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IEEE Introduces Mario Level-Generation Competition

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the so-they-hate-employment dept.

Java 114

bgweber writes "Last year, the IEEE conference on Computational Intelligence and Games hosted a competition to determine who could write the best AI for playing Mario levels (YouTube video). This year, the conference has expanded the competition to include a track on level generation as well, where the goal is to generate new levels online procedurally. Submitting an entry is as easy as implementing a Java interface that performs procedural content generation. The implications of this competition are techniques for greatly increasing the replayability of games, since each gameplay session could present new levels to the player."

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Done (5, Insightful)

gpf2 (1609755) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970390)

Congratulations adventurer! Your quest is at an end for you have reached the home of NetHack.

Re:Done (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970470)

Diablo II (and possibly the original Diablo) does this as well in single player.

For giggles we can even say that Tetris has player generated levels (and difficulty).

Re:Done (2, Insightful)

bluesatin (1350681) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970512)

For some games randomly generated levels work, but for a lot of games it just means un-inspired bland levels most of the time.

It might work for some games like Mario; but even in the relatively simple genre of 2D scrollers there are some examples of where it wouldn't work, take Braid for example.

Re:Done (1, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970566)

For some games randomly generated levels work, but for a lot of games it just means un-inspired bland levels most of the time.

It might work for some games like Mario; but even in the relatively simple genre of 2D scrollers there are some examples of where it wouldn't work, take Braid for example.

I'm not so sure I agree with you. I usually don't agree with people who oversell AI but I'm going to have to claim that Braid could be coded to generate levels -- albeit a bland start you could start to think of the kinds of interleaved time relative solutions necessary on each level and mimic them in your procedural content generation to vary them and even combine them randomly.

Difficult? Yes. Impossible? I don't think so.

IEEE is smart for picking this as an AI competition. All other famous AI (like beating The Turing Test or video analysis) is so very hard and computationally expensive. A competition involving them would be nothing more than babies crawling. So why not do something more hands on and pragmatic?

If you can stomach ads, here's a decent list of games that use procedurally derived content [wikidot.com] . Check out Eufloria [eufloria-game.com] where the music, art and levels are all procedurally generated. I think that has a free demo on Steam [steampowered.com] . While the PCG wiki isn't the greatest, it's a good starting point [wikidot.com] if you want to get into this IEEE thing.

Re:Done (1)

bluesatin (1350681) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970742)

Oh don't get me wrong, I'm sure it's very possible to do it; just that 99% of the time it'll be uninspired drivel that I certainly wouldn't want to play.

That is except for games where it's suitable, space environments or games like Eufloria are very suited towards that sort of procedurally derived content.

Re:Done (2, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971372)

Dwarf fortress:
The geography/politics/history/characters and some of the creatures are all procedurally generated on the fly.

And that game regularly produces interesting worlds and stories of massive scale.

Re:Done (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31973658)

Allegedly. I am yet to see anybody playing that alleged game with a hell of a user interface.
As far as I can tell, the accounts of amazing gameplay could as well have been written by delusional sufferers of schizophrenia.

Re:Done (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972452)

Another issue with Eufloria is that 1. it's pretty boring and 2. most of the interesting things are done manually with the procedural generation limited to the filler. For a first example, one of the early levels has tons of fortified planets and you have to find the route that's undefended, while the details on the planets differ slightly the overall layout and correct path are always identical. Another level has a massive enemy army hidden in a pocket behind their main world that swarms out once you attack the main world, the planets in between may vary but that part is always identical. One level has two paths from your starting world to the main body with different attributes to the involved planets, again minor details may differ but the path types and whatnot are all fixed.

Re:Done (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972430)

The issue with Braid is not getting something that's playable but something that presents a new puzzle instead of an existing one with the components shuffled around. Braid's puzzles are designed to be different from each other.

Re:Done (3, Insightful)

twidarkling (1537077) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971236)

For some games randomly generated levels work, but for a lot of games it just means un-inspired bland levels most of the time.

I'd go so far as to say randomly generated levels don't work for *most* games. The problem with no level being human-crafted, and there being infinite variation is that, ironically, all the levels start feeling same-y. The big "watch it work" example is usually Diablo I/II. I admit, I probably played those for hundreds of hours *each.* But in doing so, basically developed a sixth sense in the basics of how levels were created. In any randomly generated area, I could, with about 80% accuracy, find both the exit and any waypoint straight away. No false turns, no fleshing out the mini-map, nothing. A procedurally generated environment in a platformer needs to play it even safer, so as to not create any areas that are literally beyond the capabilities of the player. With added limitations come fewer options, so how many times would you need to play in order to start recognizing "okay, two pipes is followed by a pit with an elevator I need to ride up to get on top of a block-cliff." Once you start recognizing individual elements, then it really doesn't matter how the level's put together, and it stops being fun any more, just like a human-designed level that was put together, only now if you run a course you really liked, you probably won't have an option to replay it.

Re:Done (1)

a.d.venturer (107354) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971834)

Yep, those Chess levels sure get uninteresting after a while...

"Once you start recognizing individual elements, then it really doesn't matter how the level's put together, and it stops being fun any more."

You're assuming a certain type of game where the level layout is relatively unimportant. Mario isn't one of those games.

Even a relatively simple level generation algorithm like in, say, Angband is enough to keep people playing the game for fifteen+ years - because the level layout matters and every move can be the difference between winning the game and having to start over.

