May 30, 2005

Summer Façade Presentations

by Andrew Stern · , 1:01 pm

If you’re on the North American west coast this summer, consider attending one of these shindigs, where we’ll be giving Façade talks and demos. We’ll be posting these papers online, as well as publicly releasing Façade itself, soon.

* Artificial Intelligence and Digital Entertainment, June 1-3, Marina del Rey, Los Angeles. Our talk and demo: “Structuring Content in the Façade Interactive Drama Architecture”.

* Digital Games Research Conference — Changing Views: Worlds in Play, June 16-19, Vancouver, BC. Our talk: “Build It to Understand It: Ludology Meets Narratology in Game Design Space”.

* Chris Crawford’s Phrontisterion, June 25-26, Jacksonville, Oregon. We’ll be demoing, discussing, debating and camping.

* SIGGRAPH, July 31 – August 4, Los Angeles. I’ll be on an EA heavy panel, Believable Characters: Are AI-Driven Characters Possible, and Where Will They Take Us?

The abstracts follow:

“Structuring Content in the Façade Interactive Drama Architecture”
The process of building Façade, a first-person, real-time, one-act interactive drama, has involved three major research efforts: designing ways to deconstruct a dramatic narrative into a hierarchy of story and behavior pieces; engineering an AI system that responds to and integrates the player’s moment-by-moment interactions to reconstruct a real-time dramatic performance from those pieces; and understanding how to write an engaging, compelling story within this new organizational framework. This paper provides an overview of the process of bringing our interactive drama to life as a coherent, engaging, high agency experience, including the design and programming of thousands of joint dialog behaviors in the reactive planning language ABL, and their higher level organization into a collection of story beats sequenced by a drama manager. The process of iteratively developing the architecture, its languages, authorial idioms, and varieties of story content structures are described. These content structures are designed to intermix to offer players a high degree of responsiveness and narrative agency. We conclude with design and implementation lessons learned and future directions for creating more generative architectures.

“Build It to Understand It: Ludology Meets Narratology in Game Design Space”
Building experimental games offers an alternative methodology for researching and understanding games, beyond what can be understood by playing and studying existing games alone. Through a simultaneous process of research and artmaking in the construction of the interactive drama Façade, new theoretical and design insights into several game studies questions were realized, including the hotly debated question of ludology vs. narratology. This paper describes some of the ways that building games can inform researchers about what game scholarship should be focused on and why, and ways that building games can offer new perspectives on existing forms and genres.

Panel position statement for “Believable Characters: Are AI-Driven Characters Possible, and Where Will They Take Us?”
Everyone wants more richness and reactivity in AI-driven characters. However, cleanly and elegantly managing the complexity of intermixing hierarchies of AI agent behaviors is very hard. Furthermore, contemporary game designs will need to adapt and grow to make use of sophisticated believable characters. For example, new directions in interactive narrative need to be researched and developed, in tandem with advances in believable characters themselves.
In a serious effort to take the bull by the horns, we have recently completed five years of research and development on the interactive drama Façade. Façade is comprised of a novel AI architecture and set of expressive programming languages that integrate emotive, believable conversational characters, “story beat”-based drama management, robust natural language understanding, and a non-photorealistic animation engine with procedural, emotional facial expression. Within this hybrid architecture we have designed and authored a small but complete, richly interactive, dynamic one-act drama, released in late Spring 2005 to public as freeware.
Façade includes A Behavior Language (ABL) for authoring AI-driven believable characters, a re-implementation and extension of research from the Oz Project at Carnegie Mellon. ABL, to be publicly released in 2005, is a parallel programming language designed to make simple character behavior easy to author with just a few lines of code, while still providing the power to let experienced authors write complex, expressive behavior. ABL’s support for joint goals and behaviors helps the author to harness the expressive power of multi-agent teams of characters.
Our motivations for building Façade are to find out what it takes to build an interactive drama with believable characters, to have Façade hopefully serve as a compelling example of this new genre, and to publicly share the technology and design lessons we’ve learned.

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