A puzzle, yesterday. With thanks to Gunpoint.
Most procedural generators have it pretty easy. Generation techniques for content like dungeon layouts or 3D worlds can’t really fail – they proceed very steadily, laying down content as they go, and if the occasional tree ends up floating in mid-air it’s not going to break the game. This attitude won’t cut it for more critical game content like puzzles or narratives, however. One small mistake might shortcut half of the plot or render a game trivially easy. How can you tell if a puzzle is solvable in the right way, though? This week on The Saturday Paper we look at how procedural generators can intelligently design puzzles with just the features you want – no more, no less.
Puzzles in videogames, especially point-and-click adventures, are strange things. Mysteries and puzzles in movies are all about ingenuity, wits and thinking outside of the box. In games, though, they’re about working out what the designer thought was the right solution and finding whatever combination of items is hardcoded to unlock the next Plot Door. Not only does it suck to find your perfectly reasonable solution wasn’t the one the developers put in, but having one route to the goal kills any hope of replayability, too. This week on the Saturday Paper, we look at a system that aims to fix both problems at once, by generating puzzles based on real world ideas of cause and effect. Continue reading
-  This is a link to Abstract Adventure, a very neat shortform game by a friend of mine. If you’ve ever played point-and-click games you’ll enjoy it, I think. ↩
Level design is a tricky business. As you creep around Dunwall or drive through Liberty City, you’re influenced by the architecture, the passageways, the placement of other characters and the location of treasure. Handcrafted levels benefit from the attention and refinement of many human designers, while procedural systems sacrifice human intuition in exchange for limitless content and unpredictable outcome. It’s only natural to ask – can we have both? This week The Saturday Paper is about building procedural level designers that can work to the kinds of intelligent, flexible constraints that designers use every day.
Doing science with videogames is all well and good, but the only way to know if you’re doing it right is to get real people in front of what you’ve made, and get them playing. Alex Zook is one of Mark Riedl‘s students at Georgia Tech University, and does really cool research into games that adapt themselves to better suit the player. He’s running an experiment right now and needs some help – if you’re interested in being a guinea pig and want to play a game that’s full of exciting research, read on and see how you can contribute:
Procedural content generation is a popular piece of technology, to say the least. From Minecraft’s rolling hills to Dwarf Fortress’ intricate world histories, we love games that can generate parts of themselves each time we play them. But other than tweaking the sea level in Civilization V, we don’t tend to think of content generators as things that can change much. What kind of Spelunky levels would Minecraft’s worldgen make? Do Dwarf Fortress’ histories share a literary style? This week The Saturday Paper is about generating the content generators – and the world of possibilities that opens up beyond.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the guests on the latest season of Joe Martin and Harriet Jones’ podcast, Unlimited Hyperbole. The episode has just gone up, and is perfect coffee break listening-size. In it, I talk about how the games industry is missing out on a future it could still have, if only we could get academia to work a bit closer with industry. I might be sounding like a broken record lately – I said the same thing when I launched The Saturday Paper just a few weeks ago. But it’s something that plays on my mind a lot, because it’s so easily fixed, and because there’s so much exciting research going on out of people’s reach.
If you’ve ever played a role-playing game, from Final Fantasy V to Skyrim, you’ll know that the genre loves its tropes. From orcs and goblins to swords and sorcery, the same themes come up time and time again. Sometimes this is exactly what you want, but often – particularly when it comes to the classes players choose to be, and the skills they have available – we want to have something new to challenge us. This week The Saturday Paper is about getting the game itself to come up with new abilities and class ideas for RPGs, with a little guidance from the player.
This evening I found a few tweets from Jonathan Blow that disappointed me a bit. Here they are:
I wrote code to do A* today, for the first time since I was in college. Long time!
— Jonathan Blow (@Jonathan_Blow) April 6, 2013
In other news, this puts me pretty close to the state of the art in video game AI research…
— Jonathan Blow (@Jonathan_Blow) April 6, 2013
This has driven me to finally start doing something I meant to begin a long time ago. I’d really like your help, too!
It’s the first day of EvoStar 2013 today, and I’ve already seen plenty of confusing and exciting talks, drunk a week’s ration of coffee, and confused the locals with my attempts to speak German. I just wanted to post a quick update to let you know that two articles went online this week about the project, both of which are great reads, covering different but complementary sides of the project as it stands today.
Over on Gamasutra, Joe Martin and I discuss the criticisms, valid and open, of ANGELINA and computational creativity. We talk about the advantages of being human, where ANGELINA might manage to one day go, and where humans will (and should) have the upper hand.
Meanwhile at Eurogamer, Chris Donlan sits down with me to discuss why ANGELINA and computational creativity at large is the beginning of something separate, something beyond traditional creativity and maybe a chance to look at things in a new way.
I spoke to both Chris and Joe at Imperial over the last few months, and both conversations were absolutely brilliant. I can’t thank them enough. Both links will of course make it over to the Press page of the site too. EvoGames kicks off in earnest tomorrow, which I might tweet a little about. Normal work service resumes next week!