⛰️

Using AI to create a 1990s adventure video game

Category
AI
Published on
May 15, 2023

🌧️ In just the time of a rainy weekend, with three young kids yelling around me, I created the plot, characters and graphical design of a new adventure video game in the glorious style of the 1990s.

To be fair, I had some help. My story writer is ChatGTP, and my illustrator is MidJourney.

  • ChatGPT outlined the chapters, wrote the situations in detail, imagined exotic locations around the world, described a nice cast of characters, found a title and summarized a compelling pitch.
  • Then, I asked it to write prompts for MidJourney, in order to create images of the game in the visual style of 16-bit screenshots.
  • And MidJourney took over, generating dozens of screenshots of my new game, for each situation of the adventure.

After spending a few hours into iterating and perfecting the output, I am thrilled to present the new adventure video game of the year 1992:

Jack Preston: the Quantum Conspiracy

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Here is the pitch, entirely written by ChatGPT:

Embark on a thrilling journey into the heart of the 1990s as Jack Preston, an audacious journalist in New York City's most prestigious newspaper, the Metro Herald. A mysterious tip-off plunges you into an international conspiracy that stretches from the gleaming towers of Silicon Valley to the verdant depths of the Amazon jungle, from the isolated tranquillity of the Swiss Alps to the vibrant, bustling streets of Shanghai. Your mission is to unmask Victor Sterling, a cunning CEO with ambitions of controlling a revolutionary quantum processor technology that could change the world as we know it.
Armed with only your wit and determination, you join forces with Lily, a tech-savvy hacker who can crack any code, and Alex, your athletic childhood friend with a heart full of courage. Together, you'll navigate treacherous corporate labyrinths, decode cryptic clues, and race against time to expose the truth. Along the way, you'll confront corporate henchmen, navigate foreign lands, and unravel a plot that threatens to shift the balance of global power.
In this epic 1990s adventure, every decision matters, every clue counts, and every moment is a step closer to unveiling the truth. Experience the thrill of an investigation, the suspense of a worldwide chase, and the satisfaction of justice served. Can you thwart Sterling's plans before it's too late? The fate of the world rests in your hands.

Dive into the story

Chapter 1: Tip-Off in the Big Apple

New York City

Jack Preston, a young journalist at the "Metro Herald," stumbles upon an anonymous tip regarding suspicious activities in the Sterling Corporation, a multinational tech company. Intrigued and sensing a major scoop, he begins to dig deeper. His research reveals connections between Sterling Corporation and some recent tech thefts. His director, seeing the potential for a big story, authorizes a full investigation. Jack forms a team with tech genius Lily and his best friend Alex, a sports enthusiast with unmatched courage.

Office building of the
Office building of the Metro Herald newspaper in New York, where Jacks Preston works as a investigation journalist.

In the cluttered redaction room, surrounded by papers and a humming computer. The city buzzes outside his window.
In the cluttered redaction room, surrounded by papers and a humming computer. The city buzzes outside his window.
Jack shares his findings with his director, who encourages him to follow the lead and exposes his suspicion about Sterling's activities.
Jack shares his findings with his director, who encourages him to follow the lead and exposes his suspicion about Sterling's activities.
Jack forms a team with tech genius Lily and his best friend Alex, a sports enthusiast with unmatched courage.
Jack forms a team with tech genius Lily and his best friend Alex, a sports enthusiast with unmatched courage.

Chapter 2: The Silicon Secret

San Francisco, California

The team heads to Silicon Valley to investigate Sterling Corporation's headquarters. Posing as IT workers, they manage to infiltrate the corporation’s research lab. They discover that the company is developing advanced technology far beyond the current era, raising suspicions. The team also uncovers an encrypted file that, when decrypted back at their hotel, reveals the next location: a Dubai bank, where evidence about Sterling’s secret project financing may be found.

Jack and his companions approach the sleek, impressive Sterling Corporation building, a stark contrast to the surrounding Silicon Valley landscape.
Jack and his companions approach the sleek, impressive Sterling Corporation building, a stark contrast to the surrounding Silicon Valley landscape.

