Find the Lock

As a brief interlude, let me explain a concept that has to do with my ODIN Project. ODIN is essentially an artificial intelligence Game Master.


Now consider this experience: in a standard MMO, you’re prancing about the fields of the world slaying every woodland creature that perks up its head. Do that for several hours on end, and you will eventually find something of interest among all the ‘ruined pelts’, ‘useless bone fragments’, and other vendor trash.


Lets say you find a key.


It’s shiny, it’s unmarked, and you have no idea where it goes to. Most MMOs create this situation by making the key a quest item, that will send you on a very specific adventure. It makes sense… that key must go to a specific lock somewhere in the world, and if you don’t tell the player where to find it, then they never will.


Such does not have to be the case.


Pretend for a moment that each MMO player has a very simple Artificial Intelligence GM watching their actions… let’s call it our Narrator. When you find a key among the thousands of slain rabbits, you have just introduced some meaningful context. That key could be important later. In a pure simulation (Sandbox MMO), that key is programmed to open a specific door in the world. But the Narrator can do differently here… it can choose when to provide a lock that the key just so happens to fit.

Perhaps you’re running from bandits through the sewers of a large city, and you come to a dead end. The observant player will notice the wall has a locked door, and since they only have one key in possession, they try it. It works (certainly not by chance), and the player escapes the onslaught of angry NPCs. The Narrator decided to let this be the one door that is opened by the key, but only decided that long after you picked the key up. It all depends on what would make the best story for you, the player.


In real life, (and in Sandbox MMOs), Occam’s razor applies. The simplest explanation is usually the best. You find a key with no hints in real life, and you’ll probably never find the lock that it opens. Ever. But in a novel, movie, comic, legend, folktale, or (I propose) MMO, some of the stuff that happens to you has significance beyond the simple answer. You are “lucky”, and that key you picked up just so happens to open the door that you need most. No hints needed.

You just have to look for the lock.



8 thoughts on “Find the Lock

  1. No this is exactly what I want from a game (I won’t say MMO as I’m not sure I want an MMO).. How would the AI know what to make important? Would there be a weighting system, or something approaching inspiration to drive the decision of the key fitting the door somewhere down the line?

    • And that’s the key, in’it? How does the AI know?

      I’m currently investigating how on multiple fronts.

      One is what’s called an “Expert System” in Computer Science. We study how a human author, or game master would do a similar task, and try to quantify it, represent it with data structures, and refine it until it produces similar results.

      A second academic approach is to use “Machine Learning” to learn how to infer the player’s goals by their actions, and eventually learn how to infer better and better. Then implementing actions in the world that will help them accomplish their goals (plot devices like the locked door).

      An entirely different approach is with simple game design: there are things like Keys, which are essentially a bag of opportunities (can open a door when needed). Then there are other things like Locks, which are chances to seize those opportunities. You could simply make certain kinds of keys be available to be ‘consumed’ by certain kinds of locks, and the AI will simply connect them when it sees an opportunity, without having to know your intent or situation.

      And I’m sure there’s more as well… it’s all fascinating stuff. I’m currently putting together a research group to explore these possibilities.

  2. Really interesting stuff, I have to say. Works nicely with my all time favourite concept in game design, Organic Gameplay. Something like this can really make you feel like you’re part of your own story, rather than feeling like you’re following the path the writers laid out, a feeling that snaps immersion like a twig.

    I like the idea of luck, and an almost ‘hero’s coincidence’ style. In the situation you laid out, running from the guards and trying the key, whether the key works or not, you’re adding something to your experience and your character.

    Cool, cool stuff.

    • Organic gameplay… now that sounds intriguing. The “hero’s coincidence” as you put it is something that you can’t currently get unless it’s scripted.

      I love the idea of getting that scripted feel of luck, but fused with the feeling of freedom that you can go off the scripted path.

  3. A simple idea that could get a kickstart the game (if you go with machine learning) is giving a simple, single player story line on the very first log on. The AI could track the tendencies based on things such as class selection, dialog’s, and even how prone to violence (action vs. exploration) a player may be. After a short time in single player land, the AI stores the info and the player emerges into the realm where the AI and player could take more of a “partnership”

    • I like it! There’s definitely a strong need to infer details about the player as they go. We have to translate player actions into intentions that the AI can understand and form the plot around.

      Now this would be much easier in a “choose-your-own-adventure” setting, where the AI could simply generate 3 new decisions each time you pick one. In a real-time environment, it’s a whole lot more fun.

  4. I don’t think that an AI could ever approximate the creativity, imagination and sheer human ingenuity of a real life storyteller. But I have been proven wrong before so what do I know right? LOL

    • I doubt it ever could surpass a human… but the question is, how close can it get? Certainly it can do better than the current generation of games. MMO ‘stories’ have such a low bar that computers could probably write ‘quests’ automatically already. And anything is better than Twilight, right? 😉

      The idea is to push the envelope as far as we can.

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