'There is no AI-driven software that I know of that we would put in a shipped game,' says Blackbird Interactive's president

Homeworld 3
(Image credit: Blackbird Interactive)

Several members of Homeworld 3 studio Blackbird Interactive recently took part in a roundtable discussion hosted by PC Gamer's Evan Lahti, with AI as the main topic. While all of them saw the value of algorithmic tools in creating videogames, the consensus was that things aren't 100% ready for prime time yet.

"There is no AI-driven software that I know of that we would put in a shipped game that would come from Blackbird," said Rory Mcguire, the studio's president and CCO, "none of the art that's being produced on Midjourney. We would use it to block in some ideas or explore some ideas we already have—we're doing that now. But we wouldn't put that art into the game. It's just an inspiration, the same way you would do Google image search."

By contrast, Blizzard just applied for a patent on an AI system to make art for its games. Blizzard's patent describes an image generator to aid in "generating structured textured images using machine learning with a reduced requirement for training data." The idea is that artists create a small number of paired training images of surface tiles, representing the kind of floors, walls, and terrain that make up a huge amount of the workload texture artists face. The AI would then create new tiles based on those inputs. 

Blackbird is a studio that's familiar with the state of AI. As well as developing games like Minecraft Legends, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, and Hardspace: Shipbreaker, Blackbird was responsible for designing a training environment for Sanctuary AI, which has been dubbed "the world's smartest robot". But even when it comes to programming, Mcguire isn't ready to put things made by AI into a final product.

"The same thing is true of ChatGPT," he said. "We've had programmers use ChatGPT to write code and it can produce things, but none of it meets their standards. Clunky, requires rewrites, it's like working with a horde of interns—a very fast horde of interns that can produce. I don't think any of the current tools, and we are experimenting with pretty much the latest and greatest that are publicly available, would meet the standards of what we would use in games."

Mcguire wasn't against the idea of using AI tools when they've improved, however. "They're very interesting right now," he said, "and I do think in the future we will see AI-driven software that is used in game production."

And if Blackbird designed its own AI game development tool, what would it make? "The one that I came up with that I would love is something that goes through bug databases and finds duplicates and combines them," Mcguire said, "because it's fundamentally a fit to what ChatGPT does. Like, somebody write this tomorrow and it would literally save hundreds of hours on triple-A projects."

Our AI roundtable also included Blackbird Interactive's CEO Rob Cunningham and director of business development and communications Alex Delamaire. We'll be uploading the conversation so you can listen to it yourself soon.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.