They need to infiltrate the corporate headquarters to retrieve confidential information about Sterling’s secret projects.
They need to infiltrate the corporate headquarters to retrieve confidential information about Sterling’s secret projects.
Lily posing as IT worker tries to pass security.
Lily posing as IT worker tries to pass security.
CEO office on the top floor of the skyscraper. Can the team hack into Victor Sterling’s computer?
CEO office on the top floor of the skyscraper. Can the team hack into Victor Sterling’s computer?

Chapter 3: Desert Mirage

Dubai

Jack, Lily, and Alex arrive in Dubai. They've learned that Sterling Corporation has a major stake in an bank here, but suspect the connections go deeper. After days of surveillance and investigations, they intercept a document that reveals Sterling has been funding illegal archaeological digs worldwide, searching for a single artifact - the quantum processor blueprint. Their next clue leads them to Amazon jungle in Brazil.

The team lands in Dubai, to find financial information about the secret Sterling project.
The team lands in Dubai, to find financial information about the secret Sterling project.

They establish a base camp in a quiet place near the financial district. Lily will try to hack her way into Sterling’s bank computer systems.
They establish a base camp in a quiet place near the financial district. Lily will try to hack her way into Sterling’s bank computer systems.

Meanwhile, Alex explores shady neighboroughs in search of clues.
Meanwhile, Alex explores shady neighboroughs in search of clues.

Jack meets with a contact that helps him find evidences on how Sterling finances his secret project.
Jack meets with a contact that helps him find evidences on how Sterling finances his secret project.

Chapter 4: Trek Through the Amazon

Amazon jungle, Brazil

The team ventures into the dense Amazon jungle following the clues found in Dubai. There, they travel to the nearest city and hire a local guide with knowledge of the treacherous jungle terrain. As they trek through the dense foliage, they face numerous challenges, including dangerous wildlife, unpredictable weather, and rough terrain. After several days of arduous travel, the team arrives to the hidden bunker, concealed by vegetation. Jack and his team carefully document their findings, gathering digital and physical evidence of Sterling's research.

After several days of arduous travel in the brazilian jungle, the team arrives to the hidden bunker, concealed by vegetation.
After several days of arduous travel in the brazilian jungle, the team arrives to the hidden bunker, concealed by vegetation.

Using the hacking skills of their tech-savvy companion, they bypass the security systems and gain entry to the facility.
Using the hacking skills of their tech-savvy companion, they bypass the security systems and gain entry to the facility.

The team uncovers a trove of experimental data, schematics, and prototypes that show the extent of Sterling's work on quantum computing.
The team uncovers a trove of experimental data, schematics, and prototypes that show the extent of Sterling's work on quantum computing.
As they prepare to leave the lab, they set off a silent alarm, alerting Sterling's security forces to their presence.
As they prepare to leave the lab, they set off a silent alarm, alerting Sterling's security forces to their presence.

Chapter 5: Showdown in Shanghai

Shanghai, China

Discovering technical evidence was not enough, since it’s impossible to understand without the help of a scientist who worked on the project. The team travels to Shanghai, to track down on of the original creators of the quantum processor blueprint, who was forced into hiding due to Sterling's threats. The scientist provides the final piece of evidence they need to expose Sterling - a confession and the original blueprint. Finally, they need to fly to Switzerland, where Sterling is hidden in a highly secured chalet in the Alps, to find the last piece of the puzzle.

Shanghai, a vibrant tapestry of tradition and modernity, bustles with activity beneath a skyline of towering skyscrapers, neon lights, and ancient temples, all reflecting off the winding Huangpu River
Shanghai, a vibrant tapestry of tradition and modernity, bustles with activity beneath a skyline of towering skyscrapers, neon lights, and ancient temples, all reflecting off the winding Huangpu River

Jack and his team dock their weather-worn boat at Shanghai's bustling port, the city's magnificent skyline rising like a steel and glass mountain range in the hazy morning light.
Jack and his team dock their weather-worn boat at Shanghai's bustling port, the city's magnificent skyline rising like a steel and glass mountain range in the hazy morning light.

