If you play a lot of video games, you’re no stranger to competing against a machine. Play a game like Halo Infinite long enough and you’ll probably bump into a few bots that aren’t the smartest Spartans on the battlefield. But what if you could play games with a genius A.I. that actually feels like it’s listening and responding to you like a human?
Voyage is a new A.I. gaming platform featuring unique games built around machines. The experimental project is spearheaded by Latitude, the studio behind A.I. Dungeon. In that text-based adventure game, a machine fluidly crafts a story by responding to everything a user types, just like an RPG dungeon master. It was an impressive trick in 2019, but it’s only the beginning of what Voyage has in store for players.
“A.I. Dungeon was the seed of a promise, where what if you weren’t bound by prewritten things?” Latitude CEO Nick Walton told me when we sat down for an interview on the project. “We’ve always seen A.I. Dungeon as 5% of what we want to build.”
Through an expanding list of curated games and creation tools that’ll let anyone make an A.I. experience, Voyage hopes to bring a little life to our cold, digital futures.
Out of the dungeon
Voyage is a direct result of A.I. Dungeon, which gained plenty of curious eyes in late 2019. The game began as a hackathon project that looked to replicate the flexible problem solving that players experience in tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. Walton began experimenting with GPT, a powerful open source A.I. model that scans data from around the internet.
Walton describes the tech as autocomplete, but with its intelligence blown up 10,000 times. It took a lot of tweaking to get the A.I. working right, with the initial version of the game being nonsensical at times (it would start weaving stories about knights fighting dragons, only to launch into a fantasy game review). After months of dataset fine-tuning — and essentially giving the game humanlike filters — Latitude had created a convincing dungeon master that could virtually react to anything a user typed and spin it into a story. That captured many players’ attention in late 2019, planting the seed for expansion.
“We realized that there’s something here people are really excited about,” Walton tells Digital Trends. “This ability to have these flexible experiences where people have the free ability to solve problems. Instead of fighting a troll, they could offer the troll a cupcake and then bond over their love of pastries and open a pastry shop in the city. They can do all these cool things that are stories that could never happen in another game.”
A new voyage
Voyage, which will launch as a subscription-based service, looks to deliver on that curiosity further with a suite of new games. In Medieval Problems, players take the role of a king who has to solve problems in his kingdom, much like the Reigns series. Rather than choosing between a few options, players will type anything they want and the computer will generate a unique response. Then there’s Things, where players are given random objects and asked to combine them to form something new. There are no set recipes; the A.I. organically decides what players make. Combining a camera and the internet might produce YouTube, for example.
Even more impressive is Pixel This, a multiplayer spin on Pictionary. One player writes out something they want the A.I. to draw, which can get as specific as “dog with a plate of spaghetti,” and other players must guess as the computer slowly creates a doodle.
“We’ve always seen A.I. Dungeon as 5% of what we want to build.”
The platform’s initial offerings sound just as special as A.I. Dungeon, but Latitude’s prebuilt games aren’t the main hook of the platform. Voyage will offer any subscriber the creation tools needed to build their own projects, whether they be games or totally different experiences.
“One of the real powers of A.I. is that it enables human creators to do much more than they could on their own,” Walton says. “To make a Skyrim world, you need hundreds of people and five years building this whole world, but you can imagine having an A.I. that you work with. You’re the creative director and the A.I. is the team. We kind of see ourselves as providing the bridge between A.I. research and everyday users who can create cool experiences without knowing how to code or how A.I. works.”
The intuitive system will let creators make an A.I. bot using natural language. They’ll be able to, say, choose a personality or create a backstory for the machine by just typing it out. The tool will also feature modules that can be chained together to change what the A.I. is thinking or what’s happening behind the scenes. Walton describes it as a visual scripting language that doesn’t require programming knowledge.
“We’ve already seen people create books or even scripts for movies on A.I. Dungeon, and I think we’ll continue to see that pattern with Voyage.”
Bringing life to the lifeless
Latitude’s approach to A.I. gaming is a constant work in progress. The studio is always tinkering with the technology to create bots that better interact with the world. Walton notes that it would be disappointing to talk to an A.I. nonplayable character in Skyrim who tells players to slay a dragon and that he’ll give you a sword — but there’s no dragon or sword.
“There’s a lot more we need to figure out in terms of how you integrate the A.I. on a deeper level with what’s in the world and what the character does to make it more immersive in the way that players dream of,” says Walton.
“We want to be the A.I. engine that powers pieces of the metaverse.”
Even so, there’s a real sense of life in Latitude’s games already. When you play A.I. Dungeon, it sincerely feels like there’s a human reacting on the other end. That’s refreshing in a world that’s becoming cluttered with awkward digital experiences as companies rush to create their vision of “the metaverse.” Dead-eyed meta avatars and eerily empty digital Walmarts have become laughingstocks to skeptics who find the whole idea of expanded digital experiences somewhat dystopian.
This is how Walmart envisions Shopping in the #Metaverse.
Thoughts? 💭 pic.twitter.com/5l7KhoBse7
— Homo Digitalis (@DigitalisHomo) January 3, 2022
Walton says he’s interested in certain aspects of the concept, but feels that the label has been misused as of late. He sees it as an extension of the internet, but with new capacities. In that sense, he feels that Latitude’s work with Voyage could help bring life to some of those creepier experiences floating around.
“We want to be the A.I. engine that powers pieces of the metaverse,” Walton says. “So you have this 3D space that you go in, like your house. And it’s not just an empty place full of assets, but there’s characters you can talk to and hang out with. Think of it as an electricity power grid for the metaverse, powering life into characters and pieces.”
Players can currently sign up to Voyage’s waiting list to get more information about the platform.