Bot Colony: A Glimpse of the Future?

(image from bot colony press kit)
(image from Bot Colony press kit)

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?

7 Comments Add yours

  1. duckofindeed says:

    That sounds really interesting, and it sounds like something I’d want to try sometime. At the same time, I don’t know yet whether it’s something I’d want to start seeing a lot in games or not. It would certainly make the player feel more immersed, but I could see myself being nervous over this, even if the characters I’m talking to aren’t real. It’s silly, but it may make it harder for me to relax while playing my games. Still very interesting, though.


    1. Hatm0nster says:

      I’m sort of in the same boat. I like the idea that we’re advancing but am unsure how well it be utilized in games that support it. Hopefully, very well!


  2. Vitosal says:

    its a cool idea, one they’ve been working on for ages. But, I don’t know. I’m all for having an honest conversation with virtual characters but i can’t see it working as well as they hope. I stand corrected here but wouldn’t everything they say need to be pre-programmed? That’s a lot of conversation to code in. If not pre-programmed then some form of AI which unfortunately will not be like that of The Terminators. And there’s the robot voice that could sound like it has a personality but with every other words sounding like female hawkin. It’s ambitious but i don’t think we’ll ever actually get there.

    Cool concept though on paper


    1. Hatm0nster says:

      We likely won’t be seeing voice acting for this sort of system anytime soon since you still can’t predict what a player would say to a virtual character. Still, it would be nice not to be locked into conversation trees for once.


      1. Vitosal says:

        true story..I really do like the concept, but only if it’s like Arnie from T2 🙂


  3. > It would certainly make the player feel more immersed, but I could see myself being nervous over this, even if the characters I’m talking to aren’t real. It’s silly, but it may make it harder for me to relax while playing my games.

    Very interesting point. In the movie Her, Theodore didn’t seem to have any problem with Samantha, but that’s a movie. It is new, so it takes some getting used to.
    About the more technical question, no, answers don’t have to be pre-programmed. Imagine you have a lot of knowledge and you just use it to answer.


    1. Hatm0nster says:

      I don’t know that movie. Does it deal with similar concepts as this game does?


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