The Curious Case of the first Blockbuster AI Game

Outrage at the Use of AI in the Gamer Community

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Coming right on the heels of the Steam game store lifting its restrictions on the use of AI in games, Palworld, a Pokemon meets Legend of Zelda open world Player-vs-Player mashup shooter, soared to the top of the charts, clearing almost 100 million dollars in revenue in 72 hours.

This was met by absolute outrage at the use of AI in the gamer community:

Which then led to hunting down Palworld CEO Takuro Mizobe’s incendiary early experiments with AI generated monsters, in 2021, when he commented: “The AI has evolved so much that I can no longer tell which one is Pokemon: Left: AI generated, Right: Real Pokemon (Illumise, Wormadam, Qwilfish, Fomantis)“

As the story evolved, it turned out while Takuro-san had certainly been exploring AI, there was no proof Palworld had used generative AI to create monsters, and in fact claimed otherwise. Digging into the development process for the game revealed an absolute gem of a story of a failing game studio rescued from ignominy by blind luck and timing:

  • Takuro-san quit JP Morgan at the age of 27, became an indie developer and struggled for 8 years before getting a hit in Palworld

  • they decided to make Pokemon with guns because they were worried “Americans like to shoot things“, so it couldn’t be a global success otherwise - source

  • Japanese like to make RPGs, so Takuro-san couldn’t find developers with gun experience sufficient to satisfy detail oriented bloodthirsty gamers

  • He turned to Twitter and found a 20 year old middle schoool dropout convenience store worker in Hokkaido who was posting stellar first person shooter 3D animations on Youtube. Takura-san gave him a test over Twitter, then flew him out to Tokyo for a 2 week trial, and then persuaded the kid’s parents that it wasn’t a scam, and then hired him full time.

  • His art director was a new graduate who was rejected from over 100 companies. Turns out to be a genius at drawing.

  • They created over 100 monsters with unique bones and movements… after starting out with no one in the company with any experience doing motion animation. They did not know what an “animation rig” (a kind of rules engine that decides which way an elbow bends for eg) was when they started, and so they made those decisions for each movement individually.

  • They did not have version control! “We didn’t really know which files would work so we copied them all onto a flash drive every day. Every week we would buy a bucket of new flash drives“

  • They were basically bankrupt at the release date. He’d budgeted for 1 year, and it took close to 4. Total spent around USD 6.7 million.

  • He doesn’t think they would have ever attempted the project if they were game veterans who knew what they were getting themselves into

While the AI usage remains unconfirmed, gamers have also been levying claims of plagiarism on the company, comparing the Pokemon and Palworld characters:

Grizzbolt (Palworld) vs Electabuzz (Pokemon) both echoing Totoro (Ghibli)

So in summary:

  • Loud online gamers hate the game

  • It is having blockbuster sales

  • The CEO started experimenting with generative AI in 2021

  • And miraculously built the game with a skeleton, inexperienced team

Make of that what you will. Here’s a clip so that you can see why they’re going gangbusters:

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