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This Eerie Game Was Made by Artificial Intelligence

Are computers starting to get creative?

If there’s one human characteristic that’s difficult to emulate in artificial intelligence, it’s creativity. We like to think our ability to imagine, design, and create is inimitable. Sure, a robot might beat us in a game of chess or rock-paper-scissors, but could a computer paint the equivalent of the Mona Lisa or write anything comparable to Beethoven’s Fifth?

Researcher Michael Cook, from Imperial College London, is working on a program that aims to be creative in an artistic field that seems particularly suited to machines: game design.


"The aim is to develop an AI system that can intelligently design videogames, as part of an investigation into the ways in which software can design creatively," Cook explains on his blog. He developed his program, known as ANGELINA, with the goal of exploring computational creativity as part of his PhD research. "Can we evolve entire arcade games from nothing?" he asks. "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?"

Cook recently pitted ANGELINA against flesh-and-blood game designers at Ludum Dare 28, a competition where contestants have just two days to create a video game from scratch. The results aren't in yet, but ANGELINA at least made something playable.

A "Let's Play" demo of To That Sect. Via Youtube/Kotaku

It's called To That Sect, and it looks pretty creepy. The AI designer gave its own description of the game as follows:

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.

I use some sound effects from FreeSound, like the sound of Ship. Using Google and a tool called Metaphor Magnet, I discovered that people feel charmed by Founder sometimes. So I chose a unnerving piece of music from Kevin Macleod's Incompetech website to complement the game's mood.


Let me know what you think. In future I'll put more levels into my games, and also make the mechanics more interesting.

To be clear, the game wasn’t completely built from scratch; ANGELINA starts with a template but then builds the game around a given theme—so the basic story and aesthetics are all down to its own "creativity." The theme for the Ludum Dare competition was “You Only Get One,” which Cook told New Scientist was a little too abstract.

Apparently, the software starts with a key noun and works from that. But because “one” gave too many results, it ended up opting for a related word, “founder.” It ran that word through Metaphor Magnet to get ideas for the game’s specifics, such as colours, music, and objects.

The result, which you can play here, is a game in which the player must navigate a red-walled maze while collecting ship objects and avoiding tomb objects.

It might not be the most challenging concept, but it’s not bad for 48 hours’ work from something that doesn't have a brain. In the future, Cook hopes that AI might lead to a whole new type of gaming experience. "In the old days, AI researchers used to love looking at boardgames and trying to write code to master them," he writes. "That research still goes on, but now we’re thinking bigger. Chess is yesterday’s news—what if, instead of trying to master a game designed by humans, we tried to design a game for humans to master?"

Top image via Ludum Dare/gamesbyangelina