ANGELINA AI game enters Ludum Dare jam

January 6, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog

( —Can we automatically design video games? Put more boldly, what if a machine carrying AI, not humans, could step up to the role of creating a game? And can AI even create a better game than a human can? These questions are under investigation by Mike Cook, who is a PhD student at Imperial College in London and also a research associate at Goldsmiths College, University of London. At Goldsmith, he is part of the Computational Creativity Group. Computational creativity is defined as a subfield of AI research which looks at whether software can be made to do things that would be considered creative if done by a human. Honing in on video game creation poses a fitting challenge.

"Games are the killer app for creativity," said Cook, in a 2013 talk. "They integrate so many creative domains," he said, into a single output: music, art, narrative, linguistics, rules (the mechanics of the games).

"Can we start with literally nothing at all, except a few basic ideas about what a game contains, and ask a computer to design levels, populate them with characters, and wrap it all up in a ruleset that is both challenging and fun?" His own answer has been "I don't know!" but, he said, he was determined to find out through a software program called ANGELINA (A Novel Game Evolving Labrat I've Named ANGELINA).

Last year, Cook and Simon Colton of the Computational Creativity Group at Goldsmiths College authored a paper, "From Mechanics to Meaning and Back Again: Exploring Techniques for the Contextualisation of Code," They presented the paper at the AI and Game Aesthetics workshop. Topics covered in the talk included: How can software come up with its own theme and context?

In December, Cook entered a game made by ANGELINA into the Ludum Dare website, which holds an event several times throughout the year that challenges game designers to make a game in a single weekend. The games are posted online and everyone who took part is asked to vote for their favorite. Ludum Dare is described as a "game jam" which has become popular with those who like its challenge to create games from scratch under tight deadlines. The games are posted online and participants are asked to vote for their favorite.

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Commenting on ANGELINA's entry, Cook said, "While most people think of the time limit as the biggest challenge for game jams, for a computer system the time limit is almost inconsequential – ANGELINA won't be needing sleep or food during the jam. What's difficult for ANGELINA is expanding a single word into an idea for a game."

This entry is significant as an AI game competing against humans. "I can't think of a better closing note for the thesis, a nicer way to end, than to report on ANGELINA's first attempt to compete and work alongside humans in a game jam," he said.

Angelina's game is called "To That Sect." According to the description, "This is a game about a disgruntled child. A Founder. The game only has one level, and the objective is to reach the exit (the yellow cylinder). Along the way, you must avoid the Tomb as they kill you, and collect the Ship."

Ludum Dare's description also informs site visitors that "This game was made by ANGELINA, a piece of software developed by me, Mike Cook. I designed ANGELINA as part of my PhD research into computational creativity." He also asked participants: Please rate this game as you would any other Ludum Dare game."

Reactions so far have recurring thoughts, expressed as "creepy," "unsettling" and also as "interesting" and "innovative."

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1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
Balance is one issue this mechanic generator appears to be lacking. I guess it's partly mentioned in the Flying Santa section, but if the engine keeps making mechanics that are just flying and teleporting, the game will degenerate and be mostly pointless.

Teleport vertically, teleport horizontally, jump through the wall, etc.

Those things may be interesting, or even "cool" in some situations, but typically such abilities in games require a "cooldown" or a limited "charge/ammo" mechanism. When I tested the Puzzling Present game and saw the previous video on Angelina this was one of the biggest issues I noticed.

The program needs to have some sort of way of evaluating the mechanic to see if a "cooldown" limit is appropriate, and then coding a cooldown or ammo limit for the mechanic. The cooldown itself can be viewed as a mechanic which serves as a sub-mechanic for other mechanics.

So Angelina needs to be able to dynamically add or remove cooldown delays and ammo limits to mechanics.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
Also "Charge" mechanics, i.e. holding down a button while doing other things in order to power up a weapon or a bigger jump.

