Wednesday, 1. June 2005

Hero's Journey

Via Chris Fairclough: INTO THE WOODS: A Practical Guide to the Hero’s Journey is an excellent essay about applying Joseph Campbells "Hero's Journey" concept to game development.

Microsoft Beats Rule of Threes

Microsoft Bob is the first feature they get working right in v.2 already, instead of v.3.

More on the Rule of Threes.

Friday, 27. May 2005

Rossum's Universal Robots

Dennis Jerz took note of the fact that I didn't reference Rossum's Universal Robots as precursors to AI. I admit that my decision to declare the time of publication of Alan Turing's Imitation Game idea to be a cutoff point, and concentrate on the period from 1950 to the present as the focus of this blog, is somewhat arbitrary. But were I to compile a list of AI precursors, I couldn't even hope to compete with Jorn Barger's Timeline of knowledge-representation, so I didn't even try. No, my way of adding value is to take that list and connect some dots that are there but are not connected yet.

So if you need to catch up on the real origins of AI, just read Barger's list. It starts with the year 13,700,000,000 BC. I can't beat that. The entry for Karel Capek's R.U.R. is minimal, however; Dennis Jerz has more information on the play, including a plot summary and photos of various historical productions.

Business proposal

Now that writers like John Milius work on games, how about building tools for them? What if Milius wouldn't just write a script for the engineers to implement, but could write an interactive character directly, all by himself, using normal prose, plus a set of rules? That's one of my goals - producing such a tool. I'm looking for investors. If you're interested, send me mail.

Progress Report

Alice of Wonderland hipped me to a feature that's up at Gamasutra: E3 Report: Developing Better Characters, Better Stories covers a panel discussion on the first day of the E3 Expo in Los Angeles.
Among the cast were Toby Gard, Game Designer for Crystal Dynamics and creator of Lara Croft; John Milius, the Hollywood screenwriter responsible for Apocalypse Now and Conan the Barbarian, who just had his first experience in games with the script for EA's Medal of Honor: European Assault; Joe Staten, Bungie Studios' Cinematics Director for both Halo and Halo 2, and Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine, creator of Psychonauts and former LucasArts designer, who graced us with Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle, and a good portion of the script for the original two Monkey Island games.
Damn, I wish I could have been there to hear John Milius say:
"Drama is no different, in games or movies or whatever. You have to make your characters compelling and unpredictable."
I expect to see more writers on stage with the engineers in the future. I expect progress.

Update 27. May, 11:58: I forgot to put in the other hot John Milius quote:
"It's like acting," he says, "you have to know your characters."
You heard it here first.

Thursday, 26. May 2005

Robert Zubek's dissertation online

It's been a while since I last visited Dr. Robert Zubek's blog; in the meantime, he put up his dissertation. Congratulations. 200 pages. Too much for one sitting. Got to page 23 today; the last thing I read:
However, the designer cannot shape the dynamics or aesthetics directly - only the mechanics are available for manipulation.
Not sure I agree. What if I substituted "dynamics" with "plot", and "aesthetics" with "character"?

Must read further.

Update 26.May, 12:10: I've been dreaming about this shit tonight. Nobody could understand the equation Spectator = Actor even in my dream! How bad is that?

See, as long as I accept what I take to be its Premise, MDA (PDF format) makes perfect sense. What I mean with Premise can be written like this:

Premise 1: Designer - creates -> Game <- consumes - Player

My interpretation of this line of text - is it the one that the authors (Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek) intended me to have? - is that it shows me three systems, two of which are acting on a third: one by creating it, the other one by consuming it. In this case, MDA theory explains the system that is acted on, labeled Game, perfectly well to me.

However, my Premise is:

Premise 2: Actor <- acts on -> Actor

This leaves no room for MDA theory per se. However, that theory performs an essential function for Creators, and a System based on Premise 2 will have to be shown to perform the same function.

I will have to show how I transform Premise 1 into Premise 2.

Wednesday, 11. May 2005

Why Virtual Theatre?

Time for me to make some more wild claims. Like this one: Anatoly G. Antohin, acting teacher and director of the Virtual Theatre, is a guy that AI folk should mind. Why?

