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Posts Tagged ‘dialogue’

Dating Sims: A New Frontier for RPG AI?

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

It’s amazing what pops up in my daily Google Alerts for “game AI” (although I’m getting tired of Allen Iverson news). This one caught my eye, though. On a blog called “Win My Ex Back” (no thank you, by the way), there was a post titled Online Dating Sim Game. There wasn’t a lot of detail about a specific game other than to mention online that “dating simulation games are among the new genres of online gaming that depicts romance.” To give an idea of what the author (Andy Jill) has in mind, I quote his summary:

It’s a simulation game where the main character that you’ll play (commonly fictional characters) has to achieve specific goals. The most typical one is to date numerous and different women and to have high level of relationship and among them within specified time limit. Generally, the game character must have enough funds by either securing jobs or other income-generating activities such as business.

In the same manner, attributes of the character is important in the game. Such attributes can be improved by doing different task and accomplishing it within the time limit. Most of these tasks take time to be accomplished and games of this type have real-time to them.

The author goes on to describe what apparently was the first online dating Sim, “the Dokyusei or Classmates” from 1992. Again to quote:

In this classic dating sim game, you will be controlling a male avatar that is surrounded by various female game characters. The game play will involve conversations with a variety of artificial intelligence (AI)-controlled girls, in which you will attempt to increase your “internal love meter” by means of right choices of dialogues. The game usually last for a limited game time like a month or a year.

Once the game is finished, your character may lose the game if it failed to win the hearts of any girl. However, you may “finish” one or more girls, usually by having sex with them or by attaining eternal love.

18 years later and we are still relegated to dialog trees.

To me, this sounds like the Sims titles… or for that matter, how some people try to play Mass Effect 2. Anyway, the point is not the gameplay mechanism (which is somewhat standard). Even the personality and mood meter facets are not all that uncommon. Again, think Sims 3. What I find almost joltingly alarming is that this game from 1992 was based on a dialog tree. Sure, that’s fine. We’ve had dialog trees for a while. The problem is… that’s how we would still have to do things! 18 years later and we are still relegated to dialog trees.

The only reason that the Sims doesn’t have dialog trees is that there isn’t real “dialog”. At least not the intelligible sort. Sure, there are behavior selection trees for choosing what to do next, but there is a subtle difference. When you select an action in the Sims, the game designer hasn’t necessarily hand-crafted what the response (or potential responses) will be. In a dialog tree, you are always in a specific place in that tree until you exit it. In the Sims, all that happens when you select an action is that you vaguely change the internal state of the character you are interacting with. That character’s actual response is calculated in a ridiculously expansive set of state values, formulas, and then a stochastic factor tossed in for good measure. You aren’t really ever sure exactly what you are going to get… although you may have a good idea what it might be.

On the user input level, it is still reminiscent of Zork or the early Ultima games.

I have to assume that this dating sim — and all others like it — would rely on a representation of actual dialog, however. And that brings us back to the dialog tree. Natural language processing isn’t going to cut it. Emily Short does a good job of it in her interactive fiction but the root of it all is still keyword-based input. As amazing as her work is, on the user input level, it is still reminiscent of Zork or the early Ultima games. Translated into a dating sim, the user’s free-form input could very well be reduced to “ask job”, “tell age”, and “compliment boobs”. In effect, it wouldn’t be all that different than the chat room shorthand of “a/s/l” for “age/sex/location”. Even if the game then gave elaborate (yet pre-scripted) answers to your questions, it will still be annoying to have it reply “I don’t understand what you mean” when you don’t guess the right keywords to use. Additionally, using that sort of shorthand isn’t going to ever feel really “romantic” is it?

I’m halfway through Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s book, Expressive Processing, where he talks extensively about the history and state of interactive dialog and drama. Even with all the work that has gone into this field for over 40 years, I’m sorry to say that we are no where near being able to replicate something other than a stilted parody of a romantic courtship.

That being said, it doesn’t matter how deep the AI is behind the scenes. Until we can solve the input/output problem our AI is trapped inside itself. Animation has gotten a lot better of late—especially facial and speech animation. I know there are adult-themed games out there and I assume that they are taking full advantage of photo-realism (not to mention realistic physics). However, all that nifty facial animation and subtle gesturing would still have to be tied to canned, pre-written dialog. And that is our bottleneck, isn’t it?

