In May of last year, Valve vet Chet Faliszek (left in picture) announced his departure from the Seattle games giant. Many of us in the industry were eagerly awaiting where the narrative and tech-focused innovator would end up, and in September we found out.
The former Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead and Portal writer had found a new home at London's own Bossa Studios. At first, the announcement seemed surprising. After working at Valve, Bossa might seem like a smaller studio, a step-down from his previous heights, but upon further examination, both parties are interested in experimenting with new technologies for their games.
"I’ve know the team at Bossa for over five years and chatted with them through the years about taking chances, trying to do something different, something that could fail," Faliszek tells PCGamesInsider.biz.
"Bossa embraces that same attitude about risk and non-traditional games with games like Surgeon Simulator, I am Bread, and now Worlds Adrift. So together we are using AI to do something new in the narrative space."
Asked what exactly he's up to at the Shoreditch-based game developer, Faliszek echoes this notion of experimentation once again.
"We are working to push on narrative in games in an interesting way," he says.
"What happens when you give a player complete agency? When they can do almost anything, and the world reacts to them. That allows them to approach and solve problems in multiple ways and create situations in the world that are distinct to them.
"And once they are doing that, the world reacts to them in ways that reflect it. This is a really simple example, let’s say one way you want to get information from a faction is to steal it. You don’t think anyone saw you - job well done, right?
"Well... if 10 minutes later you see that same faction marching towards you with guns drawn out? You know that didn’t go as well as you had hoped. So now they are attacking you, and without the need for long exposition to frame it as - in this mission, you defend your base - but as the player you know what is happening and maybe more importantly, why it is happening."
AI is currently at a place of amazing potential, but not all of it as far along as some would have you believe. So it’s important we build on what you really can do, not the dreams that are 30 years away
In practical terms, the AI component of Bossa's new project means that there will be 'richer' interactions with non-playable characters.
"One way to think of the whole project is - there is an AI sitting on top the other AIs," Faliszek explains.
"That AI is looking for story opportunities for the player. Now since we are giving the player agency, we don’t want to force them down a path, but they might see some advantages going down a path and once we do that, that can have fun with those encounters.
"Think if early on you need money. There is an NPC willing to give you money if you get him parts for a gun. Each day you get him some parts, each day he gives you some money. Maybe you aren’t best friends, but you have an understandable relationship. What if at the end of that, you give him the final piece, he assembles it and begins shooting at you?
"Would you think of him more than some random NPC? Maybe more as someone who betrayed you? We think that adding that kind of context to the action will heighten those encounters for the player. That top level AI is always looking for opportunities to engage with the player in this way."
Faliszek's experience working on virtual reality over at Valve has informed his approach to AI, itself another emerging technology. This time around, he says he is being much more "pragmatic" with the new tech.
"Working with unstable emerging technology helped me as I approached AI. I think I’ve improved on my sense of looking at the technology and deciphering what is broken but could work, versus what is simply broken and will never work," he says.
"Because of this, as we approach AI in games, we are looking at it through very pragmatic eyes. AI is currently at a place of amazing potential, but not all of it as far along as some would have you believe. So it’s important we build on what you really can do, not the dreams that are 30 years away."
There's a lot riding on this new game, both in terms of ambition and how the new technology can be used within a video game. But at the end of the day, Faliszek says his ambition for the project is pretty simple.
"To make a good game."