Here is my real Obstacle #1: I'm trying to create virtual actors, and I found out that they've got nooo acting talent! None... sheeeesh. What do I do? Let's ask Anatoly; he's been teaching actors for more than thirty years. What can I do when my actors got no talent?
I teach, because I do not believe in talent! Did you notice the titles? "System of the Method"? "Biomechanics Theory for Actors"? What? System? Method? Theory? Mechanics? Do you follow me? I say that it could be learned as accounting, plumming, driving!

Sorry, this is what I say...

Oh! I better say it all! I myself learned it all because I had no talent!
Do I think that my actors should learn something from this guy? Does a bear...?
In fact, the talent would be an obsticle! No, no talent, please, none for soever! Nothing! That is what you really need to learn theatre! If you do have any talent, or even believe that you might have a talent -- do not read my books!
So according to Anatoly, no talent is a requirement for an actor! Do you see now why I believe that the creators of AI actors should be over his books in swarms?

Monday, 9. May 2005

Different folks got different problems

Andrew Stern, who moderated the panel "Why Isn’t the Game Industry Making Interactive Stories?" at the GDC in March, posted about his experience today. I read the Powerpoint presentation he made for the event. For quite some time now, Andrew has voiced concern about what he percieves to be a central problem for Creators in Interactive Storytelling: the "conundrum of interactive stories: if you are given the freedom to do what you want, how can a well-formed story be created?"

Many people seem to share his view. I don't. I just can't see it.

I'm sure that it has to do with my choice of medium: bots. A chatbot interface always lets the client type whatever s/he wants. It takes any string (even the "null"-string - when the client just hits [Enter] as a "conversational act"). Any attempt at storytelling has to reflect this condition.

The designer of such a system has to assume infinite ressources on the client side. Infinite storage capacity for an infinite amount of available input sentences. Infinite processing time between input acts. Always-on, one-hundred-percent freedom. So until I was told so, it never occured to me that interactivity and storytelling could be in conflict at all. To me, things simply look like this:

Interaction = Conflict = Story

My real-life model for Interactive Storytelling is improvisational acting rooted in the Method and Biomechanics, and that particular problem simply doesn't figure in my domain.

I have very different problems.

Sunday, 8. May 2005

The actor’s creativity

Meyerhold on the relationship between actors and spectators:
A specific peculiarity of the actor’s creativity (as opposed to the originality of the playwright, the theatre director or the other artists) is that the creative process is being conducted in front of the audience. As a result, the actor and the spectator are interposing a particular mutual relationship; specifically, the actor puts the spectator in the position of a sounding board, which reacts to every action upon his command. And vice versa - sensing his own resonator (the audience), the actor immediately reacts, by improvisation, to all the demands coming from the audience. Following a series of signs (noise, movement, laughter etc.), the actor must define the attitude of the audience towards the performance correctly.
Can we write code that reacts to client input in the way described above?

Saturday, 7. May 2005

Turing 1950

Of course, the "human-made virtual actor" meme has had a long run in the history of literature, engineering, and art. However, the AI meme, which I regard as being a special case of the former, is quite a bit shorter, and its start coincides with the time when digital computers first became available outside of the confines of the military-scientific complex which had bounded them up until.. well, around 1950, actually. That year, the feeling was: "We finally have the technology!"

To do what, exactly? Alan Turing, the British scientist who had published about what is known as the Turing Machine three years earlier, devised of the Imitation Game in 1950: an interrogator chats online with a woman and a man who pretends to be a woman; the interrogator's task in the game is to find out who the real woman is. Candidate A, the man, is instructed to always lie; candidate B, the woman, is instructed to always tell the truth.
We now ask the question, 'What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?' Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, 'Can machines think?'
That's the Actor idea right there. So my Assumption #2 is actually Turing's:

HumanActor = VirtualActor

Some have noted that the question now seems to be "Can machines lie?" instead of "Can machines think?". Somewhat more constructively, I'd like to pose it as "Can machines fake honesty?" As actor, writer and producer George Burns has noted:
The most important thing in acting is honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made.

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