Andrew

Re:Done (0, Troll)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971996)

I could find the waypoints and everything of interest instantly in Diablo 2 100% of the time. ;)

Re:Done (1)

Pushpabon (1351749) | more than 4 years ago | (#31973054)

-1, maphacker ps. is it true no one plays without it in battle.net?

Re:Done (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 4 years ago | (#31973152)

I'd go so far as to say randomly generated levels don't work for *most* games. The problem with no level being human-crafted, and there being infinite variation is that, ironically, all the levels start feeling same-y. The big "watch it work" example is usually Diablo I/II. I admit, I probably played those for hundreds of hours *each.* But in doing so, basically developed a sixth sense in the basics of how levels were created.

Diablo has a very limited set of features that are randomly pasted together to make a level. This does indeed lead to lots of similar levels, wich is in fact a feature, not a bug :). After all, the theme, difficulty and general "feel" of each level is already decided by the designer, and the computer is simply randomizing the location of some features.

It's also possible to make a generator that creates very different levels. Such a generator is hierarchical: the higher AI makes general decisions about the level and hands them to lower AI which handles details and, optionally, passes them through a chain of n AIs, until you get to the one which actually puts in the individual level elements.

Consider this Mario challenge. Is the level about climbing? Descending? Swimming? Normal horizontal gameplay? Some combination of these? Then, when you know that, it's time to decide what gives the main challenge - acrobacy, enemies, timing? Then you start laying out the individual level elements, then test the difficulty level, add enemies, test again, add powerups, test again, and continue refinement until you approach a steady state.

That's a very basic algorithm, and should be refined to add secrets and occasional monotony-breaker, but it gets the basic idea. Hmm... Maybe I should take part in this competition.

Re:Done (3, Funny)

game kid (805301) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970956)

Diablo II (and possibly the original Diablo) does this as well in single player.

Quoth the 'pedia [wikipedia.org] ,

Diablo is highly re-playable due to its randomly generated level layouts, monsters, and items. In addition, in single-player mode there are only three core quests as the rest of them are drawn from several pools, making it impossible to complete every quest in one playthrough of the game. Either way, only the last two quests are compulsory. Given this arrangement, no two playthroughs of the game are ever exactly alike.

So it's possibly not "possibly". The quoted section is unsourced, though, so it possibly is "possibly". I'll possibly never know unless I play the game or study modal logic.

Re:Done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971008)

The online levels (except for boss areas) are random as well. Not sure if it's just from a certain amount of pre-made ones or generated on the fly. I believe it's when the game (room) is created.

Re:Done (1)

twidarkling (1537077) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971254)

The original Diablo, from personal experience, had limited layout generation. About 1/4 of the areas had a pre-defined layout, another 1/4 had a couple options, and the rest used building blocks (2x4 room with 3 doors, 1x2 room with 1 door, long hallway, short hall way, etc.).

Re:Done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31972972)

Diablo II (and possibly the original Diablo) does this as well in single player.

Aye, and indeed, Diablo is sometimes considered a rogue-like precisely because it shares so many traits with them; for all practical purposes, it's a rogue-like with better graphics.

(For certain definitions of "better": personally, I actually like the simple charms of games like Nethack and (in my case) ZAngband...)

Sheesh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31977420)

Next time, PLEASE add some "SPOILER ALERT" warning. Goddammit.

Gay (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970432)

This sounds gay which must be why they're using java since it's the fag programming community's favorite language beside's objective c.

Re:Gay (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970794)

Tthat would be C#.

They're always talking about how FABULOUS C# is.

Asshole Mario (5, Interesting)

cosm (1072588) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970444)

I fear the day when the singularity occurs and we peons are forced to play machine generated levels like this this [youtube.com] for the amusement of our robotic overlords.

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

Bugamn (1769722) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970612)

And I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords that provide us with so much entertainment.

Re:Asshole Mario (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970662)

Asshole Mario only counts as entertainment for the voyeurs watching the person being frustrated by the terrible gameplay. It may be called a "game" but I'd classify it as being forced to run on a giant hamster wheel.

Singularity? (1)

Singularity42 (1658297) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970654)

That's all I see in the supermarket checkout magazines. That, Oprah, breast cancer, and Adam Lambert. Anyone who doesn't reply agrees with everything here.

Re:Asshole Mario (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970678)

Nice find, that player really is incredible!

Re:Asshole Mario (2, Interesting)

Peach Rings (1782482) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970706)

I think those japanese mario world hacks are just so cool. They're a triumph of hacker ingenuity.

In case you didn't know, the tools for making custom mario world levels were created by disassembling the data from the game ROM (ex this [smwcentral.net] ) and documenting exactly what offsets corresponded to which parts of the levels, and exactly which values correspond to which enemies, exactly how sprites are stored and animated, etc. People have contributed tools for encoding custom music into the machine code, making custom graphics palettes, and custom overworlds. A lot of this stuff is far from just documenting the data formats; from what I know about it, the overworld was particularly tricky since there are multiple sprite layers, lots of animation, lots of panning around to separately-stored areas, custom movement code, and different views depending on your progress (like butter bridge appearing), all in a completely opaque binary format!

It's a shame that this kind of thing would be totally impossible with current games. Lots of games do have excellent mod support (particularly Valve's games and the Unreal Tournament series), but some don't, and today's 50MB game executables would be impenetrable. :(

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971980)

People would still find a way, just look at what people were doing with modern games before their SDKs came out.

The REAL problem would be whether or not the publisher/owner got uppity and tried to claim they were violating some aspect of IP law.

