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The gaming industry can be a front-runner in AI: “We have the advantage of not risking lives if something doesn’t work as intended”

Raw Power Games has created concept art for its upcoming debut game with the AI tool Midjourney, which can translate words into images. Illustration: Raw Power Games / Midjourney (AI)

An astronaut with a white flag planted firmly in the surface of the Moon adorns an entire wall in a meeting room in the SOHO office hotel in the Meatpacking District of Copenhagen.

For many of the small businesses in the building, this image may be a slightly hyperbolic metaphor for innovation. But the grand display seems to perfectly suit the two game developers sitting in the meeting room, Jakob Rasmussen and Caspar Strandbygaard from the Raw Power Games studio.

They do not just dream of making great games. They want to revolutionize the entire industry.

“Our mission is to change entertainment radically. We want to disrupt the world,” says Caspar Strandbygaard, CTO at Raw Power Games.

Raw Power Games aspires to be at the forefront of the field when it comes to artificial intelligence in computer games. They have laid out a 10-year plan for how to achieve their ambitious goals. In three years, they expect to publish their first game. A role-playing game set in a medieval open world, which can be played both as a single-player and a multiplayer experience. After this, a sequel will be published in six years, and in the tenth year, we will see what the game studio has been building up to. The game, which according to the game creators’ own statement, should make the film and game media “merge into one”.

“We will make heavy use of AI in last game. There, our task is almost to make tools that will generate the game—rather than to make the game ourselves,” Caspar Strandbygaard says.

Their goal is to use existing technology, such as the Houdini plug-in for Unreal Engine, which can procedurally create objects in the game universe. But they will also use their own knowledge in the field to create their own tools if others do not get ahead of them.

“We are already exploring a lot of different AI options today. But in the first game, we’re mostly just testing the waters. Then we will turn it up a notch in the second game, and we will go all out in the last one,” Caspar Strandbygaard says.

A horse with three legs

In the office where most of the game studio’s 23 employees are working, there are pictures of large medieval buildings and towns. This is the concept art that informs the game design. But the impressionist pictures are not drawn by an artist. Instead, they are created in the AI program Midjourney based on text descriptions.

“This doesn’t mean that we don’t need a concept artist. We have hired one. But he has now gained access to Midjourney. So, he can generate pictures and use them as a background to draw on top of,” Caspar Strandbygaard says.

These days, the debate about copyright and AI is quite prominent in the USA, where more people are beginning to question whether it is even legal to use AI in this way. Raw Power Games is also considering these challenges.

“Copyright is a bit tricky. Because someone made a model. It was trained on art made by humans over a long period of time. And I came up with some words. So who truly created it? I think there will be some interesting copyright issues in the future,” Caspar Strandbygaard says.

The pictures on the wall are impressively beautiful and quite magnificent. But if you study the details closely, you will discover some unintentional irregularities. A tower that is built in an unrealistic way. A horse that has only three legs.

“This is where we are now,” co-founder of Raw Power Games Jakob Rasmussen says and elaborates:

“At the moment, we are in a hybrid phase, where we first let the AI create something, and then we have to finish the final details ourselves to make it really good. But we can also see that there is less and less need for human post-editing.”

There are already AI programmers in many game studios, but the artificial intelligence that game studios work with now is not as advanced as Raw Power Games envisions. Things like navmesh that let computer-controlled characters (NPCs) move smoothly around open worlds or behaviour trees that enable NPCs to react to different situations in the game.

There can be some funny results when artificial intelligence takes over. “At the moment, we are in a hybrid phase, where we first let the AI create something, and then we have to finish the final details ourselves to make it really good,” Jakob Rasmussen from Raw Power Games says. Illustration: Raw Power Games / Midjourney (AI)

“These are well-known aspects of AI that people work with today. But that’s not really what we’re talking about. We’re talking about adaptive artificial intelligence and machine learning, for example,” Caspar Strandbygaard says.

The game studio has plans to build its own tools that are different from what is currently available on the market.

“One of the things we can easily envision is that instead of having an AI coder sit down and decide how an NPC should fight with a sword, we get a lot of players to play with this character, record the player data, and train a model to actually play based on how people play,” Caspar Strandbygaard says.