Nestled in a dimly lit alley, the unassuming restaurant buzzes with its grungy façade serving as a perfect front for the covert meeting with one of Sterling's top quantum scientists.
Nestled in a dimly lit alley, the unassuming restaurant buzzes with its grungy façade serving as a perfect front for the covert meeting with one of Sterling's top quantum scientists.
The restaurant is a maze of shadowy corners and secretive booths, filled with an assortment of hushed voices and watchful eyes, the air thick with the aroma of exotic spices and the palpable tension of clandestine dealings.
The restaurant is a maze of shadowy corners and secretive booths, filled with an assortment of hushed voices and watchful eyes, the air thick with the aroma of exotic spices and the palpable tension of clandestine dealings.

Chapter 6: Standoff in the Alps

Swiss Alps

The team arrives in Switzerland and discovers Victor Sterling's secret hideout - a luxurious chalet. They infiltrate the chalet during a lavish party thrown by Sterling for his high-profile associates. Pretending to be guests, they navigate through a crowd of unwitting guests, trying to locate Sterling and the final piece of the quantum processor blueprint. Meanwhile, their tech-savvy companion sets up a secure link to broadcast Sterling's misdeeds to the world.

As the truth starts streaming across global news outlets, Jack confronts Sterling, revealing his true intentions to the startled crowd. In the ensuing chaos, Sterling tries to escape, but Jack and his team, with the help of some newly-turned allies, manage to apprehend him.

The team arrives in swiss Alps, where Sterling hides in a futuristic, highly secured chalet on top of the mountain.
The team arrives in swiss Alps, where Sterling hides in a futuristic, highly secured chalet on top of the mountain.

To infiltrate the compound, the team must find a way to enter without alerting security.
To infiltrate the compound, the team must find a way to enter without alerting security.

The team infiltrates a lavish cocktail party thrown by Sterling for his high-profile associates, pretending to be guests.
The team infiltrates a lavish cocktail party thrown by Sterling for his high-profile associates, pretending to be guests.
In luxurious apartements, they search for final evidence of Sterling’s dark projects, and expose them to the world.
In luxurious apartements, they search for final evidence of Sterling’s dark projects, and expose them to the world.

Meet the characters

Jack Preston

A young, tenacious journalist from the Metro Herald, a famous New York City newspaper, Jack is known for his investigative instincts and relentless pursuit of the truth. He's witty, resourceful, and has a strong sense of justice.

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Arthur Brooks

A seasoned journalist and the director of the newspaperJack works for. He's been in the industry for decades, and his wisdom, mentoring, and experience are invaluable. Arthur is dedicated to finding and publishing the truth, no matter the cost.

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Lily Sanders

A brilliant tech-savvy young woman who has an unrivaled ability to decipher complex codes and bypass advanced security systems. Lily is quick-thinking, witty, and always seems to have a solution for every problem.

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Alex Griffin

Jack's old friend, a sports enthusiast with a knack for action. Alex is courageous, loyal, and has an uncanny ability to think on his feet. His physical agility and bravery often come in handy during high-stakes situations.

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Victor Sterling

The CEO of Sterling Global, a multinational corporation. Victor is a formidable businessman who's willing to cross any line to get what he wants. He's cunning, ruthless, and has a grand scheme to monopolize a lucrative quantum computing technology.

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Learnings of this project

Using the two most hyped generative AI tools was a good way to learn about their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to creating stories and visuals. They are not yet ready to totally replace writers and graphic designers. I had to spend a lot of time fine-tuning the details, and the results were not good enough to earn an art student a C grade, either in terms of technique or originality of ideas.

