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Hidden Door has launched limited playtests for its Wizard of Oz role-playing game platform that uses generative AI to create custom games for each player.
Hidden Door’s development preview is a digital tabletop game role-playing game set in the land of the Wizard of Oz, a public domain intellectual property that includes 14 books written by L. Frank Baum. This is the first of numerous properties that Hidden Door plans to give the generative AI treatment, said Hilary Mason, CEO of Hidden Door. The full game will debut in October 2023.
In the game, players go on unique adventures with their friends in a world true to the Oz novels, all led by an AI narrator that adapts to their choices to create a personalized experience, every time. The company will make playtesting available via its Discord channel.
In this world, players can do whatever they want – the platform allows for endless adventures in the Land of Oz. Join forces with the Wicked Witch of the West, go on quests across the Land of Oz, or simply stay in Kansas and play with Toto.
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Hidden Door’s AI engine adapts to player choices, creating a unique story every time while remaining true to the fictional world the game is set in.
In the future, Hidden Door will work with additional IP holders to bring their fictional worlds to the platform, allowing fans to exist inside their favorite universes long after they put down the book or finish the movie. The company debuted last week during the PC Gaming Show online event.
Hidden Door plans to use generative AI to tell stories in a multiverse of worlds, starting with the Land of Oz. The New York company is a game technology studio that licenses IP to turn works of fiction into AI-powered social roleplaying games.
The platform’s prototype is set in the Land of Oz but is scalable to any existing work of fiction given agreement with the rights holders. Players will live out their own tabletop RPG-esque stories in their favorite worlds with the help of an AI narrator.
“We started with the Land of Oz for multiple reasons,” said Mason. “First, it’s public domain. Second, it’s pretty universal — anyone can tell that the experience remains true to the world. Beyond that, Oz is a massive sandbox for us to play in. It’s the perfect world for us to showcase the capabilities of our platform to players and IP holders.”
After uploading source text, Hidden Door’s AI narrator generates custom plots, characters, items, locations and more in direct response to player choices, creating a personalized experience every time. Hidden Door’s Land of Oz experience plays out as an interactive graphic novel.
The generated text is based on Baum’s work and generated art modeled from Hidden Door’s in-house art style. This is all done while remaining true to the universe L. Frank Baum originally envisioned, creating a new extension of this beloved world never before seen.
“Getting our product into the player’s hands is a major milestone for us and one that’s incredibly exciting,” said Matt Brandwein, cofounder of Hidden Door, in a statement. “After developing our product for the past three years, we’re eager to get feedback from our community as we look to extend Hidden Door into more fictional worlds in the coming months.”
Players determine how the story plays out – beginning with conjuring, where you’ll mix in possible characters, plots, or “vibes” that set the tone for the adventure. Then you’ll face unique challenges set among famed locations and an unpredictable, ever-changing cast of characters.
You can consider choices from the AI narrator’s suggestions, or type whatever you want and see what happens. As the story plays out, those choices transform the Land of Oz. For example, will you befriend the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion or join forces with the Wicked Witch of the West?
The AI engine adapts the story based on player decisions and scenarios can be shared between players – if you find a narrative you love, it’s simple to share with your friends.
Hidden Door was founded in 2020 and is staffed by a mixed team of game developers and AI experts, including artists, computer scientists, tabletop game creators and more. The platform combines the nearly limitless power of generative AI with the creativity of authors and the imagination of players to create games set in a plethora of beloved IPs.
Hidden Door plans to work directly with licensors to create social roleplaying game experiences set inside various fictional worlds. The platform is customizable, allowing IP holders to tweak the game experience to remain on-brand, appropriate for their universe, and compelling for their audiences. Hidden Door will work exclusively within the public domain and officially licensed works of fiction to create engaging experiences for fans around the world.
How it works
“What we’re building at Hidden Door is a completely controllable storyworld game that takes a lot of the joys of a tabletop RPG and makes it accessible in a browser,” said Mason.
The game runs on the web and on mobile devices.
“We are also currently talking to authors and other creators about licensing their works to bring to the platform as well,” Mason said. “Our business model is very much to work with creators, and have them take the work they’ve already done and create an interactive RPG multiplayer experience out of it with very little additional work.”
