AI-driven cyberpunk game demo shows why machines aren’t about to replace game designers – TechSpot

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In context: Convai Technologies is a startup geared toward developing conversational AI avatars for the virtual world. The characters are capable of carrying on real-time open-ended conversations and independent actions. They can perform host or guide functions in the metaverse or developers can use them as NPCs in a game – or so the company claims.


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Convai (pronounced convey) partnered with Unity on a game called Project Neural Nexus. It’s a cyberpunk-themed first-person shooter with all the dystopian tropes you would expect from the genre game, including a neon-infused locale uncreatively named “Neo City” and clothing that appears to be ripped straight out of Cyberpunk 2077.

Naturally, the game makes heavy use of Convai’s AI NPCs. The entire project appears to be not much more than an interactive advertisement or proof of concept for Convai’s “smart NPC” platform. It’s an interesting application of conversational AI in that you can presumably strike up an unscripted conversation with any NPC in the game, but that’s about as far as the novelty goes.

Judging by the trailer Convai released yesterday (masthead), Project Neural Nexus will not knock anybody’s socks off. As mentioned, the visuals are appropriate for the dystopian cyberpunk setting and the game supposedly use real-time ray tracing. However, the appearance is dull and washed out, contradicting the typically vibrant cyberpunk traditions. Instead of looking bright and gritty, it looks foggy and overexposed.

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The worst is those unscripted, real-time conversations. Every line of dialogue will remind you that you are talking to a soulless machine. The voices are natural sounding enough. They don’t have that hesitant robotic quality like the character in the introductory reel above. The problem is the delivery is flat and emotionless. It sounds like bored developers sitting around the office reading lines to each other.

Combat looks janky, too. We see a mech leap to attack a soldier, only to get stuck in the air before the scene cuts. Another mech pounds on some video signage that explodes with too much force and pyrotechnics than one would expect from an electric billboard. Instead of blue sparks and smoke, it looks like the mech punctured a gasoline tank.

Considering it’s a more or less tech demo, Project Neural Nexus does have some merit. With further advancements, it could potentially deliver more convincing voice acting. Competent developers could also improve the visuals and gameplay. However, as a platform for automated world-building, let’s just say that studios better hang on to their scriptwriters. Having meaningless conversations with NPCs seems fun for about 5 minutes. The tech needs to bake a bit more.

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