UNITE 10: The design luminary explains why he wants to become better friends with Mario

Jesse Schell’s persistent avatar vision

Jesse Schell has used his keynote at Unite 10 to propose a vision of the future where game protagonists transcend not only individual titles, but everyday life.

The studio head of Schell Games and former Disney ‘imagineer’ delivered a humourous and playful session, highlighting his disappointment that after 30 years of ‘friendship’ and hours playing together, Nintendo’s Mario still couldn’t remember their past relationship at the start of a new game.

"We have persistent characters on a per-game basis, but why not do it on a per-character basis?" asked Schell.

"When you sign into a game Mario could remember you. Instead of ‘It’s a me; Mario!’ it could be ‘It’s a you; Jesse.’"

Schell went on to deliver a vision of the future he insisted could become a reality, where ‘virtual companion’ avatars accompany consumers in every day life. Detailing the progress achieved by voice recognition, the proliferation of cameras in devices, and the evolution of AI conversation technology, Schell suggested that one day we may interact with an avatar that follows us across entertainment devices, scans our emails and medical records, organises our lives and talks to us in our cars and fridges. Avatars could even age with the player, he proposed, and the onus to spearhead the virtual companion revolution could fall with studios.

"The game designers are going to make this first," suggested Schell, later adding: "What starts as a game could become part of people’s lives."

Schell highlighted Lionhead’s Milo as a fundamental and impressive stepping stone towards a persistent avatar future, but did admit that when he saw an early trailer demoing the Turing-teasing interactive character he felt some of it may be "vapour and lies".

Schell also praised Unity: "I think that there’s a lot of reason to believe that a lot of the innovation in character design in the next five to 20 years will happen in Unity."

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