Talking with game characters

THIS IS THE TEXT OF AN EMAIL I SENT TO MATT AND BILL. PERHAPS OTHER READERS WILL FIND IT INTERESTING.

Perhaps you gentlemen can help me. I saw Mr. Barton's article, "The Game of Dialog: Simulating Conversation in Games" from Sun, 09/03/2006 - 12:44 pm on your Armchair Arcade blog. I am a professor of linguistics and have developed patented NLP dialog software that has been largely ignored (though not richly advertised) by almost all game developers. I am presenting it at WorldComp 07 in Las Vegas at the end of June and wonder if you might no of game developers (serious researchers and decision makers) who may be attending that conference. I also think you might find the software to be a good article for your magazine as what the software can do is far beyond anything that was described in the review you wrote. If you have further interest I can give you more detailed accounts or previously prepared materials, but briefly stated the parser is developed from a theory of syntax created by myself and another linguist which we turned into software tools. As we use a very comprehensive technique, it makes knowledge bases by typing in sentences and then allows you to query that knowledge based with standard English questions. For example, if you type in

John gave Mary a book

You can ask

Did John give Mary a book
Who gave Mary a book
What did John give Mary
Who did John give a book (to)

As it is aware of grammatical relatedness you can also ask

Was Mary given a book by Mary

And so on.

If the answer is found in the knowledge base the correct answer is given if not, there is a "no" or other relevant response. The company under which I developed these tools went belly up a few years ago so there are no web demos available though there used to be. I do however still have a suite of working tools which I will be showing at Worldcomp 07. If you would like further information on this parser and the sorts of things that are possible for games, please contact me.

I will also post this letter on your blog in the hopes of generating some interest from your readers. Thanks much for your time.

Sincerely,

Phil Bralich

Comments

Michael McCourt
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Joined: 01/17/2007
It's funny you bring this up

It's funny you bring this up because recently I'd been thinking about the illusion of conversation in games. It sounds like your parser allows you to set up "facts" and ask questions about the facts. Can it also respond to situations like:

Mary gave John the book.

John gave Frank the book.

and then ask,

Who has the book?

Would it know that the book had been given to a different person?

Can you ask: Who had the book first?

Lately I've been playing Seaman and have been pretty unimpressed with it as a simulation of conversation. It's mostly him asking questions with an expected set of responses and playing back whatever branch of the tree the player's response lands on.

Do you remember Eliza? That was also full of pat phrases that just took key words from the player's input and spat them back. I wonder how far we've come in 20 years and why it hasn't shown up in games. Maybe the collective "we" doesn't really want to have a conversation that falls into the uncanny valley just before artificially generated language code gets good enough to pass a Turing test.

Your stuff sounds interesting, it is a shame there's no demo of it.

Have you ever played with a 20 Questions ball? That's a pretty creepy display simulated intuiting, if not conversation, but the way it works must be really interesting as far as establishing and elimintating dataset possibilities.

adamantyr
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Joined: 01/28/2007
Nice...

Sounds like an interesting parser. Does it have a dynamic structure, capable of building a larger framework if you give it more "facts" to process? It sounds a bit like some of the tools that are being developed by Chris Crawford with his Interactive Storytelling engine.

Text conversations in gaming have always been very simplified. A complex conversation engine isn't impossible, especially with today's technology. The problem is that it's not necessarily fun either.

Consider if you had an engine where the NPC (non-player character) could actually form opinions of the player and refuse to answer questions. This could create a blocking scenario if that particular NPC has information that you must have to continue the game. Dynamic engines like this with non-predictable results also tend to be very bug-prone.

Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
I thought Crawford pretty

I thought Crawford pretty much gave up on that engine, adamantyr? I certainly think that while development is not necessarily focused in this area and thus its growth has been retarded (we really aren't much beyond "Eliza", relatively speaking), I believe with some clever programming and implementation, you can at least fool the player into thinking there are more sophisticated machinations going on. After all, as simplistic as "Eliza" is, it can fool most people for at least a few rounds of interaction...

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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adamantyr
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Joined: 01/28/2007
StoryTron
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I thought Crawford pretty much gave up on that engine, adamantyr?

Not the last time I checked. He's got a website up for StoryTron at:

http://www.storytron.com/

I think they're a little behind, but their forums have a post that SWAT entered Beta on Monday of this week. My favorite thread there is Crawford's cursing of the Java engine. :)

Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Crawford
adamantyr wrote:
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I thought Crawford pretty much gave up on that engine, adamantyr?

Not the last time I checked. He's got a website up for StoryTron at:

http://www.storytron.com/

I think they're a little behind, but their forums have a post that SWAT entered Beta on Monday of this week. My favorite thread there is Crawford's cursing of the Java engine. :)

I see. I thought that was in reference to his past work on something similar on the Mac. I see this is a new iteration of that idea, updated for newer technology and concepts. Still not clear on how this will work, but it's worth keeping an eye on...

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Captain Blood

Didn't the old Amiga game Captain Blood have some sort of icon-based parser for alien languages? I never really played the game, but I do seem to recall reviewers waxing on about it for awhile after it was released.

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