While currently video games rely on dialog trees – the player clicks canned dialog lines written by someone else – in Bot Colony players use their own words to control the outcome. Language comprehension is not limited to commands: players can ask the game’s robotic 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 actions and robots will comply, or learn new commands that are not yet part of their repertory. This ability to speak freely with characters increases the player’s immersion into the game and truly makes them part of the story.
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 2001: A 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 reinforces how much we take for granted in our day-to-day communication with other people.
“I know everyone claims this, but Bot Colony is truly trailblazing a new way of interacting with games,” Eugene Joseph, CEO of North Side and lead architect, explains. “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.”
Bot Colony is based on North Side’s proprietary natural language understanding (NLU) technology – deep Artificial Intelligence, which the company began researching in 2001. Currently, the software understands English well enough to enable a player to complete game levels, 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).
More than 7,000 people from 176 countries have already signed up for the beta test. The studio credits some of this worldwide interest to individuals that want to practice English conversation. Bot Colony can be used by non-native speakers to have the immersive experience of being in an English speaking country without traveling there.
After heavy investments made in R&D and the first two game episodes, North Side is seeking crowd-funding to complete development of the game (targeted at 12 episodes) and to start work on a multiplayer sequel. 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.
A public Beta will start on Nov. 2013.
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