Ubisoft, Nvidia, and Inworld AI partnership to produce "Neo NPC" game characters with AI-backed responses

Ubisoft's Neo NPC project in action, which leverages AI for player interaction.
Ubisoft's Neo NPC project in action, which leverages AI for player interaction. (Image credit: Ubisoft)

During this year's Game Developer's Conference (GDC 2024), Ubisoft has unveiled the product of a collaboration between itself, Inworld AI, and Nvidia's Audio2Face tech, demonstrating "Neo NPCs" capable of speaking directly to human players. This is made possible through the mighty, sometimes-terrifying, sometimes-quite-underwhelming power of generative AI, and is something we've been expecting to see since Inworld first popped up as an Xbox partner last year.

Interestingly, this actually isn't the first-ever example of interactable AI NPCs. An indie murder mystery game on Steam titled Vaudeville released on Early Access in June of 2023 and made significant waves for its litany of conversation-capable NPCs.

Like Neo NPCs, Vaudeville leveraged Inworld AI for its characters, but the programming/voices were still ultimately quite limited. As one of the first-ever examples of modern AI leveraged in game design, Vaudeville showed some potential, but let's be realistic here: it's no L.A. Noire, a similarly-themed all-time classic detective game from Rockstar Games.

Compared to Vaudeville, though, these "Neo NPCs" seem to be considerably more advanced, although the on-floor demos at GDC are limited. Even so, it's to be expected a company with the resources of Ubisoft would be able to utilize AI technology to a greater extent than a small indie developer.

Say what you like about stagnation in Ubisoft's writing and game design (and we're sure some of you have plenty to say about that), the last thing you could accuse a modern Ubisoft game of is having low production values. To overcome the uncanny valley and even come close to providing a truly immersive experience with generative AI-driven NPCs, the resources available to a AAA studio may just be necessary— though Guillemette Picard insists otherwise in the original blog post.

Another aspect focused on with "Neo NPCs" is that they can still have pre-written backstories and motivations. In fact, that's leveraged to help keep the character and their answers immersed in the setting, despite whatever the player might be saying that goes against those goals. Narrative Director Virginie Mosser said, "It's very different. But for the first time in my life, I can have a conversation with a character I've created. I've dreamed of that since I was a kid."

As cool as this advancement is, it's important to note that Ubisoft's Neo NPCs are currently limited to a few playable show floor experiences and nothing that players can actually use yet. However, the existence of this tech could mean a not-so-distant future where an Assassin's Creed game involves the player fully speaking for the historical character they're embodying in that title.

As genuinely cool as all of that sounds, we don't want to understate the potential negative impact this could have on actual games writing and voice acting moving forward. Compelling voice and writing talent have been responsible for some of the most memorable moments in video games for decades— to such an extent AAA devs have been doing facial capture with real-life prestige actors for quite some time, now.

Freelance News Writer