AI in Modern Video Games

In my last blog post, I went over the history of AI and games (found here if you are so inclined). This week I want to talk about the current state of AI and video games. While there is a tonnnn of stuff going on, I can only dive into a couple sub-topics.

Computers are better than us

When you hear AI and video games, the first thing that usually comes to mind is something like this:

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 4.20.02 PM

Which makes sense. There tends to be a lot of press about this sort of thing. The headlines that scream “Robots Will Take Over World, Steal your Job” are more eye-catching than ones that say “AI Makes 12% Improvement to Tutorial”. While that sort of research is amazing and interesting, there is a lot of other things going on behind the scenes that are making gameplay more enjoyable.

Going Rogue

If you are a student of video game design history, then there are two things I can say about you with confidence:

  1. You’ve been called a nerd at some point in your life
  2. You’ve heard of Rogue

For those of you with flourishing social circles, I will explain. Rogue was a computer game developed around 1980 and was vitally important to video game history. It was so important because it was the first video game to use Procedurally Generated Content or PGC. PCG can be defined as Methods — mostly automated technologies — for generating game content, such as levels, maps, game rules, textures, stories, items, quests, music, weapons, vehicles, characters, etc.

All you really need to know about this is that designers put in some rules about how a game ought to look and the computer can create an entire landscape for the game with beautiful trees, valleys, mountains, etc. This same system can be used for individual levels, weapon systems (games like WoW and Borderlands use these to death), and even non-essential quests (Go to X place, kill Y monster, get Z reward).
The game that’s been most noteworthy of this, most recently, was No Man’s Sky. This game got so much attention was because it created an “almost infinite number of worlds”. Here’s a fun quote from one of the creators.

“If you were to visit one virtual planet every second, then our own sun will have died before you’d have seen them all.”

The feedback for the game seemed to be a resounding Meh; mostly due to a lack of interesting gameplay. This was really just the tip of the iceberg though. Now that a game like this has been done, it’ll be easy to replicate and create something with worthwhile gameplay on top of it. Just imagine this sort of game mixed with Fortnite’s gameplay to create something with an expanding galaxy, where players fight other players to maintain control of spread out planets, in order to gain resources and strategic positions.

A Siren song

We get it. You’re one of those people who doesn’t care about the gameplay. You want an emotional journey with in-depth characters. AI could never help create that sort of creative, human experience. Except that it can. Meet Siren.

Siren was created by Epic Games, and a host of other creators, and simultaneously inhabits both sides of the creepy/cool line. While some of you may know Epic from Fortnite, their claim to fame before that was their Unreal Engine, a program that helps game developers make video games more easily and quickly. I wasn’t quite sure what Siren meant when she said “driven”, but I think this video clears this up a bit.

They’re essentially rendering Andy Serkis’ acting real-time into their engine with accuracy that is, unreal. Given enough training data, an AI would be able to replicate this sort of performance and even procedurally generate unique, lifelike characters. Combined with a company like Spirit AI who claims to help you “Build characters who will improvise based on your narrative requirements and the player’s input”, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a digital West World (combined with 3D printing you’ve got the real thing).

Within the next few decades, video games are going to be an increasingly important part of everyday life. 67% of people aged 18-29 currently play some sort of video game and 81% of teens age 13-17 either have or have access to a game console such as PlayStation, Xbox or Wii. Game players are now the majority of people, whether its mobile or console its now mainstream. Games will be how many of us interact with others, spend our leisure time, and even learn.

This means games have a very large portion of our engagement and our attention. Combine that with the dramatic storytelling possibilities from Epic’s Siren and a vast expanse of infinite worlds and I think it’s fair to assume that time spent on video games will only continue to increase. This engagement presents a huge opportunity for advertising (feel free to use this as a blog topic) and is something that we, as ‘digital natives’, should begin thinking about.



