Design of Virtual Characters & Personalities

The Council of Coaches is a group of Virtual Characters that will form your personal health council for as long as you want (or as long as you need their help). We want your interaction with the coaches to be as enjoyable as possible — therefore the project emphasizes the Design of Virtual Characters & Personalities.

Design of Virtual Characters & Personalities in Council of Coaches

In Council of Coaches, a dedicated work package is focused on Human-Computer Interfaces (see Work Plan), covering all forms of interaction between our users and the system. This include the design of basic User Interfaces for the main Council of Coaches app (where you can jump in dialogues with your council), and the UI of our mobile “companion app” that allows you to contact individual coaches, straight from your mobile phone. These are challenging tasks by themselves — requiring the generation of 3D scenes in which multiple virtual embodied agents can live — but we don’t stop there. One of the challenges we set ourselves is to focus strongly on the design of our Virtual Characters and their unique personalities, as formulated in the following project objective:

Objective #4: The project will emphasize deep character design based on sound theories from the video game and film worlds. The added value in terms of engagement will be measured and existing methods and guidelines (Isbister, 2006) (Sloan, 2015) will be adopted to the successful design of virtual characters in coaching contexts that have an impact beyond mere entertainment.

Inspiration

If you are (or were) a video game fanatic growing up in the 90s, you may remember a game developed by MicroProse, called Civilization II. The game was a turn-based strategy game in which you (the player) were tasked with founding a civilization from scratch, and conquer your enemy (AI controlled) civilizations through peaceful means or otherwise. A pioneering game and influence in many games that followed later, but there was one particularly interesting feature that got our attention: the High Council (see Figure below).

The High Council would advise the player on their strategies in the game, with a separate councilor for affairs related to Military, Science, Trade, Foreign and Attitude. Pre-recorded videos would show these councilors giving their opinion on what you should focus your resources on — “Would you defend our cities with haystacks noble leader? Build city walls first, and other improvements later!”. To which the other councilors would express their agreement or disagreement. The whole thing was a somewhat useful feature in the game (if you didn’t know what your doing), but its true strength lies in the interesting cast of characters. Your military councilor was a bulky, war-mongering soldier, your science councilor a shy and nerdy type, while your Attitude councilor somehow strangely reminded you of Elvis Presley

And this was the reason for coming back to this feature of the game: to see what silly things these funny characters would have to say about you handling the game. We believe that this aspect is often overlooked in the creation of virtual characters: it’s not just about whether their advice is correct, timely, and personalized, but also about the virtual character him/herself. In Council of Coaches we take the inspiration from a classic video game and try to create memorable cast of characters…

References

(Isbister, 2006) Katherine Isbister. 2006. Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach (The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Interactive 3D Technology). Morgan Kaufmann Publishers Inc., San Francisco, CA, USA.

(Sloan, 2015) Robert J.S. Sloan, “Virtual Character Design for Games and Interactive Media” (2015), CRC Press Taylor & Francis Group, London, UK.