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How emergent AI encounters can be beautiful in The Signal from Tolva

If you're wondering how to achieve interesting emergent encounters in an indie game, you should see how The Signal From Tolva utilizes its AI.

The Signal from Tolva, which comes from the creators of Sir, You Are Being Hunted, is yet another game about science-fiction robots from UK developer Big Robot. And while creative director Jim Rossignol told us yesterday on the Gamasutra Twitch Channel that’s partly because it’s easier to animate beings that don’t have facial animations, he also said it’s because there’s something beautiful about what happens when you program groups of A.I to have their own missions. 

For those not familiar with The Signal from Tolva, the player takes control of a set of drones on a far-off planet named Tolva in search of a mysterious signal coming from the planet’s surface. But as they explore the world, the player encounters other robot factions that are generated with independent starting locations and mission goals that can collide with or run parallel to a player’s chosen path. 

As you can see from our stream of the game above, this means that, even though the planet Tolva’s geography and level design is scripted, Rossignol says the emergent encounters that occur can create wildly different playthroughs and scenarios that help players create their own memories of the game. “That kind of systemic life stuff, that kind of emergent events—I just find that beautiful,” he explained.

In fact, while showcasing The Signal from Tolva at UK event Rezzed recently, Rossignol told us that one player spent so much time idling in the opening areas, that the game’s robots spawned and started a small war over a bunker in that area that was over by the time he arrived, effectively completing the game’s tutorial.

Rossignol admitted that event wasn’t “supposed” to happen, but as he put it “In a game design sense, you shouldn’t allow the AI to complete the player tutorial, but it’s so beautiful that we left it in.”  

For more insights on the design of The Signal from Tolva, including how they built an entire planet out of the concept art of Rockstar concept artist Ian McQue, be sure to watch the full video above. And if you want more developer interviews like this one, be sure to follow the Gamaustra Twitch channel.

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