There is a quiet race for AI NPCs. Well, it’s only quiet if you aren’t looking at it. If, like me, you’re closely tracking the developments, you will see just how loud this fledgling space has become. However, it is fascinating to watch startups vying for dominance by innovating in a naturally innovation-heavy area. Enter NPCx.
We recently covered the billboard $100m funding round of Inworld for an AI-driven NPC engine. Inworld not only raised a lot of money on a high valuation, but the caliber of investors was second to none: LG, Samsung, Microsoft, and so on. Although this was particularly noteworthy, there are many smaller (albeit not small) companies securing seed rounds for similar products. NPCx, a fairly recent startup, raised over $540,000 through crowdfunding on Republic, followed by a $3m seed round led by Kakao Investment.
A $3m seed round for a startup is nothing to scoff at, but it’s the $540K from crowdfunding that is more indicative of the appeal of NPCx’s products. 868 private investors supported the campaign, with an average investment of $627. So, why is NPCx getting such a buzz around it?
What Is NPCx?
NPCx is creating a host of AI tools for NPCs in games, but what sets it apart is the focus on animations through motion capture. The flagship product is TrackerX, a motion capture processing tool that drastically speeds up the implementation of motion capture into a game. With TrackerX, any optical or sensor-based motion capture system has its files put straight onto the TrackerX character skeleton, “saving companies thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars per project or title.”
As great as this technology appears to be, I can’t help but be drawn to NPCx’s speculative product, BehaviorX. The details of this project are minimal and I suspect it is early in its life, but the intention is captivating. BehaviorX records data from players in real-time, from movement to decision-making, and then trains models based on that gameplay. This can then be used to have AI versions of famous players or even your friends. The implications and applications of this technology are myriad, from believable NPCs in games to training for esports. I also can’t help but think that in the right game — a particularly complicated genre with varied gameplay — and with enough data, we could see loved ones live on in games.
Some of you may recall a story a decade ago of a young man who turned on an old console and played Rally Sports Challenge, a racing game he played with his father who had since passed. He found the “ghost” of his Dad — a lap time on a track represented by a translucent car — that he could race against, but would purposely lose to keep the ghost; it was turned into this beautiful short called Player Two. Well, BehaviorX could take this concept to a different dimension — a completely dynamic one and I can’t shake the sense of importance around that.
NPCx is new to town, relatively speaking, but they have a highly experienced team with an unparalleled track record in motion capture, and now, the funding to create something quite special.