Student Profile: David Thue

CS Doctoral student explores interactive storytelling in games

David was interested in programming at a young age. It seems he has a knack for it too – after earning a Bachelor of Science degree with honours from the University of Regina, he was awarded an NSERC scholarship. Soon after, he met Dr. Vadim Bulitko at the U of A whose projects in computer gaming aligned with David’s own interests, prompting him to move to Edmonton to pursue grad studies in 2005.

When asked about this decision, David replies, "The CS department at the U of A is very well known for its games research, and everyone is very accessible."

"It’s nice to know that if I run into a problem, I can just go knock on Vadim’s or any other faculty member’s door, and they are more than willing to help me out," says David, to which he adds, "I was blown away by the caliber of students here. It’s amazing to be working in the same lab with so many talented people."

Different player types include the Fighter (has tendencies towards battle), the Method Actor (likes roleplaying and bases decisions on his/her character), the Storyteller (enjoys exploring and learning about the world), the Tactician (likes to think his/her way through challenges) and the Power Gamer (seeks to improve his/her character by collecting items or gaining abilities).

This demo shows how PaSSAGE decides which storyline should come next.

As for his research, David is looking to change the way video games are created and enjoyed. To escape the typical, linear storytelling model (which is based on a predetermined game tree), he is exploringinteractive storytelling, which has garnered a lot of interest in recent years.

One of the problems with games based on a fixed game tree is that it is very difficult to create robust content that would appeal to a variety of different player types. In order to add more story arcs, you have to take on the labour intensive task of producing all the possible outcomes. As this is not efficient or economical, game developers more often force players sequentially through the content, causing their level of enjoyment to vary between sections. This is not the case with PaSSAGE.

PaSSAGE (Player-Specific Stories via Automatically Generated Events) was originally conceptualized by David while he was pursuing his master’s degree. Now, it is the focus of his Ph.D. research.

An interactive storytelling system implemented with BioWare’s Aurora Neverwinter Toolset, PaSSAGE learns the preferences of its audience and uses this knowledge in an attempt to provide each player with the particular sequence of events that he or she will enjoy the most. Having the AI choose from a bank of characters and a library of potential story events on the fly makes the game a unique experience for each player.

Though it is not yet publicly available, PaSSAGE looks like a promising stepping stone for computer games in the future.

Article and photos, 2010.