While studying his undergraduate degree in Computing at Imperial College London, Mike’s career path was already taking shape in his mind, and it was never far from his childhood dreams.
“I initially wanted to be a games journalist and I actually did work as a freelance reporter for a while during my studies. Computing was just my back-up plan.
“But then I went to a talk by a PhD student whose research was looking at artificial intelligence. Because of my love for games, I’d always been fascinated by AI but back then most people didn’t care about it.
“It got me thinking about how I could do my own research to bring my interest in gaming and AI together.”
At the time, Mike was in touch with an academic who specialised in building AI for creative purposes, for example to produce art.
“I remember this academic said to me, ‘I’ve always wondered if you could get AI to design video games?’ and I was so obsessed with that idea.”
It was that conversation that marked the beginning of Mike’s academic research career.
“Doing my PhD was a massive turning point for me. When I was growing up, people would tell me, ‘You can't work in games, only a few people get a chance to do that’ – but I am still doing the same research all these years later, so I feel super lucky.”
Mike’s research involves building AI systems that design novel video games independently, without direction from other people. This requires solving a variety of difficult problems in game design, level design, software engineering, and human-computer interaction, as well as addressing issues like understanding meaning or emotion.
While studying for his PhD, Mike built a system called Angelina which would use AI to design simple 2D arcade games. As his knowledge evolved, so did his games.
“I built a version of Angelina that made games inspired by newspaper articles. It would go on to a newspaper website, look at the day's headlines, pull out pictures and phrases and theme games around them. They were so funny – you would be jumping around a game like Mario and then a picture of Boris Johnson or Nick Clegg would appear out of nowhere!
“It was a lot of fun to experiment and as time went on, I learned more about being a game developer and using AI.”