Interview: ‘AI Dungeon 2’ creator Nick Walton talks mobile release, future of AI

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'AI Dungeon 2' is taking video games to new heights.
Image: Nick Walton

Earlier this month, The Burn-In reported on “AI Dungeon 2,” a new text-based game from developer Nick Walton. The game blew up practically overnight as tens of thousands of users have embarked on fantasy adventures and apocalyptic survival missions. Now, “AI Dungeon” is going mobile.

It was recently announced that Android and iOS versions of the game will be available in their respective app stores. Over a thousand users hit the download button just moments after the app went live. In the days since, more and more players have joined in.

What is ‘AI Dungeon 2?’

Walton’s text-based game is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and allows users to endlessly explore a world of their choosing. The game begins by allowing players to choose from several different worlds including fantasy, mystery, apocalyptic, zombies, and custom. From there, players select a character to represent them throughout the game.

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“AI Dungeon” then generates a story to start things off. Players respond in short phrases that are either an action or a piece of dialogue. The OpenAI-powered game responds accordingly to keep the story going.

Players who are willing to follow and respond to the AI’s prompts are able to explore an infinite world with endless possibilities.

I had the chance to speak to Nick about the brand-new mobile version of his surging game and pick his brain about the future of AI. Here’s what he had to say.

The Burn-In (TBI): Tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get involved with AI?

Nick Walton (NW): I’ve been interested in robotics for several years and at some point decided I wanted to work on self-driving cars. A lot of the core tech of self-driving cars uses a type of machine learning called deep learning so I’ve been working with it the past few years.

TBI: ‘AI Dungeon 2’ is a beautifully complex premise yet is a simple game at heart. What inspired you to create it?

NW: I was at a hackathon in March when I decided to try out the new GPT-2 model that OpenAI released. I recently started playing DND [“Dungeons and Dragons”] and thought it would be fun to make an AI Dungeon master and it worked better than I expected! That’s when I released AI Dungeon 1. Over the next several months I continued to work on it and eventually incorporated GPT-2’s largest model. (Before I had only used the smallest ones) and after fine tuning on text adventures I realized that it was insanely good.

TBI: How does it feel to get so much attention focused on your creation? Did you ever expect ‘AI Dungeon 2’ to get so popular?

NW: I thought people would enjoy the game, and in the back of my head there was the possibility that it would go viral. But I definitely didn’t expect the level of popularity it got in only a few days. I’ve definitely been blown away.

TBI: You recently released ‘AI Dungeon 2’ for both Android and iOS. First of all, congratulations on that milestone. What has the reception been like so far?

NW: In the first few days our load went up so fast that our servers starting going down. We’ve got them a lot more stable now but the first day was pretty much all crisis management. I think the best part about doing the apps is that now AI Dungeon is accessible to a whole host of people that couldn’t play it on Google Colab. For one, the colab version isn’t blind-accessible while the apps are. But now there’s no technical skills required to get it to work which means anyone can play it.

TBI: How do you see AI technology evolving as we move into 2020 and beyond? Where will we find it being used that it isn’t today?  

NW: I think as AI Dungeon 2 shows there is still a lot of places that AI technology can still change the world. We’ve been seeing self-driving cars become closer and closer to being a reality, and when they hit that will be a game-changer for transportation. So yeah, I think there is a huge number of areas AI will continue to advance. We’re by no means in an AI winter.

How to Support ‘AI Dungeon 2’

There is no question that “AI Dungeon 2” is a thrilling ride from start to (a possible) finish. Of course, the growing number of players needs to be supported by some pretty powerful servers. Those don’t come for free. Nick says that the game is generating more than 70,000 stories per day and estimates that the cost of its servers will soon reach more than $65,000 per month.

Of course, that’s just the start. Tens of thousands of players are joining the game every day and that number will continue to skyrocket as more people experience “AI Dungeon.”

Though you’d never guess it based on the game itself, Nick programmed “AI Dungeon” out of his college dorm in Utah. Due to the astronomical cost of maintaining it, he is seeking help from players to keep the game free to play for everyone.

'AI Dungeon 2' developer Nick Walton.
Image: Nick Walton

Nick has set up a Patreon page to help support the game. Those willing to pay for even the lowest tier can cover a month’s worth of server costs for one person. As of this writing, the Patreon fundraiser has already collected pledges of more than $11,000 per month. While that will certainly help lessen the burden, much more is needed. Nick says that if more funds aren’t raised he’ll have to take the game offline temporarily to seek financial support.

Those who want to learn more about the Patreon or are willing to contribute can check out the official page. Otherwise, continue to enjoy this awesome game and spread the word about it.

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