October 17, 2023

Ricardo Flores: How automating design in video games empowers artists

A deep-dive into game development and characters.

Not all video games are created equal.

Some start with an interesting and addictive gameplay mechanic, others with a visionary storyline that can only be told through an immersive experience. Yet almost all games have one key element in common: great characters are the core of the story. And the inclusion of characters, which can take on any form, such as a dragon, an elf, or even an orc takes great vision and creation time, to be delivered well. Be it main or non-playable, a compelling character adds a certain distinctivity and stickiness to a game by establishing a direct connection with the players, while also creating an enjoyable gaming experience.

To gain a deeper perspective on the vital role that characters play in games, we spoke with Ricardo Flores, Senior Acceleration Manager at Nine66, who has worked in the industry since 2004, specializing in mobile apps. Ricardo is a master in growing communities of artists and developers around the world.

Ricardo Flores, Resident Mentor at the Nine66 Accelerator and Incubation Team

Since he has played video games since his youth and has been involved in numerous game development teams, he understands first-hand the blood, sweat, and tears required of artists during the character creation process. “The investment made in non-playable characters, even if they are just a part of the environment, is huge”, he says. And when pressed if there was a way to improve this, Ricardo stated that “if I could have my top artists allocated to harder tasks, I could save time and financial resources that are very scarce when developing a videogame. This would improve my game overall and free them to bring more of their creativity to the experience.”

To help developers like Ricardo, Didimo saw an opportunity to optimize the development of main, side,and non-playable characters through generative AI technology. Popul8 was created by combining our patented 3D character pipeline with generative artificial intelligence, resulting in a tool that helps artistsreduce the time allocated to rote tasks in character creation by 90%. By starting with high-quality 3D characters based on an artist’s vision and definitions, they spend less time on time consuming tasks like resizing, refitting assets or fixing broken rigs and can spend more time thinking of more characters and interactions. For Ricardo, this means that instead of the four weeks that his team would usually take to develop characters in Avakin Life, with Popul8, they would only need about three days, allowingmore time for the design of other elements or getting to market faster.  

“The application of artificial intelligence in character creation is a massive advancement that is allowing the automation of arduous tasks - but it will only work if these tools allow for creativity,” highlighted Ricardo when questioned about the biggest mistake made during this step. “Tools must bemalleable and give the artists the ability to adapt their characters to their video game’s needs” he continued.

Tools must be malleable and give designers the easy abilityto generate characters in their game’s aesthetic style and match their technical specifications.

Artificial intelligence is here to stay, and we’re just starting to see the implications that it could have in the gaming industry. Ricardo explained that several AAA titles use tools like this to design a game around the persona that they would like to reach - all of this through machine learning. “Just as AI has reached several parts of our lives, it has now reached entertainment, and is currently tackling relevant challenges in the creative sector; personas and character design are just the start”.

However Ricardo does not see this as a bad thing or as the “death” of the artist. Immersive experiences need creativity to work and if artificial intelligence is trying to automate a part of it, while also valuing customizability and creative freedom, then the technology can have an amazing impact on the industry.

Most of all, video games are made to delight their players. What they seek is an immersive experience, which can be achieved through the engagement of well-rounded characters. Traditionally, this would take weeks, if not months. Further, game memory budget limits restricted the vision of artists. So Didimo harnesses AI technology to address both of these challenges. Popul8 is a tool that aims to help while also leaving the control and vision to the artist, to guide artistic choices that must be made during the development process and deliver their game vision.

We thank Ricardo for his contribution and for taking time out of his day to share with us his professional experience. At Didimo, we look forward to accompanying this industry, supporting character artists on the journey through the implementation of technology, and adding value to their work.

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