Late last year I was linked to OTON, a website about a proposed games console that “will be able to self-create games instantly within minutes without human input”. I didn’t comment on it because it seemed likely to be a scam, and the more coverage and links they receive, the worse the scam tends to get. Today Polygon ran a story highlighting the misleading nature of the project, but also being strangely optimistic about it at the same time. People seem to be focusing on all the wrong things when it comes to OTON. For what it’s worth (and it’s not worth much – I’m no expert on any of the topics involved by any means) here’s what I think.
I’m back from my Christmas break, and in a bit of a haze following A Puzzling Present. Thanks to everyone who wrote about, tested, shared, helped out on, gave feedback about, and played the game. It was everything I hoped it’d be, and I learnt a lot (mostly through failing)! I’m ready to get to work again. Last year, I wrote a post titled “2012 for ANGELINA”. If you want a laugh at how quickly things can change course, you can read what I intended to do last year. My plan was to build generic game description languages and get ANGELINA to invent high-level game designs, but I ended up on a meandering road that led far away from that, into the weird world of internet scraping, and finally (serendipitously) back to mechanic invention.
Here are some things I’m hoping to get done this year, then – take it with a pinch of salt!
No More Me
Top of the list this year (though not a PhD priority) is getting ANGELINA to generate, in the most basic way we can, the final few things that still come from me. This mostly means the art, so I’m working on Spritely, a tool for automatically grabbing, shrinking, cutting and recolouring images from the web into sprite-sized graphics ready for use in games. I’ll be using the tool myself too, but most importantly it’ll mean ANGELINA gets to make pretty pictures without me, even if they are basic.
The newsgames had a limit of about 12-16 screen-sized tiles each. This was partly down to stupid algorithms, partly down to dumb implementations of games, but whatever – this year I’m hoping to tear that out and reimplement a lot of the core of ANGELINA’s platformer generation. There was a lot wrong with the idea, and it reinvented too many wheels for my liking. I’ve been inspired a lot by making A Puzzling Present, reading around about the genre, and playing games like La Mulana over the Christmas break. More on this in February, hopefully.
Code Generation and Mechanic Miner+
The work on Mechanic Miner is really only just starting – it looks like it’ll be forming a part of my research going forwards for some time now. Top, top priority is to rewrite Mechanic Miner (along with most of ANGELINA’s core). Once it has more solid debugging tools and visualisers I can start to improve the kinds of things it can do – adding stuff like object creation and code insertion, things that might let ANGELINA start impressing people.
Finish The PhD Or Find Some Money
Oh, also I’ll need to find some more funding. We’re on top of this, but we need to get it sorted – my PhD bursary runs out in September, so I either need to be finished then or have some new funding set up! I’ll be working on this problem over the next month or so.
This last point could sour all the rest – if I don’t find any funding then 2013 will mostly be thesis-writing with little time for adding bells, whistles or anything else to ANGELINA. Still, it’ll be worth it – finishing up will let us sort out what we want to do next, and secure some proper funding for long-term work on ANGELINA (if all goes to plan).
Thanks to everyone who has been involved in any way this year. 2012 has exceeded all my expectations – I have met incredible people, been very fortunate with some wonderful journalists, and had the privilege of many thousands of people playing ANGELINA’s games. I really appreciate everyone who has shown interest in the project – I’ll work hard to keep it interesting and exciting throughout next year.
Happy New Year! See you in January.
I’m currently working on a new tool for ANGELINA that will let it automatically rip and compress images from the web into sprites that can be used in-game. Here’s a few examples of dogs:
A Puzzling Present is finally out! The festive platformer I’ve been working on this month is now available on Android, Windows, Mac and Linux, and it’s completely free! Click the present to go to the download page.
Today I’m going to be watching over the release, talking to a few journalists, and working on an optimised Android version that irons out a few bumps here or there. You can email me (email@example.com) if you want to ask anything or report a problem. Below is a few words about the project – I’m really excited to have it released!
Later this month, deadlines permitting, I’ll be releasing a game for desktop platforms and Android called A Puzzling Present. It’ll be a Christmas-themed platform game, with game mechanics and level design by the new Mechanic Miner system. It’s going to be released for free (because it should be!) and it’ll also include a way for you to help ANGELINA and myself out with the research by telling us what you think of the game as you play it! Continue reading
Working on a new idea is always good fun, but I particularly enjoyed the Mechanic Miner stuff I’ve been doing lately because it threw up a lot of interesting ideas and is making me think a lot about future work as well. If you read the post about it and weren’t too sure, I wanted to write down a few big things that I got out of Mechanic Miner that you might find more exciting.
I originally had this plan for a very elegant introductory piece about the new things I’ve been working on, but I’ve been faffing around for too long and I’d rather just start talking about it. So this post will introduce a new system I’ve been working on called Mechanic Miner, what it does, when it’ll produce something playable, and what it might mean for ANGELINA in 2013.
Today is Ada Lovelace day, a day “about sharing stories of women — whether engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians — who have inspired you to become who you are today”. Lovelace was an incredible woman, described by Charles Babbage as “The Enchantress of Numbers”, and one of the first people to think about the kind of concepts that became integral to modern computer science. Through her understanding of Babbage’s Analytical Engine (a complex invention that was never built, but had many of the crucial features of a programmable computer) she wrote the first computer programs for a machine that didn’t exist. I wrote about how amazing she was as part of a piece for I, Science.
Today is about Ada, but it is also about celebrating inspirational women in science and technology, and given her huge input to my entire education, as well as ANGELINA itself, it seems foolish not to write something today about Azalea Raad.
Since I returned from AIIDE I’ve been thinking a lot about procedural content generation, and where automated game design fits into it. Since I started work on ANGELINA I’ve kind of always lumped it in with all other procedural content research, but the more I think and talk about the system, the more distinct automated game design becomes as a term. Here’s a few hundred words on the idea, how the two differ, and why it might become important in the future.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been picking away at a sidetrack in the work on ANGELINA, and it’s spiralled into something a bit bigger that’s now genuinely captivating me. I talked about it a little today at Essex University’s Workshop on Games, and pretty soon I’ll be back from AIIDE and working on it quite hard until the end of the year. It’s all about tackling a problem I’ve had with ANGELINA since the very beginning – how can we automate the discovery of fun game mechanics? This is the first of two blog posts explaining the new approach I’m trying out.