Archive: April, 2009

Mads Haahr on Ico and Ant Attack

[Talks] (04.28.09, 3:44 pm)

Visiting scholar Mads Haahr gave a talk on Monday entitled “Saving the Dead Girl: Emotion and Gender in Ant Attack and Ico.” This was a very useful talk, based on a paper that I believe is going to be published (but has not been yet). In the talk, Haahr explained some reasoning behind the emotional appeal of Ico (as well as Ant Attack), compared this to mainstream games, and anchored the emotional dimension within Jungian psychology. Here I will try to give a review of some of the salient points of the talk, and then try to articulate a question that I asked but was not able to express clearly at the time.

The opening part of the talk looks at the relationship between games and narrative. I think though, that here, narrative is not an end of itself, but is rather a means to produce an emotional response. While there is a dilemma regarding the relationship between narrative and interactivity, there is less of a problem between emotional communication and interactivity. After all, we rarely see problems with emotional communication in sculpture, architecture, or art installations. Many of these are explicitly designed to be (if not interacted with) engaged with and navigated, requiring an active particpant, as a player of a game might engage with the game world.

Mainstream games traditionally appeal to adolescent males, the narrative scope of these games is generally quite narrow (permeations of the monomyth), and the emotional spectrum of these is also extremely narrow as well. Beyond this, they tend to present very clear outlooks on the relationship between the player and the moral scope of the world, that is, well defined and delineated extremes of good and evil. The combined mythologies of thes is that “evil exists, and can be shot.”

However, if games can indeed communicate emotionally, they must broaden their spectrum. Haahr asked the question of “Where is the game equivalent of Casablanca?” In order to examine how games might produce a more rich spectrum of emotional responses, Haahr turns to the examples of Ico and Ant Attack, and the robust toolkit of Jungian psychology. Players of Ico generally reported a great variety of emotional experiences. Among the emotional experiences were such unusual (for games, anyway) responses such as sadness, despair, solitude, and loss. Haahr’s analysis of the game cuts across the game in dimensions of story, aesthetics, and gameplay.

It is also notable interjecting here that the analysis resembles the dimensions of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics. In Haahr’s lecture, aesthetics is meant to be the spatial design, colors, sounds, and so on. There deserves to be some exploration of how these dimensions might interweave and relate to each other, but that is beyond the scope here.

It is worth at this point giving a quick summary of the two games in question. Ico was published around 2001, and while being technically innovative and being very well received by critics and reviewers, was relatively unsuccessful commercially. It is about a young boy, Ico, with horns who is taken from his village and imprisoned in a remote castle, he manages to break free and explores the castle, finding a girl, Yorda, and they (ultimately) manage to escape together. The story itself is simple in its fairy tale nature, and is extremely minimal.

Ant Attack, by contrast, was published in 1983 for the XZ Spectrum and Commodore 64. It has a much more explicit story, though the story is given as a background and does not come to affect play that much. The player can choose whether to be “boy” or “girl” and must navigate the city of Antescher to find the other character and escape. Despite the ostensible differences, the games have several similar characteristics.

Both games have players exploring a huge labyrinthine and ancient environment. Both have two main characters about whom little is known, other than the fact that they are magical. There are only two characters and a number of nearly identical nostile NPCs, and otherwise no (or very few) supporting characters. Both require escape and companionship, where the player finds the companion inside the labyrinth and must escape with the companion in tow.

Visually, both games make use of a limited color palette. In Ico, most of the castle is in a grayscale, with neutral tones and soft lighting. Green is used in a few areas to evoke optimisim, while the areas in the despondent portions of the game contain dark blue-grays. The color red is used only in Ico’s shirt and in Yorda’s eyes at the end. While Ico clashes with the castle, Yorda’s colors also are in monochrome, making her seem of the castle. In Ant Attack, a grayscale palette is used for the characters and the environment. The menu contains bright colors, and is in dramatic contrast to the actual gameplay. In both, the use of gray evokes loneliness and emptiness.

Both games make use of ambient sounds, but do not use music. Ant Attack notably does not use music even though music was very popular in contemporary games.

In terms of gameplay, both games are about escape. The player’s activity involves spatial exploration, but it is a forced exploration. There is no treasure in either. In Ico, the player explores the whole castle through a single play through, while in Ant Attack, the play is repeated. Both involve a forced familiarity with the environment. Unlike many other games, the games include an element of dependency. Going it alone is not an option. Many mainstream games involve self-preservation rather than protection of another. In Ico, the characters of Ico and Yorda are complimentary, and the play involves puzzles that emphasize the difference in the characters’ abilities. While the two work together, theirs is “an awkward, clumsy union.” In Ant Attack, the gender is irrelevant, and the characters are completely symmetric. The only division is between rescuer and rescued. In both games, the companion is discovered within the space.

Haahr’s analysis looks specifically at Jungian archetypes and how these fit and can be used to analyze the games. Jung’s archetypes were meant to form a “psychological morphology,” so just as human physical morphology includes two arms and two legs, the psychological morphology includes a persona, ego, self, shadow self, and anima/animus. This is meant to be a foundation where any given individual can be expected to have these parts in their whole psychological being. Psychological development occurs through a process of “individuation,” where the self is realized through the agency of the ego. The ego is stable and clear, and in dream analysis is equated to a clear, known structure, such as a house. The shadow self is a collection of the parts of one’s being that is not associated with the conscious self. This exists within the subconscious, which is unknown. In dream analysis, the subconscious is manifested as a wandering labyrinth, which is unknown and expansive. The deep subconscious is often manifested as the ocean. The anima and animus represent the qualities of the self that are percieved as lacking. A central element to Jungian psychology is projection, the process by which elements of the subconscious (such as the anima and shadow self) are projected onto others. The shadow is projected onto others whom one dislikes, who posess characteristics that one has but dislikes, while the anima is generally projected onto the object of romantic desire.

