Gamers who appreciate ginormous open-world adventure games can tell you: It's actually pretty astounding how much freedom of choice you have to wander around in these virtual worlds. Top-shelf titles like the "Fallout" or "Elder Scrolls" series provide literally hundreds of hours of gameplay and thousands of individual story threads.
The downside is that it takes years to develop these game titles, since designers must script out all the possible scenarios and piece them together like a giant interactive jigsaw puzzle. But what if an artificial intelligence could handle all that?
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That's the intriguing concept behind a new system, announced earlier this week, that combines A.I. and crowdsourcing techniques to generate plots for interactive storytelling.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a system named Scheherazade IF (Interactive Fiction), which references the legendary Arabic queen and storyteller of "One Thousand and One Nights."
The Scheherazade A.I. compiles plot points from crowdsourced sources, then uses specific algorithms to select and sequence story elements. The system relies on knowledgeable input from dedicated fans of a particular game or story genre.
"Our open interactive narrative system learns genre models from crowdsourced example stories so that the player can perform different actions and still receive a coherent story experience," says lead researcher Mark Riedl, associate professor of interactive computing at Georgia Tech, in press materials accompanying the announcement.
The research paper "Crowdsourcing Open Interactive Narrative" was presented at the 2015 Foundations of Digital Games Conference in Pacific Grove, Calif.
To test the Scheherazade system, the researchers led three play test groups through two interactive, choose-your-own-adventure-style stories - a bank robbery and a date at the movies. The Scheherazade A.I. system was used to sequence the interactive story, along with a human-programmed narrative generator and a random story generator.
In terms of sequencing errors, the A.I. system performed identically to the human-programmed generator in the bank robbery story, and nearly as well in the date story. (The heart has its own reasons, I suppose.) The A.I. and human generators also compared favorably in subjective play experience criteria such as coherence, player involvement, enjoyment and story recognition.
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On the crowdsourcing end, the simple text-based games could potentially lead to more sophisticated systems. Collaborative world-building has long been a tradition in gaming, as players develop their own fan fiction or customized "mods" for popular titles. The Scheherazade system could be a first step in effectively collating crowdsourced contributions to a particular story or franchise.
That could turn hundreds of gameplay hours into thousands, and thousands of story threads into millions. This is all speculation, of course, but hey - a nerd can dream, right? Here's a demo video of the Scheherazade system.