Here are my main take-aways from this week-end project:

  1. ChatGPT is good at crafting a story, if you want it full of clichés.
  2. I didn’t want an original scenario, I was looking for a typical adventure in the style of 1990s video games, and that was perfect. ChatGPT just generates the classical plot, exotic scenes around the world, and characters that you would expect, with the young fearless team of heroes, and the ruthless villains.

    Here are some prompts that generated good ideas in the nostalgic style that I wanted:
    Now I'd like to create a vintage adventure video game, taking place in the current era. Imagine a storyline of an adventure that will take the hero, a young intrepid reporter working in a NYC newspaper, to an epic investigation around the world. He will start in NYC, and then gradually travel around the world in epic places. He will encounter a rich and power villain, CEO of a multinational corporation. This CEO wants to take control of some profitable technology, and is ready to take bad actions to pursue his goal.
    
    First, name and describe the main characters:
    - the hero, a young journalist from NYC newspaper
    - his director at the newspaper (good guy, middle-aged, experienced)
    - his first companion: a young women, smart, tech-savyy, whose computer skills will help the story
    - his other companion, a good friend, likes sport, action-oriented and courageous
    - the villain, CEO of a big corporation
    - other characters that the heroes will meet during the adventure
    
    Then imagine the 7 chapters of the adventure. Have a title for each chapter, describe the situation and outcome, describe the place where it happens. 
    The first chapter happens in NYC, in the newspaper office.
    Several chatpers will happen around the world, in epic, exotic and mysterious places. 
    For each chapter, include a "midjourney prompt" of the place, not too complex.
    Imagine 3-4 technological artefacts that the villain would like to get, in the context of 1990
    Now write a compelling pitch of the video game, and suggest 5 names for the game.

  3. ChatGPT 4 is not useless to generate MidJourney prompts.
  4. Version 3.5 struggles to generate meaningful MidJourney prompts, but ChatGPT 4 is much better, especially once being taught the exact format and pattern to use. However it’s not yet perfect, since it sometimes introduces character names, or irrelevant details that would be more appropriate to brief a human freelancer.

    Here is how I instructed ChatGPT to create MidJourney prompts:

    Start by asking it to provide examples of MidJourney prompts:

    List a few examples of prompts for the image-generative AI MidJourney. It should be background scenes for a  1990 vintage adventure video game, in the 2D pixelated style. You should explicitely express the visual style in your prompts

    Then you slightly adapt the format:

    Remove the quotes and the final point. Forget the action verb at the beginning of each prompt. At the end of each line, append " --ar 3:4".

    Finally, you ask ChatGTP to remember this specific format:

    Very good. Remember this pattern as a "midjourney prompt". Ok ?

  5. In MidJourney, achieving consistency between a visual style and a non-typically associated theme remains hard.
  6. For now, it’s better to have more vague outputs and let the AI generate credible images typically associated with this era and style.

    Here is a convincing example of a scene with a simple short prompt: screenshot of a 1990s adventure video game, 16-bit
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    But if you want to force a specific scene with a style that does not naturally fit with the clichés of a certain visual style, you’ll get weird, inconsistent results, and you may lose a lot of time trying to rectify it with additional instructions.

    Here is a hilarious example, trying to draw modern electronic hardware (iPhone and flat computer screens) in a vintage visual style with screenshot of a 1990s adventure video game, 16-bit, modern hardware equipement, flat screens, iphone
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  7. With MidJourney, the more directive the prompt, the harder it is to reach a satisfying output.
  8. Clearly, the current version is not yet ready to convincingly draw detailed elements of a scene. I spent hours in vain trying to reproduce actual scenes from the movie “Drive” in MidJourney, in the style of a 1990s adventure video game.

    But it was a fail: it’s almost impossible to steer the output in the right visual style and with the precise elements that you ask. For example, I made dozens of attempts to recreate the famous elevator scene… with less-than-perfect results:

    /imagine inside a spacious elevator, view from above, three video game characters, style of 16-bit screenshot from 1990 video game --ar 16:9
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    Let’s hope it will be easier in the next version 👍