I'm still jetlagged from coming home from CIG 2008 in Perth four days ago (Perth-Singapore-London-Copenhagen is a 26 hours trip from first takeoff to last landing). But it was worth it. As usual, I find the CIG conferences enormously interesting and inspiring. Mostly because it's Computational Intelligence and Games is as much my "core" research area as it gets.
It's true that the acceptance rate it's a bit high, and there are quite a few papers which might not even be good science, in the sense of providing systematic experiments with statistically valid conclusions. In fact, someone who came from the broader CI or ML community and was not specifically interested in the application areas would probably complain about this. (However, it strikes me that most people can easily be made enthusiastic about games when you talk to them a bit... in striking contrast to some other common CI application areas such as scheduling or traffic flow optimization.)
We've beem discussing whether we should lower the acceptance rate, but I don't think we should. At least not yet. The main reason is that the research community is still quite small and we want it to grow. Another reason is that don't really believe in being too harsh. Reviewers can usually tell whether a paper is crap or not, but it's very hard to tell whether it's a seminal contribution. That's for posterity to judge, and to be approximated by the number of citations the paper has amassed after ten years or so. Conferences that only accept 25% or so of papers are, in my opinion, bound to make a rather arbitrary selection. Besides, we now have TCIAIG for publishing the cream of CIG research.
Enough about this, and back to the conference. There were keynotes representing both the ivory-tower variety of CIG research (Jonathan Schaeffer on solving Checkers), the industry perspective (Jason Hutchen, whose keynote I missed due to the conference banquet being the day before. Yes, free drinks) and the harmonious marriage of the two (Penny Sweetser on Emergence in Games).
One paper I particularly liked was Bobby Bryant and Matt Parker on learning to play Quake II using visual inputs only. I think their work is very relevant both for studying the evolutionary emergence of complex intelligence (seeing the FPS as a more advanced robot simulator) and for developing more lifelike NPC behaviour (e.g. aiming behaviour). The paper is not online yet, but here is a previous paper of theirs (NB their results are not very impressive yet, it's the idea I like.)
As for my own contributions, I gave a tutorial (with Georgios Yannakakis) on "Measuring and Optimizing Player Satisfaction". I also presented three papers, one on An Experiment in Automatic Game Design, one on Generating Diverse Opponents with Multiobjective Evolution and one detailing The WCCI 2008 Simulated Car Racing Competition. I hope to find time to write posts on this blog explaining the concepts behing the first two of these papers sometime soon, as I think they are really quite cool myself. I also presented the results of the CIG installment of the ongoing car racing competitions.
This post is already long enough, so I'll stop writing here. What can I say - if you are interested in games and AI/CI, you should have been there! And you should definitely come to the next CIG in Milan, Italy, September 2009. I'll be involved with the organization of that one, so I'll be writing more about it!