Natural Language Dev Blog 06: Pixel Sorting Visual Tests

ARG visuals typically fall into one of two categories, either closely mimicking their real life counterparts (fake police department, corporate website, etc) or signalling their place firmly outside the norm (glitchy hacked site, ancient cursed book, etc).

For Natural Language, we want to explore both of these aesthetics within a single site, while at the same time maintaining a cohesive visual style. The game’s website is a marketing tool for the AI OS and will look the part – full of inviting stock photos of mountains, idyllic tranquil shots (as above) and happy young people. But as the player digs past the marketing veneer of the site’s exterior, those same images will become warped, degraded and affected as the AI attempts to express themselves with the limited tools at their disposal.  

We looked into various digital image manipulation tools and computer vision programs, like DeepDream, but chose instead the autogenerated corruption of glitch art. We’ve found several approaches that will work well for Natural Language, but none is more visually appealing than pixel sorting. We discovered the technique through the work of Jessica Andersdotter, a Swedish artist who blends the process with unique colour work, and Crooked Cosmo, a bot created by Zach Whalen and Adam Ferris that applies the process to images from space.

The technique uses a program to isolate and sort a horizontal or vertical line of pixels in an image based on criteria such as hue or brightness. The most popular method is done in Processing, using Glitch Artist Kim Asendorf’s ASDF Pixelsort script. We also found the online tool by Diego F. Goberna useful for tests, although there is more control within Processing.

We’re still experimenting, but we’re happy with the results so far. We’ll be using other glitch techniques, but the specifics of which may become puzzles themselves, so we won’t go into much detail for now.

Test 1 – horizontal, minor shift

Test 2 – vertical, major shift

Test 3 – horizontal, major shift, reversed

That’s all for now. See you in two weeks!

Patrick