Ubisoft’s AI NPCs Down Horrendous, Had To Be Reprogrammed

Ubisoft’s AI NPCs Down Horrendous, Had To Be Reprogrammed

In a move the majority of players probably didn’t ask for, Ubisoft has revealed its ‘Neo NPC’ project at GDC and via a blog post, showcasing its “first player-facing generative AI (GenAI) prototype that could transform the way players interact with…NPCs in video games.” The project is in its very early days, but the GDC presentation aimed to show the Neo NPC’s “potential…to create deep connections with the player and to offer new gameplay strategies and emergent storytelling opportunities.”

Unfortunately for Ubisoft, some of that potential happens to include needing to reprogram a hot NPC for being a bit too horny on main.

The project comes from a small R&D team at Ubisoft’s Paris studio in collaboration with Nvidia’s Audio2Face application and Inworld’s Large Language Model (LLM). Ubisoft says Neo NPCs “prod at the limits of how a player can interact with an NPC without breaking the authenticity” of the situation they’re in or the character itself. Ubisoft Narrative Director Virginie Mosser dials in on the focus on authenticity when it comes to Neo NPCs – referring to it as “soul,” ironically enough.

Apparently, Ubisoft’s AI-boosted NPCs can do everything a regular scripted NPC can, but in a more “dynamic” way, leading to a “fully personalised and immersive” experience for each individual player. 

An accompanying press release describes NPCs that are “enhanced with new neural functions—such as unscripted dialogue, real-time emotion and animation, memory, contextual awareness, and collaborative decision-making,” and display “unprecedented cognitive and interactive abilities.”

Okay, but here’s where Ubisoft’s Neo NPCs get a little weird

Ubisoft AI Neo NPC
Image: Ubisoft

Perhaps even more interesting in Ubisoft’s Neo NPC venture is the situations where GenAI can go off track. According to the blog post, there are filters in place to “catch toxicity and inappropriate inputs on the part of the player,” such as when players might antagonise an NPC, who will then shut down the interaction and “no longer be collaborative.” 

Another risk factor in GenAI NPCs is the potential for bias and stereotypes based on player input and the LLM at large. The blog post details a story from Ubisoft data scientist Mélanie Lopez Malet in which they created a “physically attractive female character,” but things went slightly haywire when “its answers veered towards flirtatious and seductive, so we had to reprogram it.” Clearly there’s a few kinks (vague pun not intended) to iron out before Ubisoft’s AI-powered NPCs can see the light of day more broadly.

While a rogue AI-powered NPC trying to bust it down sexual style is perhaps not a detail I’d have personally shared with audiences on a rather controversial hot topic like AI, hats off to Ubisoft for being honest, I guess.

A less than sunny reception

Experimenting with generative AI at a time when players are becoming increasingly anti-AI is certainly a choice, given the implications the technology can have on job security – especially in a particularly fragile job environment within the games industry. Ubisoft’s Senior Vice President of Production Technology Guillemette Picard stresses that the company’s goal for any GenAI projects “is to bring value to the player; and that means continuing to focus on human creativity behind the scenes.”

“The way we worked on this project, is always with our players and our developers in mind,” says Picard. “With the player in mind, we know that developers and their creativity must still drive our projects. Generative AI is only of value if it has value for them.”

It’s certainly not the first time AI has been implemented into video game dialogue, of course. Games like Vaudeville, a whodunnit style game currently in Early Access also leverages Inworld technology to generate real-time dialogue. It’s got pretty mixed reviews on Steam currently, with some lauding the dynamic nature of dialogue formation via AI, while others found it to be fundamentally broken. Unity and Convai also revealed an AI demo this week to an equally flat reception.

Based on the reply section to Ubisoft’s X (formerly Twitter) post about Neo NPCs, it doesn’t look like punters are particularly keen on the project, either. User BLACK_LQD said, “So your games will be even more soulless? I thought that’s impossible.” Other users shared concerns about the jobs of writers and actors in particular, and the art of creating a video game. Some were slightly more enthusiastic about the use of GenAI in video game dialogue, although felt there needed to be a lot more work before something like this should become more commonplace, with a focus on retaining the humanity of NPCs that intrinsically comes with a real human writing their dialogue. 

Whatever your take on Ubisoft’s AI Neo NPC project, it’s certainly got people talking. A recent US State Department report warned that the most advanced AI systems could, in the worst case scenario, “pose an extinction-level threat to the human species.” This is obviously more in terms of the risk posed to things like global security and democratic process, in the cases where models advance beyond what labs can control. However, this isn’t to say that AI doesn’t pose its own threats on a less Oppenheimer nuke-style scale, too. It’s pretty clear a lot of folks have some very valid concerns about the implications of AI and its exponential growth in both use and complexity, even if the “potential,” as Ubisoft calls it, for things like video games are interesting.

At this stage, Project Neo NPC is just a prototype, and Ubisoft says there’s “still a way to go before it can be implemented in a game.” Their GDC presentation is said to serve as a “checkpoint” to “take stock of industry feedback, and gather their learnings to date on what the technology means for them and their players in the future.”

What are your thoughts on AI-powered NPCs like Ubisoft’s Neo NPC project? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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