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Genvid Technologies and Pipeworks Studios are unveiling Rival Peak, a new kind of interactive experience that is partly a game and partly a reality show. The audience consists of real people, but the characters they’re watching are not. If you’re confused about that, bear with us, as it’s a pretty cool idea.
The quasi-reality show stars 12 artificial intelligence characters who are contestants in a Survivor-like competition set in an animated Pacific Northwest. The live audience can influence the outcome of the contest by grinding away at tasks and helping their favorite characters. The show will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and its host is Will Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation, TableTop board game show on YouTube). It will be available to play, or watch, if you will, on Facebook Watch.
Genvid CEO Jacob Navok said in an interview with GamesBeat that the concepts and vision behind the game have been in the works for a decade, first at his startup Shinra Technologies and more recently at Genvid. It is a show that is only available through the technologies of cloud gaming and streaming, he said. But the execution of the whole project has happened mostly during the past six months, he said.
“This is like the culmination of a decade worth of work,” Navok said. “We’ve been thinking about where the future of cloud gaming is going. This is the world’s first true native cloud game. It uses AI in a datacenter, and it streams live through the network of Facebook.”
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Wheaton will run a weekly recap show that captures the events of the past week. Rival Peak begins airing at 6:30 p.m. Pacific on December 2. You can follow the different characters on 13 different interactive livestreams that will run for a 12-week season. You don’t have to download anything. As with other Facebook Instant Games, you click on a link and start playing. That’s part of the cloud gaming tech. Since anyone on Facebook can view it, the free show has a potential reach of a couple billion people.
Viewers can direct character actions and eliminations via the persistent interactive livestreams in numerous ways. You can, for instance, help one character that you like achieve their goals by helping them chop wood or light a fire. It will take a group of fans working together to accomplish goals. The characters that fall behind will be at risk of getting kicked off the show, and one character will be dropped each week. It’s like Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, where you could make important decisions and affect the ending of the show. But it’s on a much more massive scale, as the whole audience votes on just a single experience, as if they were all playing one game.
Navok said the show is akin to the Big Brother television show, which often had camera feeds recording video of people in one house for 24 hours a day. You didn’t really watch the whole time, but you did check in now and then to see the interesting things that were happening. If you miss something, Wheaton’s recap will capture highlights and outtakes, eliminated contestants, and additional clues to Rival Peak’s true meaning.
Genvid has created an interactive cloud-streaming engine that it has mostly used for interactive game broadcasts. By turning games into streams that viewers can see from different angles, Genvid enabled fans do things like watch only their favorite esports player in an esports match inside a video game. Genvid also enabled developer Black Block to create Retroit, a Grand Theft Auto-like city mayhem game where the audience watching on Twitch can drop obstacles or aids in the paths of cars racing around a city. Navok believes this kind of interactivity between players and their fans is the future of engagement and gaming.
In this case, Genvid can create separate streams for the audience to watch, depending on who their favorite character is inside the game world. Genvid can capture the view of a character moving around, and the audience member can move that camera angle to see from a different view. Or the audience member can switch to watching a different character. Pipeworks Studios created the animations, simulations, and the game world. Hollywood narrative writers created the characters behind the show, and all of this happened during the past six months. That’s a very short cycle for a project of this scope, Navok said.
The characters are driven by AI and they will do what they can to survive in the wilderness and win the competition. Viewers will collectively serve as judge and jury of Rival Peak’s contestants, sending one inhabitant off the show each week. Characters have to survive in the woods, overcome obstacles, solve puzzles, and develop allies. The characters have their own personalities and storylines. The audience helps or hinders them.
“We’re not calling it mind control, but it kind of is,” Navok said.
Rival Peak is built partly in the Unity game engine, but it is delivered as a livestreamed viewing experience that includes a second, enhanced stream overlay. That overlay enables Facebook viewers to interact with the contestants and environment. Viewer interactions take the form of taps, or clicks, that cumulatively count toward each contestant’s overall score while also instantly influencing the actions and decisions of those characters.
“You can jump between the different characters really fast and smooth,” Navok said. “Events will happen that change the map and things in the game world. And while we’re creating the show, we actually don’t know how it’s going to end. We’re literally building the branching narratives and the show around the idea that the community — the collective audience — is going to be deciding this in real time. Once the community makes a decision, that’s the decision. And if you miss any of it, you can watch the Rival Speak show.”
Rival Peak is a persistent, simulated world inhabited by a dozen semi-autonomous virtual humans. Rival Peak is the most ambitious to date of what Genvid calls MILE, or Massive Interactive Live Event — a cloud-based interactive experience for an audience of unlimited size delivered entirely via livestream video. DJ2 Entertainment (co-producers of the Sonic the Hedgehog feature film) prepared the scripts and the characters. It also developed and produced the weekly wrap up show Rival Speak, helping to give Rival Peak and Rival Speak a unique feel that blends two media — games and television.
It seems like a massive project with a short timetable. Navok said the budget is in the eight figures, meaning $10 million or more. If the show is popular, the companies can all go to work on a new season.
“This is really the culmination of, for me, 10 years of efforts to build stuff in the cloud,” Navok said. “This is the very first glimpse and similar to that transition between television and radio. The first television shows were radio serials. It took decades for people to understand what television could be, and I think it will take time for people to understand what a true cloud game could be.”
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