As the adoption of AI continues to be a major point of industry discourse, tech giant NVIDIA showcased the latest iteration of its Avatar Cloud Engine at CES 2024. Some of gaming’s biggest names like miHoYo, NetEase Games, Tencent, and Ubisoft have already adopted it, and it won’t be long until we start seeing the products of this tech in our PS5 and Xbox games. However, they’ll have to wield this power responsibly.
Originally spotted by IGN, NVIDIA recently took to the CES stage to show off how far ACE – a technology suite developed in partnership with AI firm Convai – has come since Computex 2023 last May. Here, we see AI characters Jin and Nova interacting in a cyberpunk ramen shop. The conversations between the two are randomly generated, as senior product manager Seth Schneider notes before he jumps into the scene. The characters can not only respond naturally to Schneider’s voice, but they can also interact with objects and even leave the scene entirely based on his prompts.
Though the demo is impressive, it’s clear that we’re still far from the sprawling, AI-driven additions to the best open world games list that many are imagining. Line delivery is characteristically synthetic – even at this tiny scale. There are certainly creases to iron out, and the introduction of more sophisticated NPCs that integrate machine learning elements anytime soon is unlikely as devs, unsurprisingly, favor the predictability of state machines to ensure they don’t behave in weird or even game-breaking ways.
Perusing NVIDIA’s ACE page, the company claims everything encapsulated by the engine is “trained on safe and secure data”, and will work “seamlessly” with any engine – this includes Unreal Engine 5. Though this form of AI has yet to see widespread adoption, perhaps the clearest example of it in recent times is one of the best FPS games of 2023, The Finals, which blends real-world voice actors with AI-based text-to-speech that is itself based on contracted VAs. At least, that’s the case according to brand director Sven Grundberg in an interview with Game Developer.
Although Grundberg’s candor is respectable, the backlash to The Finals’ deployment of AI at the expense of real actors has been considerable – both from players and industry professionals. During its open beta back in October, Ultrakill voice actor Gianni Matragrano took to Twitter to share his frustrations, lambasting the studio for using time-saving as a justification for opting for AI.
“We are constantly banging out rush order sessions for like, within a day or two,” Matragrano says. “You can literally get pro-grade VO for less than a grand total, bang out a couple recording sessions, and bam you have all the audio you need.”
Indeed, while AI could serve as a powerful tool to enrich new PS5 games and new Xbox games alongside those currently in circulation, if used egregiously it could spell disaster for creatives in an industry that has already contracted significantly in recent years.
When it comes to NVIDIA’s tech, then, the likes of HoYo and Ubisoft – developers of some of the best games like Honkai Star Rail and the Assassin’s Creed series – will need to be highly selective in how they deploy AI, or else face the ire of fans and professionals alike. HoYo, which has rumoredly utilized AI for improving facial animations in cross-region lip sync, needs to be particularly careful considering the high regard in which its actors are held by its community, as well as the closeness of its working relationship with them. Should it overstep the mark and start producing entirely AI characters for its gacha-infused offerings, then we expect there to be a slew of high-profile complaints, though we don’t feel this would be its intended use case with this in mind.
Ubisoft, meanwhile, needs to think carefully about implementing this tech in its trademark open-world games. The publisher has earned a reputation over the years for its copy-and-paste open-world formula across series like Far Cry and the aforementioned Assassin’s Creed. It’s worked hard with recent releases – Assassin’s Creed Mirage, especially – to be more refined and creative, and far less generic. Using this tech to create unauthentic and unbelievable characters and the worlds they reside, which are core pillars to some of Ubisoft’s biggest franchises, could unravel that hard work.
Ideally, ACE will find a home within less important NPCs designed to enrich the player experience, without detracting from the crucial work of voice actors and other industry creatives. Ubisoft certainly appears to be aiming for something more complimentary, as La Forge China development director Alexis Rolland last year told CNN of his hopes for generative AI to become “an additional tool” for animators to wield, aiding their workflow instead of replacing them.
Should generative AI become a more widely adopted industry tool, then there’s scope for it to become a major boon for those operating within it. However, fears over egregious deployment at the cost of livelihoods remain valid. It’s an incredibly fine line to tread, and we don’t expect discourse surrounding the use of AI to subside anytime soon.
If you’re after an expansive gaming experience that melds a beautifully crafted world with top-tier voice acting and lovable NPCs, then check out our list of the best RPG games around. You may find a few on our open-world games list, while others will serve as a delightful surprise.