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15 thoughts on “Discussion: Painting a Mouse Trap

  1. “Stable Refusion”… nicely done!

    i dont really have anything to add to the main discussion except that i have the same… “malaise”? “ennui”? “disquiet”, i think thats the word i want. the same disquiet about the uses that ai art generation will be put to: slavery in the content mills, just like the rest of us, but cheaper!

    the puzzle design strategies link—though i havent read it yet—is timely! i have been struggling with fleshing out my puzzle game projects puzzles. will be happy to steal strategies if they seem to fit.

  2. To avoid ranting, I’ll just put my thoughts into bullet points at random:

    I actually started playing Stray but got very disappointed very quickly that it’s basically “yet another 3d adventure game except you play as a cat”. I loved getting a box stuck on my head though, why is it that my favorite part of these games is jank?
    I feel like for many years DROD was my Fortnite, in terms of being a kind of comfort food. Nowadays I play much less video games and watch much more youtube.
    I liked your newsletter but I wish I had something more to say about it. I do think the usage of lovecraftian was spot on (even though I agree with using it non-ironically, this one was pure perfection).
    I share your thoughts about Marvel movies. It’s kind of interesting though, I’d much rather watch any of the “bad” standalone DC movies than any of the “great” Marvel movies. I feel like Marvel came up with a simple recipe and they just keep serving me the same bland cake with different topping and sure, it always tastes the same, it’s just that I always dislike it. Wherein DC is trying to always come up with a new recipe and even if it ends up exploding in the oven, I still enjoy scrapping the burned pieces off the wall. But all in all I think I am just done with non-deconstructive or non-subversive superhero movies.

  3. Jeez, grim newsletter, but I enjoyed it nonetheless 🙂

    A few months ago I was giving some thought to Metaverse/multiverse media properties and essentially arrived on the same point that it is mostly about recycling assets with a little bit of variance to keep it fresh, so it’s a perfect low risk, high reward scenario.

    I also find most crossovers to be less than the sum of their parts, which is disappointing.
    Crossover hype relies on “potential” that people imagine in their mind’s eye, which is never going to live up to reality, but many fans treat creatives as gods, so it’ll probably still be good enough for them.

  4. Link roundup!

    Gödel, Escher, Bach had an extended sequence about a record player that could play any record that was a metaphor for the Incompleteness Theorem and it literally worked like that Janet Jackson story.

    …the review of Stray gives an excerpt from a text adventure and says “From there, you know exactly what you can do” and that’s the first time I’ve seen that criticism of text adventures. Anyway, I haven’t tried Stray because Mac.

    The other link I have open is Patrick’s puzzle design strategies page and I don’t have anything funny to say about that so I will just recount the strategy for the only decent puzzle I have ever designed: Plan a complex little mechanic, notice that there is probably a way to cheese around it, implement the mechanic, test it, find that it doesn’t work, panic, check that the cheese strategy works, submit the game because the jam deadline is up, watch as every player goes through the exact same process (well except for the last step). Oh I guess this is a “things almost happen” moment!

  5. OK followup on Patrick’s post which I’m splitting out so I don’t have too much of a wall of text (I’m learning)!

    He links Microban, which is a great example of something I’ve been looking for, a game with the same mechanics as another game that’s different because it has different content. Since “just make the levels small quiddities instead of big ol’ things” does create a whole different feel.

    I’ve been thinking about ways to trick the player out of not seeing the solution right away (partly inspired by my first Sausage Roll replay for a while) and the Microban level in Patrick’s post (I’m spoiling it!) has a nice one I hadn’t thought of: exploit the fear of giving up progress. The first thing you obviously have to do is get the block out of the right area, and then it’s easy to jam the left area up, and the solution is to put the block back in the right area but in a way that won’t jam it up when you get it out. Which took me longer to see than I’d like to admit, because I was like “Well I’ve got that block out, what now?”

    Maybe this is related to one of the oldest tricks in my personal book, going back to Blobbo, and one that was involved in my puzzle from the previous post: “These parts of the level that look like they’re self-contained puzzles aren’t.”

  6. not on the previous topics but today’s student presentation in Philosophy of Games was on Subnautica!

  7. vfig

    I wasn’t intending to write about the harvester AIs at all, like ever, but recent developments have made me very uncomfortable about where we are headed. There will be a enduring fondness for human art – even now we love stupid stuff that takes hours to do that a computer could churn out very quickly because of the human hand involved. We love the investment and emotion they represent. I suspect the only thing an AI cannot reproduce is intention and purpose; but as prompt parsing gets better, perhaps that won’t even be a sufficient problem. Art will continue to be made but the struggle to get paid for it will deepen.


