Act Opposite AI In Dinner Date Dev’s Cheongsam

Back in 2010, a young lad named Quintin got stood up by a date and spent the evening alone at his kitchen table, getting drunk and muttering to himself. Dinner Date was a curious storytelling experiment, listening in on a chap’s thought and simply having control over his restless hands to express yourself. Now creator Stout Games has announced a piece of “virtual theatre” named Cheongsam [official site], where a chap (you) and a dame (an AI) lark about in a park. Supposedly she’s a jolly clever robot, whose performance will follow physical cues of your own.

Right, so Michael and Maggie are relative strangers who’ve found themselves together in a park, gabbing about this and that. As in Dinner Date, your character is following a script and your actions add physical performance to that, but Cheongsam also has an AI who’ll alter her performance to follow what you do. You have control over Michael’s pose, facial expressions, and gaze, I believe, which theoretically can convey a lot.

As for her Maggie works, Stout man Jeroen D Stout [a pint of plain’s the studio’s only man -‘hilarious’ ed.] explains in the announcement:

“The AI is specially written for Cheongsam. Maggie can combine many acting styles on the fly and react to Michael at a very high frequency. You may smile at her and she may smile back: but not if she feels quite differently. Perhaps she is playing stern and frowns back; or perhaps you smile unexpectedly and she is surprised. Your actions over time change the way she plays. Maggie can combine over 200 decisions and variables to create actions: some as small as a glance away as she jokes, some as large as changing her acting style itself. There are no large sets of pre-made animations: all is composed and arranged by the AI on the fly. This makes it possible for Maggie to ​respond to you in a way this will always be unique.”

I’ve seen this film and it did not end well.

Remember, the key to improv is to agree with whatever direction your partner takes the scene in, and ideally add to that yourself. No, you probably can’t get away with “Yes, and… the AI disarmed its hijacked nuclear warheads/removed the knife from my spine/decided ‘a pathetic creature of meat and bone’ is no way to talk about a friend.”

Oh, I’m sure it’ll be all sorts of wonky and Maggie’s model looks like a mannequin, but I do dig the idea of physically playing a part and having that noticed. So often games lock us in scenes with NPCs who don’t notice that we’re not paying attention to their lecture, spinning in circles and jumping on tables. I still remember being wowed by the simple idea of Half-Life 2 scolding you for knocking over a monitor. The bar is pretty low. So yes, absolutely, I’m keen to see where Cheongsam goes.

No word yet on when it’ll come out.

Ten Horace Points to everyone who, after reading this post’s first sentence, said aloud “And in the game.” I think there’s hope for you yet.


  1. kwyjibo says:

    I’m only going to play this if the entire game is in Cantonese.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      I am afraid I will have to win you back some other way because only a few lines are in Cantonese. ;-)

  2. Pantalaimon says:

    Things like this are very exciting, partly because of how difficult they are to do well. It reminds me of the great IF piece Galatea in form and setting. It will have to go some to match it in terms of the play experience, though; I still do not think that any NPC in a game has matched Emily Short’s creation in terms of believability, sense of character and dramatic depth. Kind of incredible given how much time has passed since (not to mention that she was working within a text interpreter engine).

    I wonder if acting alongside Maggie can allow the same level of emotional connection. Which is a crazy thing to say, because it’s all artificial, right? But in the moment these things might as well be real, just like reading a book and getting lost in the head of the characters. The emotion is all real. Talking to Galatea is, well, a real conversation/interaction, of sorts, on multiple levels.

    It’s different here though. I wonder how invested Jeroen will be in his female lead. Part of what makes Galatea special is… well, you’ll understand if you’ve played it (and if not: you absolutely should). I can only hope that he will be as daring. I also wonder if Maggie not being an overtly artificial creation gives her less verisimilitude and leeway, since we will judge her versus reality. Not like Galatea or the likes of GLaDOS, who seem like real people because.. they’re not people.


  3. moms says:

    I played Dinner Date this past Sunday (Valentines Day.) As far as dates go, I suppose I’ve had worse…
    My biggest disappointment was the inability to take any kinda screenshot or grab.
    Now I have nothing to post in my memory book (except a few cigarette butts.)

    Anyway, I hope this new game allows snapshots.

  4. Ross Angus says:

    I wonder if it might have been a better solution not to aim for photo realism in the visuals. One of the strengths of Façade was that the art style was so simple, as to completely avoid the uncanny valley, while effectively conveying emotion.