Requirements analysis and speculative design of support tools for TTRPG game masters

Acharya Devi Mateas Michael Wardrip-Fruin Noah
2022 DiGRA ’22 – Proceedings of the 2022 DiGRA International Conference: Bringing Worlds Together

In running tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs), game masters (GMs) are tasked with helping create and facilitate the building of a shared story between players based on player choices. In this paper, we look at how we can inform the design of computational tools for GMs through the use of qualitative interviews. We interview GMs about their process in preparing for and running a beginner TTRPG module, "Lost Mine of Phandelver", and present to them a prototype of a computational tool built based on this module that has some of the features we believe would be useful in a GMing assistant, such as consolidating information for easier reference, serving as a brainstorming tool for GMs, and helping GMs keep track of what has happened in the game world. From these interviews, we collected insights into how the GMing process works within the context of a specific scenario and found which features GMs liked and what could be improved with our digital prototype. We also compare the results of these interviews to online advice for GMing the module. We use these insights in order to speculate about possible design directions for further development of a GM’s computational assistant.


Super Mario as a String: Platformer Level Generation Via LSTMs

Summerville Adam J. Mateas Michael
2016 DiGRA/FDG '16 - Proceedings of the First International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG

The procedural generation of video game levels has existed for at least 30 years, but only recently have machine learning approaches been used to generate levels without specifying the rules for generation. A number of these have looked at platformer levels as a sequence of characters and performed generation using Markov chains. In this paper we examine the use of Long Short-Term Memory recurrent neural networks (LSTMs) for the purpose of generating levels trained from a corpus of Super Mario Bros. levels. We analyze a number of different data representations and how the generated levels fit into the space of human authored Super Mario Bros. levels.


GameNet and GameSage: Videogame Discovery as Design Insight

Ryan James Kaltman Eric Hong Timothy Isbister Katherine Mateas Michael Wardrip-Fruin Noah
2016 DiGRA/FDG '16 - Proceedings of the First International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG

The immense proliferation of videogames over the course of recent decades has yielded a discoverability problem that has largely been unaddressed. Though this problem affects all videogame stakeholders, we limit our concerns herein to the particular context of game designers seeking prior work that could inform their own ideas or works in progress. Specifically, we present a tool suite that solicits text about a user’s idea for a game to generate an explorable listing of the existing games most related to that abstract idea. From a study in which 182 game-design students used these tools to find games related to their own, we observe a demonstrated utility exceeding that of the current state of the art, which is the coordinated usage of assorted web resources. More broadly, this paper provides the first articulation of videogame discovery as an emerging application area.


A Lightweight Videogame Dialogue Manager

Ryan James Mateas Michael Wardrip-Fruin Noah
2016 DiGRA/FDG '16 - Proceedings of the First International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG

We present a fully procedural alternative to branching dialogue that is influenced by theories from linguistic pragmatics and technical work in the field of dialogue systems. Specifically, this is a dialogue manager that extends the Talk of the Town framework, in which non-player characters (NPCs) develop and propagate subjective knowledge of the gameworld. While previously knowledge exchange in this framework could only be expressed symbolically, such exchanges may now be rendered as naturalistic conversations between characters. The larger conversation engine currently lacks a player interface, so in this paper we demonstrate our dialogue manager through conversations between NPCs. From an evaluation task, we find that our system produces conversations that flow far more naturally than randomly assembled ones. As a design objective, we have endeavored to make this dialogue manager lightweight and agnostic to its particular application in Talk of the Town; it is our hope that interested readers will consider porting its straightforward design to their own game engines.


An Account of Proceduralist Meaning

Treanor Mike Mateas Michael
2014 DiGRA '13 - Proceedings of the 2013 DiGRA International Conference: DeFragging Game Studies

Within both game studies and development communities, it is often argued that a game’s processes (rules and goals) are of primary significance when considering a game’s meaning. In opposition to this position, some claim that this approach denies player subjectivity by ignoring the dynamic, culturally-embedded ways in which players create, rather than receive, meaning through play. This paper clarifies the proceduralist position by exploring a notion of the procedural that necessarily includes the individual player as part of a circuit in which a computational machine is able to operate meaningfully. From this point, procedural rhetoric is reframed in the language of semiotics to demonstrate that the proceduralist position respects player autonomy and expects meaning to result from the harmonious alignment between the authorial sign system and the many cultural sign systems within which the player is embedded.


