"AI =/= text adventure."


Square Enix has just released an AI-powered remaster of one of its most revered video games, "The Portopia Serial Murder Case." But don't get too excited. According to journalists and hundreds of angry gamers, it absolutely stinks — specifically because of the new AI.

On Steam, the game client of choice for PC Gamers, "Portopia" sits at an embarrassing "Very Negative" rating, with only 13 percent of the over 350 reviews being positive. That makes it the worst-rated Square Enix game on Steam by a considerable margin.

"AI =/= text adventure," wrote one user, who gave up less than an hour into the game.

All told, it unfortunately sounds like the game has turned out to be a pretty lazy AI vehicle — symptomatic of the game industry's shaky ongoing adoption of the new technology.

Old Problem, New Solution

The original Portopia, which was released in Japan in 1983, is considered a heavily influential classic of text-based adventure games. Yet until the new remaster, it had never received an official English translation, so the prospect of getting one with a fresh coat of paint had some old-head gamers fidgeting with anticipation, especially if newfangled AI could help iron out some of its wrinkles.

Among those text-based wrinkles that could use fixing: if you didn't type the exact command the developers intended, the game wouldn't understand what to do.

With the remaster, Square Enix promised to fix that with a Natural Language Processing (NLP) AI model that, in theory, would allow players to type out more complex commands without pedantic wording. In the video game conglomerate's own words, it would "allow computers to glean meaning from... the kind of language that we use in daily communication."

That might be true in other applications, but based on what people who have actually played the game have to say, the AI has actually made "Portopia" worse and borderline unplayable.

"In practice, it just doesn't work," writes Luke Plunkett at Kotaku, adding that "the machine learning is broken."

Many of the negative reviews on Steam mock how often the game responds back in confusion to seemingly simple commands, returning only an unhelpful and all-too-common "Hm…" and a "Maybe we should focus on the task at hand?"

As one reviewer quoted by Kotaku writes, the game would be great if they removed "the broken AI junk and just add redundant [wording]," a tried and tested solution of old text adventure games.

At the very least, the game was released for free and is more of a tech preview experiment than a full-blown remastered treatment. But it's still a slap in the face to loyal fans and interested newcomers, and a stain on the game's legacy.

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