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Author: Paul Tschirgi

Electra Done! But Who Cares?

Electra Done! But Who Cares?

I have been adamant about the importance of Electra to those interested in dialog choice and interactive stories in games. I have created a system that takes the flow chart and gives it another dimension of choice and complexity, resulting a more realistic and powerful experience for players that is also skillful and meaningful compared to ALL previous systems.

But even if my assertion is correct, why should you care? Beyond a handful of eager experimenters currently diving into Electra, the opportunity has not struck a chord with people yet.

Easily visible next to the promise of grandeur and new frontiers is the heightened demand on time and energy for you to get there. Additionally it’s not clear what exactly the player experiences of your labor.

The writing file gets loaded into a VR game, but most people don’t have a VR headset. The VR game that loads the file is incomplete and doesn’t have good visuals.

The game is not even ‘early access’ yet and so promises of getting to share your work with others, let alone SELL your writings on a game launcher storefront seems pretty intangible.

So it should not have surprised me that, while interesting to almost everyone with a gamer or philosophical interest, almost no one has taken a dedicated interest to using Electra.

Now it is true that I haven’t called Electra complete until 2 days ago, so using an incomplete writing tool may have also been a turn off for many, but about 90% of all the features have been working for 3 months. And I have been reaching out to people I think would be interested or gifted for using it.

I hope to change people’s minds, but one thing is clear: Whatever I’ve been trying up until this point has not been working.

I definitely am more of an ‘ideas guy’ than a salesman. So the marketing and outreach is something I really want to work on and get help from people on. I remain absolutely convinced that I am offering one of the most valuable game content creation tools of the era.

And if I am correct then the only missing piece is getting that across to the people who can take advantage of Electra.

The most exciting thing about this stage in the process is I can FINALLY move beyond discussing theory and potential. I can start capturing video of what I’m able to build with Electra myself through the VR game that loads the files.

Showing is incredibly superior in almost all ways than telling. I was probably too arrogant to think that sharing the theory would connect with more people than it did without much of any ‘final product’ material to show alongside.

I also mistakenly thought the barrier to entry was more so explaining how to USE Electra, rather than why they should get excited or into it.

There remain, many reasons not to get into Electra YET. But I firmly believe that a larger portion of the creative community will want to get involved as I make a stronger case with actual videos of the end result, more engaging tutorials, and trailer pitches.

Dialog Pyramid Branching Theory – Electra

Dialog Pyramid Branching Theory – Electra

I am happy to announce that Electra is complete and working in its feature set for creating interactive conversations with game characters. Some of the final features added have completely transformed using the writing tool. For the first time, I personally sat down with the tool for more than 30 minutes and really had a blast. Now part of the fun was I have totally changed my Electra design theory in what the best approaches and goals should be.

Basically what I’m calling ‘Pyramid Branching’. The theory is that ‘branches’ are macro decisions that are forks in the road and because branches are significant you should attempt to give players some information or at least context in a conversation before pushing on them big decisions. Now you could make early macro branches not very important decisions (doesn’t change much in conversation or game), but then you’re probably annoying the player by giving them somewhat meaningless decisions.

So instead of starting out the player with a choice about whether they want to end world hunger, or cure cancer. You would allow players a chance to talk through some of the ideas surrounding both of those options. Such as how many people are currently dying from cancer and at what age. If you wanted to take a utilitarian view you could compare that to how many people are dying or have worsened quality of life from hunger or malnutrition.

You would also start to learn a bit more about the character you’re talking to as you discussed the issue. In many cases the player may prioritize the impression and feelings of the the character they are talking to. More likely than not, the Player will only deal with the result of hunger v. cancer abstractly or through non-gameplay related cutscenes so it’s not a bad wager to try and figure out whether your decision will have more relevant/ immediate impacts with present company.

This idea is not obvious when designing a conversation system with the ability to infinitely branch and organize that complexity decently well. It’s kind of like being at a buffet table and deciding that you should eat normal portions and then think about binge-ing later on if you feel like it.

