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Otto: The Personal Servant of the Future, Powered by Modern Day A.I.

Otto: The Personal Servant of the Future, Powered By Modern Day A.I. originally appeared as an official blog post on

Hello! I’m Eric “Ecna” Carter, a Technical Designer at Red 5 Studios. We recently released an exciting new feature that I had the pleasure of designing, and now that it’s been live in beta I’d like to tell you more about why we created this feature and where we’re heading with it.

The Activity Director, which we like to call “Otto” (a play on it being automatic or “otto-matic”) is a suite of technologies that allows us to deliver individually-tailored content to players, wherever they are in New Eden. Pieces of Otto exist in the UI (User Interface), the game client, individual server instances, and in our cross-instance database servers. Each piece works together as an invisible hand that guides a player’s experience in Firefall.

First a little background: in the world of Firefall, each player is the CEO and sole combatant of their own private company that is, in essence, contracted by the Accord.  These Auxiliary Response, Extraction and Security Teams, or ARES Teams, are composed of multiple support personnel in addition to the CEO; all of which are non-player characters.

Behind every great mercenary CEO there's an incredibly proficient personal assistant.

Behind every great mercenary CEO there’s an incredibly proficient personal assistant.

This situation isn’t much different than most single-player video games. Link has Navi, Mega Man has Dr. Light, Master Chief has Cortana. But Firefall isn’t a linear single-player game that progresses through a set series of scenes; our world is constantly changing and rearranging itself dynamically, so our support characters need to be able to adapt to the circumstances far more than Master Chief’s super-intelligent A.I. companion. The way we’re achieving this is by actually creating super-intelligent A.I. to run our support characters.

Our current version of the Activity Director isn’t going to pass the Turing Test, but it is already aware of all the dynamic events taking place around the player and it tracks each player’s usage patterns to make basic decisions about which objectives to suggest to a player next.

Here’s an example of how this works in our live beta: Hiro is playing Firefall, and at the moment he’s shopping at a vendor. Otto notices a Chosen Patrol approaching, but recognizes that Hiro is busy shopping and doesn’t interrupt. When Hiro leaves the vendor, he too notices how close the Chosen Patrol is, and attacks it. Otto again recognizes that Hiro is busy with combat and stays silent. However, when Hiro stands triumphantly over a large pile of Chosen corpses, Otto recognizes that Hiro is probably interested in a new dynamic event. For pacing sake, Otto lets a few moments pass for Hiro to soak in his achievement, and then uses a new waypoint and a bit of dialogue from a character named Oilspill to direct Hiro to a nearby Crashed Thumper event.

Our goal is to make the player feel as if he’s a vital part of a living world. When Hiro arrives at the Crashed Thumper he should perceive himself as a heroic first responder, playing an important role in the Melding Wars. By delivering dynamic content using these types of personalized methods, we’re breaking away from the feeling of standing in line behind somebody else to get your moment of false glory before the next “hero” pushes you aside for his own turn. There are no quest givers surrounded by crowds doing your same job, and there are no static locations where every player participates. Instead, we’re creating a world where your friends and neighbors ask for help in the places where your adventures play out. All the other heroes are off weaving their own stories to tell, and leaving you to be the protagonist of your own.

All of these systems are functioning in Firefall today, but they’re by no means the complete vision of where we’d like to take this technology.

In an upcoming milestone we want to extend the Activity Director to also help the player complete their personal goals, not just objectives the game gives them.

Like a Cruise Director or Tour Guide, Otto will help players plan their play session from the moment they log in. Whether players choose to sit back and accept whatever suggestion Otto makes, or define specific objectives for the session, it’s Otto’s job to help the players keep on track and aware of their standing.

In order to do this, we need to make the Activity Director aware of the player’s intentions. One area we’ll be pursuing is allowing players to express their desires overtly. One day when you open up the crafting interface you’ll be able to select an item you want to craft and essentially say “Add this to my TODO list”. A player may never perceive this as an expression of intent to the Activity Director, but Otto will be listening for this cue in order to inform its suggestions. Later the player’s SIN Logistics Officer may suggest mining nearby in order to harvest the required resources to complete the crafting TODO. Keep in mind that this mining is just one step in the larger process of reaching the player’s goal, and as players progress Otto will continue to guide them toward the next step of the process.

We’re also exploring some simple language processing facilities so when a player asks “Where’s the Battleframe Garage?” in chat, the Activity Director can subtly respond with a nearby waypoint marking the Battleframe Garage. But natural language processing is still an experimental field, filled with mires, so we’ll have to continue evaluating whether it’s worth pursuing.

At the same time, there’s no way we can expect players to express all their desires overtly. A good personal assistant or tour guide infers from your behavior what your preferences are and adjusts their suggestions accordingly. In the same way Otto will be tracking which content players seek out, and which content they avoid and will use that information to tune suggestions.

The final and most distant objective of our Activity Director is to essentially emulate a Dungeon Master or Game Master from a Pen & Paper roleplaying game. A Dungeon Master doesn’t just suggest content for his players to participate; they actively create that content and customize it to the preferences of their players. This means that the Activity Director will eventually have a role in spawning new encounters and personalizing the available goals and objectives in a way that specifically fits that player. This could potentially be as simple as asking the server to spawn specific encounters nearby, or as complex as organizing squads to tackle content that is too difficult for a solo player. At this point the Activity Director will also become the primary tool for teaching players about new goals and skills.

We have high hopes for this technology, and we believe it’s one of the tools that will allow Red 5 to change the way open world games are made. I hope you’ll help guide our development by letting us know what works and what doesn’t. Have you had a negative experience with the Activity Director? Is there a task you’d like it to help with? Let us know!