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Programming Entertainment Games IT Technology

Can We Create Fun Games Automatically? 198

Posted by Soulskill
from the sounds-much-easier,-i-like-it dept.
togelius writes "What makes games fun? Some (e.g. Raph Koster) claim that fun is learning — fun games are those which are easy to learn, but hard to master, with a long and smooth learning curve. I think we can create fun game rules automatically through measuring their learnability. In a recent experiment, we do this using evolutionary computation, and create some simple Pacman-like new games completely without human intervention! Perhaps this has a future in game design? The academic paper (PDF) is available as well."
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Can We Create Fun Games Automatically?

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  • So Yankish... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Adolf Hitroll (562418) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:51AM (#26463599) Homepage Journal

    You want your creativity to be automated?
    You desserve what you'll get, welcome to your dump...
    Hope the rest of the world will leave you there, for once.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Why this was modded -1 is beyond me - it's true.

      From the Internet bubble to the housing bubble, it's all been "let me have it all without having to work."

      Sure, this can create a bunch of derivative games ... so you'll end up with 50 variants of tetris, 40 of scrabble, maybe they'll even "rediscover" wordtris. There's no creativity there.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ubrgeek (679399)
        Or E.T. [wikipedia.org]
      • Re:So Yankish... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SQLGuru (980662) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:37AM (#26465275) Journal

        Sure, this can create a bunch of derivative games

        So how is this any different that what we have now? How many "me too" games have you played that add nothing to their respective genres? Sure, these usually end up in the bargain bin within short order, but the industry is already derivative at times, so automating that part of the process is just a way to make that part of it cheaper.

        Granted, I don't know if that will drive down the price of 2nd-tier games or cause more companies to make derivative drivel (*I'd* take a month's worth of profit at current prices for a game that I made simply by pressing the "make new game" button.).....but will it really change much? Unless a game is an A-tier game, they are quickly passed over based on reviews and word of mouth. The games with staying power offer something new and different which clearly won't be of the "push here for new game" type.

      • Re:So Yankish... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by russotto (537200) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @10:06AM (#26465667) Journal

        From the Internet bubble to the housing bubble, it's all been "let me have it all without having to work."

        No, it's been "let me have it all with some simple work at the beginning, and a smoothly increasing amount of work appropriate to my increasing skills as time goes on".

        Although this totally fails to explain Nethack, which is easy to learn but has more of a difficulty cliff than a difficulty ramp...

      • by nasor (690345)

        It depends on how well you can make metrics to measure whether or not a game is fun, and how much freedom you give the computer to change things. A computer might have an easier time developing truly original games than a person, since the computer won't have any preconceptions about what games are "supposed" to be like.

        And even if it was always derivative, I for one think it would be pretty cool if we could make games that dynamically generated original levels/maps/whatever that were truly interesting, rat

    • by uncledrax (112438)

      I for one support game makers if I like their product. Because of this I've supported several non-US based game companies like Introversion (Darwinia, Defcon, Uplink), Egosoft (X-series), Relic (aka THQ), CDV (various, mostly historical, RTSes)..

      There's a ton of good non-US game companies.. i guess if you focus strickly on Consoles, like alot of people, then it's EA or {JapaneseGameCompanyHere}.

    • Re:So Yankish... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by allcoolnameswheretak (1102727) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:22AM (#26465077)
      It's not about automating creativity. It's about "creating fun GAMErules automatically". That is something entirely different. Read the text properly.
    • by greg_barton (5551)

      Yankish?

      The researcher is from Switzerland.

  • Can we? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Elledan (582730) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:54AM (#26463625) Homepage

    Can We Create Fun Games Automatically?

    Sure we can, depending on your definition of the words 'Fun', 'Game' and 'Automatically'.

    :P

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:06AM (#26463699) Journal
    The more I play games, both video games, board games or pen and paper RPGs, the more I see the obvious patterns that exist beneath them.

    I stopped playing new boardgames as all these become obvious after a few games, and if you tend to like one, old games already implement them perfectly. You basically have 3 (arguably 4) components in any board game : randomness (go play dices if you like it), tactical planning (go play chess), bluffing (go play poker) and, arguably, negotiation that can be seen as a merge between tactics and planning but that often use a whole different range of social skills.

