Dealing with the fallout from artificial intelligence was one of the first things science fiction did as a genre. However, most science fiction books, movies, and games explore these ideas from a person’s perspective, whether we’re ditching SHODAN in System Shock or talking to Cortana in Halo. This is something that Per Aspera developers, Tlön Industries wanted to change. From their offices in Buenos Aires, the team of about 12 people have spent the last few years trying to figure out what it will be like in the mind of a newly awakened – newborn – artificial awareness.
The result is Bear Aspera, A strategic city-building company that has players working to reshape Mars as AMI. You are a non-gender supernatural genius capable of doing incredible things, but you are also an effective child without perception of society or social interaction.
Developer Javier Otaegui told me in a call: ‘What we wanted to do with Per Aspera was make you feel like you really are the AI.’ “How do you feel when you are an AI? How do you feel when you wake up and discover that you were created for a specific purpose? You have free will, but you are kind of a slave.” The AMI story is primarily related to the Per Aspera campaign mode. AMI’s first thoughts are small and basic incentives about its mission – building a mine, expanding the power grid – and effectively shaping Per Aspera’s tutorial.
Per Aspera is a very hardcore strategy, simulation and city building game. It’s an experimental step for making a strategy game, where the story is usually play-by-play, in a character-driven story. Per Aspera’s moral decisions form the basis of her non-linear branching story and multiple endings, similar to the black, white and shades of gray decisions in Mass Effect or The Witcher. But 2020 is a good year for that kind of experience – like Hades He has shown, even the literary genre that is not averse to narration can be entirely driven by a complex character’s story.
To engage players in the narrative, especially in a game focused on logistics and management, Tlön Industries had to figure out how to let them empathize with and understand AMI, “to make you feel like you really are an AI, and put you in it,” Otayji said. With all human eyes waiting for you to accomplish your mission. ”It’s a natural occasion when you think about it: The divine view of the strategy game fits the idea of AMI, whose main body object is a satellite above another world. In fact, that was the first camera angle implemented in a prototype Prime: View from a single geosynchronous satellite above the surface of Mars (later they decided it was too restricted).
The perspective of play as an AI drove the early development of Per Aspera as the team began to search for the scientific ideas and physical facts that would shape their game. They delved into the science of reclamation and space travel, so Per Aspera uses cellular automata to model rising humidity and changing weather conditions on Mars, and similar systems to simulate lichen growth and plant propagation.
Science has been the basis – though not always the ultimate decision maker – of how Per Aspera works. This meant in order to keep their sci-fi credentials clean, they had to decide how AMI would work, as well as how players could remake the planet Mars.
Tlön Industries considered the idea of a bicameral mind, a hypothetical concept that psychologist Julian Gaines first adopted in 1976. Gaines’ theory is now widely contested, but has formed a major part of the era’s debate about how consciousness evolved in humans. In short, the idea was that the brain was divided into parts that talk and parts that listen. The right hemisphere talks concepts to the left hemisphere as auditory hallucinations, commands that must be obeyed. Meanwhile, the left hemisphere responded with millions of tiny sounds from language input, grammar, and sensory data – all the sounds in your head.
Science has since discovered that the human brain is significantly more complex than Gaines’ assumptions about left / right brain function. However, it seemed like a great idea of how the computer scientist was building not only an AI, but a self-aware artificial consciousness. The two-chambered mind became the basis for AMI work in early concepts. Then the Westworld HBO series did exactly the same.
Otayjoy laughed, “I swear to God, that was before the release of Westworld.” He did admit, however, that when Westworld’s book thought that room-two was a good idea for AI engineering, Tlön’s team felt supported in their selection.
This is how Otaegui and Team AMI designed and perceived the player’s role. “In Per Aspera, you play on the right side of a bicameral artificial brain, and there is the left side that represents all the little sounds and reflections you see while playing,” he explained. “What these reflections are trying to imitate is all these thoughts running through our minds, or maybe this inner voice that they say half of humanity in their head is talking to us, which is actually a mixture of both sides – the thing that creates consciousness.”
Stick with me here, because this is a very dead concept: functional player’s awareness forms an integral part of AMI’s artificial mind in order to make playing Per Aspera seem like the experience of being part of that greater mind. This, in turn, makes AMI and thus the player feel like a super intelligent being.
It’s not just a great idea – it’s a trick that really worked for me while playing.