In both of Ico and Ant Attack, the space can be seen as representing the unconscious. In Ico, the character of Ico himself is clearly an ego, who is explicit and well defined, while Yorda is “fascinatingly vague,” like Jung’s anima. The shadow archetypes are more or less explicitly manifested as the shadow demons. It bears noting that, like Ico, the shadows too have horns, and are implied to be the spirits of other children with horns (and that had Ico not esacped he would become one as well). Yorda belongs in the castle as the anima belongs in the unconscious, this is why she is of the castle. In the rescue sequence at the end, Yorda escapes from the castle, and is brought from the unconscious realm to the conscious, and this is manifested by the appearance of color in her. The sinking of the castle into the ocean can be seen to represent the unconscious domain of the castle merging with the deeper collective unconcious, much like the fading of a dream upon waking. The process by which subconscious elements are brought into the conscious is individuation, but this is not meant to be a single occurrence, but a repeated process, as part of one’s growth, and a phenomenon that occurs within Ant Attack. These games work not only because of the use of explicit emotional invocation, but because of their play on psychological identity.

At the end of the talk there was time for some questions. One point that I raised was that while most mainstream games are about self-preservation, many games involve a quest to save an other (as in Mario), but in these cases the other is an idealized figure, who plays a nearly insignificant part as a character within the game. This is an absent other, rather than a present other, as is the case with the psychological anima.

A question that I wanted to ask was about the matter of authorship. Early on, Haahr asked the question of the equivalent of Casablanca (which is a question in a long vein of criticism), but there is an interesting discrepancy between the analysis of games and the analysis of film and other media. Generally, in analysis of film or other forms of art, a great deal of attention is paid to the idea of intention and meaning. While auteur theory is problematic on many levels, film criticism is frequently tied up with the idea that the director is the primary author and creative agent behind a film. Analysis of the plot or scenes in Casablanca, Citizen Kane, or The Shining tend may invoke dimensions of psychology, but this analysis tends to be motivated toward deciphering and discovering the meaning and intention of the artist. I do not mean to endorse this as the proper form of film criticism or suggest that it should be applied to games, but it does raise an important issue. Jungian psychology may be invoked in analysis, but there is also a question of how it can be used by the authors of a game.

It is all well and good to analyze games and discover their emotional appeal, but it is also disconcerting that few contemporary games can communicate emotions so effectively as these two titles. It is also troubling that, despite its clear artistic merit, that Ico was so commercially unsuccessful. On one hand, this is hardly surprising, as the “artistic” examples of popular media tend to be less commercial (if Ernest Adams wants to find his Merchant Ivory, he should look here), but game publishers tend to primarily be interested in stability of sales. A final distressing element is the fact that despite its emotional strength and psychological depth, that Ico is still a young-adult monomythic fairy tale. I am not interested in telling more serious types of stories (game designers should not be caught up in thinking about linear stories), but I do think that games should be able to produce the same types of emotional effects that those stories do. We need to leverage psychological analysis to be able to do better psychological design.

More on Jason Rohrer

[General] (04.25.09, 12:14 pm)

Posted by Ben Medler. Watching this may be easier than reading my notes….

Then again, I don’t know why it’s not possible to skip ahead.

Beyond Single Player – Jason Rohrer from Ben on Vimeo.

Ladytron again!

[Concerts] (04.22.09, 12:53 am)

Ladytron came to play in Atlanta on Saturday. Audrey and I went along with a couple of friends. It was again a magnificent experience, but was not quite as intense as the last one. The original item on the Variety website I thought read Ladytron with The Faint, but I may have been mistaken. The opening set was done by a strange noise/distortion band, The Crocodiles, they were fun, but a little oddball. After they left, we waited for a while as the tech crew changed the set, and… surprisingly, Ladytron came on. Which was puzzling, since we were expecting them to be the main act… The set was good, it was very similar to the last time, and I shouted and hollered, but they still wouldn’t play Blue Jeans. Tragic I say. Halfway through their set, in the middle of Witching Hour, the sound on the microphones went out, which was a little distressing. I think the audience managed to shout along enough as support through the remainder of the song. It was very odd, as though a hole was punched through the song. For a group that relies so strongly on electronic support, the song changes texture dramatically when a piece is removed. I don’t remember if this was the case last time, but the vocals also seemed to be much more blurred and distorted beneath the rest of the instruments, they lacked that crisp clarity that Ladytron tends to have.

Afterwards, the band leaves, and we waited for half an hour as they got ready for the next act. The doors also opened, and a lot of people who were standing around us actually left. During this time, more people moved to the front, making the crowd denser. It was also a different texture of crowd, more aggressive. Eventually, The Faint came on. I had never heard them before, but the music was pretty interesting, so I am planning on checking them out further. As they played though, the audience convulsed and started banging up against us. I am thinking of it pretty fondly now in retrospect, but it was infuriating at the time. I guess that the kinetic jostling of the crowd is part of the experience of the concert, and it can’t really be separated from any other part of it. It was also wierd because most of the people surrounding us seemed to know the band, know the music, and know the lyrics. It was a feeling of sudden estrangement. I am much more familiar with Ladytron, shouted along to their music, and then suddenly was a stranger in a very different environment.

