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Programming Entertainment Games IT Technology

Can We Create Fun Games Automatically? 198

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 @06:51AM (#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.

  • Can we? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Elledan ( 582730 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:54AM (#26463625) Homepage

    Can We Create Fun Games Automatically?

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


  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:06AM (#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 benwiggy ( 1262536 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:12AM (#26463735)
    "You have to make your own fun. If somebody else makes it for you, then it's entertainment."
  • Not a chance. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:45AM (#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 jimicus ( 737525 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:00AM (#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).

  • by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:01AM (#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".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:08AM (#26464037)


    (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.)

  • by slugtastic ( 1437569 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:09AM (#26464043)

    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.

  • Re:Can we? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ub3r n3u7r4l1st ( 1388939 ) * on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:38AM (#26464207)

    Yeah, like we can generate academic papers automatically, without human intervention. It is called SCIgen. It is readable and understandable, depend on your definition of "Readable" and "Understandable".

  • Re:So Yankish... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ( 1108067 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:50AM (#26464279) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • Simplicity of form (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Drakkenmensch ( 1255800 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:54AM (#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.
  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MadKeithV ( 102058 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:55AM (#26464303)
    Automatically? Most game dev studios can't even make fun games manually!
  • by jtogel ( 840879 ) <> on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:07AM (#26464381) Homepage Journal
    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:So Yankish... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ( 1108067 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:41AM (#26464631) Homepage Journal

    Ever thought that sometimes a troll is right?

    Better yet, did you even read the FA?

    The formula for how they grade a game is defective. For example - "A game that can be won by random moves receives a -1".

    One of the first games you ever played, tic-tac-toe can be won a decent amount of the time with random moves. Ditto rogue.

    The article sucked, as does the idea of creating games by combining features of other games. We already have way too much of that everywhere - hollywood, tv, music, etc.

    This is what happens when you don't have any creativity - you come up with yet another way to leach off others creativity.

    The world doesn't need "Yet Another PacMan Clone." It also doesn't need someone who thinks that they can whore this out to game publishers as a way to save money producing more shovelware. We already see too much of that crap out there. If there is any trolling going on, it's the writers of the article who are doing it.

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

    by allcoolnameswheretak ( 1102727 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @10:22AM (#26465077)
    It's not about automating creativity. It's about "creating fun GAMErules automatically". That is something entirely different. Read the text properly.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2009 @10:22AM (#26465089)

    "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 little tweaking.

    The basics of play should be simple, allowing some success even with the basic weapons and basic movement skills. This is very important. To win requires to master both weapons and movements. For other games it is less acquired but allows advancing to a degree and not a dead stop in the game. Avoid at all costs where it requires going back significantly in order to acquire what is needed. Fortunately fps games rarely require this even in single player unless it is a long level and it must be started from the beginning. This is greatly assisted and avoided if saved games has a variable rollback feature.

    Along with this, is the ability to replay a segment where you see your mistakes and even have them pointed out to you by the game visually or spoken. ie: You missed an item(s). You should have used this weapon for that distance or situation etc. Live tip manual system of sorts.

    The environment must supply a few rudimentary visual and emotional rewards. In other words. There must be a certain level of eye candy that attracts the attention of the player. Actions of the player generate some reward such as a visual or sound and object reward beyond simple item reward. This should be removable for the skilled player. IE: Player ability to remove fancy explosions that affect frame rates and dial down sound effects that can be annoying over time.

    Direct player to player interactions. The more a player can interact with friends the better. This includes such things as a text or voice channel. It is important in a game to be able to express your and hear the emotions of others.

    Puzzles should be scalable and non linear. Basically to be able to set level of difficulty and with multiple outcomes and solutions. Do I need to explain why? Replay value is one reason.
    Optional: A system that matches up equally skilled players and or a handicap system.

    Interesting immersive world. This is the creative component that no machine can generate and why we still require real coders and artists bums in seats. So many games these days do not offer enough variation from game version to version. I am convinced this is due to a creative decision to keep a familiarity and not simply lack of creativity. There is room to maintain a series and still vary the content for the hardcore audience. After all, the only reason you do this is because of the repeat customer and certainly not for the new blood. For example: BF2142 did not fail, but it was also not a huge hit, simply because it was significantly buggy as to limit it's appeal, especially for the repeat customer. So a conclusion can be drawn that familiarity is not the be all, end all. The internet factor killed off the game after initial sales as word spread of major unfixed bugs after each patch. Call it the frustration factor.

    The frustration factor. This is a big issue for any player. The cause is varied. I mentioned bugs that are game killers. From crashes to unexpected problems that prevent proper completion of some task or level segment. It goes well into the required skill to complete an action or solve a puzzle as well. Testers with various skill sets must be used before the game is released to avoid these issues. Beta testers tend to be in house and are to familiar or just as bad, drawn from the trusted experts in the gaming communities. The cause and effect is to many knowledge based problems ocurr that turn off the beginner. It is like writing a document and not including the acronym definitions properly or not at

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

    by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @10:37AM (#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:2, Insightful)

    by ( 1108067 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @10:37AM (#26465287) Homepage Journal

    Reality is largely subjective. It doesn't matter if he's "right" or not. If you want to get a point across, you don't do it by being a douche, and you don't do it on an account named "Adolf Hitroll" and with a goatse link in your signature. I'm sure in this same story, somebody will make the same point and get modded +5, and rightly so.

    That would be like disagreeing with something because a republican president did it, while agreeing with the same action later on because a democratic president did it.

    For example, the bailouts. I was against them under Bush, and I'm still against them under Obama.

    Now back on-track and on-topic: The original poster took a side-swipe at what is now perceived by many in the rest of the world as the US penchant, for the last decade, to just try to cash in on boring, derivative, or lazy-assed business schemes. The article itself could validly be seen as one of these schemes , which boils down to "look - we can automatically generate games just by combining features of other games in a semi-guided manner".

    It might be something to play around with, but it certainly isn't something that will lead to more creative games ... just more derivative, "been-there-done-that" games. As I pointed out, there's already way too much shovelware out there, and not just in games - in TV shows and Hollywood movies, someone does something half-way original, next theng you know, there's a dozen copycats all trying to cash in, instead of creating something.

    Creating something original is WORK. For a decade now, Americans have been eschewing honest work in large numbers ("this is the new new economy", "just take out another HELOC", "you can make millions - Flip This House!"). And the proposed solution? Trillions MORE of debt. The Fed found out you can't push a string. 0% interest rates aren't going to have an effect when people are upside-down on their mortgages by hundreds of thousands of dollars, when all the banks are insolvent, and when people are worried about their own job futures.

    It's the same with the trillion dollar stimulus package. More unoriginal thinking. As a matter of fact, the government policy looks about as randomly-thrown-together as one of these auto-generated games.

  • by juenger1701 ( 877138 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @11:41AM (#26466207)

    90% of games that came out wouldn't suck


  • Re:So Yankish... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SwordsmanLuke ( 1083699 ) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @12:23PM (#26467069)
    Yeah yeah yeah, because creating a computer system that automatically generates game play rules is "easy". I know! Lets get rid of computers and go back to abacuses because computers made accounting too "easy" and now our economy is in the crapper.

    This system (like all computer-based systems) is simply a tool. No, it can't be truly creative. So what? Maybe I've got a great idea for a game, but I'm terrible at balancing the difficulty level. This tool (or one like it) could help me balance my game and increase it's playability.

    This tool doesn't mean the end of creativity, it means that a previously arduous task can now be partially automated. Speaking as a technologist - that's a good thing.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp