As part of our research, the Virtual Theater project has implemented several systems for exploring how our agents interact, and how users can guide them to craft stories or simply to experience improvisational, interactive narrative.

Here we outline the projects we have worked on and are working on now.

Animated Puppets

Animated puppets is a graphical world inhabited by creatures called woggles who move about and talk and play with one another. In this world, the user can control one woggle, while the other woggle is directed by the computer. The woggles use intelligent improvisational ability to choose interesting behaviors.

There is more detailed information available about the woggles and animated puppets. Ruth Huard is using the woggles system for her own research in childrens' storycrafting; there is a set of slides outlining her research.

For more information on the animated puppets, see also the paper Directed Improvisation by Computer Characters.


The CyberCafé project uses a text-based, multi-agent environment in which users can interact via avatars with autonomous characters. In the basic scenario, two users take the forms of customers in the CyberCafé, while the computer directs the actions of their waiter.

Daniel Rousseau used the CyberCafé to study models of personality in computer-controlled characters. In his studies, several different waiter personalities were used in the scenario, to compare how their personality models generate substantively similar actions, but actions infused with distinct mannerisms and behaviors. There is a set of slides overviewing the Cybercafé and Daniel Rousseau's research in it.

The summary papers on this project are A Social-Psychological Model for Synthetic Actors, and Interacting with Personality-Rich Characters, and Improvisational Synthetic Actors with Flexible Personalities.

The Forest Sauvage

In the Forest Sauvage project, we are creating believable characters with broad, abstract domain knowledges, and placing them in virtual environments that provide specific domain details in the form of embedded annotations. Our goal is to study how, in this way, believable agents may visit a variety of domains and act naturally and entertainingly within them.

Our current testbeds are text-based MUDs and educational Web pages, in which we have placed a guide character called Merlyn, named after the befuddled old magician in T. H. White's The Once and Future King. Merlyn exists and acts independently of the user. He can scan his environments for actions and information about them, communicate with the user, suggest activities, play with the user, and develop a model of the user across multiple sessions by observing the user's actions and preferences.

An introductory overview of this work is Guided Exploration in Virtual Worlds. Current research is reflected in Agents in Annotated Worlds. There is also a set of slides overviewing the project.


Tigrito is intended to contrast the effectiveness of different modes of interaction with a synthetic character. The character in question is an animated stuffed tiger. Users may interact with the tiger through another tiger avatar or as disembodied entities; they may also observe the computer-controlled actions of two tigers, Tigrito and Hobbes. This work is now being extended by Heidy Maldonado as a potential mechanism for second-language learning of English or Spanish.

A summary of the initial phase of this work is contained in Tigrito: A Multi-Mode Interactive Improvisational Agent.

Master/Servant Scenarios

In the master/servant scenarios, we studied how two autonomous agents interact with one another without human intervention. The master and the servant each have knowledge about the environment and their status within it. These scenarios test their behavior under computer-controlled stimuli and emotional variations.

We currently have a series of screen shots available for viewing. They are part of a video that shows the master, Otto, reversing roles with his servant, Gregor.

Many thanks go to Ken Perlin at NYU's Media Research Lab for the use of their animation system in creating these stories. April 17, 1998