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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Roblox Is Bringing Generative AI to Its Gaming Universe

Roblox is testing a tool that could accelerate the process of building and altering in-game objects by getting artificial intelligence to write the code. The tool lets anyone playing Roblox create items such as buildings, terrain, and avatars; change the appearance and behavior of those things; and give them new interactive properties by typing what they want to achieve in natural language rather than complex code.

“Say I need a gleaming metal sword for an experience I’m creating,” says Daniel Sturman, CTO at Roblox. “It should be really easy to create that.”

Sturman showed WIRED a new Roblox tool that generates the code needed to create objects and modify their appearance and behavior. In the demo, typing “red pain, reflective metal finish,” or “purple foil, crushed pattern, reflective” into a chat window changed the appearance of a sports car in the game. It was also possible to add new game behavior by entering “Blink the headlines every time the user presses ‘B,’” and “Make it float.”

Technology dubbed generative AI has captured attention and investment over the past year by showing that algorithms can produce seemingly coherent text and aesthetically pleasing images when given a short text prompt. The technology relies on AI models trained with lots of data, in the form of text or images scraped from the web, and is also at work in the viral chatbot ChatGPT. Some AI researchers are experimenting with similar techniques for generating video and 3D content, but this is mostly at an early stage.  

Producing computer code was one of the first practical applications for generative AI, and Microsoft and Amazon already sell tools that can auto-write useful blocks of software. But Roblox’s announcement shows how companies can adapt code-writing capabilities to create their own generative AI products aimed at people who may not be experienced coders.

Sturman says the approach holds promise for Roblox because so many of the games on its platform are made by individuals or small teams. “We have everything on our platform, from studios down to 12-year-olds who have had an incredible idea come out of a summer camp,” Sturman says.

Roblox says the code-making AI it uses relies on a combination of in-house technology and capabilities from outside sources, although it is not disclosing where from. Currently the company is only training its AI using game content that is in the public domain. Sturman says Roblox will tread carefully to ensure that users do not object to having their creations fed into generative AI algorithms.

Microsoft was the first to harness the latest generation of AI for coding, through a deal with OpenAI, which has adapted a general purpose language technology called GPT to power a code generator called Codex. Microsoft enhanced the Codex’s coding abilities by feeding it more data from GitHub, a popular repository for software development, and has made it available through its Visual Studio programming application.

Visual Studio and other AI-enabled programming environments typically write code in response to a developer’s comment or when the user starts typing. The startup Replit, which makes a popular online programming tool, recently launched a chatbot-like interface that will not only write code but answer programming questions. 

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Besides generating content, generative AI could change in-game behavior. In May 2022, Microsoft demonstrated a way to control characters in Minecraft by feeding naturally phrased instructions to a code-writing AI that accessed the game’s application programming interface. This is similar to what Roblox is doing but involves using AI coding to change not just game creation but gameplay itself.

“Generative AI will fundamentally transform game development, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” says Julian Togelius, an associate professor at New York University who works on AI and video games. Roblox is a good company to experiment with the technology, Togelius says, because its users are creators and it’s something of an upstart. But ultimately, he says, more use of AI will require rethinking game development and game design. 

Mark Riedl, a professor at Georgia Tech who also specializes in AI and games, says that just as generative AI can cause unpredictable and problematic web search results, it could potentially cause games to misbehave. “Game developers are generally very conservative and want guarantees about the quality of player experience,” he says.

Some Roblox makers have already been dabbling with generative AI tools. Developers at Supersocial, a company that makes Roblox games for lifestyle brands, have been using a tool called MidJourney to test out new designs for in-game objects. MidJourney is one of several new art tools that use AI to generate images in response to a text prompt. “It’s at an early stage, but it creates ways to build more innovatively,” says Yonatan Raz-Fridman, Supersocial’s CEO. 

Raz-Fridman says he is excited about the code generation technology that Roblox has in the works. “Building in 3D is an incredible endeavor,” Raz-Fridman says. “If generative AI can accelerate the pace of development, that would be enormous.”

And he expects the use of AI to generate more aspects of games and control characters to seem normal in the future. “By the end of the decade, it’ll be so ingrained in everything we won’t even think of it as AI.” 

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