The impressive performance of ChatGPT, made possible by the power of generative AI, has ignited a surge of enthusiasm for this cutting-edge technology among people worldwide. A generative AI-led revolution is on the way, as it has shown the potential for machines to create human-like content and engage in more natural and intuitive interactions with humans.
For the video game industry, which already involves a lot of AI work, the transformation will be even more profound. "There hasn’t been a technology this revolutionary for gaming since real-time 3D," A16Z wrote in its blog post.
According to the renowned venture capital firm, many startups are exploring the potential of generative AI to create believable characters that gamers can interact with. NPCs, or non-player characters, are particularly crucial in creating immersion in video games. As exemplified by the popular sci-fi TV series Westworld, NPCs with human-like appearances and advanced interactive abilities can help create a feeling of being in a real-world environment for players.
A recent video clip of NPCs acting and interacting autonomously in a virtual ancient city in China has sparked a lot of interest in the gaming community as it demonstrates a technology that is closer to creating a Westworld-like game.
The demo video titled "Living Chang'an City" features hundreds of NPCs, including dancers, street vendors, pedestrians, and more, who move, communicate, and make decisions independently. These NPCs are endowed with different personalities and characteristics, allowing them to establish diverse social relationships on their own.
What gives these NPCs a higher level of autonomy in the virtual world? This should be credited to GAEA, a massive data-driven system developed by Parametrix.ai, a Shenzhen-headquartered AI company. GAEA enables the NPCs to learn, adapt, and exhibit human-like behavior, making them more lifelike and interactive.
Founded in 2019 by Kakar Liu, the former general manager of Tencent's AI Lab, Parametrix.ai has more than 200 employees, of which 90% are R&D personnel. Among its investors are Sequoia China, Hillhouse Capital, 5Y Capital, and Gaorong Capital.
"There are two key elements to making NPCs more human-like, that is, various kinds of behaviors and natural language communication capabilities," Parametrix.ai told PingWest. That's where GAEA comes in, combining the company's sophisticated AI BOT technology with Large Language Models (LLMs) to bring an enhanced AI NPC solution to game developers.
In order to create more behaviors for NPCs, GAEA builds two interrelated subsystems. The first is the Environment, which is composed of a Commonsense Textual Environment and a Physical Environment, responsible for interacting with NPCs and collecting feedback. What sets this system apart is its ability to change and adapt under the influence of NPCs behavior and vice versa.
Then there is the Soul Module, which is made up of a Memory segment and a Policy Network segment. The Memory segment is in charge of modeling the intrinsic motivation of the system and storing information about events experienced by individual NPC. The Policy Network segment, on the other hand, is responsible for making actions based on information gathered from the Memory segment and the Environment.
Under Soul Module’s influence, NPCs are able to make different choices at any given point, resulting in an incredibly diverse range of storylines. As more NPCs are added to the system, the variability of these storylines continues to expand, offering players an immersive and ever-changing gaming experience.
"For example, the Soul Module gives the dancer a romantic artist personality and records the various events of her daily life in Chang'an city, and then she will take actions based on internal motivation and changes in the Environment, thus changing the storyline," the company explained. "She might go dancing or date someone; it's her call."
In addition, GAEA employs LLMs for goal planning, assists the environment subsystem in performing commonsense reasoning, and integrates this technology with the in-house developed chatbot to provide NPCs with superior conversational skills.
All of these efforts have enabled GAEA to construct the "Living Chang'an City," an AI society run autonomously by multiple AI NPCs, marking a significant improvement over decision trees.
As a widely accepted method of NPC creation, decision trees are limited by their reliance on predetermined rules and conditions, which can lead to repetitive and predictable NPC behavior and may not account for all possible scenarios and outcomes. With the assistance of GAEA, developers will be able to create more diverse and nuanced NPC behaviors and account for a wider range of scenarios and outcomes.
The growing demand for intelligent NPCs among gamers has led to the emergence of more advanced AI NPC solutions that are poised to overtake decision trees. A recent report by Inworld.ai, a developer platform for advanced NPC behavior and dialogue, finds the majority of gamers desire more personality from NPCs and are willing to invest more time and money in games with advanced AI NPCs.
Multiple players, including Charisma.ai, Convai.com, and Inworld.ai, have set their feet on this niche market, as A16Z mentioned in the blog post.
However, with its products being commercialized on a large scale in the gaming industry, Parametrix.ai may have the opportunity to show a first-mover advantage. According to the startup, it has provided solutions, including AI NPCs, for a number of renowned game studios and serves hundreds of millions of users in over 52 countries worldwide, with 500,000 concurrent AI bots at peak workload.
With AI continuing to make great strides forward, game developers have never been in a better position, with endless opportunities to generate personalized content that speaks to each player's unique preferences. As Parametrix.ai puts it, "AI is more than a technology, tool, or set of solutions; it is a new form of life that can bring novel ideas, stories, and experiences."