Fun, still, despite all.

MDA: It’s not just for games anymore

[General] (04.21.09, 10:21 pm)

MDA is a framework for analyzing games, originally developed by Marc LeBlanc of Mind Control Software. MDA stands for Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics, and is presented as a layered approach to analyzing and designing games. Creators of games come from the perspective of writing mechanics (rules), which result in some dynamics when the game is played. Players are less attached to the rules, but experience the effects of the dynamics, and this results in some sort of aesthetic experience. Marc LeBlanc developed MDA originally as a system that would allow for gradual iterative development of design, where each of mechanics dynamics and aesthetics can be examined individually. Each could be subject to analysis and design. If a particular aesthetic experience was desired, for instance, “discovery,”  then the designer could work backwards and develop dynamics that would encourage feelings of discovery, and then mechanics that would generate those dynamic systems. Core to this theory is the understanding of how each of these layers interacts with the others.

Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek describe a taxonomy of several explicit aesthetic terms. The ones listed are sensation, fantasy, narrative, challenge, fellowship, discovery, expression, and submission, though the authors make clear that many more aesthetic goals are possible. What is interesting about these aesthetic goals is that they tend to be closely associated with genres (either individually, or in groups). For instance, roleplaying games tend to stronly value fantasy and narrative; casual games are frequently passtimes, so they fall under the category of submission; first person shooter games tend to be about challenge, sensation, and competition. Individual games will of course have different aesthetic goals (especially in terms of order of importance), but genre can be seen as closely tied to specific aesthetic patterns. This is the case not only in games, but in other media as well. In film (and I am speaking exceedingly generally), the romance genre is closely tied to particular emotional responses, sympathy, hope, joy; the genre of summer action movies is strongly tied to sensation and exhilaration; horror films have aesthetics of fear and suspense, often surprise. In prose fiction (and non-fiction, imaginably) too genres are still tied to aesthetics and emotions. While films and novels may be formulaic, we do not see and read them for the formulas, we enjoy them for the experience of seeing of reading. We enjoy them because we get something out of them.

In discussing film and novels specifically, it should be clear that I am talking about narrative. In doing so, it will be important to remember that narrative is bipartite, containing both (using Chatman’s terms) story and discourse. Story is the plot, the characters and events that make play out in the narrative, while discourse is how this information is presented. In text, discourse is in terms of writing, using literary techniques and devices to communicate, while in film the discourse is a visual language. The most clear way of looking at narrative in terms of mechanics is structurally or formally, where both the story and discourse must obey a set of rules to fall within a genre. This approach tends toward narratives whose plots obey certain formulas, often culminating in three or nine part structures. This approach is often used for analysis of narratives, and is used in writing, but primarily in terms of making sure that the written narrative has a suitable structure. However, there is a dimension missing: structural analysis misses the dimension of dynamics. While we enjoy narratives for the experience of them, we require the structures to be played out. Structures alone cannot be played out, though. It is necessary to rethink the ideas of mechanics and dynamics as apply to narratives, then.

Dynamics are about playing out, about the execution of a system over time. We feel pleasure in reading about the downfall of the villian or the struggles of the hero in an adventure story not because they fall within specific generic rules (although there is probably some satisfaction that has to do with familiarity), but because of the feelings that the villian deserves what he gets, or because of sympathy with the hero. The fact that these fit into a structure or monomyth is not enough to explain why they move us, we must look closely into why we feel these things. I suspect that it is because of simulation: the villian’s downfall is not satisfying unless we feel that the villian deserves the downfall, and that he deserves it because of whatever awful thing he did early on. The reasoning between these points is not structural, but causal, and furthermore causal at an emotional level. Keith Oatley theorizes that fiction is literally software that we simulate in our minds. To understand dyanmics in narrative, it is necessary to treat the story as taking place in time, within a world. The presentation of time need not be linear, but the reader still understands the narrative by making causal connections. The study of dynamics within story worlds is complicated by the fact that stories are usually linear, and we rarely see branches that reveal the changing dynamic structure of the story world. In a mathematical sense, the dynamics are under specified by the story contents.  This underspecification need not be a problem, though. Actual narrative structure itself is underspecified, but readers make sense of incomplete elements of narrative by mentally filling in the blanks. For instance, in Pride and Prejudice, the first line of dialogue occurs between Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, but the conversation is not contextualized in terms of where or when it occurs, whether the other family members are there, or any other detail. Readers have no trouble processing this, though, and may supply differing interpretations of what these circumstances might be. Each of these interpretations is valid, and can be considered acceptable. The author may even imagine details, but intentionally leave them out, in the interest of succinctness. The study of the dynamics of story worlds is supplemented by examining other works within the context of source, for instance, other works by the author, contemporary works, or derivations. These can give the extra context needed to understand the shape and structure of dynamics, and enough perspective to see the alternate ways that events might play out that might have diverged from the course of the original narrative.

