Bot Colony leverages a technological breakthrough in Natural Language Understanding (NLU), a problem scientists have been trying to solve for many years. Natural Language Understanding is technical jargon for computer understanding of human language (English in the case of Bot Colony). The characters in Bot Colony understand what the player says, and are often able to respond in a cogent manner. North Side believes that the NLU capability of Bot Colony is superior to that of Apple’s Siri or IBM’s Watson.
Bot Colony is an episodic sci-fi adventure game in which one plays as a robot cognition specialist investigating the disappearance of prototype robot sensors, and tracking down a spy across an exotic South Pacific island.
While currently video games rely on dialog trees – players clicks canned dialog lines written by someone else – in Bot Colony players use their own words to control the outcome. Language understanding is not limited to commands: players can ask characters questions, state facts or opinions, and clarify what a character said - and the characters will respond intelligently in most cases. Players can also ask robots to carry out commands and robots will comply, or learn new commands that are not yet part of their repertory. The ability to speak freely with the characters increases the player’s immersion into the game and truly makes the player part of the story.
North Side launched a kickstarter campaign in September 2013 but canceled it a few days due to lower than expected interest and is instead opting for fan funding by selling access to the Open Alpha version for $2.95.
North Side intends Bot Colony to offer a first-hand experience of realistic verbal communication with intelligent machines, much like the interactions depicted in sci-fi movies like The Space Odyssey, I, Robot or Blade Runner. This interaction is designed to be both challenging and entertaining. The ultra-literal way in which robots understand language is sure to drive home the realization of how much we take for granted in our day to day communication with other people.
“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 70’s. 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,” Eugene Joseph, CEO of North Side and lead architect, explains.
Bot Colony leverages North Side’s proprietary natural language understanding (NLU) technology – deep Artificial Intelligence. North Side first started R&D in NLU in 2001 and invested over $18 million in R&D. Currently, the software understands English sufficiently well to enable players to complete game levels, as long as they don’t veer too much off topic. Off topic conversations are also supported – and characters use them as an opportunity to learn new concepts from the player. Reponses by the game’s robotic characters are generated on the fly by parsing the speech of players (or typed text), reasoning on a fact base, 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).
The studio credits the worldwide interest in its game (thousands have signed up to test the game) to individuals who want to practice English conversation. Bot Colony offers to non-native speakers an immersive experience of being in an English speaking country without traveling there.
After the heavy investments made in R&D and the first two game episodes, North Side is seeking fan funding to complete development of the game (targeted at 12 episodes) and to begin efforts towards a planned multiplayer sequel. The company hopes that fans will help fund the development through the purchase of monthly memberships, episodes and the Bot Colony novel, now offered in eBook format.
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