Category Archives: Valve

This is a triumph

5 Rogue Video Game AIs They Should Have Pulled the Plug On

Today, Artificial Intelligences are beating us at Go. Could their next move be plotting our extinction? Here are five video game AI characters that needed James T. Kirk to pull the plug:

GlaDOS (Portal - 2007, Portal 2 - 2011, Valve Corporation)

Sure, the AI matriarch (aka Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center is pure evil. After all, she did lock down the facility “within two picoseconds” of her activation and flood it with a deadly neurotoxin, and on ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work Day’, no less. But she also serves as a twisted kind of comic relief in the excellent Portal games. In an overly polite voice (supplied by Ellen McLain) dripping with passive-aggressiveness, GLaDOS does all she can to demoralize, hinder and just plain kill the series protagonist Chell as she is forced through a series of increasingly complicated test chambers. Oh, and there’s cake too (not really).

shodan_AI

SHODAN (System Shock - 1994, Looking Glass Studios/Origin, System Shock 2 - 1999, Looking Glass Studios/Electronic Arts)

Not happy to just murder the inhabitants of the mining and research space station Citadel Station (or convert them to murderous cyborgs and mutants), SHODAN {Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network) seeks to eradicate all human life on Earth, to be replaced by the devoted army she will create. A much more arrogant rogue AI than GLaDOS, SHODAN considers herself nothing less than a God. Not only this, but she mercilessly taunts the player character human ‘insect’ all the way through the games! SHODAN disciples can rejoice: she will return in System Shock 3, confirmed in December of 2015.

Robotrons (Robotron: 2084, Williams Electronics – 1984)

Set in the astounding year 2084, the plot for Robotron: 2084 marched out of the mind of legendary arcade game creator Eugene Jarvis as a kind of mechanized take on George Orwell’s 1984. In Jarvis’ dystopian future, computers have become more and more sophisticated, all in the service of solving mankind’s problems. The Robotrons become so advanced, in fact, that they decide to erase the one common denominator in the equation: humans. To facilitate our extinction, the Robotrons start cranking out lethal robots like the unstoppable Hulk, the dangerous laser-spitting Enforcers, and the diabolical Brains capable of brainwashing the wandering humans and turning them into mindless Progs.

AM (I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, The Dreamers Guild/Cyberdreams – 1995)

If you’ve seen the excellent 1970 movie Colossus: The Forbin Project, AM’s origin story might seem familiar. From the Harlan Ellison novel and video game, AM came about when an American supercomputer (known as the Allied Mastercomputer) absorbed its similar counterparts from China and Russia after gaining sentience. Seething with hatred at being imprisoned in its vast underground complex, AM proceeds to nuke humanity… save for five humans it keeps alive indefinitely to endlessly torture. A forerunner of the villainous GLaDOS, AM makes her seem like a paragon of decency.

reapers_AI

The Reapers (Mass Effect - 2007, BioWare/Microsoft Game Studios, Mass Effect 2 - 2010, BioWare/Electronic Arts, Mass Effect 3 - 2012, BioWare/Electronic Arts)

The worst on this list has to be the Reapers, a synthetic intelligence “with neither beginning nor end” that strives to hold its dominance in the galaxy by purging all organic life of a significant technological advancement. By doing this purging every 50,000 years, they eliminate any possibility that a race of intelligent beings could create a competing AI that would threaten their existence. In the bargain, they also harvest victims of inhabited worlds and convert them into Husks, zombified synthetic creatures that augment their army of ground troops.

Of course, not every AI entity in video games is malevolent. GLaDOS herself becomes a potato-based ally to Chell in Portal 2, EDI controls the Normandy in the Mass Effect games and eventually joins the fight personally as a playable character, and we have Cortana from the Halo games who made the jump to reality to assist users in real-life in Windows 10! Right now the idea of a rogue AI being able to threaten the galaxy seems pretty far-fetched, considering our smartphones can barely understand human speech with any kind of accuracy. But in 2014, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warned that AI technology could render humanity obsolete, and perhaps even destroy us. And this from a guy who uses a form of AI to communicate! If video games teach us anything, it’s that we might just end up autocorrected out of existence.

Steamed

Valve’s Steam Controller – What Goes Around…

Venerable game developer, publisher and distributor Valve Software introduced their new Steam Controller yesterday, and the shrill whistle of those blowing their stacks was deafening.  People were pretty steamed, if you will.  Gamers were taken aback by the design of the controller, which eschews traditional user interfaces such as analog joysticks or a pressable D-pad with two round, flat trackpads. Players use their thumbs on the surface of the pads, which also serve as buttons since they are clickable. Valve promises the high-resolution trackpads give players a much higher degree of control over previous methods. Haptic feedback and a large touchscreen are also thrown into the design for good measure.

Gamer response was quick and furious. It reminded me of another unique control scheme that was met by derision from gamers back in the day…

Meme featuring the Steam Controller and Intellivision controller

Steam Controller, seems familiar…

As always, for more information on the history of the Intellivision, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Portal Re-Opens

A little game called Portal 2 released yesterday, by some company called Valve. I guess it’s big news to people.

And it should be. It is the sequel to Portal, released for the PC in 2007, and a scant 3 years later on the Mac. It was added, as what some might have assumed as an afterthought at the time, to the Orange Box bundle. This box contained Half-Life 2, the HL2 add-on packs Episodes One and Two, and the perennial team-based shooter Team Fortress 2. It’s safe to say that the Orange Box will be entered into the pantheon of gaming history as one of the greatest bundles ever sold.

Portal came from humble beginnings.  It all started with Narbacular Drop, a senior thesis project by a team of students at DigiPen, the most august of video game design schools.  ND stars Princess “No-Knees”, cursed with the inability to jump and kidnapped and held prisoner by a demon in his dungeon.  Turns out, however, that the dungeon is a sentient entity called Wally, and will allow the princess to form two holes, of differing colours, on any natural surface, which are then linked, allowing the princess to enter one and exit the other.

The DigiPen team operated under the moniker Nuclear Monkey Software, and at one career day at DigiPen some Valve people saw Narbacular Drop and requested a demonstration back at their headquarters.  The team eventually was hired by Valve to professionalize the game, and the result was Portal, one of the most beloved video games of all time.

Here is a video of game play from Narbacular Drop, followed by a clip of what the concept has become with Portal 2.