GTA 6 NPC drivers could be a whole lot smarter than their predecessors

If you've ever been attempting a carefully orchestrated heist in Grand Theft Auto, only to be foiled by the bizarre antics of computer-controlled drivers, then this news is for you: a new patent suggests that GTA 6 may have the smartest non-playable drivers of the series yet.

The patent, titled "System and Method for Virtual Navigation in a Gaming Environment," describes a system that would improve AI situational awareness, especially when driving.

Filed by Rockstar's associate director of technology David Hynd and lead AI programmer Simon Parr, the patent would allow NPCs to look beyond the objects in their immediate vicinity, and introduce tech that would allow them a greater sense of anticipation, and unique driver profiles.

Hitting the open road (node)

Roads in games like GTA are often linked together in chains, linked together at key points, and described here as 'road nodes'. With the new patent tech, a driver could "define its own specific characteristics for traversing the road nodes".

In other words, drivers could react differently according to the specific events occurring on the nodes around them. For instance, upon seeing a traffic jam they could formulate another route, or avoid a road with treacherous terrain, depending on their profile. Speed limits could be dynamically adhered to, and non-moving objects, such as street lights or car crashes, could be recognised and responded to accordingly. No more fleets of cars careening through traffic lights and mailboxes at the first sign of trouble.

The patent also takes into consideration more general driving skills, like a better understanding of vehicle handling when moving at top speed, and braking times, for an overall more realistic on-the-road experience.

As ever, a patent filing is not indicative of what will appear in a final product – it's merely Rockstar protecting its technologies in the event that they are used. But with the tech being built for "virtual navigation and management of objects in a multiplayer network gaming community", at Rockstar, it doesn't take a genius to see that the company is at least experimenting with new ideas for Grand Theft Auto Online or the surely-upcoming GTA 6.

For now, Grand Theft Auto 6 remains a mere rumor, however, with no known announcement on the horizon. Instead, Rockstar is focussed on bringing a next-gen build of Grand Theft Auto 5 to PS5 and Xbox Series X.

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