Tag: RPG

ZORK|DALL-E

I decided to play Zork through DALL-E on Twitter, and created a new account for it:

Follow along, if you like!

Artist’s Statement

I’m using a walkthrough, because I can’t remember how to solve all the puzzles 42 years on, not that I ever DID solve all the puzzles back in the day anyway!

I was all of 8 or 10 years old when I first played Zork, I think, in 1982 or ’84, on a PC at a friend’s house that I didn’t have infinite time on, so give me a break. I also had a Choose Your Own Adventure-like book adaptation of the game, which I “played” through many times when I was the same age. It wasn’t published by the CYOA people, but it was the same concept — Choose Your Own Adventure stories are basically a print form of the text adventure computer game in many ways, although a bit more limited in the choices the player can “input”. Zork was one of the most popular home computer games in the early 80s, at a time when tabletop role-playing games like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons were at one of their early peaks in popularity. Together these games created the cornerstones of the geek subculture, a movement which has blossomed and thrived since then, particularly as the internet took off in the 1990s.

DALL-E is a text-to-image AI developed by OpenAI, that uses natural language inputs to generate high quality images. It’s been growing in popularity in recent weeks as the internet has begun to discover and share the images created by it. A twitter account @weirddalle is worth a follow, if you like that sort of thing. (Which, who possibly couldn’t?)

I’ll be feeding the text of Zork through DALL-E as input, and the results, will be the images that I tweet along the text from the walkthrough on the twitter account for the project.

I get rate limited to 50 posts every 23.5 hours on DALL-E, so each time I hit my limit, I’ll have to take a break. Accordingly, it’s expected that this will take maybe a few days or weeks to complete. It’s also possible that I could run afoul of DALL-E’s anti-abuse filters with some parts of the game, and if that happens I will failover to CrAIyon, the DALL-E Mini AI. It doesn’t generate as good images, but it’ll do as a backup.

I’m really pleased with this project, it’s so simple and the execution is easy, but it’s fun, and I feel like a creative guy just for having the idea to do it. Simple ideas really make me happy.

To put Zork, one of the earliest PC text adventures, which was released some 42 years ago, into an AI-based text to image generating system, and see what it outputs for illustrations seems like the funnest, coolest thing you could do, and a great way to tie the cutting edge of technology to some of its early roots.

Not all of the images DALL-E will generate will be accurate to the game, and that’s OK. It’s fun just to see what it comes up with, using the sparse descriptions that the game gives. Most of Zork took place in your imagination, and so we get to see what an AI might imagine.

The downfall of this process is that DALL-E will not remember from one run to the next all the context from the previous events in the game, so it will in many cases forget things that it should be aware of, resulting in some odd continuity. But that’s not the point, of course. The point is to do something fun with technology, playing with it to see what happens.

If you want to play Zork for yourself, you can do that! It’s free to play in your browser through an embedded DOSBox emulator.

Westworld and Stranger Things: games driving fiction

After watching the first episode of Westworld, I had this to say:

Westworld = eXistenZ + The Matrix + Bladerunner + Firefly. It will be epic if it has something new to say, forgettable if not.

After watching the second episode, I had this:

This show will get inevitable discussion in game dev circles. The setting is essentially a game. Specifically a role playing game. It takes place in not exactly a virtual reality, but an artificial one, that promises total immersion.

The degree of realism is unparalleled by our current capabilities, but the problem with the game is readily¬†familiar to anyone who has a tried to reign in a group of misbehaving players in a tabletop RPG or LARP who refuse to play as though their actions in the game world can possibly cause them to have any real world regret. People who refuse to immerse themselves in the game world and act disruptive ways for their own amusement, are just like these “vacationers” who are told that they can do anything they want, and nothing can hurt them, nothing bad can happen to them. Participants who understand this is the reality will not get into character, and will behave cynically, in game breaking ways.

The game in Westworld fails as a game because everyone playing is aware they are privileged, playing in a sort of God Mode, and this enables them to be as out of character as they want, and ruin the world for everyone else. In short, it’s a poorly designed game system with incredible production values and play mechanics.

There’s also a major subplot with the artificial people who are the programmed NPCs that the players interact with being on the verge of attaining personhood, and the ethical dimension of AI development, which is interesting, but I don’t know whether the show will say anything new on that matter, or if it’ll just make the same old points that have been addressed since at least Frankenstein.

I’m not sure yet whether Westworld will have something new to say, but it is holding my interest so far. It’s well acted, well written, and visually sharp. This hasn’t escaped the notice of others, either.

This comes hot on the heels of another series that featured role playing games prominently, the retro-80’s surprise hit Stranger Things. Stranger Things uses the classic Advanced Dungeons and Dragons RPG to help explain the real-world strangeness that’s happening in the world of the middle schoolers having a paranormal adventure, and their real-world party dynamics mirror and are instructed by their role-playing game. The characters make reference to their game to relate to the situation they’re confronting, and to try to make sense of what’s going on.

I have to say, it’s good to see gaming taking such a meta-role in modern storytelling. I hope we’ll continue to see more of this, and I think it’s likely we will.