I don’t know how to solve it, really. Noah’s book is my first foray into even thinking about this interactive dialog and fiction stuff. (On the other hand, I would be tickled to do the personality, mood, and emotion modeling. That is in my wheelhouse!) That said, I don’t know how to solve it. I just find it sad that we are still stuck in this world where we can’t really interact with our game characters on a meaningful, natural-feeling level. I do know, however, that when we find it, that will be one of the final cusps we need to cross over in games. At that point, there’s not a lot stopping us.

The Case for Procedural AI

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Ok… this goes in the “Amen, brother!” category. Kris Erickson at PS3Informer.com wrote a column entitled Why Procedural AI is the Next Big Milestone in Gaming. In it, he smacks on the problem of ostensibly large-scale world with very repetitive content. He sums it up with one question:

How can we create realistic open world games where people that we meet in the street repeat more than the same 3 phrases over and over ad infinitum?

Can that be any more accurate?

At the upcoming AI Summit at the Game Developers Conference, I am on a panel “Characters Welcome: Next Steps Towards Human AI” where I hope to bring up this very notion. My observation is that, until we can solve the natural bottleneck of content creation, in-depth AI is going to be hamstrung. It doesn’t matter that we can create 100’s of subtle behaviors and interactions if our characters only have the voice acting and animations for 20.

With the reasonable success at procedural animation for Spore’s creatures, I feel that we may be able to leverage that for human character animation. Many games are already using varieties of automatic animation creation (which, not being my speciality, is completely beyond me). However, we are definitely up against a wall with regard to voice assets. Until we can do realistic generation of speech, we are going to be hurting for a way to accomplish dialog interaction without pre-written lines for voice actors.

Even if we could pull of natural-sounding speech, automatically generating content is a bit of a quandary as well. If you have time to read 200 pages, I’ve started muddling through my colleague Rob Zubek’s PhD thesis, Hierarchical Parallel Markov Models for Interactive Social Agents (pdf). I am only about a quarter of the way through, but I like where he’s going with it. By applying rational reasoning to interactive speech patterns, we are taking a big step forward in being able to process input speech as well as generate responses. Combine that with natural-sounding speech synthesis and our games will take a massive leap forward.

In the mean time, I believe we have to apply procedural concepts wherever necessary to be able to bypass the content generation pipeline such as it exists now. After all, GTA 4 had a $100 million budget and people still thought that the content was limited. Can we, as an industry, even afford to continue down this route?

The challenge of AI in dialogue

Monday, January 28th, 2008

This comes from an IGDA (International Game Developer’s Association) article by Mathew Sakey. He is discussing how dialogue in games tends to be a real drag. The reason it caught my eye is because of the implications (if not outright pleading) that better AI is potentially a solution. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Part of it is that we are still roleplaying with circuit boards, and technology means it’s going to be that way for a while. When the day arrives that we’re actually roleplaying with the game AI, and not a pre-scripted database of reactions… well, that day we can just do away with other people altogether and it’ll be great. But right now – and despite the never-lived-up-to claims of some developers, including a couple mentioned here – game AI advancements seem irritatingly focused not on character and world reaction to player behavior, but on combat skills, so it’s going to be a while before The Elder Scrolls MCMLXXV responds in a genuinely dynamic way to our remarks and activities.

Motion controls, voice recognition and reputation systems are all moving game worlds in a direction where we’re not playing, we are participating; where
we are not in the game, but of the game. It is the difference between roleplaying with humans and doing so with a circuit board – human conversation dynamically changes based on thousands of subtle cues computers simply cannot track. As the technology and software evolve, we’ll naturally see ever-more organic dialogue opportunities in games, provided developers take them.

I believe that this is a fascinating field – but one for which I have no concrete answers. Even setting aside the issue of whether gamers would want to muddle through dialogue (which is also discussed in the article), it is challenging from a strictly technical and academic standpoint. The game Facade tackled this issue (pretty much from a strictly technical and academic standpoint). I saw a GDC presentation on it back in 2004 and have seen it discussed, but I can’t claim to have played it. Maybe that should be a stop on my sojourn through this great unknown landscape that is the future of game AI.

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