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972660)

It's a shame that this kind of thing would be totally impossible with current games. Lots of games do have excellent mod support (particularly Valve's games and the Unreal Tournament series), but some don't, and today's 50MB game executables would be impenetrable. :(

Today's file formats have more structure than those of old. Memory is still allocated in contiguous chunks...

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970824)

Excellent video! I would have smashed my controller within 5 minutes of trying to play that game... O_o

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31976450)

There's this one too:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6204903272262158881# [google.com] :)

p.s. Some guy added profanity to that video.

I normally avoid profanity since I think profanity should be reserved for extreme circumstances. But I think this is one of those extreme circumstances where profanity is understandable or even called for :).

Re:Asshole Mario (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970864)

I LOVE THIS! Asshole Mario 1 and 2 were insane with their stages.

I wish there was a Asshole Mario 3.

Besides, random generation isn't that hard. I could probably easily do something in Game Maker. Just use a random number generator to pick what should be created and where.

Example: A=floor(random(3)); (0 or 1 or 2)
if A=0 {create some blocks over here..etc.}
if A=1 {create some blocks and ? blocks mixed...etc}
if A=2 {create some blocks and enemies on top...etc.}

Of course some things can be made static and not change... but adding abit of random generation can make a level more fun.

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

OnlyJedi (709288) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971108)

The problem isn't just in making the levels randomly; the problem is making levels that don't suck randomly.
Relying on a purely random "place stuff over here" could easily generate levels even worse than Asshole Mario; levels that cannot possibly be beaten because the path is blocked, or the key is unobtainable (or never generated in the first place). Or it could generate levels that are stupidly easy; where the exit is right next to the entrance.
Generating interesting and playable levels randomly is a lot more difficult and interesting a problem. The general idea is probably to combine predefined sections, perhaps morphing those sections. The algorithm should be keeping track via a pathfinding algorithm or something what areas can be entered from where and the location of any keys. It would need to keep track of the difficulty of the area; each section might have a difficulty rating, as would monsters, traps, and so forth.
To add more variability the "sections" can be procedurally generated as well to some degree, though this adds difficulty in ensuring that the section is actually playable. Depending on the style of the game this may be relatively easy (a game like Diablo only really needs to worry about keeping the level contiguous and the locations of any keys), moderately difficult (a sidescroller would want to avoid Asshole Mario Syndrome, so a way to detect it is necessary) or insanely difficult (a 3d sidescroller ala Mario 64 adds a whole new dimension to the problem, if you'll pardon the pun). Perhaps the algorithm would need to run a bot through each section (again tuned to the difficulty) to try and get past the obstacles.
Oh, and if we're procedurally generating levels, the obvious use case is to do it on-demand; that is, as the player loads the level. So it needs to be fast, otherwise loading times will become unbearable.

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

Ifandbut (1328775) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970900)

I was thinking more along the lines of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmd7bsHAhzw&feature=PlayList&p=7DF55B4EC14DFEC3&playnext_from=PL&index=9&playnext=2 [youtube.com] at about 7:00 in.

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971198)

And it had the soundtrack from another game that was intensely annoying to play. (Bionic Commando was it?) As I recall it lacked saves, but was incredibly long - kind of like Ghosts and Goblins. And, as an added bonus it placed all kinds of arbitrary limitations on your movement that made things 40x harder than they might appear at first glance...

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

Ifandbut (1328775) | more than 4 years ago | (#31978282)

The game is actually called...get ready for it...I Wanna Be The Guy: The Movie: The Game. It was designed to be insanely hard and frustrating.

http://kayin.pyoko.org/iwbtg/index.php [pyoko.org]

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971482)

The singularity will never occur. Because the problems while getting closer to it, will outbalance progress at one point. And then it will be a stable state.

Although, mentioning robotic overlords, I wonder if we both mean the same “singularity”. ^^

Re:Asshole Mario (1)

Katatsumuri (1137173) | more than 4 years ago | (#31976220)

I fear the day when the singularity occurs and we peons are forced to play machine generated levels like this this [youtube.com] for the amusement of our robotic overlords.

...Or levels like this. [youtube.com] Oh, wait...

Beats the alternative (1)

Kohath (38547) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970500)

I'm glad it's not a Mario-Level generation competition. No one wants to power their circuits with a generator designed by a cartoon plumber.

It would probably just be a gorilla and a dragon forced to turn a mill wheel that creates electricity by grinding up star bits.

Do not want... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970548)

I get the point of the competition... but I seriously hope this won't actually end up being a feature of future versions of mario. Part of the whole point of mario is learning where all the secret bits are and showing off to your friends who aren't in the know. This would also defeat the purpose of retrying the hard bits until you finally conquered them and make the game incredxible unrewarding

Re:Do not want... (1)

Bragador (1036480) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970588)

Well, you could start a game and all the levels could be created with secrets area and all that. It would then stay the same each time you replay your game unless you generate a new world to play with. I don't see where's the problem.

Re:Do not want... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970606)

That would be better, but still not the same as going over to your mate's place who just picked up a copy and showing him where the first secret whistle is he had no idea about..

Re:Do not want... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970714)

Map based mario games is a lot easier once you memorized every level, hence "in the know". The dick-measuring gets real when you have to play against "new" level each time around. Suddenly you can sift REAL gamers with good eye-muscle coordination that determined to beat the game from gamers who "in the know" because daddy just bought him/her this cool game magazine with mario level maps in it.

