We interview Stardock’s Brad Wardell about Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova and ChatGPT

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Galactic Civilizations IV

Stardock CEO Brad Wardell started working on the first Galactic Civilizations game in 1993 as the company’s first software product for the now defunct OS/2 operating system. Since then the 4x strategy game has gone through several versions on Windows. This year, Stardock announced Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova, a standalone expansion of Galactic Civilizations IV with tons of new features.

However, most people didn’t expect one of those features was incorporating OpenAI’s ChatGPT technology into the game. Supernova uses ChatGPT to allow players to create their own alien civilizations with just some text prompts.

We got in touch with Wardell by email to ask him some more questions about Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova, and how he thinks ChatGPT will cause Stardock to actually bring in more team members to develop games.

The Galactic Civilizations series has been ongoing for 30 years now. What are your thoughts about continuing to make games in this franchise for such a long time?

Brad Wardell – I’ve long felt that as long as there were new and interesting things to try out in the 4X genre, I’d keep at it. The impetus for me, 30 years ago, was to try and see if you could make a multithreaded AI. An AI that would calculate in the background. Now, here we are, using a large language model like ChatGPT to give players unique, personalized experiences.

Do you believe the series has served as an inspiration for other 4x games over the decades?

Brad Wardell – Certainly. I’ve borrowed heavily from other games myself, not the least being the Civilization series. It’s always validating when a concept we came up with shows up in other games.

When it came to making the Supernova standalone expansion what were the dev team’s main goals?

Brad Wardell – I would have preferred to make it a normal expansion. But, as we got in there, we realized we would need two copies of almost every data file to do that.

What really exploded the scale of this “expansion” has been the rise of AI. What started out as a fairly normal expansion process became something different when we realized we could use AI to create a real-time, living universe for players.

The integration with ChatGPT is one of the first such additions to a major PC game. How did the idea come about to add those features in Supernova?

Brad Wardell – Stardock has been working on multi-parameter AI for the past several years in another title we’re developing. So, we’ve been keeping up to date with OpenAI’s work for some time. As soon as they had an API we could use, we realized there was an opportunity to vastly increase the amount of content available for players and create a lot of new, emergent gameplay.

How hard or easy was it to incorporate the text prompts for ChatGPT so it could make new civilizations and quests for the game?

Brad Wardell – It took quite a bit of time. For one thing, we didn’t put it directly into the game. It’s hosted on our cloud services tech called Tachyon. This way, any of our games can make API calls to Tachyon and then it can use whatever is the best tech to deliver what is needed.

On the art side, we also had to make sure that the art was being trained on Stardock art and not, say, art from ArtStation, as we have a lot of artists here who have strong feelings about where the training data comes from.

Another challenge is making sure that the GPT results weren’t purely cosmetic. We want to be able to generate in-game quests and have it affect relationships. We want it to affect even what the ships look like, so that took quite a bit of time as well.

Galactic Civilizations IV

What are some of the more surprising things you have learned or encountered about adding ChatGPT into Supernova?

Brad Wardell – How well it works. We didn’t really expect the writing results to be as good as they’ve been. It helps that ChatGPT is very familiar with GalCiv and its style of writing already so that results tend to fall into our existing, slightly humorous, writing style right away.

In a forum post, you stated that adding ChatGPT into Supernova is actually causing Stardock to hire more people, not less. Can you go into specifics on that?

Brad Wardell – Indeed. It’s changing the types of people we’d be hiring. But let me walk you through the business reason for this, as I think many people haven’t really thought through the issue to its logical conclusion.

In game development, you need to have a critical mass of X in order for it to be worthwhile. People who think AI generated art or AI generated writing is going to eliminate all the jobs haven’t taken the critical mass feature threshold into account. AI will displace jobs, but that’s a different discussion.

For example, in the past, we just couldn’t justify many features or classes of content because even if we had 3 artists, they could only produce, say, 3 units of content. Therefore, we wouldn’t hire the artists. But now, those 3 artists can produce 300 units of content via AI assist. That amount of content exceeds the threshold needed for a feature to be worthwhile to have in the game and thus, 3 new art positions are created.

The same is true with writing. There’s now enough written content in the game to justify contracting a dedicated editor (and God knows, we’ve needed text editing for years). But, you need a lot of writing before you can make the business case of needing to hire writers and editors. The AI has allowed us to reach that threshold.

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What other features do you consider to be important in Supernova?

Brad Wardell – A big part of it is the accessibility. We want to make GalCiv IV: Supernova have a lot more depth than GalCiv III (or even GalCiv IV base game on Epic).

And not to harp on the AI stuff again but as a practical matter, without AI assist tech like GitHub Copilot and our own internal GPT servers, a lot of these features would just be well beyond the scope of our team.

So, for example, Supernova has a new combat system, new planet management, cultural progression, minor raced system, star system upgrades, and core world upgrades, all with a UI designed to make it accessible for players new to the genre.

How will the game evolve during the Early Access period and when do you think it will be available for full access?

Brad Wardell – We are targeting late Summer or early Fall for the full release. We have a lot of features we are still looking to get into it. Our measure of success is if GalCiv IV: Supernova becomes the go-to game for turn-based 4X players.

What can you tell us about Stardock’s current and upcoming game lineup, and is it possible those games will add ChatGPT features as well?

Brad Wardell – We have some unannounced games that make use of our multiparameter AI tech. I can’t say more than that right now. 🙂

Finally, is there anything else you want to say about Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova?

Brad Wardell – Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova represents a big step forward for the franchise. We can’t wait for people to try it out and for fans to see that we’ve been listening and writing down their ideas for the past several years since we released GalCiv III. The last GalCiv game I got to be this involved with was GalCiv II: Twilight of the Arnor, so on a personal note, this is a big treat for me.

We want to thank Brad Wardell for taking time to answer our questions. The game is available in Early Access for Steam and the Epic Games Store for $39.99. If you have already bought the original Galactic Civilizations IV on the Epic Games Store, you can get Supernova for a big discount.

Disclaimer: Neowin’s relationship to Stardock

News Article Courtesy Of John Callaham »