The dynamical systems of narratives are probably going to at first look quite different from the dynamical systems in games. The element to remember with these is that they are about the systems and trends that emerge from the fluctuation of state. So for instance, in love stories, a dynamical element would be the rising and falling affections between characters, changing relationships, and the progression along the spectrum of courtship. The mystery genre is actually well suited to a game-like analysis of dynamics (because they can be compared to the dynamics of mystery games); these are about the gradual acquisition of evidence, mounting tension and suspense, and evaluation and analysis of characters. Dynamics feature changing variables, and describe the space wherin the world (or the reader’s understanding of the world) changes. It is important to note though, that these are explanations of generic dynamics of genres, and actual works and authors usually feature more precise dynamics. For instance, Jane Austen uses an aesthetic of irony, and one way this is expressed dynamically by having indirect commentary on the actions and values of some characters. This is a dynamic not in the change of the world, but in how the reader percieves it. Austen also dynamically expresses her irony by having characters clash according to juxtapositions of moral values. The actual moments that deserve commentary, and the moral orders that clash are part of the mechanics.

Mechanics are the rules by which things happen, the rules by which effect follows from cause. Where dynamics are changing systems, the mechanics are the means of change that occurs in those systems. The relationship between mechanics and dynamics is heavily derived from simulation. Exactly what makes up the mechanics is hard to figure out in terms of narratives. Novels are based in realism (in terms of individual focus and detail), but the story worlds defined still operate according to specific rules. For instance, Ann Radcliffe’s gothic villians would not be at all appropriate for Austen’s story worlds. The male-centered perspective of Tom Jones would not work in a domestic feminine narrative such as any of Jane Austen’s works. A bloody climax such as one found in Shakespeare would similarly not make sense in any of Austen’s story worlds. So, setting, perspective, and types of events all inform the types of worlds that may follow from different narratives. These are all static elements, they are not dynamic, but they shape dynamics. These elements are thus part of the mechanics. Like the matter of interpreting dynamics, though, mechanics must be interpreted in narrative. They are not determined, and must be reached through an analysis and reading of the text. The process for extracting mechanics is something that deserves an immense degree of attention, but is outside the scope of this document.

I believe that the primary dynamics in Austen’s works are social. The means of interaction are social, and the subject material and changing values are social relationships. To determine the mechanics, then, I would suggest turning to the prodigious field of social interactions, namely sociology, and particularly symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionism is useful for examining interactions as taking place on a symbolic plane, a space well handled by a game interface (furthermore one which has support in existing games, eg, The Sims).

Generally, the study of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics can be applied to narrative media just as well as games.

Historical origins and AI in fictional worlds

[Research] (04.20.09, 5:56 pm)

The following extrapolates some notes taken earlier today.

I have been looking at a lot of AI papers, and these have tended to fall within two camps: modeling characters, and modeling stories. There is also a number of works that fall between these ideas, so they can be seen to represent something of a spectrum of AI work that addresses games and narrative. The group that aims on modeling characters seeks to create intelligent agents within worlds, and these agents generally form their actions according to metaphors of planning. Based on their goals (which may be subjective), they plan actions that will be instrumental in achieving those goals. The second group aims on controlling the story, implementing a story as a system that can be executed within a game. A player’s interaction can be directed to go along with one of the branches or possible directions that the story can take, and usually a director or drama manager can enable or disable parts of the world that will facilitate the player’s progression through the story.

I believe that these approaches are flawed. Hybrids will not solve the problem because there is something missing. Fiction takes place in story worlds, and in simulating these worlds, the most significant element should not be character or story, but mechanics. A story works in a particular way, within fiction, the events that occur happen because of a particular set of values and rules. What is created in fiction is a particular story that happens to occur within a space of many potential stories. It should not be the agenda of adaptation to reconstruct the original story. The character based approach also will fail unless it accounts for the mechanics and values of the fictional world. For instance, Pizzi and Cavazza’s Madame Bovary project takes enormous strides forward in representing emotional logic, but the rules of the world might have been better served by mechanics that explore the sensation of bourgeoisie boredom, dissatisfaction, and romantic disenchantment.

My particular domain of focus has been Jane Austen, and she emerged from the tradition of the epistolary and the picaresque (the traditions of Richardson and Defoe, respectively). Epistolary novels frequently described love, loss, and class boundaries, while the picaresque portrays rogueish realism. An important detail about Austen is that she wrote her novels first in epistolary form, but then rewrote them in third person. This in of itself is a form of adaptation, but also frames the story as taking place within a coherent world, supported not only by narration, but also by a “backstory” of letters, essentially in-world communication. This idea follows in the tradition of the Brontë family, who began writing only after having created an entire imaginary world, originally inspired by toy soldiers. In this tradition, the stories are not the original works, but threads that emerged from this rich and deep world. What is most fascinating is how the evolution of the Brontë’s imaginary world resembles, with stunning similarity, the emergence of tableop roleplaying from war games. This tradition of building imaginary story worlds has continued, and can be seen in the cultures surrounding multiplayer games, and also appears within literary works as well, for instance Faulkner’s imaginary Yoknapatawhpa County.

Jason Rohrer visits LCC!

[Talks] (04.19.09, 4:13 pm)

On Wednesday, esteemed game artist, agrarian lifestylist, and generally tall person, Jason Rohrer, came to visit and give a talk at LCC. The talk was titled “Beyond Single Player: Hunting for an Artistic Niche,” and was generally about the potential for games as art, and the relationship between expressive capacity and complexity, in degrees of single player versus multiplayer games. The following represents my notes from the talk, as well as some general observations. Following the talk, Jay Bolter and our very own Brian Schrank came up to have a conversation with Rohrer, but this basically came in the form of them challenging his definition of art. This was extremely insightful, and I have tried to take detailed notes of the important points that were raised.

