AI Game Development: 50,000 Hours, AI Failed to Beat Pokémon Red’s Second Gym”

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a groundbreaking force, making significant strides across various industries.

However, its influence on AI game development is just beginning to unfold. Recently, a determined programmer embarked on a pioneering project, setting out to train an AI model to play the classic game, Pokemon Red.

With approximately 50,000 hours invested in training, this programmer successfully crafted an algorithm capable of navigating the game and defeating the first gym leader. Although the AI faced challenges in certain aspects of the game, this endeavor provides profound insights into the realm of machine learning.

A Game-Changing Approach

Intriguingly, this project took a unique approach. Instead of relying on pre-programmed instructions, the AI interacted with the game through emulator control inputs, replicating the actions of a human player.

Learning sessions occurred in convenient two-hour increments, thanks to the use of emulation, translating to a mere six minutes of real-time. This approach, while unconventional, opened doors to a new frontier of AI gaming.

A Rewarding Journey of Discovery

The AI’s journey through the Pokemon world was marked by an insatiable curiosity. The AI received rewards whenever it encountered new elements in the game, such as distinct pixel variations on-screen.

This unconventional method sometimes led to quirky behavior, like fixating on mesmerizing water animations. However, these peculiarities fueled the AI’s motivation to progress through the game. This approach added an intriguing layer to the project, illustrating how AI can adapt and respond to its surroundings.

Innovative Reward Systems

Additional reward systems were implemented to encourage the AI to engage in battles and capture Pokemon. Initially, the AI evaded encounters to focus on moving forward.

However, a reward system based on the total level of the active Pokemon party incentivized fighting battles and capturing Pokemon. Despite some unintended consequences, such as the AI avoiding Pokemon Centers after a traumatic experience, these reward mechanisms gradually improved the AI’s performance.

Unconventional Strategies

The AI demonstrated a capacity for learning unconventional strategies. It discovered a specific path that allowed it to capture wild Pokemon using only one Pokeball, showcasing an understanding of RNG manipulation typically employed by speedrunners. However, the AI struggled with more intuitive aspects of the game, such as exploiting elemental weaknesses to defeat the gym leader Brock.

Lessons in Machine Learning

The undertaking to teach an AI to play Pokemon Red might appear whimsical on the surface, but beneath this intriguing project lies valuable lessons in the world of machine learning. Here are some key takeaways:

1. Adaptability of AI

  • The AI’s ability to adapt to unexpected stimuli in the game highlights its potential to respond to real-world scenarios.

2. Emulation Efficiency

  • The use of emulation allowed for efficient and accelerated learning, demonstrating how technology can streamline the learning process.

3. Motivation Through Rewards

  • The AI’s responsiveness to rewards showcases the role of incentives in shaping AI behavior.

4. Continuous Learning

  • The project illustrates that AI can continuously learn and improve its performance, even in complex tasks.

5. Unconventional Problem Solving

  • The AI’s unique approach to challenges, like fixating on water animations, offers insights into creative problem-solving in AI.


The integration of artificial intelligence into the realm of game development is still in its infancy, but the journey of teaching an AI to play Pokemon Red exemplifies the boundless potential of AI in this domain. As AI continues to evolve and adapt, we can expect innovative and engaging gaming experiences that push the boundaries of what is possible.


What is the significance of training an AI to play Pokemon Red?

Training an AI to play Pokemon Red serves as a practical demonstration of AI’s adaptability, learning capabilities, and problem-solving skills.

How can emulation benefit AI learning?

Emulation allows for efficient and accelerated learning, making it an invaluable tool in AI training.

What insights can be gained from the AI’s response to rewards?

The AI’s response to rewards emphasizes the role of incentives in shaping AI behavior and decision-making.

Can this project have real-world applications beyond gaming?

Yes, the adaptability and problem-solving abilities demonstrated by AI can be applied to various real-world scenarios, such as robotics and automation.

What’s next for AI in game development?

The future of AI in game development holds exciting possibilities, including more immersive and adaptive gameplay experiences that challenge the boundaries of human imagination.

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