This is another layer of complexity, because much like the cooldown and the ammo, it is a mechanic which serves as a component of other mechanics. Since not every game mechanic needs a charger, a cooldown, or an ammo limit, you do need the dynamic aspect beyond simply changing the values of existing variables, but rather combining several other mechanics and timers as components of other mechanics, as shown.

Example, in Super Mario 2, you can hold "down arrow" for a while and Charge up a super-jump to gain a few spaces height compared to normal jumps, and of course there was always the "Turbo" by holding down the "B" button. While in Mega Man games you can Charge your weapon to overcome enemy armor/immunity.

"Stackable" abilities, made famous by "Super Metroid" Beam Weapons, are also interesting.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
Also, if you want the Angelina to generate "defensive" mechanics, you'd need to add things to kill Santa, not just prevent him reaching the exit physically. I don't remember off hand whether that was already in the Puzzling Present game, but if it was, there were no defensive mechanics.

Things I'm talking about:

Temporary invincibility
Weapon reflection/mirror shield (Think Zelda or "Reflect" spell from Final Fantasy series).
Extra hit points
Player knock back*

Knockback offers both a punisher for poor play, or an abusable mechanic for expert players to make hard jumps and tricks. Knockback is amazing because it is one of those mechanics which originally was supposed to punish the player, but also one of the most interesting mechanics to abuse and manipulate as a player to try to make jumps or speed runs that are otherwise impossible. The "Bugged Knockback" in Super Metroid ended up being one of the game's most interesting mechanics.

1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
So I think from the video what we'd like to see in that type of program is not just the mechanics or combinations, but "Emergence," such as the teleport-wall-jump mentioned in the video; a behavior that neither ability by itself allowed.

Of all the things I've mentioned above, a few are "Emergent".

Highly Emergent:
Knockback-jump: Allows otherwise impossible navigation (but compounds noobs problems)

Somewhat Emergent:
Metroid Ice-beam Jump: Allows otherwise impossible navigation.

Stackable Abilities: Allows otherwise impossible shots, healing, other concepts.

*This is by design, and yet the player's usage is situationally Emergent and customizable.

Perhaps what made Super Metroid so great is it had all of those.

I think making Angelina produce these results consistently will require allowing the tools I mentioned above to be in all mechanics's code, even if it's not used, so that Angelina has something to "work with"...continued...
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
...because when you, the programmer, think about a mechanic, you write the code to do exactly what you want to do. Since you already have those experiences you know what the variables and functions need to be and what their values and ranges should be. A computer program with no experience and no pre-existing variable or function has no idea that's even possible, which is why at the moment Angelina appears limited to simply changing the values and ranges of variables. Obviously, that can only produce mathematical/geometric modifications of concepts which already exist within the game. It won't add a gun weapon, nor a new type of gun weapon, to a character, since it has nothing to work with to know what a "gun" is. It is easily conceivable that if you had enough tools available to Angelina it might well be able to do that without much more modification. yet if you want "Emergence" in gun weapons, it needs even more variety: modifying the vector of projectile, bouncing, etc.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
However, the "Teleport-Wall-Jump" mechanic is the most interesting thing I've seen from the videos and playing Puzzling Present, because of it's Emergent characteristic.

It is yet another game mechanic which is technically based on a bug, but it happens to be a situationally "good" bug. Depending on the game, this mechanic may be something you want to regulate with a cool down, charge, or ammo limit, etc, or if it's an "open" game like Super Metroid, you may not care for a limit; let the player do whatever they want to do.

The obstacles in Super Metroid are also Emergent; the whole room floods with boiling water and lava, as space pirates shoot at you, the obstacles change, etc. the pace the player sets while trying to navigate this mess also changes what the obstacle will be in the next moment or two. If you go easy route now, difficulty increases later. So Samus having "Space Jump" and "Screw Attack," both insanely powerful abilities, ends up being perfectly balanced anyway.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
Further observations about "Stackable Abilities".