    There was this sudden social media reflex that a game about a cat is awesome but I noticed it wasn’t sustained, so I guessed Stray wasn’t didn’t quite live up to the initial swell of excitement.

    I don’t have any comfort games that survive for years, nothing like DROD or Fortnite. I have phases. I’m going through a Slay phase right now. Last year I had a Death Crown phase. Next year… who knows?

    And there are a few Marvel films I enjoy but on the whole I find they just wash over me. Then again: I’m not sure I was ever much of a superhero film fan. I never liked the Batman movies, couldn’t get into the X-Men series (although I was really into the 90s cartoon series). I was a fan of Christopher Reeve as Superman. But I was 5 when I saw that in the cinema..


    I know, right? ENOUGH GLOOM. Trying to distract myself from the having a government in power which is hell-bent on fantasy economics and stupidity while they let the poor rot.

    Recycling: it’s the nature of sensible risk aversion in a capitalist system to reuse whatever works. The problem is, eventually, you end up weighting too much on safe and wind up in a boring cul-de-sac. (AAA’s problem is that they are wedded to spectacle and innovating is expensively dangerous.)

    Our latest Marvel crossover is Wolverine + Deadpool, which has generated much excitement. I’m not hyped BUT I do like Deadpool, so I’ll be looking forwawrd to it regardless. of any crossover value. One of my favourite lines from Deadpool 2 is a weird “not-crossover”-crossover when Deadpool refers to Cable, played by Josh Brolin, as Thanos.


    When I was designing The Citadel way back in 1992, I obviously didn’t have any puzzle design gurus to talk to. But definitely some of the techniques mentioned in Patrick’s article felt familiar – such as tweaking impossible levels to become possible and seeking interesting combinations of puzzle mechanics.

    I was quite taken to thinking of levels in terms of real world concepts rather than strategic ones, like thinking of blocks as a “train” that moves back and forth, or different “towns” where you’d move blocks between. I remember one level I thought of as a prison and you needed to break the blocks out of jail to escape.

  8. What fun reading, almost rebellious! I think I will respond in separate sections later, so much to talk about, principally about A.I. and art. But just to say that people who think A.I. can make art, just because it can make or/and simulate nice or interesting visuals, don’t know shit about art, no matter how impossible it is to define what fuck is art, this kind of stupidity is what makes us one step closer to Idiocracy everyday. It doesn’t mean an A.I. can’t make art or nobody can make art with an A.I. ever, but this notion of art is fucking wrong. I just have chills to think how hard it will be to identify an image recognized as “aRt”. Anyway to the discussion:

    Everything at that time seemed so unique, vast and distant in comparison, “a game with the most famous characters of Nintendo! Count me in!”, nowadays it’s just banal. I think the fighting genre shined on these days probably because of the mix between competitiveness, social event and unique gaming experience, you could play on your home, alone or call some friends or go to a friend’s house to have some fun or you would go to the Arcades, hanging around alone or with friends. So I think even those combat systems and characters would have to be distinct in some way, the character you chose and the game you chose to play should have a personality on its own, are you now a Scorpion person or a Sub-zero, are you now a Ryu person or a Chun-Li, do we play now Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. Of course we can still do all that and do, but if we compare these kinds of competitive gaming experiences of today, we can see how those seem more empty and boring than before. Even today I prefer to play an old game with someone rather than many of those new ones. I have to point out that this unique experience so to speak didn’t mean you couldn’t have it alone, hey, I wasn’t the most extroverted and social person in the room, on the contrary, but somehow even playing alone or playing on the internet in my home, I still had and has with many old games this kind of feeling that many games and even movies fail to pass today, probably the word I’m trying to find is immersivity, the kind of immersivity that is not the one that seems real, with nice graphics, but feels real, personal to you, that get you engaged on that activity and transport you to their realm, maybe this why many people still goes back to these old games and old movies or retro games that tries to recreate that feeling. It amazes me how shallow and at the same time so overwhelming these games are today, a million of options inside, most of them useless, boring and indistinguishable from each other. Damn, let’s just look the footage and photos of “behind the scenes” of old movies from those of today, these old ones it’s like looking behind the curtains of reality itself, it seems alive, magical, now you see from those ones like Disney’s Marvel, it’s just a green backstage, with a green creep poor fella jumping around with other green stuff, the actors cringing while they have to fake they aren’t in front of all that silliness. I mean, the fact that the space is empty shouldn’t be a problem, stage actors do that all the time in the theater, hell, even Lars von Trier did exact the same thing with Dogville and it was a major success, it was literally a empty black space with white lines doing the role of the walls and words written on the floor to indicate what is what, with some objects and few scenario things to decorate, besides that it was all on the power of acting. So what exactly is the problem of the garbage the ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY is making today? They are so alienated they can’t even entertain anymore! Well, we all know what the problem is, comrades…

  9. I find the hidden exploitation angle of AI art more concerning than the “is AI art, Art” angle. It seems to me that many of the naysayers are reiterating arguments already heard against much contemporary or “postmodern” art.

