Interactive television has long been a holy grail for the entertainment industry: the ultimate joining of the games industry and television, of interactivity and storytelling, the removal of the fourth wall between viewers and the narratives we all love to follow.
To achieve this needs significant technology advancements, and a new way of telling stories. And then these two new mountain tops that we need to climb, must somehow come together and merge seamlessly. No wonder that interactive television has seen so many false dawns over the past decades.
After at least a decade in the wilderness, interactive television burst back onto our screens with Netflix’s interactive episode of Black Mirror, Bandersnatch. This show reprised the 1980s Choose Your Own Adventure format and integrated it nicely with a tense self-referential homage to the 1980s. From our sofas, we clicked on different choices that gave us an element of control over what happened in the story.
The issue with this model is twofold. The first was that it did not feel immersive. This I have explored in a previous post in the difference between Bandersnatch and Charisma. To be fair, that was not its intention, but with the technology we have available at the moment, it is possible to achieve so much more. The second issue was that, by making the experience self-referential and almost ironic, it is going to be difficult to repeat the Bandersnatch experience with any form of earnest attempt at interactive storytelling.
So now to the current state of the world, and our new release: Bulletproof Interactive. Based off the hit show staring Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters, we created an interactive proof of concept for Sky which places the viewer inside the story, talking to the characters, and changing the story from within. The viewer becomes an active participant in an ongoing crime story, helping the two main characters stop a series of murders. Hanson, our suspected killer has been arrested and will only talk to you the viewer.
The key features of the experience, most of which are world-firsts, are:
- You are inside the story, not just controlling it. For the first time in entertainment, audiences now play a part in interactive stories as themselves. Enter a fast-paced and highly immersive environment where you must react as you. This is not a set of Yes/No buttons to press. It is a natural language conversation which feels like it could be happening right now.
- Al-powered script using Natural Language Processing to understand what the viewer is saying. Then placing what is said into the context of the story, into the mood of the characters, ensuring the correct next line in the script is delivered.
- Talk directly to scripted characters through your laptop screens, and they will talk back.
- Synthetic voice acting: A separate recording session was done with the actor to capture his voice into the Artificial Intelligence engine Resemble.ai. This means that the voice becomes a dynamically-generated part of the experience. We worked closely with the great team at Resemble.ai, recording three versions of the actor’s voice, training their AI model with his voice performance, improving it and refining it until we were happy that it hit the right tone.
- Dynamic and Adaptive story: So, if the viewer is polite, then our characters will react politely. If the viewer is insulting, then the characters will react angrily. Each of these reactions then influences the storyline. This impacts not only the next stages of the story, but the overall story arc, and how characters behave towards the viewer throughout the experience.
- Replayable storytelling: Fans can play the game over and over again with a different experience each time, depending on how they treat the characters and respond to the challenges put in front of them. This creates a scripted, and yet fluid, experience that allows different elements of the story to emerge in different playthroughs.
- AI applied to Hollywood: Artificial Intelligence has been a game-changing technology for many industries where there is a lot of pre-existing information that the AI systems can absorb and learn from. Stories are different because they are not just information they are emotions, and quintessentially human emotions. The model we have pioneered over the past years deconstructs the best of AI, and the best of emotional creativity, to rebuild a new form of storytelling. Rather than climb two separate mountains and then move them together, we have built a new mountain according to the vision we have and the stories we want to tell. This is why our tagline is Storytelling Reborn.
Bulletproof is a proof of concept, centred around a single character. However, Charisma supports a cast of thousands, each with their own voice, their own characteristics, and their own role to play. The next project will create a new step-change in the storytelling landscape, bringing newer, bigger stories to broader audiences, letting them step through the screen so they can experience the reality of what interactive television has always promised.