To start with, Rohrer gave us a little anecdote about Chris Crawford’s Dragon Speech. During the last GDC, evidently, he had the opportunity of spending some time with Crawford, and asked him about how he actually gave the speech. The Dragon Speech is a sizeable 50 minute (or so) speech, which Crawford gave without any slides, notes, or aids whatsoever. The natural concern is how does one prepare and practice a speech like that, so as to give the entire thing without a hitch. When Rohrer asked Crawford about it, Crawford said that he couldn’t learn it by writing it out, because it is a speech, and is meant to be spoken. Similarly, he can’t practice by reading it for the same reason. If a talk is based on something that is written, then the audience may simply be better served by reading the original document. So, what he does is to go out into the woods, pace around, and just start speaking. He repeats this process until he has the thing learned by heart. This anecdote is important because it is about the relationship between medium and practice. A talk is speech, and is meant to be spoken. The presence of slides, or if the talk is based on a written document, simply serves as a distraction from the natural properties of the medium or format. Considering this also demands the question of what are the properties of the format of a talk, what are they good for, and why should they be used? We can think of these questions as setting the tone for thinking about games.

Games have suffered for a long time a feeling of inadequacy and illegitimacy, as though there has been a line in the sand drawn between games and other forms of artistic expression. Other media have comfortably found their own points of artistic stability, without looking to other media to imagine what they should be. Literature, drama, film, painting, and rock and roll all stand on their own. Games have tended to look to other media to imagine what they should be. Most commonly, games have sought to emulate film, and develop technology to support this in terms of cinematography and graphics. Some games reject cut scenes (and are better for it), but these are still stuck with an author-narrative model. There are pockets of interactivity woven around an on-rails experience. Instead of the narrative delivery being through cut scenes, it is through architecture. Mainstream big budget games like Bioshock, despite their lack of cut scenes, still want to be film, just where the player is both protagonist and cameraman.

The desire of games to emulate other media hurts their search for artistic legitimacy more than it helps. Rohrer put forth the question of “how do we grow games into a unique expressive medium?”

To examine this question, he showed some examples of art games, which tend to forsake cut scenes and linear structures. These use only mechanics as the vehicle for artistic expression. These types of works can exist only as games, they are not better served through other media. Examples of these are Bogost’s Honorarium, Benmergui’s I wish I were the Moon, all of Rohrer’s own works, among others. However, there is still a problem, because there is still a cultural line in the sand, dividing these between other media.

Rohrer gave an example of a particular type of criticism of games, and this was through invoking the figure of Roger Ebert. Ebert has been involved in some rather snippy debate regarding the status of games as art. There are a lot of holes that can be punched in both Ebert’s arguments and the pro-games arguments, both of which (in my opinion) are hugely flawed. Rohrer advises, though, to not disregard the arguments, but instead work with them. One of the elements of the argument is the role of authorial control, which is complicated in an interactive medium (though, I would argue that there are many answers to this, most of which come from the art world itself). And despite his flaws in grasping the essence of games as a medium, Ebert makes a great straw man. He also presents a rather simple challenge: show me a game that is art. It is in attempting to address this challenge that much of the talk flows.

So, a question is what is a type of game that might be considered art. Rohrer explains that a friend of his suggested the game Go, which, despite its extreme simplicity of rules produces extremely complex phenomena, and is also often said to be revealing of the nature of the universe. The variability and depth of the game can give a unique experience on each round of play. Rohrer compares this depth with the quality of revisitation that one might experience with art works, where the art speaks with one perspective when viewed for the first time, but when one matures as an individual, the artwork may reveal a more significant depth, and speak with a new perspective that was not realized before.

Rohrer suggests that we need to be making more games like Go, which have infinite replayability. Art games are often against replayability, they are often one-shot experiences that one plays once and then puts away. It is possible to quickly exhaust all the content and possibilities of the mechanics. Once the player completes a game, it is done. At this point, Rohrer’s concepts seem to become muddled, though. The idea of infinite replayability becomes exchanged for the concept of depth and revisitation, an exchange that I do not think is exactly warranted. Having depth of meaning is not the same as being infinitely playable or viewable, and is not the same thing as having a simple set of rules.

This is a point tying into something that I asked at the end, that depth of meaning and revisitation are different from replayability, and that the experience of replay is not necessarily the same as a shift in perspective.

Rohrer went on to explain that board games in general have a common trend of replayability. They also are different from almost all of the digital games discussed earlier because they are single player. There are very few pre-video single player games. The main example is solitaire, which is essentially a puzzle (or a puzzle generating system). Single player games tend to rely on three elements for replayability or variance: long multistep puzzles, randomization (hidden information), and reflex challenges. These lead to situations where it is possible to find optimal strategies, where the single player is acting as a rat pushing a lever.

In digital single player games, Rohrer explains that choice became a very popular desirable characteristic for enabling depth and replayability, but this was ultimately flawed as well. The idea with choice is that there are multiple ways of solving problems. Examples of advocates for this are Doug Church, Randy Smith, Harvey Smith, and Clint Hawking, (and, of course Peter Molyneux). Rohrer explains that choices are not as satisfying because 1) if there is an optimal choice, the players will gravitate to it, or 2) if all choices are equal, then the choice doesn’t really matter.

