Quantum Game Development: Looking Back and then Beyond

Chandler Lane
13 min readMar 14, 2023

“If I have a thousand ideas and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied. “

-Alfred Nobel (1833–1896)

A Radical New Idea

The year is 1981. Brought together by MIT, A group of the earth’s brightest minds in the fields of physics and computing convened inside of a Boston mansion to discuss the frontier of computational theory. This would be no ordinary meeting of great minds, however. Something different was going to be discussed. Something incredible.

The Attendees

Only a year prior to the conference, a computer scientist, Paul Benioff, published a theoretical paper proposing the possibility of a special type of computer that could operate under the laws of quantum mechanics. He theorized that this special computer could vastly outperform classical computers in certain computations using quantum bits or “qubits”.

It’s no stretch of the imagination to think these attendees were eager to discuss this new wild idea. We could even venture to say that they wanted to hear what the great, Nobel prize winning, Richard Feynman had to say about the matter.

Feynman would not disappoint. He delivered an electrifying, attention-snatching lecture that not a single person in that room could have imagined the impact of, not even Feynman himself.

Feynman’s idea was radical: a practical implementation of a quantum computer. He proposed using a two-state system, such as a spin-1/2 particle, to represent one of these “qubits”. He suggested that the qubits could be manipulated using a magnetic field to perform these superior quantum operations. He also included a proposal for a quantum simulator to simulate the behavior of quantum systems, which he believed could never be truly simulated on classical computers.

Richard Feynman

This transcendent idea that Feynman turned into a concrete blueprint and then gifted to the world would serve as the guiding light for quantum computing over the coming decades.

Turning Radical to Real

In the mid-1990s, the trailblazing research team led by Peter Shor and Lov Grover at Bell Labs reached the first significant milestone in realizing Feynman’s vision: by working out the first quantum algorithms based on experiments with protype quantum computers. “Shor’s algorithm” showed that quantum computers could solve certain mathematical problems exponentially faster than classical computers, specifically the problem of factoring large numbers, which is the basis of all modern encryption methods.

Peter Shor

Grover also made similar contributions to the cause with his quantum eponymous algorithm, which can search an unsorted database with the efficiency and speed that classical computers could never achieve. Grover’s algorithm has the potential to revolutionize data search and optimization in almost every field imaginable.

Lov Grover

These breakthroughs proved that Feynman’s vision of a quantum computer was a tangible, obtainable reality. Thus, the floodgates of imagination were suddenly and violently thrown open in millions of minds across the world and innovation would soon flowing freely in this new and alien-like age of quantum computing.

Quantum Thinking

It wouldn’t take long for someone to start applying this strange “quantum thinking” to other domains of science to create entirely new areas of study straight out of thin air. In 1999, David Meyer, a professor at UC San Diego, did just that with his landmark paper titled Quantum Strategies”. The paper introduced the world the concept of applying quantum mechanics to game theory.

David Meyer

Traditional game theory is the study of decision-making in situations where two or more individuals or groups have competing interests. It involves analyzing the strategies that players can use to maximize their outcomes in such scenarios. The strategies are typically determined based on assumptions about the preferences and rationality of the players, and the outcomes are evaluated based on a set of rules or criteria.

In the quantum version, players have access to quantum signals through the phenomenon of entanglement, which allows for a greater range of possible strategies. These quantum strategies are based on superpositions and entangled states, which can lead to novel and more efficient solutions to the game. Essentially, quantum game theory expands the range of strategies available to players beyond those of classical game theory, potentially leading to new and interesting outcomes.

Quantum Chess

Let’s take the fictional game of real-life, physical, “you can touch it”, Quantum Chess as an example:

players could use quantum superposition and entanglement to create new strategies that are not available in classical chess. For example, a player could use superposition to move a single piece to two different squares simultaneously or use entanglement to coordinate multiple pieces at once.

These strategies would most certainly lead to highly complex and mind-bending gameplay that would require a radically different way of thinking and strategizing. Of course, something like physical quantum chess isn’t possible with our current understanding of physics and reality but it’s great example for making Quantum game theory more intuitive.

It’s a fun and thought-provoking concept, but if you have some programming skills this can and has been able to be done with classic computer for a long time now.

You can check out an implementation of Quantum Chess here.

Although the simulated entanglement mechanics wouldn’t be truly random, the game could still provide an identical experience to its quantum counterpart that would be almost impossible to tell apart.

We will come back to that point in a (qu)bit though.

Quantum Leap into Game Development

We need to talk about IBM.

