During our lecture on Markov Chains, James mentioned that they are primarily used in the fields of Marketing, Software Engineering, and Computer Science and have not necessarily been explored to their full potential in video games. That’s why I would be interested in creating a game which heavily features Markov Chains and individualised AI in its algorithms. That way the player would have a unique experience with the game, as its AI will continuously change based on their actions. For example, enemies may record and observe how the player behaves in order to predict their movements and become better managing them, which would involve Machine Learning, an area that I find rather exciting. Similarly, if the player happens to consistently overpower challenges set out within the game, enemies may become more vigilant and careful around them. The project would be all about adaptability of the AI and crafting a personalised experience based on what the user does, not dissimilar thematically to Project Proposal 2. Although there could be potential ethical considerations that might prevent this from happening, implementing some of James’s work on emotive AI into such a project might result in an interesting and unpredictable experience.
I have always been fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, which I briefly analysed in Week 3: Research on Poetry, and I believe some of the poem’s themes would connect perfectly with the idea of an individualised, possibly emotive AI. It deals with universal themes like consciousness, handling emotion, overcoming challenges, grief, loss, whether or not the mind and senses can be trusted and many more. Those themes in combination with my desire to create individualised AI, made me come up with the idea of a horror experience loosely based on Poe’s work where the main antagonists are seemingly unpredictable NPCs, whose personalities and behaviour would be dictated by Markov Chains. Additionally, what would make this experience even more impactful would be to design it for Virtual Reality as the medium would increase player immersion, thus making the characters seem more real.
The events of this experience would start in a modern-day hotel room, with no specific explanation of what is going on, however, the environmental would suggest that we have just checked in (open suitcases, clothes on the bed, and so on). As the player explores the empty hotel room, they will discover the room door to be open, leading to a long hallway. Down the corridor there would be an old and shaken man, pointing towards an open elevator at the end of the hallway. As that is the only clear direction to go in, the player would naturally enter the elevator. At this stage, the elevator doors would close and could lead the player across a journey through the different floors. Each floor would reveal a different part of the hotel which the player can explore, such as the reception area, a bar lounge, an entertainment centre, and more. What’s more is that each time the player enters a new floor, it will appear as though the overall style and time era the hotel is in has changed. This will add to the overall idea of increasing chaos, horror, and disorientation. This connects to the themes of consciousness and questioning one’s own sanity found in Poe’s work.
It is precisely within those strange environments that the player will encounter the two main entities in this experience, the lovers Lenore and Arcadia. Lenore and Arcadia are seemingly all powerful beings who have a ghost-like presence in every single room. They would be the agents of chaos within this world, turning the tides from sanity to insanity and madness. They are everywhere, the span across space, across time, and the player will know that they are more powerful than them. Lenore and Arcadia would both adapt to the environment based on what the player does. For example, if they run through the whole experience without stopping to look around, they may become more aggressive and grab the player’s attention. Whereas if the player is rather calm and takes the time to look around at all details within the space, Lenore and Arcadia may be more subtle, leaving smaller hints about their presence. This would all be based on the variety of player personality types for example the Four Bartle Types, namely Killers, Achievers, Explorers, and Socialisers and the Unified Model (for more information, please refer to this wonderful Gamasutra Article).
I have constructed a very loose narrative that will be primarily conveyed through the environmental design and occurring events. In short, Arcadia is a talented singer, dancer, and performer, who unfortunately was never given the opportunity to perform in front of an audience as various managers and organisers would continuously deny her access. That is why Lenore, who is Arcadia’s demon-like lover, has created this hotel that perpetually traps its visitors. That way every night there would be an ever-expanding audience for Arcadia, keeping her happy and fulfilled. In a way, it’s a rather romantic gesture. Simulating the cyclic nature of The Raven and the idea of no way to escape circumstances, at the end of this experience, it will be uncovered that the player has actually been the old and shaken man from the beginning, guiding an unaware guest. At this stage, the player will have a series of options to reflect upon. They will have to decide whether these supernatural and time-bending events actually occurred, whether they have been trapped in this hotel with no escape, whether they have been playing as a mentally ill man who’s consciousness and senses betray them, whether this has all been a dream, or whether this has been a constructed scenario in the imagination of the old man. Either way, this personalised horrific experience would make players question notions of sanity, of how much we can rely on the senses, of consciousness, all built upon sophisticated AI.
Without going into too much detail, I have taken the liberty of developing visuals and a storyboard for a few of the key scenes in order to better convey the feeling and setting of this experience. Below I have attached a few sketches of Lenore, the main villain within this experience. She is an elegant beautiful woman, who has incredible confidence in her own ability. She is entirely devoted to Arcadia and would go to extreme lengths to keep her happy.
Below I have attached an environmental sketch of one of the areas within the hotel. I thought an impressive lounge/bar area would be rather exciting to look at and explore. It is based on a few night clubs and bar spaces that I found quite atmospheric and that could potentially feel both welcoming and frightening depending on the events that take place inside. I also quite enjoy the architectural choices, especially placing the bar itself in the middle of the room, with seating areas around the walls, which I have applied onto the storyboards. Additionally, this would be the main area Arcadia performs in, so it should be quite interesting to have a look around the space and try to interact with the guests that would be in a very similar position to the player. This would also provide dozens of opportunities to feed information to the AI and make them take adapt to player choices.
Below are the first few pages of storyboard based on a scene that would take place within this performance area. I have not finished the scene just yet as I am not still undecided on whether this project will be going forward or not. The text around the images should explain what is happening in the scene and the actions/movements taking place. Hopefully, this will convey a small part of what Lenore is like and how she may behave when interacting with the player.
Thoughts and Reflection
I am quite fond of this experience because it has the potential to be a thrilling VR adventure, built upon sophisticated AI and some of the world’s greatest literary work. Additionally, I quite like the idea of slow descend into chaos, up until the world of this hotel seems to be falling apart. All of this to conclude with the player questioning what has happened and whether they are actually trapped within the hotel or their own mind. However, although the foundations of the project are based entirely on mathematics and code, I do believe it veers away from the overall theme of Maths, Chance, and Probability. Therefore, I am not convinced I will be taking this project forward, but I would still like to hear what others have to say about it before I make my mind up. Until then, onward with ideation and prototyping.