Generative AI in games (Terraforming Mars)

“Indie Game Studios’ Travis Worthington responds to controversy around the upcoming Terraforming Mars expansion”

I’ve just scanned the whole thing during a work-meeting and I am torn.

I’ve backed the campaign in question. Hovered over the “cancel pledge” button after seeing the interview mentioned somewhere, read the interview and now don’t quite know what to think.

I find this interview is really meh. I like neither the way the questions are asked nor most of the answers. A major point seems to be something that hits close to home: most of the use of AI art is when art is made by people with the assistance of AI tools.

I still ask chatGPT every other day to help me with some programming task. (websearch is becoming more useless every day making the choice to ask Gen-AI ever easier)

Personally, if someone wanted to make a generative AI using my code to help other devs, I don’t mind. As I have a small amount of code on github it has already happened. However, I’d prefer to either be asked or be given the ability to consent for example by adding a creative commonse license tag that allows ai-use in various modes. I want the possibility to say no more than I want to say no.

Now code is creative but nothing like visual arts or fiction writing. I’d be far less happy if anyone were to use my novel for generative AI.

So I see both sides. I am both sides. I have not canceled–yet.

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I am pledged to this new Kickstarter. If it were up to me, I would cancel. I do not support using art made by others without their consent and compensation if desired. The AI here was trained on such art and every piece made by it is derived from that.

My husband very much disagrees with me and thinks arguing against AI is to be a Luddite and there is no difference between what the AI does and artists being inspired by every artwork they’ve experienced in their life. We mostly avoid discussing AI at this point.

TM is one of my husband’s favorite games. I think it is meh and only play it as much as I do because he loves it. TM is his game within our collection so this decision is not mine but his. The kickstarter pledge stays.


I have a different perspective on it, I think.

Indie Games Studios is an established publisher that should have a budget to commission and pay for actual artists to create artwork. Not because AI is wrong or because it’s exploitative of the artists that create the actual art that was used to train the AI, but because:

  1. If they commission it, then they can legally defend against other people using that same art to create copy-cat or derivative, low-effort games that saturate the market and become bad for both publisher and consumers.
  2. For many people, art is a key decision point in purchasing a game; why wouldn’t you cherish that and honor that and help connect with your end-users?

On the other hand, when I learned of generative AI for the creation of artwork, I immediately thought, “Oh, hey, I have a few art-asset-less projects I’ve been toying around with for a while. I could absolutely use AI to generate art assets to either produce a user-friendly print-and-play for playtesting, and/or produce a usable prototype that conveys not only mechanisms but also aesthetics for the purposes of pitching it to a publisher.”

I might even consider using AI artwork to get a product to the point where it could be ready to go up on Kickstarter, Gamefound, or Backerkit as a way to fund the project and get the funds necessary to commission actual artwork.


Terraforming Mars is not exactly known for the great art. Quite the opposite. They were often maligned for mixing art and stock photography… the interview suggests most of the art is being produced by the Fryx family themselves and that gen AI is used as an assist more than as a creator. Does that make a difference though?

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My opinions on generative AI (much like my opinions on copyright in general) would be very different if we didn’t live under capitalism.

If it weren’t necessary to monetise creative work in order to survive (or to do something else in order to support you doing creative work) then a free-for-all on content and culture would be great and these kinds of tools could be used to do interesting things. (Or actual humans could be doing more interesting things like sampling, remixing, interpolating, etc etc)

As it is, they’re mostly just being used for plagiarism and cost-cutting. A way to either steal artwork without compensating the artist or generate art without having to pay someone who’s spent time developing the skills you need.

Not to mention the fact that these systems require a large dataset to do anything of worth, so there isn’t a way to have something that would produce the desired results without plagiarism. (You’re looking at either just using your own work, which wouldn’t be enough; using public domain works, which wouldn’t produce anything modern; or compensating the creators, which would be even more costly than these systems already are.)

The general argument in the article seems to be “AI isn’t going away, so I have no problem using it now, despite any ethical concerns”.

