Generative Coders and The Book

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Many years ago when I was in the last years of secondary school, a friend gave me a book to read. She had just had what amounted to a religious conversion to mathematics, and was reading and learning everything she could find about it. This book, she said, had changed the way she saw mathematics. It was called The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, and it chronicled the life of Paul Erdős, an eccentric and legendary mathematician of the 20th century. Erdős is famous in mathematical circles, but the thing I remember most from reading about him has little to do with numbers. It’s a metaphor Erdős used to describe proofs, and it’s been coming back to me lately in a new context, trying to think about why I like a certain kind of coding task so much: scraping data from the web.

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Dagstuhl Dispatches – A Game!


Grab our prototype code here.

This week I’m at Dagstuhl – a strange retreat-cum-conference for computer scientists nestled away in the German countryside. It’s the turn of games and AI this week, bringing in researchers from around the globe to spend the day talking, creating and debating instead of the standard conference rush of presenting papers and wandering around between hotels. I’ll hold off reporting on Dagstuhl for now, but I wanted to write a quick post to let you know about a little prototype game I helped create tonight, as part of a workgroup discussing how AI can create new kinds of game.

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Talks In 2014

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a good break. I’m getting organised and ready for the new year and part of this is cataloguing everything that happened last year. With that in mind, here are links to the talks I gave in 2014 that were recorded online. Do get in touch if you want me to come talk somewhere! I can normally pay my own way if it’s in the UK, and I love meeting new people and talking about games and AI.

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PROCJAM Postjamtem

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Last month I ran PROCJAM, the first procedural generation game jam. It was an awesome time – we recorded a day of amazing talks by procedural generation experts, we had a lively hashtag full of incredible experiments, and at the end of the jam everyone had 142 (and counting!) entries to play, use and learn from. Here’s a little report, and a little about what I learned from the jam, as a way of summing up a really great week. Continue reading

Announcing: The Saturday Papers Season 2

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Back last year I started a blog series called The Saturday Papers – a fortnightly post in which I took a cool research paper about games and gave a quick overview, to give developers, players and anyone else a little insight into some new ideas or new fringes of research into videogames. The response was incredible, and I’m sorry I had to put the series on hold this year as work piled up. This is a quick post to announce that The Saturday Papers will be back again really soon, with a slightly new format.

Inspired by a friend’s approach to YouTube, I’ll be running The Saturday Papers in twelve-week ‘seasons’ of six posts, once a fortnight. Then between seasons I can have some downtime to prepare for the next one. This gives me time to pick the best papers I can find, and hopefully avoid long hiatuses with nothing in them like the one we’ve just had. Coming up this year I have my thesis submission and the Procedural Generation Game Jam, so there’s still a lot on my plate. But I’m hoping to get the season going soon after the jam ends.

While I’m planning the season, why not flick through the archives and catch any you might have missed? Let me know if you have any favourite Saturday Papers posts from the past. I’m always trying to find the most interesting papers I can, but it’s great to know what people like to see.

Play Games, Help Science – GWAPPY BIRD

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I just spent a week at AIIDE in the US chatting with Alex Zook and Mark Riedl from Georgia Tech. They’re doing a variety of great research involving crowdsourcing information, and there’s some amazing results coming in – but they need your help! They need players for their games like their latest, Gwappy Bird, a Flappy Bird-a-like with a crowdsourcing twist. Got a few minutes in your coffee break? Go tap your spacebar:

Play Gwappy Bird here

Thanks to everyone helping out with this series of posts. We’ll have exciting #procjam news soon – it’s only a few weeks away, now!

A Family Feud

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At AIIDE 2014 this year many of the conference attendees found themselves, myself included, arguing over Twitter about the relationship between academic research and the wider games industry. It’s easy to dismiss the feud that occurs at conferences like AIIDE as ‘the same old argument’ as if this is a family dispute at Christmas that no-one really takes seriously and is just a bit tiring. There are issues underlying ‘the same old argument’, however, and these issues aren’t going away it seems. What they are doing, though, is impacting the trajectory of research, of researchers, of conferences and of fields. That, to me, is important.  Continue reading

An EXAG Science VI

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(This is a series of short ‘previews’ of papers to be presented at the upcoming Experimental AI for Games workshop at AIIDE 2014. Tune in live on Twitch on October 8th to catch the presentations of these papers, or find the PDFs online at

What can artificial intelligence provide us outside of the game space? AI is behind so much in games already – controlling non-player characters, rebalancing the difficulty, creating new worlds and challenges for players to encounter. Does AI have more to offer outside of games in helping communities of creators to collaborate, invent and be more productive? Kazjon Grace and Mary Lou Maher’s paper Towards Computational Co-creation In Modding Communities offers some thoughts on what the future could hold. Read on for a preview!  Continue reading

An EXAG Science V

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(This is a series of short ‘previews’ of papers to be presented at the upcoming Experimental AI for Games workshop at AIIDE 2014. Tune in live on Twitch on October 8th to catch the presentations of these papers, or find the PDFs online at

What is the content we’re really generating when we talk about procedural content generation? In theory it’s any kind of content we can imagine, but in practice games tend to fall back on generating the same kinds of content again and again: levels, numbers, names. Random shapes of data that fit into an already-existing game theme. Spelunky’s beautiful level generator doesn’t actually know anything about Spelunky’s mood or atmosphere. It’s never seen Indiana Jones. It didn’t grow up playing Tomb Raider and pretending to adventure through jungles. What if procedural content generators understood more about the world, though? What games could we make then? This EXAG preview is about Michael Cook and Simon Colton’s paper A Rogue Dream: Automatically Generating Meaningful Content for GamesContinue reading

Appreciating Bots

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Recently, Appreciation Bot – my Twitter bot that responds to museum artefacts with pseudo-intellectual responses – tweeted something a bit off-colour. Not something intentionally offensive perhaps, but certainly something that would raise eyebrows were a human to tweet it. I didn’t include the tweet directly but you can view it here. Even a bot tweeting this elicited some responses from people, and I wanted to write a bit about the bot, why this happened, and what it made me think of. Before I go any further, let me just say: my bots shouldn’t offend people, and when they do it’s my fault. But this event did throw up some interesting things for me to think about. Continue reading