One of the other fun aspects of this is that macro choices have increased significance and meaningfulness to players further down into a conversation (pyramid!), so you should start out with a relatively thin set of macro options in most cases, BUT you can experiment with micro options to great success.

As with real life, if you want to take a strong stance on an issue, or detect an approaching conflict/decision point- you’re going to want to feel out the other person. Now in many cases the other person’s temperament will not change the meat of what you’re saying, but it will change your delivery.

One of the great things about a conversation starting with relatively little meaningfulness across choices is you can get a feel for the other person with limited risk. Needing to make a complicated calculation about how receptive someone will be to the most confident version of what you have to say is not often realized in real life.

So a cool thing happens where playing around with tone and analyzing the characters replies becomes really important to do before things come to a decision point.

Hopefully by the time the big macro options come along, you have a decent idea of what the person likes and dislikes and maybe even what their position will be.

This same relationship plays out across the entire game. Early in the game a combination of lack of information (hence exposition) and the game’s requirement to establish the premise that can then be branched from, leads to providing not many macro choices.

The premise is important because without a constrained world to some degree, creating enough content and ensuring enough meaningful options becomes very difficult.

There is so much room for choice and meaning within very specific premises that I don’t think it’s a negative at all. People struggle enough in their normal lives with having a near infinity of choices. You might say more choice more meaning- Aha! Incorrect, I say. Many choices are novel and not very meaningful, do I take out the trash, do I do dishes, do I play some video games, do I watch this youtube video, do I go to sleep now.

Now as an accumulated habit or series of choices these things can be very important, but on a case by case basis these things won’t change your life.

So I want my approach to using Electra to reflect that games represent a specific premise with a set of extremely meaningful decisions to be made. I don’t necessarily need to compare it in game to a series of not important decisions. The form makes the comparison automatically.

Also of course Electra deals with person to person decision making within conversation so it’s already escalated to a more important premise. Systematizing the set of all life’s choices, including the mundane is not only difficult, but at least at this point not of interest to me.

Electra 2.0 & FTE Changes

Electra 2.0 & FTE Changes

Forbidden Technique and Electra have undergone a massive journey. Starting back in late 2016, it’s close to 2 years since the beginning of the project and so much has been accomplished.

 

I’ve already talked about exchange variety and the ramifications of multi meaningful segments within monologue exchanges both from player or from ai. So that’s the big big update still that will take a long time to out do, if ever.

The newest change is the integration of Context modes and functional Condition settings per root chunk (conversation starts).

This allows for the game to property organize and expose options for the player to initiate conversations without dumping dozens or even hundreds or even thousands of options at once.

One feature I do want to investigate is still the brain dump/ exploratory conversation start within VR. This would allow for a metaphorical ocean of conversation starting point nodes that the player could see the meanings of (summaries). This would allow for such incredibly high levels of natural divergence across all players (given cannon game application) that it’s a frightening and chaotic thing to chase after/work on.

Of course decentralizing the order of chunk selection this broadly makes the impact of chunks almost completely unpredictable if it’s not already. That said predictability is not really a good goal, it’s just convenient for developing theories and trying to conceptualize emergent behavior of players.

There is also a relatability/ common experience continuum/timeline in which at a certain point, the choosing of certain topics causes the experience of talking to the same person so different that it could be hard for people to talk about characters with enough overlap to feel they are talking about the same person.

Now I’m getting caught in consequentialism for limiting player choice. BUT I HAVE TO! Damn, okay fine I’ll circle back once the new version is updated and working in the game again, and add an experimental mode, code name Brain Dump, or Thought Wanderer, or Free Thought. Anyways a mode that can be turned on in the testing version of the game that enables access to all chunks with some options of what conditions to ignore, maybe time or just simply uncapping the number of root chunks that can be viewed at once.

At the moment there are 3 categories of chunks:  Seek (curious about the character), Reflect (expressing your own feelings), Sway (attempting to get the character to do something).

