Ubisoft Shows Off AI-Powered NPC That Can Talk Back

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Video game publisher Ubisoft has unveiled prototypes for AI-powered non-playable characters (NPCs), dubbed “NEO NPCs,” The Verge reports.

The prototypes are a collaboration between Ubisoft, AI chipmaker and shovel-seller Nvidia, and the AI gaming firm InWorld. According to an Ubisoft press release, they’re designed to allow users to break out of “a dialogue tree of pre-determined answers” often associated with NPCs. Players simply talk to the character, and after a brief pause to formulate an answer, the character will respond.

As a result, per the press release, players can finally have an “actual conversation” with the nonhuman characters — but when, if ever, the tech will actually be baked into video games is still unclear.

Though a video of an interaction with the gaming bots shared by The Verge reveals the characters’ utterances to be a bit tinny and awkward — their language reads more ChatGPT than human — their banter seems arguably pretty solid for a prototype.

And in some cases, it even borders on the endearing. Take this chunk of AI NPC-spun dialogue from a character called Bloom, as shared by The Verge.

“Passion. You can feel it, can’t you? That burning desire to make a difference, to fight for what’s right,” Bloom told The Verge reporter Sean Hollister. “That’s what drives us, and that’s what will keep you going through the tough times.”

Passion, baby. Can you feel it?

Pre-empting concerns over AI technologies replacing workers, Ubisoft made clear in its press release that the characters are still created by a human writer who works closely with data scientists to train an AI model on their vision for a specific character.

“I’m used to building a character’s backstory, their hopes and dreams, the experiences that shaped their personality, and used all that information to nurture myself into writing dialogue, ” Ubisoft narrative director Virginie Mosser said in a statement. And though creating the NEO NPC prototypes has been “very different,” she added, the process has been rewarding in its own way.

“For the first time in my life, I can have a conversation with a character I’ve created,” Mosser continued. “I’ve dreamed of that since I was a kid.”

One notable hurdle for Ubisoft and its collaborators is that NPCs serve a real purpose in gameplay, for example offering a hero an important piece of information that furthers the game’s storyline. The trick, then, is to ensure that the generative AI-powered bots are predictable enough to play their parts. Otherwise, a player might essentially just be walking around chatting with robots — which may sound like a fun diversion but isn’t exactly driving the story forward.

Per the Verge, it’ll likely be a while until you can chat with NEO NPCs while gaming. But given that Microsoft has also partnered with InWorld to create similar AI NPCs, the race to infuse AI into video games is officially on.

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