    From an “academic” point of view, it’s interesting to me that some of the “discourse” centres on the fact that there’s no “human” involved. Only a person can make Art, and this opens up discussions on the (possible or impossible) personhood of machines/AI. But it’s also a discussion on the “ease” of the process of making this “art” – the pulling of the lever – and this to me is a bit troubling as an analytical position, because it’s not far from the conservative/reactionary critique of postmodern art.

    From a political point of view, I absolutely agree on the problematic aspects of 1) the exploitative nature of algorithms and 2) the further exploitative potential of mass-produced AI art. The logical end-point in the transformation of art into content.

    I honestly struggle to reconcile these two positions, the interest for the broadening of the notion of Art (maybe, just maybe, outside the boundaries of the “human experience” as we understand it), and the abject terror for the economic and political consequences this AI art can have, especially for artists.

  10. congrats on thinky puzzles! i recently realised i enjoy looking at them and imagining what they’re like more than playing them, but i’m glad there’s a more reasonable group of people who actively engage with them.

    going to bed at the same time each night is actually the best thing you can do for your health! sad it hasn’t worked out in the end, though!

    i am an artist and i love ai art. i basically enjoy the fact that many images turn up with something unexpected that would never come up rationally with a human brain.

  11. Pedro

    I just have chills to think how hard it will be to identify an image recognized as “aRt”.

    At the moment, it’s still possible. Even the best AI art looks a little airbrushed and photo shopped when zoomed in – they make great for sharing in social media on mobile, but they’re a bit hollow when you see them on a desktop. See images here. Video deepfakery also looks atm.

    I know little about the technology but if it improves, making these distinctions are going to be very difficult. And if people insist on calling themselves an artist if they come up with the “perfect prompt” after 90 minutes…

    nowadays it’s just banal

    I think you have a good point which I’d missed. The crossover in Smash was unique at the time, it had big, big novelty value. That’s not why Smash at enduring power but it is probably what got a lot of heads to turn in the first place. Whereas crossovers today look very corporate. My instinctive reaction when I heard of MultiVersus wasn’t Smash — it was Fortnite. (But perhaps there’s nostalgia at work here too, as some game devs of the 80s saw Nintendo has a corporate juggernaut taking over everything.)

    So what exactly is the problem of the garbage the ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY is making today?

    Money guides corporations towards mechanisms that produce profit. That inevitably means chasing bandwagons and “franchises” that have an established audience. This corporate profit loop has been normalised – that without it, where are we going to get box office entertainment from?

    And as I said, even the top geek sites talk about franchises and IPs and all that terrible nomenclature. But I do wander if they are slowing trudging down a cul-de-sac that no one can see. Will the public tire of these recognisable profit loops? Or are they just going to rely on the youth dollar which, increasingly, has no money to spend? And my son is already tired of Marvel films. (Maybe that’s my fault.)

    Or do we get far too much entertainment media today? There is so much to watch and play and read. Perhaps I just need more time with the family.

  12. Lorenzo

    Thank you for reminding me this was EXACTLY a point I wanted to include. That if we are unhappy with the speed of art production – then we must throw out all the minimalist stuff like the Mondrians. That art only comes through a measurable “effort” is not true at all. I think there is still a case to be made here, although it would have to be tightened up around what mass production and flooding the market. But what it really makes me think about is that AI art is the natural conclusion to the internet. Because we all have the power to make our own art and distribute it, that the flood is already there! I already made the point about game disposability through volume…

    And that’s why we end up turning to “intent” to shore up the argument and I guess that means you’re trying to define art and, fuck, now you’re in trouble. I was just thinking about how the years spent talking about “the author is dead” and the viewer’s interpretation is paramount implies it shouldn’t matter where the art comes from. We delete the artist from the equation. And I feel like AI was the best counterexample to this line of thought. If a machine makes beautiful art that moves you, is it art? Of course, potentially, we still have a human’s hand pushing the machine’s buttons, so it’s not an ideal philosophical thought experiment. But I have often wondered how the warm presence of a game developer sometimes seems to be missing in proc gen levels. That is, the machine was the art and not what the machine put out.