Each of these categories currently can have 3 chunks. So at anytime depending on how I deal with stacking and OnGoing conversation chunks there would be about 9 max conversation routes/path starts to choose from. Each of which branch indefinitely as created, and with internal complexity of course too.

Anyways unlocking from 9 chunks to realistically maybe like 40 – 100 chunks floating around in 360 spherical layout around the players head in VR does interest me, even if the lack of control and predictability scares me.

For the 99% of people who this is nonsense to, but are interested be sure to check out my youtube channel where I record podcasts that are much more comprehensible and conversational rather than note based. (BadPlanGames).

Anyways, I gotta let alone Free Thought mode, and focus on the actual purpose here which is sharing enthusiasm about the newest version of Electra which will be the operating version compatible with Forbidden Technique for the foreseeable future of the demo mode.

Very cool!

So two forces wrestle for influence over Electra, awesome and important features, and then a stoic call for minimalism because if this tool is capable of transforming thought and language formation it needs to be accessible to as many people as possible.

But simplifying and cutting is what iteration is for right?

So what’s new?

Context modes! Now there is a way to organize all your chunks temporarily during writing and editing based on dynamic properties. It dramatically reduces the amount of headspace (RAM) you have to dedicate to remembering what your plan and focus of a set of dialog is about. It also helps you fill out all potential dynamics the player may have with the ai character.

One context variable is BOND. This represents how much the character likes the player in a platonic or friendship-minded way. If you set that variable as an active context mode then you can layout all your chunks that have BOND as a condition and then you can see what conversation chunks pop up when the character hates the player (BOND = 3) neutral feelings (BOND = 5) or very positive (BOND = 7) and of course everything in between.

It allows organization of two completely exclusive relationship dynamics. Of course anything exclusionary has a negative impact on the relationship between a playthrough and percentage of content available at a time.

That said maybe you would be able to rollercoaster a bit and experience extreme highs and lows of a relationship. It’s really pretty impossible to say.

So layouts should greatly organize the accumulation of hundreds or maybe thousands of conversation starting chunks.

This blog post is extremely disjointed, but I still feel like posting it. Sorry for the mess, but you should be very excited about the new version of Electra and try it out for yourself!

Electra Launcher/Patcher Live! (Forbidden Technique VR game coming soon)

Electra Launcher/Patcher Live! (Forbidden Technique VR game coming soon)

http://paultproductions.com/downloads/Patcher.zip

 The Launcher/Patch client for Forbidden Technique (VR game) and Electra (3D writer’s tool for interactive conversation) is live! So now you don’t have to check for new downloads, all you have to do is open up this patcher app and it will grab the latest versions of everything. At the moment Forbidden Technique is not added to the files as it is not ready for a demo stage at the moment, but it will be coming soon!

Romantic Ai Philosophy & Electra Progress

Romantic Ai Philosophy & Electra Progress

The newest version of Electra represents a very mindful reflection on the graphics and flow of using the writing tool. Pairing the 3D flow chart with the text message output remains the bedrock of the app. One of the key missing features was clear connection between tone properties of the player options and the impact on the ai character’s reaction and chosen response.

Now that symbols have been developed in game to represent these factors as the player plays the game, they can be placed next to the corresponding tone sliders in Electra. This allows writers to focus on options they want to provide to the player without checking the calculator tab for impact.

I have also now exposed the filter metric for processing player tone choice and Ai response. The default processing formula is Tone (ai character personality’s positive and negative reaction to each tone type). But in many contexts, such as romantic, Charm can be selected instead. Charm is the attraction/dating counterpart to the Tone metric. It processes the player choice properties differently, putting priority on what the ai character’s personality is attracted to or not rather than what they platonically like or dislike. Something fantastically interesting about this approach is that some characters will actually be attracted to qualities that they otherwise very much dislike.

