An instrumented simulator for a Lemmings-like computer game

This program simulates the execution of a simplified version of a computer game called Lemmings; it is based on an open-source clone called Pingus. In this game, between 10 and 100 autonomous, penguin-like characters (the Pingus) progressively enter a level from a trapdoor and start walking across the area. A Pingu keeps walking in the same direction until it either reaches a wall (in which case it turns around) or falls into a gap (and dies, if it falls from too high).

The goal of the game is to have a minimum percentage of the incoming Pingus safely reach the exit door. To this end, the player can give special abilities to certain Pingus, allowing them to modify the landscape in order to create a walkable path to the goal. For example, some Pingus can become Bashers and dig into the ground; others can become Builders and construct a staircase to reach over a gap. Other abilities modify the behaviour of other Pingus: hence the Blocker stands in the way and makes any Pingu that reaches it turn around as if it encountered a wall. Each level starts with a fixed number of times each ability can be used; in some cases the puzzle is not so much to find a path to the goal, but rather to achieve it using the limited number of abilities made available to the player.

Monitoring Pingus

Previous research has shown how the execution of this game can be monitored, and bugs in the implementation of the game's mechanics be detected by means of formal specifications.

When running, the game updates the playing field about 60 times per second; the game's main loop can be instrumented so that it produces an XML snapshot of its state similar to the one shown below:


Each such snapshot contains the ID, status, position and velocity of every Pingu on the game field. The same Pingu is given the same ID across all events in the same execution.

The program in this repository simulates the execution of the video game, and produces such a trace of XML events. It also has the ability to display the execution graphically, complete with animated sprites taken from the original Lemmings game. However, contrary to the regular game, it has a number of original features aimed at using it as a runtime monitoring benchmark:

  • New levels can be created by means of special image maps
  • It can record, and then replay the interactions made by the user on a game
  • The number of Pingus in a level can be modified
  • Some characters can be turned into "buggy" ones, which do not behave exactly like they should. This is useful for creating execution traces that violate a specification.

Compiling and Running

To compile the generator, make sure you have the following:

  • The Java Development Kit (JDK) to compile. The generator complies with Java version 6; it is probably safe to use any later version.
  • Ant to automate the compilation and build process

From the project's root folder, compile the sources by simply typing:


This will produce a file called pingu-generator.jar in the folder. This file is runnable and stand-alone.

Running in Normal Mode

The "normal" mode of the generator works like a simplified and interactive version of the game. Simply start it by typing:

java -jar pingu-generator.jar

By default, the program starts in a default level (called "level-0"), shows the level's map in a new window, and introduces 10 Pingus into the level. You can see the characters being animated in the window, as below:


You can interact with the characters; clicking on one of them "selects" it. Once it is selected, you can use the keyboard to give it a special ability:

  • b: blocker
  • d: builder
  • h: basher
  • w: walker
  • x: blower

Use Esc to quit or close the window.

When hovering the mouse over a Pingu, the standard output displays its current state.

However, the point of the program is not to play with it, but rather to generate execution traces. You can do so by using the --trace option, followed by a file name:

java -jar pingu-generator.jar --trace out.xml

The program still starts in normal (i.e. interactive) mode, but writes to out.xml a trace of XML events giving the status of the game at each cycle of the main loop (as we said, about 60 times per second).

Generating Faulty Traces

As we said, a way of generating traces with errors is to give some characters some "buggy" abilities; these characters are called the rebels. This can be done in the same way as normal abilities, but using different keys:

  • W: creates a Rebel Walker (who ignores blockers and walks past them)
  • I: creates an Invincible Jumper (who always survives to a fall, regardless of its height)
  • B: creates a Slacker Blocker (who blocks other Pingus for 5 s, and then resumes walking)
  • H: creates a Basher Blocker (a Basher that becomes a Blocker (instead of a Walker) when it is done bashing
  • F: creates a Fragile Faller (who always dies (by blowing) when it hits the ground)

These buggy abilities can be used to generate traces that violate some formal specification (see below).

Replay Mode

Replaying the same user interaction on variants of the game (with or without bugs, or with a different number of Pingus on the game field) is next to impossible with the original game. The simulator provides the capability to simulate user interactions by reading from a "script" called the piano roll.

Outputting to a piano roll is done with the --roll command line option; for example, the following call will write the roll to a file called file.txt when the program is closed:

java -jar pingu-generator.jar --roll file.txt

A line in the roll looks like this:


It is made of three elements:

  • The number of animation steps corresponding to the "time" of the event
  • The ID of the character on which to assign a new ability
  • The name of the ability to give the character (must correspond to a class name in the package ca.uqac.lif.pingus.characters

This simple format means that such a file can also be written directly by the user (if you know what you are doing).

Given such a piano roll, one can replay a sequence of interactions using the --replay argument:

java -jar pingu-generator.jar --replay file.txt

By default, the interaction is replayed in the GUI; the resulting execution can be written to an XML file using the --trace option, as above.

Headless Execution and Image Sequence

The execution can be started in "headless" mode, meaning that no user interface will be shown, using the --headless command line option. If --headless is present, arguments --replay and --trace must also be present.

The execution can also be exported as a sequence of PNG images. This can be useful to investigate the execution of the level on a frame-by-frame basis. The --images flag can be used to this end. It will output a sequence of images called image-XXX.png in the current directory.


Monitoring on the Pingus video game has been described in further detail in the following paper:

S. Varvaressos, K. Lavoie, S. Gaboury, S. Hallé. (2017). Automated Bug Finding in Video Games: A Case Study for Runtime Monitoring. Computers in Entertainment 15(1): 1-28. ACM. DOI: 10.1145/2700529

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