I remember Facade, although the game was short, it was a very impressive achievement. Will need to watch and read the accompanying research some time.
I agree with you, today’s games are impressive in scale but lacking in interactivity. I have thought a lot about the challenge of making games with what you call social AI. It comes with some challenges that are not impossible to overcome, but they need to happen in order so it’s gonna take a while…Somewhat of a thought dump incoming.
First of all, interesting moments in stories come from careful planning. Achieving a simulation according to some specification of social dynamics is probably quite doable, but then to make the game experience interesting and engrossing - it will require a smart combination of authored content and an AI simulation so that the AI does the planning that a writer normally does. For example relatively small dialogue trees are written by hand by a writer, and then the AI decides how to jump from one dialogue tree to another dialogue tree, or would alter the dialect or the tone of the sentences to match the character or the current context in the game. That technology doesn’t exist yet, but I think such technology may appear.in the future. There’s no shortage of people that want to achieve social AI in games or other virtual experiences.
Secondly, finding writers to work with that new technology would be difficult. Currently almost all games with choice use large written out dialogue trees. That approach, like more people mentioned and like you noticed, exponentially increase development workload as you add more options and you want those options to have an effect. But, the big advantage of dialogue trees is that it’s easy for an experienced game writer to imagine the conditions and outcomes. How can we add more options but keep complexity down though? It’s like I mentioned, prepare small pieces of content that the AI can link together. But AI driven dialogue that has more flexibility in traveling between pieces of content also makes it harder to imagine the outcome at the time of writing the content. A good game writer wouldn’t necessarily make a good writer for this new approach. People making the content need to be a mix of programmer and writer: highly creative to create unique experience, and highly precise to create content that will adapt to any circumstance. These people exist but I think it’s somewhat of a rare combination of characteristics and so the pool of people that would R&D such AI technology is small.
Third, human language is very peculiar so if we ever reach the state where the AI can decide what topic to talk about and what answers to give to your input (in a programmatic form), it will still need to sound like a human. Not even talking about voice synthesis, but the sentences we form are affected by the sentence we said before that, or earlier in the conversation, or we use verbage that the other person used. That’ll be an interesting challenge, but in the meantime we could have games simply describe what topics the character is thinking about. “NPC appears appreciative of the fact that you saved his farm. He thanks you for saving his cows. However, he didn’t like that you called his favorite cow fat.”
Then a side note: the funding for the R&D to achieve that technology. I don’t think there are incentives for big tech companies to invest into social AI for a game. Alexa has a clear, real world incentive to be developed: Alexa makes it easy for people to buy things from Amazon form their living room. Siri and such generate incredibly useful big data about people’s behavior as a population (and perhaps the companies learn about you personally as well). Games are the other hand are most of the time enclosed sandboxes, not linked to your wallet or to your email account. Perhaps a bit of a cynical take, but that’s the reason big companies don’t invest into social AI for games. Just a side note because I expect the technology to come but it’ll be either from universities or someone’s passion project.