From a human programmer perspective, early "Stackable Abilities" functioned as an additional interface button for consoles. However, the brilliance of SM was that it produced a "tool set" for the player to manipulate the beam combinations. This is why I put the "*" and said it was by design, and "Semi-Emergent".

From the perspective of Angelina, Stackable Abilities would be "Highly Emergent," provided the stacked abilities produce effects that neither of the component abilities could accomplish on their own.

Stacked abilities, and ability combinations produce bugs.

Bugs are a source of Emergence, some of which are otherwise very good and fun mechanics (Moving shot/circle strafe for flying units in Starcraft,) which gives rise even to an emergent property in player skill sets to separate expert from noob. This became so vital to pro strategies that when Blizzard removed it from SC2, pro players wanted the BUG returned to the game.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
More on Emergence (You could write several thesis papers on this I suppose.)

Examine the free-to-play Third Person Shooter called "Gunz the Duel".

There were several interesting weapons bugs for the melee weapons which produced emergent properties which later became the primary/defining mechanics of game play at high skill levels. As far as I can tell, at least two of them were probably involved in the collision code for the weapons.

Much like Starcraft, when the company tried to patch out the bugs, the players demanded them back, so they retroactively added the bugs back to the game.

there was:
K-Style Melee-Weapon-Wall-Jump: Makes you spider man when mastered
Butterfly: Allows you to block bullets using the sword or dagger.

J-Style Melee-Weapon-Flight: literally what it says, the right button combinations hit repeatedly makes you fly anywhere you want to go. If you got good enough at it, you could weapon swap to a gun, shoot, swap back and fly, swap-shoot, swap-fly.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
Here's the type of mechanic that, from what I've seen, I don't think Angelina can find in it's present form, perhaps with some more modifications though.

Super Mario RPG
Timed Attack and Time Block mechanic.

This turn based RPG has Timed Attack mechanics whereby the player gets a better result by pressing the correct button associated with the attack type, at exactly the right time (usually has some sort of sound effect or visual marker) thereby allowing the player force a "Critical Hit" every time.

Timed Block works the same way, except greatly reducing damage your character receives.

Compare Timed Block to the non-timed block on "Fighter Games" to see the difference, as the name implies, the first is obviously even more timing oriented and also requires more code in general, because it modifies the behavior of other functions (combat damage,) but only if the timing is correct. The non-timed block modifies the behavior as long as you hold the button, which is easier to implement.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
WTF? Every post in this thread (above mine) is from the same person!!

Returners, take a break mate. Relax, and surmise your thoughts into one post!!

1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
WTF? Every post in this thread (above mine) is from the same person!!

Returners, take a break mate. Relax, and surmise your thoughts into one post!!


I have a particular interest in video game level design and character design, at least as a novelty. Moreover I have a manner of humor related to the notion of "simulated reality" in light of the fact that game universes mirror our present situation of a universe with a Creator.

Perhaps I'm the only one writing most of the posts, because I'm the only one so far who read the thread and who is both interested, and has a tiny, tiny bit of insight into what Mr. Cook is looking for and trying to accomplish.

I don't think I could possibly talk about all these issues in one post, because I was "feeling out" ideas and examples, not all of which are directly related to one another, which might be, and probably are useful for the Angelina program's further development.

Perhaps I should contact him.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2014
Oh yes, the reason I came back to the thread.

I found another simple, semi-emergent property in many games which isn't even obvious.

Everyone knows what a die is, r.e. the "D6" system used in countless board games and video games.

It's not at first obvious, but this has an emergent property. Let's see.

If you roll one die, the result has a linear distribution from 1 to 6.

In math, we think of adding two linear functions and getting a linear result, which a pair of dice on a single roll has a linear sum, but the distribution is no longer linear.

2 - 1

It's the same distribution that you use in reverse in a weighted average, for example.

An additional property is that the result "1" is no longer possible.

While the math at first seems obvious, there are subtleties involved which aren't obvious until you start massaging and manipulating things based on results.

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