This week I’ve been profoundly busy with work-stuff and other-stuff, and I’m basically working through a large backlog of minor bugs and issues and optimizations I’ve accrued through the coding of the last few months, so this week I’m going to write a report on this year’s ProcJam opening talks (which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend yesterday at Imperial College London) and save the next URRpdate for a slightly longer post next week.
Due to a tremendous train-related farce I missed the first part of Kate Compton‘s talk, which was the first of the day, but I was able to catch most of it. She talked extensively about a simple array-based model of procedural generation and showed a range of examples of what this could mean – flowers, faces, bizarre aliens, snowflakes, dance moves (which I thought was particularly amusing and interesting, and which if I recall correctly the below photo is from) and much else, and in hindsight seemed to slightly preface Tom Betts’ later talk about the value (which will obviously be something familiar to readers of this blog) of doing PCG for its own sake, and generating interesting/beautiful/intriguing things for their own value, rather than necessarily with a specific gameplay goal or longer-term objective in mind (although URR does, of course, intend to make every image gameplay-relevant in the longer term). A really interesting opening talk, the highlight of which was rapidly generating similar-but-slightly-iterated trees/plants, which looked really tremendous and should be on the ProcJam video talks on Youtube once they go live.
Next up, Sean Oxspring and Kieran Hicks – who previously exhibited their work at the IRDC I organized earlier this year – gave a great talk about their various games using APIs and similar data. This includes #Dungeon (pronounced “Hashtag Dungeon”) which generates dungeon levels based on Twitter data (and they outlined various attempts to develop and iterate on this system), and then a game which used the UK National Election polling/sentiment-analysis data to get virtual politicians fighting, a game involving defending Wikipedia from malicious edits which attack the player in real-time, a bee-related game based on the changing seasons and the actual outside weather, and an intriguing, amusing and slightly disturbing game in the works involving a certain adult website API. It was fascinating to hear their experiments with games that drag explicitly on immediate data, and the issues with this – the Wiki game is only exciting when people are trying to mess up Wikipedia at certain times of day, the bee game is very monotonous throughout a given real-world season, etc – and it’ll be really interesting to see how their next games pan out.
Next, Dan Stubbs, the creator of unusual and potentially-very-impressive one-man game The Hit, gave an overview of the game to date and many of his higher-level artistic and design objectives, including (whether jokingly or seriously) the possibility of using cellular automata for beard generation, which rather puts my own paltry efforts to shame. After that Allison Parrish gave a really interesting talk about understanding and generating sentences via various dependencies and semantic/grammatical logics, and the weird things that systems using these types of data can produce, which is naturally very close to some of the work I’ll be doing on URR in the extremely near future as a conversation system begins to materialize. This was followed by Tommy Thompson‘s piece on the PCG infinite runner game he and his team are developing, Sure Footing, and a range of the player-side concerns they’re thinking about – difficulty, pacing, how people use different characters, variation and learning, and much more. And it has a very pleasing neon aesthetic, which should never be discounted. I also greatly enjoyed Tommy’s parody of academic ivory-tower behaviour, which is perhaps a little too close to the truth to be all that comfortable…
The next talk was from Tom Betts, coder on Sir You are Being Hunted and various other highly intriguing games, and although we’ve chatted a few times in the past and he also gave a talk at IRDC, this really hammered home how similarly I think the two of us perceive issues around game design, procedural generation, games and/as/with art, game philosophy, player experience, and various other issues caught up somewhere in those fields. His talk argued for the value of procedural generation for its own sake, and as an artistic medium that doesn’t necessary have to be in the service of specific gameplay goals, but can be a goal in its own right in the creation of original/beautiful/compelling spaces for exploration, “sight-seeing”, and the like. He seemed just as interested as I am in trying things in PCG precisely because they haven’t been done before, and that that is an adequate and suitable rationale for committing time and effort in its own right. He also quickly went through a huge list of interesting games/quasi-games/experiences/things which embody this kind of rationale, and I’ll probably stick this list up on the blog at some point.
The last talk was from @Thricedotted, who spoke about the creation of Twitterbots and offered both a lot of interesting high-level overviews and justifications, but also concrete examples of their own work at creating various bots and the outcomes they produce. A lot of people seem to be very keen on creating Twitterbots as part of ProcJam, and for those of you on Twitter that’s probably something worth keeping an eye on as the week progresses. It was interesting to note the importance of constraints and requirements, and the interplay between the two in ensuring outcomes that are at least vaguely intelligible, and the range between simpler and more complex Twitterbots that use the various kinds of available data out there.
After this we wandered off to a nearby pub, where conversations ranged over roguelikes, those old game helplines where you pay £1/minute for assistance with Mario 64, genre theory and genre definitions, the troubling preponderate of people with doctorates in the ProcJam talks attendee demographics, various upcoming triple-A games, the immense amount of time games like Fallout 4 demand out of one’s existence, the exciting growth of eSports as a cultural moment, what we were all planning on doing for ProcJam (if anything – to those wondering, I’ll just be working on URR as usual), game exploits and balance and fairness, our respective future employment intentions and hopes in the world of games, and various other topics which have probably disappeared from my memory overnight. It was also good to catch up with many other friends from the world of games/PCG, and after a certain point I had to make a move in order to get back to King’s Cross before the last train back. All things considered it was another great event, I highly recommend keeping an eye on the procjam hashtag, and that everyone should try to make it to next year’s talks, wherever they end up. Even though I wasn’t giving a talk this year I bumped into quite a few previously-unmet URR fans, which always warms my heart, so do come along and say hi some time!
Next week we’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled URRpdates, at which point I hope to have worked through most/all of the bugs and minor issues and so on that have built up to a near-critical mass at this point, and need to be resolved to give URR a level of stability before we continue to push forward with NPC coding. See you then!