Towards an Ontological Language for Game Analysis

Zagal José P. Mateas Michael Fernández-Vara Clara Hochhalter Brian Lichti Nolan
2005 DiGRA '05 - Proceedings of the 2005 DiGRA International Conference: Changing Views: Worlds in Play

The Game Ontology Project (GOP) is creating a framework for describing, analyzing and studying games, by defining a hierarchy of concepts abstracted from an analysis of many specific games. GOP borrows concepts and methods from prototype theory as well as grounded theory to achieve a framework that is always growing and changing as new games are analyzed or particular research questions are explored. The top level of the ontology (interface, rules, goals, entities, and entity manipulation) is described as well as a particular ontological entry. Finally, by engaging in three short discussions centered on relevant games studies research questions, the ontology’s utility is demonstrated.


Temporal Frames: A Unifying Framework for the Analysis of Game Temporality

Zagal José P. Mateas Michael
2007 DiGRA '07 - Proceedings of the 2007 DiGRA International Conference: Situated Play

This article introduces the notion of temporal frames as a tool for the formal analysis of the temporality of games. A temporal frame is a set of events, along with the temporality induced by the relationships between those events. We discuss four common temporal frames: real-world time (events taking place in the physical world), gameworld time (events within the represented gameworld, including events associated with gameplay actions), coordination time (events that coordinate the actions of players and agents), and fictive time (applying socio-cultural labels to events, as well as narrated event sequences). We use frames to analyze the real-time/turn-based distinction as well as various temporal anomalies. These discussions illustrate how temporal frames are useful for gaining a more nuanced understanding of temporal phenomena in games.


Agency Reconsidered

Wardrip-Fruin Noah Mateas Michael Dow Steven Sali Serdar
2009 DiGRA '09 - Proceedings of the 2009 DiGRA International Conference: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory

The concept of “agency” in games and other playable media (also referred to as “intention”) has been discussed as a player experience and a structural property of works. We shift focus, considering agency, instead, as a phenomenon involving both player and game, one that occurs when the actions players desire are among those they can take (and vice versa) as supported by an underlying computational model. This shifts attention away from questions such as whether agency is “free will” (it is not) and toward questions such as how works evoke the desires agency satisfies, employ computational models in the service of player action and ongoing dramatic probability, use interfaces and mediation to encourage appropriate audience expectation, shift from initial audience expectation to an understanding of the computational model, and can be shaped with recognition of the inherently improvisational nature of agency. We focus particularly on agency in relation to the fictional worlds of games and other playable media.


BurgerTime: A Proceduralist Investigation

Treanor Mike Mateas Michael
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

This paper explores the foundations and implications of interpreting videogames as representational procedural artifacts. Where previous work established a method of proceduralist readings, one which emphasizes the representational power of a game’s rules, to interpret videogames intentionally imbued with meaning, this study attempts to apply the method to a game that seemingly resists interpretation: the classic arcade game BurgerTime. Interpreting BurgerTime provided a challenge to the proceduralist perspective that required investigating its outer limits and assumptions. In the end, a comprehensive reading is achieved by considering the gameplay of expert players: those who understand the rules of a game the most.


Newsgames – Procedural Rhetoric Meets Political Cartoons

Treanor Mike
2009 DiGRA '09 - Proceedings of the 2009 DiGRA International Conference: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory

Video games have been created about political and social issues since the early days of the medium. In recent years, many developers are rapidly creating and releasing games in response to current events. These games are being referred to as newsgames. With an increasing number of people citing the internet as their primary news source, it would appear that newsgames could become an important part of how people understand current events and could rise to be an important and expressive video game genre. However, the word “newsgame” is currently only quite loosely defined, resulting in the term being applied to many forms of serious, or nonfiction games. Also, despite the quantity of games that relate to current events, very few newsgames can be said live up to the defining claims that newsgames are the video game equivalent of political cartoons [25] – a well developed and established medium for political expression. This paper fleshes out the political cartoon comparison in order to learn from the long history of political cartoons and give direction to the current state of fledgling and unsophisticated newsgames. It also suggests clear and flexible definitive criteria for newsgames as well as a redeclaration of their expressive power.