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Ubisoft reveals generative AI “Neo NPC” and fans hate it

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Ubisoft revealed the prototype for a new generative AI project that creates fully interactive in-game NPCs, dubbed Neo NPC, and the company is being dragged on social media for it.

A lofty goal for modern AAA titles is to fully immerse players into a virtual world. Whether that’s through expansive open sandboxes or ever-advancing graphical fidelity, AAA titles push the envelope every year. Unfortunately, these ambitions don’t always end with success, as seen with the countless layoffs in the industry as of late.

Still, that hasn’t stopped companies from dipping their toes into the latest trends. Currently, generative AI is one of the most hyped technologies and its ability to do things instantly and for free is great for the publishers and bad for the tens of thousands of freshly unemployed workers in creative fields. Publishers have scrambled to apply it to video games with Xbox, Rockstar Games, and Square Enix being among the most notable names toaffirm their commitment to the technology.

Ubisoft might be the first to reach market with this technology being incorporated into a game, and the publisher showed off its work on Neo NPC. That doesn’t mean that gamers are excited for it, though.

What is Ubisoft’s generative AI NPC project?

NEO NPC is Ubisoft’s generative AI project focused on crafting real-time conversations between players and NPCs.

Typically, video-game NPCs have pre-arranged dialogue trees with players able to receive a scripted response to a scripted question. NEO NPC utilizes language models like ChatGPT to enable real-time dialogue between NPCs and the player. 

Ubisoft claims to have its own language-learning model for the project and trains it on the writings of narrative Director Virginie Mosser. According to Ubisoft, Mosser spent a year and a half creating several characters for the AI model to utilize. However, the project proved a heftier challenge than Ubisoft assumed. After all, Ubisoft is not the first company to pursue AI-driven NPC games.

Bumblebee Studios released a murder mystery game titled Vaudeville in early access that generates dialogue in real-time. Although reception to the game has been mixed, it’s an early step towards generative AI in future games. 

Will Ubisoft use AI-generated NPCs in its games moving forward?

Ubisoft does not have immediate plans to utilize generative AI to create NPCs for game development. The company plans to start with smaller projects before applying the technology to its AAA franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry.

The extensive training, particularly the prototype’s bias and sensitivity, means the project still has a ways to go before it’s ready for the public. After infamous past incidents of AI generating controversial content, like Microsoft’s Tay AI quickly being shut down, most companies likely want to avoid the same fate for their projects. 

Meanwhile, gamers are skeptical of generative AI and many are skeptical of Ubisoft already. While some admire the potential of real-time NPC conversations, others question the authenticity of an AI-written product. While Ubisoft claims the model is trained on the company’s original characters using writers, the debate rages over how “original” the final product truly is if it’s just AI aggregating and slightly repackaging someone else’s work. Time will tell if NEO NPCs are the future of gaming or a soon-to-be-forgotten fad.  

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Written by Gab Hernandez

Gab Hernandez has a particular love for video games that give players control over the narrative direction, such as Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Disco Elysium. Gab spends just as much time playing games as they do gushing about them online to anyone who will listen. Their work has also been seen on TheGamer, Gfinity, and Wargamer, and you can follow them on Twitter / X at @HardlyWorkinGab.

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