To me this level-generating is a good thing because it allows re-playability which sorely lacking in games nowadays.

feel kind of dumb (5, Funny)

michaelbuddy (751237) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970602)

As a non-programmer, this statement is a little intimidating:

"Submitting an entry is as easy as implementing a Java interface that performs procedural content generation."

WTF am I supposed to do with this? I only clicked to this post because I like mario.

Re:feel kind of dumb (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970804)

As a non-programmer . . . WTF am I supposed to do with this?

Wallow in your inadequacies and marvel in the brilliance of others with time, talent, (and possibly training).

That's what I'm planning on doing.

Re:feel kind of dumb (3, Insightful)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971034)

Hehe, don't you wish you majored in EE? ;-) Pay sucks, lifestyle blows, but... actually, not much but there.

Re:feel kind of dumb (1)

Tresh (1797276) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972100)

But you get to make awesome(ly dumb) things like that.

Re:feel kind of dumb (1)

effigiate (1057610) | more than 4 years ago | (#31975688)

I DID major in EE you insensitive clod!

Re:feel kind of dumb (4, Funny)

b4k3d b34nz (900066) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972092)

That's ok, nobody feels smart implementing a Java interface

Mod +5, Troll

Re:feel kind of dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31973108)

Think of it as the following: "here's a description of our socket. Your task is to build an appliance, and make sure that its plug fits into our socket so we can connect it to test it".

The "procedural content generation" part just means tha the content (the Mario level) is generated procedurally (calculated by a computer according to certain rules etc., as opposed to having been hand-designed by a human).

Ugh.. java... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970610)

This looks like something I could get into instead of creating a new game every week out of boredom (and unemployment), but why java? I know C#, which is basically java anyway, but still...

Problems... (4, Informative)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970630)

Randomly generated dungeons are fine and generally fun because the entire point is to explore. Randomly generated Mario levels are going to be more frustrating than anything else because the AI is going to have very little knowledge of difficulty let alone themes and re-playability.

The entire point of Mario is consistent levels with well timed jumps to reach secrets. I'm not sure if I want levels generated by computers. 50 quality levels are better than 100 AI generated levels.

Re:Problems... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970686)

Randomly generated dungeons are fine and generally fun because the entire point is to explore. Randomly generated Mario levels are going to be more frustrating than anything else because the AI is going to have very little knowledge of difficulty let alone themes and re-playability.

Umm...I think you might be missing the point of this track of competition. It is a given that haphazard Mario levels would not be fun to plan. Developing algorithms that randomly create fun levels is a difficult problem. Test players will play these levels and rank them. Chances are, there will be some generators that consistently create fun levels, while others will consistently create boring levels. It may be difficult to anticipate the subjective tastes of the testers, but that just adds to the challenge.

Re:Problems... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970712)

I doubt it. It's kind of like those automated music generators (Microsoft Song Smith). They output something passable, but far from the cream of the crop that a good playable level requires.

Re:Problems... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970760)

. . . Chances are, there will be some generators that consistently create fun levels, while others will consistently create boring levels. . . .

I doubt it. It's kind of like those automated music generators (Microsoft Song Smith). They output something passable, but far from the cream of the crop that a good playable level requires.

Okay. Let's tweak it a little: Chances are, there will be some generators that consistently create relatively fun levels, while others will consistently create relatively boring levels. Remember, this isn't a competition of man vs. machine. It is a competition of machine vs. machine. Only the entertainment value of one computer-generated level compared to other computer-generated levels has to be taken into consideration.

Re:Problems... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970700)

What prevents an AI to randomly generates secrets reachable by timed jumps?

Re:Problems... (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971066)

50 quality levels of Mario would probably take tens, if not hundreds, of thousands times more time to generate than 100 AI generated levels. Not to mention the investment involved.

Re:Problems... (2, Insightful)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971142)

So the point of this entire competition is to lower the quality of our titles for the simple reason of saving development money? That sounds like the typical crap that companies get grilled for here on slashdot. The point is that the fun in mario lies in it's very carefully designed levels. The ability to do all sorts of cool things if you get your timing right, and even more importantly these cool things are hidden in a way that players will often stumble upon them or discover them with very subtle visual queues which may be different for every level. This type of level development may work for many games where the point was never about careful level design (like the Worms series) however Mario is solely propped up by the level design. There's no decent story, no plot development, nothing but the fun of finding out every tiny quirk in the carefully designed level.

Re:Problems... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31972746)

Oblivious much? That was the whole point of this challenge, to MAKE an AI that generates fun levels.

Most aren't going to be 100% randomly generated levels.
There will be constructs and rules that the AI understands and will play around with those ideas to generate new levels. (at least, this is how i would do it personally)
All those well-timed jumps will be rule number 1, for example. If a jump section fails it, it is scrubbed. (and it can be checked with pretty simple math and knowledge of the jumping process in the game)
Or, it could even be kept just to annoy the player in to thinking that there is something up there... damn Locoroco, tried for 10 minutes to get up there and found nothing.

But randomly generated levels have an equal chance of both being brilliant and awful.

Random Levels (4, Interesting)

LoudMusic (199347) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970738)

I've been saying this for years! Random level generation in first person shooters, racers, and platformers doesn't seem terribly complex to me. Why hasn't anyone introduced this into a game yet?

To expand on it, random levels in first person shooters could also be changing during game play so that the 'round' never resets and the game continues endlessly. Any time a zone is unoccupied it could be redrawn. Or divide the map into a grid and randomly load the grid spaces with pre-designed sections, then when a section is free of players load a new section. The map will be constantly changing and the environment will be challenging. I believe this would effectively eliminate campers who memorize the best spots on maps and just hang out there the whole game.

