Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gaming: "The Little Mermaid" Meets A.I. in Upcoming Game "The Lost Pisces"

I'll be the first to admit this territory of advanced gaming is something I'm not very familiar with. I'm learning along with my kid (who's already much better than I am) and rarely play adult games so when it comes to what people are into, excited about and how this upcoming video game is so different, it takes me a couple of read-throughs to get it - why it's so "epic" and why people are looking forward to it, but once I got there, I knew I had to try and break it down, to bring you in on what's happening here (and with a fairy tale we know well) - because it's pretty.. well.. "epic".
Unlike you might expect, the new game "The Lost Pisces" does more than reference a fairy tale. It bases it's entire premise on Hans Christian Andersen's melancholy The Little Mermaid and then takes it a step further. I'll let them explain.

From OverclockersClub:

The Lost Pisces, or rather just PISCES, is "an experiment in connecting a gamer with an artificial intelligence," according to an interview with designer and artist Dan Rutkowski, just in a way that's different from past instances. PISCES draws its inspirations from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," where the mermaid is taken away and replaced with a machine that is simply terrified of disappearing. Rutkowski says this machine, the woman seen in the screenshots, is in search for a soul, much like in the original version of "The Little Mermaid," and wants to find that her life will go on after death. 
Sirenum (Edit: the Indie company creating the game) wants players to feel emotionally connected with the protagonist, especially since she learns from the players actions and becomes unique to each player. The team wants to create believable AI in PISCES, one that starts off as a blank slate, but learns and adapts from the player. The AI takes what we do and changes based on that, and if you happen to use a Kinect while playing, the faces you make while playing will reflect on the character. Playing with a Kinect isn't required, but perhaps recommended to get an even better connection with the AI.

Interesting, right? I've never seen The Little Mermaid paralleled so obviously with Artificial Intelligence before, but I can see how they got there. In a high powered digital world where you don't even know if the people you're friends with on the internet, whom you've never met in person, are truly who they say they are - or, to take it a step further, are even real - loss of identity, the feeling of aloneness while surrounded by millions and the feeling of anonymity that can happen though you are in full public view on the internet, can make people feel lost... And not real.

The game takes this idea that is, unfortunately, very prevalent among social media users on platforms that encourage social interactions to be boiled down to "likes" and "dislikes" (that is, Facebook) and gives it another metaphor. Somewhere between a mermaid's hunt for a soul and a little wooden puppet's longing to be real is a story people identify strongly with and for that reason alone, this game has the potential to make some very loyal and intense fans.

In fact, the initial exclusive interview with the creator was titled:
Creator) Rutkowski says. “This is the Hans Cristian Andersen version, it’s a little bit darker. The idea behind The Little Mermaid, when he wrote it he had a strictly Christian background, and there’s this notion that nothing except for human beings have souls. So in The Little Mermaid, she’s not really after the Prince necessarily, like in the Disney story, what’s she actually looking for is a soul. So I was naturally attracted to that idea, because it was so in line with artificial intelligence. 
He continues: “If you follow the story of The Little Mermaid, she’s looking for a soul because she knows at the end of her days, she’ll die and turn into sea foam. That’s why she goes to the undersea witch, which in this story is actually more of a witchdoctor, rather than having malevolent intentions. So she trades all these things to become human, but the spell has a timeframe and you have to fall in love. But the undertone of trying to attain a soul is a beautiful idea, especially for this coming era of artificial intelligence; this notion of what makes up consciousness and what makes up a soul. It was a natural thing to graft the story of The Little Mermaid into PISCES. The story goes, that PISCES is The Little Mermaid, this machine that’s suddenly found a tiny bit of consciousness and she, no matter what, wants to gain a soul. She becomes terrified that at the end of her days, she might live for 300 years being a machine, but there’s nothing for her to go on to, no possibility of an afterlife.” 
...“One of the things that we’re going to show... is how powerful the PISCES character actually is. She can manifest these black shards that float around her and she can cast them out. Those shards can pull across the ground and create massive boulders that you can use to bash against the larger robots. As she turns more and more human, the thing is that she loses that ability, so she becomes weaker and weaker. What will happen is you will see her as more and more human. She’s evolving beyond just being a machine, and you have to take up the slack, up to the gamer’s character to fulfill that role.”

For the setting:
PISCES takes place in a technological Atlantis, but the end of it when the water levels are rising and people are heading higher up into the mountains.
There are a ton more details in the original interview HERE, that take you through the gaming specifics, what they're trying to achieve and the challenges in doing that, especially since, as the creator says, if they can't get the gamer to care about this character it's a failure. They're employing an unbelievably huge and complex system to make this work - from developing the visuals to be even more beautiful and dynamic, to motion and micro-expression sensors aimed at the players so that the "girl" can learn and develop her "humanity" from the gamer. It's a daunting task but sounds amazing if they can pull it off.

If anyone ever asks you if fairy tales can be relevant today in a fast-paced digital gaming and social media world, just point to this example. It's clear that no matter how society and technology change, people essentially don't - and we still have the same fears, loves and longings we've always had.

The official website for Pisces can be found HERE and to get a better idea of how things will look and play, follow them on Twitter HERE for lots of development and art updates.

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