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by Eric Swain

13 Apr 2016


The Vestal from Darkest Dungeon (Red Hook Studios, 2016)

In most cases, we think of game stories as something that happen around the mechanics of a game or gives context to those mechanics. But around the end of the last decade, there was a movement by developers to systematize storytelling in games. Emergent storytelling was the term coined to describe when various mechanics in a game interact in such a way as to create unique stories in a game’s play session. However, in practice, the attempts didn’t create stories so much as they created anecdotes.

More recently, several games have been released that present themselves as storytelling engines. These games set up their circumstances and establish a theme, but the specifics of the story are determined by your play session. These storytelling engine games provide an arc-like structure for the player to fill in the details of, resulting in narratives with a beginning, middle, and end. This type of game can and does create personally affecting stories. A narrative remains in the player’s mind more when it exists solely because that player picked out the melody amidst the noise. Yet, I find most attempts at this type of experience eventually fall flat thanks to the fact that overall they are still chained to a narrative goal constructed by an author.

by Eric Swain

31 Mar 2016


An Example of a Go board from Go Wiki

Recently, another chapter of man vs. machine played out. Google’s Deep Mind project team tried out their state of the art algorithm on the game of Go. The Korean pro, Lee Sedol, a world champion several times over and arguably the best player of the game right now, was its opponent. To put it simply, this was the equivalent of Deep Blue v. Gary Kasparov, and as with the IBM Chess playing machine before it, AlphaGo took home the prize, four wins to one loss.

Go has been thought to be the one game that computers could not beat a human at because a computer could not brute force the move trees. Chess may have an astronomically large set of possible moves, but it is nothing compared to Go. Chess has 12 options for the first move, while Go has 361. However, the feat accomplished by AlphaGo and the Deep Mind team is even more amazing than these raw numbers would suggest.

by Eric Swain

8 Sep 2015


In my last post, I explored our views, as humans, about artificial intelligence and our contradictions in holding those views. I made mention of the three main players of the game The Fall, all machines, and the ways in which they emulate humans. We have made machines in our own image to one degree or another, and the game seems to be itself a representation of our fear of the machines owning that emulation of ourselves. Instead of following our orders and having their choices and identity dictated by our control, the machines move beyond their simple base parameters and try to become their own beings.

I’d argue that only ARID, the protagonist of The Fall, succeeds in attaining such consciousness by accepting the most human trait of all, self contradiction. But even in the limited emulations of humanity of the System Administrator and the Caretaker, there is still insight about what they see in us: what an intelligence, alien to our own, sees and thinks of human behavior through what they mimic in us and how they mimic it.

by Eric Swain

11 Aug 2015


The Fall is about an AI on a mission to save her pilot, a pilot who is currently not responding after falling from space. I should note that I used the feminine pronoun to describe the AI because it is voiced in the game by a woman. It, of course, is a machine and has no gender other than that which we ascribe to it through our own conceptual understanding of gender. We see a figure, witness a behavior, or hear a voice and categorize what we perceive according to our understanding and experience, regardless if that categorization is correct.

I only bring this up because it is the easiest example of our own behavior towards others that I can point out. We self reflectively conceptualize others all the time and in multitudinous ways. For the most part, this skill serves us well in converting the billions upon billions of bits of constant data being taken in by our senses into a manageable, actionable understanding of our world around us. On the other hand, this behavior fails us when confronted with something alien to our understanding of the world and our response defies rational explanation—in other words, when we encounter something alien, like the artificial intelligence of a machine.

by Eric Swain

14 Jul 2015


Last week on the Moving Pixels podcast, I said that I would check out the second episode of The Detail. While I wasn’t wild about the first episode, the game had peaked enough of my interest to warrant peeking in a second time to see whether or not it sorted itself out in the second episode. It was trying to hold itself up to a rather high standard, even if it didn’t seem like it quite had the chops behind it to reach that standard. Still, I would love to see The Detail even make some small strides towards that lofty goal.

Well, since recording the podcast, I have given the second episode, “From the Ashes”, its due. In its wake, I find myself feeling much the same as I did at the end of the first episode. I’m not wild about it, but I am willing to give it one more episode to see if it manages to become something better than it presently is and something closer to what it actually wants to be.

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