Re:Random Levels (1)

JackieBrown (987087) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970984)

I've been saying this for years! Random level generation in first person shooters, racers, and platformers doesn't seem terribly complex to me. Why hasn't anyone introduced this into a game yet?

Because of the money that would be lost on magazine walktrus.

Re:Random Levels (1)

Hortensia Patel (101296) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970992)

I've been saying this for years! Random level generation in first person shooters, racers, and platformers doesn't seem terribly complex to me. Why hasn't anyone introduced this into a game yet?

When nothing repeats, there's no scope for learning, and learning is a big part of what makes games fun.

Re:Random Levels (1)

EdgeCreeper (1618161) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971186)

There is still plenty of repetition with random levels, it's not like it's generating a whole new game every time. Computer generated levels don't really limit the scope for learning, it just makes the learning more general. If you are looking for something that has less variation (ie is more repetitive) that allows you to learn the game more completely then there are quick time event games.

Re:Random Levels (1)

Hortensia Patel (101296) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972822)

Oh, I agree; it's not a yes/no thing. I posted that because GGP seemed to want random tracks for racing games, and in my very limited experience of racers learning the tracks is probably the single biggest aspect of mastering the game.

Re:Random Levels (1)

W3bbo (727049) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971000)

A few games from the mid to late 1990s had various "Instant Action" modes that created simple levels to play on, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries had one, for example, that took a selected environment and dumped some structures and nav-points on it according to the mission parameters. It was crude, but provided for hours of amusement for pre-teens such as myself.

Re:Random Levels (1)

rliden (1473185) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971044)

Torchlight [torchlightgame.com] is a single player action RPG from Runic Games [runicgames.com] . It's made by the creators of Diablo and Fate. It has random levels. There isn't anything incredibly different about it, but I think it's loads of fun.

Re:Random Levels (1)

etherlad (410990) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971586)

1997, Blizzard - Diablo, Diablo: Hellfire
2000, Blizzard - Diablo II

Re:Random Levels (1)

zaffir (546764) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971680)

Like many things in life, this is much easier said than done.

Some people build entire careers on their ability to craft amazing game levels. What takes you an hour to play through could have taken someone months to create. Doing this shit well is HARD.

Re:Random Levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971766)

It's been done before, I remember seeing it in a racing game called Pulse Racer for the Xbox.

http://xbox.ign.com/articles/380/380262p1.html See the part of the review mentioning Infinitrax. As I recall, it gives you some parameters you can use to influence the design of the track. The main races for the game are on standard tracks, however.

As a game otherwise, Pulse Racer wasn't anything special for me, so having a random track/level function in a better game still hasn't been done.

Re:Random Levels (1)

poly_pusher (1004145) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971768)

In the case of first person shooters and online gaming, people often gravitate to a select few maps. I see this a being similar games like soccer, football, basketball, in that you establish a playing field where both parties are very familiar and perform their best on. Switching up levels on the fly can be interesting for certain situations but disruptive in games that have high replay value with select few and well known maps.

Re:Random Levels (3, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 4 years ago | (#31974546)

In the case of first person shooters and online gaming, people often gravitate to a select few maps.

When you're starting, you don't know any maps and will simply play what everyone else is playing. And once you've become familiar with these maps, you prefer them, because playing an unfamiliar one would put you at a disadvantage compared to playing a familiar one.

Switching up levels on the fly can be interesting for certain situations but disruptive in games that have high replay value with select few and well known maps.

Making every play happen in a different level is a great idea precisely because it disrupts tactics that take advantage of level bugs, such as camping next to respawn points. It also adds new gameplay elements, such as exploration, which in turn makes a fast but weak scout a viable character, and ambushes, because you can't just memorize every possible location.

Besides, changing the focus from route learning a coreography into quickly adapting to new situations is hardly going to make the game have less replay value. And, for that matter, why do you think that games like Mario have so many different levels, rather than just repeat a few with more enemies? It's precisely because it's fun to encounter something you haven't before. It's the premise such small franchises as Fallout, GTA and Elder Scrolls are built on. Seems to be working just fine for them.

Re:Random Levels (1)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971802)

You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike.

You are in a maze of twisty passages, all different.

Re:Random Levels (1)

RogueyWon (735973) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972162)

Random level generation in fpses has been around for years and years. The first big example I can remember would be Rise of the Triad (a Doom-clone from 1995), which had the ability to create randomly generated levels in large batches. The levels had to pass basic checks to ensure they could be finished (eg. you can't have a key needed to open a door locked away behind said door).

They're nothing new in RPGs, either. In terms of action RPGs, they're a staple feature of the Diablo games and most of their imitators. Even in terms of "proper" RPGs, they're not unknown; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (and 4) had random dungeons, and I believe earlier installments in the series might have as well.

I think the biggest problem with randomly generated content, and the reason why you don't see it used in more games, is that it just isn't as fun as pre-designed content in most scenarios. The Diablo games are perhaps an exception, being designed for large numbers of relatively short playthroughs, but by and large, a random generator can't match the design skill of a human. If you look at a dungeon in something like Dragon Age, you'll see complex puzzles and rooms designed to create specific tactical challenges. You won't find that in Diablo or a clone.

