Making games exciting

Name: Ricardo De Vasconcelos Abreu Lopes (29)
Nationality: Portuguese
Supervisor: Dr Rafael Bidarra (computer graphics group, EEMCS faculty)
Subject: Adaptive game worlds
Thesis defence: In two years

“The goal of my research is to make video games more exiting and appealing. I’m focussing on games for entertainment, but also serious games, games that convey a message or that are used for training purposes.

The way I do this is by making games adaptive. This means that different things happen every time you or someone else plays. The technique we base this on is called procedural content generation.

This technique is quite new. Some games use it to create new virtual worlds that arise while people play a game. An algorithm decides where the trees appear and what size they are for instance. By allowing these kinds of parameters to be flexible, the virtual world is always new and unexpected. But designers do have control over it: it’s not completely random, as players of course still need to be able to go from A to B.
We want to take this technique a step further. We want to link the player to the content generator, creating a new way of controlling the latter. So what will be generated will be a response to the way the player played. In that way games will be customized to people.

Let’s say I’m playing Super Mario and I suck at it. It would, in that case, be nice if something would happen which would make it more balanced for me, so I don’t have to feel bad about it. The game should become easier – gaps could become smaller - only at that specific moment.

We think we have found a good way to achieve these kinds of adaptations. And we believe that we can develop a technique that is generic, which means it can be used for all kinds of games.

I’m now working on an adaptive game involving a stunt playground for cars. If, during the first round, you turn out to be a Sunday driver, the game will not offer you many loopings in the second round. If however you’re Evel Knievel, it will give you a more exciting playground in the next round.

I use semantics to enrich the game. Every object has all additional information attached to it beside its geometry. A ramp always needs to be in front of an obstacle, for instance. By defining the semantics of objects, the generator can ‘reason’ about them. With the help of a new type of semantics, the programme can decide that a certain ramp is dangerous for the Sunday driver.”