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February 14, 2006
A Georgia Tech professor won the second annual Slamdance Guerilla Gamemaker Competition at the recent independent Slamdance Film Festival, honoring independent gamemakers and filmmakers, held alongside the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Michael Mateas, assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Literature Communication and Culture and the College of Computing, and his co-developer Andrew Stern of Procedural Arts, won the Grand Jury Sparky Award for “Façade,” a one-act interactive drama. The Slamdance game competition recognizes and rewards innovative and exciting work being done by independent game designers, programmers, and artists. Mateas, an expert in artificial intelligence (AI)-based art or expressive AI, and Stern worked on their creation for 5 years.
"With Façade we really wanted to open up a whole new genre of interactive entertainment experience. Traditionally games have focused on physical movement - running, jumping, shooting - in fantasy or science fiction environments. In contrast, Façade focuses on social interaction with human characters. Games are the cinema of the 21st century, and are capable of commenting on the full range of human experience. But fundamental artificial intelligence and design research are necessary to enable games to move beyond action/adventure scenarios. Façade takes a big step in this direction.” Façade is shaped as a visit to a quarreling couple, where the player finds herself involved in the breakdown of their marriage. Whether and how their marriage ends, and how they feel about you, depends on how you interact with them. Advance artificial intelligence techniques are used to control the autonomous characters, to manage the dynamic plot arc, and to understand the player’s natural language conversation with the characters.
Façade is available for free download, currently only for PCs, but with a Mac port coming soon. Mateas is now working with Blair MacIntyre within Georgia Tech’s GVU Center to have Façade ported into an augmented reality experience in which viewers can physically walk through Trip and Grace’s apartment and carry on a conversation with the couple. The computer animated characters are superimposed on the real world, using an augmented reality headset. "We’re trying to get as close as we can to the Star Trek Holodeck", says Mateas.
Mateas directs the Experimental Game Lab (EGL) at Georgia Tech, where he and other faculty push the limits of game design and technology. Within the EGL, Mateas continues to develop advanced AI for interactive entertainment, including AI techniques for interactive story, advanced autonomous characters, and for games which dynamically change and morph depending on how the player plays them. Besides entertainment applications, such technologies have huge implications for future education and training simulations. "Imagine historical simulations where you can talk to famous people from the past, organizational simulations for management training that include office politics and face-to-face people skills, healthcare simulations that allow doctors to practice bedside manner. Façade was only the first step.”
Started in 1995 by a group of upstart filmmakers, Slamdance Film Festival is a year-round organization dedicated to emerging artists and their vision. Slamdance has established a unique reputation for premiering independent films by first-time directors working with limited budgets. At the same time, the Festival has stayed true to its roots by being organized and programmed by active filmmakers. In 2004, Slamdance launched a teleplay competition in conjunction with fox21, a Games Competition, and the Slamdance Media Group; a company comprised of distribution and talent-management units.