Have you ever seen the movie “Free Guy”? The movie starring Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer is one of my favorites in recent years. Aside from being the usual goofy fun you’d expect from most performances involving Ryan Reynolds, there’s actually a lot of depth if you’re a gamer.
As I was rewatching him after Microsoft’s big Bing AI event, I realized that before long, the world of Free Guy could be a reality very soon. While Microsoft initially focused on web content with its artificial intelligence efforts, the technology could completely transform gaming as we know it.
AI has a lot of potential in many areas, but for those of us who play games, it really could be employed in ways that make games more exciting.
What exactly is Free Guy about?
I won’t spoil the whole movie for those who haven’t seen it, but to set the context a bit, here’s a brief description, so the rest of the post makes sense.
It centers around an NPC named Guy (also known as Blue Shirt Guy) who resides within the game world of Free City. This is essentially a made up clone of GTA Online, an open world setting where crime pays and anything goes.
Buried beneath the chaos of Free City is a previous game created by two indie developers who coded an AI engine and intended it to be a purely observational experience where characters grow and evolve.
Guy soon begins to evolve after he encounters a very specific trigger and soon changes from a background character to an actual player in the game. Break free of his NPC cycle and enter Free City the same way normal players would. And in the end, he’s not the only NPC to break his ‘programming’.
What this movie does is give us a very clear example of what could soon become a reality in the games we play, all thanks to AI.
NPCs could become intelligent
Imagine if GTA 6 finally released with NPCs like Guy. Rather than just stand there and take whatever punishment was handed out to them, they fought back. But they held their own in unique ways brought about by the current environment of the game. Instead of relying on real world players to add difficulty, what if all the NPCs behaved like real players? Unpredictable? Dangerous?
One of my favorite games is The Division 2, and I’ve thought a lot about how AI could improve the player experience here. It’s infinitely replayable, but it’s easy enough to rush through missions without much of a challenge, even on higher difficulties. Learning where enemies spawn doesn’t take long, and their weapons/armor never really change.
Imagine applying an AI engine to those enemies. As you play, they learn from your tactics and equipment. Instead of spawning from the same door every time, they’ll try to put up a real fight, moving to different locations, using different weapons and equipment, and trying to outplay you at your own game.
Shooting games like this are an obvious choice for AI enhancement. In real world combat, tactics would be adjusted on the fly and no mission would follow the same pattern. The ‘boss’ wouldn’t just show up to be melted down in seconds; they would be smarter than that. They would try to catch you off guard.
This shouldn’t apply to enemies either. Similar to Free Guy, friendly NPCs could benefit from artificial intelligence in the same way. Suggest new tactics, make smart moves on the map, and react to the enemy just like a real world player would.
Or how about an extension to the Forza Drivatar system? This is already designed to mimic real gamers, but what if they were AI-powered instead? Can you properly compete against yourself by making clever moves and blocks instead of stacking like our own Jez Corden Drivatar does? Real world racing drivers are always learning, adapting and honing their skills. Drivatars are much more limited, but AI opponents could easily act as real drivers.
Whichever game you play the most, I’m sure you could think of ways the AI could improve the quality of the NPCs.
Enhanced gameplay with AI and more immersive worlds
AI doesn’t just have to apply to NPCs though. While Free Guy focuses on them, the AI could change the world around you and them to make it more immersive, more challenging, and more realistic.
In the movie, there are sequences where the developers manipulate Free City manually, but the AI could do it on its own.
Imagine a simulator like Euro Truck Sim 2. AI could generate more realistic traffic patterns, unique weather based on your trip, the part of the world you are in and the time of day, and use real world data to help generate this. Games already do a good job of this, but they rely on algorithms and other details that developers have to code. AI could do a better job without this same level of information.
Real life is unpredictable, and AI is the best chance we have of being able to replicate any of this within a game.
Better game feedback to players.
We’re already starting to see how AI could improve the player feedback loop in games with the rise of tools like ChatGPT and Bing AI. The most obvious are better conversational models.
Just like in Free Guy, where Guy, and eventually other NPCs, break out of their cycles of saying the same things over and over again, the AI could completely transform in-game conversation. Instead of repetitions and preselected options, the AI could promote more natural dialogue and real conversations.
I still think of the spotter in iRacing as a good but rather simple example. Right now it’s fine and there are third party tools that do a better job. But with the power of AI, the observer could mimic the real world equivalent.
Instead of just giving basic information about where your opponents are in relation to your car, imagine if the in-game spotter and crew chief could give complete information about all opponents. Where are they, how do they drive, is there an area on the track where they are doing something different to you, for example.
AI has the potential to deliver this more detailed and natural in-game dialogue, packed with higher quality conversations and more detailed information.
Microsoft is well positioned to harness AI in games
I remember seeing the first tech demo of Crackdown 3’s multiplayer several years ago. This took advantage of the cloud to calculate building damage models so that just crazy stuff was possible without hurting the game’s framerate.
Offloading these complex calculations to the cloud meant flawless performance was possible because all the difficult parts weren’t processed locally.
Microsoft, with Azure at its disposal, is perfectly positioned to harness AI in its own games. Something needs to feed it, after all.
There are endless possibilities for this technology in games, and these are just a few. But ultimately, if game developers start to take advantage of this technology, then the world of Free Guy could truly be right around the corner. And I for one would be very excited about that.