Skynet vs. Checkered Floors

Round 1, Fight! Recently I’ve been trying to show an AI how to create a checkered pattern on a tiled floor for a game. It seems to be learning, but still has quite a bit of trouble around the edges.


The AI uses a generic problem-solving method called a genetic algorithm. Genetic algorithms are really cool because they can produce all kinds of awesome things without any previous knowledge about those things. In this case, it hasn’t the foggiest what it’s doing, but it’s just smashing various maps together and tweaking them trying to get closer and closer to my definition of ‘checkered’ that I gave it.

The problem with genetic algorithms is that they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. It doesn’t remember what it learned the last time it created a checkered floor (it just starts over again from scratch, tweaking and guessing). It also can’t handle much complexity. “Checkered” is a challenging enough concept, but something like “Ominous” would go right over its head for now.



The Other Half of Minecraft

I spent a good chunk of my early youth over at friends’ houses playing with Legos. We’d stay up till early hours of the morning just building and telling stories with our creations. There’s something primal in us as human beings that makes us delight in the act of participating in a story, rather than just observing one. This desire is partially sated when we play games.

But while half of the joy of creativity and imagination was in building worlds with my friends, the other half was the stories and narratives that came out of those worlds. Our creations weren’t just part of a simulation.We took hold of our airships and caused them to fly. We created characters with personality. We created secret agencies with vast armies and complex motives. We spent the better part of an evening just enjoying a collaborative epic story.

While games like Minecraft prove that sandboxes can be a wild success, they usually ignore the other half of what made playing Legos with friends so compelling. The Interactive Story. I enjoy the rush of being attacked by randomly generated monsters in a dark tunnel as much as the next gamer. But can it really compare to the narrative substance of conspiring to overthrow a kingdom, or meeting a shadowy stranger with a message, or being sucked into a greater world plot much bigger than yourself?

The sandbox philosophy finally gives us the full freedom to impact the game world. But when will we have the ability to truly impact a game’s story as well?