Monday, November 2, 2009

Molyneaux, Milo, Sky Net and Artificial Intelligence in 'Cloud Gaming'

This kind of thing is, for me, absolutely fascinating and is the future of gaming and probably humanity. It may well be the Terminator meets the Matrix, but wow!

Molyneaux, Milo, Sky Net and Artificial Intelligence in 'Cloud Gaming': "

Fable teller Peter Molyneaux is a grand visionary, and even if his games don't always reach the heights of his aspirations for them, he's well worth listening to. That vision and Lionhead's cutting-edge work in artificial intelligence for games are just two of the reasons Microsoft tapped Lionhead to build a Project Natal tech demo for E3 and made Molyneaux creative director of its Game Studios Europe this year. In an interview with Tech Radar's Home Cinema blog, the Milo maestro rejects Microsoft's Project Natal as a 'control' scheme and makes an interesting point about the power of cloud gaming.

For Microsoft, the gesture-driven, player-sensing Project Natal is key to delivering that sense of wonder. Molyneaux promotes this theme by making an interesting distinction between 'control' and interactivity. Riffing on a line he drew in his Milo demo at E3, Molyneaux explains:

You don't meet computer game characters when you use a controller. You control computer game characters. And that is fundamental.

And yeah, I can sit back and watch someone playing and controlling a character and I think that's very entertaining and I've got completely used to it. But when I am actually sitting or standing or interacting with something who can obviously see me and obviously react to me, then that is meeting something – and it doesn't matter if it is a robot or a boy or a senior citizen or whatever – it is so totally new and different that you cannot help but make people feel slightly self-conscious.

So self-conscious, in fact, that a few observers thought Milo seemed a bit creepy. Turns out those folks may just have Sky Net on the brain:

When you present this to people then some people have that reaction. There was a high correlation between people whose favorite film was "Terminator" and the people who were creeped out by it!

Molyneaux also gives some insight into how Natal is forcing him to rethink the language of game design:

I had to stop myself thinking as a designer "okay, how am I going to get the player to navigate, what is the equivalent of the thumb-stick? How am I going to get the player to put some things into the game, what is the equivalent of the button presses..."

And I had to stop myself thinking like that, because this is completely new and different. It is like when I went from mouse-based games to controller-based games. When I first did that I was always constantly thinking "god, how am I going to get the player to look round?"

But gestures are only part of the game where Natal is concerned. The real promise lies in the ability to tie the object recognition to artificial intelligence that can infer players' emotions and intentions, using that data to drive more responsive worlds and realistic characters. You know, the kind that are actually worth 'meeting.' Finding the computing power to create these sophisticated characters hasn't been easy. Molyneaux sees the distributed power of cloud gaming as the answer.

The cloud is really important. When you actually start thinking about what we can do in the cloud, especially with artificial intelligence – which people really haven't talked a lot about. 


Our human brains have evolved through millions of years to be able to recognize objects with no effort at all. What with the cloud, what we can do is that when we release something that has object recognition in it, the database of things that are being recognized and held in the cloud can continue to grow and improve. By the millions of people actually interacting with objects locally down here and sending the information back 'up' to the cloud, behind the scenes. 


And from that some amazing and wonderful things will happen. The same with speech. The idea that the whole experience you have with the cloud doesn't need to be locked to the content on your DVD or content that you download. It is very much a living world that we can create now.

Good to know: Molyneaux plans to suck us in with the wonder of cute AI children who can recognize our emotions, remember every object we've ever touched or thing we've said and store it in a giant database in the 'cloud.' Sounds like the creeped out reaction of 'Terminator' fans to Milo could be spot on. I guess the robot revolution won't be televised; instead, we'll be interactively charmed into submission. Thanks, Molyneaux.


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