Committing Random Acts
Quantum’s herculean processing power will shape games in a few key ways. Its ability to factor large numbers should help improve so-called procedural generation — the method by which games populate random elements such as characters and level layouts. If you’re a game developer working today, “you’re hampered by the fact that you don’t have good, fast analysis algorithms at the moment, which quantum computers could help with, that’s going to be the first use of quantum in games.
That point is worth underlining: Quantum computing opens the door to random number generation that’s genuinely random, which could mean truly unpredictable game maps and character encounters, as opposed to present-day games that exhibit seemingly random elements but which actually follow patterns.
This presents a problem that quantum could also potentially tackle: Games that are literally impossible to solve aren’t so much fun to play. Quantum’s optimization muscle would determine whether or not some stretch of randomly generated challenges — be they physical obstacles, swarms of antagonists or puzzles — can actually be overcome. And if so, what’s the optimal way to go about it? Simply put, quantum helps us know the best way to get from start to finish.
THE QUANTUM COMPUTING GAMING INDUSTRY
Like quantum computing itself, quantum gaming is still developing. But researchers and developers are already working on bridging theory and reality. Here are a few other outfits shaping the future of video games.
One of the company’s QC pacesetters has emphasized the technology’s aforementioned capability to genuinely randomize. Jeff Henshaw, group program manager of Microsoft Quantum Computing, told Gizmodo, “In a world where truly random behaviors can be informed by quantum processes, we can create environments, and scores of enemies, that feel natural in their behaviors even over infinite periods of play.”
The two-things-at-once simultaneity that informs bedrock quantum concepts like superposition, entanglement and measurement can be difficult to visualize. One good metaphor? A chess piece that can occupy two spaces at once. University of Southern California research assistant Chris Cantwell’s Quantum Chess is the closest thing we’ve seen to a quantum game “hit.” After a successful Kickstarter, the game — which doubles as a fun illustration of quantum mechanics — is available to play through Steam. Cantwell has written extensively about his game and its implications. But the Keanu Reeves-narrated viral video of the late Stephen Hawking and Paul Rudd engaged in an epic quantum chess battle, put together after Cantwell’s two-year collaboration with Caltech IQIM, is more fun by orders of magnitude.
Wootton has identified this Toronto startup and Creative Destruction Lab alumnus as one of the few currently tackling the fledgling arena of quantum graphics. Boxcat, which has received partial funding from Bloomberg Beta, uses a quantum-classical hybrid to speed up image rendering times. Its breakthrough achievement? The company claims to have created the world’s first quantum computer-rendered image using a cloud-based access platform that connects users to a D-Wave Systems quantum computer.
“We made a rendering engine run on top of the platform they provided, and we were able to generate, as an output, a fully pre-processed image with the use of their quantum hardware,” Boxcat co-founder Ystallonne Alves wrote last year.
More recent updates are scarce — Boxcat’s social channels remain silent, and the company did not respond to a request for comment — but the seemingly near-stealth outfit remains one to watch.
And in the academic sector (from which video game developers often mine innovation), researcher Simona Caraiman has developed quantum algorithms for the polygon visibility problem and for global illumination, the term game developers use to describe the combination of reflections and refractions to create realistic lighting effects.