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Crack the case by chatting with GPT in Uncover the Smoking Gun by ReLU Games

AI is increasingly being utilized in game development, not just for automation and cost reduction, but also as an innovative gameplay feature. Various games now incorporate versions of Chat GPT to enhance NPC interactions. One notable example is Uncover the Smoking Gun by South Korean studio ReLU Games. In this game, players step into the shoes of a detective tasked with solving a case involving a robot accused of killing a human.

Traditional detective games are designed for players to explore a predetermined story through choices. In Uncover the Smoking Gun, the detective experience is much more personalized. “What to ask and how to ask it is entirely up to the detective, making each player’s method of solving the case unique,” explains producer Qsun Han. “This high degree of freedom allows players to feel like real detectives. You don’t have to converse solely to solve the case; just like a real detective might chat with a suspect about various topics, you can engage in off-topic conversations and still have an enjoyable experience.” 

The idea behind Uncover the Smoking Gun emerged from the lessons of an earlier, failed attempt. Before Smoking Gun, there was a prototype game called Demon, where GPT played the role of an evil spirit, and the player had to find hidden information and banish the spirit through conversation. “This game did not succeed, but I learned two things,” says Han. “People want to engage in conversations but often need help figuring out what to ask. And the distinct GPT characteristics -rigidity and information-providing nature- can break the game’s immersion.”

The perfect fit

Given these findings, the team concluded that the detective genre was the perfect fit for their design. “With GPT as a suspect and incomplete information at the crime scene, the player -in their role as detective- would ask more structured questions to acquire information.” To tackle GPT’s tendency to be quite rigid, the team decided to make the suspect a robot. “Being a robot made the GPT characteristics feel more natural. The unsuccessful attempt with Demon led to the creation of Uncover the Smoking Gun.”

ReLU Games is an independent studio under Krafton, aiming to create core fun through AI. It began as a special project team within Krafton in 2018, with the vision that AI would be the next-generation technology in the gaming field. Not just for automation and cost reduction, but as an intricate tool in gameplay. In 2023, the company spun off to become an independent studio based in South Korea. The team consists of around 40 people specialized in deep learning.

Cutting-edge AI technology

While AI is actively used in the game, the narrative of Uncover the Smoking Gun is crafted by the developers at ReLU Games themselves. “Ironically, despite utilizing cutting-edge AI technology, we discovered that the best way to design fun was through the most analog methods,” says Han, smiling. “When we first conceived Uncover the Smoking Gun, we lacked sufficient personnel and time for prototype development. So, we wrote brief information about evidence on paper and set up GPT on a laptop to proceed with prototyping. Testers filled in the gaps with their imagination, and we ultimately secured project development approval. Even afterward, when designing cases, we continued using paper to lay out evidence and conversed with GPT on the laptop. You can say that the development of the game is a combination of advanced technology and analog methods.”

The narrative, which spans five episodes and merges into a single grand storyline, is designed to last at least 5 hours, although Han and his team have seen players double that. “The game poses thought-provoking questions relevant to the upcoming era of Artificial General Intelligence: ‘Will highly developed robots follow humans?’ and ‘If a robot commits a crime, whose fault is it?’.”

Imagination is limitless

Despite the team’s meticulous preparation for the detective’s potential questions, testers took the game in surprising and unforeseen directions once they got their hands on it. “People’s imagination is limitless and many conversations went off track due to unexpected questions,” explains Han. “Our solution was to clearly tag essential information needed for solving the case as [Confirmed Info] and represent the suspect’s key lies as [System Overload]. Answers to other information come from GPT’s intelligence. The issue known as hallucination, where GPT generates false information, is something we aimed to incorporate into our game design. We put a lot of thought and testing into determining when and how false information should appear and how players could enjoy this aspect of the game.”

Maintaining character traits consistently also proved a significant challenge. “Initially, we started with prompts that simply explained the characters’ features, but we faced cost optimization issues. By chance, we discovered our unique method to implement character traits easily and efficiently. We observed that detectives realized and immersed themselves in the characters’ traits through repeated conversations. Afterward, we focused on making characters feel appealing and connecting them with the narrative.”

Flashy or futuristic

The game is set in the near future, the year 2030, but the dev team has steered clear of presenting an overly flashy or futuristic looking world. “That can sometimes feel unrealistic, we wanted it to feel imminent and believable,” says Han. “We aimed to keep the game elements closely aligned with what we have today. From a production standpoint, instead of aiming for a realistic look like in Detroit: Become Human, we decided that a bold and dark style similar to DC cartoons would be more suitable and quicker to implement. This style helps convey the game’s atmosphere effectively and aligns with our vision of a plausible near-future setting.”

Qsun Han considers Uncover the Smoking Gun just the beginning of the use of AI in game design. By powering NPCs with technology like GPT, he believes that the world will soon be able to engage in free-form conversations. ”Leveraging our unique experience and technology, our vision is to create even more captivating NPCs capable of such interactions and to develop games that don’t yet exist. Through sequels, we aim to explore various philosophical questions and issues that may arise between AI and humans.”

Uncover the Smoking Gun in out now on Steam.

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.

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