    Video games have also some recurring ingredients. I played less of them so I fail to see them more clearly, but some of them are obvious :
    - a sentiment of progression. Whether artificial (through leveling in RPG games) or real (from FPS where you get better at shooting, rocket jumping, etc...)
    - hidden content of the game, that the player has to find or guess. It is usually some content voluntarily put there by the game developer (quests, levels, maps) some hidden game logic that one must understand (AIs behavior, puzzles, research trees). In the most interesting games (in my humble opinion) there is also content that is almost emergent. The creator only loosely coded some rules and it is the player's actions that create his own problems to solve. It often happens in strategic or development games, where you discover that a design you chose had some vulnerabilities and that by correcting this, you create a whole bunch of new problems.

    That one last part is the most difficult to reproduce automatically, in my opinion. But a lot of successful games don't have any such emergent content, so I guess that automated games generation can prove quite fruitful !
    • by MickLinux (579158) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:01AM (#26463989) Journal

      Sure, if you define "fun" as "a smooth learning curve", then you can make fun games automatically.

      But not all of the fun is in the learning. Some fun is in tweaking humor. Some fun is in triggering a person's likes and dislikes (Nethack, ponies). Some fun is created by changing the venue (is it a space game? a historical shoot-em-up? A politics game?

      Yes, there are underlying patterns to a lot of games. But simply limiting our definition of "fun" to "learning" and "follows the pattern" reminds me of the automatic novel generations in Orwell's 1984.

      I don't think that this headline defined the problem well. Yes, some parts of fun can be automatically generated. But no, to make a fun game, it has to be interesting to a human, not just to a turing machine. And for that, you really need other humans to make the games, or you don't have the depth required for real "fun".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jtogel (840879)
        You are right, we are oversimplifying. But we need to start somewhere, don't we? I think that those things you measure (humour, likes and dislikes, genre change) will be very hard to measure/create automatically, but not necessarily impossible.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Yvanhoe (564877)

        I don't think that this headline defined the problem well. Yes, some parts of fun can be automatically generated. But no, to make a fun game, it has to be interesting to a human, not just to a turing machine. And for that, you really need other humans to make the games, or you don't have the depth required for real "fun".

        Why I disagree on the fact that the automatically generatable parts of fun are not enough to make a human-enjoyable game, I don't really have more counter arguments than there are arguments. That would make for an enjoyable Turing test. My only counter-argument is that I know of quite a few games which do not depend on depth to be fun.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by dontPanik (1296779)

        Yes, some parts of fun can be automatically generated. But no, to make a fun game, it has to be interesting to a human, not just to a turing machine. And for that, you really need other humans to make the games, or you don't have the depth required for real "fun".

        But the things you've outlined, the setting of a game, the feel of a game, and the idea of a game are intentionally not touched by the research. In the games created by the research, very generic names are given to the different objects comprising the game, so that these variables of fun (the setting and the ideas behind the game mechanics) are left out of the equation. With those variables eliminated from the research, the focus is only on the difficulty of the game and the height of the learning curve. Th

      • by Twinbee (767046)

        The points you mention though seem to fall under the categories of art, music and story.

        The underlying game can exist without these qualities, and it would still operate the same mechanically. Of course, it will be worse for it, but the point is that creating good art/graphics or sounds/music is a completely different topic.

    • by mh1997 (1065630)

      The more I play games, both video games, board games or pen and paper RPGs, the more I see the obvious patterns that exist beneath them....

      ...Video games have also some recurring ingredients.

      The pattern I've noticed is take a successful game and give it better graphics. The games I play from the 80s on my MAME are the same I play with my kids on the Wii, they just have marginally better graphics and a greatly improved controller.

    • by jtogel (840879)
      Interesting post. Actually, what we're trying to capture is the "real" sentiment of progression, where you get better at playing the game. But it seems perfectly doable to capture the "level of emergence" as well, via some entropy measure or somesuch. I'll think more about this...
      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        Well, I have thought a lot about it as well, this being a field of interest for me...
        Emergence is one of the most interesting phenomenon in computer science, in my opinion. It happens when simple rules create a behavior that is an order of magnitude more complex than the rules. In gaming, it happens when a ruleset offers simple problems that have complex solution. It may be possible to detect such occurrences, but you would need an AI able to solve the problems and measure the solution complexity. It is no
        • by jtogel (840879)
          There are many proposed methods of measuring emergence - maybe none of them is very general, but I think there's a few that might be useful for specific domains such as games. I need to look into this. You're right, it's not trivial!

