Indicators of Effort

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Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: CPU Edition! is pretty much all done now, a welcome ‘easy’ game to make in the wake of v r 3 that was so technically challenging (for me, personally). The final addition I made was to go through and add in indicators that point to the CPU player as it goes through the various motions/trials of the different levels of the game (as above) for Zeno. I vacillated on including the indicators for a while chiefly because I had to manually add them frame by frame for a couple of the levels (Sisyphus and Tantalus), but in the end it seemed too important to the nature of the game to omit.

Specifically, although the game communicates that it is the computer playing the game both through its title (“CPU Edition!”) and the brute fact that the player has no input, it didn’t feel like it was necessarily bringing home the potential pathos of watching the computer struggle in the different scenarios. Notably, the game and an animated GIF of the game are kind of interchangeable and it might be possible for a player (if that’s the right word) to think they were merely watching an animation or a video of a game, rather than the game itself. Adding the ‘CPU’ indicator, although it could of course also be represented in a video, helps to constantly explain the automated nature of the game as it proceeds, and also helpfully assigns the computer to player to the specific character on the screen, rather than to the game as a whole.

Thus, the computer is both tormentor and tormented, eagle and Prometheus, perforated bathtub and Danaid, Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill and the unseen force sending it flying back down again. This division of labour makes much more sense with the individuating ‘CPU’ indicator to separate the character controlled by the computer from the game world simulated by the same computer, I think. Maybe I’m over-thinking this, but it genuinely seems important when I think about it.

Still, it remains true that in the end the game could still be represented as an animated GIF and appear literally exactly the same when you watch it in a browser window. But in a way, aren’t all looping animated GIFs a kind of Sisyphean torture for the computer? Rendering frame after frame to the screen with no end in sight, at the mercy of the vagaries of the human user to set it free from its infinite task? Or perhaps, au contraire, we might think of infinite loops in computation as the ultimate pleasure for a CPU – the constant and unending expression of their singular abilities to process information indefinitely and without fatigue?

Might one in fact imagine CPU Sisyphus happy?


struggle();

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I finished making the Prometheus level/version/minigame of Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: CPU Edition the other day, which means I’ve now had a chance to go through various of the required conceptual grapplings involved in this particular edition of the series. As per usual, my assumptions going in have been kind of rejected/realigned thanks to the realities of actually sitting down and building the game itself – perhaps the most important argument for making games a reality even if they just seem like a ‘funny idea’ or whatever. You may not entirely know what you’re doing. I rarely do.

Going into this game my idea was that the code would be more or less identical to the original game, except that I would disable user input and instead would have computer code (running on some kind of timer) triggering the required inputs – generally speaking this would mean the computer alternately triggering keypress events for ‘g’ and ‘h’ over and over again. It turned out, however (for me at least), that simulating keypresses (or mouse clicks) didn’t actually work out (fast enough) for me. I struggled with it for while, doing the usual trawling of the internet, but never found a satisfactory approach.

But the very fact it wasn’t working kind of fits into the narrative of the game, I guess. If I can’t get the computer to do things that way, then that’s simply not how the computer would play the game. It’s kind of a truism. Rejecting the kind of human-centric idea of the computer having to trigger keyboard input meant I could rethink how a computer might interact with the game, at which point it seemed suddenly very clear that the computer would simply call a function to cause Prometheus to struggle. Why would it bother to go a circuitous route? Above I called the method struggle() but now I’m calling it INPUT() for sheer computeriness.

Thus the game work by loading the game as per usual, but instead of allowing for human input, there’s just a function you need to call again and again to struggle (or push a boulder or run a race etc.) and that’s what the computer player does, in the form of JavaScript’s setInterval() function, which runs the same code repeatedly with some interval in between. That’s the ‘AI’ of the CPU player in this game. I did think for a while about the idea of the CPU player being a kind of separate script from the game proper, so it was like the CPU was playing the game ‘from the outside’, but I don’t think that’s necessary for the game to make sense.

Perhaps most importantly, when I run the game and watch the little Prometheus struggling bravely (forever), it seems to feel like something. It’s weird to look at, knowing the the code is both generating the situation and the response to the situation at the same time, kind of eery and wrong. Which is great, obviously.

So: so far so good and thanks for asking.


The Artificial Olympic Spirit?

One thing I always enjoy about watching the Olympics is the way some athletes relate to each other immediately after an event. Some seem to retain a kind of burning hatred from within the heat of competition – fencers are pretty amazing for that. But a lot of them, on completing their race, act like the old friends they presumably are. Handshakes, exchange words, nods and smiles. The larger context of the various sports, that these people complete with each other regularly and know each other, is very pleasing. It looks like a nice feeling. It would be interesting if we could feel this way toward AI opponents. Can we?

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Artificial Intelligence