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Ubisoft unveil AI dialogue-writing tool, prompting debate among developers

Ghostwriter's the name

Ubisoft revealed Ghostwriter yesterday, marketed as an AI development tool (really just machine learning) that generates first drafts of NPC barks, which are the offhand remarks you might hear when running past NPCs. Skyrim’s “I used to be an adventurer like you” is probably the most famous example of a bark. Ubisoft Ghostwriter has been met with passionately negative responses from some narrative designers, while others have been arguing for its use cases.

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Game Developer reported on a GDC talk from Ubisoft La Forge researcher Ben Swanson that sheds more light on the tool, emphasising that Ghostwriter still requires developer input and that it’s mostly relegated to producing ambient dialogue. Ghostwriter has four main uses. It can generate variations of any bark, so if a writer inputs “I need help,” Ghostwriter will come up with different ways of saying the same thing.

Ghostwriter has other similar uses. For example, it can create barks based on an NPC’s situation, if a writer gives the tool that information. A writer can also give two NPCs a role and a topic to discuss. The example given had a thug and an officer discussing a robbery, which created lyrical poetry like “So you’re the one who’s been robbing the toy stores.” It can also create the throwaway lines you’d hear when running through crowds and such.

Swanson apparently argues that the tool addresses “pain points” in the development process, and that it still requires work and input from developers, rather than replacing them. Ghostwriter spits out barks and writers can edit them. But there have been a number of talking points around the subject in game dev circles, for and against the new tech.

On Twitter, Radical Forge’s lead UI artist Edd Coates argued that this work could have been handed to a junior, making Ghostwriter seem like just another cost-cutting measure. He also said, “They’re clearly testing the waters with the small stuff before rolling out more aggressive forms of AI.”

On the other side of the spectrum, a former narrative dev at Ubisoft Liz England said they attended the talk and it was “fantastic.” They called it the “Gold standard of how to integrate this tech into your development, in direct collaboration with writers and using their own datasets.”

Other devs have argued that writing barks isn’t a pain. Sure, they’re non-essential and unattentive players won't notice them, but what dialogue is essential? Ambient dialogue - in the case of Skyrim and countless other games - can be just as colourful as a climatic monologue. Ubisoft’s recent output has felt a little plastic-like, to me, so I’m not surprised to see them flying this flag. But on that note, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any big publisher going down this route either.

AI generation has constantly been in headlines recently with Microsoft’s voice mimicking VALL-E, and games like High On Life having used AI art to decorate walls - also a very funny meme of Trump being arrested.

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Kaan Serin avatar

Kaan Serin


Kaan Serin has been floating around as a games media freelancer ever since graduating with an English/Film degree. He now spends his free time campaigning for Banjo-Kazooie’s return