Tuesday, March 21, 2023

How To Review A Game You Haven't Played

Tobold has a post up today about a topic that always interests me: Artificial Intelligence. In it, he suggests "ChatGPT could easily reply to a request like "write a blog post about World of Warcraft in the style of Tobold"." I'm sure it could but we alrady have a pretty good idea what Tobold thinks about WoW

How about a game that, as far as we know, he hasn't played yet? Diablo IV. I've been reading a few posts about that one myself, wondering how, as someone who's never played any Diablo games, let alone the newest one, I could get in on the act. Maybe this is the answer.

I fired up my Open AI test account and gave ChatGPT the following to work from:

"Here's a paragraph of a blog by mmorpg blogger Tobold.

 "Games describe game elements with words that have a certain meaning in general language and then game design sometimes ends up players feeling something very different about that game element than the word would suggest. A great example is "monster", which used to describe something scary to be avoided, but in many games ends up being more like a resource to be searched after. But in the large majority of games that I have played over several decades, "leveling" your character was a good thing. Until Phantom Brigade. I recently deleted my save games and started over, because I had leveled up quickly, and then found out that it was a bad thing."

Write a 500 word post in Tobold's style about the new Diablo IV game."

The first thing I have to say about that is five hundred words is way too long. Half that would have been plenty. Secondly, one paragraph really doesn't give ChatGPT much to work with so I hope Tobold's oeuevre is already logged in its databanks.

With that gloss, here's what it came up with:

"As a long-time fan of the Diablo franchise, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Diablo IV. And while the game certainly delivers on many fronts, there are a few aspects that I find somewhat troubling.

One of the biggest changes in Diablo IV is the introduction of a non-linear open world. While this is a departure from the linear dungeons of previous games, it also introduces some issues. For one, the game's narrative can feel disjointed at times, as you're constantly jumping from one area to another without a clear sense of progression. Additionally, the open world can sometimes feel overwhelming, with too many tasks and quests competing for your attention.

Another issue I have with Diablo IV is the new skill system. While the previous games had a straightforward skill tree that allowed you to specialize your character in specific areas, Diablo IV has a more flexible system that allows you to mix and match different skills. While this can be fun and interesting, it also means that there's less of a sense of progression as you level up. In the previous games, you always had a clear sense of what your character was working towards, but in Diablo IV, it can feel like you're just adding more skills to your already crowded arsenal.

That being said, Diablo IV does excel in some areas. The graphics are absolutely stunning, with an incredible attention to detail that makes the world feel alive and immersive. The combat is also excellent, with each class feeling distinct and offering a unique playstyle. The world design is also fantastic, with each area feeling distinct and interesting to explore.

One of the most interesting features of Diablo IV is the introduction of mounts. While this might seem like a minor addition, it actually has a big impact on the game's overall feel. Being able to ride through the world on horseback adds a sense of scale and adventure that was missing from the previous games. It also makes traversing the open world much more enjoyable, as you're not constantly running from one end of the map to the other.

In terms of story, Diablo IV is shaping up to be a solid addition to the franchise. The game takes place many years after the events of Diablo III, and the world has changed significantly. There are new threats to face and new characters to meet, and the game's story is shaping up to be one of its strongest aspects.

Overall, I'm still not sure how I feel about Diablo IV. While it has some fantastic features, there are also some aspects that feel like a step back from the previous games. That being said, I'm willing to give it a chance and see how it develops over time. If you're a fan of the franchise, it's definitely worth checking out. But if you're looking for a game that's a clear improvement over its predecessors, you might be disappointed."

Now, that's a very impressive auto-generated review. It's coherent, consistent, focused and clear. If I read it on someone's blog or on a gaming site, I wouldn't question its authorship for a moment. On the other hand, I certainly wouldn't peg it as something Tobold might have written. It has none of his slightly skewed syntax or second (Third?) language infelicities for a start but more importantly it has none of the stamp of his unmistakeable personality that all his posts enjoy.

As for accuracy, I have no idea. Does Diablo IV have mounts? It's the first I've heard about it but Google confirms that, yes, it does. And the observations about the strength of the storyline and the quality of the graphics were certainly confirmed by Tyler F. M. Edwards in his piece at MassivelyOP, in which he observed  "the story intrigued me" and "the graphics are gorgeous", albeit both with qualifications.