Some, suggest that it is helpful to layer mechanics on top of each other (as often happens in german board games), but, ultimately, these are often unsatisfying because players can find local maximal optimizations. Go does not use multiple layers, and does just fine.

This is actually another point where I disagree. The idea of success, failure, and outcomes are pervasive in Rohrer’s model. Optimality is only a concern when the outcome of a play is some sort of numeric value. Some art games do use scores, but often this is done in a sort of metaphorical sense, to explain what is valued within the particular game’s model of the world. But it seems that a much more troubling observation is the role of numeric outcome in the space of revisitation and replayability.

Rohrer’s conclusion is that multiplayer is “like a fertile soil where mechanics can blossom to their full potential.” Rules are a genotype, but play is a phenotype. Exactly what multiplayer means though involves a little analysis. He explains that it is not necessarily the human dimension that makes multiplayer interesting. A game of Chess or Go with an AI opponent still has a degree of variance and is interesting, much like a normal multiplayer game is. However, many other multiplayer games are not “really” multiplayer, as in, they do not provide the level of depth that board games tend to. So, for instance, as Rohrer explains, mechanics in multiplayer FPS games with other players are still generally single player mechanics, and similarly with most MMOGs. I can partially understand this criticism, but much of the multiplayer dimensions in these closely resemble sports, which are about skilled coordination and performing one’s part very well. While these may not provide a depth of experience, sports games as well as dungeon raids are subject to similar levels of combinatorial variety that board games are, so the argument seems flawed.

Taking a look though, at the works of art described earlier (film, sculpture, books, and so on), these are “single reader” or “single viewer,” they are generally works produced by an author, and viewers interact with the artifacts more or less individually. One can watch a film in a theatre surrounded by people, but the experience does not require the other audience members. However, there is a dimension to this that I take issue with, and that is that works exist within a cultural setting, and are interpreted socially. Supposing that one has a video of a great film, or has a great novel on a desert island, these works still require a cultural situation to be made sense of, and the core value of the experience usually comes in discussion. Even despite this, it is personal development that takes place within the social arena that enables one to change perspectives. This change of perspective is necessary to understand the work as something that has depth. Thus, at the very least, a social dimension is necessary for a work to have (or be understood to have) depth, at least indirectly.

Rohrer concluded by imagining the possibility of a multiplayer art game, which would involve a more complex relationship between play with multiple players and artistic intent. If the space of rules and play is deep and emergent, then it may be impossible to control all the emergent possibilities. If enough is emergent, then it may be possible for situations to occur that are against the original artistic intent.


Jay Bolter began the discussion phase, and started by looking at some recent art history and the dimensions of art criticism. The types of criticisms applied to art and games, where art is divided into different mediums has a particular history. In particular, this attitude, which also asserts that the “purpose” of art is to realize the medium, derives from Clement Greenberg. Greenberg is particularly notable for appreciating and defending Jackson Pollock when his work was originally disregarded or disparaged by other art critics at the time. There are other movements in art, and art criticism, especially that come from dada, which aimed for exploring, intermixing, and destroying the essence of media. Dadaists often performed in events, which were essentially “multiplayer” experiences. Bolter concluded by asking why Rohrer only uses the tradition of exploring the medium to look at games and art.

Rohrer reacted by explaining that the study of games as art needs to start somewhere, and that games have not really been even established as a medium to begin with. Dada only works because there was an existing history and theory of art to challenge and break down. Games have not yet had the opportunity to express the human condition or exploring sophisticated meaning in the first place. We may find things that are meaningful within games, but these are often simply immature, and tend to be unsatisfying in terms of expressing deeper artistic meaning and value.

Brian Schrank joined in and explained that the branch of art criticism that Rohrer is using, as well as the notion of art that comes from Ebert’s original criticisms of games, generally breaks art down into high/middle/and low brows. The idea of pure artistic intent tends to be a very romantic 19th century idealization. Conventionally “mature” topics, such as the death of a loved one, fall clearly into the middle-brow range. In terms of high-brow works, in a relatively recent academic survey (I have no idea what Brian was referring to here), many art historians described Duchamp’s fountain as the most important art object of all time. The idea with this is that by attempting to destroy or clash with art (as was the stated intent of the dadaists), this will ultimately lead to a revolutionizing and reinvention of the medium. Thus, if the definition and constraint of the medium of games is blinding, it may be necessay to move past it.

I don’t remember at all what Rohrer’s response was to this! Afterwards there was a general question session.

Michael Nistche asked about simulation games, which was actually a really important question for me, because my work is all about simulation games. Simulation games are single player, but tend to have a degree of depth and emergent phenomena that can be fairly rich. Rohrer countered by suggesting that these games get their depth from a dimension of randomness, but I disagree. Frequently, simulations are entirely deterministic, but there is simply a depth of complexity that enables diverse behavior. Conway’s Game of Life is a simulation, (not really a “game” in the traditional sense), but is deep and complex.

Celia Pearce brought up another art movement which was also focused around games, the Fluxus movement in the 1960s. This was a movement that revolved around the mingling of games and art. These were not video games, as they are understood, but it is still vitally important to understand that the movement was about games. The fact that the types of games were different, in the sense that they were often about poetry or music, and did not have tightly defined rules, should not be taken to mean that they are not relevant, so much as that they should be used to expand the understanding of what games are and what they are about.

Finally, I got the chance to ask a question, and I used this as an opportunity to aska bout the idea of revisitation. What follows is partially my question, but also my thinking through the idea as well.

