This week’s update will be about writing the story for the first episode.
When starting this project I called up my old colleague Lauri Konttori, who I have been collaborating with for over a decade. We set out to find some fun stories that we could use the help of AI to tell. My only wish at the beginning was that I would like the game to be Cyberpunk themed, everything else was open for discussion.
Our first idea was a story about this city controlling AI admin that is depressed and the city is shutting down. But as the project progressed and we kept talking about the world, we came up with an interesting dystopian vision that we decided to pursue and put the depressed AI idea aside – for now.
The game takes place 20-30 years from now. Slowly, AI has taken over more and more work, ultimately taking over all professions and government activities. It happened quick, but slow enough for no-one to react. People of the era are forced to be on a perpetual holiday.
The AI government has made all forms of work illegal for the humans. This is enforced by the ever present AI robots that work the shops and restaurants and all jobs that require a “human” operator. Even picking up the trash, gardening or putting out a fire is forbidden. This has caused the city to deteriorate over time as the waste management and building maintenance is something the AI was never taught to value.
This has turned all humans into work outlaws. And when it is illegal to do even the most mundane work like bake pastries, criminal organisations take over.
So the city is bustling with crime families baking pizza and gangs trimming people’s beards. Black ninjas appear at the heart of the night to sweep the streets. Illegal stand-up comedy is performed at secretive underground clubhouses. Pop-up massage parlours operate in the dark alleyways.
And as the world is indeed full of humanoid robots that perform all legal work, they act as sort of potential Agent Smiths and turn into full on terminator mode when they encounter humans performing any work activities.
The punishment for getting caught working is that you will be sent away on a mandatory-holiday resort. On this holiday you are forced to perform holiday festivities like sunbathe and visit theme park rides and have facials and take tours all day no matter what. Humans are basically like cattle, or pets there.
Only few people ever come back.
The tone for the game will be funny, but not over the top. The world for example will be a caricature of a dystopia. This will allow us to bend some rules and allow things to happen or have taken place that are not fully believable without breaking the suspension of disbelief.
Things like having to use stuff like cardboard and tin cans to disguise yourself as a robot in order to fool the AI avatars into thinking you are one to be able to pick up trash from the ground.
Episode 1 (Pilot)
Spoiler alert: from now on this post will contain information about the first episode of the game that might be too much of a spoiler for some. Especially the location images at the very end of the post.
I went into the project first evaluating the pipeline of game development with AI generative tools. I did not worry about the story too much. Number one thing for me was to see if this would even be possible.
Now after some thorough testing it is clear that only is not thing possible, it is certain. It was time to start to plan the content. I figured we could easily work all the locations and characters I had already created into the first script.
The prompt of the story
I wanted the first episode to be the classic story about an AI agent that is set out to perform a somewhat mundane task, but the weighting is not perfect and it goes about it in a way that causes way more havoc than doing nothing.
I also wanted the story to be structured in a way that makes it natural that this character would be the one who is set out on this mission of stopping the harmful AI.
So now we had some story parameters set up and then we went to figure a story that matched them.
First, we needed to figure out what was the AI that was causing issues. What mundane task could go really sideways? What would be something you can find out at home and would make you the “chose one” to solve the issue?
We know that around 10-15 years ago people were thrown off their jobs, so that would mean the player character was someone who was in working age then. And in a position the made them best suited to solving this task.
After thinking about it for a while, I came up with a scenario where all water is suddenly cut off. You are the former janitor of the apartment complex you live in and the old residents come up to your door to seek for help.
This allows us to set the story in motion from the get go and also do some important world building by having the player character explain that even if he wanted to fix the water, he could not, as performing any work is punishable by law.
He does agree to go to the city hall to find out what is wrong, as water is pretty important and he has not even had his morning coffee, which is starting to make him have a headache.
In the end the story turned into a classic hero’s journey.
The first puzzle hub
This is where we enter the first puzzle hub: other people are already in line to meet the AI overlord. Everyone has a ticket and you need to find out who has the next number in line. In order to trade tickets with the people in line, you need to perform various tasks for them. There will be 3 or 4 people in line before you giving you around 3 different quests you can finish in any order you like.
This is as far as I think it is sensible to talk about the story without spoiling it too much. But the locations that are introduced in this devblog so far will most be found in this first episode.
I created a work board for the scrip in Apple Freeform to better write down notes for the story.
The first episode will consist of 3 chapters. The first one being about getting to meet the AI council about the missing water. The other 2 chapters will be about the same length.
Each of the chapters will have their own puzzle hub-type scenario, giving you some non-linear gameplay options. At this time it also looks like you can back-track to any visited location at any point of the story – and sometimes need to.
As the game will be an episodic game with the episodes being separate, stand-alone stories in this world, I was prepared to have the playtime for each episode be around 1-2 hours. This meant that we would be allowed to tell smaller, more experimental stories.
But the pilot episode we are working on now seems to have grown to be somewhat larger than that. it is closer to a full fledged game with possible game time running up to 5 to 6 hours (on the first play-trough). The future episodes might be shorter than this.
I will end this rambling post with a collection of potential new locations you may or may not see in the first episode.
I did try out some ChatGPT based AI tools for helping with the writing, but doing it with human writers turned out to be the most fun and productive way of going about this process. But I learned that the AI tails are very usable as a sparring partner. I used some parts of the AI writing experiments in this story. Those were one location that came up and some functional features of that location.
We will be trying to use AI to write all the dialogue for the AI characters in the game, as this seems appropriate.
This time the post had less to do with AI, and more to do with the game itself.