If you’ve ever played an RPG, you have likely interacted with your fair share of non-player characters who are there to help advance the story, fill in bits of lore, or even just make you laugh. Usually these interactions take place by selecting from a set of predetermined text options, but what if you had the ability to interact more naturally with those characters, what if you could use your voice?
That is exactly what Rectangular Studios is attempting to discover.
Working with IBM’s Watson platform, Rectangular Studios is creating a virtual reality experience that will allow you to speak in natural language to avatars in the virtual world and have them reply in kind.
Many of you may know Watson as the computer that destroyed some of the greatest minds in Jeopardy! history on the program, but it is much more than a device that is great on gameshows. Watson uses natural language processing in combination with cloud-based machine learning to do some pretty incredible things, like helping nurses manage patient health care decisions. “The goal,” IBM says, “is to have computers start to interact in natural human terms across a range of applications and processes, understanding the questions that humans ask and providing answers that humans can understand and justify.”
Rectangular’s game, which is still untitled, is played underwater due to a natural catastrophe. In the game you are tasked with using your wits to find a way to fight against groups who are trying to control the little natural resources that are left. Diana Lopez of Rectangular Studios describes this as an “intelligence fight” where you are having conversations with non-player controlled avatars that are powered by IBM’s Watson platform.
Right now Rectangular’s Watson implementation is elementary, as the game is very early in its development. “You can tell it is a robot,” says Lopez, “but we are working to get to the point where it feels much more human.”
Rectangular Studios may not be the only ones who are using Watson for VR either. Today IBM Japan announced a VR experience based on the popular anime series Sword Art Online. In the announcement video, the company teased a “cognitive system” that would support decision-making and SoftLayer, which is IBM’s high performance cloud infrastructure. Alpha testing for the experience will begin next month.
Even in its early stages the prospect of Watson existing in VR is a tantalizing one. The ability to interact fluidly with AI characters will be crucial in a world where immersion is a key virtue. Even with Facebook and Oculus putting a heavy emphasis on Social VR there are going to be plenty of experiences where you will interact with computer generated characters rather than human ones. With Watson, developers could potentially help enable the kind of interactions in games that we have dreamed about for years.