Why Would Anyone Do This


hi, i'm artificial intelligence researcher michael cook, and i'd like to show you me beautiful generators

There are a lot of different generative aesthetics, different emotions or aspects of generativity that a project can aim for. Awe and The Sublime are a common one - put people face to face with beauty on a vast scale, and they will feel something incredible. Surrealism is another one that we see less often, but whenever I've come across it in my own work I've really enjoyed it. Monster Factory Factory is my PROCJAM entry, and it's one of the more surreal generative things I've ever made.

As the name suggests, the project is directly inspired by Griffin and Justin McElroy's web series Monster Factory, in which they take a game's character creator and explore its space to find the strangest things it can make, and then spend some time in the game with their weird creation and its equally weird narrative. Describing Monster Factory in this weird 'introduction to an academic paper' way completely misses its greatness: it's weird, improvisational, funny, sincere and stupid. It's brilliant.

Among its beloved creations and weird narratives, the series also ends up exploring the concept of character creators a fair bit too. Slogans like "no middle sliders" - referring to their love of choosing extreme options whenever given the chance - is really funny, but also really interesting to think about. When the McElroy's discover things that seem wrong or weird - even if they might have perfectly normal explanations - there's something exciting and line-crossing about the discovery. Should this be happening? Should this be possible? "Do you think this is what Bioware intended?" Justin wonders in their episode covering Mass Effect 2 and Truck Shepard, "There is a reality where this guy is the lead guy in Mass Effect."

One of the recurring moments in Monster Factory is watching something unexpected emerge - either slowly, or all at once. In the early videos covering Dark Souls, the 'random variation' button is pressed dozens of times, and only at the very end is the result computed all at once. In The Sims 4 episode the sliders are invisible, and Griffin hacks the game to remove the limits from them, meaning that you're never quite sure how far he can drag a particular facial feature - and the more it expands, the funnier it gets. In some videos there'll be quick peeks or slow reveals of something terrible that's been made behind the scenes.

I'd already worked with 3D models before with ANGELINA's 3D iteration, which randomly found 3D models on the internet, and I also noticed that a lot of the changes in Monster Factory are essentially completely unpredictable: sliders are either badly labelled, not labelled at all, or rendered meaningless by Griffin's direct hacking of the game code (in Mass Effect 2 they use a hex editor tool to 'jack in' to the Matrix of poor Truck Shepard's face). A procedurally generated character creator, with unknown sliders that did weird things to models, seemed like an ideal PROCJAM entry. So here we are!

The project isn't as polished as it could be, and a lot of the features I'd wanted to add aren't there, but you can definitely get a flavour of the idea from what we have. There are three slider types - Melissa, which moves clusters of actually connected vertices, inspired by the Soul Calibur episode character with the same name; Truck, which moves clusters of physically nearby vertices, inspired by poor Truck Shepard's angular face meat; and Scale, which tries to blow up or shrink clusters of vertices, usually with hideous results.

I couldn't hack in the ability to search for models as I had with ANGELINA, but I did include some models that felt like tributes to the McElroy videogames brand, and also some free background assets from the Unity store for an added surreal vibe, and to improve the screenshot potential. You can rotate the camera around a bit, change models, pick different bits of models to mess up, and even choose how messy each slider gets. There's also a fun slider name generator by my generative monster-in-arms Sam Geen. If you want to try it out, there's some instructions and a download on the itch page, and I may open-source the thing (such as it is) at some point in the future.

#PROCJAM has officially ended! But we'll be taking late submissions forever, and we still have some cool stuff coming up, like translating our tutorials and releasing our backer rewards from Kickstarter. If you were part of PROCJAM in any way this year - entering, helping, contributing or just cheering on Twitter, thank you so much. It's been the best one yet.

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