Game Aesthetics

As interactive media, games must fulfill both functional and aesthetic prerequisites in order to be successful. "Game aesthetics" is a broad and ambiguous term which encompasses believability, challenge, surprise, novelty, visual and aural appeal, interestingness, and more. Examining the "human" aspects of games from a computational perspective is of particular interest to my research.

Modelling Affect for Horror Soundscapes

Phil Lopes, Antonios Liapis and Georgios N. Yannakakis

Abstract: The feeling of horror within movies or games relies on the audience’s perception of a tense atmosphere — often achieved through sound accompanied by the on-screen drama — guiding its emotional experience throughout the scene or game-play sequence. These progressions are often crafted through an a priori knowledge of how a scene or game-play sequence will playout, and the intended emotional patterns a game director wants to transmit. The appropriate design of sound becomes even more challenging once the scenery and the general context is autonomously generated by an algorithm. Towards realizing sound-based affective interaction in games this paper explores the creation of computational models capable of ranking short audio pieces based on crowdsourced annotations of tension, arousal and valence. Affect models are trained via preference learning on over a thousand annotations with the use of support vector machines, whose inputs are low-level features extracted from the audio assets of a comprehensive sound library. The models constructed in this work are able to predict the tension, arousal and valence elicited by sound, respectively, with an accuracy of approximately 65%, 66% and 72%.

IEEE Transactions of Affective Computing, 2017. BibTex

Framing Tension for Game Generation

Phil Lopes, Antonios Liapis and Georgios N. Yannakakis

Abstract: Emotional progression in narratives is carefully structured by human authors to create unexpected and exciting situations, often culminating in a climactic moment. This paper explores how an autonomous computational designer can create frames of tension which guide the procedural creation of levels and their soundscapes in a digital horror game. Using narrative concepts, the autonomous designer can describe an intended experience that the automated level generator must adhere to. The level generator interprets this intent, bound by the possibilities and constraints of the game. The tension of the generated level guides the allocation of sounds in the level, using a crowdsourced model of tension.

in Proceedings of the International Conference on Computational Creativity. 2016. BibTex

Discovering Social and Aesthetic Categories of Avatars: A Bottom-Up Artificial Intelligence Approach Using Image Clustering

Chong-U Lim, Antonios Liapis and D. Fox Harrell

Abstract: Videogame avatars are more than visual artifacts - they express cultural norms and expectations from both the real world and the fictional world. In this paper, we describe how artificial intelligence clustering can automatically discover distinct characteristics of players' avatars without prior knowledge of a system's underlying data structures. Using only avatar images collected from a study with 191 players, we applied two clustering techniques - namely non-negative matrix factorization and archetypal analysis - that automatically revealed and detected (1) an avatar's gender, (2) regions that appeared to isolate shapes of items and accessories, and (3) aesthetic preferences for particular colors (e.g., bright or muted) and shapes for different body parts. These clusters correlated with players' preferences for character abilities, e.g., male avatars in dark clothes correlated with having high physical but low magic-casting attributes. These findings show that a bottom-up analysis of images can reveal explicit categories like gender, but also implicit categories like preferences of players. We believe that such computational approaches can enable developers to (1) better understand players' desires and needs, (2) quantitatively view how systems may be limited in supporting players, and (3) find actionable solutions for these limitations.

in Proceedings of the International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG. 2016. BibTex

Exploring the Visual Styles of Arcade Game Assets

Antonios Liapis

Abstract: This paper describes a method for evolving assets for video games based on their visuals properties. Focusing on assets for a space shooter game, a genotype consisting of turtle commands is transformed into a spaceship image composed of human-authored sprite components. Due to constraints on the final spaceships' plausibility, the paper investigates two-population constrained optimization and constrained novelty search methods. A sample of visual styles is tested, each a combination of visual metrics which primarily evaluate balance and shape complexity. Experiments with constrained optimization of a visual style demonstrate that a visually consistent set of spaceships can be generated, while experiments with constrained novelty search demonstrate that several distinct visual styles can be discovered by exploring along select, or all, visual dimensions.

in Proceedings of Evolutionary and Biologically Inspired Music, Sound, Art and Design (EvoMusArt). Springer, 2016. BibTex

Targeting Horror via Level and Soundscape Generation

Phil Lopes, Antonios Liapis, Georgios N Yannakakis

Abstract: Horror games form a peculiar niche within game design paradigms, as they entertain by eliciting negative emotions such as fear and unease to their audience during play. This genre often follows a specific progression of tension culminating at a metaphorical peak, which is defined by the designer. A player's tension is elicited by several facets of the game, including its mechanics, its sounds, and the placement of enemies in its levels. This paper investigates how designers can control and guide the automated generation of levels and their soundscapes by authoring the intended tension of a player traversing them.

in Proceedings of the AAAI Artificial Intelligence for Interactive Digital Entertainment Conference, 2015. BibTex

Sonancia: Sonification of Procedurally Generated Game Levels

Phil Lopes, Antonios Liapis, Georgios N Yannakakis

Abstract: How can creative elements brought from level design effectively be coupled with audio in order to create tense and engaging player experiences? In this paper the above question is posed through the sonification of procedurally generated digital game levels. The paper details some initial approaches and methodologies for achieving this core aim.

in Proceedings of the ICCC workshop on Computational Creativity & Games, 2015. BibTex

AudioInSpace: Exploring the Creative Fusion of Generative Audio Visuals and Gameplay