Revisitation, I think, is all about perspective. So, for instance, in coming to an artifact once, I might have one perspective, but returning to it later, my perspective will have changed (because I have changed), and thus will get depth of meaning. This is multiplayer in a sense because it involves personal change. However, it does not necessarily have anything to do with authorial intent, nor does it necessarily have anything to do with infinite replayability. So, for instance, I can replay Tetris, and maybe reflect on my first experiences, but this does not give me a new dimension in terms of perspective. Furthermore, in the case of a game like Go, my change in perspective over time will have more to do with my cognitive learning and mastery over the rules of the system, rather than a depth of cultural experience. (Though, there could be some intersection.)

The most interesting quality about changing perspective, is actually that it involves the viewer (or player) bringing new things back to the artifact. Meaning and value is thus co created, and for meaning to exist at all requries participation and investment.

Summarizing research

[Research] (04.17.09, 8:06 pm)

This documents some of the general notes on my research that have been floating around in my head. Important elements to be discerned later are:

  • Define the problem space, “Here is the problem that I have defined”
  • Define methodology, resources, approach, “Here are my tools to address the problem”
  • Define what results and conclusions have been reached, “Here is the deliverable”

I apologise for the extremely rough nature of these notes, but I want to put them up somewhere rather than having them disappear.

Summarizing research:

* project goal: adapting novels into games.
* focus: Pride and Prejudice

* Narratives, and novels in particular are already simulations
* Focus for adaptation should be WORLD, not plot
* world works according to model (mechanics)
* model is tied to the work, makes the work what it is (functionally)
* interpreting a model from a work is intrinsically creative

* games and simulations about mechanics (rules)
* games can simulate mechanics of a system (adaptation)
* vocabulary of mechanics used commonly in games is a set of tools

* adaptation involves 2 parts: carry-over, adaptation (analogous extension)
* can involve moving tropes/conventions from one medium to another (mystery novel ->

adventure; action film -> action game)
* specific thing to look at is conflict resolution

* need a critical aesthetics for game adaptations
* we do not want fidelity criticism, but there are games that are better and worse
* believe better adaptations will adapt the underlying mechanics well
* what mechanics are necessary and sufficient for the adaptation to work?

* technology is not a barrier for making game adaptations
* technology may enable better representation of characters

* there is barrier in games that disinclines adaptation of other types of fiction
* we must be open, as a culture, to recieving new types of games

* concern is not reproducing emotion exactly as in original
* concern is not reproducing plot of original
* plot is up to player, player has tools to drive own experience

* perspective is integral to perception of a work
* perspective is tied to how we understand systems
* adaptation of systems gives power to expose new perspectives

* many adaptation ideas lead to percpetions of game mechanics that depart from mainstream
* potential for advancement of reception, understanding of games

* meaning in novel comes from understanding novel as social world, reader simulates
* reader understands (or can understand) characters as deep, with inner lives
* novel is a kind of social laboratory (Lukacs)

>>>> more specific to P&P

* world is social; mechanics are social
* mechanics must be built from social rules, hence sociology
* social mechanics and games reveal character

* for simulation, characters must have autonomy
* we depart from conventions of planning in AI (conflicting goals)
* characters act according to situation and according to social context (thus, cannot be

transplanted without addressing context)

* thus, to simulate P&P, necessary to find how to describe social contexts, and how they

* development of AI is thus not in character, but in social world itself
* this method can be applied to other texts

* focus should not be to derive supremely general schema for human behavior in any context
* focus is about specific focused contexts, and representing those clearly
* avoid AI complete pitfall

AI papers galore!

[Readings] (04.17.09, 7:55 pm)

I decided to read a bunch of AI papers to make sure that my representations and critiques of AI in games is accurate. Over the course of this, I’ve realized something important. This is that I am not trying to develop a simulation system that will replace AI in games in social environments. I am not trying to depose planners completely. Rather, I want to make a more subtle argument. The success of an AI artifact is dependent on how closey knit the underlying technology is to the domain it represents. So, in some circumstances, planning is extremely effective, but in other circumstances, it is much less so. Planning is also not a uniform and monolithic infrastructure, it is a relatively loose system of algorithms. Planning frameworks have been developed that incorporate (or attempt to incorporate) situated and reactive reasoning, action repair, emotional models, and interaction with other systems and agents. While it is not monolithic, it still represents a perspective of how agents act and think, and thus conveys a particular model.

Included below is a list of a bunch of the papers that I have read, with notes describing some of the relevant take-aways from the papers. This is generally particular to my work, and may be of limited use to other readers. The papers are not in a particular order.

Mao and Gratch: Social Judgment in Multiagent Interactions (2004)
paper is about judgement of attribution of responsibility in social settings
tied into military system of authority

McCoy and Mateas: The Computation of Self in Everyday Life (2009)
looks at applying Goffman to character simulation, manifests as social games
adaptation target: Sex and the City

Perlin and Goldberg: Improv (1996)
early work, involves framework for animation and behavior
scripted behavior systems

Geib: The Intentional Planning System: ItPlanS (1994)
builds from STRIPS action model (with preconditions and postconditions)
attempts to exchange preconditions with intentions, done via simulation
still about robot control

Magerko, Laird, Assanie, Kerfoot, Stokes: AI Characters and Directors for Interactive Computer Games (2004)
describes goals of setting up interactive drama:
computer games with nonviolent, plot-driven stories
focus is in author centric model, with working around players
target is newly authored artifact: Haunt 2

