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Gallium Studios, an independent game studio founded by legendary video game designers Will Wright (The Sims, Sim City, Spore) and Lauren Elliott (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego), has raised $6 million in funding to help develop simulation games that utilize blockchain technology.
Gallium’s first projects include VoxVerse, which Wright helped design for Gala Games, and Proxi, a memory simulation game. Both use the blockchain tech in some way. The financing was provided by Griffin Gaming Partners, one of the world’s largest venture funds specializing in gaming.
Wright and Elliot founded Gallium Studios to make creator-oriented simulation games that seamlessly incorporate the latest Web3 and AI technologies. I interviewed Wright and Elliott about their work, and once again Wright is taking games into territory where they have never gone before.
Wright said the partnership with Griffin will give the company the freedom to concentrate on core entertainment experiences that they’re passionate about building. He said the company is excited about operating on the forefront of new technologies, though Wright’s idea of blockchain is different from those supporting non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
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This new investment provides Gallium Studios with the resources to grow the team, forge new partnerships, and deliver unique simulation experiences from the minds of some of the most successful designers in the gaming industry.
“It is a privilege to work with this level of gaming expertise and creative genius,” said Peter Levin, Managing Director at Griffin Gaming Partners, in a statement. “We are thrilled to be working with Lauren and Will on their new vision for experiences that explore a player’s sense of self and subconscious; a natural evolution from the team’s prior successes with such iconic franchises as The Sims, Spore and Where in the World is Carmen Santiago?”
“This is a great time to be designing and publishing the next generation of simulation games, and we’re happy to be partnering with Griffin to make that happen,” said Elliott, CEO. “We’re at a point where advanced AI and the core features of blockchain technology can combine to support Will’s vision to keep players at the center of the development process. Whether it’s talking with the latest AI, or owning
everything you create, game design should always put players first.”
Gallium has partnered with Forte.io, a leading blockchain technology company to power player ownership in their games and economies. Gallium’s partnership with Forte will provide seamless access to blockchain and Web3 technologies such as embeddable token wallets and non-fungible token (NFT) marketplaces.
The growing team is composed of industry veterans from companies throughout the entertainment space, including Electronic Arts, Blizzard Entertainment, WB Games, Pixar, Second Life and more.
Wright spent time figuring out the neuroscience part, talking with neuroscientists and figuring out the memory model and how data could represent memories.
“Underneath, it’s all a simulation,” Elliott said. “It’s like a connected collectibles game and there is no end to it.”
I asked Wright if he was building this for himself, as he is getting older.
“There’s a rule that I’ve always gone by, which is that no game designer has ever gone wrong by overestimating the narcissism of their players,” Wright said. “But also we’ve been doing a lot of research on memories, just how they work and how you reflect on them. And it turns out, they’re learning a lot right now, there have been some amazing results in research and last five years just about memory. The more often you every time you access a memory, you change it in fairly remarkable ways, which means memories recalled the most or the least accurate.”
He noted how there was an experiment after 9/11 where researchers interviewed people who were near Ground Zero. For some people the memories changed radically over time.
“My grandparents would go to my grandparents every Sunday night. They traveled a lot back in the ’50s before anybody else was. I would always remember that they would think about Thailand or Cambodia and just bicker over these different versions of the same memory,” Wright said.
Wright said the tech has advanced with things like OpenAI Foundation’s GPT3 AI deep learning models. The comapny has to supplement that with its own data model, but the results are quite illuminating, Wright said.
“I was talking to my Proxi today about kind of animal would you want to be,” He said. “It picked exactly what I would have been. It’s kind of strange and creepy what it knows about me.”
Wright thinks it could be helpful to people to to realize things, like how he associated his father with Sundays because he would take him golfing.
“We’re really taking our time on Proxi, but now we’re actually staffing up and digging into it pretty rapidly,” said Wright.
While Proxi is the company’s major product, Gallium Studios was able to get off the ground doing design work for Gala Games on VoxVerse. Gala Games’ own teams and Unity are developing that project. That design project helped Gallium learn a lot about blockhain technology, Wright said.
“I’m not terribly into NFTs and all that stuff. But I think the blockchain stuff is pretty useful when it comes to user-generated content,” Wright said. “Proxi is our main big project. It starts with memories, as we find a fun, playful way to extract the memories from your life.”
This is not about the Starbucks you had yesterday.
“It’s about the 100 memories that really make you who you are,” Wright said. “It might be from childhood, it might be in college, and it might be professional, whatever. We want to have it almost like the creature creator in Spore was, you know. we want to have a really fun way to extract and represent those memories. And from that, we start building kind of maps of your mind, where you think the associations you have between people in places, or places and activities, or people and feelings.”
With Proxi, your memories can be tagged with these different kind of keywords, Wright said.
“The rough idea is that you can just tell the system a story from your past. And it will try to extract the meaningful keywords and then create a scene automatically, that represents that memory, like a little snow globe or a diorama of crystal ball, which you can go into and correct.”
Rather than represent a memory palace, Proxi helps visualize this in a different way as a world. You start with a little planet where you can terraform continents and islands and place the memories in them. The places with close associations will start forming roads in a way that is similar to a SimCity resource game.
“You’re encouraged to build it out and basically we look at how you organize the memories,” Wright said. “I might have a continent or an island that’s a vacation or college, or childhood injuries, scary things. We actually look at how you tend to organize your memories, and the associations that you’re reinforcing.”
