Tech+Art Podcast: Kate Compton


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Welcome to the new Tech+Art Podcast!

Join us on this adventure as we meet & speak with: artists, makers, researchers, designers and creators from all background and fields.

Our objective is to understand their creative perspective, dive into their workflow & creative process, be inspired by new ideas and their work – and stay one step ahead of cutting-edge industry developments.

It turns out creativity is just a thing humans are thirsty for- even when we don’t know we’re dying from the lack of it.


In this episode, we’re chatting with Kate Compton, an inventor, game designer, special effects artist, independent researcher.

Kate has been working on Procedural Content Generation in a variety of contexts for more than ten years.

From research papers like “The Casual Creators”, to generative frameworks like Generominos, to video games, to little games, wild experiments and more.

You can keep up-to-date with all of Kate’s work online at

Question 1: You wrote a paper called the casual creators. Can you explain more about this thesis?

[ 5:59 ] – Casual Creators is me trying to define an area of software – and this is an area of software that is not new, this is an area of software that totally already exists but nobody noticed it and gave it a name.

[ 6:10 ] – […] If you think about creativity in software, you think about things like Maya, and PhotoShop and Garageband. These things that can be used in professional situations. They can also be used by dedicated amateurs. You don’t know what somebody is trying to make with them, so you give them all the tools to be able to make anything. So if you open up Unity, there’s this terrifying array buttons and menus in front of you, because they don’t know what you’re going to make with Unity, they’ve got to just unveil the entire, horrifying possibility space before you. Which is fine, because if you’re doing something because either your boss is paying you or you’ve some grand artistic vision – you’re willing to dedicate the time and attention to really slog through a difficult tool. And for a while, that’s what we thought creativity tools were for, these kind of professional or virtuosic users. And it turns out there’s this other group of users that need something very different from a creativity tool.

[ 7:16 ] – There are all these users who like to do creativity, for the process of creativity. And it turns out there’s a whole other set of design principles if you’re writing software for those folks. These are people who don’t like a blank slate.

[ 9:44 ] – [….] there tends to be a lot more focus on not having a lot of options available immediately. Kind of getting people into a flow state – giving them small, frequent choices that they can make lots of these choices and change something. Where you’re almost kind of surfing, than trying to get to a particular artifact that you’re searching for.

Question 2: Can you share more about the Generominos project? What’s it all about?

[ 10:30 ] – Casual Creators can be software on your iPhone, they can be embedded inside of games, they can be in museums […] I go to Burning Man, so they are in Burning Man art, sort of weird interactive installation art that let you interact with it in some ways. And I was looking at all of these different things, just hundreds and hundreds of these casual creators or interactive generative things in the world and like ‘ok, how do they work?’.

[10:54] – Sometimes somebody interacts with it, then the computer does something, and then an art comes out the other side. And then sometimes that art gets piped to other people who then interpret it in different ways and then the pipeline keeps going. And so the Generominos were me trying to figure out an almost like lego style way of having….. Like what are these things made of? And they’re made of inputs and outputs.

[ 13:17 ] – Because all these cards have sockets, you’re kind of socketing them all together like dominos, you can just throw them all out on the table and just say ‘ok, well here is the system I thought I was building. Look at all the other cards that socket on to there!

[ 14:17 ] – As we become experts in things, we have these sort of pathways that we dig for ourselves. The paths that we walk become deeper and deeper and it’s harder and harder to get outside of what we know to be true and correct. And so if you have a deck of cards, you can play a random deck of cards you might not have chosen.

Question 3: How do you see those two projects fitting together?

[ 16:49 ] – Once you have all your toys together, you can break them apart into pieces and recombine them. And that’s kind of what Generominos gets you. Now that I’ve got all my Casual Creators in one big pile, let’s break them apart into components and rebuild them in playful ways.

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Question 4: How do humans, AI and creativity all mix together in this context? And how do we encourage more of this?

[ 24:18 ] – It turns out creativity is just a thing humans are thirsty for, even when we don’t know we’re dying from the lack of it.

[ 24:36 ] – I saw a great talk once as the opener of a Game Jam. […] ‘Don’t make the game that is going to compete with World of Warcraft’, or whatever it was at the time… ‘the thing for millions and millions of people. Make a game as a love letter to one person. Find one person that you know and want to delight.’

[ 25:14 ] – […] But no there is a lot of room for software that is for small purposes, for small moments, for regular people.

Question 5: What’s one thing that you wish you knew when you started or what’s one piece of advice that you’d share with a younger version of yourself?

[ 25:48 ] – Finish more smaller projects. Don’t try to make gargantuan things. I’ve made a hundred projects and released them and maybe three of them have gotten any traction. And so if you don’t release your hundredth project, you don’t know which three will go […] All the walls between disciplines are invisible and not really there even though we pretend that they are.

[ 26:37 ] – Software isn’t about sorting numbers. It’s about sorting numbers that it does things that humans feel are important or are delighted by. So you need to know humans before you make software for them.