Ruth Aylett -

I research synthetic characters: embodied agents interacting with a 3D virtual world in real-time: talking heads, flocks of autonomous animals, crowds, tutors and guides, and all kinds of virtual actors. This work is clearly relevant to NPCs in game environments, though my focus is on those with a longer interaction time than the baddies in FPS games.

Research issues include virtual sensing, convincing physical movement, expressive behaviour, including language, facial expression, posture and gesture, and all the issues associated with believability. Graphics researchers, and many games companies, often interested in photo-realism, do not always appreciate that believability is quite different from naturalism. In fact Mori's concept of the 'uncanny valley' suggests that the high expectations aroused by very naturalistic-looking characters may cause very negative reactions when those expectations are inevitably disappointed by some small inconsistency. I have explored some of these issues in the EU FP5 project VICTEC - Virtual ICT with Empathic Characters and the EU FP6 project eCIRCUS

Since 1999, I have been working on the concept of emergent narrative. This seeks means of reconciling the freedom of interaction basic to computer games as well as to the user's feeling of immersion, with the structural requirements of interesting story experiences. The aim is to find a theoretical basis and supporting computational mechanisms for participative narrative experiences, in which the user is part of the story.

Computer games are often compared to films when story-telling is discussed. However this is a particularly misleading comparator since while film shares a rather similar visual presentation, it is under the tightest authorial control of almost any narrative medium. Instead, my work has examined interactive theatre, including forms such as Forum Theatre, and both board-based and live role-playing games.

I also argue that much of narrative theory sees story as an authored artefact for an audience, where a process-based view of story as emergent from interaction between characters is much more applicable. Rather than 'a' story, interactive graphics supports a web of stories, each dynamically constructed by a character from the experience of their own participation. Participation is quite unlike spectating, being both situated rather than detached, and active rather than passive, with all the extra cognitive load this brings with it.