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.