          Yes, I'm the one that did the experiments and wrote the paper.
    • by hesiod (111176)

      You basically have 3 [...] components in any board game : randomness [...], tactical planning [...], bluffing

      One of your stated examples, chess, is lacking the randomness component, making your statement untrue. Although I suppose by taking the Uncertainty Principle into account it could be argued that there are random moves, they are just infinitely unlikely to occur... Though if I were on the other side, I would demand the piece be moved back, unless it was a valid random move.

      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        I stated these three components as things that can be used for core gameplays. I tried to quote games that focused very strongly on one of these aspects and disregards the others : dices don't have any bluffing and tactical planning. Chess does have a dose of bluff but its core is tactical planning. Poker has randomness and a bit of tactical planning but psychology and bluff is at its core.
  • Wasn't there a short story about a computer that created and told stories?

    Maybe by Lem?

    Not a happy ending. (Ha! My awful memory won't protect you from spoilers!)

  • by daveime (1253762) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:09AM (#26463719)

    Can we get research grant funding automatically ?

    I believe the answer is yes.

    1. Choose a 25 year old topic (for example, a Pacmangame), reinvent it using lots of buzzwords such as swarm, hive, collective, competitive, but secretly just program a system using some generic rules, and a gradient descent algorithm that will force those generic rules to conform to the behaviour we wanted in the first place. Then publish a PDF (why oh why by the way is PDF proprietary format ANY better than Microsoft's proprietary format ?), and spam it across tech news sites.

    2. Make some wild claim that this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius (or similar).

    3. ???

    4. Profit !

    • by pjt33 (739471) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:23AM (#26463809)

      PDF has been opened. Admittedly the standards body which supports it is ISO, but I don't think anyone bribed them to approve it.

      • I find it's hard to believe it's truly open when Microsoft were sued for trying to implement it.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Citation?

          (Without knowing anything, my immediate gut feeling would be that they may have gotten sued over intentionally implementing it in a wrong, incompatible fashion, kinda like how they tried with Java in the 90s. THAT would be understandable.)

    • Re:More to the point (Score:4, Informative)

      by hab136 (30884) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:36AM (#26463853) Journal

      PDF is documented and can be read and written by open tools. Also it prints the same way every time.

      • by daveime (1253762)

        So presumably those patents on the splash screen are now null and void ? Including the one for the implementation of the LZW algorithm, that they don't even own ?

        I fail to see how anything "open" can also be patented ... I mean what would be the point ?

      • by Elledan (582730)
        Kind of. Yes, it is documented (1,000 page spec), it can be written and read by open tools (hint: PDF content isn't changed directly, sections of it are replaced, new sections are pasted in and the old ones amended at the end). That PDFs more or less print the same any time is more due to luck than because it's such a good spec. There are still elements in PDF (look at the recent GIMP review at Arstechnica for example), which are rendered differently in different viewers.

        I have written a tool which modifi
    • by jimicus (737525) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:00AM (#26463983)

      why oh why by the way is PDF proprietary format ANY better than Microsoft's proprietary format ?

      Probably because it addresses a need which hasn't been terribly well addressed by anyone else - providing a platform-independent mechanism to ship around information which you can more-or-less guarantee will look the same to everyone who opens the file, where the file will be hard to edit but easy to create, where the file will look much the same on screen as it will printed out (notwithstanding the limitations of the printer or indeed its driver).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jtogel (840879)
      Alright, I'll try that some day. You know, it's not always that easy to get research funding through trying to be original and relevant, so maybe your method is better.
    • Choose a 25 year old topic (for example, a Pacmangame), reinvent it using lots of buzzwords such as swarm, hive, collective, competitive, but secretly just program a system using some generic rules, and a gradient descent algorithm that will force those generic rules to conform to the behaviour we wanted in the first place.

      Yes! Thank you! I was going to say that using an EA just means that you're setting up a function space over all possible games of a certain type. In essence, you've already defined the parameters of "possible games" -- the EA is just stumbling through that parameter space -- hardly "creativity". And that goes for a bunch of other approaches "biologically-inspired" search algorithms that all essentially boil down to random search + heuristics.

    • (why oh why by the way is PDF proprietary format ANY better than Microsoft's proprietary format ?)