    Like you, it is the exploitative angle which concerns me more than anything. You know, I was always concerned about the prospect of an AI creating games – but I thought players were way too discerning to accept what a machine might make at this point. A bit like how there was a UML cult to have users design systems and skip the whole “hire coders” bit. Insert UML, create system, profit. But that undersold what software engineers were doing. And “AI-made games” was more about procgen tools, evolving game design, rather than replacing designers. That does not seem to be the case with AI art.

  13. Daniel

    Thank you. I’m still working to get the first Thinky Games stream up and running soon! I still need to go to bed early 🙁

    I don’t have any problems with an “AI artist” and seeing what weird things they come up with. But what’s bothering me more is that they seem to be trying to create machines to replace your artist – to reproduce a human style and not cultivate its own. And that’s a threat to livelihood in a world where people still insist on paying for food and heating.

  14. Did everybody make a thread on Twitter questioning how toxic is the expression “‘human’ experience” and how being a “human being” is a biased social construct where we perform our daily lives? I think I missed the memorandum where we should avoid using those heavy words so we won’t offend cyborgs and robots. I didn’t know we shouldn’t consider the human experience while talking about human experience and how unacademic it is these days to formulate criticism in the original sense of the word. It reminds me of the day when I commented on Facebook that I didn’t like the Godzilla movie from 2014 and somebody angrily just assumed that it is because I’m too used to action movies since this movie was so profound, with deeper dialogues and reflective moments. How am I supposed to respond? “No sir, I watch every kind of movie, I just watched Birdman the other day, a much better and superior movie and I watch it every time directors like Godard, Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Kurosawa, etc, maybe I didn’t like this movie exactly because was too dumb and boring?” Well, if I said that after or even before this little internet discussion, I think it is very easy to imagine someone dropping by to say I’m too pedantic and snobby to enjoy an unpretentious blockbuster and action movie like Godzilla! It’s very difficult to convey every little piece of information, with the possibilities, pros and cons, all the logical variations, and conditions of reasoning in one little piece of textual discourse, so I’m allowed to say anything interesting and relevant. Maybe when we have cyberbrains, but for now I suppose it will have to be enough with our primal hermeneutic devices, our reading apparatus to read all the text and have just plain goodwill. From an “academic” point of view, I find it interesting how every theory, author, and work is being used for self-promotion and wrongly deformed to be presented in this visceral society of spectacle of ours, is being distorted, fragmented, and completely falsified on the internet so it can fit in a post on social media, nobody looks for the sources anymore, everyone is afraid to opine anything different, to think for themselves and be creative, so they can’t risk being canceled by the out righteous mob of Twitter, people just mindlessly reproduce the things the other said over and over in accord to what is most popular now. And this is shaping even the “academic work”. I am denying and limiting a “broader human experience”? I am denying that AI can make art or we can make art with an AI or even be inspired by AI? This is why I said: “It doesn’t mean an A.I. can’t make art or nobody can make art with an A.I. ever, but this notion of art is fucking wrong.” What notion? Well before that, I said: “But just to say that people who think A.I. can make art, just because it can make or/and simulate nice or interesting visuals”. The notion, the real limited notion, that limits this broader human experience, of seeing things as art just for their visuals and as an artist the ability to just produce or reproduce images! I’m sorry, but it seems to me more limiting for a definition of art and a very limited aesthetics approach, which, surprise, surprise, is about the experience! It has nothing to do with good = painful effort against bad = easy effortlessness. Imagine someone saying: “Nice visuals, now this is art!” This kind of attitude seems very anti-modern and anti-postmodern to me, the same kind of thinking that accuses those artistic movements of being jokes. Have we forgotten who is one of the most critical, in a negative manner, of modern and postmodern art? The socialists, communists, and even the good old soviets! They even mocked modern art as alienated, uncultured, empty of meaning, ideological, opportunistic production of liberal (not the American “left”), conservative, reactionary, and capitalistic society represented by the US side of that cold war world of the past. Not to mention for example how modern art like the ones of Pollock (which I like very much) was backed up by the CIA and it was a promotion of the US ideology. Following this “generic communist reasoning”, every human endeavor is work and we produce and exchange all the time, this is why we call a “work of art”, a “work” of art, this is why the very long and complicated historical etymology of the word “art” is related to work, technique, effort alongside poetry, that is production. To be wrong to consider and prioritize human effort, in art, the most non “industrialized” production, and how we have to censor ourselves to not to think that we can be humans and have experiences like human beings, is the pinnacle of capitalist alienation of the self, that’s truly counter-revolutionary and reactionary, how ironic. Since the engines of history turned and will keep turning, postmodern art became associated with the “liberal” socialist and progressive left and therefore it is now a target too for the reactionary and conservative alt-right. We should be careful not to mix up everything in only one bag, yes, conservatives see classical art and education as fundamental, but so do many communists for other reasons, seeing postmodern “culture” as a decadent ideology just tells everything about that position, one shouldn’t commit the mistake to see one thing as bad and another as good by simplistic association after consuming the feed of you favorite media platform and be fast to do any conclusions. This apocalyptic model prophesized by Joel in his newsletter seems much more aligned with the “reactionary” side of the force. It has nothing to do with being completely against the progress of any sort. Those accusations of being “conservative/reactionary”, impeding another kind of human experience, and creativity, and being the same as the negative critique of “postmodern art” just because someone, like me, do critiques, the real kind of criticism, makes no sense at all. What a weird argumentative chimera we have to “deconstruct”! And I’m not even sure If we really did that! It is good to remember that the easiest exploitation angle on any argument is from the rhetorical fallacies while those very argumentative fallacies are the hardest to crack. Again, not everything I said so far is an absolute and generic discourse and certainly, I do not know everything I’m saying, on the contrary, I do know most than 50% of what I said is “fucking wrong”, and I would love to question our definition of what is a human, the very word “human”, etc, philosophically, and I didn’t focus on AI and art right now because it would take too much time to discuss (and write!) since it’s a complex topic, I would argue too that this notion of AI that people have today, is very misleading, this is the same question as the guy who worked in Google and was fired because he wanted to warn the world they created a real sentient being, when in fact supposedly it is a very complex and smart chat boot. And this isn’t the first time problemas like “non humans doing art” and “how to identify art as art” appears, Pierre Brassau is a good example of that. As for the question of art and the artist as a reproduction of reality, yes we have those too, from thousands of years ago, the old question of mimesis, of the lamp and the mirror. These kinds of questions are not so easily answered, being thought of for a long time even before our contemporary robots and computers existed, like the famous problem of the Chinese Room or Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. How can we identify if a completely normal person, mind, consciousness, body, etc, is a person at all? Do we have something called souls? If so, are souls relevant, and how so? Etc. To conclude, this docile, passive and unspoken condition of art is mistakenly imposed by the social media of today, I’m afraid that in this case paradoxically no one is letting any one being the artist and doing the art they want to, if we can’t talk about art or even define art, no matter how wrong those definitions are, we wouldn’t have art theories, art criticism, artistic movements, nor art manifestos, no Picasso, Duchamp, Dali, Van Gogh, etc. Anyway, I’m already having a semantic breakdown or should I say semantic satiation.

