Latitude, the startup behind text game AI dungeon, expands to a new artificial intelligence powered gaming platform called Voyage. The company announced the closed beta on Friday and opened a waiting list for the current one AI dungeon users. It’s the next step for a company that started with a university hackathon project but eventually hopes to help other people make their own games using trained AI models.
AI dungeon, which launched as AI Dungeon 2 in 2019, is powered by OpenAI’s GPT-2 and GPT-3 text generation algorithms. To start, generate some introductory text or write your own adventure lineup. Then you can enter any command you want and a Dungeons and Dragons-style virtual gamemaster will improvise some text describing the outcome. It’s very weird and a lot of fun, but it’s light on traditional game mechanics – more like an interactive fiction engine.
Voyage offers more structured games. There is a reigns-inspired experiment called Medieval problems, where you are the ruler of a kingdom and enter free text commands for your advisors, then see the results reflected in success ratings. It still looks a lot like AI dungeon, but with a clearer framework for what you should do and a system for evaluating success – although after playing with the game, that system seems quite forgiving and more than a little random.
Pixel thisMeanwhile, it’s a parlor game where a person enters a phrase, the AI generates a pixelated image of it, and that image slowly increases in resolution until another player guesses it. It’s a bit like the art app Dream combined with a Pictionarystyle mechanic.
Latitude CEO Nick Walton describes Voyage as a natural evolution for Latitude. For the company: “AI games reboot a bit at the beginning” – with text adventures reminiscent of Zork or Colossal cave adventure. “Now we’re moving into 2D imagery where you have a certain level of visuals.” AI dungeon, included in Voyage, recently added AI-produced photos taken with the Pixray image generator.
The ultimate goal is to add game creation tools, not just games, to Voyage. “Our long-term vision enables creators to create things that are dynamic and alive in ways existing experiences are not, as well as create things that in the past required studios of a hundred people,” says Walton. There’s no precise roadmap, but Latitude plans to work on the system in the first half of next year.
Creative tools can help Voyage find a long-term business plan. AI dungeon is currently free for a range of features powered by GPT-2 and on a subscription basis to access the higher quality GPT-3 algorithm. After the Voyage beta, Latitude plans to introduce a subscription for it as well.
But Voyage’s new games don’t yet have the versatility or replayability of AI dungeon — it’s still clearly the products of a company trying to crack games based on machine learning. “This approach is one of the things that I think will be really helpful in terms of being able to iterate and find out what experiences people like,” Walton says. “With traditional games, you can use existing models and create a game that you’re sure people will like. But this space is so different, and it’s hard to know per se.” The question is how much people are willing to pay to be part of that process.
As Latitude’s mission expands, it will likely have to be careful with OpenAI’s Application Programming Interface (API). The organization approves GPT-3 projects on an individual basis and projects must adhere to content guidelines intended to prevent abuse. Latitude has struggled with these limitations in the past, since AI dungeon gives users a lot of freedom to shape their own stories – leading some users to create disturbing sexual scenarios that alarm OpenAI. (It also covers security issues surrounding user commands.) The startup spent months working on filtering systems that inadvertently blocked more harmless fictional content before striking a deal that would send some user commands to a non-OpenAI algorithm.
Pixel this and Medieval problems are more closed systems with less obvious moderation risks, but introducing creative tools risks breaking OpenAI’s control over GPT-3, which can pose its own problems. Walton says Latitude hopes to move more of its games to other algorithms over time. “We’re going to have a little more structure and systems so that it’s not just directly… [OpenAI] API in the same way. And at the same time, I think most of our models will probably be models that we host ourselves,” he says. That includes models based on emerging open source projects — which struggled to compete with OpenAI’s work, but have progressed since their early days. “I don’t think that gap will last that long,” Walton says.
Many games use procedural generation that remixes developer-created building blocks to create massive amounts of content, and most video games “AI” are relatively simple instructions. A company like Latitude, instead, uses algorithms trained to produce text or images that fit a pattern from a data set. (Think of them as super-advanced autocomplete systems.) Right now, that can make the resulting experiences highly unpredictable, and their absurdity is often part of their charm — outside of gaming, other companies like NovelAI have also used text generation for creative work.
But Latitude is still figuring out how to create systems where players can expect fair and consistent results. Text generation algorithms don’t have a built-in sense of whether an action will succeed or fail, for example, and systems for making those judgments may not match normal human intuition. Image generation algorithms are great for producing weird art, but in a game like Pixel this, players cannot necessarily predict how recognizable a particular image will be.
For now, Latitude’s solution is to lean into the chaos. “If you try to do something really serious with AI where people expect a high degree of coherence, it’s going to be tough, at least until the technology gets better,” Walton says. “But if you embrace that aspect of it and let it be a little crazier and crazier, I think you create a fun experience and people are happy with those surprises.”