Why can't we talk to the characters in games?

Why can't we talk to the characters in games?

Why can't we talk to the characters in games?

Oh, users: they say the darnedest things. I co-created the smartphone fitness game Zombies, Run! with Six to Start and most of our users are fantastic: perceptive, encouraging, creative, tireless cheerleaders for what we do. And then there are … well. People who don’t quite understand how technology works.

Someone asked if we could make our game so the characters understand everything the player’s saying and talk back in real time, instead of these “scripts” I write. How difficult can it be for super-advanced computers to let you have a conversation with game characters? The answer, of course, is that this is the hard artificial intelligence problem and it is difficult to create an artificial character that convinces a real person for more than a few minutes. But this question did make me wonder whether it’ll be that great when we do create full AI for video games.

Just imagine. It’s 2166 and you turn on your 27th generation XStationPlayBone. There’s that space-fantasy game you started a couple of weeks ago: Lair of The Gene Mage.

The designers have created a set of interesting, complex, talented characters who continue to exist when you’re not playing and with whom you can have a real conversation.

They’re brilliant tacticians, skilled warriors, experts in the realpolitik of a dozen galaxies. And you — with whatever skills you bring — are part of the group. But it’s been a few days since you last played.

You reintroduce yourself to Tanjia The Magnificent, the sentient gas-cloud who’s the leader de facto when you’re not around.

Hi, Alex. Great to see you! Want to go hunting snow-bats again?

Hey! What’ve you been up to?

Us? We’ve just been waiting for you to get back!

Huh. Just waiting. But aren’t there … a few more trophies in the Crystal Lair than I remember?
Oh. Yes. You’re right. Sorry, I forgot about that.

That one’s enormous.

Oh, that’s a great story. It’s the skull of the Marwg-Kas, the King of the Cave Trolls. He put up quite a fight! I can show you some footage we took of his army of lava homunculi if you like.

Right. Um. Maybe I would have liked to come too.

Oh. Right. Sorry. It’s just that you never showed any interest in defeating cave trolls, Alex.

If I’d known you were going to fight cave trolls …

Look, the thing is that we were all here. And Starlax has that new ice-shield she wanted to try out … and we just thought, you know, we can sort this out quickly and then go on one of those, you know, more relaxed adventures that Alex likes.

I thought you liked adventuring with me.

We do! It’s just … the pace is a bit different when you’re around.

This is about the Smoke Fortress, isn’t it?

Oh God, please let’s not have that conversation again. We didn’t hold our fire so you could shoot that soldier.

I was there. Stop patronising me.

We’re not patronising you.

Grundar’s patronising me. Look at his face. He’s got 37 different muscles in there and they’re all set to “patronising”.

That’s just what he’s like, please don’t take it personally. Look, the situation is, I’m an ex-bounty-hunter, Grundar’s on the run from the trans-planetary police, Starlax used to be ruler of one of the seven kingdoms … we just have a lot in common, that’s all. But now you’re here, we want to go and collect all those light crystals that are stuck at the tops of mountain peaks in this world for some reason! And then you can decide tactics when we storm the Prisons of Ash.

Look at Grundar’s face.

Alex, we like it when you tell us what positions to take up and how to fight. We could do it ourselves, obviously, and we’re all skilled at combat, but we do enjoy it.

Why would you, who are so much better at every single skill that’s useful in this world, like it?

It’s just refreshing.

You’re programmed to like it.

I don’t understand the words ‘programmed to like it’, Alex. Can you try again?

XStationPlayBone, can you delete these characters and restore “classic version” without real personalities?

Wait, Alex, come back, don’t you want to pick some ice herbs?! You really liked that last time!


I’m starting to wonder if the Laws of Robotics should really include a line about not hurting human beings’ feelings.