Thursday, June 14, 2012

Workshop on Research Prototyping in Games - Morning sessions

 In the end of May Elina Ollila, Anne Sullivan and I held the Workshop on Research Prototyping in Games [], in Raleigh, NC in junction with the FDG conference.

I started out in the morning with the welcome speech, presenting the scope for the workshop, as well as the schedule. We also did a short presentation round gauging what expectations everyone had for the day. In short, the scope of the workshop was to address how actual hands on prototyping work can, as a method, potentially yield knowledge that would not otherwise emerge. The work process can also yield new interesting questions because often, the resolution of one problem can reveal new interesting problems. For this workshop we asked for submissions of prototypes that are built specifically to explore certain problems or areas of investigation. We gathered a program committee consisting of equal amounts of persons working in the industry and universities respectively, all with extensive experience in the area. 

Mark Nelson: Prototyping
Kant-inspired Reflexive Game Mechanics

The first speaker was Mark Nelson, presenting Prototyping Kant-inspired Reflexive Game Mechanics. Mark presented varieties of two prototypes in order to illustrate Kant’s maxim that one should only do actions that one thinks can be made into universal rules. For example, if one steals, then one would see that as something that would be OK for everyone to do, or even should do.

One Prototype Mark showed was a Pac Man style game where it was possible to break down the walls, and where each hole in the wall became permanent. The other prototype was a variety of chess where it was possible to change the rules, for example get a pawn to behave as a knight. 


In both cases Kant’s maxim was exemplified in that an action was propagated as a rule change, elevating the action to a universal rule. Something that was rewarding to see was that other aspects of game mechanics became interesting in a new way too as a side effect of the exploration of Kantian rule. (Such as how power-ups can be considered to be rule-breakers in some contexts.) 

I kept thinking about constitutive rule systems, something that Richard Evans mentioned at a seminar on AI for games in Dagstuhl a few weeks ago. Most rule systems are restrictive rather than constitutive, meaning that the whole rule system is there from the beginning, but that different actants within the system are restricted to certain parts of the rules. Like in a computer role playing game, a character of a certain class can do what the class dictates, depending on the circumstances, being restricted to a part of the rule system. Constitutive rules on the other hand are, as the name suggest, constituted during play. One example is the card game Dominion, and another is the system Evans and Short are building where a character's action potential is defined by what social practices they are currently engaged in. At least that is how I understand the terms. I might be wrong. I digged, after a reference from Richard E., into a paper by John Rawls on the topic: "Two Concepts of Rules" (1955). 

To me it seems that what Mark is doing is to take a fixed restrictive rule system, chess, and add constitutional rules to it. In play tests it turned out, not surprisingly, that if rules could be freely changed the game quickly became unplayable (too large combinations space), while that with a few restrictions it was more playable... writing this I remember someone in the audience talking about some interesting chess-hybrid, but the name escapes me. Anyhow, I appreciated Mark's talk a lot; to me it showed that prototyping using computational processes can actually illustrate philosophical stances, which is awesome. Other interesting work in the area is Julian Togelius work on the same maxim by Kant. I also have a fuzzy memory of Richard Evans using his B&W code in an experiment to simulate something...philosophical (argh - beating memory with a stick, but it doesn't help).

Emmet Tomai presenting
at WRPG'12

Our second speaker was Emmet Tomai, who presented An MMORPG Prototype for Investigating Adaptive Quest Narratives and Player Behavior. Emmet showed the prototype which is built in Unity 3D, using the SmartFox Server 2X and MySQL. Emmet and his colleagues are investigating how it can be possible to improve "trade-off between the ability for authors to tell motivating narratives and the ability for players to change the world", which in my humble opinion is one of the most important issues of gaming to address. And in order to do so they need to build something own from scratch. My applauds! In this phase they are experimenting with different types of quest generation. (Very close to what Anne is doing.)  I'll be following their future work as closely as I can.  

Testing the Designscape
– Prototyping a Game Prototyping Tool - Jon Manker

After the break we had two speeches about methods for prototyping. Jon Manker presented his game prototyping the tool DesignScape, which we actually tried out in the afternoon prototyping session, and Elina gave an overview of different prototyping- and assessment methods.

Elina Ollila presenting
at WRPG'12

We went to lunch together, talking about what to prototype in the afternoon. I'll write about that in the next post. 


Mark Nelson said...

Thanks for the very interesting comments on my paper, both here and at the workshop! It was a quite intellectually stimulating workshop, with a lot of connections / follow-ups / questions arising that I wouldn't have otherwise thought of. Thanks to you, Elina, and Anne for organizing it.

I've put my paper online here, fwiw.

Nick Kay said...

I'm in my second and final year of my game development diploma at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment in Sydney, Australia. So impressed by the wealth of knowledge resources on game prototyping you're able to share. Keep it up!