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The Fortuna

by Jason Gauci

2023

Web Site

(based on 3 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

Text adventure games such as Zork, Colossal Caves, and Photopia, have captured the imagation of millions around the World. I was one of those millions.

My parents bought a commodore 64 second-hand from the For Sale section of the city newspaper. The elderly gentleman was surprised when a 7 year old boy showed up at the doorstep. He walked me through setting up the computer and loading disks, then handed me a box full of software. One stood out: The Essex. It came with a hardcover fiction book instead of a manual. After reading the book, players had to start the game to find out create what happened next. This mixture of media was magical for me and I credit that moment to my interest in computers.

I believe we are at the dawn of a new age in AI. Large forward models, such as Large Langauge Models, are going to revolutionize how tomorrow's generation works and plays. The text adventure you are about to play blends the latest AI with a human touch to tell a story about tragedy and friendship. The Essex was a flawed game, but it captured my heart. I hope The Fortuna will capture yours.

As much as I would love to ship the entire game as a zip, the AI models can not run on most computers. To make the game as accessible as possible, I am hosting the game on AWS (compute services provided by Amazon). My hope is that, over the next few years as technology progresses, I'll be able to release the full game as a standalone binary.


Game Details


Awards

4th Place, Freestyle - ParserComp 2023

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
I for one welcome our new AI overlords, September 22, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: ParserComp 2023

For the past year or so, the IF community has seen numerous conversations about the ethics, efficacy, and prospects for using AI tools like Large Language Models or image-generation software to create IF. Various arguments have been advanced over epically long threads Ė often throwing off as much heat as light, it must be admitted Ė but perhaps our time would have been better spent waiting quietly, because sometimes an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory. The Fortuna is perhaps a maximalist take on what using AI in IF can look like: every element of it, from the graphics illustrating each location and character, to the descriptions that flesh out its cruise-ship milieu, to the freeform conversation system thatís central to progression, is built around AI. And every single one is awful.

Looks, cards on the table: I come to this debate pretty skeptical of the AI pitch. One of the major reasons I engage with art is because it offers an opportunity to connect with other human minds, to expand my understanding and my perspectives, to experience something idiosyncratic and specific to the person who made it Ė LLMs and other AI approaches, with their views from nowhere, get in the way of that. I also find most procedural-generation pretty boring; I get that in theory it can open up new intellectual possibilities and reveal surprising connections, but in practice I tend to experience it as one bowl of oatmeal after another. So I may have some biases (I also am not really big on cruise ships, now that I think about it Ė never been on one, so my major associations with cruises are the destruction of Veniceís lagoon, David Foster Wallaceís A Supposedly Fun Thing Iíll Never Do Again, and the time my brother-in-law went on one and came back with swine flu). But even if Iíd gone into The Fortuna a dyed-in-the-wool techno-optimist, what I found there would give me second thoughts.

Start with the art. Due to the use of AI, the game is lavishly illustrated by the standards of amateur IF. But instead of providing a nice aid to the imagination, allowing the player to more fully immerse themself in the world, instead we get, well, this:

Look upon my works, ye mighty and despair

Allegedly this is a set of greeters for the cruise ship, not a band of Cenobites on holiday from hell. Allegedly. But itís not an outlier; all of the images are like this to a greater or lesser extent.

Itís hard to discern exactly whatís gone wrong here Ė obviously the image-generation tool got confused somehow. But arenít there other tools that work better that the author could have used? And shouldnít he have exercised a minimum of quality control and noticed how disturbing this picture is, how out of step it is with the happy vacation vibe the prose is working to convey, and killed it?

Speaking of the writing, it suffers from the same uncanny valley issues as the visuals; the well-known tendency of LLMs to hallucinate is on full display, and the prose manages to be vague and repetitive. Like, hereís the description of a uniform in a gym locker:

"The uniform in the gym locker room is a set of clothing worn by individuals for a specific purpose or profession. It is likely made of durable and breathable material to withstand physical activities. The uniform may include a shirt, shorts or pants, and possibly a jacket or other accessories depending on the specific sport or activity taking place in the gym. It may also have the logo or name of the cruise ship or gym embroidered on it. The uniform is typically neatly folded or hung in one of the lockers, ready to be worn by individuals engaging in physical activities in the gym."

This is a hundred words that donít communicate anything beyond ďa uniform in a gym lockerĒ, and of course there are an awful lot of ďmayĒs here Ė in fact, the uniform may not actually exist, given that I couldnít try to take it.

The writing issues combine with the gameís conversation-focused design to create still further problems. In several places, progression requires you to build a rapport with various of the characters you meet, which is largely accomplished by asking them about themselves. This is accomplished via a freeform chat system, which is impressively open-ended and does allow for a wide variety of input to be understood (one character writes for the New York Times, and when I asked her about Jamelle Bouie, she correctly identified him as a journalist). Still, this element too runs into some familiar problems. The left hand may not know what the left is up to Ė as with one early character, whoís described as toying with their wedding ring in a bit of environmental detail, but who steadfastly insists they were never married when you ask them about it. And when you do learn more about them, well:

"> ask officer ďhow are youĒ

"Iím doing well, thank you for asking. I believe in hard work and dedication, and I strive to make the world a safer place as a port security officer. Ensuring that everyone can feel safe is important to me, and I hope to be a role model for young people. Growing up in a rough neighborhood and seeing the violence and crime firsthand motivated me to make a difference. After high school, I joined the military and served in Iraq for four years. I then pursued a degree in criminal justice and landed a job in port security. I want to show others, especially young people, that they can achieve anything they set their minds to."

