440 Huntington Avenue
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Nathan Partlan is a PhD student studying Game AI and Procedural Content Generation at Northeastern University’s College of Computer and Information Science, advised by Professor Magy Seif El-Nasr. He is developing practical and designer-focused methods to expand the possibilities for artificial agents and games. Nathan’s ideal future is one in which people of all backgrounds and abilities will enjoy, take solace in, be challenged and educated by, and become emotionally invested in, games of all sorts. He wants to help you bring your unique vision to life.
Since completing his Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science at Brown University, Nathan has spent the past several years implementing AI, procedural content generation, and gameplay systems as a professional game programmer at Turbine, Inc. He has worked on six commercial game titles, including Game of Thrones: Conquest, Infinite Crisis, two expansions for The Lord of the Rings Online (at Turbine), and The Nightworld (at Demiurge Studios). He has also contributed to three released open-source games. At Brown, he helped to revive the Brown Game Developers group, organized the Brown Independent Games Expo for two years, and worked with another student to revise and co-teach a course on game engines.
- ScB, Computer Science, Brown University
- Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts
- Field of Study: Games and Artificial Intelligence
- PhD Advisors: Magy Seif El-Nasr
What are the specifics of your graduate education (thus far)?
In my first year as a Ph.D. student, I began three collaborative research projects. They each explore separate facets of the game AI and PCG research space, from computational interactive narrative understanding and generation, to behavior trees and genetic algorithms, to player modelling and imitation learning. By exploring a variety of methods, topics, and collaborations, I hope to expand my knowledge and discover unforeseen connections. This coming year, I will continue to seek new perspectives from various academic disciplines and from outside academia entirely.
What are your research interests?
I want to expand the possibility space for game mechanics, for interactive NPCs, and more. Imagine a game that asks you to interact with its world and characters as living, fully-realized beings – not as objects to be discarded or destroyed; or that guides you just out of comfortable territory and helps you to consider new perspectives; a game that feels tailor-made for you, and yet continually surprises you. I believe that adaptive, intelligent artificial agents and player- and designer-responsive procedural content generation are integral to a playful, diverse future.
What’s one problem you’d like to solve with your research/work?
With my research, I hope to help creators in the indie and experimental game space, and especially those from historically underrepresented backgrounds in the games industry, to realize their visions. The democratization of game development, due to more accessible tools and distribution platforms, is already in progress. As part of this trend, we have seen a resurgence of interest in games that focus on social interactions, puzzle mechanics, and immersive worlds that require interactions beyond combat. I aim to expand the affordances for AI agents and generated content to enable these mechanics while maintaining authorial intent.
What aspect of what you do is most interesting?
Every time I see one of my ideas come to life on the screen, I am amazed. Bringing new life to a game world is like being a modern-day wizard! Then, when I see other people delighting in interacting with those things that I have had a hand in creating – that’s the real payoff.