Cavazza, Charles, Mead: Characters in Search of an Author (2001)
model is character-centric approach
addresses issues of narrative and authorial and user control
adaptation target is “Friends” scenario
system is built from model of Barthes S/Z
planning model is consistent with sitcom genre

Pizzi and Cavazza: Affective Storytelling based on Characters’ Feelings (2007)
attempting to develop computational character system based on emotional theory
this is based on appraisal and coping
adaptation domain is Madame Bovary

Cavazza, Pizzi, Charles, Vogt, Andre: Emotional Input for Character-based Interactive Storytelling (2009)
adaptation domain is Madame Bovary
about using emotional voice input to interact with the program

Si, Marsella, Pynadath: Thespian: Modeling Socially Normative Behavior in a Decision-Theoretic Framework (2006)
focus is interactive drama
built around modeling social norms
military goal, norms are essentially a means to an end of uncovering information

Magerko: A Proposal for an Interactive Drama Architecture (2002)
proposes a model for interactive drama that uses a director
structure of drama itself is composed of scenes
director is attempt to resolve conflict between authored plot and user agency

Cavazza, Charles, Mead: Emergent Situations in Interactive Storytelling (2002)
applies planning model to sitcom genre
recognizes need for situated reasoning and action repair within planning model

Magerko and Laird: Mediating the Tension between Plot and Interaction (2005)
describes director model wherin director makes predictive planning
director does simulation of world based on player model
involves reconciling errant player behavior

Peinado, Cavazza, Pizzi: Revisiting Character-Based Affective Storytelling under a Narrative BDI Framework (2008)
uses Madame Bovary domain
develops alternative model of BDI (belief, desire, intention) as Narrative BDI
first looks at Shakespearian model

Gratch: Why You Should Buy an Emotional Planner (1999)
Applies emotional models and appraisal theory to planning formalism
aim is to reconcile areas where planning has trouble: conflicting goals, limited resources, imperfect information
primary focus is construal and assignment of blame/responsibility
odd examples with conflict over moving a car
but leads to model with system of personalities in agents

Geib, Webber: A Consequence of Incorporating Intentions in Means-end Planning (1993)
incorporates situated reasoning into planning model
this means replacing preconditions with alternative approaches
preconditions use generation conditions and execution conditions
alternatives are robust failure, replanning, and action repair

Bates: The Role of Emotion in Believable Agents (1994)
concept of believability, comes from animation (esp Disney)
describes Woggles world
emotion necessary for recognition of personality and believability
uses emotion theory of Ortony, clore, and Collins
characters in most video games show no reaction to violent world around them

Goldberg: Avatars and Agents, or Life Among the Indigenous Peoples of Cyberspace (1998)
poses model of animation and behavior that comes from Perlin’s Improv
heavy importance of scripted behaviors, but scripts are extended to have robust extensibility
model comes from numeric properties, and then matched with importance values, allowing weighted selection

Pizzi, charles, Lugrin, Cavazza: Interactive Storytelling with Literary Feelings (2007)
initially outlines focus of constructing interactive storytelling experience with focus on literary feelings
introduces Madame Bovary domain
domain requires focus on characters’ feelings, and planning is about long term objectives — this is HUGE change from traditional models
uses clear system of adaptation, from feelings, to literary analysis, to computational model

Christian and Young: Comparing Cognitive and Computational Models of Narrative Structure (2004)
uses traditional cognitive science system of models to look at user’s understanding of narrative in virtual world
cognitive models are very abstracted, very structural
domain is Unreal spatial puzzles (levers, lifts, bridges, etc)
user study to match model of knowledge structures to model of computational system

More Cellular Automata

[Genetic Image,Toys] (04.17.09, 6:56 pm)

I’ve been very interested in doing experiments with cellular automata and other soft of image generation work, and amid reading AI papers, I’ve done some miscellaneous code experiments. Right now I’ve built a nifty little system that is able to handle many types of CAs, and can represent in space in several ways, represent their contents in several ways, and render them in a variety of ways as well.

I’ve included a little demo applet which handles a small diffusion-like CA, and is hopefully a sign of some things potentially to come.

Looks like applets don’t work for you

Working with really, really big images

[Genetic Image] (04.14.09, 11:11 pm)

Okay, I made a render over the last weekend using a modified version of Genetic Image. Basically the modified version takes a render and splits it up into tiles, and saves these tiles separately. So, I decided to take Blueshift, and make it into something really big. The modified version of the program will split images into 5000×5000 pixel square tiles. I thought, since I was going to leave it running for the weekend, why not make it 10 times that, in both directions. So I now have a single 50000×50000 image in 100 5000×5000 tiles. I don’t know what I am ever going to do with this monstrosity now. It eats up something on the order of 6 GB on the computer it is sitting on. That’s not a lot, but if I decide to make many more mammoth images, I will run out of space quickly.

What to do with it, though, is a major problem. I am thinking of scaling the image down by a factor of 4 (downsampling will smooth out some of the pixelation that Genetic Image produces) to a more manageable size of 12500×12500, and then printing the result at 300 dpi to a nice ~42″ square poster. Maybe I can sell them. Who knows? An issue, though, is how to actually work with the saved images. I can’t just open up a massive canvas in Photoshop and just drop the images in. I don’t know of any software for editing really huge images. It may be necessary to simply write a small program to load the images, compress, and manage them that way.

Maybe someone will find this post and kindly provide me with suggestions.

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