“If, on top of that, we can qualify training data in different categories, then maybe we could also make some NPCs that are good, some that are less good, some that are funny, and so on. So meeting these characters becomes less artificial—despite the fact that it’s artificial intelligence.”

But a large part of their plan is also about keeping an eye on the technology others are developing.

“When you play role-playing games today and have to talk to an NPC, they often say the same repeated phrases. We think it would be cool to make it much more dynamic. If, for example, they knew that it was you who had defeated King William in a great battle and acknowledge it in the conversation. We are close to being there,” Caspar Strandbygaard says.

“OpenAI’s GPT-3 can generate text. It can chat. And we already have text-to-speech. So, it’s just a matter of having voices that can convey emotions. That is, adding some acting to it. We know Google is working on that.”

“Then we’ll be close to our goal. It may well be that it won’t be ready for the first game in three years, but it certainly will be in ten years, and I also think it will be ready in five.”

The game studio imagines an entire game world filled with characters that can develop organically in relation to each other and events that happen in the game. Where the development of the stories and characters is not chosen from one of the predetermined scenarios written by an author but can move in a myriad of directions with the help of the artificial intelligence.

“Our wish is that at some point you can step into your own interactive film, be part of it, interact with it, and have the same epic experience as when you watch Game of Thrones—but also be a part of it,” Jakob Rasmussen says.

The gaming industry must embrace AI

The two Danish game creators have sky-high ambitions. When they talk about all the different tools they want to explore within artificial intelligence, they seem almost like two little boys who have been given the keys to a toy store. And they have actually been given some very favourable conditions to work under.

The game studio’s founder, Rune Bentsen Christensen, has made a fortune on the MakerDAO crypto project.

It was his dream of starting a game studio that gave rise to the project, and Raw Power Games is funded by his money.

“It’s a bit dangerous when you don’t come from the gaming industry and suddenly want to make a game studio, because it seems easier to make games than it actually is,” says Jakob Rasmussen, who helped advise Rune Bentsen Christensen on opening a game studio.

“It was clear that we would need some experienced people. And it would be difficult because many experienced people are already in safe and stable jobs. So, it was important that we start small before we throw ourselves at this end goal of becoming a game studio that is the market leader in artificial intelligence. But yes, it’s kind of a reversed way of building a game studio, where we actually had everything else first and then could build on it.”

Illustration: Raw Power Games / Midjourney (AI)

The experienced people have arrived. Among the employees are people who have worked on major game series such as Hitman, Assassin’s Creed, and The Witcher. Even though it is a small game studio, the financial muscle gives it the opportunity to take some liberties that others who have to constantly find funding cannot take.

“We will invest a lot in research and development projects (R&D). We have the freedom to assign some people to familiarize themselves with and explore some branch of artificial intelligence. If it’s cool, we’ll use it, but if it doesn’t work, that’s okay too,” Jakob Rasmussen says.

He has worked with artificial intelligence for many years before entering the gaming industry, and for him, it is obvious that this is where AI must develop.

“When I started working in the gaming industry, I thought: ‘Where is it?’ Unity, one of the biggest game engines, had no solutions for artificial intelligence. It was really ridiculous, because many of the technologies we use in AI originate from the gaming industry. For example, the graphics processors on which we run our large machine learning models today. There are also many car manufactures that have started testing their cars in virtual universes that are created in game engines today, Jakob Rasmussen says.

“The gaming industry should be cutting-edge and a front-runner in this area, but we haven’t seen that in very many games. We are not saying that we will necessarily use AI at the core of how we develop, but it is at the core of our vision. When the technology is ready—and perhaps a little sooner—we’ll be willing to stick our necks out and put it into our game.”

Jakob Rasmussen believes that the gaming industry is progressing slowly when it comes to artificial intelligence.

“They just want to be sure that it all works now and that it has been tested before they throw themselves into it. But we believe that someone has to take up the task of testing it,” Jakob Rasmussen says.

“After all, we have the advantage that—unlike the pharmaceutical and transport industry—we don’t risk lives if something doesn’t work as it should. We just have a small bug in a game that we can fix—even after it has been released to consumers.”