It's hard to argue that crafting a video game requires a degree of creativity. As such, it's unlikely -- at least in the short term -- that anyone will be able to write a program to replace a real developer. That doesn't mean no one's going to try, though.
Recently, Michael Cook, a research associate in Goldsmiths' Department of Computing at the University of London, submitted a game called In That Sect to Ludum Dare 28, a regularly held competition where one must create a game within 48 hours. Cook's game, however, isn't really his -- it's the work of a program called "ANGELINA".
According to an article by Douglas Heaven over at New Scientist, ANGELINA begins the creative process with a "key noun" and builds on it by finding associations and content online. In the case of In That Sect, the noun was "one", but that didn't quite work:
"That was way too general," says Cook. The database gave about 240,000 associations. If it finds too many occurrences, Angelina throws out the first word and picks a related one. This time, it chose "founder" – related to "one" in the sense of being the first or the originator.
Angelina then expands the interpretation by looking up this word in a database of metaphors. This gave terms such as "charmed", "tombs" and "disgruntled child", which it then used to search for suitable colours, images, objects and music.
The resulting game is strangely disturbing, especially when you consider ANGELINA constructed the game's description itself. Check it out:
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.
If the names Michael Cook and ANGELINA sound familiar, it's because this isn't the pair's first game design rodeo. ANGELINA threw together a platformer called Space Station Invaders last year. To That Sect is the program's first attempt to go creatively head-to-head with actual humans.
If you'd like to play To That Sect, head over to the Ludum Dare website, where it's available for download.