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UCSC Hosts Symposium on Narrative Intelligence: AI Approaches for Games and Fiction

DATE: October 14th, 2010 — 9:30am to 5:30pm

LOCATION: UCSC Campus, Engineering 2, Room 599
PRICE: Free (though UCSC parking pass required)
HOSTED BY: The UCSC Center for Games and Playable Media. Co-sponsored by the Digital Arts and New Media program and Institute for Humanities Research.

Symposium Topic

What would it take for computer games and digital literature to dynamically offer meaningful story choices based on past interactions, or draw analogies inspired by authors such as Virginia Woolf, or create avatars that are meaningful characters with individual motivations, or give us new means to understand the phenomena of narrative itself? Any of these would require research into fundamentally new computational models — but research that is deeply informed by insights of the arts, humanities, and social sciences. This free, one day symposium (the first event sponsored by the new UC Santa Cruz Center for Games and Playable Media) brings together four leading international researchers with UCSC’s active research groups in this area.


Directions to UC Santa Cruz: http://maps.ucsc.edu/cmdirections.html

When arriving at the main campus entrance, stop at the parking and information kiosk on the right side of the road, shortly after you come through the main entrance. Park in the pullout next to the kiosk and purchase a permit from the kiosk attendant. The attendant can also provide you with a campus map and indicate the Engineering 2 building (the symposium location) and the Core West parking structure (the best parking location for the symposium). Please arrive at campus 20 minutes early to allow time for purchasing permit, parking, and walking to the symposium location.


  • 9:30-10:30am: Vadim Bulitko and David Thue, University of Alberta, Canada.
  • 10:30-11:30am: Jichen Zhu, University of Central Florida.
  • 11:30-1:00pm: Lunch Break
  • 1:00-2:00pm: Mirjam Eladhari, Gotland University, Sweden.
  • 2:00-3:00pm: Michael Young, North Carolina State University.
  • 3:00-3:30pm: Break
  • 3:30-4:30pm: UCSC Research Demos
  • 4:30-5:30pm: Panel Discussion

Talk Abstracts

Agency for Everyone: A New Focus for the PaSSAGE Project

Vadim Bulitko and David Thue

Many forms of storytelling are well-suited to the domain of entertainment, but interactive storytelling remains unique in its ability to also afford its audiences a sense of having influence over what will happen next. While the need for new techniques in content generation and reuse is clear, a common assumption of the field to-date – that providing more opportunities for players to act will cause them to feel more agency – may not necessarily be true. Instead, we draw on research in Social Psychology to propose that players’ perceptions of agency depend not only on alternative actions being available, but also on the desirability of the consequences that occur. Toward testing this hypothesis, we present the design of a system which automatically estimates the relevance of in-game decisions for each particular player, based on a dynamically learned model of their preferences for story content. By actively choosing among several potential consequences of a given player decision, the proposed system highlights the relevance of each decision while accommodating for its players’ preferences over potential story content.

Analogy-Based Computational Narrative

Jichen Zhu

Narrative is one of the oldest creative forms, capable of depicting a wide spectrum of human conditions. However, many existing computational narrative systems are confined to the goal-driven, problem-solving aesthetics. Our current research focuses on using computational analogy to generate stories about characters’ inner world. Combining insights from literature, visual arts, cognitive science and artificial intelligence, our work intends to expand the expressive range of computational narrative.

Semi-Autonomous Avatars in Virtual Game Worlds

Mirjam Eladhari

Semi-autonomous agents are agents whose actions are controlled partly by users and partly by artificial intelligence (AI) components. In virtual game worlds (VGWs) users are represented by playable characters, called avatars. Penny (2001) proposed that ‘avatars can be fruitfully thought of as semi-autonomous agents, which have their own behaviours and intentionality, but are intimately tied to the user’s actions.’ What players can do in a given moment is determined by the action potential of their avatars, which in turn is determined by the game design. Avatar-specific properties can be used to represent the world in individual ways for different players. The same data can be used to automate avatar behaviours, such as reaction tendencies or subtle body language.

