Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Digra 2009

DIGRA 2009 was held at Brunel University, in the outskirts of London, the same university where A Clockwork Orange was shot. The conference took place the 1st to the 4th of September, that is, three months ago.

The most prominent memories I have from the conference is:
  • Richard Bartle's grumpy keynote, where he highlighted the lack of fundamentals of games expressed in formal syntaxes.
  • Michael Mateas' speech the day after where he presented an embryo of what Bartle had asked for - an operational logics for games. In the EIS lab he and others, such as Mark Nelson, make applications which generate small games where each game has specific generated rules. Without a way of expressing these rules in abstract combinable ways the work would of course be impossible.
  • Noah Wardrip Fruins talk about the concept of agency in games. This was of special interest to me since I have found the term a bit difficult to use in writing. Noah provided a good take on it, i highly recommend reading his paper.
  • Doris Rusch's speech about the human condition in games. She brings up an important subject which I have longed for someone to take up in the manner she does.

A strong memory is of how Celia Pearce arranged a dinner for us who had misinterpreted the registration form and had missed out registering for the conference dinner. The whole lot of us went to a pub nearby and had a terrific evening together. Another joyful memory is that of Grethe Mitchell who guided us in London and made sure that Maggie Greene got the food she longed for and the rest of us enjoyed.

I was in a somewhat distracted, or busy, state of mind the first days of the conference. Me and my husband travelled on the Sunday, and on the Saturday I had finalised my PhD thesis after a summer death-march which I hope to never experience again (though the sense of synthesis one gets by relentlessly working around the clock, saying no to everything else, and i mean everything, and overcoming the urge to give up and lay down and die over and over again is quite interesting and wonderful). That left me with having to prepare my two speeches during the conference, and since I was apprehensive about holding them I couldn't really take in information until I had delivered what I was supposed to deliver. But I have the printout of the conference program which I had in my handbag, and from that, and my photos, I can reconstruct a chronology of which presentations I went to.

Day 1
Jenny, Anton, Mattias and me had company on the train on our way to Brunel in the morning. We stayed at a hotel at Baker Street.
Mattias and me on the train to Brunel Uni IMG_9886 Anton and Jenny on the train to Brunel Uni IMG_9884

Conference Introduction

David Roberts held an interesting speech about Game AI as storytelling, but were concentrating on classic zero-sum games such as chess. They were checking trajectories (chains of events) to see which ones would be nice from a narrative perspective. It was great seeing David again. We were in the same lab at GaTech in 2005, and I hadn't seen him since. (... I remember we worried about the customs since I was bringing a decoration gun home to Sweden as a present for my dad, but that it in the end was absolutely no problem, it was endearingly riding in my pink HK bag and the gun got compliments by the customs staff who thought it would be a great present, which it was, my dad loved it... er... I digress.)
David Roberts IMG_9888

Next was Arnav Jhala and Anders Drachen (formerly Tychsen) whose speech was named "Towards Data Driven Drama Management: Issues in Data Collection and Annotation". They discussed how RPGs are difficult to record given the multiple participants, multitude of story line, and other factors, and described a test made in order to find ways to annotate the material in useful ways, and proposed a DM system. This will be useful for me to look at when planning the next batch of tests to make with PI.
DM system, arnav and anders IMG_9908

Here is Michael Nitsche
Michael Nitsche IMG_9910

...and Michael Jakobsson:
Mikael Jakobsson IMG_9914

Day 2

I spent the morning in this sofa preparing my speech:

Paul Martin: ‘Meaningful Movement: The Labyrinth and ‘Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’. Paul borrowed my computer (which i had borrowed from my husband) and I was fretting about my own speech, but luckily Paul's speech was so intersting so i forgot about that. His take on spacial puzzles in adventure games was very interesting.
Paul Martin IMG_9925

...and then I held my speech. It was titled "Emotional Attachments for Story Construction in Virtual Game Worlds". I gave a recount about how sentiment work in the WoM and PI prototypes, and a play test of them, and what I found. I got a lot of good questions, both about test methods and about issues related to story construction.
The evening before Anders Drachen helped me to size down the presentation (uploaded here), I think we managed to take out more than 20 slides. I which Anders would always be around - I tend to put too much into the presenations, afraid that I will forget something important.

