Choose your own adventure…
In the dynamic world of technology, it is often nostalgia that sparks innovation. The creation of Payphone Adventure is no different. Drawing inspiration from a physical payphone on the street outside our campus, we took about a year to craft a dynamic roleplay adventure that integrated large language models, image generation, and voice synthesis. The core idea? Seamlessly combining various AI tools, enabling players to design and navigate their own imaginative worlds in real-time.
The inception of Payphone Adventure can be traced back to 2022 during a Thought Dogs session, our in-house brainstorming ritual. The payphone, a symbol of times past, took center stage. For some, it stirred memories, while for others…well, they’d never seen one in the wild.
The initial challenge was twofold: deciphering the payphone’s mechanics and procuring one. The grand dream? Morphing this vintage piece into an all-inclusive gaming hub, removing the need for downloads or game inserts.
The original game, titled “Quality Assurance,” was fueled by Whisper AI and ElevenLabs. Players, guided by a robocall-esque operator, dialed into a pre-scripted narrative, interacting with characters or voicemails. This version was entertaining and even featured our company’s guard dog, Boomer. But as is the nature of innovation, the team sought to elevate the experience.
Enter Alyssa Margalit, a two-time intern at VT. Alyssa’s vision was of a narrative game where players had infinite freedom to explore a fictional world, augmented by AI-generated narration/character dialogues, and voice synthesis. The initial overhaul roped in ChatGPT text similarity, facilitating players to give unscripted voice responses into the phone instead of being restricted to pre-written responses. The next version included a singular fully generative story branch in which one could have a conversation with an AI-generated character. After these proof of concepts, work began on a game generated in real time where players could explore new and exciting universes, talk to characters, and experience a new adventure every play through.
Yet, as we continued to evolve the game, hurdles presented themselves. Melding diverse applications led to noticeable lags, hampering the live interaction essence. And the pre-scripted gameplay began to feel too restrictive in light of our use of AI. The antidote? Refining the framework for swifter, more dynamic responses.
Drawing inspiration from tabletop RPGs, the resulting Payphone Adventures game now unfurled as an endless, generative roleplay odyssey, ceaselessly structuring world-building and character design in the blink of an eye. The shift to this fully generated model was facilitated by the wider availability of ChatGPT, enabling us to incorporate that tabletop game framework. We designed ChatGPT prompts to generate detailed and specific information like political views, religious systems, world conflicts, and character motivations that allowed for those characters and worlds to feel far more fleshed out than the original gameplay.
In its current iteration, players are transported into eclectic realms, from “Dinotopia’s” prehistoric allure to “Glitter Canyon’s” magical charm. Each domain, enriched with AI-spun details and anchored in a firebase database, sets the stage. Touchdesigner, operating from the payphone, kickstarts the escapade in the selected world. ChatGPT, acting as a dungeon master, crafts the storyline, converting it into auditory experiences accompanied by fitting visuals, all relayed seamlessly to Touchdesigner. Versions of this game can run more nimbly by relying on Web APIs like Dalle or more locally but with better visual results with Stable Diffusion.
The game, in its artistry, conjures a spectrum of visuals, from intergalactic vessels to ancient terrains.
There is still work to do. Looking ahead, the team is poised to delve into 3D narratives using tools like Omniverse and reintroducing a structured narrative arc, curating a more directed journey for players.
Payphone Adventure serves as undeniable proof of AI’s transformative prowess in gaming. Through the amalgamation of cutting-edge tools, a relic of nostalgia has been reimagined as a gateway to boundless, AI-fueled adventures.
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