      Because it's not proprietary? [adobe.com]

  • automawhat? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Langfat (953252)
    I've been reading too much slashdot lately. I saw the title and immediately my brain said 'automagically.'

    ugh.
  • Perhaps this has a future in game design

    Uhmm, no ? We need versatility in the games we play, and a complexity that such algorithms can't introduce automatically. Sure, such methods could help in creating some (!) game rules, anything more is beyond speculation.
    • by jtogel (840879)
      Yes, in practice we're envisioning this to be used mostly for improving on given game templates, but one has to try to do the near-impossible as well, doesn't one?
  • Just because a fun game has X learning curve doesn't mean games with X learning curve are fun. The learning curve maintains attention, necessary for the game to be fun. The same learning curve in another situation may maintain attention to something droll. And something fun may have no learning curve at all. I suggest you're not looking at fun, you're looking at ability to maintain engagement. I also suggest fun does not have a single definition, or else everyone would play the same game.

  • It has already been done unless you have some proof that Star Wars Galaxies actually had some thought behind it.

    The nice thing about this article is that Raph is out spending his time on worthless stuff instead of sending his time creating a high profile game. He is really good at writing papers on how stuff should work but he cannot implement his own ideas.
  • by olddotter (638430) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:42AM (#26463887) Homepage

    Seeing movies produced by following the "formula", do you want automated games? Do you even want a "formula" for "fun" game design?

    Maybe its possible, but this starts to sound like automated art.

    • Seeing movies produced by following the "formula", do you want automated games?

      Only if a sequel is involved.

    • by dwarg (1352059)

      Seeing movies produced by following the "formula", do you want automated games? Do you even want a "formula" for "fun" game design?

      Isn't this what EA already does? Oh wait, I'm confusing "fun" with "profitable."

      A profitable game is even more likely to generate a sequel than a profitable movie. And sequels are just a reimplementation of the formula provided by the original. To say nothing of all the copycat games that come out once a new game style becomes popular, i.e. profitable.

      So the formulas already exist. It's just a matter of automating the production.

  • Not a chance. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:45AM (#26463899)

    If programming and design could be done automatically, we wouldn't still have programmers. We can't even manage to automate creating simple apps. How could we possibly automate creating entire new games, which means new art, new rules, new everything.

    On top of that, everyone finds something different in a game to be 'fun'. Some love challenge, some love adventure, some love collecting things... Attempts to make games that have everything anyone could love are usually pathetic flops.

  • by sleeponthemic (1253494) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:53AM (#26463951) Homepage
    Walking into a computer lab at school, spying a mystified user staring at a screen. Investigating further, it turned out he was confused by the fact that

    Make Game
    Racing Game
    2 tracks

    In a programming IDE did not yield anything.
    • Just as a side note, it occurs to me now that he hadn't placed any cars on the tracks, so perhaps that was the problem.
  • fun games are those which are easy to learn, but hard to master, with a long and smooth learning curve.

    Best example for this is Chess. Easy to learn but takes many years to master.

    • by Zironic (1112127)

      I think Go is an even better example, the rules are extremely simple but the emergent gameplay is too complex to be brute forced(unlike chess).

    • by Nebu (566313)

      fun games are those which are easy to learn, but hard to master, with a long and smooth learning curve.

      Best example for this is Chess. Easy to learn but takes many years to master.

      Maybe not such a great example, 'cause I find, e.g. Gears of War and Guitar Hero to be more fun than chess.

  • Simplicity of form (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:54AM (#26464299)
    One factor which I've noticed tends to create addictive puzzlers is quite simplicity of form. The resulting purity of function lends itself perfectly to entrancing, mesmerizing marathon sessions of blocks dropping, diamond spinning or whatnot, always seeking "one more combo!" as the points rack up on top of the screen. Tetris, Lumines, Bejeweled, the list goes on. Keep the concept simple, the list of controls short and the rules easy to learn. If I looked up the amount of time I spent trying to line up that four-block line in a perfect spot for maximum points, I'm pretty sure the number would be terrifyingly high.
    • by dintech (998802)

      I loved Columns for the Atropos sound-track. You could play for ages listening to that.

    • by cowscows (103644)

      In a sense, games such as the ones that you're talking about are partially generated automatically.

      Taking Tetris as the textbook example, each game is different because the computer randomly selects pieces from a pre-designed list and throws it at the player. It's a very simple mechanism that allows the game to "automatically" generate new levels, but it works because the gameplay is so simple. The interesting question is whether or not increasing hardware resources and programming abilities will allow more

    • "Easy to learn, hard to master."