It would be nice if AI (or whatever) could take away all the boring jobs. For an art example: there’s probably a graphic designer somewhere currently bored out of their mind as they produce some generic icons. Or it could replace stock photography so some poor guy who just posed for a couple of photos doesn’t end up being the face of erectile disfunction (or worse).

But if it can only do that by taking away from people who need those jobs to live, while simultaneously stealing the creations of other people, it can get in the bin.


not completely wrong. weren’t the luddites fighting against corporate abuse of a new technology to cheapen their labor?


My complaint isn’t primarily about cheapening future labor, though. It’s the exploitation of past labor without consent and compensation.

I agree with @bruitist that I’d feel rather differently about all of it if it weren’t for capitalism.


Relevant episode of Cautionary Tales

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As someone who’s going to be demoing for Indie next month and likes their games a lot, I’m not at all happy about this. Definitely not reading the room - the RPG publishing community has now firmly got the message after a few big customer revolts. (And rubbish art is kind of a feature of Terraforming Mars_ by now.)

I don’t use ChatGPT and I’ve moved my public code off github now that that’s being shovelled into the Microsoft pattern-matching mill.


I don’t know what the art is like in later additions, but what I’ve seen of the original art seems quite fitting for a game of “do capitalism on Mars”.

Bland art and stock images evokes dry corporate documentation or textbooks. It doesn’t really make sense to have cool sci-fi art in it.

It would be a very different feel if you paired this with a glamourising aesthetic.


It’s definitely not helping.

A bunch of authors are now suing open AI George RR Martin and John Grisham among group of authors suing OpenAI | Books | The Guardian


Something about this is rubbing me the wrong way.

“Fryxelius mentioned that the next game, “a co-operative Viking game called Fates, ” has art by a “Western illustrator,” emphasizing that the company spared no expense in making sure it was paying a living wage to the people in charge of those drawings: “We have paid tens of thousands of dollars to have those illustrations made. And not even by some East European illustrator or Asian illustrator, but actually by Western—someone living in the Western world will be doing all the illustrations. That is crazy expensive.””


Is it this …?


Now that you mention it, yep, that’s probably it. :wink:


“These days we can never get it right anymore!”
“Yes, apparently you can’t.”


Oh… wow… that was a verbatim quote?

I didn’t follow the link, and I’d assumed that had been some kind of cynical paraphrasing.

I could put a sympathetic spin on what they were trying to convey, but that person maybe shouldn’t be making public statements on behalf of the company. A shame it’s the CEO.


Yeh, they seemed to be going for “everyone complained about us not paying artists, so let’s show them how much we’re gonna pay the next artist”, but instead managed to say “we’ll give you proper art next time - and it won’t be cheap foreign rubbish!”


I’m a bit torn. I hear what they are trying to say, but I feel as though perhaps they shouldn’t have said anything at all.

There’s a fact that the labor cost differs in different parts of the world. Which, as a result (and also contributing to), the cost of living can vary wildly based on geography. It isn’t simple how it works; and many would say that it doesn’t work.

It would be “good” if anyone anywhere in the world was paid a decent wage for skilled labor/work; and as much as I would like that to be the case, we simply can’t get there from here, where we are right now, today. (But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying, of course).

I personally see no problem with commissioning artwork from around the world; yes, the artists in the US and Western Europe would probably ask for more money than someone elsewhere in the world. Classic capitalism (cronyism and nepotism not withstanding) would dictate that you would simply purchase services from the cheapest vendor that can adequately provide those services.

In this way, I believe the publisher is saying, “Hey, we did the not-capitalist thing! Give us some credit!”.

But talking about this sort of thing can be uncomfortable for people. Why? I’m guessing guilt; I know I don’t feel great when I consider that my income is in the top 10% worldwide. The average annual household income globally is ~$12000; the median is ~$3000. When I look at those numbers, I just feel bad. It makes me hate the current state of things. And I don’t use the word “hate” very often.


I agree on I get what was trying to be said and it likely just came out wrong. It still definitely came out wrong.

The article also notes that much of the company is family and the artist getting paid so much is the sister of the CEO.