Monday, February 24, 2014

Twitch Plays Pokemon

A couple times in the last couple weeks I've been watching someone streaming a speed run of some kind on Twitch and the chat had prompted the streamer to talk about something going on called 'Twitch Plays Pokemon'. The basic idea is someone wrote a parser to grab the chat from a Twitch channel and scrub the chat comments for commands that correspond to the buttons on a Gameboy. Then he fed those button presses into an emulator and showed the result on screen.

It sounds pretty straightforward, especially since I'm pretty sure the Twitch chat system has a pretty good API. Path of Exile in-game chat integrates with it, after all, so just getting a text dump to parse has to be pretty easy. I also see plenty of streamers hook the chat into their stream (so you can watch in full screen and still see chat). So given that there's a way to get the chat and do stuff with it I guess it was only a matter of time before someone decided to use the chat to play the game for them.

There are some issues, of course. There's lag between typing chat and having it show up, and there's lag between when the streamer does something and when it actually gets shown on screen. So getting someone to actually make a relevant choice in real time is hard. Now consider that there are dozens or hundreds or thousands of people entering in commands... And that some of them aren't necessarily trying to be helpful...

I don't know that disaster is the right word for it, but it's not far off. The saving grace would be that Pokemon is completely turn based and doesn't really have a fail condition. Having all your guys get knocked out just causes you to respawn back in town. Even if disaster strikes and you release your good pokemon you can just go out and get more... Eventually!

The streamers I heard talking about it were saying whoever came up with the idea is a genius. Right now the stream has almost 50000 viewers. It's over 26 million all-time views in only a week and a half. It has 167k followers. Undoubtedly it has a lot of subscribers. This guy is making a lot of money, and he doesn't even need to be at his computer streaming!

He isn't just standing by idly though. He's made some improvements to the system. He throttled start button inputs to keep the game from getting stuck paused all the time. He added in a mode where instead of just using every input that shows up it would poll the audience for 20 seconds and then use the most common input. This one feels like it could actually cause people to play the game and do things... So of course there was an uproar when the change was made. Why would people want to play the game when they could spend all their time trying to use items that have no game effect and get error messages? Why not walk in a circle over and over again?

Eventually he set it up so you could switch between the modes. So now in addition to commands for the Gameboy inputs you can also enter commands to switch between anarchy mode and democracy mode. In the brief time I spent watching the chaos they were firmly in anarchy mode. Walking in circles, getting into random encounters, and running away. When they weren't trying to use a card key in combat and when they weren't checking out the pokedex, anyway.

I don't understand how this is a thing. I can see how the idea is an interesting one, and I can understand wanting to check it out. But how have so many people gotten so entrenched in participating in this?

Twitch apparently had to move the stream to their higher performance servers normally used for big eSport events. Because this is a big deal, and a lot of people are getting involved. 

I just don't understand. But I had to get my name in lights... When I typed in the word 'right' we were in a dungeon and near a door on the right. We'd need to walk down a couple steps and then move right... How would I possibly be able to make that happen? Anyway, by the time my command got in we were in combat, and we were trying to change Pokemon, and my right command would have no game effect. My one contribution to the cause, totally worthless. If I can take one thing away though, at least I didn't sabotage the cause. My little bit of noise in the signal was mostly harmless.


Sthenno said...

Somehow this made front page of the CBC:

Nick Page said...

I still don't understand it, though I keep tuning in to watch while sick because it is perversely amusing to cheer for them to jump off a ledge and lose an hour of 'progress'.