This ambiguity allows for a very intentional strategy for players in which they can prioritize the Friendship (Bond), or the Ai’s Attraction to them (Spark). Of course players can also choose to ignore the questionable morality of tactics for emotional dialog option selection and choose based on purely what they want to say and how they want to say it.

Ideally, given the system reflects real life successfully, player’s choosing to express themselves naturally and in line with their personality will cause a self selection of developing relationships with Ai’s that are drawn to who they are and distancing Ai’s with hostile or non-receptive reactions to them.

Of course the creator’s writing style also plays a huge role. Also similar to real life (assuming natural player expression), there could well be Ai’s that are absolutely in love with the player (like their choice in expression, and are attracted to how they express themselves as well), but the Player may not be interested.

I think that creates a really realistic dating environment where the combination of all relationship dynamics are possible. Because of the way the system is setup, Player’s options are each centered around the Ai they are talking to. In some ways this is challenging because it can easily cause an inconsistency in available options and types of expression. For example Funny & Mean options (teasing) may be relatively light hearted and enjoyable talking to one girl, but another girl’s conversational options that are property wise still Funny+Mean may feel overly cruel or tasteless.

So in a fascinating way, the player is not just selecting for Ai characters that accept them for who they are, and are attracted to them, BUT also choosing between Ai characters based on who they themselves (player) are allowed to be when they talk to that character.

Metaphorically this is also similar to how in real life, you are significantly impacted by the people you keep as friends. They encourage or discourage you to be a certain way.

In a literal sense however the system is limited in that there is not a direct user input to the character beyond expression choice (emotional options), physical actions (eye contact, hugging, etc), and the accumulation of other character interactions and relationships that the Ai is aware of.

In other words, the player can not type out a completely original response to the Ai. But I absolutely believe and can make a strong case that original input with limited meaning in response (traditional Ai approach) is inferior to limited input options with full meaningfulness in response.

Is the expansion of the tool to include new timeline parameter, variety in exchange, multiple metrics, and multiple character conversations causing an exponentially intimidating effect for writers/users of Electra? Time will tell. I do think that Electra has a high end skill cap that is almost limitless.

It requires the skill of conversational writing (both sides of a conversation) exponentially expanded based on the Set of All of meaningful options and sub-expression choices.

That said, the tool was initially created purely for my own use. And so almost all the features and design were inspired by my own desire for the best possible experience and efficiency in writing advanced ai characters into the game and hopefully other games one day.

So I find it useful for many objective reasons to have all these new features and graphics so I expect other users will as well. Unlike video games which must contemplate access to casual users, creation tools should significantly consider peak performance design decisions and systems as higher priority than a easier learning curve.

Especially given the system being potentially one of the most difficult content creation tools ever created, I have to take care of the people that I know for sure CAN use it. This goes out to all the pros in the process of learning it already and the people who will pick it up one day: I hope you like what I’ve done with the place!

I fully expect to be making changes and updating it as I go however so feel free to reach out and offer suggestions, criticism, or encourage expansion of existing systems. I am also down to make the case for the superiority of all the core principles and design decisions regarding this approach to Ai in both platonic relationship building, as well as the romantic dimension.

I am heavily engaged with philosophical research and invite all theoretical objections, challenges or curiosity. And congratulations in becoming a pioneer of 3Dimensional writing, should you pick it up or continue to use it!

Electra Engine Live

Electra Engine Live

The Electra Engine tool is live for use in building characters for the most advanced conversation system in game history. The core achievement is pairing the complexity of a 3D flow chart system with a simulation view that shows the output in a text message format. This allows writers to approach the conversational choices on both a micro and macro level.

WEB VERSION   –   DOWNLOAD DESKTOP VERSION

So why is it the most advanced conversation system in a game? It starts with the mechanics from the player’s point of view. When they go to talk to someone or an event triggers a conversation they have multiple choices of what to say like many games, but what is truly groundbreaking is a nested emotional collection of options. Basically the player can select an option that reads ‘hey, do you want to go out sometime’, but then before locking it in they can explode the dialog to reveal what the emotional tone of the option is. Perhaps in this case it would be a combination of friendly and timid. Now when the player explodes this option, it’s not merely a passive observation mode, but actually reveals up to 7 other emotional options each with a combination of tone traits that each person reacts to depending on their personality.

