Player interaction with the characters in a game has not seen many radical steps forward over the years. We’ve had change to be sure, having gone from simple text, to cut-scenes, to rigid voice-acted responses, and finally to a semblance of actual conversation via dialogue systems employed by Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Indeed we have seen steps forward in how character interactions are portrayed, but have we seen any development for the the player’s role in such interaction? Not really. Aside from non-functioning games such as Hey You, Pikachu!, the player’s role in character interaction has remained more or less constant. We have always been observers, either simply watching a conversation play out or quietly directing the flow from our position in the shadows of the game world. It’s not we who are interacting with the character on screen, but what we’re controlling; be it fully realized character or simple avatar. We may get around it by role-playing our characters and such, but the fact always remains. Perhaps it’s time for that to change; time for the player to take a step away from our role as puppet-master.
This is exactly what a still-in-development game known as Bot Colony, being developed by a studio by the name of “North Side”, aims to do. The game claims to be “the first to be able to understand and respond intelligently in English”, which would definitely a major achievement, as well as open up all kinds of possibilities for the gaming industry. The following is an excerpt from the game’s press release:
“[…] 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. […]”
It goes on to describe how North Side aims to provide a realistic experience of conversing with intelligent machines, as envisioned by many sci-fi movies and games. A very high-bar indeed. So the question remains: Can Bot Colony really do this? Well if the previews and tech demos are any indication, then yes. It can.
North side launched a Kickstarter page for the game on September 30 and will be holding an open beta for the game starting in November. Those who donate $15 or more to the Kickstarter will receive, among other things, a Bot Colony ebook, the first two episodes (of a planned total of 12) and a month of online play. After the conclusion of the Kickstarter, crowd-funding efforts will continue by selling monthly online memberships at $2.95 ea. and individual episodes at $4.95 each. The crowd-funding will be used to complete development of the game as well as to begin work on a multiplayer sequel.
So, how does this sound to you? Would you look forward to being able to directly speak to your favorite characters or would that hit a little too close to home?