Next breakthrough in Computer RPGs (role playing games)?

Huntn

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Many of us dive into Role Playing Games and ... role play, we pretend, we adopt roles, we can be good or bad, although on the topic of being bad, I don’t see the attraction of being bad, but I have some nephews who jump into a game like Red Dead Redemption and just rampage though town killing town folks, because they can. My point is we role play in these games. We very likely do not act how we would act in real life. But I digress.

What do you think is the next big breakthrough in RPGs? I think 2 things:
  • Better AI and natural organic conversations, and Devs taking the time to produce something that resembles more natural communication with NPCs.
  • Better VR integration.

However, in this post, I’m just going to talk about organic conversations.

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Fallout 4​


Let’s start with an older game Fallout 4 (2015) a post apocalyptic game by Bethesda. In this game conversations are limited. A quest giver, vender, or companion candidates will talk to you but it is all right to the point. However many companions are romancible. That said, companion relationships are basically on auto-pilot, by virtue of spending time with you, the affection trend is up. In conversations with other NPCs, how you respond to them will effect your companion‘s feelings towards you, a blip plus or minus on the continuous up trend which is expressed as a number percentage.

Of interest, while spending time with a companion, eventually they will ask to talk you (shocker! ;)). Every companion in the game, has a personal issue they wish to convey to you and discuss. These are the most interesting times with your companions, when you can get something beyond a 1-2 sentence conversation out of them, although the developer made up your replies. :) Sometimes you give them advice, and moral support, all canned of course, but for others a quest will pop up to help your companion and they will be very appreciative if you support them. The most interesting companion in this regard is Cait, the pretty Irish lass and cage fighter when you first meet her.

Anyway there are no facial expression or body language that is conveyed to you, and eventually the game will tell you your companion has reached his/her highest attraction towards you (around 120%), which makes zero difference in your relationship, other than you get a buff, Lover’s Embrace when you sleep with your companion, just sleep, although Cait makes some suggestive comments from time to time. :)

These interactions are interesting, but other than that there is virtually no meaningful dialog between you and your companion. There are no casual conversations period. Your companions will make comments. If you ask them what’s on their mind, you’ll get a sentence out of them, where you usually have nothing important to say in response. If you ask about “our relationship” you’ll get a one sentence statement about their feelings towards you. And you end it by telling them “Nothing more”, end of discussion. :)

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Cyberpunk 2077​


So that was 2015. Now let’s look at a 2020 role playing game, which has gotten a lot of praise and criticism. It looks so amazing that you almost feel like you have stepped into a full blown city simulation, full of citizens all living their lives. But once you dive in, you quickly realize that there is a thin veneer to this presentation. Cyberpunk 2077’s brilliance also highlights it‘s shortcoming. Something like this looks so real, you naturally expect more, like the ability to approach a stranger, ask them a question, and get more than being brushed off.

There are no dedicated companions in this CP2077, but there are romance candidates. Unfortunately these relationships are stilted, unrealistic, with very limited conversations if any and the next thing you know there is an opportunity to express affection. And with Fallout 4, there are actions as determined by devs where you can further your relationship or screw it up. But here again what you’ll see this as shallow, nothing even approaching the development of a relationship, and arguably, most players would not want to take the time, but I’d think some minimal semblance of a relationship would be better than the superficial checks in the boxes that the developer decides is what constitutes a romantic relationship. 🤔

Therefore, I have to believe that improvements in AI and the ability to have an organic conversation just about any topic, within reason, would go a long way towards making RPGs and NPCs feel more realistic. In 2021, it appears we are still very far from anything resembling minimally normal conversations and the lack of better verbal communications, rubs our nose in just how shallow an environment is, and really holds back such a slick presentation as Cyberpunk 2077.
So what if we end up with terabyte sized games? ;)

Thoughts?
 

Renzatic

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I need to find the link to it, but some guy did make a game demo using Unity that allowed you to talk to NPCs, who would provide you with semi-coherent responses to your questions.

It was very much a work in progress, but still neat regardless.

edit: here it is!

 

Pumbaa

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Made me visualize HBO’s Westworld as a target.

VR integration will probably appear to advance faster than conversational AI for a while longer. Automatic speech recognition has gotten a boost of astronomical proportions in later years, much thanks to big data, but still got a ways to go before it reliably can handle the speech of an engaged gamer. Then there is the issue of making a NPC respond in a coherent manner, not only what to say, but how to say it, all the little things like body language, prosody, stuff. Lots of good work done there as well.

Going to take some creative shortcuts to get everything together for an entertaining game in the foreseeable future. But that’s on the other hand exactly what game makers are masters of. Just watch some videos on Youtube on the tricks created and employed by makers of old console games!
 
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Made me visualize HBO’s Westworld as a target.

VR integration will probably appear to advance faster than conversational AI for a while longer. Automatic speech recognition has gotten a boost of astronomical proportions in later years, much thanks to big data, but still got a ways to go before it reliably can handle the speech of an engaged gamer. Then there is the issue of making a NPC respond in a coherent manner, not only what to say, but how to say it, all the little things like body language, prosody, stuff. Lots of good work done there as well.