Cracks in the Fourth Wall: Digging into a Humanistic Phenomenon Using Computational Models

Michael Young

Research on computational approaches to narrative push the boundaries on a diverse set of computational techniques. At the core of the area, though, lies narrative itself. Narrative holds a position of privilege in our minds, being a fundamental mode of understanding the worlds around us. In this talk, I’ll describe a trajectory of projects from my research group and the role that the nature of narrative and its comprehension by people has played in setting our goals and the methods we use to achieve them.

UC Santa Cruz Research Demos

UC Santa Cruz researchers will demonstrate narrative intelligence projects which will include:

  • The Prom: Dynamic social interaction models enable social puzzle-based gameplay with narrative progression.
  • Grail GM: Technology supporting dynamic quest progressions for quest-based interactive stories.
  • Spyfeet: A cell-phone-based, outdoor role-playing game project, using narrative motivations together with story and dialogue customizations to encourage physical activity for middle school students.


Vadim Bulitko received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1999 and is currently an Associate Professor at the department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta. His interests are in strong Artificial Intelligence, creativity and cognition. Vadim’s primary contributions are in the area of real-time heuristic search. He has also worked in emotion and culture modeling in virtual trainers, player modeling for adaptive story telling in role-playing video games, enemy prediction in tactical first-person shooters, hiding and seeking spatial patterns in human behavior and other areas. In doing so, Vadim has collaborated with Bioware Corp., Reykjavik University, Queensland University of Technology, Canadian Forestry Service, Syncrude Research and other institutions. He was the program chair for AIIDE ’10 conference, co-chair of an IJCAI’05 workshop on decision-making in uncertain environments, a workshop and tutorial chair for ICML’06 and a co-chair of the SARA’09 international symposium. In his free time Vadim enjoys photography, painting and sketching, hiking, martial arts, jogging, writing poetry, reading philosophy and playing video games.

David Thue is a 4th year Ph.D. Candidate in Computing Science at the University of Alberta, Canada. His ongoing research project, PaSSAGE (Player-Specific Stories via Automatically Generated Events), aims to employ techniques in Artificial Intelligence to mimic the creativity and adaptability of human storytellers, toward providing interactive experiences that are tailored to the preferences of each individual player.

Jichen Zhu is an assistant professor of Digital Media in the School of Visual Arts and Design at University of Central Florida, where she is also the director of the Procedural Expression Lab. Her work focuses on developing humanistic and interpretive framework of computational technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), and constructing AI-based cultural artifacts. Her current research area includes digital humanities, software studies, computational narrative, and generative art. Dr. Zhu received a Ph.D. in Digital Media and a Master of Science in Computer Science from Georgia Institute of Technology. She also holds a Master of Entertainment Technology from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Science from McGill University in Montreal.

Dr. Mirjam Palosaari Eladhari is associate professor at the GAME department of Gotland University. Mirjam’s main area of research is AI-driven game design. The research approach she has adopted includes exploration of the social multi-player game-design space through experimental implementations of prototypes where both novel and established AI-techniques are used. Her dissertation work (2009) explored characterization and story construction in MMO’s focusing semi-autonomous avatars. Before Mirjam went into research (2003) she was lead game programmer at Liquid Media in Stockholm. Her first brush with game research was in the applied research studio Zero-Game of the Interactive Institute in Sweden where she was technical lead (2004).

R. Michael Young is an associate professor of computer science at NC State University, where he leads the Liquid Narrative Research Group. His work focuses on the computational modeling of interactive narrative. Michael received an NSF CAREER Award in 2000 and has received awards from NCSU for both outstanding teaching and outstanding activities in economic development. Michael was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Game Development from 2007 to 2008. He serves as an associate editor of the Journal of Virtual Reality and Broadcasting and of the IEEE journal Transaction on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games.

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