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How Pac-Man Eats: Who is it for?

The first reviews have arrived for my new book, How Pac-Man Eats! I’m honored to have people giving the book careful attention. This book is aimed at a wide range of audiences (designers, journalists, technologists, scholars, students, and people who are simply interested in games) and aims to speak to multiple disciplines. Given that, it’s important to have people review it from multiple perspectives, letting different audiences know what it might offer them. In this post I’ll take a look at the first three reviews to appear, each aimed at a different audience: communication scholars, digital media scholars and makers, and game developers.

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Two new publications at ICIDS 2018

We’re trying to get into the habit of posting about all our publications, so here’s a post about the two things (one poster and one demo) I just got back from presenting at ICIDS 2018 last week!

The poster is called “Sketching a Map of the Storylets Design Space”, and the associated paper can be found here. Abstract:

Linear and branching narrative structures are widespread in games, but limited in their dynamism and expressiveness. We consider the alternative storylets model of interactive narrative content, in which a game’s narrative is assembled from a database of discrete, reorderable narrative “chunks” or “modules” known as storylets. This paper represents a first attempt to map out the design space of storylet-based narrative systems in games. We define the common elements of storylet-based systems; categorize such systems along several distinct dimensions; and survey implementations of such systems in existing games.

As for the demo, it’s an AI-based narrative game called Throwing Bottles at God that uses predictive text as a game mechanic. I hope to release the game itself to the general public sometime soon, but for now, the associated paper can be found here. Abstract:

We present Throwing Bottles at God, an experimental interactive narrative game that makes use of a predictive text writing interface as both a game mechanic and a means by which to deliver narrative content. The player steps into the role of @dril, a well-known pseudonymous social media personality with a distinctive writing style, and authors short snippets of text while receiving suggestions from the game as to which word @dril might use next – suggestions supported by word pair frequency data extracted from the corpus of all existing tweets by the actual @dril. The game represents a first attempt to use AI-based game design to heighten the player’s awareness of AI algorithms, specifically predictive text algorithms, as they play a role in the player’s day-to-day life. It also blurs the line between player-authored and developer-authored narrative content by inviting players to freely mix snippets of developer-authored text into their own in-game social media posts as they compose them, resulting in player-assembled messages that embed sequences of words drawn both from an external corpus (the @dril corpus) and from developer-authored narrative content.

Okay, that’s all for now. Sometime soon we’re hoping to have another post up about the exciting new game project the lab’s been working on this past quarter, so stay tuned!

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New paper: “Gardening Games: An Alternative Philosophy of PCG in Games”

I’ll be presenting my new paper, Gardening Games: An Alternative Philosophy of PCG in Games, at the PCG Workshop at FDG 2018.


Procedural content generation (PCG) in games is often framed as a way to feed the content furnace, satisfying the voracious appetites of players by generating infinite seas of content for them to consume. Although this dominant framing provides a clear structuring purpose for PCG research, it also unnecessarily limits our vision of alternative purposes that generative methods might serve. Furthermore, generative systems designed with this purpose in mind may tend to reinforce certain problematic dynamics in game design. In this paper, we draw a contrast between two approaches to procedural terrain generation and the dynamics of play they tend to enable, which we term mining and gardening. We then extend this analysis to PCG more broadly and suggest that the latter (gardening) dynamic represents a viable and compelling alternative philosophy of how generative methods can be used in games.

There’s also a companion zine, which you can read or download here.

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New Computational Media M.S. and Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz

UCSC logoComputational Media is all around us — video games, social media, interactive narrative, smartphone apps, computer-generated films, personalized health coaching, and more. To create these kinds of media, to deeply understand them, to push them forward in novel directions, requires a new kind of interdisciplinary thinker and maker. The new graduate degrees in Computational Media at UC Santa Cruz are designed with this person in mind.

The M.S. is designed to help you build on your existing strengths and move into new areas. Maybe you’re a computer scientist or educator who wants to develop a deeper understanding of game design or human-computer interaction. Maybe you’re a storyteller or digital humanist who could explore new territories, but would need deeper technical skills. Maybe you have a background in health care or community organizing and want to find ways to engage the possibilities of computational media to assist and empower people. Maybe you’re already doing interdisciplinary work, but want to develop a deeper understanding of the field and a stronger portfolio.

The Ph.D., on the other hand, is designed for those who are already actively working in computational media and want to develop new knowledge that will change what is possible and how we understand it. Read More »

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Current Game Preservation is Not Enough

(Portuguese translation, courtesy of Artur Weber)

This post is a distillation of some current thoughts on game preservation (extending to software preservation) that arose from a presentation I gave at Stanford two weeks ago. Video of that talk is here. The discussion in this post is a little more advanced and focuses mainly on the last 10-15 minutes of the talk.  I have also posted a link to another presentation I gave at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in February. This earlier one is exclusively about the issues with standard game preservation. If you are unfamiliar with this whole topic, definitely check it out.

TLDR; The current preservation practices we use for games and software need to be significantly reconsidered when taking into account the current conditions of modern computer games. Below I elaborate on the standard model of game preservation, and what I’m referring to as “network-contingent” experiences. These network-contingent games are now the predominant form of the medium and add significant complexity to the task of preserving the “playable” historical record. Unless there is a general awareness of this problem with the future of history, we might lose a lot more than anyone is expecting. Furthermore, we are already in the midst of this issue, and I think we need to stop pushing off a larger discussion of it.

The standard model of game preservation

Any preservation activity must first decide on its scope, on the boundaries of what it considers to be worthy of saving, and on the basic definitions for the objects involved. In game preservation, the standard model for most (not all, as mentioned below) of the work I’ve been involved in resembles the image below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 12.41.08 Read More »

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Two more faculty jobs at UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz has two more faculty jobs in games and computational media. One is an Assistant Professor in game design (apply by February 1st) and the other is a Teaching Professor position in computational media available for applicants at any level of seniority, and open to a wide range of specialties (apply by February 23rd).

The game design position is for one of the founding faculty of the new BA in Art & Design: Games & Playable Media. The ideal applicant is a designer with experience pushing games in new directions, working with innovative design and technology approaches. This position is in the Arts division.

The Teaching Professor position is a bit unusual, so some explanation may help. This position has a higher teaching load than is normal in our School of Engineering (more akin to arts and humanities teaching expectations). It also means that the faculty member’s professional activity does not need to be what is normally expected in engineering — it could focus on game making, or software studies, or generative artwork, or many other practices. The person in this position will be a full member of the UCSC academic senate, will have full voting rights in the Computational Media department, and will have security of employment like traditional faculty. Letters of reference must be received by February 23rd, so if you’re interested it’s time to start the wheels in motion.

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