You can perhaps see this best in games which combine randomly generated content with pre-designed areas. The Disgaea series are good examples. The "item world" dungeons are randomly generated, and often feel bizarre or unfair. The pre-designed "plot mission" are built around specific challenges and are much more fun to play. The randomly generated levels are ok for padding out the game, but if it were made up of them entirely, the game wouldn't be much fun.

Re:Random Levels (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972258)

>>Why hasn't anyone introduced this into a game yet?

Hell, in the mid 90s I was playing on ElendorMUSH that had something called dynamic space which was essentially a procedurally generated world for Middle Earth. The entire world took up something like 40k of memory or less. If you wanted to, you could add anchors to a spot to put something there, like a road blockade or something, but by and large they got a whole world made without having to handcraft everything.

Re:Random Levels (1)

Vahokif (1292866) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972308)

The problem isn't how to do it, the problem is how to make it interesting.

Re:Random Levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31973232)

This.

Levels made in the half-second during a loading screen won't have the same level of detail and thought as ones a professional level designer spent hours slaving over.

There have been several games with procedural content generation, and most of the levels they create are boring, annoying and/or illogical.

The levels should be part of the gameplay feel and enhance the experience, they shouldn't be "just a place where stuff occurs".

Re:Random Levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31972804)

A self-modifying FPS multiplayer map?
That would be a fantastic idea. Give it some basic rules to follow depending on the style of the level and let the level generator have its fun with the level.

I could see it just now. Yes, that camper thought he was in such a nice place of the level, but WOOPS, the land is moving, he is now visible, bang, dead.
Na, moving while people are on the tiles would be bad. Stick to inactive tiles.

Most of the dev time would be to test that the level generator doesn't screw up, and give it some boundaries to prevent it from doing so. (and make that an option in the lobby just in case people do indeed want to play at Nightmare mode levels of change)
It would require a lot of thinking on how to go about the process, instant, flow to new shape at the speed of a percentage of the height difference, change when nobody is looking (hard on open and tall levels), etc.

YOINK. Expect it on PSN in... whenever i get off my ass... and stop from playing Lead and Gold.

Also, a lot of older games do this very thing.
Dungeon crawlers and roguelike games being the usual genres that employ this method.
I've still to learn the secrets (horrors) of the interface behind Dwarf Fortress. (mainly due to lack of time)

Re:Random Levels (1)

ld a,b (1207022) | more than 4 years ago | (#31973956)

Do you actually play games?

The whole point in the original Mario games was discovering and remembering unlikely routes and timings. Random levels have to be either easier or based on sheer luck.

In fast-paced FPS(of the Q3A type) knowing the terrain is something the obviously will play in your favor. Like in Mario, it is also part of what allows players to concentrate on actually having fun instead of having to figure if there is a power-up or a bottomless pit.

Even for realistic FPS, randomness sucks. Real armies don't go into the battlefield without a briefing on the terrain. This is because locals know it perfectly and you want to kill them, not waste your time climbing what looked like a good sniping position and turned out to be an active volcano.

Being dropped to some random site in Vietnam's jungle is not fun, even in a game.

If randomness is only used to generate the levels and then they never change, that could work, and be a nice AI experiment. Otherwise, my opinion is that it would suck. Hack(6) has been always better than the clones that are completely random.

Random Dungeons where the good code floats. (1)

qwerty8ytrewq (1726472) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970746)

Dino run http://www.pixeljam.com/dinorun/ [pixeljam.com] for example is doing a great job of generating a unique level each time you play. The real challenge is to maintain the structure of a complex level that is entertaining, rather than making an endurance test (as I can imagine the Mario levels becoming) Of course, a little bit of human brain applied, users to rate the levels, and pick sections of their favourites and systems to integrate more of the good stuff/success would allow an AI to 'evolve' games and game universes.

River Raid does this (2, Informative)

Visoblast (15851) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970842)

River Raid, the old Atari 2600 game from Activision, uses a pseudo random number generator to produce the game levels. It was a great way to avoid putting the levels in the game's limited ROM (2K?).

Old but good ideas just keep coming back.

Re:River Raid does this (1)

i ate my neighbour (1756816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972832)

River raid diverges from random generation in an interesting way, because it uses the same seed every time you play, every time it generates the same levels. But it was very ingenious of them to use the method for "compression". Actually, somebody must have hacked the game to use different seeds to try different levels.

The secret to great auto-generated level is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31970876)

The secret to great auto-generated level is to have an AI able to determine how "fun" the level is going to be for a real player. There are tricks to help a bit (eg when the reflexes needed are outside humans reach the level won't be fun and on the contrary if the AI only needs to go in a straight line and fire once in five minutes to finish the level, the human won't it fun either).

But basically to make a level really fun, you need a *very* good AI, because you need an AI that can determine what "fun" means...

We're not entirely there yet but it's coming :)

Actually no. That's completely wrong. (1)

Cryptimus (243846) | more than 4 years ago | (#31970942)

> The implications of this competition are techniques for greatly increasing the replayability of games,
> since each gameplay session could present new levels to the player."

    Utterly incorrect. People have this conceptual idea that gameplay is about merely providing a framework in which people exercise their skills. It's utterly wrong and I'll demonstrate why.

    Back in the 80's, there was an air-combat game. Think it might've been F15-Strike Eagle... which included the concept of random missions in which you were sent out to hit one random air target and one random ground target for each mission.

    It was the most boring thing I've ever seen. One random target is the same as another. And it very quickly becomes a case of "Why bother?". There's no progression, no reward. It's just a way of playing the same thing over and over again.