In 2016, IBM once again showed us that it was still more than capable of providing disruptive, world changing technology via their open-source Quantum software development platform, Qiskit, which allows developers to write quantum computing algorithms, execute them on IBM’s own quantum processors and hardware.

One man immediately saw the light provided by IBM and knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to make quantum games.

Dr. James Wooten

Dr. Wootton was able to claim his stake on the first ever Quantum game created by making a simple, quantum version of Battleships that leaned more towards educating users on the underlying mechanics of quantum computing. Although it could hardly be considered a game by today's standards, it was truly the first intentionally made quantum computer game.

You can read about it here from the man himself.

Quantum Battleships: The first game for a quantum computer | by Dr James Wootton | Medium

Dr. Wootton has come a long way since that first game he created. He has even partnered with IBM to create educational games and is still pushing the boundary on Quantum Game Development. You can read more about his journey in this highly informative article below.

The History of Games for Quantum Computers | by Dr James Wootton | Medium.

IMB has some exciting things planned for quantum computing in the coming years as well. Here is their road map up to 2026!

Synergy Is Key

This roadmap up to 2026 outlines plans to build quantum-centric supercomputers that incorporate quantum processors, classical processors, quantum communication networks, and classical networks to completely transform how we compute.

In this roadmap here, a glimpse at the true potential of quantum computers is shown.

Hybrid Architecture.

By combining classical and quantum computing power in a hybrid architecture, these systems will be stronger together than either could be alone. Classical and quantum computers are two sides of the same coin, the yin to the yang, the sun and the moon. The future of the everyday widespread use of quantum computing lies in the synergistic collaboration of these two technologies. Synergy is the Key.

This here in lies the issue with the Quantum games we have today.

Quantum Games are not “Fun”

Now, we are getting back to that (qu)bit from earlier.

While quantum game development is still in its infancy, it’s understandable why pure quantum games aren’t inherently “fun” — pioneers like Dr. Wootton are just operating as well as they can under the current constraints while staying “true” to the quantum mechanics.

The big Delima here is that our brains have been wired by decades of game development, spoiling us with culturally iconic series like The Legend of Zelda, World of Warcraft, Pokémon, and entirely too many more to list. Pure quantum computing games alone can’t compete with what classical computers can already do and have achieved and especially won't be able to compete with our brains, hard as we try. I believe the gap is far too wide to close. Thankfully we can rely on companies like IBM to help us solve this problem by paving the way to a future of Hybrid Architecture Quantum computing and unlock the spooky potential of the quantum world.

That said, I strongly believe we’re on the right path with quantum game development. While it’s fun to know you’re getting truly random information or fast computation from IBM’s hardware, our lizard brains are really good at making things not novel and fun anymore.

Gazing Beyond the horizon

I want to speculate and get theoretical about the quantum gaming environment we might see in 50 years but also stay close to the physical boundaries we are helplessly governed by.

Quantum internet and MMO’s

There is a ridiculous amount of potential here. Let’s imagine an MMO that allows 1 million players online in the same world simultaneously and consider all of the challenges.

Communication

First, let’s consider the communication aspect. A quantum internet would rely on quantum entanglement and Quantum teleportation to securely transmit information between nodes. The process of entangling qubits involves creating a pair of qubits that are linked in such a way that measuring the state of one of the qubits instantly determines the state of the other. Quantum teleportation is a process that can be used to transmit quantum information between two nodes that share an entangled state. However, it does not transmit information faster than the speed of light and it requires a classical communication channel to transmit information about the result of the measurement made on the entangled qubit.

To address these challenges, a classical computer could be used to handle the initial communication and setup of the entanglement between nodes. The classical computer could coordinate the creation and entanglement of the qubits, as well as handle any error correction that is required. Once the entanglement is established, the quantum internet could then be used to transmit information between the nodes using Quantum teleportation.

A hybrid quantum-classical approach could also be used to enhance the communication efficiency of the quantum internet. For instance, classical networks could be used to handle the bulk of the communication, while the quantum internet could be used for high-security, low-latency transmissions. Additionally, classical algorithms could be used to preprocess data before sending it over the quantum network, reducing the amount of information that needs to be transmitted and minimizing the potential for errors.

This would require a complex network of nodes and entanglement links between them to achieve this. Additionally, the communication speed would depend on the distance between the nodes and the quality of the entangled states used for the communication. As the number of nodes and the distance between them increase, the complexity and difficulty of maintaining the entanglement links also increase. Nevertheless, advances in quantum networking and quantum error correction techniques may make it possible to achieve a scalable quantum internet in the future.

Memory

How could it be possible to store all that information for one million players?

