Cyan, the studio behind Myst and Riven, has for the last few years been funding its games via Kickstarter. That’s how 2016's Obduction was made, and it’s also how 2023's Firmament—with more than a little help from machines this time—was developed as well.
For a studio with such an illustrious history, the decidedly mixed reviews for Firmament should be something of a surprise. Fans are down on some of the puzzle design, but they also repeatedly mention how flat the game’s world feels, how poor the narration is and the sparsity of Firmament’s in-game lore, which really stand out when compared to Cyan’s 90s blockbusters.
Turns out there’s a good reason for some of that. As Gregory Avery-Weir first pointed out after sitting through the game’s credits, the longer you sit through them the more you find that some jobs—like voice acting—don’t get a mention where you’d expect them, alongside composers and artists. Indeed by the time the credits are thanking external partners like Nvidia, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d forgotten to acknowledge their voice actors entirely.
Until you get to this, literally the last credit flashed on the screen before they start thanking streams of Kickstarter backers:
That sure explains why so many pieces of in-game lore—like “journals, logs, checklists, newapapers, stories, songs, poems, letters” and “loosely scattered papers”—have been described as being so underwhelming, and why so many players had complaints about the lifelessness of its narration.
I reached out to Cyan and asked them specifically about the level of human involvement in the game’s narration and lore texts (newspapers, letters, etc). Their response:
“AI Assisted Content” listed in the credits for Firmament is, well, exactly that. It is content of which its final state you see it as in the game as was assisted, not wholly created, by services built on what many refer to as “AI” that Cyan staff made use of.
For example, all voice acting content was performed by an actual human being 100% of the time (which may have been obvious already if you have listened to it, especially considering the performance cadence and content — we can’t imagine what it would be like if wholly machine generated, to your question) but the final performance timbre, pitch, and tone was modified with one of these services, with the performer’s consent. Hopefully that clarifies things more and provides a good example of what we mean by “AI Assisted Content”.
Note that doesn’t explain why those voice actors aren’t credited (when the AI is!), why they used AI (and not regular recording/mixing tools) to modify the “timbre, pitch, and tone” of a human’s voice, and doesn’t address the numerous other instances fans have complained about, like the poems and songs.
This sucks! This is the third game in a month we’ve had to highlight for either featuring or standing accused of featuring terrible, obviously machine-generated content. The feedback in each instance—even on this game’s Kickstarter page, where many backers pledged their support years ago, before AI-generated content was even a thing—has been clear: people do not want this stuff in their games!
UPDATE 8pm ET, June 8 - Cyan has responded to the criticism by releasing a second, more detailed statement. Our headline has been amended to better reflect the specific nature of the content used:
As many of you have seen or noticed, our credits in Firmament mention “Al Assisted Content”. This has been present in the credits for Firmament since release day, and we have never hidden this information:
A.I. Assisted Content
Journals, logs, checklists, newspapers, stories, songs, poems, letters, loosely scattered papers; all backer portraits; all founders portraits; the “sunset” paintings; the art-nouveau wallpaper in the Swan dormitory hallways; propaganda banners; coastal spill decal kit; all voiced mentor, announcer, founder, and other speeches; backer-exclusive content
“Al Assisted” does not mean wholly Al-generated. Unfortunately, there have been articles published recently which have implied (especially in their headlines) that Cyan generated much of Firmament using Al tools. This is categorically false and misleading, and we are disappointed and frustrated to see this happening.
Some folks may be concerned about our usage of Al, so in the interest of clarification: The voice performances in Firmament were voiced 100% of the time by a talented member of our development team who elected not to be credited by name. Their voice was simply modulated for the final product with one of these tools (and with their full permission and control). This same member of the development team has elected not to be credited in prior games of ours as well, for privacy concerns, and not anything to do with tools usage in our games.
Additionally, our narrative team elected to use Al writing tools to ideate and experiment with how information they wrote themselves is presented in the game. The artists who used Al tools to assist in the creation of assets (itemized above, as well as in the credits) used them solely to ideate on texture assets for very specific scenarios. Other than the small handful of textural assets described, no Al tools were used in any aspect of Cyan’s world-building or art creation efforts.
Cyan has a talented team of individuals (all human beings) with a breadth of skills and experience who have been working on this game for over 4 years, from scratch. We are disappointed to see their contributions minimized and overshadowed by egregious speculation about our usage of Al tools. Although individuals on the team did leverage Al tools to help with the development of the contents listed above, absolutely nothing in this small fraction of content for the game was generated and used outright from these services without extensive human oversight and revision.
For those who are disappointed in our use of these tools, we hope you have a better picture now of how we used them to assist with Firmament’s development. To our disappointed Kickstarter backers, we hope you understand that none of these tools even existed when we Kickstarted the development of the project, but understand why you may be disappointed that we did not disclose our usage of them in the last year. These tools land in a gray area for many, but we hope that some accurate context (instead of a spicy headline) helps clarify this for you.