And, while these rumors are interesting to follow, they have no actual verifiable substance, and that means it's hard to get properly excited about them.
So when Rockstar Games itself holds an official presentation at Games Developers Conference 2021 which details specifically what it is working on right now for the future, and that something it is working on is advanced new AI technologies for use in its games, it's hard not to get properly excited.
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And that's exactly what Rockstar has done, with it specifically stating in its GDC21 presentation that it is working to:
1. "Improve the responsiveness and quality of humans and animals with lower production costs".
2. Develop "machine learning approaches".
3. Create "better parity between AI and player-controlled characters".
You can see the slide taken from Rockstar's official GDC 2021 presentation below.
Now, to be very clear, GTA 6 was not mentioned at all in the presentation. However, it is now widely accepted and reported, on a daily basis, that GTA 6 will be Rockstar Games' next title and that, yes, it will arrive in the future (most likely 2024 according to the early leaked information that we have access to). As such, I think it completely fair to say that if Rockstar Games is working on smart new AI technology for the future, then GTA 6 is going to benefit from that technology.
I mean, why would Rockstar officially say it is working on new AI tech for future games and then not include any of that tech in the next GTA? Exactly.
And, at least in my mind, this development is really, really exciting. Rockstar Games has been at the forefront of the open-world sandbox video game genre for decades now, with each new release from the studio setting a new high bar that other developers then have to play catch up to.
But the thing is that, despite all the advancements that have come in open world games, the weakest thing where no order of magnitude shift has occurred for ages is in terms of in-game AI, and specifically in relation to NPCs. We're still very firmly surrounded by dumb, unreal, flawed virtual actors in video games right now, the sorts of NPCs that will watch you murder their friend brutally in cold blood, cower for a second, and then a second later get back up and continue slowly walking down the street eating their hot dog as if nothing ever happened.
This really is a continuing, bordering on critically blind spot issue in games, too. Think of any recent open world game and you'll see what I mean. Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077, Watch Dogs Legion – the list goes on. These are seriously impressive open world games, but nobody can say that the AI in them is great and, frequently, it is the biggest thing for breaking immersion.
I personally have laughed and cried in frustration in equal measure in each of these games where my immersion has been well and truly shattered by ropey AI. And you only have to look online to see that I am not the only one.
GTA as a series itself is not immune from this, either, with GTA V demonstrating some really, really ropey AI in places, but if you were to ask me who is best positioned to actually take open-world AI to a new, exciting level, then I'd say it is Rockstar Games. They've got the money, time and talent to pull off something genuinely special.
I mean, each one of those AI upgrades listed in the slide above sounds game-changing if it can be pulled off. Better, more logically consistent NPCs that cost less resources to implement by the system? Yes please! More parity between the player's character and, as we've often seen, superpowered NPCs that play by their own set of in-game rules? Yes please! Actual machine learning whereby AI can get better and more refined without specifically being programmed to do so? Hell yes!
Even if Rockstar only delivered one of these things in GTA 6 then immersion in-game would be massively cracked up a notch, leading to an even more fun experience.
How Rockstar's current work into AI will play out in its future titles, GTA 6 included, remains unknown. But right now I can't help but get seriously hyped for what could be possible. Roll on 2024!