Doris Rusch: Mechanisms of the Soul – Tackling the Human Condition in Videogames:


digra meeting, new board was appointed

Day 3
Just before lunch I participated in a panel moderated by Markinka Copier, whith Jaakko Stenros, Anders Drachen, Michael Hitchens, and Marcus Montola. We discussed the subject "Role-Playing Games: The state of knowledge." We had each prepared a short presentation (mine is uploaded here), and then the discussion was steered by Marinka and questions from the audience. I remember it as an interesting discussion where many different viewpoints and opinions were voiced in good humour. Afterwards someone asked what the conflict had been about that was reported on Twitter, but I don't remember any real conflict, or even heat, but then again I don't trust my own judgement on those kinds of issues. In our panel we each talked about RP in quite different settings - Jaakko concentrating on the Nordic LARP scene, Marcus digging up very controversial RP topics on many different platforms and Michael and Anders more focused on table top RPing and game mastering while I am more focused on systemic aspects of RP possibilities (and how to engineer systems for them) in MMOs.

The afternoon was filled with keynotes.
Mark Haley and his colleague told us about how the team behind Little Big Planet worked with the art for the game.
Keynote: the art of little big planet IMG_9938

Richard Bartle started out his keynote with listing things he did not want to see in research focusing on games. He was pointing at examples of bad research practice, and I think many of us in the audience were doing backtracks: "am I guilty of this?"
Audience IMG_0002
The point he was getting to in the end was this:
Richard Bartle IMG_9993
The day after he elaborated on the need for formalism in game studies in a blogpost at the following URL:

In his keynote 'Video Games are a mess' Ian Bogost ran through a number of potential answers to the question 'What is a game?', and gave recount of the old ludology-narratology debate. He then went on to the subject of platform studies and raised some philosophical questions (speculative realism).
Ian Bogost IMG_0006

In the evening those of us who had misunderstood the registration form detail about the conference dinner gathered at a pub, herded there by Celia
IMG_0024 IMG_0025 IMG_0026 IMG_0023 For fish and chips IMG_0022

Day 4

David Myers: In search of a minimalist game
David Myers: In search of a minimalist game IMG_0032

Mike Treanor: Newsgames:Procedural Rhetoric meets political cartoons
Mike Treanor: News games IMG_0050

Douglas Easterly: Evolutionary Connections for Digital Gaming
Douglas Easterly: Evolutionary Connections for Digital Gaming IMG_0055

Justin Parsler: Agency and Free Will Debate
Justin Parsler: Agency and Free Will Debate IMG_0063

Noah Wardrip Fruin: Agency Reconsidered
Noah Wardrip Fruin: Agency Reconsidered IMG_0066

Michael Mateas: Defining Operational Logics
Michael Mateas: Defining Operational Logics IMG_0099

dinner day 4
Grethe Mitchell and me IMG_0176 Maggie Greene, David Thomas, Jenny Brusk IMG_0175 Grethe and Jesper IMG_0174 David Thomas and me IMG_0169 Maggie Greene and me IMG_0159 Jesper IMG_0161 Jenny and me IMG_0166

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tales of the Arabian Nights

Every now and then we at the game department at Gotland University gather to play games, an yesterday we played the boardgame The tales of the Arabian Nights by Eric Goldberg at Jakob's place.

My character was Sheherazade, but I was turned into a donkey. During the game - i had a fad for looking too closely at mysterious artifacts - I became an envious donkey on pilgrimage, but was imprisoned. Peter won the game by doing a lot of grovelling, while Jakob had the worst luck of us all. He was Alladin, and was crippled, wounded, scorned at had a useless princess tagging along by his squeaking wheel chair. I went kloppetiklop. Albertina spent most of the time doing her quest king of thieves, trying to gather the two eyes of (..Llamia? I forget).