Here is an example. Per Aspera uses a super-complex algorithm that actual highway engineers also use to automatically plot optimal road paths on the topographic map of Mars based on road grade, leveling, and your drone engines capabilities. It is, of course, responsible for the gravitational pull of Mars. It’s a strange feeling for city builders who are used to manually drawing paths. “Players will not be able to create better or faster roads,” Otayiji said. Allowing the player to spend time laying and improving road networks undermined the AMI experience. If we already had an algorithm that smoothly solves the optimal path path, but somehow AMI didn’t use it, as Otaegui told me, “The game will stop being a super-intelligent computer.”
When you place new buildings, you see AMI working on the best solutions. Branching trees plot possible paths across Earth in blue flashes, moving around rocks, craters, and sloping Mars terrain. While playing I couldn’t help but feel some personal pride in a web of ways that I had little to do, realistically, with planning.
But making the other “parts” of AMI too smart was an issue during development. In theory, AMI can ideally optimize material flow around its base using a prioritization algorithm. Otayjoy said that the game’s programmers took this as a challenge: “The programming team was crazy trying to create the best algorithm possible.” Since they implemented better and better systems, they found the game less fun. Ultimately, they make a decision to let players set various priorities for both individual buildings and to distribute items, then allow the programming to fulfill the player’s stated desires.
“We could have gone and made everything prioritize ourselves, but that would be like the game itself,” Otayjoy said. “There will be no challenge whatsoever.”
“How much simulation is much simulation?” It’s a classic question in sim design, but the Per Aspera team confronted it from a whole new angle by trying to create a new narrative experience around the inside of the mind. This wasn’t a classic problem like simulating a lot of weather.
Per Aspera is a simulation based on scientific principles, but ultimately it just can’t be Purely Scientific simulation. Ditching a realistic timescale of rehabilitating a planet was part of this decision-making process. There had to be a strong human element to keep it fun, and while the simulation and the science of reclamation first lured me into the game, it was the narrative element that made it feel like something special.
The AMI story in Per Aspera is something that I pay tribute to as a daring experiment In my reviewBut what I couldn’t delve into was their journey. Voice actress Laila Berzins delivers an outstanding performance, as she delves into how an intelligent, supernatural being can be without sex. How can he express his strange feelings, interact with new experiences, interact with others, or even talk to himself? The player shapes this journey by making choices throughout the game – a journey.
“The character develops over the course of the game,” Otaegui said, “and you’ll start discovering the planet and discovering yourself, and you start to question things: your commands, your relationship with reality, and with humans.”
As a player, I found myself questioning the nature of the information AMI has gotten. How does AMI see the interfaces of reality with this – several moments that I thought might be mistakes the design turned out to be. Constantly faced with important decisions about how AMI will react to their situation, many of which are not a set of options that the average human would make. There is a wonderful moment where AMI has to decide whether or not it’s the type to tell lies, or whether this behavior is only human.
Part of AMI’s journey is countering the flaws at the basis of its mental structure: the Jaynes hypothesis of the binary mind. If AMI is built on a hypothesis rejected, then how is AMI not defective as well? Otaegui was shy about it, and I’ll be so that I can keep mysteries at the heart of Per Aspera’s plot.
Before I play the game, he told me: “There will be a collapse in consciousness, because in essence all this theory is flawed in reality, and what happens is there is a collapse – on one side there is the player, on the other side is the left side that stray slightly.”
AMI interactions with other characters are essential. AMI creator, Nathan Foster, and his conflict with the organization that funded AMI’s development. Mission Leader Ilya Valentine and her role as AMI head versus AMI’s desire for social networking. These two have chips in opposite places, on both sides of a larger dispute. In the classic festivals style, these are just a few of the network of people and interests that want something from AMI.
But Per Aspera is at its core a big classic science fiction idea: How might a complex artificial consciousness behave? How will she focus on the tasks assigned to her – like a human or a robot? Will you have to betray her directions? What is the nature of rehabilitating another world? What are the ethics that fundamentally change the universe? Should we try this before settling our disputes and mending the damage we have caused here on the ground?
AMI is a new mind in a complex political world, just as it is confused by the environment and new experiences that attack them like a player. Both AMI and the player are adapting to Mars and their social reality at the same pace. How they interact together, and what they choose to do, is what brings Per Aspera’s unique narrative experience to an end.