Ubisoft reveals AI-powered ‘NEO NPCs’ at GDC 2024

Ubisoft aims to "enhance narrative immersion" with its NEO NPCs.
ubisoft ai neo npcs

Ubisoft has unveiled a tech demo at GDC 2024 designed to reveal the impact generative AI could have on game narratives and NPCs in future. The “NEO NPCs” shown off to media in private show floor sessions are essentially human-made characters with responses guided by generative AI, able to react to player input in ways that Ubisoft believes will “enhance narrative immersion.”

Per a report from GamesIndustry.biz, the demonstration on the showfloor revolved around three scenarios: building a relationship with a resistance leader named Bloom, undertaking a stealth mission with Bloom, and later planning a stealth mission with a NEO NPC named Iron. According to GamesIndustry.biz, each NPC was open to player suggestion in their quests, providing responses to voiced player queries, while also guiding conversations “back to the task at hand.”

Bloom was said to respond to a variety of questions, taking player tone into account. When the right questions were asked, Bloom would initiate the next stage of the player’s journey.

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“We’ve seen experiments from players and devs just attaching ChatGPT to lots of games, which made the NPCs able to talk,” Xavier Manzanares, project director, told GamesIndustry.biz. “This was interesting, it sparked interest, but it also saw negative stuff where people were saying it was soulless and less interesting than we thought. On our side we decided to not just do a broad LLM into an NPC, but to think about what is a meaningful interaction between the player and an NPC.”

Rather than being sole creations of generative AI, the NEO NPCs unveiled by Ubisoft are created by human writers, who define their personality, back story, and emotion in the same way they might a traditional NPC. Generative AI is then used to flesh out their personality, and provide a pathway for player interaction.

“GenAI is a tool, it is a tech, it doesn’t create games,” Manzanares said. “It has to be connected to design and it has to be connected to a team that wants to push something.”

In a blog post, Ubisoft has detailed more about the NEO NPC project, and the intentions of the tech demo shown at GDC 2024. For now, the project appears to be about creating a more interactive experience, and building on the work of human writers – not replacing them.

Early experimentation has not been without its quirks so far, with the technology still gestating. As described by Ubisoft, one attempt to generate a female character led to stereotypical “flirtatious and seductive” dialogue trees. As Ubisoft says, it’s still important for every aspect of these characters to be guided and guard-railed by humans.

“There’s a keen sensitivity toward bias and stereotypes within the LLM and its influence on character design and behaviour … There’s also a firm belief in human performance as an irreplaceable part of building a believable character … Project NEO NPC is only a prototype, and there’s still a way to go before it can be implemented in a game.”

In signing off, Ubisoft underlined the studio’s NEO NPC program is not designed to replace creatives, and that throughout its development process, every member of the R&D team “created” in some fashion. Generative AI may become more commonplace in the game development of the future, but it will never truly replace human creativity and writing.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.