Nightdive Studios, the recently Atari-acquired remaster studio behind the upcoming System Shock remake, has made a polarising move in openly employing Midjourney AI-generated imagery in a tweet promoting its game. While the team has acknowledged its use and provided a kind of clever justification, the decision has proven to be divisive among System Shock fans and critics of the avalanche of AI-generated content we have seen recently.
Look at you, hacker: a pathetic creature of meat and bone. Your body, weak, fragile.
How can you challenge a perfect machine?
Imagine, how would my immortal body look like?
Designed by an immortal machine for an immortal machine.#SHODAN #SystemShock #midjourney #rogueAI pic.twitter.com/i4Gwi2bpdQ
— System Shock (@SystemShockGame) April 28, 2023
The tweet from the official System Shock Twitter account tasks Midjourney AI to design the body of SHODAN, the game’s malevolent AI antagonist. The use of AI art and voices in projects like High on Life has been controversial for skating around having to pay for the use of human art. However, in this case deliberately using an AI tool to design an AI character at least has some subversive intention behind it, even if the design created by Midjourney was essentially cobbled together from designs created by uncredited human artists.
The responses from followers on Twitter has been…not especially positive. Most have made statements decrying the use of AI art and expressing sympathy for the artists whose uncredited work went into the image. “That’s not how you advertise a game crafted by people with passion for a franchise.” reads one response, along with “I gotta join the others and say I hate AI art being used by corporations. Pay an artist to make something like this or don’t waste my time, please.”
The response from the developers has been a mixture of justification and contrition. “We will use AI again to create other pieces (including artwork). We may well use AI in other areas too. But this will never be at the expense of using skilled people or their creative talents.” the team wrote on Twitter, along with a follow-up statement of “But this was never about using AI to create artwork instead of using real people. This was about using AI to imagine what AI imagines itself to look like“.
We will use AI again to create other pieces (including artwork). We may well use AI in other areas too. But this will never be at the expense of using skilled people or their creative talents.
— System Shock (@SystemShockGame) May 2, 2023
Admittedly, it is sort of a complicated situation, considering the use of AI in this case was itself kind of a commentary on AI self-image to promote the studio’s new sci-fi game. Despite the backlash, Nightdive has still committed to using AI in artwork and other areas, but not at the expense of skilled creative human workers, however that works.
These kinds of ethical issues will continue to crop up as AI tools become more powerful and easily accessible. While popular opinion seems to largely be against their use, that likely won’t prevent more studios from using tools like Midjourney in the future. Whatever the case, we will have to see if this impacts the reactions to the System Shock remake when it releases on PC on the 30th of May this year.