So far, so convincing. I would suspect ChatGPT of pulling chunks from extant reviews wholesale but as Janelle Shane at AI Weirdness found, it probably wouldn't own up even if you caught it in the act. And anyway, maybe that's just how good it is at its job. Game reviews are often much of a muchness so it would be hard to tell, either way.

I flatter myself my own review style is slightly less bland than the average, although I'm sure we'd all say that about our own stuff. Regardless, I thought it would be interesting to get a comparison. 

This time I gave ChatGPT the following to get it started:

"Here's a paragraph of a blog by mmorpg blogger Bhagpuss.

 "By an order of magnitude, at least, my all-time favorite mmorpg for fashion is The Secret World. Or Secret World Legends, for that matter, since it uses exactly the same apearance system. I currently have my screenshot file for the original game set as the source for my desktop background and I'm constantly surprised and delighted by just how cool my characters look in those old shots. Noah's Heart doesn't have anything like the same aesthetic but even so it's probably the game where I've most enjoyed dressing my character since I was playing SWL. "

Write a 500 word post in Bhagpuss's style about the new Diablo IV game."

And this is what I got:

"As an avid MMORPG blogger and player, I'm always on the lookout for the next big thing in the world of online gaming. And when it comes to upcoming games, few have me more excited than Diablo IV. Having played the previous games in the series extensively, I can confidently say that Diablo IV has the potential to be one of the best MMORPGs of all time.

For starters, the visuals are absolutely stunning. From the moment I saw the gameplay trailer, I knew that Diablo IV was going to be a feast for the eyes. The game's dark, gothic aesthetic is perfectly in line with the series' roots, but it's been updated with modern graphics technology to make it look better than ever. Every detail, from the characters' armor and weapons to the monsters' grotesque appearances, is rendered with incredible attention to detail.

But of course, visuals aren't everything when it comes to MMORPGs. What really matters is the gameplay, and from what we've seen so far, Diablo IV looks like it's going to deliver in spades. The game's new open world format is a departure from the previous games' linear dungeon-crawling, but it looks like it's going to be a welcome change. The world is vast and filled with secrets to uncover, and the ability to explore it at your own pace is a refreshing change of pace from the usual "follow the quest markers" formula.

One thing that's particularly exciting about Diablo IV is the return of skill trees. In the previous games, skills were unlocked as you leveled up, but they...

Error in body stream"

Perhaps fortunately for us all, there was a glitch that halted text generation long before the five hundred words were done. Nevertheless, there's more than enough to show that this is a considerably better attempt at aping a specific prose style. 

I can see clear elements of the way I structure paragraphs in there, along with my usual sprinkling of cliche-adjacent descriptors and deadweight modifiers, the kind any good editor would excise immediately. I include these things quite deliberately to keep things demotic and conversational and avoid coming across as too dry and academic, always a danger in factual posts.


I don't think I'd choose to use "deliver in spades" or "a feast for the eyes" but I certainly might call something I approved of "a welcome change" or talk about something being "perfectly in line". I'm reasonably confident that, with only a handful of very minor changes, I could drop these paragraphs into a post I'd written and no-one would notice the difference.

Of course, as for content, it's completely spurious. Far from "Having played the previous games in the series extensively", as I said, I've never played them at all and I'm certainly not going to claim "when it comes to upcoming games, few have me more excited than Diablo IV". I could care less about the damn game, frankly. 

But who cares about accuracy? It took ChatGPT about forty-five seconds to come up with those three paragraphs. It'd take me a lot longer than that and would they be materially better? I'm not at all sure they would.

I did try to have Chat GPT churn out the full five hundred words but it stalled again with the same error so I moved on to one, final test. This time I wanted to give it more to work with, ask it to do less and have it focus on something I actually know a little about but which would be far less likely to provide ready-made copy than the ultra-high profile Diablo IV: Noah's Heart.

I fed four paragraphs of a post of mine about the game into ChatGPT. (To save space reproducing them here, they were paras 10-13 from this post.) Then I asked it to 

"Write a 250 word post in Bhagpuss's style reviewing the cross-platform mmorpg Noah's Heart."

Here's what it said:

"As a seasoned MMO player, I was curious to try out Noah's Heart, the latest cross-platform MMORPG. After spending several hours exploring its vast world, I can say that I am pleasantly surprised by what I've experienced so far.

