Endless Adventures' CEO and Shadowrun creator Jordan Weisman told us about the game creation platform Adventure Forge, discussed how it enhances storytelling, and shared his views on generative AI.
Hello, my name is Jordan Weisman. For over 40 years, I have been exploring the intersection of storytelling, socialization, game mechanics, and technology which has led me to the creation of many companies and studios including exits to Microsoft, the Disney family, Topps Inc., and Paradox Interactive.
Along the way, I’ve created some of the RPG industry’s longest-lasting franchises including BattleTech, MechWarrior, Shadowrun, and Crimson Skies. I have explored these universes in over 30 video games, virtual reality, and augmented reality. An early pioneer in VR, our first LBE center opened in 1990, followed by centers in Japan, and then by Tim Disney acquiring a majority of the company in 1992. Together, we expanded to 35 centers around the world by the mid-90s including national and international televised championships. We applied those learnings to the PC space with FASA Interactive, which was acquired by Microsoft in 1998, where I served as Creative Director for the MS games group for the launch of Xbox.
While there, I led the creation of the transmedia alternate reality genre working with Steven Spielberg for his film AI and then after Microsoft – notable ARG experiences such as I Love Bees and Why So Serious at 42 Entertainment.
Returning to tabletop, my wife and I founded Wizkids based on my concept of collectible miniature games with Mage Knight, HeroClix, and many other games. Partnering with Mitch Gitleman we founded Harebrained Schemes where we created the Shadowrun Returns CRPG series and the BattleTech tactical video game series. Always fascinated with public space entertainment, I have worked as a Creative Director in Walt Disney’s Imagineering R&D, and then, most recently, my wife and I built an 80-person augmented reality development studio for Walmart.
As mentioned above, I have spent my career primarily split between tabletop and video games (with some time spent working on theme parks) and while I loved all of it, the most precious memories are of tabletop players telling me the stories they created within the worlds I had designed. In many ways, I set the table, but they made the meal, and that is what we are trying to do with Adventure Forge. We want to empower writers, designers, artists, game masters, and players to create their own worlds, stories, and adventures.
The motivation to start development on Adventure Forge was a tabletop cooperative adventure card game that my son Nate designed. The idea was that players would have a deck of cards that reflected their character and together they would advance through an adventure that was presented by an app. I took on the project of designing the tools that designers could use to create those adventures. While the card game was never published, I continued working on the tool, evolving and expanding it so much over the last four years that it bears no resemblance to the original at this point. Adventure Forge now supports everything from text-based choose-your-path games to visual novels, dating sims, and even full-isometric RPGs like the Shadowrun RPGs we made at Harebrained Schemes.
I could go on for a very long time to review all the features, so instead let me break it down into three big concepts: accessibility, iteration, and collaboration.
To us, accessibility means that you don’t need any specialized knowledge, such as software coding, to create your adventures. Games run on logic, but we didn’t want to use scripting because, to us, that’s just coding with a different name. So in Adventure Forge, all logic is created by using an innovative system of highly contextual dropdown menus which auto-populate with all the things (tiles, props, characters, locations, tags, etc.) that you have created previously so that you can now connect them via logic. So it’s impossible to create logic that won’t run or will break the system, but you can of course create logic that doesn’t do what you intended.
We applied the same philosophy to our 2D screen creation and isometric scene creation. With our 2D screen tool you can make anything from visual novels to seek-and-find games, to the user interfaces that you want to use in the isometric scenes, customized character sheets, etc. The isometric location tool allows designers to create their game levels with tiles, props, decals, lights, and zones for logic. The same approach to accessibility is true for our conversation editor, our animation editor, our sound design tool, etc.
Iteration is critical because, as the saying goes, writing is rewriting, or as I say it, “everything you create sucks and then sucks less and less until it's great.” Adventure Forge PC and Mac applications fully integrate the creation tool and adventure player, collapsing the iteration loop to the smallest possible cycle. The creator can simply click back and forth between the game and the editor, and any changes made in the editor instantly appear in the game that you’re playing, no need to compile or even restart the game.
In professional game studios, game creation is a collaborative art, but UGC tools have always been solo affairs, Adventure Forge changes that by empowering creators to invite other creators to work with them in real time on adventures, like Google Docs for game development. Every addition or change made by one creator is immediately propagated to all creators so that they can build on each other's work.
I hope that the features above accomplish the goals of empowering creators to make great narrative games, but there are three other bits worth mentioning.
