Is Skyrim's AI Storytelling the Future of Gaming?

That's the question posed by GameSpy in a new editorial that takes a closer look at Bethsda's Radiant AI system in an attempt to determine if its "near-limitless" capacity for storytelling should be mimicked in other video games we'll inevitably play in the future. With some further advancements and more variety in settings, I can't say I'd mind too much:
The mini-narrative histories we can discern from the various locations are an example of "spatial storytelling," or investing fiction into the geography itself through the placement of objects for the player to interpret. Sometimes a shack you stumble upon will have a hunter sitting outside selling his game, sometimes the place is empty, and other times there's blood everywhere, a corpse, and evidence that someone has been testing fury spells on skeevers. Scenes like the skeever massacre are clever little triumphs which would be tedious to read through that are doubly enjoyable instead -- once for being satisfying little tangents, and again because you "discovered" them yourself. All visual media, and videogames in particular, benefit from this technique, though it'd stop a novel dead in its tracks. Over-describing a room in text is painfully boring, whereas a player can investigate every little detail -- right up until the boredom kicks in, at which point we can just walk away.

That will only take you so far, however -- good fiction almost inevitably requires believable, human-like characters the reader, viewer, or player can relate to, sympathize with, or otherwise become emotionally involved with. (Consider the work Pixar put in to make Wall-E and Eve human-like enough that we can read their emotions.) Bethesda tackled this by populating Skyrim with hundreds of autonomous characters with their own internal desires, schedules, and attitudes. Most have some way of engaging you, generally through asking you to perform a task, or providing a service. Each character has a routine and purpose, which helps alleviate some of the feeling that these NPCs are standing around waiting for you to talk to them. Giving the characters their own limited autonomy gives the world a sense of momentum -- that it continues to exist with or without the presence of a Dovahkiin.

Within the Radiant AI system, Bethesda's encoded the idea of a quest which the player can pick up at inns throughout the province. One of its formulae is: "{NPC} has been captured, and is being held at {Location}." Those variables are decided by the game on the fly. This would be an easy source of the infinite gameplay that Bethesda advertised, but Skyrim takes it a step further: To add meaning -- and perhaps drama -- the system determines which NPC should be captured by examining your character's history and picking an NPC that you've actually had a relationship with in the past. Maybe an old companion, or a shop owner you've sold surplus gear to. An NPC, that is, the player knows and might care about. Secondly, the system picks a nearby location that the player hasn't explored yet. Compare this to a random NPC in a random dungeon, and we have the beginnings of a procedurally generated adventure that might actually mean something to every player, different as their adventures may actually be.