Photography + AI + Games = Magic

More than twenty years after the Nintendo 64 release of Pokemon Snap, there is now a successor for the Nintendo Switch with New Pokemon Snap. So it’s been more than twenty years since my own Pokemon hype ended. I couldn’t care less about the new edition of the photography game. Twenty years ago, however, I was incredibly enthusiastic not only about the Pokemon themselves, but also about that very Pokemon Snap. Not because I was so fascinated by the gameplay – with its eternally identical round trips on rails – but because the mechanics behind the game amazed me. Honestly, it still does to this day, because the AI photo rating process at the end of each round trip is nothing but pure magic to me!

How did they manage to score the photos I took so accurately? A rating that I could agree with unconditionally every time! Complex AI systems have become a standard part of modern video game entertainment – AI controlled bots now even give the appearance of acting completely autonomously. That’s okay from my point of view. I don’t question it and assume that it can be implemented somehow with a little technical sophistication. But how the artificial intelligence behind Pokemon Snap managed to evaluate my photos independently and accurately remains a magical AI programming mystery for me to this day.

In fact, Pokemon Snap wasn’t my first (magical) photography AI awakening: Back in the early 1990s, the floppy disk of Ducktales: Quest for Gold was rattling in the floppy drive of my PC at home. In their maniacal desire for capitalist recognition, Scrooge McDuck and his eternal adversary Flintheart Glomgold had agreed on a capitalist competition: Who can make more money in 30 days?

The game itself was a collection of various mini-games, for the successful completion of which Scrooge, assisted by his nieces and nephews, was rewarded with money. Various locations were marked on a world map (to which you had to fly there yourself as McQuack!), behind which the respective mini-games were hidden. There was a creepy mummy maze (which I still remember as one of the scariest experiences of my childhood), two rudimentary 2D platformers, and a photo safari. I was especially hooked by the photo safari and must have snapped thousands of rolls of film in this mini-game. Animals had to be photographed in special situations (for example, when grimacing, which was triggered by the timely release of the flash) and care had to be taken to ensure that the overall photo composition was as symmetrical as possible.

I was so fascinated by how the artificial intelligence behind Ducktales: Quest for Gold was able to independently and accurately rate my photos. An AI that could objectively rate my shot photos for quality seems incredible to me to this day. A magical AI programming mystery. Pure magic.

Retro nostalgics should definitely take a look at Ducktales: Quest for Gold. Numerous online portals now offer the opportunity to try out old classics directly in the browser. But beware: You should definitely skip the creepy mummy maze. Personally, I can only warmly recommend the photo safari instead!

This post is also available in: German