TUTORIAL

This may all seem to be getting overly complex. After all why would you want to have so many variables going on behind the scenes? Well players live and breathe consistency and rules that they can trust, and more importantly depend on to make strategic decisions and be rewarded for their skill.

What happens next is the players tone is taken into account by the Ai’s personality which combines that factor with it’s ongoing BOND (like or dislike for the player) and arrives at a REACTION that uses a few more aspects of the tone to figure out how positively or negatively she will respond.

Now this may sound like a lot of work for a writer, but actually the system doesn’t just offer organization through the nested depth in the 3D flow chart system. It also has built in functionality to allow for as simple numbers of options as the writer wants per step or Conversation Chunk (1+ player dialog, 1+ ai reply). It communicates the options with less depth as gut instinct warnings so that any combination of writing styles or ebb and flow depending on the importance of the conversation step.

The visual components of the Ai’s body language will help show the positive or negative reactions to the player’s choices are not connected to the Electra tool at the moment, as much of the character art and animation are being reworked, but the entire Conversation system is working and this is an exciting time in which writers can finally get their hands on this revolutionary game creation tool for Forbidden Technique.

 

Conversation Premise and Simulated Path

Conversation Premise and Simulated Path

One of the last big changes to Electra before Beta Release is the addition of the Premise Graphic within the galaxy view of the conversation system. A core part of Electra is the dynamic step by step calculation of the Ai’s degree of response on a scale of 1-10. But building a dynamic branching conversation tree quickly becomes hard to keep track of in a what it will be like for the player sense after awhile. So the text chat window was made a while ago to simulate how the conversation would go if you choose specific options as a player. Although over time more factors were added to the Ai’s response besides just the tone that the player chooses. Which is accurate to real life, that saying things in the best way from the girl’s perspective does not guarantee a way into her heart.

In fact the discussion of all the factors that play into courting a girl is a long one that can be seen on the team’s youtube channel’s MAGFEST panel:
https://youtu.be/-YJI7-VAzrc

 

So that’s where the Premise comes in. The premise is what is the relationship between the player and the person they are talking to that impacts the calculation of how the person will respond to the player. The 2 exposed parameters in a dynamic sense are Bond and Spark. These parameters specifically change from conversation to conversation and change a small amount during each step within a conversation.

Bond is the friendliness the girl feels towards you. Essentially Positive To Negative with Neutral in the middle, specifically platonic.

Spark is the attraction the girl feels to you which is very importantly separate from Bond.

Now how these properties are changed (improved or harmed) is based on each Girl’s individual Personality. Now the girl’s personality stays the same the entire game which acts as a more solid foundation for understanding what each girl will like or dislike. Personality consists of 3 separate properties. But more on that later!

Forbidden Technique Roadmap

Forbidden Technique Roadmap

Forbidden Technique is a Dating game mixed with magic powers combat in VR. The game is build on Bad Plan games’ Electra engine which brings skillful and fun depth to conversation and dialog choice. Progressing in your relationships with girls at school or girls in the spirit world helps you grow your powers to save the world from the collapse of the spirit world into the normal world. Mechanics include dialog choice and tone options within all dialog choices, checking out girls and the risks that come with it, and using your powers to defeat monsters and gain more xp. Follows the story of a normal high schooler who gets caught up in the spirit world and powers, goes to school by day and visits the spirit realm by night.

The Electra engine is a level editor but for dynamic conversations (advanced kind of branching dialog tree) that the game reads as a mod file that will be open to any user to create their own female characters to interact with and try to date in the game both at school and in the spirit world.

Watch sneak peeks of what the game is here:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCb5xQlLuATfdEVWx6P04sGQ