  15. I feel like this question of AI art is so bound up in the simple way that we live our lives now.

    Art, and its context, are hugely intertwined. I *do* believe that “The Death of the Author” has a lot of say, still, and is an interesting anchor in all this. But my take on that perspective is the democritisation of meaning. If you made the art, you get first dibs on what its meaning is – but you don’t get a monopoly. The point is not to remove the artist from the equation, but to downplay the importance of the artist’s interpretation. That way, anyone with an interesting interpretation can jump in and argue their point of view.

    Why is that an important distinction? Because we *cannot* (should not?) remove the context of the artist from the art work. It matters that Hamilton was written when it was, by the person it was, and was initially staged with a non-white cast. It matters that Guernica was painted by the person it was painted by, in the year it was painted. It matters that Van Gogh was never appreciated while he was alive, was afflicted by mental illness, and has become one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

    These things matter because stories, particularly human stories, matter to humans. If an artwork has an interesting backstory, or an adjacent anecdote, people will remember it and re-tell it.

    So it matters that an image was created by an AI. That does not *disqualify* it from being art, because art can be anything basically, but it is critical to how we approach it. For example, I read this fascinating twitter thread (essay?) which interpreted the piece as informed by the wealth of colonialist, exotifying paintings which the AI was trained on, and how it manifested those tropes:

    So in an ideal world, AI-generated art would be an interesting development in the art world, opening new avenues of experimentation. I’m reminded of how, once the camera was invented, artists shifted their work towards deliberately non-photorealistic pieces, to stress that what the artist was making was not necessarily photo-realism in images: it was meaning itself. If artists didn’t have to rely on this for a living, it would be fascinating.

    But, of course, they do. So I’m quietly saddened at the fact that this potentially interesting development in the expansion of the expression of the human spirit is inevitably going to be co-opted into the Great Media Remix also known as late capitalism.

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