Uncanny Stardew Valley AI mod replaces its lovely villagers with '33 provided brains'

The farmer from Stardew Valley stands in the middle of a desolate community centre.
(Image credit: ConcernedApe)

Stardew Valley is a game known for its cosy homegrown feel, with complex, well-written characters populating a little village trying to scrape by under the looming shadow of a mega-corporation. So obviously, an AI company made a mod that scrapes out their personalities and replaces them with a large language model, with the appetising sales pitch: "By default, there are 33 provided brains."

InworldAI promises to "craft characters with distinct personalities and contextual awareness that stay in-world or on brand." Watching Pelican Town's civilians rattle off lines of inoffensive text, however, feels like I've stumbled into some alternate JojaMart bad ending, where all the textured characters of Stardew Valley have been body-snatched by clones.

Stardew Valley works well because it endears you to its cast of characters, walking you through charming slow-burn stories. Shane, for example, is a character who struggles with both his depression and alcohol abuse. Getting to know him means untangling a thorny exterior and helping him face his own demons. It's a heartfelt storyline for what's otherwise a decidedly cosy 'n' cute game.

But why sit comfortably with a well-crafted character for a limited time, when you could talk to a hollow shell of them forever? You can even program Inworld's faux-people yourself, who act based on the "profiles you create for them." If you don't like Shane or his problems, you can just tinker them away. This is new-Shane, he talks with exclamation points about long walks in the forest. Don't ask what happened to the old one, it doesn't matter, new-Shane loves you. 

I don't mean to come down too hard on the players who buy into this sort of thing—after all, the prospect of actually getting to have a conversation with your favourite NPC is appealing. But when I see comments asking things like "can you make a tutorial on how to edit an existing brain?" and "dude I tried to edit Haley's personality but I [keep crashing]", I feel, uh, not good.

The use of AI in mods has been picking up steam as the tech progresses, with some particularly harrowing examples impacting the voice acting community. While it's harder to see where exactly these "brains" have been pulled from, there's still something weirdly violating about what I'm looking at.

I might just be a curmudgeon, but digging out the personalities that Stardew's developer Eric Barone—otherwise known as ConcernedApe—worked hard to create seems self-defeating. I like stories with characters in them, and a big part of why they work is that they end. They have an idea to communicate, they do that, and then they stop. I don't want to talk to Shane for 100 hours if those hours are meaningless.

Granted, if AI's part of the design from the ground up, such as with Stanford University's AI experiment or Hidden Door, I'm less bothered. And there are plenty of ways this tech can be used for good, like translating 5,000 year old tablets or messing with other AI-generated scam callers. But tampering with deliberate worlds, especially ones concerned with things like a corporation muscling in on a community-driven town—is a solid swing and a miss for me.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.