It looks as if Tencent and Ubisoft are the latest companies to go all-in on AI, as both companies recently announced they would be adopting the AI generation tools created by Nvidia and were mentioned as key adopters in the recent Nvidia CES presentation. The tools, specifically Nvidia ACE (Avatar Cloud Engine), are supposed to help these companies accelerate the creation of complex NPCs. But it’s already raising a few eyebrows at a time when this sort of thing is still highly controversial.
Certainly, it’s a bit of an odd move from Ubisoft, especially when one of their more recent games, Watchdogs: Legion, was criticised for the similarities between the recruitable NPCs that the players made use of (the game’s titular ‘legion’ and main selling point was drawing on a huge background cast to play as, rather than one central character). However, they have already said they’d be going full force on the AI front with the use of a tool called Ghostwriter to help their narrative staff.
For Tencent, it’s a bit less unusual, as they’ve always been looking for the biggest and most notorious ways to enhance their output, especially with how cutthroat the mobile gaming market – one of their biggest – can be in their home country of China. The company boasts dozens of studios including substantial investment in League of Legends creators Riot Games. And Tencent already has statements clarifying its position, and positivity towards AI and its use in game development.
It’s also going to be a bit concerning for anti-AI proponents, as the information given on what data their models are ‘trained’ on is oddly vague; many outlets reporting that all they got was, “There’s no easy answer,” in reply. Just take a look at the hot water Midjourney – another famous AI-pushing company – has landed themselves in over accusations of stealing the work of human artists. I guess if some of us felt that the output from Ubisoft and Tencent was getting a bit samey it’s not going to be changing any time soon…
Bigger and better, or wider and worse?
Both Tencent and Ubisoft have, from the more vocal parts of the gaming landscape, been accused of not giving studios the time and resources needed to devote to their games. And, while it may be a good sign that they’re looking to alleviate the burden of development, we think it might smack of trying to paper over the cracks and use this tech as a replacement rather than an aid.
Tencent especially should only look as far as one of their chief competitors, MiHoYo, in order to see how well the ‘human touch’ aids their revenue. Whatever your opinion on the game – we’ve placed it on some of our top lists – Genshin Impact has undeniably connected with a wide, dedicated and paying audience. But would it have done the same if NPCs, whether minor or important, had been made by a computer instead? According to some reports, however, even MiHoYo are breaking down and making use of AI in their pipeline now.
But hey, we could talk about what could go wrong until we’re blue in the face. I mean we wouldn’t because this is being written down, or typed if you want to be technical, but you get the metaphor. Could this go well for either company? Well, in the ideal scenario, this sort of tech would alleviate the burden of designing hundreds of unique NPCs to populate the vast worlds of games like Assassin’s Creed, allowing designers to focus on the central characters more and fully flesh them out.
Of course, even with human designers a game like Watchdogs: Legion fell flat when it came to their ‘Census’ system that attempted to simulate vast swathes of the real-life city of London. AI’s got that big price tag and huge dreams attached to it sure, but it’ll still have to do what even a bespoke system struggles to accomplish – make something that feels real.
But for players on mobile, what does that mean for us? Well, most games we play don’t boast hundreds or even dozens of random NPCs on walkabout. So wouldn’t the benefit be negligible? Well, it may be a negligible benefit but it may be a noticeable difference for better or for worse.
For games, especially gacha or RPG titles where they live and die by how enjoyable their characters are, even in simple ways, trying to automate the process runs a risk of losing out what makes them fun in the first place. Even if this change is months or years down the road, when it does come you can be sure that the side-by-side comparison will be what players are keeping an eye on, not the number of faces in a crowd.
But while you’re here, and probably thinking about the design of mobile games, why not check out our list of the top 25 best-looking titles you can find on mobile? Don’t feel you need to sacrifice visual fidelity or great design just because you’re on a smaller screen and check out these dazzling games!