The Wizard of Oz is a proof point for the technology. You enter the world at the same point where Dorothy enters the world in the books. And then you choose the kind of experience you’d like. You can throw cards on a deck in what Hidden Door calls its “story-conjuring experience.”
You can collect cards and proceed. You can choose a particular character and a location, and then choose the “vibe” of it, like horror or romance.
“We’ll take it from there, then you do the gameplay,” Mason said. “The idea is you can you create a character. Your character can do anything that’s plausible within the world, the rules of the world. We do have a system where we call our story governor that will push back on you. So it is a game where you can you can fail or you can succeed. But the idea is that, from the player perspective, much like in a tabletop game, they can try anything and see how it goes.”
The game has various narrative setups. In one scenario, you wander into a village and it’s cursed. The story will reveal the cause and how to fix it. When you have dealt with the character behind the curse — hunt them down or befriend them, as you wish — then you can resolve it.
“You have a lot of different ways of navigating through the challenge,” Mason said.
Hidden Door gives you a starter deck for where you can begin adventures. You can choose it, or leave it up to the system to do that for you.
“Once you’ve made a location or an item, or encountered a new character that the system has generated, it’s now part of your world forever,” said Mason. “We have this philosophy of the system, sketching them out in pencil, and then when a player sees and interacts with something, it’s inked and [recorded] in the database. It becomes part of the unique world.”
The art is more like a combo of text and 2D art, like a webcomic. Hidden Door has pre-computed all of the components of the images, and they get assembled by an algorithm at play time.
“That gives us a lot of control and we can make sure that it is consistent and your character always looks the way they should,” Mason said.
The experiences aren’t all that long. Each story has three to five scenes, and each scene take a few minutes to complete. The story has a beginning, middle and end. It follows a narrative arc. You can play as many stories in the same world as you like. And they can build on each other, Mason said. The story is conveyed back to you via text and art.
Hidden Door created a platform that combines preset story setups with player choices. When the story hits a point where it can use more drama, Hidden Door pulls in a story trope to provide the drama. If you have a bad encounter with a character, that character may appear again later as a kind of dramatic payoff. It creates the illusion that the dramatic moment was foreshadowed.
You may find that a village is abandoned because the humans have been turned into animals by the Wicked Witch. Hidden Door lets the story play out as you wish, but it puts in the rails so the stories are appropriate. The team has pre-generated and hand-curated thousands of story tropes.
The company started three years ago and it has been building the engine and other things as well beyond the Wizard of Oz game.
The idea for Hidden Door came from a couple of directions. Mason was a creative writing and computer science double major. And she played a lot of tabletop games as well as PC games during college. She started a previous company, Fast Forward Labs, in 2014 to do applied machine learning research. The company invested a lot of time in language generation. That company was acquired by Cloudera.
“It always occurred to me that one of the great limitations here in the context of an enterprise application is actually an affordance, when you have the freedom to be in a fictional space,” Mason said. “I don’t believe machines are creative. I think they are pattern machines, but they’re useful tools for helping people express creativity.”
She and her cofounder were aware of the biases behind large language models and how it’s hard to control them and make the content safe for everybody. So they tried to figure out how to build “a safe and controllable version for fiction.”
They built the architecture around that idea.
“What we do conceptually that’s really different is that we take the text input from our players and we structure it,” she said. “We have a game engine with a database that says like this character will be with these things at this location, with these relationships.”
“At every turn of the game, we use that structure to generate the text and the art, giving us that controllability,” Mason said. “So we can actually have both language and programmatic rules about how our worlds operate. And that was how we came to this. And we realized also that we think there’s a tremendous opportunity for folks who are world builders already. So we’re mostly talking to sci-fi and fantasy authors who have already done all that work to write a novel, to be able to take that existing work with very little additional effort, bring it into Hidden Door, and then their fans can come explore the world in the novel in a new way.”
The company is not monetizing yet. Hidden Door has raised $9 million and the company has 13 people. And it doesn’t count AI as one of the people.
“I don’t think the AI is a great storyteller. I don’t think that AI exists. Instead, we’ve built several curated story structures,” Mason said.
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