To celebrate Polygon’s 10th anniversary, we’re launching a special issue: The next 10, a reflection on what gaming and entertainment will become in the next decade from some of our favorite artists and writers. Here, Far Cry 2 and Watch Dogs: Legion Creative Director Clint Hocking takes a look at the future of AI-powered games.
In the year 2032, we humans will have overcome our lowest instincts, and the world will finally be at peace. There will be no more crime, no more violence, no more disagreement. We will be safe from dangerous toxins because there will be no more drugs or alcohol, and global warming and its associated problems will be long forgotten. Everything will be perfect until a dangerous supervillain named Phoenix escapes from the cryo-prison and we have no choice but to also release a violent and rebellious cop named Spartan from the same cryo -jail in order to save us all (don’t worry, he was innocent all along).
Of course, that’s not what 2032 will be like – that’s the plot of the 1993 movie the wrecker, starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and Sandra Bullock, and directed by Marco Brambilla. Unsurprisingly, the movie’s 2032 looks nothing like what the real-life 2032 will look like, though in fairness to the creators, that probably wasn’t their goal. In 1993, it was unimaginable that today someone sitting on a bus could tell their phone to play the wreckerand within five seconds, the digitized film would be streamed from a data center, over cellular wireless networks, directly to their 5.8-inch HD touchscreen.
Although this fact seems trivial and almost insignificant to us, it is difficult to overstate how the chain of technologies that makes this possible has defined the entire structure of the world of 2022. The scale of the internet, data centers , fiber optic and wireless networks, content digitization, data compression and streaming, recommendation algorithms, machine learning, trillion dollar companies, media and business empires. telecommunications, and a supercomputer/mall in everyone’s pocket – all of these things have been subsumed under the neoliberal imperative to keep our collapsing post-industrial economy alive by seducing our entire species with the opium of digital entertainment. So where does all this lead?
In 2032, someone sitting on a bus will be able to tell their phone to play the wrecker, written and directed by Jordan Peele and starring Millie Bobby Brown as Spartan, Lil Nas X as Phoenix and Tom Holland as Sandra Bullock. Machine learning will be able to analyze every word Jordan Peele has ever written while simultaneously examining his oeuvre as a director – looking at not just how to rewrite the 1993 screenplay to make it more unsettling and weird, but also how to frame it. and light up individual scenes and shots. 3D sets and locations will be generated, stars will be aged to match storyline requirements, and their performances and voices will all be synthesized, with licensing fees automatically paid into their bank accounts. The whole process of generating a two-hour movie from a 40-year-old script as a pastiche of the works and performances of everyone involved will take several minutes, but just like with streaming services today you can start watching in seconds as the movie is generated on the fly in the cloud. The technologies that enable this future mostly exist now – they are simply not robust enough or well integrated yet. I believe that we are now close enough to that future, and that the technological foundation is sufficiently well established, that it is no longer a question of whether this will happen; it’s just a matter of when. But the important question is: how will this new future transform us and our culture?
As a game developer, I sometimes feel like I have a front row seat to this coming transformation. I already produce works that can be experienced in radically different ways by different viewers. This has always been the case with games; no two football or go games are alike. In recent years, there have been many other attempts to provide this diversity of experience in stories as well. In Watch Dogs: Legion, we intentionally decided to make a game where we handed over casting control to the player: you could be anyone, and when you watched a cutscene, we had no idea who would be in it. Much like the Peele-generated version of the wrecker still has the same overall plot as the 40-year-old original, we knew what each scene would be about and how the plot would unfold, but we didn’t know if you’d be playing Sylvester Stallone, Millie Bobby Brown, or an old lady named Helen.
It seems likely that as we hone our abilities to create in this new paradigm, and as machine learning and AI become more powerful and sophisticated, we’ll start to see these technologies used not just to generate linear content, but also interactive content. games like flappy bird consists of only a few hundred lines of code, and the speed at which people created clones of the game when it was released in 2013 was staggering. But computers are faster. It won’t be long before machine learning can be used to generate these kinds of simple games, and soon platform holders will launch proprietary generators that will allow users to create on-demand games from prompts. : “a side scroll where I’m an ostrich in a tuxedo trying to escape an uprising of robots. This may seem weird and may be unnecessary, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it appeared tomorrow. And once it does, it will only get better.
Not far behind this coming ability to generate simple games will be the ability to generate complex games: “an open-world fantasy RPG set in a steampunk version of early Napoleonic France.” Of course, these are extremely wide settings – much wider than regenerating a movie from a specified script – but nothing will prevent you from being able to fine-tune the settings while you play; “make progress closer Skyrim», or « to make the bosses look more like Ring of Elden“, and the AI will also learn about you and your preferences over time.
Of course, with such malleable content, the question arises: what is the difference between a generated movie and a game? In the middle of Jordan Peele the wrecker, couldn’t I just say “let me play now” and immediately take control of Millie Bobby Brown as a Spartan officer? While I can’t tell you how to build this thing just yet, I can tell you with certainty that it will arrive as a simulation running a script, not a linear sequence of created frames rendered one frame at a time. You can definitely play it.
As we watch the rising tide of generated content that seems poised to flood our culture, it’s easy to be afraid of a future where artists have been replaced by machines, but it’s not that simple. . There are two types of artists: creators who do nouns beautifully, and performers who do verbs beautifully (most artists are at least a bit of both). In the last century, with the rise of audiovisual media culture, the industrialization of entertainment, and the centralized control of the economy of created artifacts, creators have profited enormously over performers, but this is a historical anomaly. In the first 10,000 years of human cultivation, the balance has turned and the correction has been underway since Napster torpedoed the music industry below the waterline and the concept of albums meant to be listened to from linear way on plastic discs has ceased to make sense. .
In the future – potentially as early as 2032 – the process of creating beautifully digital names will be fully automated. This will not prevent our desire or compulsion to continue creating digital names (although it may call into question our ability to do so profitably). Nor will it impact our desire to perform…to play. No computer needs to lose a game of chess or face a human, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to play, to play better, or to learn to play beautifully. As humans, we will always find beauty and ingenuity in what other humans can do, and our fascination with drawing the boundaries of who we are and what we can be is inescapable.