Going to take some creative shortcuts to get everything together for an entertaining game in the foreseeable future. But that’s on the other hand exactly what game makers are masters of. Just watch some videos on Youtube on the tricks created and employed by makers of old console games!
The speech system in the latest game I’ve played Cyberpunk 2077 is what they have been doing for the last 30 years. And while it used to be acceptable, having a list of questions pop up or a list of answers, with the way graphics have zoomed ahead, and the limited ability to reply, it is really seeming dated now. I could easily imagine speaking with your microphone to talk to NPCs and having them reply. But it would require a lot more effort on the Devs part including an AI system, and voice generation on the fly. In contrast to AI, it seems like it would be a huge undertaking to have voice actors record a million possible conversations.

And as I’ve already said, the feeling Imget when walking down the street in Night City (Cyberpunk 2077), it feels so realistic, it’s like I should be able to stop somone on the street and ask them for directions which they may or may not know. Here is a curious point about Cyberpunk 2077, every NPC produces a talk icon when you approach them, yet when you do approach them, you get brushed off. The Devs had some issues getting this game out the door, some things were cut, and I’m wondering if at one point there was an intention to allow you to talk to strangers on the street?
 
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Pumbaa

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The speech system in the latest game I’ve played Cyberpunk 2077 is what they have been doing for the last 30 years. And while it used to be acceptable, having a list of questions pop up or a list of answers, with the way graphics have zoomed ahead, and the limited ability to repl, it is really seeming dated now. I could easily imagine speaking with your microphone to talk to NPCs and having them reply. But it would require a lot more effort on the Devs part including an AI system, and voice generation on the fly. It seems like it would be a huge undertaking to have voice actors record a million possible conversations.

And as I’ve already said, the feeling Imget when walking down the street in Night City (Cyberpunk 2077), it feels so realistic, it’s like I should be able to stop somone on the street and ask them for directions which they may or may not know. Here is a curious point about Cyberpunk 2077, every NPC produces a talk icon when you approach them, yet when you do approach them, you get brushed off. The Devs had some issues getting this game out the door, some things were cut, and I’m wondering if at one point there was an intention to allow you to talk to strangers on the street?
Speech synthesis is getting pretty good, still some problems to solve for it to work but I can absolutely see random NPCs getting voices in the foreseeable future without needing to deal with voice actors for them, or to record conversations. We are getting there. Probably at first with voice actors for key NPCs and using synthesis to elevate basic peripheral NPCs from useless to useless with conversational abilities.

That said, I would argue that “stop somone on the street and ask them for directions which they may or may not know” is perfectly doable right now if one is willing to keep the domain as specific as route directions. A reason not to do this yet would more be that if you can ask NPCs for directions using natural language, you probably would expect to be able to ask about other things as well. But hey, maybe it could work just fine with NPCs going all “Screw you, I’m outta here!” if you ask about anything else..
 
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Huntn

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Speech synthesis is getting pretty good, still some problems to solve for it to work but I can absolutely see random NPCs getting voices in the foreseeable future without needing to deal with voice actors for them, or to record conversations. We are getting there. Probably at first with voice actors for key NPCs and using synthesis to elevate basic peripheral NPCs from useless to useless with conversational abilities.

That said, I would argue that “stop somone on the street and ask them for directions which they may or may not know” is perfectly doable right now if one is willing to keep the domain as specific as route directions. A reason not to do this yet would more be that if you can ask NPCs for directions using natural language, you probably would expect to be able to ask about other things as well. But hey, maybe it could work just fine with NPCs going all “Screw you, I’m outta here!” if you ask about anything else..
That’s what CP2077 has for strangers on the street : “screw you”, “no habla English”, “what’s up?”, “I could make you happy” (end), “leave me alone”, something said in a foreign language, “I’m meeting someone”, “get lost”. Yes some of those would be valid response, but not meet the criteria for organic conversation. :)
 
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I need to find the link to it, but some guy did make a game demo using Unity that allowed you to talk to NPCs, who would provide you with semi-coherent responses to your questions.

It was very much a work in progress, but still neat regardless.

edit: here it is!

This is awesome!
 

thekev

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Speech synthesis is getting pretty good, still some problems to solve for it to work but I can absolutely see random NPCs getting voices in the foreseeable future without needing to deal with voice actors for them, or to record conversations. We are getting there. Probably at first with voice actors for key NPCs and using synthesis to elevate basic peripheral NPCs from useless to useless with conversational abilities.

That said, I would argue that “stop somone on the street and ask them for directions which they may or may not know” is perfectly doable right now if one is willing to keep the domain as specific as route directions. A reason not to do this yet would more be that if you can ask NPCs for directions using natural language, you probably would expect to be able to ask about other things as well. But hey, maybe it could work just fine with NPCs going all “Screw you, I’m outta here!” if you ask about anything else..

Even then, the sound data takes a lot of space on disk unless dynamically generated. I personally think that at least some games featured more realistic dialogue when most of it was presented as text.
 

Pumbaa

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Even then, the sound data takes a lot of space on disk unless dynamically generated. I personally think that at least some games featured more realistic dialogue when most of it was presented as text.
Possibly. But one can be pretty brutal when compressing voice, as opposed to for example music. The limiting factor probably isn’t the amount of storage required but rather the need for voice acting and recordings.

In any case, continued evolution of speech synthesis have the possibility of addressing both factors.
 
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