In 1983 in Japan, Enix published detective adventure game The Portopia Serial Murder Case, an early title of Yuji Horii, who would soon go on to create the Dragon Quest franchise. It was a hit across the various platforms on which it appeared, and in addition to laying some of the foundation of the visual novel genre, it would also influence other major creators like Hideo Kojima. Yet Portopia never received an English release. However, on April 24 in Japan and April 23 in the West, Square Enix will release a remake, Square Enix AI Tech Preview: The Portopia Serial Murder Case, for free on PC via Steam.
As the name suggests, the entire project is a quirky test of AI capabilities, but not necessarily in the way you might expect. This isn’t a randomized or roguelike version of Portopia, where the mysteries are invented by AI. (Although, there is a roguelike detective game you can play this month.) Rather, this is an “educational demonstration of Natural Language Processing (NLP),” as Square Enix explains at length in the Steam description.
The short-story version is that AI will make it easier for the game to understand what written-text-based actions you want to take, and it will process those actions accordingly. In addition to text commands, Square Enix AI Tech Preview: The Portopia Serial Murder Case will support speech-to-text tech as well, if your computer can handle it.
If you prefer the long-story explanation, here it is:
At the time of the game’s original release, most adventure games were played using a “command input” system, where the player was asked to type in text to decide the actions of their character. Free text input systems like these allowed players to feel a great deal of freedom. However, they did come with one common source of frustration: players knowing what action they wanted to perform but being unable to do so because they could not find the right wording. This problem was caused by the limitations of PC performance and NLP technology of the time.
40 years have passed since then, and PC performance has drastically improved, as have the capabilities of NLP technology. Using “The Portopia Serial Murder Case” as a test case, we’d like to show you the capabilities of modern NLP and the impact it can have on adventure games, as well as deepen your understanding of NLP technologies.
AI tech preview or not, it’s really cool that Square Enix is finally offering The Portopia Serial Murder Case in English — and for free no less. It’s fair to say the visuals are a pretty substantial upgrade over what was possible in 1983 as well. Between this and the launch of the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster games, it’s a good time to be a fan of classic Square or Enix.