Q: what is the origin story of aylo games?
A: There was a time where i was a professional artist, trying to make it in the comics industry as opposed to games. I had decided that games were too complicated for me to take on, but as i started working in games i started thinking maybe i could do this stuff. I ended up transitioning into game design at work, and that was satisfying for a while. I think every creator ultimately wants to be independent and successful. A majority of people i know in the industry try do do their own thing at some point, and i reached that point about a year and a half ago. Like anyone else, i never felt like i was quite ready, but i went for it anyway and it's been quite an adventure.
As for the origin of the name, i sometimes have a habit of changing the spelling of words to match an accent, in this case it's the word "hello", which seems like a pretty friendly and inviting thing to say.
Q: where did you get the idea for the twitch bots? or what inspired you to work with robots?
A: A couple years back i had a chance conversation with a professional robotics engineer. I told him i was a game designer and he asked me about making games with robots. We talked about 2 main limitations to gaming with robots:
1. Robots are expensive, and any robot that can do anything worth doing is at least a couple hundred dollars, and those are the ones you would pair with your phone. That means robots are not that accessible, especially if they are made for a specific use case.
2. Robots aren't that smart. Some of the smarter robots can do things like play soccer, but they are nowhere near good enough to be competitive with a human, and will probably be lacking in this area for a while. If they were smarter, we would have more general purpose robots in the home, and you would have a platform you know most people may already have access too. Currently the most accessible robot platform to the general public is probably a Roomba, but so far they haven't made their API available : P
Fast forward to a couple months ago when Twitch Plays Pokemon sort of blew up on the internet. I knew a guy who was already working on a Twitch game called Choice Chamber at that time, and that got me thinking about uses for the platform. My mind didn't take long to go back to that conversation with the roboticist, and how to get around those 2 big problems.
Instead of getting a bunch of people to each buy a robot, they could all play with the same robot at the same time. Furthermore, since everyone is playing from a fixed perspective, you can control the environment and situations to making interacting with the robot interesting.
I think Twitch Plays Pokemon is the first of many experiences we will have with this new mass cooperative gameplay genre.
Q: what similarities or differences are there between video game and bot development?
A: The differences aren't in just the robot, but in creating an experience working in the real world that is just as engaging as a highly controlled environment such as a video game. In a video game, you are designing everything from scratch, and you have control over every possible interaction. With a robot you don't have to worry about setting up collision boxes, or tuning physics, those things are just gonna happen. Instead you are building an adaptive system that can deal with the environment; a system versatile enough to handle all the scenarios you might present to it.
Q: where do you see this idea going? where do you want to take this idea?
A: Right now the biggest challenge is making the experience as engaging as a standard game. Pokemon is both familiar, and a full game. It has a goal, and there is a clear measure of progress. Part of the fun of TPP is people disagreeing over how to proceed, and everyone fumbling over each other to try and get something done. The game isn't designed for mass cooperative play though, so the experience could be much better.
Right now it's a challenge just to get the tech working, but that's only part of of it. Engagement is key, and it will take more than a fancy robot to make things interesting.
So far i have built sets out of cardboard and other household materials, and set up a sort of dungeon to explore and do quests in. I've been able to go to a couple of game studios and let people explore around their offices and hunt for free game keys. I make achievements out of post-it notes when people do something novel and new with the robot, and stick them on an achievement wall. I even taped a marker on to the robot one day and let people draw on a giant pad of paper.
From a game design perspective, you always want players to have something just around the corner to keep them playing, like the next level up, item, or new area to explore. Making sure there is enough content to keep an audience engaged is currently the main challenge, and as we progress on the project i hope to chip away at that.
Q: what is the future for the twitch bots? is this just for fun or something you foresee being around for awhile?
A: There is a lot of potential i feel. To me it's almost a totally new medium that requires a lot of experimentation and exploration. Since the stream now runs through Unity i want to add a lot of visualization feedback like sensor readings. I might also be able to add some Augmented reality stuff. I have a lot of further ideas, but i will leave some surprises for later.
Q: does anyone else work on this project with you?
People help off and on, the nice thing about having a stream is you always get helpful people coming around that can lend a hand with this or that. In particular a guy that goes by the handle Jesperlp has been pretty instrumental in getting the systems working. he helped me solve some of the most basic problems in getting the initial system to work, and is now helping me write the next version of the robot's software. He's been able to help me trouble shoot hardware problems despite the fact he lives the other side of the world and doesn't have access to all the same hardware i do.
Q: how do you go about designing mazes, courses and objectives?
A: Right now everything is pretty ad-hoc with whatever I have available. I've had to purchase some items to help create enough stuff to do. I also try to make sure sets and dungeons i make can be broken down or re-arranged easily. This thing runs in my living room, so i have to be able to break it all down so i can have my personal space back : P
My ability to create content in this way is pretty limited considering my resources. The idea demands the same effort you would put into a small tv show, but i'm the only one working on this aspect of the project. So basically my design philosophy here is to do what i can with what i got, and to gradually try to build on it.
Q: where does funding for twitch plays robot come from? is it donation based?
A: So far i've had $50 dollars in donations total. We don't have a lot of exposure, otherwise i'd i'm sure we have a little more. All the funding comes out of my pocket otherwise. I would like to have a kick-starter to help with both money and getting the word out, but then that takes away time from the robots and slows everything else down. I'm sure at some point my need for further funding will win out and i will do a KS campaign. I would prefer to just stay focused on the robots though.