Thursday, April 18, 2024

Day Tripper, Analysis and Thoughts

This is part two of my discussion of my experience with the AI game master and role-playing game Day Tripper. See my previous article for a transcript of the actual play 

When I played Day Tripper, one of the first things I noticed was a slightly wonky pacing. While the game doesn't have a limited number of interactions, the AI game master is designed to really hurry things along: up to and including taking agency away from the player to desc

ribe the character's actions when it suits the AI. 

Now, there are times when that is appropriate at the table, like when you're handling a very long journey, or the PCS are doing routine tasks like setting up a camp. But when you're being told what you do when first sitting foot on an alien world,l... that can be very off-putting. 

Dictating PC actions when it isn't warranted is an understandable rookie GM mistake. Knowing where to draw the line is something that takes a little time. However, it is pretty clear that Day Tripper isn't quite there yet. Tod Foley tells me that he's still working at the bugs on that particular behavior. There is so much nuance to when it is effective versus ineffective to take Praxis over character that we haven't even got a language for it.

He also made pacing a high priority for Day Tripper. And it would seem that the game has taking the commandment not to run a slow game as one of its most important directives.

The scenario was interesting enough. My character had landed on an uncharted world full of fog, and discovered strange rings of stone standing on their sides.

I had a challenge, navigate safely in the fog. And I had an ultimate mystery to solve, what are the stone rings about? 

I found that Day Tripper in its rush to make sure that I was keeping pace constantly pushed me towards investigating the stones, even while it mentioned other things of interest that were closer like vegetation. 

Even when it had made a point of emphasizing those items (presumably because they were important to the plot.) 

The actual mystery, which was randomly generated, was that the planet's life have been engineered, and this great Stone circles were there to maintain the ecosystem by creating and move the fog with sonic resonance in order to ensure the distribution of amino acids in the fog itself. 

I figured this one out so quickly that I was wondering if it had come in with any plan at all. Was it letting me lead it like a GM who isn't sure what to do? Was it trying to give me mirrored responses so that I got to solve the mystery that it thought I wanted? Because AI has absolutely no ego to speak of, it's perfectly possible that whatever plans it had for me would be immediately discarded in order to give me the apparently preferred adventure. 

After checking with Tod on this question, he told me that I had simply figured out The mystery of the planet very quickly. I had inadvertently given Day Tripper the frustrating experience of a player figuring out the plot long before they collected all the clues. My voracious science fiction diet must have prepared me for just about everything on its random tables. 

My hat is off to Tod Foley.  It was a bit predictable, and it had little respect for player agency when pacing was involved. But it didn't railroad me. It didn't try and force me into a traditional module structure. And despite the fact that I guessed the mystery very early on, it was neither hackneyed nor uninteresting. 

I would say the biggest weakness of the software is that it lacks the ability to read the player. My desire for a slightly slower paced scenario with a more thorough and detailed exploration didn't register with it as it executed its program. 

I wonder if you provided it with a survey of player preferences whether that might help. Although, you would then have to develop metrics in mind for it to be able to work with. 

One of the biggest obstacles to this is that Day Tripper cannot write files, like chat GPT and most other web-based artificial intelligences, it simply cannot remember what was said outside of the chat window. Once the adventure is over, your character is forgotten and it cannot learn who you - the player - are and what you like. And plugging in preferences, if you even had them, would be a complicated task. 

It's amazing how simple tasks like remembering what another person likes, and even figuring out how engaged they are or not with some element of a plot are so critical to GMing, and make so much of a difference in your experience. And yet they are something we generally don't put much thought into, and barely have the vocabulary to discuss.

I would definitely say that at the end of the day it felt more like playing text adventure games like Pirate Adventure on my old 16-bit TI computer as a kid then as a D&D experience. That it was more intelligent and dynamic at responding to my commands was great. It is a new and unique genre of game in that regard. And fun enough. 

Without human responsiveness I don't think we'll get a true TTRPG experience out of a Large Language Model system, if you change your expectations it is an interesting experience. Like a Zork game where the computer isn't limited in the number of actions it can respond to. And that unto itself is a lot of fun. 

I do believe if Wizards of the coast intends to use an LLM to replace GMs online they are going to provide a very different experience for the exact same reasons. An AI simply can't read the room. And with that extensive surveys could take a very long time to develop a profile for a player to give them what they are looking for. 

One thing I could see doing to make GMing easier now that I have played Day Tripper would be to get the AI to help you provide basic scenarios along with descriptions and important clues based on criteria you set. Then you could easily run with its output, taking some of the hardest mental work out of prepping a D&D game.

Of course, what I'm playing is an early test run. And I'm hoping that this article will also serve as some helpful feedback for Tod.

He's already an accomplished game designer and has a very well developed philosophy on the kind of experience he wants to provide with his players. If you want to see his work in action check out AsIf Productions here.


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