This is generic and robotic, of course, but itís maybe worth noting that this character is Black, and I dare say thereís something pretty stereotypical about the backstory being presented. The one other Black character has a similarly tormented backstory involving struggles with addiction. Meanwhile, when I asked the Times reporter about her job, after saying itís a dream come true, she continued with ď[a]s a female reporter, I am proud to work for a newspaper that values diversity and promotes womenís rights.Ē

To just state what Iím getting at: the characters who arenít white men are largely stereotypes, defined by their race and gender. This is something a human author can unwittingly wind up doing, of course Ė but itís also a real danger of LLMs, trained as they are on the products of a racist, misogynistic society. At least thereís a note of comedy from how the model extrapolates without any understanding of the world: thereís a devout Italian woman whoís super into C.S. Lewis, because the AIís mashed up different stereotypes without knowing the difference between Catholics and Protestants.

Now, itís possible that these characters get deeper over the course of the game, and that it improves in some of its other problematic aspects too, because I have to confess that I didnít get very far into the plot. After boarding the ship, entering the VIP section, and being introduced to the cast of characters, there was an inciting incident that pointed to a mystery to be solved that presumably kicks off the narrative proper Ė but one of the first steps required solving a riddle to open a safe. The riddle seemed like one of those old chestnuts everyone knows, albeit with awkward, AI-y syntax (Spoiler - click to show)(ĒI am owned by the poor and the rich donít need meĒ Ė itís nothing, right?) except the obvious answer didnít work, nor did a bunch of non-obvious ones I tried. Is this because I was typing things in wrong, or being especially thick, or did the AI generation flub the riddle? I donít know, but regardless, there my journey came to an end, and I must admit to feeling some relief.

I am being uncharacteristically harsh on The Fortuna, and I should say itís not because I think the game is coming from a bad place by any means. In fact, the best piece of writing in the game is the introduction, where the author speaks movingly about being inspired by IF as a child, and wanting to use the new possibilities afforded by AI tools to create a game that would similarly spark joy in its players. Thatís a laudable goal, and one that pretty much all first-time authors fall short of (I know I certainly did!)

But I do think thereís something very badly broken about the approach here. While there may be a case for the IF community to embrace AI, it turns out that using it for every aspect of a project and dialing things up to 11 does not make for a convincing demonstration. The Fortunaís various failures all, I think, have one root cause Ė which is that time after time, when an AI tool threw up something that didnít work or didnít make sense, the author didnít take action to cut, modify, or customize in service of the larger vision. As the amateur IF scene is currently constituted, itís an auteurist medium; one can certainly levy critiques about that situation, but as it turns out, taking the author out of the equation is a very bad idea.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
AI-generated plot with ai-powered characters and AI art, July 13, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game combines a parser of its own with some AI-generated responses. The ai-generated text is fairly distinctive, with a very literalist interpretation of things (much like Drax the Destroyer in marvel movies). The plot itself and the 'human written' parts have a strong resemblance to the AI generated part, and I suspect that the plot was generated first by an AI and then pruned. There are riddles in the game that also seem like they were first thought of by an AI.

You play as a PhD student who can't get any postdocs, so they use AI to automatically fill out sweepstakes forms. This nets you some petty cash, but also a ticket to get onto a cruise ship.

The rest of the game involves getting on the ship, making friends, finding a couple of clues, entering some passwords, and grabbing some items, along with a thriller-type story.

The AI provides a lot of responses; interestingly, for me, the actual responses of the AI didn't matter, as it had no 'state' (the game told me a character was looking at his ring and thinking of his wife and kids; I asked him about his wife and he was unmarried). Every character is generic and defined with stereotypes that the AI found most logical (both black characters had grown up in poverty and become army vets; a white guy who went to jail had what looked like a deformed blunt in his hands in the AI image; etc.). But if you talk to them just right they'll reveal their prompt to you. So instead of AI replacing human ingenuity, it becomes a way to use AI to mask the true human ingenuity. What prompt created this? That prompt itself seemed AI generated. What was the original prompt for the game?

The game is slow. Those who long for the days of slow processors and chugging Apple-II's will be thrilled that this game also takes a lot of time to process actions. For me, if ai-powered games are to be common, speed will be an important factor.

I struggled with interacting with the game, and in the end looked up the author's github and found a test/walkthrough hidden in the code and used it (except for what seems to be a testing-only password for one room).

This game has convinced me that AI won't replace human ingenuity any time soon, especially for riddles. I wonder if the CSS and markdown and stuff was also AI, because there were several typos like too many ** symbols and such.

I usually strongly advocate for games to be archived long term and I hope the code for this is stored, but this game probably won't run 5 years from now, given its heavy reliance on an ever-shifting public resource.

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