Amy K. Hoover, William Cachia, Antonios Liapis, Georgios N. Yannakakis

Abstract: Computer games are unique creativity domains in that they elegantly fuse several facets of creative work including visuals, narrative, music, architecture and design. While the exploration of possibilities across facets of creativity offers a more realistic approach to the game design process, most existing autonomous (or semi-autonomous) game content generators focus on the mere generation of single domains (creativity facets) in games. Motivated by the sparse literature on multifaceted game content generation, this paper introduces a multifaceted procedural content generation (PCG) approach that is based on the interactive evolution of multiple artificial neural networks that orchestrate the generation of visuals, audio and gameplay. The approach is evaluated on a spaceship shooter game. The generated artifacts - a fusion of audiovisual and gameplay elements - showcase the capacity of multifaceted PCG and its evident potential for computational game creativity.

in Evolutionary and Biologically Inspired Music, Sound, Art and Design (EvoMusArt), vol. 9027, LNCS. Springer, 2015. BibTex

Computational Game Creativity

Antonios Liapis, Georgios N. Yannakakis, Julian Togelius

Abstract: Computational creativity has traditionally relied on well-controlled, single-faceted and established domains such as visual art, narrative and audio. On the other hand, research on autonomous generation methods for game artifacts has not yet considered the creative capacity of those methods. In this paper we position computer games as the ideal application domain for computational creativity for the unique features they offer: being highly interactive, dynamic and content-intensive software applications. Their multifaceted nature is key in our argumentation as the successful orchestration of different art domains (such as visual art, audio and level architecture) with game mechanics design is a grand challenge for the study of computational creativity in this multidisciplinary domain. Computer games not only challenge computational creativity and provide a creative sandbox for advancing the field but they also offer an opportunity for computational creativity methods to be extensively assessed (via a huge population of gamers) through commercial-standard products of high impact and financial value.

in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Computational Creativity, 2014. BibTex

Towards a Generic Method of Evaluating Game Levels

Antonios Liapis, Georgios N. Yannakakis, Julian Togelius

Abstract: This paper addresses the problem of evaluating the quality of game levels across different games and even genres, which is of key importance for making procedural content generation and assisted game design tools more generally applicable. Three game design patterns are identified for having high generality while being easily quantifiable: area control, exploration and balance. Formulas for measuring the extent to which a level includes these concepts are proposed, and evaluation functions are derived for levels in two different game genres: multiplayer strategy game maps and single-player roguelike dungeons. To illustrate the impact of these evaluation functions, and the similarity of impact across domains, sets of levels for each function are generated using a constrained genetic algorithm. The proposed measures can easily be extended to other game genres.

in Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment, 2013. BibTex

Transforming Exploratory Creativity with DeLeNoX

Antonios Liapis, Hector P. Martinez, Julian Togelius, Georgios N. Yannakakis

Abstract: We introduce DeLeNoX (Deep Learning Novelty Explorer), a system that autonomously creates artifacts in constrained spaces according to its own evolving interestingness criterion. DeLeNoX proceeds in alternating phases of exploration and transformation. In the exploration phases, a version of novelty search augmented with constraint handling searches for maximally diverse artifacts using a given distance function. In the transformation phases, a deep learning autoencoder learns to compress the variation between the found artifacts into a lower-dimensional space. The newly trained encoder is then used as the basis for a new distance function, transforming the criteria for the next exploration phase. In the current paper, we apply DeLeNoX to the creation of spaceships suitable for use in two-dimensional arcade-style computer games, a representative problem in procedural content generation in games. We also situate DeLeNoX in relation to the distinction between exploratory and transformational creativity, and in relation to Schmidhuber's theory of creativity through the drive for compression progress.

in Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Computational Creativity, 2013, pp. 56-63. BibTex

Adapting Models of Visual Aesthetics for Personalized Content Creation

Antonios Liapis, Georgios N. Yannakakis, Julian Togelius

Abstract: This paper introduces a search-based approach to personalized content generation with respect to visual aesthetics. The approach is based on a two-step adaptation procedure where (1) the evaluation function that characterizes the content is adjusted to match the visual aesthetics of users and (2) the content itself is optimized based on the personalized evaluation function. To test the efficacy of the approach we design fitness functions based on universal properties of visual perception, inspired by psychological and neurobiological research. Using these visual properties we generate aesthetically pleasing 2D game spaceships via neuroevolutionary constrained optimization and evaluate the impact of the designed visual properties on the generated spaceships. The offline generated spaceships are used as the initial population of an interactive evolution experiment in which players are asked to choose spaceships according to their visual taste: the impact of the various visual properties is adjusted based on player preferences and new content is generated online based on the updated computational model of visual aesthetics of the player. Results are presented which show the potential of the approach in generating content which is based on subjective criteria of visual aesthetics.

IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games 4(3), 2012, pp. 213-228. BibTex

Optimizing Visual Properties of Game Content through Neuroevolution

Antonios Liapis, Georgios N. Yannakakis, Julian Togelius

Abstract: This paper presents a search-based approach to generating game content that satisfies both gameplay requirements and user-expressed aesthetic criteria. Using evolutionary constraint satisfaction, we search for spaceships (for a space combat game) represented as compositional pattern-producing networks. While the gameplay requirements are satisfied by ad-hoc defined constraints, the aesthetic evaluation function can also be informed by human aesthetic judgement. This is achieved using indirect interactive evolution, where an evaluation function re-weights an array of aesthetic criteria based on the choices of a human player. Early results show that we can create aesthetically diverse and interesting spaceships while retaining in-game functionality.

in Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment, 2011. BibTex