have few romance experiences. As they socialize with others, they generally gravitate toward the most absolutely attractive people. These few, elite people are inundated with romantic requests, which, in turn, are mostly rejected. A couple of very attractive people successfully pair up early, yielding positive experiences, but most NPCs spend this stage being repeatedly rejected. This rejection spreads negative feelings among this age bracket, causing far more bad than good.

As NPCs get older and gain experience, they realize that they’re not going to end up with super models, and they start to lower than standards and adapt to the reality of their situation. Reasonably good pairings become more commonplace in older NPCs, which do yield positive experiences. Later, most NPCs ultimately pair up as a result of desperation, more than anything, and these sorts of relationships can be a mixed bag. If the NPCs don’t really like each other much, their interactions are decidedly less positive (or negative), which has a detrimental effect on the NPCs involved.

As an aside, I swear, I didn’t intend for the system to be this bleak. The pattern I’ve observed among NPCs in different age brackets arises organically from a variety of underlying mechanics, and that’s what makes it difficult to control from a design standpoint. Changing individual constants in equations doesn’t always yield the intended results. Some tinkering may be required to yield a more upbeat result, but I’m not sure whether I’m entirely dissatisfied with the pattern.

Romantic Behaviors & Relationship Progression

Sticking with our example of Jon and Arden, they’re paired up, socializing, and everything’s moving along. Where does it all lead? The answer is culture dependent, but in Core World culture, marriage is a common practice. Not too long after the relationship began, the following events occurred (in rapid succession):


In Core World culture, romantic relationships progress from “dating” (boyfriends / girlfriends) to “married” (husbands / wives). The relationships are different in a number of ways, and this progression naturally occurs as a result of many factors. One way that they’re different is that many NPCs who are merely dating will break up with their partner somewhat readily if a better option becomes available. This isn’t the case with married couples (although this, too, varies across cultures). Perhaps the most important aspect of marriage in Core World culture is that it’s basically a prerequisite for reproduction.

We can see in the screenshot above that Arden proposed to Jon shortly after their relationship began. This would never happen if they were younger, as love (or at least liking) a partner is required in the earlier parts of adulthood. Again, desperation wins the day here, and Arden is aggressive and practical enough to seize the opportunity. Again, given the ages of the two parties, a new baby almost immediately results from the relationship progression. The expedition’s population is on the rise! There will be a new baby member of the expedition soon enough, which leads to another part of the human life cycle, to be covered in an upcoming article.

Posted in NPCs