A debate has emerged across X (and many other open forums on the internet) as to whether or not the creators of Palworld have used AI to produce the many Pals populating the game. Does this signify a change in the market, are the accusations true, and does it even matter?
Palworld’s history with AI
Pocketpair, in the past, has dabbled in AI Generation games. It has previously released a game on Steam in which, using prompts, you can create beautiful artwork. The idea of the game is simple. Each player, bar one, is shown a prompt. Using AI, each player creates artwork based on the prompt and shows them to the other players. The players then have to guess who is the imposter — or the artist without the prompt.
Steam has a rule about AI generation in gaming. If it is to be used, the developer needs to own the AI that produces the outcome. They must also disclose if it has been used at all. This would mean that if Palworld had decided to use AI, it would have to come clean or face the dreaded banhammer. The blog post states that “Any kind of content (art/code/sound/etc) created with the help of AI tools during development… Any kind of content created with the help of AI tools while the game is running” must be announced and will be displayed on the store page.
This AI art generation game shows a clear interest from Pocketpair in the capabilities of AI in modern gaming. It pairs closely with the CEO’s comments on numerous Tweets in the past about the AI generation of ‘Fakeamon’ and their ability to bypass copyright.
However, this does not categorically prove that Palworld has used AI to generate its Pals. It is only natural for a company invested in the future of gaming and the possibilities therein to be interested in what AI is capable of. Simply pretending it isn’t there and isn’t a real issue affecting the industry would be short-sighted.
AI generation in gaming is not a new concept, and in the future, as with many creative industries, I have no doubt it will be more heavily implemented. Pocketpair’s involvement and dabbling in AI Generation in games is just the first of many. As the technology progresses, so will the use. However, whether or not it has been used in Palworld is still open to debate.
Is the use of AI in game design inevitable?
As a writer, I am very sensitive to the use of AI in the creative sphere. My job, along with many others, has been threatened by the emergence of AI. As technology gets better and the gap between human creativity and AI gets smaller, the demand for human inspiration becomes less.
The amount of man-hours needed to create original work, be it painting, writing, or 3D model design, is far greater than what an AI needs to create. AI will never create something original or insightful simply due to its nature, but for something like Palworld, which is already borrowing from a large genre, it isn’t always necessary. The time taken to produce is also hardly comparable to hiring a team to do it by hand.
The creatures in Palworld have been heavily criticized for being remarkably similar to those of Pokémon and other games in the genre. With the way an AI works, it would be very likely that the algorithm would take from the most popular models and regurgitate something similar. AI doesn’t create; it simply repurposes trending, related resources.
Gaming may soon be subject to AI-generated characters and models. This would heavily reduce the time needed to create original assets from an often expensive and much slower design team. This does not mean I support the idea, though. Like most attempts made by AI creators to produce something enjoyable in the creative scene, it just falls a little flat.
When reading a piece of AI-written writing, the human element somehow is just never there; the writing seems stale and soulless. When looking at a piece of AI-produced art, no matter how detailed, it somehow lacks originality and passion. I feel that, when looking at AI-generated assets and creatures, players can just tell when there wasn’t the influence of the weird and wonderful human mind behind it. You only need to play a few hours of Persona 5 to know what I mean about human originality in creature design.
AI in code
Although the use of AI in the creative sector is still up for debate, the use of AI in coding has already begun. There are few games produced today that have not used AI to at least churn out some of their more basic code.
Of course, the AI isn’t all there yet. You could in no way write a game like Palworld using only AI. However, the use of AI to produce simple code is already very visibly on the horizon.
The technology just isn’t there
Palworld may have used AI to produce some of the base models or ideas for the Pals in the game, but so far, that’s all we can do. Creating a 3D model for a game using AI is still only in the future of technological capabilities. Of course, AI, such as Masterpiece Studio and Spline, can create 3D models from prompts, but their use in a game isn’t possible.
The models themselves are great for animation and other more structured work. However, a 3D model in a game requires a lot more stress testing. Using AI-created 3D assets in Palworld would result in janky and broken play that would be immediately obvious.
Although Palworld has its glitchy issues, the models themselves appear well-polished on the whole. They move around the environment at their own pace and have their own animations — usually without glitching. If Palworld had cut corners and pumped their Pals through an AI generator, they would not be moving so smoothly.
However, this does not mean that Pocketpair hasn’t used an AI generator to pull inspiration from. It is possible that, rather than pay a creative team, it simply generated Pals with AI and then paid an animation team to bring them to life. This would still be cutting a huge corner for any company, removing yet another paid creative sector from another billion-dollar industry.
Is the use of AI in Palworld important?
At first glance, using AI to streamline game production, cut down on manpower, and source inspiration seems like a good idea. However, once you take even the slightest look at the repercussions, the effect on the human element is devastating.
Automation has been used to reduce the need for human effort since the beginning of time. Factory lines, supermarkets, and now even help desks have all been replaced by AI and automation. This is inevitable and, on the whole, improves things like quality control and the ability to shoplift. These are all positive outcomes and leave time for humans to do what they do best: create.
The human mind has an incredible ability to conceive worlds. When people are given space to breathe and no longer worry about things like deadlines, income, or feeding themselves, they have the mental freedom to start to produce art. Taking away menial tasks offers that space, allowing humans to shine through in the best way they can.
However, if games like Palworld start to replace the creative aspect of their teams with AI, then we, all of a sudden, encroach on making ourselves truly redundant. If human beings are no longer needed for even the creative purposes we have left ourselves, then where do we fit in? I understand that saving money and time is always the moneyman’s obsession, but there is a point where humanity still needs to belong.
If not art, then what?
Many of us out there can only make our money through art, and some of us through the strength of mind and body. As time goes on, more and more jobs are being replaced by AI. This means that instead of 1000 people having a job and an income, there is one supercomputer doing all the work.
Many of the people in these now redundant jobs have trained for years to get to where they are, be it coder, writer, or designer. They need the work they have trained for to fill their bellies and keep the lights on. Once that job has been delegated to a computer, there is no structure in place for support. There is no universal income for people who have been replaced by automation and AI.
If the video game industry, among many others, starts replacing its employees with AI, there will be yet another surge of unemployed and unsupported workers. Across the board, humans are being replaced by machines, and there is nowhere for them to turn.
The appeal of AI and automation is always tempting, but until there is a system in place for new, unreplaceable creative jobs, the temptation needs to be resisted, simply for the humanity of it all.