    In the ensuing years, I've viewed a lot of games. And the one truism I've always found is that the length of the game and the amount of enjoyment I get out of it is directly related to the amount of information content the developers put into the game.

    This is why the various Sim games bored me rigid. They have no information content. They provide a sandbox, a set of rules and let you go. To a certain extent Civilisation suffers the same problem, although the campaigns mitigate this to a degree. That's all very well if you want to play around but most of the games I enjoy playing most contain unique scenarios and ideas put forward by the developers which contribute to the information content inherent in the game.

    Think of information content as the number of decisions and sets of consequences which the developers have explicitly coded for. For example, take a game like Uncharted 2. Say you have the possibility of collapsing a bridge as a gameplay goal. The game plays out with you either having collapsed the bridge or not. In the context of the story it could potentially shift between two opposite extremes, but in either case, the developers have explictly developed further decisions and consequences.

    Now I know that branching pathways have a finite limit, because the development effort is effectively the sum of all the branching pathways that decisions allow. But I'd argue that a finite set of pathways is vastly preferably to a bunch of decisions which have a totally arbitrary effect on the outcome.

    For example, in Civilisation, the exact placement of your home city has many potential possibilities, but to a large degree there's very few differences between them. Oh, the placement relative to resources and the coast is relevant, but on the whole it's a reaction to the randomness of the game. As such, it's exercising a skill, not giving you an opportunity to make meaningful decisions.

    I've played CIV and enjoyed it, but I can't play it more than once every six months or so. It's just not interesting to me to repeat the same fundamental operations over and over again. I prefer Fallout 3 or Dragon Age. Dragon Age has extraordinarily high information content which is why it provides entertainment for so long. Fallout 3 actually has low information content relative to Dragon Age. Random encounters aside, there's just not that much to do beyond exploring or following the main narrative. And that narrative is not long. You'll find that most of your time in Fallout 3 is spent digging through minutiae in various locations, not exploring the game itself.

    So the idea that you'll get extra replayability out of random generation of levels is completely false. You'll get a random experience which has no information content behind it. It'll be valueless except as a reaction test.

Re:Actually no. That's completely wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971098)

So the idea that you'll get extra replayability out of random generation of levels is completely false. You'll get a random experience which has no information content behind it. It'll be valueless except as a reaction test.

What if the game itself is nothing more than a reaction test? Sounds like random generation would be the way to extend playability doesn't it?

Also, saying that a game is nothing more than a reaction test is a gross oversimplification in many cases. Especially if your reactions are not limited to A or B or C, but extend from A to Z along with various modifiers, say for example ALT, CTRL, or SHIFT. Successfully navigating a decision tree where your choices are limited to A,B,C would be trivially easy. Successfully navigating a decision tree where your choices are extensive is not nearly so easy.

Re:Actually no. That's completely wrong. (1)

FranticPedantic (1787220) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971288)

I personally am most impressed by games that are 'compact', in that they define as little as possible and let a world expand from there. I actually picked up the terminology from Python, which has the philosophy that a good language has a few core ideas and everything expands from that.

But anyway, so you picked a few boring games (although I disagree about Civ) you didn't like. But lots of people like games with "repetetive actions" - Tetris probably being the most famous. I think of a game like Starcraft which seems like a pretty small game, but the huge amount of intricacies people have extracted from it is incredible. Contrast that with a 'high information game' where everything feels pre-scripted. I hate the feeling of the 'invisible hand' guiding my experience. I prefer the 'here are the rules, now run with it.' To each their own.

As for random level generation, obviously on some level, there is no reason why a human should be any more capable of creating a fun level than a computer. There's also no reason why a computer shouldn't be able to write a good song. Well, there are reasons, like the human experience, but with sufficiently advanced AI we could have a computer experience that.

Instead, we will have to hope that instead of true AI, you have a human carefully define the kinds of constraints that can make a level more fun. A game like mario is a pretty well defined domain, arguably far more defined than 'rock music'. So I imagine a computer will be able to do an adequate job, although we are as far away from truly innovative randomly designed levels as we are from a truly innovative computer musician.

Re:Actually no. That's completely wrong. (1)

qwerty8ytrewq (1726472) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971456)

Cryptimus has a point, this thread is pretty broad, making a 'game' is not the same as being 'entertaining' or 'successful', or whatever narrow goals you set out to do. It is all about quality and focus on genre, rhythm, speed whatever you like.

Re:Actually no. That's completely wrong. (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972684)

I've played CIV and enjoyed it, but I can't play it more than once every six months or so. It's just not interesting to me to repeat the same fundamental operations over and over again.

I like story games like GTA IV (just started ballad of gay tony) but I also play Freeciv and AlphaC compulsively. I'm not super amazing, though, for example, I just beat a game of AlphaC on Librarian level (still a couple from the hardest) in the last ten turns of the game. Incidentally, while you can play these games on maps which represent real places, the scale of the games is totally unrealistic anyway, so why bother? The randomly generated maps add very much to the game. They teach us that your starting position on the globe is very important, as if we didn't know; but it teaches it at a visceral level, which I find to be one of the primary benefits of video gaming. For example, when I had my 1989 240SX I used to obsessively use it in every racing game in which it was available, and given that street racing games were fairly ubiquitous at the time, it was not difficult. When I took it to Fort Bragg (and environs) I was making a very easy turn in wet weather, with good rubber, but some leaf slime on the road caused me to begin fishtailing (this was before I got a limited slip.) This was before I got into performance driving of the vehicle and installed race suspension and what not, but I was able to instinctively correct for the slide because I had developed reflexes. It is said that visualization is as effective as practice, when an activity is visualized correctly, so this should come as no surprise.

