Occasionally something gets spat into my email inbox that genuinely interests me. Something that has usually got an element of science or genuine discovery in there. It’s been a while, in fact I think the last thing that fired my interest like this was Spore. Although, that did turn out to be ultimately disappointing. Anyway, Bot Colony a recently kick-started episodic sci-fi adventure pc game has done just that.
In Bot Colony you play a robot cognition specialist who is investigating the disappearance of prototype robot sensors, and tracking down a spy across an exotic South Pacific island. Although, it isn’t the plot line that gets my geek and nerd cells humming it’s the way you interact within the game. In Bot Colony rather than clicking on pre-scripted lines of text to control conversations you physically speak what you want to say and the in-game characters react intelligently. We’re not just talking commands either, you can also state opinions or ask them to repeat things. The robots will even learn new commands if they’re not in their repertoire.
Eugene Joseph, CEO of North Side and lead architect, explains “I know everyone claims this, but Bot Colony is truly trailblazing a new way of interacting with games. Every year we see incredible advances in game graphics, sound, physics, etc., but character interaction is still ruled by the pre-defined dialog tree approach we’ve had since the 70s. The ability for characters in a game to understand what you say and respond in an intelligent way has the potential to change the gaming world.”
According to my rather limited research, and by research I mean email full of facts and figures, Bot Colony is based on a proprietary natural language understanding technology (NLU) called deep Artificial Intelligence. The software has limitations. It understands enough English for a player to complete the game as long as they don’t veer too much off topic. Yet off topic conversations are also supported, and characters can use them as an opportunity to learn new concepts from the player. Responses by the game’s characters are generated on the fly by parsing the player’s spoken (or typed) English words, reasoning based on facts, AI rules and the 3D environment, and dynamically generating an intelligent reaction. This reaction can be verbal (spoken English), or non-verbal (the character carries out a command, or exhibits a quasi-emotion).
If Bot Colony interests you then you will have to wait a bit as the first twelve episodes are only just going into Kickstarter. Crowd-funding will be through the sale of monthly memberships and episodes priced at a reasonable $2.95 and $4.95, respectively, at the close of a Kickstarter campaign starting September 30. The first 2,000 people who pledge at the $15 level will receive the Bot Colony eBook, the first two episodes and a month of play time.
So there is still plenty of work to be done in this area, but we are heading into a very interesting area. How soon will a voice command/understanding system be included within every game. Will there be an Elder Scrolls game where you can physically talk to the shopkeepers ? I would imagine so, maybe not soon.
Right now, it might be worth investing in software like Bot Colony, people who are throwing wodges of cash to help develop the tech and software.