Tales of the Arabian Nights has this nice combination of a book of tales and a matrix of different actions that were slightly but not too much randomized by die-rolls. Events were triggered by encounter-cards, while the tale of the event given by player action (chosen from one of several matrices) modded by a dice (-1, 0, 1) and then found in the book, containing tellings of thousands of tales.

more about the game:

2009-10-15 21.07.21

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Alice and Kev in Sims 3

Alice and Kev is a story about two homeless characters in Sims 3, played and written about by Robin Burkinshaw. Burkinshaw writes about what happens as he playes the game, each interpretation he makes in the text is based on an event.

The new version of Sims, which I haven’t played yet, seem to be an even better environment for story construction. I made a small story in Sims 2 to try it out. It was impressive then and it seems it has improved in a number of ways. Burkinshaw gives clues to the function in his text without making the text dry. Something new seems to be that characters mood is affected by how they feel about persons that are in geographic proximity. Since this is a feature I have been curios to test in my own prototypes I really wish I could spend time looking at, how it works in Sims. But that will have to happen after the dissertation is written. Only a few weeks left now.

I really recommend reading the story about Alice and Kev – it is a good story. Burkinshaw has made characters that appear, as many of the people commenting on the story says, as real people. Real people as in round characters that can act in a way that clearly distinguish them as characters with personalities, but still behave in interesting and surprising ways.

My favorite chapter is “Selflessness”. The character Alice has after many hardships finally managed to get her first salary. Only to give it away… It’s almost painful to read, knowing how much she needs that little money herself. Burkinshaw expresses in the text how his role as author/player becomes dramatic by the need to make a choice – he doesn’t really want Alice to give the money away, but lets her anyway, letting her act according to her character.
It is also interesting is to read the comments on the chapter, where the first comments are about how real Alice feels as a character, and how beautiful her gift of charity is. Then comes another interpretation by the user Danuab:
“It doesn’t mean anything. Alice has likely internalised her father’s distaste and abuse and developed a negative self-concept. She isn’t giving money away because she’s altruistic, she’s giving it away because she doesn’t think she’s worth it.”

Now we are talking. Not only have we a game that can not only generate emergent story construction that is seen by players as meaningful enough to narrate to others, we also have critical comments and interpretations of the narrative and the characters.

Games as an art form has come a long way. This is a milestone!


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Demo Session day 4 FDG2009

In the demo session we got the chance to look closer at the applications presented at the conference.
The demo session reminds me of the ACE conference, but here at FDG it was more weaved into the program: It was put late, so that one could go and look closer at those applications that had sparkled an interest during the paper presentations. All conferences in this field should do it like this! As you can see in the picture below, the room was packed.

FDG Demo session (IMG_9111)

Here is Ken Hullet from the EIS lab, showing his scenario generation app for emergency rescue training games.

Ken in the demo session (IMG_9107)

Ken is using a hierarchical task network planner that (I asked) can be used for other systems. (Note to self: don’t forget.)

In the corner next to the show of KODU I saw people with space-like goggles on holding a piece of carton with a pattern on. They were looking totally immersed as they were carefully tilting it in different angels. I asked to try, and lo and behold (as Yasmin Kafai would say), when I was wearing the goggles, and looking at the patterned piece of carton things appeared on it! By tilting the carton piece I could steer a ball that would roll in different directions through a maze.

I remember looking at other applications for augmented games. A group at Fraunhofer made the cross media game Epidemic menace, where the goggles provide an overlay of fictional content on the reality through the goggles – the goggle covered only one eye, and through it one could see how the otherwise invisible viruses where moving around in the environment where one was standing.
Another augmented gaming solution that comes to mind is Sony’s The Eye of Judgment that I saw at TGS 2006.

IMG_4553-me-with-virus-view IMG_4554-poster-cross-media The Eye of Judgement demonstation at TGS 2006
(1)Fraunhofer, Virus game, me trying on goggles, (2) Poster of the epidemic menace game from Fraunhofer, (3) Sony’s the The Eye of Judgement, (TGS 2006)

There are many other systems, but somehow… well that could be me being ignorant, but somehow they don’t seem to fly out to the world. I see an initial presentation, I get enthusiastic, but then they fade into silence. On the other hand: these are early, brave, expensive projects that are heavy on the tech. They fly by showing what is possible. Paving the way.

