Agence is truly a first of its kind. It is neither a game nor an interactive film, instead it is an interesting mixture of the two – where reinforcement learning AI is used to the main vehicle to drive forward emergent storytelling to VR, mobile, and PC users.
Agence is the result of a collaborative effort between Transitional Forms.ai and the National Film Boardof Canada NFB, and its debut at the Venice film festival last year. The interactive “dynamic film” takes the viewer into a world of endless possibilities that are all dependent on whether or not a viewer chooses to “interfere”.
From a godlike point of view, the viewer observes an alien world inhabited by five AI minded beings who are called agents. As simple as it may seem on the surface, interacting with Agence sparks moral dilemmas, as these agents are a little more than modern tamagotchis.
This is best described by Pietro Gagliano, founder of Transitional Forms and creator of Agence.
“I think the core artistic vision of this is to cause people to question humans’ said Gagliano, “both in its creation and interaction right now. These are virtually living creatures that are learning. They’re learning from us and we’re teaching them. This is a moment that I hope that we look back on in time as, you know, we made the right choices.
A visit to the world of Agence is definitely a different experience to watching a movie, or playing a video game. Here there are no skill points, level ups, or an ultimate objective. The viewer has the option of merely observing the agents as they go about their business, or one could intervene by breaking up squabbling agents, and even punish agents for misbehaviour. All of which will have an influence on how the agents and the story develops.
The ability to influence the lives of these agents does not end there, the viewer is also given the option of choosing the agents brains. One could have all five agents running reinforcement learning AI “brains” – alternatively the viewer could have only a few agents using AI learning, while the others use standard gameplay AI’s. Naturally, this also affects how the story plays out.
Altering their environment is also an option. By adding a flower to their planet, the story could start to get really interesting. Should the agents take interest in the flower, they might stimulate it to grow. If not the flower will die, this all depends on what influence your prior actions have had on the agents. It might also be interesting to how the flower has intoxicating properties, a real game changer.
The Agence story is a simple one where empathy takes center stage. The god-like front row seat means you have the option of either being a benevolent or malevolent presence in the agent’s lives, well truly interacting with – and influencing the agent’s development.
“A lot of interactive films have decision moments, when you can branch the narrative, but I wanted to create something that let you transform the story at any point.” says Gagliano.
And that’s exactly what the creators have accomplished.