GTA 6: Rockstar’s NPC tech patent sounds truly next-gen

CD Projekt Red
CD Projekt Red /

When looking at what it means to be a “next-gen” game, there’s more to it than simply graphics and frame rate. A new patent application was filed by Take-Two Interactive Software on behalf of Rockstar Games for managing NPC navigation, and it’s possible it could be applied to GTA 6.

The application for the patent, entitled ‘System And Method For Virtual Navigation In A Gaming Environment’, goes into incredible depth about the new system, which could drastically change NPC behavior in video games — especially when it comes to vehicles traveling road routes.

The system was developed by Rockstar’s lead AI programmer, Simon Parr, and David Hynd, Rockstar’s associate director of technology, and it truly sounds incredible. The abstract description reads:

"A system and method for managing and pathfinding using a coarse graph of low-level nodes representing the virtual world of a gaming environment."

Rockstar’s system attempts to create a realistic virtual world “that is not limited by hardware and software limitations.” And the timing of this patent discovery couldn’t be more perfect, especially as CD Projekt Red faces massive backlash for Cyberpunk 2077.

Obviously, there are a lot of problems with Cyberpunk 2077, and NPC behavior is a glaring issue. CD Projekt Red promised a full-fledged virtual world with NPCs that live full day-night cycles. Clearly, this turned out not to be the case as NPC behavior in Cyberpunk 2077 is hardly realistic.

It’s especially noticeable on the roads with NPC driving logic. One could argue CDPR constrained by the hardware and software limitations of last-gen consoles (although that’s just the tip of the iceberg of problems facing Cyberpunk 2077).

The idea behind Rockstar’s system is to provide realistic movements for NPCs “without increasing computational resources and/or restricting game development/design.” Without getting too into the gritty details, it’s a system in which “each NPC can define its own specific characteristics for traversing the road nodes.” These characteristics can include acceleration, times/distances, breaking times/distances, top speed, cornering speeds and more. It can even take into account physical data like vehicle size, width and type, and driver data, such as driving ability, speed, etc.

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When it comes to pushing the video game boundaries of hardware limitations, no one does it better than Rockstar Games. This is exactly the type of system that will help define the “next-gen” experience. An open-world game can look pretty and run smoothly, but if NPC logic is critically flawed, it will ruin the immersive experience. Again, one only needs to look at Cyberpunk 2077 as a clear example of this (although that game has tons of other issues).

It’s unclear if this technology will be utilized on Grand Theft Auto 6, but it’s certainly possible that this vehicular traffic system was developed for it. The patent was filed in late October 2020. Rockstar has yet to officially announced GTA 6, but it’s widely believed to be in development at Rockstar. If that’s the case, it’s not unreasonable to believe this new technology will be utilized in the game.