Now, the system shown at FDG is called Goblin XNA for Augmented Reality research and Games, is open source and builds upon XNA. This combined with that the goggles are cheap makes it suddenly very accessible to work with! Perhaps this could be one of the applications that start trotting along the pavement laid out by sweat, blood and tears of the earlier projects. We will see. For my part I’m putting Goblin into my “future box” (things I want to play with when I’m done with the dissertation).

called Goblin XNA for Augmented Reality research and Games (IMG_9114)

Damien Isla on AI aided content creation, FDG2009 day 4

Damian Isla, Founder, Naimad Games, Next-Gen Content Creation for Next-Gen AI

Damian Isla approached the area of content creation aided by AI for games by looking at two possible solutions: (1) Michael Mateas’ standpoint of the need for a new breed of engineering competent designers, and (2) Chris Hecker’s standpoint of the need for better authoring paradigms (“The Photoshop of AI”). Damian showed examples of state of the art applications from three categories:
(1) Causal ”when a happens do B”,
(2)Learning (and behavior capture), and

For each of the categories he showed screenshots of interfaces illustrating the approaches, among them Endorphin (NaturalMotion), Havoc Behavior, Autodesk, The Restaurant game (Jeff Orkin), AC Knowledge viewer (TruSoft), Assassins Creed (Ubisoft), Halo 3, The Sims, F.E.A.R (Monolith Productions), Final Fantasy 12 (Square Enix),SPIRPOS AI, Zombie (Steve Marotti, Nihilistic Software), Situation Editor (Brian Schwab, Sony), BT Editor Prototype (Alex Champanard), Fa├žade (Mateas & Stern).

Damian went on quoting Stanislavsky (whereupon I almost fell in love with the speech),

Damian Quoting Stanislavsky IMG_9167

AI Method acting IMG_9173

and then showed a mockup of the office assistant helping out with a suicide letter (where I DID fall in love),

Dear World IMG_9174

and closed his circle of arguments by looking at the two possible solutions. Damian thinks we need both, and I agree. It’s not new saying that AI needs to be done in coop with designers, but what Damian is saying that is it should be done BY designers – either in code, or by using the technical solutions for content creation. (And we need more of those). I might of course be biased given the work I do… but hey, there is a reason for it. Yay for Damian!

Both Solutions (IMG_9177)

I understood later in the day that I had missed a really good speech in the morning: Tan Le’s presentation about Emotive “The Brain - Revolutionary Interface for Next-Generation Digital Media”. Emotive has developed a helmet that listens to the EEG waves of the brain and managed to make a system that can filter the noise from the signals good enough to enable a player to move 3D objects with pure thought! Still in Orlando after having disembarked the ship I watched a presentation of the system that is out on YouTube. …Would the Marvin, who is up on stage there, be Marvin Minski? I really hope that I can swing some time after I’m done with the dissertation to play around with the system: there is an SDK for it. (Thanks David Gibson for sending me the link and summarizing her whole speech in conversation :))

FDG day 3, afternoon and pirate night

We spent the afternoon ashore, and after returning to the ship it was time for the poster session and a panel about Academic/Industry Collaboration.

Here are the posters that I found most interesting:

mammoth poster IMG_9034

affective game engines requirements poster IMG_9036

Panel IMG_9046
Panel about Academic/Industry Collaboration.
Steve Berman (Founder & CEO, Transformative Media Consortium and COO, IP Pacific/Canada), Mark Overmars (Utrecht University), Magy Seif El-Nasr (Simon Fraser University), Kurt Squire (University of Wisconsin) and Bill Swartout (USC/ICT)

The dinner theme was pirate costumes, and the EISers (joined by Ian and Maggie) went all out on! (i kept wishing i had bought the pirate hat i found in Nassau)
Pirate night! (IMG_9059)