There are a few possibilities to overcome this, one possibility is using a technique called quantum error correction, which can protect quantum states from decoherence, and errors caused by external factors. This technique involves storing quantum information across multiple qubits in a way that allows errors to be detected and corrected.

In the context of an MMO, the concatenated error codes technique could be used to store and protect and store large amounts of player data, such as player profiles, inventory, and game progress. For example, each player’s data could be encoded onto a set of qubits, and then those qubits could be further encoded onto additional qubits at higher levels of the concatenated codes hierarchy. This would allow for efficient storage and retrieval of player data, while also protecting against errors and decoherence.

classical computers could be used to manage the storage and retrieval of data, while the quantum computer could be used for the actual encoding and decoding of the data onto the qubits. This would take advantage of the strengths of both types of computers and could result in a more efficient and reliable storage and retrieval system.

Quantum data compression could also be used, this technique involves finding patterns in data and using them to represent the information in a more compact form. One way to achieve this is through a process called “quantum machine learning,” where quantum algorithms are used to analyze large datasets and extract meaningful information. By using quantum algorithms to identify patterns in the data, it may be possible to reduce the amount of information that needs to be stored, while still preserving the relevant details.

Processing Power

Processing all of that information for 1 million players also presents us with a massive headache.

One thing game developers would have to keep in mind is to constantly leverage the hybrid architecture, where a classical computer is used to handle some of the processing tasks while the quantum processor handles the quantum-specific calculations. This approach could allow for more efficient and reliable processing of the massive amount of data generated by 1 million players.

Quantum annealing could potentially be used to optimize certain aspects of the game, such as pathfinding algorithms or artificial intelligence decision-making. Quantum annealing is a process that seeks to find the lowest energy state of a given problem, and it can be applied to optimization problems in various domains, including game development.

Data-Oriented Technology Stack (DOTS) architecture, developed by Unity Technologies, focuses on efficiently processing large amounts of data in parallel. This architecture could potentially be enhanced with quantum computing to further optimize the processing of game data and improve game performance.

Quantum Game AI

I think this is an area where Quantum computing can really make an impact like we haven’t seen before. What if we Leveridge the Power of generative AI like ChatGPT, and quantum computing? Quantum computing could potentially be used to improve the performance of generative AI like Chat GPT, by making it a real-time AI capable of interacting with the game world. One way this could be achieved is through the use of a quantum “context delivery system”, which could instantly update the Chat GPT with the latest context and allow it to respond instantly accordingly to any situation within the game.

prompt engineering would be used to train the Chat GPT to play any character asked of it, allowing for more dynamic and engaging gameplay. The quantum computing power could be used to accelerate the training and optimization process, allowing for more efficient development of the game AI.

However, there are some considerations to take into account. For example, the quantum hardware required to support such a system would need to be powerful enough to handle the computational demands of real-time AI and game world interactions. Additionally, there would need to be effective algorithms and software to make the most of the quantum hardware and optimize the performance of the system.

Furthermore, the quantum context delivery system would need to be able to handle the potentially massive amount of data generated by interactions with the game world and other players in a secure and efficient manner. Overall, the integration of quantum computing and generative AI in game development has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach game AI and create more immersive and dynamic gaming experiences.

Procedural generation

This is the area in which Dr. Wootton sees the most potential.

procedural generation is a technique used to create content algorithmically rather than manually. With the power of quantum computing, it is possible to generate vast amounts of content at a scale that was previously impossible with classical computing.

For example, a game world the size of the United States with incredible detail could be generated using quantum algorithms that analyze data such as satellite images and terrain data to create a realistic and immersive game environment.

Similarly, an entire galaxy to explore with detailed planets could be generated using quantum algorithms that simulate astronomical phenomena and planetary systems. The level of detail in such a game world could be incredible, with unique ecosystems and alien species that are procedurally generated based on scientific principles.

we could develop extremely sophisticated evolution and breeding mechanics in games. By simulating complex genetic algorithms and evolutionary processes using quantum computing, we could create games where creatures or characters can evolve and breed in same way that life on earth does.

On The Shoulders of Giants

Over time, Game developers have become masters at smoke and mirrors, and tricking the player into believing what we want. We can use that power to create seamless hybrid experiences as we continue to learn and unlock more of the quantum world. We also need more people like Dr. Wootton on the front lines of innovation working on pure quantum games to keep pushing that boundary, and we should remember the giants whose shoulders we stand on — like Richard Feynman and the team at Bell Labs — and be brave enough to think outside the box and share our ideas with the world.

I hope this has been thought provoking in some way.

Thanks,

Chandler Lane

Game Developer — Software Engineer

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