Let’s get this out of the way first, AI Dungeon is not a new game, but it is updating almost daily, and with the keenness of everything around AI in the world right now, more and more people are searching for AI in gaming and many will stumble into AI Dungeon. Just like I have done.
For background, I come from a time when text adventures were the norm. You had to read stuff, and type stuff and the adventure continued. If you wanted to go North, then you typed GO NORTH, and off you went. If you got stuck, sometimes because of an obtuse puzzle, then you were screwed until a magazine published a solution, which might never happen.
Kids out there will be thinking, ‘ok grandad’, but this was not that long ago. A blink of a technological eye. Companies such as Infocom, and later Sierra-Online were huge and at the forefront of imaginative gaming. Games such as Zork and King’s Quest are still played today.
It wasn’t until LucasArts started bringing the likes of Monkey Island and its point-and-click brethren to the table that text adventures faded. The proliferation of the computer mouse arrived at the same time so we actually had something to point and click with.
We possibly need a little more history here so bear with me. At the same time as text adventures were enthralling the gaming world, pre-internet, gamers, teenage me included would call up networked BBSs (bulletin board systems) some of which hosted MUDs (multi-user dungeons). These were text-based adventures where you could play with real people and go adventuring. It felt like D&D had arrived in the future.
There’s an excellent documentary called GET LAMP, if you want to learn more about the subject.
And after all this came, well, graphics, and the internet, and maybe some of the required imagination vanished because we could now visualize using polygons rather than the mind’s eye.
Back to the old-school
It’s a brave company that decides these days that text-based computer adventuring is where it is at, but what if you could rely on artificial intelligence to be your dungeon master (DM), weaving a narrative as you go about your keyboard-inputted commands?
AI in gaming has been slurred as bad, and while it is definitely something that will affect graphic designers, maybe even programmers along the way, if the game is built entirely on what AI can do and do relatively well, is it still a problem?
Step forward AI Dungeon. Originally dating as far back as 2019, creator Nick Walton used an early version of OpenAI’s GPT-2 to allow the game to act as a pseudo-DM and respond to the player’s text inputs, albeit initially in a limited way, offering potential choices rather than complete free reign.
Within a year AI Dungeon had 1.5 million players and was generating over $15,000 in Patreon donations a month.
Fast forward to today and Walton’s company Latitude has raised millions of dollars in seed funding, launched the game on Steam, and has a hugely interactive version of the game playable in the browser, which is where I partook. There are also apps for iOS and Android.
You can play AI Dungeon for free or you can buy a Premium pass for between $9.99 and $29.99 a month. AI computational credits are expensive and sticking with the free model means you get non-premium language models and no image generation, whereas coughing up some cash speeds things up with the AI, lets you use the more recent Large Language Model, and gives you AI credits that you can use on image generation if you want to turn your text adventure into something a little more visually pleasing.
The more expensive tier you choose will also give your game a larger “memory” meaning it will be able to recall events from further back in the adventure.
So if you attempt to woo a barmaid for example, if you run across each other again later on, she may remember your feeble efforts. Cool eh?
Another subscription to forget
There’s a strangely exciting feeling around the way Latitude is going about its business. Yeah, it’s another subscription model to play properly, but it recently posted this update:
“We chose early on to monetize with subscriptions, largely because of the ongoing costs of the AI, but also because we think subscriptions are much better than some other ways at aligning developer incentives with providing value…
But many people are wary of subscriptions because it can be so easy to forget to cancel. Some subscription businesses even go out of their way to make canceling as difficult as possible.
But, if you aren’t using AI Dungeon, and you simply forgot to unsubscribe, then what value have we given you for the money you’ve spent?
The truth is we haven’t. That $10 a month (or whatever amount you paid) didn’t give you any value. And we didn’t really earn it.
So, instead of us holding those unearned dollars, we’re making a new refund policy. Any player who forgets to unsubscribe can email us and get a refund back up until the last month they played, no questions asked. This will be true whether it’s been two months or two years since you stopped playing, but kept paying.”
This is a nice touch. Many companies certainly do not go out of their way to remove zombie subs from their P&L sheets.
Where AI Dungeon really impresses though is that due to its use of LLM though is that you can create pretty much any adventure you like, it certainly doesn’t have to be all wizards and dwarves. Zombie apocalypse? No problem. Kidnapping story where you are trussed up in the trunk of a car. There’s already one there.
You can choose to jump into an adventure that has already been set up, or use the Quick Start option, pick from scenarios, name your character, and jump right in.
Latitude has been building some safety mechanisms in too, as where there is free rein there is always the undesirable at best and downright illegal at worst drawn to it. LLMs aren’t always known for the ability to hold back content the majority of the world might see as offensive.
But as long as you want to create scenarios for other people to play, multi-player games for you and your friends, or just jump in with a quick-start solo adventure you can do it in AI Dungeons.
The scope is far more than we can cover in 1,000 or so words, so go and check it out yourself. You might just be partaking in the early stages of a gaming revolution, just as I did back in the 80s with a modem hooked up to an 8-bit computer.