Friday, September 15, 2023
In a computer RPG, only few characters are fully fleshed out, like the companions in Baldur’s Gate 3 or the crew in Starfield. Besides those, there are a lot of minor NPC that mainly serve to make settlements seem inhabited, or have minor roles to provide side quests, clues or trade. If you interact with them repeatedly, their repertoire quickly runs out, and you’ll end up getting the same response over and over. But what if these NPCs could be powered by AI? While you probably hadn’t identified Stanford University as a game development studio, resesarchers there created a “game” called Smallville, in which the user can interact with 25 inhabitants of a small town and get believable, non-repetitive responses.
An NPC doesn’t have to have a full ChatGPT 4 large language model behind him to be believable. In fact, if the NPC is supposed to be a peasant in a medieval village, you probably don’t want him to be able to give his opinion about mobile phones, television shows, or modern day politicians. But currently, if you are looking for the village smith, and nobody thought to give the peasant a dialogue option to ask where the smith might be, the NPC is useless to you, and not very believable. It wouldn’t be too hard to give that NPC limited AI, enabling him to answer simple questions about the village and its inhabitants.
While there are some issues about the compensation of voice actors used to train text to speech software, that technology also has much advanced. Thus the NPC peasant could possibly even use a voice over generator to reply with audible speech, not just written dialogue. And for triple-A games with lots of NPCs, the advantage of simple chatbots and voice over generators is that they scale up better, and thus could end up being cheaper than getting the traditional and far more limited dialogue voiced over by voice actors.
The current state of the art in games is NPCs which are just dolls: Most of the are stationary or have very limited movement patterns, and most of them have just one, or at best a few, canned responses to being interacted with. That also leads to stupid strategies for gamers, who simply talk to every NPC in a settlement until their dialogue runs out, to be sure not to miss anything. How much cooler would it be if you couldn’t find out about the murdered traveller unless you actually asked about him?