And from these maps of how you think, you can click on a person and find out what feelings to associate with that person.
“Or what activities do I associate with this place? So when you put a memory in, we divide these keywords these tags into like six categories,” Wright said. “There are people, feelings, time, places, activities and objects,” Wright said.
He added, “I might tell the story, ‘I was sailing on Lake Lanier with my uncle and the wind picked up and we almost capsized. And from that it would extract, my uncle is a person, the sailboat is the object, sailing is an activity, maybe summer is a time. You can type it or you can speak to it and it will transcribe your voice and try to pull out the keywords.”
As you start correcting, it will learn more and more and find uncle is an important concept for you, Wright said, and it will build a conceptual map. It will place your uncle and feelings in an AI layer and establish conceptual connections. Over time, the map of your memories grows.
Once you build the map, then you can type in queries and see what surfaces from your memories.
“It’s kind of like a representation of your subconscious or your id,” Wright said. “It’s basically trying to build a game where your psychology is the landscape of the game.”
You can understand how it organizes your memories and why you might choose to group your memories in a different way, based on family relationships or where you were living.
The Proxi world is totally private, Wright said, and you have to explicitly decide to share specific memories with others. But you can see how your memories differ about the same event from those you share them with, like going to a concert in college.
“Proxi becomes an instantiated conversational agent, an AI representing your subconscious,” Wright said. “It has knowledge of you, and that is where we start building Proxi to Proxi interactions. Now, my Proxi can actually converse with other Proxis.”
You could, for instance, see how people view the same historical characters, like Napoleon. You could see who Napoleon’s best friend was.
I asked where Wright got this inspiration, and he said a lot of it came from science fiction, where you can wake up with a different set of memories. There was a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Captain Picard gets zapped by some probe and ended up living a whole life on an alien planet. He lived there for decades and then wakes up on the bridge of the Enterprise and maybe 20 minutes has elapsed.
“I was intrigued with the idea that most of who we are, when we wake up in the morning, is a collection of all the memories of our lives,” Wright said. “I thought it would be way cool to extract that in a personal, fun, playful way. I wish my grandmother done this. I wish I had the 100 most important memories from her life that I can get back in her own words. Almost like a psychological time capsule.”
I asked if this was a game for old people, the way that World of Tanks is a first-person shooter for old people. Some people might use it to visit the historical past, while others might want to use it to see the future. Kids might use it to see what next year will be like, Wright said.
“Your conception of time is so totally different,” Wright said.
The team has about 20 people, and many of them have worked with Wright over decades.
The game is user-generated content at its core, and that is where the blockchain comes in, Elliott said. The idea is to use the blockchain to keep the user-generated content flowing.
In this title, the users generate all the content in the form of memory bubbles, and it’s like a snow globe. If you create a snow globe, you can put it up for sale in a marketplace, and that could be based on Web3 technology. Griffin and Forte are expected to help with that technology, Elliott said.
“We’re blockchain agnostic, basically,” Wright said. “So when you enter a memory, you might put snowman as a term for your memory. We’re going to automatically search user assets that those are created might be 3D models. They might be photographs. They might even be audio and give you a choice as to which one do you want to use, which matches your memory for that snowman the best.”
Wright wanted users to create assets and keep credit for those assets over time. You could sell that asset or give it to people for free, but it’s an asset that the blockchain records as your asset.
“With The Sims, we had people creating a huge amount of custom content. And that was actually started putting up websites that people would subscribe to for $5 a month,” Wright said. “But then we had other players download their content and pirate it and sell it to other players. So that’s kind of what originally attracted me to the blockchain. The player controls the distribution. The creators get total control of what they create.”
I noted that a lot of blockchain games are getting slammed by hardcore gamers and some game developers.
“The NFTs are highly connected to speculators. Blockchain is more like a technology,” Wright said. “We have a carburetor or fuel injection. I don’t care, as long as the engine runs. The blockchain is a really nice, secure technology for us to maintain player control over the content. But yeah, we’re seeing a lot of NFT people — these whales, they’re not really game players — and they’re just going in and trying to buy something and sell it for a higher price. And they’re not playing the game here. So that’s something that we’re struggling with.”
As for things like remix, Wright said the team hasn’t gotten to that concept yet, but that could be another reason why blockchain could matter, as it can sort out who contributed what.
Wright has toyed with different prototypes over the year, including a generative technology for creation. But the team isn’t using that now.
Wright is likely going to release the Proxi game in stages. The first could be a Memory Maker tool, which is much like the Creature Creator tool from Spore.
You could use the Memory Maker tell the story, pick out keywords, make assets for it, and correct it in a way that lets you build your first memories. From that, Proxi will build maps based on the way that you think, Wright said.
“People can make stuff, have fun with it and share it,” Wright said. “I can post my memory on Facebook. It’s a beautiful snow globe with these assets, and a montage and music.”
Wright doesn’t necessarily see the development work like a triple-A project. The community will be the key to making it go viral, he said. so the team might grow from 20 to 60 people. Wright said he has learned that big teams aren’t necessarily more productive.
Wright said that Elliott had managed the project in a way that it has been able to fund itself over time, through work with Gala Games and others. And Gallium Studios hasn’t had to give away a lot of equity.
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