Edge article on video game AI

This has been out in print form for a while, I believe, but the content is now available online: I was interviewed for an article on video game AI for Edge. The article draws extensively from the talk I did at the AI Summit at GDC 2012, with subsequent followup. I talk about social behavior AI and its potential in gaming, and there are also comments from Ben Sunshine-Hill (whose GDC talks always leave me in gobsmacked awe) and Mike Treanor (talking about Prom Week and Facade).

GDC 2012 Talk on Dynamic Dialogue

One of the more interesting GDC talks I saw was a Friday afternoon presentation by Elan Ruskin, talking about how dialogue snippets are matched to a continually changing world state in Left 4 Dead 2 and other Valve games.

It’s a neat rule-based system, designed to meet a couple of specific important requirements: easy for the writers to author a lot of content, responsive to a wide variety of different situations (what if we want a character to have a special quip if attacked while in the circus environment as opposed to elsewhere?), interruptible (characters should be able to exchange quips, but should sensibly break off if one of them comes under attack). Like Inform, it prioritizes rules and applies the most specific one it can find, using less-specific ones as fall-backs.

The resulting system is very well tuned to the specific case of having NPC dialogue that’s highly reactive. Characters aren’t planning or trying to achieve goals via dialogue, but they present a strong illusion of situational awareness, which is what those games require. (And there’s often a place for purely reactive NPC quips in IF, too.)

The talk also goes over a number of optimization strategies for speeding the lookup on these sorts of tasks, and argues for the importance of making tools that writers find comfortable to use. Solid stuff, both technically and in terms of project planning.

Elan has posted the slides and video here.

(Bonus: there’s a shout-out to Inform in the middle.)

Alexandra Leaving

There’s a review of Bronze on IFDB that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

After hearing so much about Bronze, I was expecting a very satisfying and pleasurable experience. This was not the case for me… I came away feeling like the entire experience was rather hollow and somewhat forced… Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful love story, but in this version of the tale, I felt that the protagonist’s relationship with the Beast lacked very much warmth or deep love.

This is a challenging review for me. Obviously, I’m sorry the reviewer didn’t have a good time. It’s possible that I could or should have done something to frame the presentation of the game to make clear that it was not going to be a traditional fairy tale happy-ending romance. (The closest thing to that I’ve ever written is Pytho’s Mask, which, not coincidentally, has some pretty shallow characters and a heavily gender-bound treatment of love; even so some subversive elements snuck in before the end.) Perhaps I seemed to offer something the game was never going to deliver — and, for what it’s worth, I do think that players have the right to want specific things from their games. Indeed, if the player doesn’t want something, she’s not likely to play for long.

However. The unromantic aspect of the game is not a mistake. On the contrary, it is the summation of the effort and thought that went into its creation.

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