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Cyberpunk's quest director says CD Projekt Red has experimented with generative AI, but there's still a 'gigantic, really long way to go' before AI NPCs are as good as scripted characters

 Idris Elba in Phantom Liberty looking at camera while seated at upscale restaurant.
Idris Elba in Phantom Liberty looking at camera while seated at upscale restaurant.

Numerous game companies are currently experimenting with NPCs powered by generative AI, from Nvidia's Convai-powered ramen connoisseur, to Ubisoft's GDC showcase of its "Neo NPCs". There is potential for interesting game design using these technologies, with Ubisoft boldly claiming the tech could "transform the way players interact with non-playable characters". Yet the quest designer involved in creating some of the best handcrafted NPCs in existence—CD Projekt Red's Pawel Sasko—believes there's a "gigantic, really long way to go" before AI NPCs will match the quality of scripted characters.

Speaking to Aftermath, Sasko revealed that the studio behind Cyberpunk 2077 has done some R&D on AI. He didn't specify what experiments the company had done, but at a personal level, Sasko is deeply sceptical that AI-generated NPCs can achieve the same level of depth and nuance that a human writer can imbue into a character.

"I could definitely see the ways this could be used to bring up more reactivity," Sasko said. "But when it comes to writing and voice acting, there's just a gigantic, really long way to go. I've seen a lot behind the scenes. There is a visible gap between authored content—the bespoke content that writers, quest designers, cinematic designers make with their own hands—and something that AI can provide."

Sasko emphasises that this isn't a small gap either. Directly comparing recent experiments in AI NPCs to the character work CD Projekt Red did in Cyberpunk's excellent expansion Phantom Liberty, he says, "The gap in quality, specifically, is huge. It's like a canyon."

This technology is still very new, and it's possible it could see huge leaps forward in the next few years. Nvidia's CEO Jensen Huang, for example, posits that we might be playing entire games generated by AI within the next ten years. Then again, I'd say stuff like that too if my company's share price was rocketing off the back of the AI boom.

You can read Aftermath's full exploration of AI generated NPCs here. Sasko isn't the only developer sceptical about the potential of AI being used directly to create art and narrative. Larian CEO Swen Vincke recently stated that, while AI does have its uses as a tool, he doesn't believe "it'll ever replace the creative side of things". Given the huge, massive, enormous, very large successes of both Baldur's Gate 3 and Cyberpunk as handcrafted adventures, Vincke and Sasko together might just know what they're talking about.