Algorithm-Powered Game Designer Trumps Human Creativity

An algorithmic game designer somehow knows how to create something dark.

If you’ve entered a rapid-fire creativity contest that asks you to create a work of art in 48 hours, your first response might not be to ask a computer for help. But that’s exactly what Angelina, an algorithm created by British developer Mike Cook, is for. Most recently, the algorithm was put to the test in a rapid game development challenge called the Ludum Dare, which puts developers all over the world to the test of creating a game in that short period of time. The result, a game called “To That Sect,” takes on the Ludum Dare in surprising ways.

This year’s prompt was simply the word “One,” which, unlike those in the past, doesn’t specifically relate to any gameplay elements such as time limits or genres. This played to Angelina’s strengths, as the developers were able to use an already-formed template game design, in which the player must collect one type of object and avoid another, and instead allow Angelina to make aesthetic choices that reflect its theme, which was also algorithmically generated using a web app called Metaphor Magnet. This was truly where Angelina showed its strengths, as, with the help of the app, it was more flexible in its interpretations of the thematic word “One” than any human would be. It chose to integrate the term into the game’s verbally elucidated theme by associating it with the term “Founder” – related in that a founder is the first person to create or discover something, an originator. Angelina then re-entered this term into the database, where it came up with a decidedly creepy range of terms, such as “disgruntled child,” “tombs” and “charmed.” The game’s aesthetic choices, such as the textures, sounds and colors, are entirely Angelina’s work, and they do an impressive job of evoking a mood.

Though the final game’s relationship to the initial prompt seems tenuous, the most impressive result of this endeavor might be that Angelina was creative (perhaps to the point of being off-prompt) in an arena where computers are often expected to be inflexible or predictable. And yet, the off-prompt response had internal validity, evoking an emotional response in voters (who called it “creepy” and described it as “having a weird little unsettling vibe”) and creating a cohesive result despite the unconventional ingredients. Though Angelina won’t be replacing creative people any time soon, it offers a fresh perspective in a world where many industries are boxed in by commercial demand.

To That Sect

Image: ANIMAL New York

Sources: New Scientist, ANIMAL New York, Games by Angelina blog, the Atlantic

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