back to article AI boffins take on Angry Birds

Sydney, Australia, today hosted the first day of a competition to pit humans against artificial intelligence, with the two sources of reasoning competing in rampantly-popular game Angry Birds. The challenge was hosted by the Australian National University's Artificial Intelligence Group, where Associate Professor Jochen Renz …


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  1. Ketlan

    What's that, then?

    Am I the only person on earth who has never played Angry Birds and couldn't care less?

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: What's that, then?, you're not the only person - there are at least the two of us. Have heard of it, could never be arsed to have a look at it. But, enter AI and it starts becoming interesting!

    2. tony

      Re: What's that, then?

      I hadn't heard of it before it was popular.

      1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

        Re: What's that, then?

        Ever played any sort of Scorched Earth clone or the Worms series?

        You've played it then.

        It was a cheap (free with adverts for lots of people) game with some basic 2d physics where you fire birds with different properties over obstacles to knock down a house and kill all the "pigs" (green circles with faces) inside.

        About the best bit of it is the physics library used, Box2D, which is free and open-source. Since it was free and quite polished and bundled with app stores etc. it became very popular to people who didn't game during the DOS era (because they thought it was "new") and sold millions of copies. But all their spin-offs have to be angry-birds related or they don't sell, because the game itself is nothing special but the brand is now "famous". So you have angry-birds in lots of different locations, with different "types" of birds and even one in space where they've played with the gravity a little. But all attempts to do anything but merchandise angry-birds (everything from Christmas annuals to cuddly toys to a game with a little catapult to fire birds at structures with pigs in them) from the same company fail.

        Remember tetris? How everyone went mad for it on Gameboy even though it was already out years before and there were several million clones within a week, and how the creator of Tetris never really went on to do anything else because it was the tetris name that was selling things? Same thing, 20 years later.

        1. James Micallef Silver badge
          Thumb Up


          an absolutely ace game!

      2. Evil Auditor Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: What's that, then?

        @tony: Are you kind of an anti-hipster?

        1. Paratrooping Parrot

          Re: What's that, then?

          Gorilla in QBasic was brilliant. :-)

  2. Stephen 2

    Random levels required

    Would you not need random levels for the competition? Most of us could put together some macros to play the level well if we were given enough time on the level. But the aim of this project is for the AI to actively work out what's going on and then try play the level.

    1. Ian Yates

      Re: Random levels required

      From similar competitions I've been involved in, I would expect they've been given some levels to develop against but the results are recorded against levels that only the judges have access to.

      1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

        Re: Random levels required

        For me, the problem is mildly interesting, if they do it properly and have full levels and full physics.

        You have only very limited input (angle, power). But the results can be incredibly chaotic given that input (i.e. a tiny pixel either way, or a slight rounding error, and the whole screen collapses in a totally different way).

        The problem is, though, that the amount of debris on the screen will be quite high and tracing parabolic paths through it to find a given target (even if you know where that target is), not to mention physics-based rolling and momentum, is extremely tricky. So I don't think that a "naive" interpretation would be interesting enough, or capable of enough. If you're just relying on finding a "magic set" of shots on each level, you might be sadly disappointed if the engine isn't 100% replayable. And to find that magic set, you would need so many attempts that it becomes a laughable task to attempt.

        But looking for a path is also complicated, you wouldn't be able to use traditional game theory branching techniques to try to find an optimal path to the goal, there are just too many variations. You are basically looking at a high-level tree controlling, say, which target you actually target, in what order, and modify based on the amount of obstruction to them. However, the actual shots will have to be calculated quite well to be any good.

        Worms AI, for example, used to pull off some incredible shots because it knew the end result of the physics was you dying. But it wasn't able to prioritise targets effectively, or know which were the greatest threat, and didn't cope well with obstructions (best way to win, if I remember, was to bury youself underneath the enemy and wait for him to run out of weapons and/or kill himself), and that's a lot more important in this game - if you aim for the wrong target first, or even cause collateral damage elsewhere, you can make it impossible to take out later targets because you've covered them in debris or blocked off access to the optimal parabola.

        That said, I don't think it's particularly "new" or "interesting" in terms of AI. We won't be seeing any great computer science come out of it, because almost all the problems involved are "solved", just tricky to do and with huge amounts of analysis required to get it right. And absent that, it's about throwing away the right bits of information and doing things in larger discrete steps rather than analysing every possibility.

        It's an interesting kind of "competition", in the everyday sense of the word (i.e. £250 to the winner or whatever), but it's not very interesting in terms of pushing forward AI or finding out anything new. It's just a new application for old techniques and developing some heuristic to optimise those techniques for this particular case.

        1. Eddie Edwards

          Re: Random levels required

          Lee, your two posts on this are remarkable in that they give a very good sense of why this is a very interesting problem and why it's an interesting game, yet you are simultaneously telling us how pastiched and boring both the game and the problem of playing the game are!

        2. Martin Budden Silver badge

          Re: Random levels required

          The input is much more complex than just angle & power. You also need to tap to activate four of the five birds' special moves during flight, which is very complex because each bird's special move is different:

          • speed up (and recalculate bird trajectory and damage)
          • drop egg (and recalculate bird trajectory and damage, plus calculate egg damage)
          • split into three (now we have three trajectories to handle)
          • explode (and if we choose not to tap to explode instantly, work out where the bird will have rolled to when it goes bang by itself)

  3. Richard Wharram

    Angry Birds

    An AI that could handle my Angry Bird on special week would be a Godsend and I would pay a fortune for it!

    Wait, what? A phone game? This is somewhat less useful.

  4. Keep Refrigerated

    Sure teach them to launch birds...

    You won't be smiling when they start launching bombs!

  5. ukgnome

    When I lived in Newcastle I used to play angry birds.

    I would walk up to a group of girls and tell them that they where pretty for a makem

  6. P. Lee

    Its been solved already

    "The only winning move is not to play."

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