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Thinking about the Threads I respond to...

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I was responding to a few threads this week as I got back into the swing of things.

One of them was on adult games, not XXX adult, but mature emotional and intellectual content games, as the poster specifically stipulated for clarity.

In responding to the questions the poster asked, I began to examine some of my own reasons for wanting the type of adult oriented content in a game I would like to design and play.

Being a screenwriter by trade, and amazingly influenced artistically by film, the first imagery that sprang to my mind was the computer Hal from Stanley Kubrick's "2001".

Hal, the computer was a very advanced computer with a personality and resoning and logical skills that were considered the best extant at the time the story supposing. As things got worse and worse problematically for the protagonist, Dave the astronaut, his relationship grew and grew with the computer entity Hal.

It eventually became clear Hal was the antagonistic force in the situation, as this was exposited to the audience well before the protagonist learned about it, a useful dramaturlogical technique, as Dave eventually came to find out fearfully.

Now, this perception of relationship to a computer based entity is of course, designed to sell movie tickets by supporting the dramatic structure of pushing cultural hot bottons we can safely experience in a dark theatre.

Brave Dave the astronaut, lonely and with little resource, is pitted against Hal the mega-intelligence computer that controls the entire spaceship that is the source of life for Dave. Pretty overwhelming odds.

But, that is a established notion that still exists, and we designers and developers see it all the time, though we probably subconsciouly avoid it and insulate ourselves from it all the time.

It's called the fear of technology, and even in an established World Wide Web (as a subset of the Internet) for almost a decade and a half that I can recall, as the ease of computing has gotten better and better, skills became more common and widespread as people get more and more exposure, in the comfortable, non-threatening, self paced manner most humans comprehend, retain and utilize with, every one of us still knows or sees mortal recoil now and then upon the part of someone somewhere when the subject turns to computing and technology.

It's a generational thing, in part, I think, but also it is clearly the fear of change that we all left behind long ago when we realized we had to move on to the next version of the language or implementation or format.

Mr. Kubrick's representation of the relationship between man and machine in that film pushed a cultural hot button long before there were a billion PC's sold. Yet, with now more than a billion PC's sold, adding in laptops, PDA's, smart cells and the forthcoming handheld PC pushing us towards our second billion devices for computing, the fact remains that cultural hot button of fear of technology remains strong in society, albeit the inevitable, sobering acceptance that it is the way it is and it's only going to get moreso has set in further in the collective consciousness of the aforementioned fear.

In my dealings in production and development matters in film, video and events, the fear of exposure to media, the nakedness before the camera lens, and the necessity of perfect performace before the camera 'that sees all', all form another fear (leading to further validation of my supposition of the vast fear cultures live in) - the fear of exposure, that clues us into what my version of Hal ought to be, and is one of my guidelines in development of personalities in computers, whether they are game NPC's, or the OS of the future.

First off, anybody who has done any sales knows that before you even try to sell anybody anything, you need to establish at least even a little bit of a personal relationship with them, even if it is only cordial, professional and boundary sensitive to a small degree.

Thus, following this, I would make my "Hal" into "Ha", or the humorous OSelseNPC, because it is pretty much consistently true for humans to psychologically hate somebody they have laughed with.

In fact, one of my best sales techniques is going right to the human factors argument -- "I got this done in spite of my dog eating my homework, or ten women ringing my phone off the hook_ -- you get the fictional idea.

So Ha, my spaceship control system of 2004 and beyond, is going to have some sensitivity and personality to it.

Now, we all know that bringing sensitivity and personality to a computer AI entity is a huge, daunting and time consuming desing and implementation. In fact, only the basics are considered enough for oppositional, neutral or cooperative AI today.

But I submit for your consideration, to paraphrase Rod Serling, that development along these lines, where the virtual persons who run alongside you in a game do more than just blow open doorways, render first aid, know the way out of someplace you are lost in, cover your back with expert marksmanship, is an expensive, exhaustive and lengthy proposition.

Yet these kinds of developments and designs I feel are the new battleground for market share in the mind of the player-consumer of interactive entertainment. They want the machine to think, to suggest, to decide independently, to lead sometimes, to follow sometimes, to go off on it's own for no reason and come back with something you forgot or didn't think of, to be able to compliment or constructively criticize.

This is consistent with with what Will Wright said at the Stanford Lectures on "How They Got Game", and I quote:

"The hardware wars are over. The graphics wars are over. The behavior wars have begun." Well, he might have said, "just begun", but I'm not one to split hairs when intent is clear.

I suggest that this kind of entity (and I use the word entity in the context of a virtual character of either cooperative, indepenedent or oppositional AI) is the biggest competition in town for a long time to come.

I suspect the relationship value between players and sophisticated virtual characters is underestimated as gameplay value in terms of interaction, and ought to be persued. I think it will allow American competitiveness to stem the outsourcing tide, and make AI our own discipline of mastery. I think it is where the game business is going.

Nobody talks about AI much in the gamedev IRC channel. The few questions I have asked about it has been responded to with the view it was just another aspect of the engine, and it was generally viewed with boredom. I have to admit, I did not take a large enough sampling to find out if that was really the case in the context of the community as a whole, however, that was my first response array when querying.

Zoomcrypt, whom I know to be a professional in the game development business, and a really smart and likeable guy to boot, related to me once that the AI was the perview of a couple of old programmers at the company he worked for, and they did not talk much about it, and though he could program it as well, he did not mention much about it as fertile territory because he was focused on project management, his real expertice.

Since I am a designer and not a developer or programmer, I cannot speak with expertice about developing artificial intelligence entities. But I bet there are classes of behavior being written, or have been written, out there now, and I am planning for the research time.

Surely as good as the minds are that I encounter in the community regularly must think about this as potential in their designs and on the industry level as a whole.

Is it some deep, dark secret of the business? Or, is it just a really boring aspect of development, where previous perceptions about what had to be available to the engine as state logic or artificial intelligence were sufficient, and now are ripe for review or repurposing or revolution?

I would like to know more, because I think there is a lot of money in it, as well as a lot of player satisfaction. If those two things are true, then there is correspondingly a PITA scenario in development and expense. Is there any other choice really? This inquiring mind would like to know, and I'll be digging around and let you know what I find out.

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Is it some deep, dark secret of the business? Or, is it just a really boring aspect of development, where previous perceptions about what had to be available to the engine as state logic or artificial intelligence were sufficient, and now are ripe for review or repurposing or revolution?

Who needs AI when you have multiplayer modes? [wink] That's basically my attitude on the whole thing right now ...

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I just think that players are going to expect more relationship style of responses from NPC's and entities, and that multiplayer modes let you see other player's behaviors and actions, but there will be a trend, I think, of more emotional and characteristic depth out of a few aspects of gameplay.

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