AI is coming for your PC games, but you shouldn’t worry
The tech community has been abuzz with AI this past week, from ChatGPT to Google Bard, but not without reason. We see fads like NFTs and web3 come and go, but AI is here to stay – even in your PC games.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. AI and machine learning have already proven themselves very useful in computer games, and this has far-reaching implications for how games are made and experienced. I’m not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole here – and if you stick with me, you’ll see why.
How it is now used
The touchstone for AI in PC gaming is currently Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS). Train an AI model how to reconstruct a frame in a game and render the game at a lower resolution, enjoying free performance without impacting your footage.
DLSS has become very good, and while there are algorithmic competitors such as AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR), Nvidia has proven that AI offers an edge. DLSS 3 is proof of that, providing extra frames generated exclusively by the AI. AMD probably won’t agree either – its latest RX 7900 XTX and RX 7900 XT contain an as-yet-unused AI accelerator.
Beyond upscaling, AI has appeared in Nvidia’s RTX Remix mud platform, which offers a range of AI tools to enhance textures, add additional lighting to scenes, and more. Portal RTX is a great example of what these AI tools can do to revitalize an aging game.
Nvidia isn’t the only one here either. A recent mod for the classic Morrowind added AI-generated voice lines to the game. With the massive outpouring of dialogue in Morrowind, this is something that wouldn’t be possible without years of work by modders to hire voice actors (unlikely) or a truckload of cash from Bethesda (even more unlikely).
These are just a few high-level examples of how AI is being used to improve games today, but it’s important to remember the foundation of AI within games themselves. Tools like Unreal Engine 5’s MassEntity promise to provide large groups of AI-driven characters with simple inputs. And this is one of the most exciting aspects of AI in computer games – its use to speed up game development.
Effective game development
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In 2020, Nvidia trained an AI model to recreate Pac-Man. It was trained on 50,000 episodes of the game, and two neural networks were able to recreate a playable version of Pac-Man without an underlying game engine. No fixed rules, no parameters – the AI simply looked at the game being played a lot and figured out how to recreate it.
It’s a testament to how far AI has come in terms of accelerating game development. Don’t worry that AI is going to start making PC games for you. As Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said in a recent earnings call, “[AI is] is not going to allow someone to say, ‘Please develop the competitor to Grand Theft Auto that is better than Grand Theft Auto’… people will try, but it won’t happen.”
It may not happen, but Zelnick was clear that AI has a great use in game development. One use that has increased in recent years is AI-driven quality assurance (QA) testing. Players generally spend thousands of hours discovering only a fraction of bugs in computer games, but AI can run thousands of tests on a game in seconds.
AI can also be used to create more complex, varied games, especially those with branching paths. For example, AI Dungeon 2, released in 2019, is an AI-generated text-based adventure that can provide infinite stories. Then there’s the endless string of stories about procedural generation in games like No Man’s Sky being driven by algorithms creating billions of planets.
Although games like No Man’s Sky generate new worlds, they still come from a core of human design. Generative AI allows for entirely new experiences that don’t require set parameters, just enough training.
I recently played the Shadows of Doubt demo – a neo-noir thriller that procedurally generates the full world – via the Steam Next Fest. This allows you to have a completely unique experience every time you play, with different clues, NPCs and environments. Applying AI to this type of setting should be enough to get anyone excited as it offers unique experiences for every player that touches the game.
Not without concern
Because as exciting as AI in PC gaming is, it also raises many valid concerns. After all, we’ve seen a Starcraft 2 AI beat nearly every player in the world, and it’s not hard to imagine the nefarious uses of AI in competitive gaming.
There are also a large number of jobs in game development that could be impacted by AI. From concept art to level design to voice acting – AI can already handle these tasks, and it’s much cheaper than hiring a league of employees. My hope is that AI is used to expand the scope of game development on this front rather than reduce it. Similar to No Man’s Sky, I hope this is used to help smaller teams build bigger games and not to simply increase the bottom line of the world’s biggest publishers.
While there are valid concerns, there is also much to be excited about. As DLSS, RTX Remix, and something as out-of-left-field as a Morrowind voice game mode demonstrate, there are uses for AI in PC gaming that haven’t been imagined yet, and it’s an exciting place to be.
This article is part of ReSpec – an ongoing bi-weekly column that includes discussion, advice and in-depth reporting on the technology behind PC gaming.