Is AI the future of NPCs?


Bloom, a non-player character with a potato face and a black hat around her ears, wants to know about my tactics and how I perform in battle. “I follow a map and punch hard,” I answered into the microphone. The text of our conversation flashes at the bottom of my screen. The NPC thinks I'm bragging. He continues to drone on about our place in the resistance and how we need to fight back, his AI-powered voice so light it sounds mechanical but not harsh.

What Bloom didn't tell me, at least not directly, is that he's a “Neo NPC” – a generic AI creation from French video game publisher Ubisoft designed to enable players to interact with characters. Is designed. Bloom is still in its R&D era, but his creation represents one of the many ways game companies are looking to integrate machine learning into their offerings.

At last week's Game Developers Conference, where I had the chance to socialize with Bloom, the industry's AI boom was in full swing. In addition to Ubisoft's demo, there were panels on everything from bot basketball players to “transformational applications” of General AI. But there was also a conversation from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union (SAG-AFTRA) about the effects of deepfakes and AI on the careers of game creators. Ahead of the event, a survey conducted by GDC organizers found that 49 percent of developers surveyed are using generative AI in their companies; However, four out of five developers surveyed said they were concerned about the ethics of doing so.

Amidst these talks, the notion of using AI for NPCs came up. In addition to Ubisoft's demo, Nvidia – the company behind many of the GPUs powering the AI ​​revolution – introduced a suite of tools that “enable developers to create digital humans capable of AI-powered natural language interactions.” The company released a clip showing those tools secret protocolA tech demo created with AI character company Inworld.

Ubisoft demonstrated this Neo NPCs, which also utilize Nvidia technology in three ways. First, I talked to Bloom to achieve some game-given goals: get closer to Bloom, find out about the megacorps that rule the world, learn about the Resistance, etc. Bloom is not easy to ask questions and is generally good-natured. Ubisoft senior data scientist Melanie Lopez Mallet tells me they're designed to be easy to handle, though they've also created other NPCs that are more approachable, if not outright aggressive. She explains that the team decided to add goals to their conversations because in the company's early testing they found that players could be a little shy.

“There are people who have a little bit of social anxiety,” says Mallett. They don't want to bother NPCs who look busy, or be surprised by characters who appear angry. They don't always know what to say. ,[Players] It was like, 'Oh my God, it feels like I'm at a party where I don't know anyone,'” Mallett says. But she sees this as a good thing: it means the NPCs are inspiring people to use their social instincts. Players are more likely to open up and get personal when it's a text conversation. “There are some things you just don't say out loud, you know?” Mallet says.