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Artificial Intelligence in gaming has taken the driver seat over the last few months, with gaming goliaths such as XBOX, Bandai Namco and Tencent all throwing their generative hat into the ring.
Investments in AI gaming increased by 50% in Q3 2023 alone and the market has shown no sign of slowing down.
Lenny Pettersson, CEO of Antler Interactive - the team who built the web3 gaming masterpiece My Neighbour Alice - had many a good insight into what we can expect from AI in gaming over the coming years, and whether this synergy is proving to be a match made in heaven or hell.
Here’s some of the key points Lenny touched on during an exclusive interview.
Adaptive Storytelling to take the spotlight
When asked what AI developments in gaming were exciting going into 2024, the concept of procedural gaming quickly sprung to mind.
The concept of procedural gaming leans heavily into how gameplay evolves based on the player’s prior actions - leading to an adaptive and dynamic storyline, unique to the player. The ability for games to change direction, or for characters to change personality based on how players interact with the world sets a new standard creating more dynamic worlds and allows the games narrative to wrap itself around the player - creating a host of unique experiences. Pettersson mentions that AI in this aspect is something “we're [Antler Interactive] definitely embracing” for the next projects in the pipeline.
Procedural gameplay is not changing the player's immediate environment, as AI can be used to create real-time world evolution. Players actions now affect the wider surroundings, causing the gameworld to experience shifts and really piling onto the creation of truly unique gameplay
From procedural gameplay to dynamic AI NPC’s, Lenny acknowledged how “AI is entering basically all aspects of game development” and mentions how AI is essentially democratizing the game development process, allowing smaller studios to “punch above their weight” in creating immersive experiences that bring games to life.
A virtual tsunami of games
This democratisation of game development brings its own challenges. "With all of these tools being out there... it will make discovery of good quality games even harder," Pettersson explains. The amount of games that will be hitting the markets will be exponentially higher thanks to AI speeding up the game development process.
Steam alone witnessed over 14,000 games launch in 2023, he makes a darting comparison to how game development could end up like content creation. “just look at YouTube and the millions and pieces of content being uploaded there…It will be the same with games”.
With experience at the likes of Warner Media and Cartoon Network, Pettersson is an OG in the business of storytelling, and also fears the true craft of game development and story writing may be slowly slipping away through reliance on AI.
“We all read the story about these legendary games being made by one person for seven years, and there’s a really strong story behind that…Will the story be as strong with the one person using AI and creating it in a week?”
Whilst he is excited to see what the new age of gaming is to bring, he believes that the sacred practice of intertwining human creativity with technological advancement is what makes game development so special when compared to other industries.
With this outlook on the space, Pettersson hypothesised new strategies for game discovery and curation will be developed to decipher the good, from the bad and ugly.
Game experimentalism but at what cost?
Whilst there may be a lot of choice entering the market, one thing Lenny is keen on is how experimental smaller, more agile studios may become with their approach.
As AI can be integrated into all aspects of the gaming experience, he believes we will see “a lot of experimental games that we haven't seen before”. Whether it be using AI generated worlds to procedural gameplay and interactions - where what happens next is dictated directly by players actions - is up for debate.
He believes that the open-endedness of AI in gaming leaves a lot up for experimentation, and that we will see studios push the goal post as far back as they can, and can make for extremely differentiated experiences.
At the end of the day, what matters most is the gamers experience with the game
The human element
Despite AI's advancements, the human element remains irreplaceable. "AI games will be bland and soulless without human touch," Pettersson states. The unique creativity and craftsmanship that human developers bring to the table are crucial in ensuring that games retain their soul and depth.
In his eyes, “To be successful with AI you need someone to use AI as a paintbrush to create great and unique things”, and sees prompting as a core skill that needs to be developed, for studios to maintain their competitiveness and utilize the technology to its full potential.
As a firm believer in the synergy of technology and human ingenuity, Pettersson believes that game narrative designers and writers' work can be enhanced by AI, but their roles are imperative to the foundations of games.
What happens to the quality of stories?
Whilst there are some pitfalls with AI in gaming at the moment, Lenny made one thing very clear. AI’s role in improving the storytelling elements of games is unmatched.
Pettersson highlights, "AI really can enhance the storytelling... building more meaningful relationships with the characters in a game world." AI's capability to create dynamic, responsive interactions offers players a deeply personalized gaming experience.
Lenny mentions that AI in gaming provides gamers with a sense of autonomy over their experience, which leaves the quality of gaming up to their imaginations.
In free-roam games, most of the gameplay will be dictated by the player, and AI can take that to a whole new level, with that, Pettersson notes that there should “be a balance”, between leaving the game up to the player, or to the set storyline - but this all depends on the game you are playing.
Web3 and AI synergies
Drawing from his previous web3 gaming experience, Lenny had some unique insight into the marriage of Web3 and AI in gaming.
Alongside the points of having autonomy and ownership over your experience, Pettersson emphasised one point heavily, the coupling of these technologies helps gamers make “Choice that matters and meaningful relationships”
When storing data in immutable states, decisions matter a lot more, and when AI is used to exponentially broaden the decision tree - the possibilities and effects are endless. Gamer interactions now affect the games in multiple dimensions.
As Lenny puts it, “By having the opinions, personality, and memories of characters handled by AI and memorized by decentralized tech, we will enable meaningful conversations that also have gameplay impact”
The synergy between Web3 and AI is something Antler Interactive are heavily exploring for their next projects, and it is all in the name of delivering titles that provide the most profound gaming experience possible.
Whats next for AI in gaming?
Pettersson and the team at Antler Interactive have a strong conviction in the world of procedural and dynamic gameplay - utilizing technology to create and reinforce tantalizing player experiences and gameplay mechanics that leave gamers wanting more.
With studios like Antler Interactive creating perfect harmonies between AI and human craftsmanship in the name of different player experiences, players are in good hands.
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For further media opportunities with Lenny and the Antler Interactive team, refer to the contact information below