Peter Molyneux is known for many things in our industry. Many of them can be described as “pushing the limits”. His games have pushed limits in AI — maybe not in terms of the technologies, but certainly in working that technology into a viable gameplay mechanism. He has also pushed limits in the area of interview-based advance hype — much to the dismay of his publishers from time to time. The unfortunate track-record that Peter has left in his wake, however, is those times when the latter has passed the former on that track. (You could even say that his hype has sometimes lapped the technology once in a while.) People in the game industry — both consumer and insider — do continue to follow along and hang on his every word — his cheery accent the pipes leading all of us kids (or rats?) out of Hamelin. Believe me, back in February, I was standing in a long, winding line of rats/kids streaming into room 135 of Moscone North to catch whatever crumbs of knowledge the guru of Fable deigned to bestow upon us. (OK… I know that was a little thick, but he may very well read my column for all I know. Hi Peter!)
Peter’s latest slip likely caused an increased ingestion of antacids by his now ever-watchful PR “handler”. Now that his promises about Fable 2 have been largely controlled (in the way one may call an unpredictably raging forest fire “mostly under control”), he has already moved on to talking about his next mysterious project. While Peter could never really fit the term “bombastic”, this latest iteration of “Pete-speak” does tend to raise a few animated eyebrows. In an interview with Wired, he strayed off the topic of Fable 2 long enough to let this blast erupt from his fanfare brass (emphasis mine):
“I think it’s such a significant scientific achievement that it will be on the cover of Wired.” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
“My next game will not be Fable 3. It’s not a game I can talk to you about right now, but: AI, simulation, the way characters interact — we’ve had smart people working on that stuff for over a decade with the Fable games and Black and White.” His next game consolidates all of what they have learned, he says.
Significant scientific acheivement? What the heck does that mean?
Now I know that I have some Lionhead folks that look in here. Don’t worry… no pressure folks. This column isn’t necessarily speculating on what Peter and Pals are up to To be honest, I don’t even really want to know… guessing now would likely spoil every Molyneux interview for me for the next 3 years.
Achievements in Game AI
What got me thinking, however, was a more general, theoretical question. As I started to ponder what could possibly be meant by a “significant scientific achievement” in the game business, I realized that I couldn’t necessarily put my finger on anything in the past that could have that epithet etched on its plaque in the Museum of Cool Stuff in Game Development. I suppose there are interesting things that have been done and certainly there have been landmarks along the way. My column of April 8th even discussed Chris Hecker’s assertion that the texture-mapped triangle is one such major stepping stone for game development. But “significant scientific achievement?” That’s kinda heady.
If John Carmack had delivered such an utterance, we would easily conclude that it was a graphics miracle-to-be. Given that it is a Molyneux project, odds are that it is in the area of AI. That much is easy. (I’m still not speculating!) This is also something that makes sense. There is such a significant level of cutting edge cross-polination between academia and the game industry proper that the resultant Venn diagram is verging on concentric circles. Each side also vies for equal credit in pushing the envelope. Certainly something born of that pedigree could waggle the needles on some sort of seismometer of scientific achievement. But what? As honored as I am to now be included between the covers of the AI Wisdom series with some great AI minds, I don’t think I could say that any of that material rises to the heights of “significant scientific acheivment”.
Perhaps another hint? Just a peek under the covers of hood of the folks from Guildford? One hint is to follow the trail of breadcrumbs that were dropped about a semi-cancelled project named “Dimitri“. (I noticed on Google Maps that Lionhead is within walking distance of a hospital. I wonder if Peter’s PR department gets a group rate when they have a nervous breakdown after one of Peter’s interviews?) Apparently, “Dimitri” was going to have some nifty aging on stuff like cloth getting ragged on chairs after use. Also, and more cryptically, it was going to let you relive your childhood from age 8 onwards. Peter acknowledged that some of the work on Dimitri was preserved — which means that they probably kept all the techie stuff. But what does this mean… “relive your childhood?”
We’ve done plenty of “reliving” stuff as game players. And with Fable, we even lived a childhood… just not necessarily our own — or even anyone else’s. What would this entail anyway? Is it some sort of hybrid of genealogical software and Google Earth? Of course, with the comments that Peter made about the work that went into making the woman character in Fable 2 look just right, Penny from my High School English class might just be worth revisiting. This time, I’ll be packing a broadsword in case that knuckle-dragger John gives me a hard time about it! Ok… sorry folks. I kinda got into the idea of reliving my childhood. Reliving my childhood. Wow. OK, there would have to be some significant scientific achievements to pull off something like that — but it would have to end up nothing short of a Holodeck!
Lionhead’s Turing Test
About the only AI yardstick I can think of is the Turing Test. Is he claiming that the game will pass the Turing Test? One of the problems with doing that is historical contextual information. Do you seriously think you can get enough information about my childhood to be able to talk intelligently about it? Oh. Hmm… On the other hand, thinking back about my childhood… maybe this isn’t such a cool idea after all. Some things are just better left in the past.
Back on the subject… and putting all things Molyneux aside, what would satisfy the criteria for a “significant scientific achievement”. I know that I am likely putting a lot of credence into the semantic minutia of what was likely either a poetic slip of the tongue or strictly tongue-in-cheek. So let me submit it to the masses… rather than asking what Peter is talking about that he believes is such a feat, what would you say is a possible “significant scientific achievement” that could come out of the game industry? And will we know it when we see it? Does anything any of us are working on fit that bill? Does anyone else even think in those terms? Or, to borrow a phrase my dad used to use when I was younger, are we all “too busy making a living to get rich”? (If I get to relive my childhood, will my virtual dad keep recycling the same cliches over and over just like he did when I was a kid? Never mind… most games do that already.)
Oh. And Peter? One last question… can you make Penny actually like me this time? Now that would a significant achievement!