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Drama Princess Symposium evaluation

Posted by Michael on June 5th, 2006, in Development

This is a little summary of what came out of our Drama Princess Symposium last month.

Certain properties that came up as desirable in autonomous characters:
(i.e. things that were assumed to make them seem more believable):

  • different personalities
  • consistent emotions (no unexpected mood swings)
  • growth, evolution, changes in mood
  • unique bond with the player and with each other
  • match between the personality of the character and the function it has in the game as well as the limitations of your software
  • a layer of interpretation/translation can help believability (Black & White) as long as it doesn’t represent the underlying system too directly (Sims)
  • actions with consequences
  • some time for the player to develop feelings for the character
  • various ways of performing the same action (at least for realistic-looking characters)
  • an avatar on the same level as the characters to help develop feelings for the characters (or alternatively a well defined role such as that of a god in Black & White)
  • acting on (perceived) moods, opinions or goals
  • choices that aren’t just motivated by needs and wishes
  • activities that player and characters do together
  • reciprocity: characters returning the affection you invest in them
  • response of characters to your actions as player (either immediate or delayed)

Things that don’t necessarily seem to be required:

  • intelligence (stupid characters are acceptable)
  • realistic appearance (matching appearance with sophistication seems more appropriate: stylized behaviour is ok for characters that look stylized)

In general, it seems that the players in our symposium didn’t have any particularly high demands in either graphics or programming. Whether or not they found an autonomous character interesting, depended more or on design consistency and narrative context. They seemed to be perfectly willing to accept limited “intelligence” as long as the context was appropriate. So communicating this context seems to be half of the work. Communicating the intelligence of the character itself didn’t seem very interesting. On the contrary, in general it seemed that obscuring clear communication about a character’s mood and mind leads to better believability. Vagueness allows for projection and empathy.
What did seem to be expected was evolution, growth or change. Both in the character’s behaviour as in the interaction between the character and its environment, including other characters. A clear impact of the actions of the player on the game environment, seems to be highly desirable.

Comment by Patrick

Posted on June 6, 2006 at 2:35 am

To reiterate my prior point, the “evolution” you describe as vital could be seen as both resolution of a game or narrative progression. However, you seen to want to avoid both, which is fine. However what you can’t avoid (and shouldn’t want to) is play, and from my impression of Endless Forest I see your want more open ended, free-form play than goal oriented play.

Now, having studied Callois a bit, mostly through the excellent write-ups are Chris Bateman’s blog, it seems like you’d want characters to gravitate from more freeform, maybe slightly randomized interactions to entangled cross-relations that amount to what could be described as a goal, thought that goal would eventually be resolved or dissolved (through mutual lack of player participation) and revert to the freeform stuff from which is began. And the circle of life continues…

Comment by Michael

Posted on June 6, 2006 at 9:06 am

Not even. We’re much more shallow than that. ;)

We only want characters to be autonomous “for effect”. We feel our work as more related more to painting and sculpting than to cinema, theater or writing. Our goal is to paint a complete picture: the whole screen and the whole environment should form a meaningful and enjoyable unit. It needs to “feel real” rather than look real. The characters in that scene are but one element and their most important purpose is to contribute to the whole. All we really need from them is to ‘’feel real'’. So that they at least don’t disturb the whole (with too static or too awkward behaviour) and hopefully even contribute (perhaps a great deal) to the experience of meaning and delight.

With this in mind, I guess you can understand how alien the idea of building A.I. is to us. :) We don’t really need the characters to be engaged in a narrative progression, all we need is that they don’t disappoint the user’s expectations of them and hopefully even surprise them once in a while by surpassing these expectations (if only in the user’s imagination -which we actively want to stimulate as a core ingredient of the system).

Thanks you for allowing me clarify this -also for myself. ;)

Comment by Porucznik Borewiczjjq

Posted on July 24, 2006 at 2:34 am

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