One aspect of Noah's Heart that immediately caught my attention was the beautiful graphics and artwork. The game has a distinct anime-inspired style that is both whimsical and charming. The character designs are unique and varied, and the environments are stunningly detailed.

Another impressive feature of the game is its immersive storyline. The game follows the journey of the player character as they explore the world and uncover its secrets. The game's main questline is well-written and engaging, and the side quests are equally enjoyable. The game's cast of characters is also diverse and interesting, each with their own unique personalities and motivations.

One of the game's standout features is its combat system. The game offers a fast-paced action combat system that is both responsive and engaging. Players can choose from a variety of classes, each with their own unique playstyle and abilities. The game also offers a robust crafting system that allows players to create a variety of items and equipment.

While the game is not without its flaws, such as occasional server lag and some bugs, overall, Noah's Heart is a solid MMORPG that is well worth playing. It offers a beautiful world to explore, engaging gameplay, and a captivating storyline. Whether you're a seasoned MMO player or new to the genre, I highly recommend giving Noah's Heart a try."

Now, that's a very interesting review. Stylistically, I think it reads a little less like something I would have written, despite having been given more to go on, although "whimsical and charming"and "well-written and engaging" sound very much like things I'd say when trying to hand out compliments. It does make several confident assertions that I would never have included, like "Another impressive feature of the game is its immersive storyline", which is blatantly untrue, but even so, all in all, the conclusion isn't too far from what I've been saying these past few months.

I also remember talking specifically about occasional server lag, which seems an oddly specific thing to mention, given the game isn't in any way widely known for problems of that kind. That, along with one or two other details, does make me wonder if ChatGPT hasn't sourced it's information from things I've posted myself. 

It wouldn't, after all, be too much of a stretch to imagine. As I've commented in the past, there really aren't a lot of people writing about Noah's Heart at all, so Google tends to favor me on that front. A google search today for "blog posts about Noah's Heart" has two posts of mine in pole position on the first page of results, immediately after the links to YouTube videos about the game.

Experimenting with all of this has been fascinating. It's something I've been meaning to do for a while so my thanks to Tobold for giving me the push I needed to get on with it. The results raise a whole lot of very interesting questions concerning authorship, authenticity and accuracy, some of which I may get around to asking, if not answering, in future posts.

For now, though, aren't you re-assured to know I can fill a whole post with detailed, personalised reviews of a game I've never even watched, far less played? 

I know I am.


  1. In a Discord server I am on somebody posted a link to a quiz asking people if they could identify text that had been created by AI, and the main take away for me was that AI can indeed imitate banal descriptive language pretty well. The problem was my ability to care.

    1. Also, I took your idea and had ChatGPT write a 250 word blog post about Axie Infinity in the style of Wilhelm Arctutus and now I am unsure if I should feel self-loathing or be happy that the AI clearly doesn't know me.

    2. I have to say that a lot of my interest in AI text and image generation was instigated by the bizarre and otherworldly nature of the earlier experiments. The closer the results trend towards the kind of thing a competent copywriter or commercial artist might knock out in an average workday, the less interesting I find it. That said, this level of bland professionalism is clearly going to be extremely attractive to a great number of people who'd otherwise have to pay staff and rent offices to get the same results.

  2. I have to say though, that there is a certain sameness in cadence or something, to all three examples. It's like Chat GPT has some kind of game review template it is using each time. If you read any one of those by itself it would be fine but after reading all three, they feel rather same-y to me.

    But who knows? Maybe the AI wrote this comment!

    1. That's absolutely true, both the cadence and the template. They even begin with almost identical opening remarks emphasizing the experience of the writer and the desire to experience something new in the genre.

      For that matter, you'll note I didn't even ask ChatGPT to review Diablo IV. I just said "write a post about". It's interesting that both of those produced reviews, and using the exact same format as the more specific instruction to review Noah's Heart. I might have a go at getting the AI to write something that isn't a review next time.

  3. Well, the thing with these AIs is that, as computers do, they do what you command them...not what you want them to do. Clicking "exit" and "(Yes) Are you sure you want to leave without saving?" will lead to a perfect computer response of losing whatever progress you made.

    AIs do the same. What you want is a text on a topic, what they do is an average Internet of the topic.

