[Storybricks] Storytelling with an emotive AI

storybricksThe chaps from Namaste are very keen on NPCs with emotions. I had a chance recently to speak with them about the Storybricks toolset, which allows player creators to program AI into NPCs.

One of the features which is clearer in use than on some of the slides is that many of the Storybricks verbs allow for an adverb to be added. So, for example, an NPC could be programmed to do something cheerfully or sneakily. But what does that mean in terms of creating stories? Phil Carlisle, AI CTO, discusses in a blog post how he might describe some truly memorable characters using storybricks in this way. I’m sure all Red Dwarf fans will remember Talkie the Toaster, one of his examples.

Namaste are working on an unannounced game platform to make use of the Storybricks and in the demo, the character emotions were shown by physical emotes and hand gestures. The implication is that the NPCs emotions matter, and that it matters for players to be able to identify them. This is also a theme in recent RPGs such as the emotion tech in LA Noir, where the player is asked to work out if someone is lying by watching their face.

Of course, emotions matter in standard MMOs too. It’s just that players usually buy their way to being beloved (ie. high rep) by killing monsters and collecting tokens. But a toolset built around NPCs having emotions implies a different type of storytelling altogether, you could use it to build a classic RPG where NPC’s regard depends on doing quests for them, or you could be exploring a classic Agatha Christie style murder mystery where knowing that one NPC hates another could be a key clue as to motives. Unsurprisingly, Namaste’s demos at Gencon went down very well with the roleplaying crowd whose first consideration tended to be, “Could I set up my favourite scenario using Storybricks?”

Storybricks is still in an early form and there are details to be ironed out – if you are interested in being involved in the testing you can sign up on their website. But the question of how toolsets encourage different styles of storytelling is an interesting one. A toolset about NPC AI is going to encourage character-driven stories about NPCs and their feelings about stuff/ each other. A toolset like the City of Heroes Mission Architect encourages a style of mission based storytelling with a quest giver and an instanced dungeon. A toolset like the Final Fantasy 12 gambit system allows you to set up all sorts of complex NPC combat interactions, but only covers combat and isn’t meant for stories at all (unless they are stories about how the NPC bravely healed the idiot player). And of course, a fiendishly complex toolset will drive away any casual player who just wants to play with creating characters and stories.

Also, an NPC system which assigns emotions would allow for player characters with supernatural methods to detect feelings: for example psychic abilities or spells. This is a far cry from the typical fireball type of magic user, and just emphasises the possibilities in a storytelling system which isn’t totally focussed on combat. Ultimately the devil will be in the implementation details, but a game built around an emotive AI has the potential for a very different style of story.

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7 thoughts on “[Storybricks] Storytelling with an emotive AI

  1. Thanks for taking the time to look at our demo. We’re very excited about the possibilities and are glad to see other people seeing the same. Hopefully we’ll be able to raise some money soon to continue work and build out something to use the tool set.

  2. It’s an interesting idea. I’ve seen Storybricks linked a couple of times in other places, but I guess I subconsciously assigned it to the category of projects too ambitious and nebulous to succeed. Given the people involved, it may be worth paying more attention to it.

  3. As someone who nagged his mother into teaching him to code in Atari 400/800 BASIC at about the age of around seven or eight (around for thirty years ago now), and subsequently has worked as a programmer for pretty much all of his career, I am not the target audience for Storybricks.

    Intellectually and in abstract, I realise that having the editor for your domain specific AI programming language be some sort of drag and drop visual logic thingammjig does for some reason freak out the mundanes far less than having it handle real live source code…

    …but I’m afraid in my bones I just don’t *really* believe that such a thing can possibly be true, and my mind quickly starts gibbering with such horror at the thought of the shear pain in having to use such a thing to code anything at all rather than using a nice text editor or IDE, and I start screaming in the tongues of Elder Gods about how you’ll take my revision control tools, debuggers, profilers, automated test frameworks, and automated build processes from me when you pry them from my proverbial cold dead fingers :)

    Then my eyes glaze over and skip right past all the, I’m sure, very interesting stuff about about what the language is actually letting me do or trying to achieve in a desperate attempt to avoid failing my sanity check. Like I said, so, sooooooo not the target audience :)

    I’m sure it’s very good tho’.

    • OK :) I don’t know anything about the actual implementation details but if a regular MMO NPC is like a piece of structural coding around a state machine or a long case statement (if PC_not_done_quest then offer_quest() etc.), imagine the Storybricks NPC being object oriented instead.

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