The goal of this collaborative project between CADIA and CCP is to develop new methods to create believable human behavior in animated characters for massively multiplayer games. The focus is on natural motion and believable social interaction. The characters are either fully controlled by the game AI or they are under the direction of human players. A particular emphasis is placed on the generation of natural nonverbal behavior that supports communication. The approach involves scientific, engineering and artistic components. The analysis and modeling of communicative human behavior is drawn from an extensive scientific knowledge base constructed over the course of CADIA's prior research. The engineering component turns scientific models into computational modules that receive a description of characters, goals and environment and return a detailed description of appropriate nonverbal behavior. Engineering and art meet in the design of an animation engine that turns the description of behavior into a smooth continuous performance of articulated human figures on the screen, in an aesthetic and engaging presentation. The project uses a research platform at RU for cognitive robotics (RANN005013021) and is a part of an ongoing research collaboration with USC in the US and University of Paris 8 in France.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are a relatively new form of mass entertainment delivered over the Internet in the form of live game worlds that persist and evolve over time. Players connect to these worlds using client software that renders the world from their perspective as they move about and meet fellow players or pursue their own goals. Over 12 million people worldwide subscribe to MMORPGs as of July 2006 and the number is growing rapidly. CCP Games in Iceland has hosted its space themed MMORPG “EVE Online” since May 2003 and has about 200,000 active subscribers.
While many MMORPGs portray their players as animated characters, the players of EVE never leave their space ships and therefore never see each other in person, save for their static portraits. CCP Games has been holding off on using animated characters in part because the state-of-the-art in interactive character animation has not measured up to the standard of visual quality that CCP Games has reached with their environments and ships. Another factor is that many of the characters in the world of EVE are autonomous entities and the level of AI needed to exhibit believable animated behavior in face-to-face interactions with players has been considered much to high.
The future scenario for the world of EVE envisioned by CADIA and CCP involves space stations throughout the online universe where players can dock their ships, exit and mingle with other players and AI agents that hang out in lounges or mill around the commons. The stations are realized as 3D virtual environments and both players and agents are represented by fully articulated animated characters. The player characters, or avatars, are under the control of the players, and yet they exhibit a level of autonomy that makes them appear fully reactive to the environment they are in. Various fully autonomous agents interact with players in order to further the EVE storyline, filling well defined roles given to them by the CCP team. Other autonomous agents may interact with players to a lesser extent and some may merely appear in the background, going about their business, to bring the environments to life. A large portion of the audience, the EVE player-base, is familiar with the back-story and has particular expectations about what should happen and how the environments should feel. Rooting all behavior in an already existing game-world provides an additional challenge that needs to be approached with fullest respect for the history and community of EVE Online.
While the world of EVE serves as an excellent target for believable social characters, it is clear that this research is about much more than populating this particular game universe. We approach the research issues in general terms and through our methodology we share our results with the rest of the international research community.
As part of the HASGE project, we are developing the CADIA Populus Platform for simulating social behavior in interactive environments.