    "Review " becomes "Write the average game review with the average Internet talking points about "

    The result looks like something we could write or read, but also is something nobody would actually write or read, since averages don't exist and real people deviate from whatever the average is... well, most people do.

    Of course, computer generated average copy is a gazillion times cheaper than human written average copy, and since copy is mostly worthless in a world were consumers are saturated with attention grabbing information, it makes sense to replace human blandness with computer blandess... a tidal wave of computer blandness since only 1 in a million contents witll reach "viral" status and be of actual worth, and the more times they try, the higher the chances to strike success... (or don't)

    The next logical step will be to replace our actual limited human interaction with AI-generated fake human interaction so the darned machines stop bothering us with nonsense: "is this viral? #38713299544" followed by "is this viral? #38713299545" and as many as you let them flood on you... or just run an app which simulates interest and keep both the incoming data flood and the fake attention out of your actual, preciously limited sight.

    Frankly, the day I begin reading obvious AI blandness on sites like this, I will stop caring about such sites. This is just entertainment.

    (And I'll stop here without diving into the rabbit hole of opinions mistaken for facts)

    1. I'm not as convinced as some that it's going to be as easy as all that to tell if what you're reading has been generated by AI but I'm also not all that convinced it's going to matter. The AI-generated text above might stand out as more-than-ordinarily bland if it appeared without explanation on a personal blog like this (And I do mean "might" - I'm pretty sure I could go back and pullout some examples just as flat and uninspired from days when I just wasn't feeling it but posted anyway...) but I've read a lot of (Presumably...) human-authored reviews that weren't any less stilted, awkward and generalized. Of course, that says as much about my expectations of game journalism as it does about AI.

      You might imagine that would lead to even less interest and reliance on the printed word and even more of a move to watching people talk on videos or streams but only a couple of weeks ago I was exploring the already-available software that can put an AI's words into an AI-generated avatar that looks indistinguishable from a human. It's early days yet but the technology is already starting to come together.

      I'm not sure if it's going to end up being a curse or a blessing. I had the virtual Seinfeld stream running in the background last night while I was doing something else and honestly it was at least as entertaining as the actual Seinfeld. I listened to it for about half an hour. But then, I never did like Seinfeld all that much. It's a low bar, in my opinion. If, in a few years, I could log into a Twitch channel generating endless, AI-generated episodes of a show I actually liked, though, and have it come somewhere close to the quality of the original, that would be a lot more enticing. My problem with shows I like is nearly always that they stop before I've had enough of them. It'd be nice to know I'd get bored of watching before the supply ran out rather than the other way around.

  4. If Chat GPT is designed to create bland bureaucratic documentation, then yeah, it succeeds. If it's designed to create descriptive or narrative writing... Meh.

    Chat GPT seems to be able to string words together well enough, but where it has issues is that it fails to find a distinctive voice for a writer. "Style" in the case of the samples above is like slapping a coat of paint over the walls of an apartment and calling it "renovated". I read the samples and, well, the Tobold ones don't sound like Tobold, and the Bhagpuss ones don't sound like you, either. Narrative voice is more than just sticking in a turn of phrase or just a style, it's the emotive content that Chat GPT seems to lack understanding of. It's the difference between listening to a bot read from a novel, listening to a normal human read from a novel, and listening to an actor read from a novel. There are audible cues that distinguish the humans --trained or not-- from the bot. Chat GPT may come closer than before, but it still misses the emotive content that can only come from being human. (So far, anyway.)

    1. My feeling is that we're somewhere around the Wall Street era of mobile phones with AI at this point, when they were the size of small suitcases, only techies and self-important solipsists were impressed by them and most people couldn't imagine ever wanting one, far less relying on one. And now look where we are.

      Of course, I'm coming from a perspective where I've spent almost my entire life wondering why we *don't* have autonomous AIs. I grew up reading Philip K Dick, in whose world the line between the real and the unreal was always fluid. I'm also something of an animist and always have ben. I started talking to inanimate objects as if they could understand me when I was a child, as many children do, but unlike most of them I've never stopped.

      I was going to carry on in that vein but I'm aware if I do it'll run too long for a comment. I'll file it away for a possible post. Suffice to say, far from fearing the AI future, it feels like the one I've been waiting for all my life. I just wish it would hurry up and get here while I'm still around to enjoy it.

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