      This falls under that umbrella. You're basically rewording this mantra in a more complex form.

  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MadKeithV (102058) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:55AM (#26464303)
    Automatically? Most game dev studios can't even make fun games manually!
    • by dintech (998802)

      Yeah, just don't let EA Marketing get their hands on this.

  • Hopefully Raph had fun leaning from all the failings of Star Wars Galaxies. Me, not so much fun playing those failings.

  • Not very new, since Sudoku became popular when Wayne Gould wrote a program to generate puzzles, graded by difficulty.

    I guess most of the paper puzzles can be generated this way (like crosswords...).

    The difficulty largely lies into the entertainment's metrics.
    The authors seem to have used humans to test their games, so I doubt that creating a game from scratch could be done entirely automatically.

    • by jtogel (840879)
      No, we didn't use humans to test the games. We used evolutionary algorithms.

      In fact, one of our main inventions is the idea of using a learning algorithm to grade the game, based on the idea that learning equals or creates fun. There are many other "static" functions for measuring fun proposed already, measuring things such as balance or challenge, but we are the first to use learnability as a predictor of fun.
  • They appear to have some sort of formula for spitting out games year after year with little variation. It seems to be working well for them. Although truth be told most gamers hate it.
  • having played swg, one of koster's grand designs, i would never touch another game he was affiliated with. his concept of fun is grindage / time sink / drag it out as long as possible. the only person i dislike more than him are the ea ppl that killed mco.
    koster is a broken tool

  • by tacitdynamite (1013117) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:41AM (#26464629)
    In photography, you set up the boundary conditions, take a TON of pictures, then select the best ones from the ones you have. The best photographers have the best eye for selecting the remarkable ones out of the pack. This would shift game programming from an art like classical sculpture - where you have to plan far, far ahead, and don't get second chances - to an art like photography where it is more about creative curation than creative engineering. Evoluationary development of games wouldn't eliminate the creativity of the process or the product, it would change the creativity of the process and the product.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      that model of photography works in the digital age when there is no cost to each shot and thousands can be taken. or if you have a large budget when using film. however, some of the best photographers have done their work when poor, with limited resources to shoot and develop large amounts of pictures.

      i have been along for a shoot with truly amazing photographers that use film. one in particular that i knew had 22 keepers on a roll of 24. about 18 of those ended up in a show. an anecdote and a limit
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Can We Create Fun Games Automatically?"

    Sure if you want a boring game. So lets see what are the common aspects that help a game along and can an AI game writing system create the environment that usually aids in creating a good game?

    Here is what is required based on the one truth mentioned in the story regarding 'easy to play hard to master' I will use online FPS games as the example because that is mostly where my head is at. But my comments also apply to most other games and for single player with a litt

  • Defining trickiness (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Twinbee (767046) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @10:21AM (#26465903) Homepage

    Fun for me in games usually means there's always something to do or press. The old 2D games were more like this, but a large reason why I hate modern 3D games, is that there's often lots of sprawling around without really doing much (partially related to the 3D world, but it can be solved with difficulty).

    I like the idea of how the article mentions that the algorithm biases towards games which can't just be won randomly. The board game is Go is the ultimate example of this I guess, where there are many *levels* of mastery.

    But one has to be careful with this approach. If in a 3D game there's a small opening in (say) a castle wall, and miles around of plain grass, it's pretty easy to solve for a human player, despite the huge searchscape and 'narrow' solution that a computer would find tricky (which would apparently potentially rate as a good 'puzzle').

    At the very least, developing models for other human factors such as reaction time, subtlety of graphic elements, and the challenge of pressing certain key combinations, would also be needed before final game automation could be achieved.

  • by juenger1701 (877138)

    90% of games that came out wouldn't suck

    juenger1701

  • by Sigma 7 (266129) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @02:59PM (#26472069)

    Evolution SHMUP: http://www.kloonigames.com/blog/games/evolution-shmup [kloonigames.com]

    This was an experimental game, where the theory was to see how long a player would remain in a given game - as people continued playing, the system adapted gradually in order to maximize the fun value (in this case, the amount of time spent on a single game.)

    This experiment has a smaller search space than the article, but isn't generating any "successful" games. This may be caused by the environment(i.e. the evolution scope is too narrow and thus isn't generating a variety of enemies), but the same problem can easily apply to the article in question.

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