The first is text substitution. In every text field, the creator can highlight any text to add text substitution logic to that bit of text. This is very powerful for making the text much more contextual to the player and their current game state, meaning that the creator doesn’t need to make tons of variations of dialogs and conversations because a single version with contextual text substitution can handle it.
The second is what we call weighted navigation, which one day we should come up with a snazzier name for. To explain what weighted navigation is, let's take a step back to discuss branching navigation which is what the vast majority of narrative game logic uses. In branching navigation, the current node must be aware of all the nodes that it connects to, and all the logic to determine which node to branch to is contained in the current node. This system works wonderfully at a small scale, and we use it extensively in our scene logic, scene event logic, and conversation logic, but it really falls apart at a large scale and it becomes very difficult to iterate as you have to always start at the top and flow new options down through the branches.
Weighted navigation takes a more search-oriented approach. The current node is ignorant of the potential future nodes and simply requests that the cloud of nodes all evaluate themselves. The creator can create different categories of nodes and specify which category of nodes should evaluate themselves. When a node evaluates, it first uses a block of creator-designed logic to determine if it’s valid in the current game state and if it is valid, it then uses a second block of creator-designed logic to determine its weight, or in other words, how interesting it is in the current game state. This simple concept is used at every level of Adventure Forge empowering creators to select which scene should be run, to which characters are present, to which line of dialog should be said, to which options should be provided to the player. Weighted navigation can also be used by creators to design simple AI characters that select their behaviors based on which behavior scores the highest weight at the moment.
Speaking of AI, the elephant that is in every room nowadays is generative AI, so let's touch on that for a moment. We believe that games should be created by humans for humans, but we recognize that since the dawn of video games creators have always used the best tools available to help them make great games. This is how we view generative AI as tools for creators, not things that automatically make games.
Games are a vast collection of extremely specific decisions designed to elicit cognitive challenges and emotional responses from players. Tiny changes in a level layout or a single word in a conversation can make or break a scene and thus the game. So we don’t trust AIs to make those decisions.
But we do feel that AI can help creators as long as the creator is always in charge. For example, anywhere that creators are asked to enter text, such as descriptions of the world, the adventure, the scene, the characters, dialog, or conversations, the creator can ask the AI to generate appropriate text. Behind the scenes, we are using everything that the creator previously entered as context for the large language model so that it provides better more contextual text suggestions. The creator can then edit, rewrite, or throw out the suggested text and start over to eventually arrive at what they want the player to see.
The other place that we are working on generative AI incorporation is for isometric art assets within the game universes that we are releasing. Creators can create their own universes and upload all their own art, but for the universes that we are releasing for creators to use as starting points to create their own adventures within we will offer the option for them to generate additional isometric assets they want for their adventure. The generative model is exclusively based upon the thousand-plus isometric assets that our artists created so that the creator's prompt-generated assets match the style of the universe. So if our thousand-plus assets don’t contain the prop that a creator wants for their level design they can generate one.
We think about the larger goals of what we are trying to achieve as “Empower, Discover, and Promote”. Above we’ve been talking about the empower part, what the accessible tools we provide for creators to make their games and tell their stories are.
Next is the discover part, we feel it's critical for creators to be in control of who sees and can play their games. I think that is always important, but especially for narrative games which can be quite personal. Adventure Forge differentiates between “sharing” and “publishing”. Creators can share their games with individuals or player groups so that only they see them when they log into their Adventure Forge app on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, or via the browser. When, if ever, they are ready for the entire player community to have access to their game, they can publish it which causes the game to appear in the Adventure Forge app. Creators are also in control of if, and how, they choose to monetize their games. If they choose to monetize, then Adventure Forge handles the whole process and takes a revenue share passing the majority of the net income to the creator.
Then comes the promote part; players within the Adventure Forge ecosystem help us discover what games have really wonderful stories, truly innovative mechanics, or just plain fun. Having identified great games we can then promote them within the Adventure Forge community and consider them for “spinning out” of the Adventure Forge app to become standalone games always in coordination with the game’s creator.
“What is the result of this project?” My belief is that the result will be the discovery of a new generation of amazingly talented creators whose games will awe and inspire us, bringing us new challenges, laughs, and tears and that their creations within Adventure Forge provide them what they are looking for, whether that’s just the joy of creation and sharing, an additional income stream, or even to launch them on careers within the industry.
I think that we will see a lot of innovation in the narrative game space because of the number of designers engaged and the ease of creation and iteration. And my final hope is that it results in expanding the diversity of stories that we can experience created by people across the entire human spectrum giving players exposure to cultures, mythologies, and stories of the human condition that we might never have seen.