  1. Wow! I had no idea AI was so useful in graphic / game creation. I’m sure its a bit more complicated than plug and play, but still I can only imagine all of the man power and AI designed game would save, let alone the cost reduction on the development side. That just upped my expectation for game creators now. I think the reason Fortnite has stolen my attention for so long is because of the evolutionary aspect of game play, and now knowing that AI can make this easier for game developers, I think more games should try to include the evolutionary aspect of game play. I agree that gamer engagement has increased significantly more recently, as I wouldn’t define myself as a gamer as a teen, but would easily be classified as one today. Advertisement has the potential to make a huge splash is the gaming industry and I think the Showtime’s partnership with Fortnite for the recent Marshmello concert, demonstrates that advertisers too see this untapped potential. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next big game, or disruption in the gaming industry, will be! Great blog!

  2. This application of AI is mind-blowing – what an incredibly long way the gaming industry has come from Zork’s database-driven NLP! In particular, the “No Man’s Sky” example that you brought up caught my attention. The idea of an effectively endless game seems to have so much potential to both increase customer lifetime value for game developers and for practically instantaneous game development. One can ostensibly envision a future game that mimics real-life as it is happening – with no structural boundaries to hit up against and a powerful AI that is constantly scanning external data sources for new content foundations on which to build (various news sources, YouTube, etc), the player could insert himself or herself into the midst of a battlefield, sports tournament, exploratory trek, etc taking place as he or she plays.

  3. This was very informative! Siren looks pretty real but of course you can tell it’s AI inside of a game. There was definitely a lot of hype around No Man’s Sky at least amongst my friends, but when the reviews turned out pretty bad, none of them bought it. I think a game like Fallout also allows for that ability to just roam around, and no matter how much time you spend in it, you’ve only started to scratch the surface. I completely agree with you that video games are going to be an increasingly important part of our day; specifically with virtual reality and what AI can do. For example, a famous neurosurgeon wants to create a course/game and using AI to replicate what he/she would say and do after learning the steps and procedures on an operation would then create opportunity for med students to try and leverage a video game simulation as practice. I am obsessed with Call of Duty Blackout and have always wondered what it would be like to play it with virtual reality equipment, or take it one step further and somehow immerse myself into the game itself with AI technology. Talking about this reminds me of a Gerard Butler movie called Gamer.

  4. cynmzfigueroa · ·

    With AI generated entertainment I imagine it takes an heavy amount of work to define rules for what is produced. When I think of AI content I revert to worst case scenario like those weird youtube videos surrounding elsagate, that produced content specifically because it captured attention while quality of content was low and questionable. Of course the incentive here is great quality produces future revenue so I see pretty great potential in this space.

  5. dancreedon4 · ·

    I would not have guessed that AI goes this far back in terms of video game creation and you bring up some great points. You think of all of the ‘extras’ in a game like Fortnite: the trees, bushes and all of the construction materials…no wonder why it is so easy for the developers to be consistently releasing new versions and updates. It would be interesting to see how the increasing use of AI in video games has cut down on the number of hours spent on development.

  6. Occasionally, I play equally for the gameplay mechanics (running, jumping, shooting, etc.) as I do for the plot of a game like Bioshock, Half-life, Fallout, The Witcher, etc. However, games with such amazing plots typically follow a set story or narrative which follows a particular path and has specific requirements. Do you think that an open-world game without boundaries can provide such a storytelling experience? I’m sure you can script certain events into a procedurally generated world, but in some sense, do you lose the shared experience of playing the same story as a friend? And is that a bad thing or is it better to create an experience totally unique to the user?

  7. Great blog! I would have never thought of this application of AI. It is amazing to think that this is an application of AI to build games now. My thoughts resemble some of the other comments. I would love to dive into how much guidance and the intensity of the restrictions needed on AI to get the desired end result. Additionally, how long does this process take and what happens when the end results isn’t what was desired?

  8. This is such an exciting way to use AI. In the first class, we watched a speaker talk about how emerging technologies exist, but we have only scratched the surface of their true capabilities. I think your blog touches on this idea, but shows the path to full utilization. The constantly changing and evolving graphics create a tie that makes the game more exciting, engaging and addictive. The video of Andy Serkis is unbelievable and is incredibly detailed. I find No Man’s Sky’s open world universe very intriguing. As you said, it hasn’t gotten incredible views, but the concept of being able to spend exorbitant amount of time exploring.

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