Conversation embodies the human social experience. The rapid evolution of computer conversation is poised to transform and revolutionize computer gaming and methods of learning as we know them today. At Casual Connect USA, ToyTalk’s Chief Creative Officer, Rod Humble offered an overview of the key advances in speech and conversational AI, and insight into the types of gaming and educational experiences that can be created through these new technologies that enable personal and tailored conversation with characters. He framed his talk around this quote by Ludwig Wittgenstein, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” He revealed, “In our case, the limits of our language define the limits of our art form.” Find out what he meant by that statement in the video below.
Rod Humble, chief creative officer (CCO) at ToyTalk, loves exploring new paths. In fact, the aspect of his job that he most enjoys is the opportunity to work on solving new problems in an area of entertainment that has received almost no attention. At ToyTalk he is creating a new art form that explores conversation, artificial intelligence, compelling interactive mechanics and characters in an entirely new way.
A Focus on Innovation
Rod came to this position after working in game development across a variety of genres. He is perhaps best known for his work on innovative game franchises including The Sims, which is one of the best-selling game franchises. He also founded his own startup company, Chaphat. This wide range of experience has allowed him to develop a broad creative tool set that he finds highly advantageous in the work he now does and the unique challenges it presents.
He chose to join Toy Talk when he noticed a trend coming in the games industry: advanced AI and conversation systems. As CCO, he is ideally positioned to take advantage of this trend.
Every new venture comes with challenges, particularly in the games industry. But for Rod, the challenge of walking a path few people have traversed brings with it the joy of choosing which path to follow.
Game Designer: A Dream Job
The job Rod dreamed of as a child is the job he is doing right now, saying it never occurred to him to do anything else. He was fortunate to be offered work as a game designer at a very young age. Programming gameplay has always been the most rewarding and satisfying part of the working in the games industry for him.
He recalls the time when he shipped his first game, The Humans, as the proudest moment of his career. In fact, he feels that shipping that first game is a great moment for most professional game developers.
His career in the games industry has also brought very demanding experiences. A painful time he recalls was when he created his startup company of one and shipped a game on Steam. The only way he got through the experience was by working extremely hard and going without sleep.
Games for Children
When creating games for children, his primary focus is emotional engagement. Games can help children learn such things as social experimentation. This was a feature of The Sims, where, Rod points out, “boys and girls were able to experiment with marriage and the emotions surrounding it.” Children can also be encouraged to become involved in game development; he suggests using any kind of programming or logic-based creativity tools.
Testing “early and often” is a critical part of game development for Rod. In fact, he believes in testing throughout the entire cycle, from focus group to pre-alpha to final. One of the more interesting reactions he saw to a game came while testing an internal prototype. The fact that the players were laughing and happy was a great affirmation of the game.
It can be difficult for him to find the right talent for members of his team. Team members who are skilled in more than one area are highly sought after, but it is especially hard to find “programmers who can design and designers who can program.”
When Rod is not working, he relaxes by making music and games. He also spends his time watching his soccer team, Aston Villa, as they lose.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.