Disney is beginning to outsource its storywriting to computers.

The animation giant is working on a way to generate storylines and plot twists automatically, based on user input.

The system can even detect holes in the narrative.

It is all part of a project to enhance Disney's interactive Virtual World games.

Engineers at Disney Research have developed a system called ‘interactive behaviour trees’ (IBTs); a graphical modelling language that produces multiple story arcs.

Researchers were presented with a challenge to create an experience in which users enter an interactive space where they can can influence the action or even create an entirely new storyline.

“The complexity of the authoring task has worked against our ambitions,” said computer engineer Mubbasir Kapadia.

“Our method of modelling multiple story arcs and resolving conflicts in the storylines makes it feasible to author interactive experiences that are free form, rather than constricted.”

They also have created authoring tools that can automatically detect and resolve narrative inconsistencies that arise as these various story arcs play-out, or when users interact in unexpected ways.

IBTs are meant to address the narrative shortcomings of traditional video game storytelling.

The hierarchical IBT structure enables each story arc to be defined as its own ‘subtree’. At the same time, user interactions are monitored independently, as are those interactions that trigger new story arcs.

“With this structure, increased user interaction does not make the author's task more complex,” Kapadia said,

“So we can now imagine ways of giving the user more freedom to interact freely with the virtual world.”

But authoring interactive narratives remains challenging, so the Disney team has developed automated tools to help with any inconsistencies in the story.

For instance, in a narrative involving two bears at play, if one of the bears does not have a beach ball he was supposed to throw to the other, the tool will detect the inconsistency and offer a narrative fix, such as allowing the bear to ask the user for the ball, or to buy a ball from a vendor with money from a treasure chest.

The team says it hopes to reduce the need for Disney’s virtual world authors to have a computer programming background.

A demonstration is available in the video below.