So the idea that you'll get extra replayability out of random generation of levels is completely false. You'll get a random experience which has no information content behind it. It'll be valueless except as a reaction test.

I think it's most applicable to competitive games. Super Smash Bros. for example. Or, taking that to a logical conclusion, levels for FPS deathmatch. One of the great frustrations of a new player is that the old hands know the maps well, and you spend a lot of time getting ambushed. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to generate deathmatch maps procedurally?

Re:Actually no. That's completely wrong. (1)

moonbender (547943) | more than 4 years ago | (#31973028)

Shit like this annoys me to no end. You haven't demonstrated ANYTHING about truth/false, better/worse, you've just told us in MANY words what kind of game you like. Yet you keep using words as if your taste was some kind of objective truth. And as if you had done research in the area ("truism", "information content"). Chess and Go don't have a story, yet people have been enjoying it for a while. I played SimCity with my g/f, the stories wrote themselves. I played it on my own and I didn't need any story, anyway. Multiplayer shooters' stories serve only as a framework for the same thing repeated ad infinitum and they're almost the ultimate in (quick) reaction test -- yet they're among the most popular games.

Re:Actually no. That's completely wrong. (1)

Draek (916851) | more than 4 years ago | (#31973704)

In the ensuing years, I've viewed a lot of games. And the one truism I've always found is that the length of the game and the amount of enjoyment I get out of it is directly related to the amount of information content the developers put into the game.

Maybe for you. But I found both Diablo II and Torchlight to be far, *FAR* better with its randomized dungeons than Titan Quest and given their relative sales it appears most gamers agree with me.

Some degree of randomization is also vital for games like Civilizations, you may not like it but I guarantee you there'd be a *lot* less Civ players if the game proceeded in typical jRPG fashion, with only a handful of pre-determined scenarios playing out depending on the amount of hidden 'points' you've gotten during your current playthrough.

Re:Actually no. That's completely wrong. (2, Interesting)

grumbel (592662) | more than 4 years ago | (#31974450)

Back in the 80's, there was an air-combat game. Think it might've been F15-Strike Eagle...which included the concept of random missions in which you were sent out to hit one random air target and one random ground target for each mission.

Back in the 90's there was EF2000, a flight sim that included a dynamic campaign that could simulate a complete war. All missions where automatically generated, but they weren't random, they matched the current state of the war. You could even see friend and foe flying around on their missions, while you are flying around on yours. The world was 'alive' and it was the most friggin amazing thing ever.

Random is boring when it has no logic behind it and thus no story to tell or play. When random on the other side means a dynamic evolving world that itself becomes the storyteller it can be the most fantastic thing ever, because the game will stop feeling like a serious of script triggers and instead feel like a real world. My problem with todays games is that they simply feel like a roller coaster ride, it looks fun and exciting, but if you have played games for a while it all just looks fake.

Re:Actually no. That's completely wrong. (1)

Schnoogs (1087081) | more than 4 years ago | (#31975572)

Wow...you typed all that in an effort to prove someone else wrong? Irony at it's best...

More Information (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971410)

For those interested, the IEEE Conference on Computational Intelligence and Games [game.itu.dk] is being hosted by the IT University of Copenhagen, and Mario AI isn't the only competition. There's also simulated car racing [polimi.it] , Ms. Pac-man [essex.ac.uk] , 2k Bot Prize [botprize.org] and the Starcraft RTS AI Competition [tu-dortmund.de] (!!!).

Ludi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971816)

Perhaps those who say computer generated games can't be fun should check out this thesis by Cameron Browne about Ludi.

Thesis on Automated Generation and Evaluation of Recombination Games: http://www.cameronius.com/bio/publications/thesis-2.47.zip

Turing Mario (1)

CopaceticOpus (965603) | more than 4 years ago | (#31972292)

The video of last year's winning AI player is impressive, but it's not anything like watching a real person play. For next year, they should add a Mario Turing contest. The goal is to make an AI player that is the hardest to distinguish from a human player.

This would be relevant to game design, as having opponents and allies who seem to act human can greatly improve a game.

Re:Turing Mario (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31974444)

One of the other competitions [http://botprize.org/] hosted by this conference is running a Turing Test to see if a computer game playing bot can play like a human and fool a panel of human judges.

A question arises (1)

Madsy (1049678) | more than 4 years ago | (#31973164)

How do you programmatically calculate a number or scale of the perceived entertainment value of a Mario level? Beside being able to complete the level and the difficulty, is there something objective one can measure, or does it boil down to simple taste?

If not, then the competition is kind of pointless, since the winner would be arbitrary.

New levels each session is misguided (1)

Spittoon (64395) | more than 4 years ago | (#31973894)

It would be a mistake to deliver new levels each session to the gamer. Part of the reason Mario is fun is that you can practice the level, learn all of its secrets, and maximize your score and efficiency in playing it the whole way through unscathed. Subsequently demonstrating your expertise to friends and acquaintances is another layer of the fun, and then on top of that being able to discuss the intricacies of a level and reveal new techniques and details to each other is the icing on the cake.

Generating random levels, if they're fun levels, would be a great achievement. But any game that implements this would need to allow for saving of the level and sharing of the level so that the elements I list above can still be part of the overall experience.

The deadline was 23 days ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31974784)

They have already started the judging.

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