Thursday, September 1, 2022

Skin In The Game

Quite possibly my favorite part of Blaugust this year has been Tipa's fascinating series on AI generated content. Tipa asked "OpenAI’s GPT-3 to generate 31 different videogame ideas, one for each day of Blaugust, each dealing in some way with that particular day of the month", a process which created some amazingly convincing games I'd definitely play as well as some extremely bizarre ones I certainly wouldn't.

Even more intriguing than the games themselves are Tipa's sidebars and posts about her methodology and how much prompting, tweaking and editing it took to get to the finished results. On the evidence presented, I think it's clear that publically-available AI text generators aren't going to be putting many human game devs out of business any time soon, although they might come up with a few game ideas we haven't seen done to death already.

I find all of this incredibly interesting, possibly due to growing up reading too much Philip K. Dick. I always wanted to live in a world with talking taxicabs and toasters that argued back. 

Now that we very nearly do, I find myself somewhat ambivalent about it all. I have an irrational dislike of AI assistants like Siri and Alexa that's borne not out of any kind of fear of what they might be doing with my data but of a deep sense of disappointment that they're not better. I want them to be more like the AIs in Iain Banks' Culture novels, less like a flock of robotic Captain Flints.

I've already played around some with AI-generated images and text . I'd been using Craiyon for pictures and Inferkit for words, the big attraction being that they're both free and require no regestration but Tipa's posts have inspired me to dig deeper.

Tipa has been using GPT-3 for writing and Dall-E 2 for pictures. They're both operated by OpenAI and are paid-for services, although as Tipa explains, the fees are very reasonable and you get some free use as well. 

You can register to use the text services right away. I signed up yesterday and played around with some prompts this morning. I'd love to start experimenting with Dall-E 2 as well. From the results I've seen it's hugely superior to Craiyon (Hardly surprising, given Craiyon was originally called Dall-E Mini.) Unfortunately, access is by invitation only. You can ask for an invite but there's a waitlist. I filed out my application form almost a month ago but as yet I've heard nothing.

Before I started messing around with GPT-3 today I logged into Guild Wars 2 for the first time in over a month. I wanted to claim my free mount skin and all the other not very exciting goodies ArenaNet is handing out for the tenth anniversary.

I'm very much on record as not liking GW2's mounts but I'm even more on record as not being able to resist a freebie. I'm not currently playing World of Warcraft either, nor likely to any time soon, but that didn't stop me re-installing BattleNet just to claim my free copy of Shadowlands and my Level 50 Boost.

After I'd patched GW2 I logged in and looked through all the options. There were a handful I quite liked but I decided to hang on to my free skin for now. I'll almost certainly take one of the big cat options for the Warclaw, the World vs World mount, since that's both the least obnoxious to ride and the one I use most. 

Next, I logged into OpenAI, and after I'd had enough of getting GPT-3 to tell me stories about dogs and cats on Mars, I thought I'd see what it had to say about ANet's underwhelming anniversary bash. The prompt I used was 

Write a blog post describing the free mount skins being given away in the mmorpg Guild Wars 2 for the 10th anniversary. There are skins for all the mounts. Focus on the skins for the warclaw mounts used in world versus world.

The result was admirably on point:

"In celebration of Guild Wars 2's 10th anniversary, ArenaNet is giving away free mount skins to all players! This includes skins for the new warclaw mounts, which are used in World versus World.

The warclaw skins come in four different colors: red, blue, green, and yellow. Each one is uniquely patterned and sure to make your mount stand out on the battlefield. Whether you're leading the charge into battle or sneaking behind enemy lines, these skins will make you look good doing it.

So log in to Guild Wars 2 and claim your free mount skins today! And don't forget to check out the other 10th anniversary celebrations going on throughout the game

Apart from the "four different colors" bit, that could almost come straight from an official press release. It's very similar to the emails games companies send me regularly. If I was a busy copywriter I could very well imagine saving myself a ton of time using this thing. Or I could imagine it replacing me entirely.

For comparison, here's the result from InferKit using the same prompt:

"Accounts with two or more followers are eligible to win.

The contest is open until 2PM PDT on August 5th. You must be able to submit and post the contest in the forums to be considered.

There will be four winners selected based on the quality and creativity of the blog post, creativity in responding to the prompt, quality and creativity of the blog post description, and the amount of followers a follower has.

The winners of each Skin Prizes:

The first prize winner gets a Mecha Troll Mount

That's much weirder. And utterly wrong. I do want a Mecha Troll Mount, though.

Finally, I asked Craiyon to give me some pictures. My prompt was fairly vague:

Guild Wars 2 Warclaw mounts in various different "skins".

Based on my previous experiences with Craiyon, I wasn't expecting much but the results were surprisingly good. Leave aside the distortion and most of those could be quite decent skins. What's more, at least two of the shots clearly show some distinctive hot keys along the bottom, just where they'd be if you were playing, which made me think they must be ripped from actual GW2 screenshots.

I ran a second prompt, replacing "Warclaw" with "Raptor" and this time it was undeniable. Several of the shots are just blatant steals from in-game screenshots, complete with UI. Oddly, the raptors themselves look considerably less like anything you'd see in game.

That raises the awkward question of attribution. And ownership. There's increasing concern in some quarters about the way AI programs collect and repurpose data they find on the web. The process is opaque and the results are of unknown provenance. Artists and writers were already concerned about the potential for AI creators to steal their commissions. Now they're worried they may be stealing their work as well.

It shouldn't just be the creators who are worried. People like Tipa and me, playing around with the tools and sharing them online, might well find ourselves caught up in any copyright or IP rights infringement arising from the dubious ethics of the machine minds. I hope the good old "fair use" excuse still holds.

It all reminds me enormously of the early days of sampling back in the 80s and 90s. For a while there it was the Wild West, everyone grabbing whatever they fancied and using it how they liked without a thought to where it came from. 

All new tech starts like that but lawyers and legislators are getting faster at closing it down. The time to go wild with autonomic mashups may already be coming to an end. 

I hope not. I feel like I'm just getting started. I also think the fears are greatly exaggerated. Creativity isn't a zero sum game. We can always use more. And every creator is unique. Name your favorite artist or writer. There's never going to be another quite like them. 

Also, the likenesses aren't always very good. The prompts for the laughing and flying mounts specified "in the style of " named artists. I defy anyone to tell me who they were. And what do you mean, you didn't notice they were laughing?

On the other hand, as my first example above suggests, if you're looking to leverage that liberal arts degree into an entry-level job in video game promotion and copywriting, maybe think again. That ship might just have sailed.


  1. I've been playing with the open tool Stable Diffusion as an image generation tool for the last few days. My NVIDIA 2080 is just new enough to be able to run SD at home.

    Probably time to get that fancy new box with the nice graphics card that you've been thinking about for years. You need it for images. :-)

    1. Wow! Thanks for the tip. It'l be a while before I can run something like that at home but there's a great, free demo option I'm playing with right now. There's also a faster beta version, apparently, but it requires registration. I'll get to that later.

      On a first look, it's very interesting in that, although the results are much more photo-realistic than other AI image generators I've used, they aren't necessarily any more accurate. The exact same GW2 warclaw prompt produced some highly detailed images of creatures almost unrecognzeable as GW2 mounts of any kind. Going to be fun to experiment.


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