articles

Combinatorial and Exploratory Creativity in Procedural Content Generation
Procedural content generation aims to algorithmically produce creative solutions to game design challenges. This paper investigates how computational creativity theory can be applied to improve current PCG tools and techniques. It suggests that content generation may be considered as a dual process: a generation step to create variety and a resolution step to transform the output of the generation into a coherent and useful configuration. Separating these two steps facilitates the design of PCG algorithms and impacts the design of PCG tools.
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Making Design Patterns Work
The game industry seems to be reluctant to use design patterns. This article explores the obstacles encountered in the application of many design pattern libraries. Rather than instructing the industry the proper use of design patterns, it aims identify the things academics can do to improve the practical value of design pattern libraries. It argues that design pattern libraries should depart from a clearly defined theoretical core that creates an informative lens on a particular aspect of game design. Patterns should prescribe generic solutions to common problems. Finally, in order to create libraries with a large expressive range, the number of patterns is of less importance than the number of interactions between the patterns.
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Spelmechanismes voor Karakterontwikkeling
For the new Dutch language game research magazine www.homoludensmagazine.nl I wrote an article about the different types of mechanics for character development typically found in roleplaying games and action adventure games. The article is freely accessible, but written in Dutch...
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The Effectiveness and Efficiency of Model Driven Game Design
In order for techniques from Model Driven Engineering to be accepted at large by the game industry, it is critical that the eff ectiveness and efficiency of these techniques are proven for game development. There is no lack of game design models, but there is no model that has surfaced as an industry standard. Game designers are often reluctant to work with models: they argue these models do not help them design games and actually restrict their creativity. At the same time, the exibility that model driven engineering allows seems a good fi t for the fluidity of the game design process, while clearly de ned, generic models can be used to develop automated design tools that increase the development's effeciency.
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Generating Emergent Physics for Action-Adventure Games
Action-adventure games typically integrate levels, progression with the physical gameplay. In order to generate content for this type of games, this paper explores how procedural techniques can be expanded to beyond the domain of generating levels, and into generating physical interactions. It suggests a formal graph language to represent physics and the network of causal relations between game entities. Leveraging transformational grammars, the principles of model driven architecture, and component-based architecture for the game engine, it is argued that physics diagrams are well suited to generate emergent physical gameplay.
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We moeten Game Design automatiseren
I wrote a column for the Dutch game industry magazine Control. It is in Dutch, so if you can read my native tongue (or put a lot of faith in automatic translation) go check it out. Its about procedural content generation: I argue that is time to automate game design.
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Simulating Mechanics to Study Emergence in Games
This paper presents the latest version of the Machinations framework. This framework uses diagrams to represent the flow of tangible and abstract resources through a game. This flow represents the mechanics that make up a game’s internal economy and has a large impact on the emergent gameplay of most simulation games, strategy games and board games. This paper shows how Machinations diagrams can be used simulate and balance games before they are built.
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Integrating Emergence and Progression
This paper investigates how structures of emergence and progression in games might be integrated. By leveraging the formalism of Machination diagrams, the shape of the mechanics that typically control progression in games are exposed. Two strategies to create mechanics that control progression but exhibit more emergent behavior by including feedback loops are presented and discussed.
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Level Design as Model Transformation
This paper frames the process of designing a level in a game as a series of model transformations. The transformations correspond to the application of particular design principles, such as the use of locks and keys to transform a linear mission into a branching space. It shows that by using rewrite systems, these transformations can be formalized and automated. The resulting automated process is highly controllable: it is a perfect match for a mixed-initiative approach to level generation where human and computer collaborate in designing levels. An experimental prototype that implements these ideas is presented.
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Adventures in Level Design
Presented at the Procedural Content Generation workshop that was part of the Foundations of Digital Games Conference 2010.
This paper investigates strategies to generate levels for action adventure games. This genre relies more strongly on well-designed levels than rule-driven genres such as strategy or roleplaying games for which procedural level generation has been successful in the past. The approach outlined by this paper distinguishes between missions and spaces as two separate structures that need to be generated in two individual steps. It discusses the merits of different types of generative grammars for each individual step in the process.
Have a look at the demo accompanying this paper here.
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Machinations
This paper presents a structural model that can describe the gameplay mechanisms found in the great majority of games. In particular, different types of feedback loops are suggested as the elemental structural patterns that give rise to interesting gameplay. Any formal method of describing games must be able to express feedback loops and their relations to be of any use in designing games. Using a formal notation based on Petri nets and the concept of internal game economies, different types of feedback loops are investigated and discussed.
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Visualizing Game Dynamics and Emergent Gameplay
This paper aims to explore a method of visual notation based on UML (Unified Modelling Language) to help the game designer understand the dynamics of his or her game. This method is intended to extend and refine the iterative process of designing games. Board games are used as a case study because emergence in board games is often easier to study than in computer games. In order to understand emergence in games, some concepts from the science of complexity are discussed and applied to games. From this discussion a number of structures that contribute to emergence are used to inform the design of the UML for game design.
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Beyond Iconic Simulation
Realism remains a prominent topic in game design and industry research. Yet there is a strong academic case that games are anything but realistic. This paper frames realism in games in semiotic terms as iconic simulation, and argues that games can gain expressiveness when they move beyond the current focus on iconicity. In parallel to natural language, indexical and symbolic simulation and especially the clever configuration of indexical and symbolic simulative rules are proposed as an important framework through which the communicative and expressive power of games can be understood.
This paper won Top Paper Award at the IADIS Gaming Conference 2008
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On the Role of the Die
Pen-and-paper roleplaying games, like computer games, are in their essence rule-based simulation "engines" that facilitate playful interaction. These similarities make it possible to take some theoretical concepts and notions developed for computer games and use them to study roleplaying games. This article takes the concepts of "paidea" type play, game rules, simulation and agency, to discuss the rules of pen-and-paper roleplaying. These concepts are by now fairly well established within the field of game studies. I will use these concepts to examine the sometimes troublesome relation between roleplaying on the one hand and rules, gaming and gameplay on the other.
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The Hacker
I presented this article at the TIDSE 2006 conference in Darmstad, Germany.
Mythology and its general relevance for popular culture is is a framework of growing importance for understanding the way narrative games function as cultural artefacts within society. Myths are better compatible than conventional stories with the key characteristics of games: interactivity, (world)simulation and gameplay. Furthermore, games as a technologically advanced medium, open up new mythological perspectives on contemporary society and technology, a perspective where the hacker is proposed as the new hero of this day and age.
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Virtuele Vrouwen Verdienen Beter
The Dutch Feminist magazine LOVER asked me to write an article on money and gender issues in MMORPGs for there money theme issue of August/September 2006. It isonly a short piece, and it is in Dutch. The main point I try make resolves around the tendency of MMORPGs to strengthen gender stereotypes because the big companies are not going to gamble with a popular formula that works. Popular in a very narrow target market, of course!
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Talking to Games
Paper presented at iDiG 2006
This paper investigates the challenge of designing narrative dialogue in games. This challenge is approached from the perspective that it is mostly a gameplay issue. The notion of gameplay used here stems from an expanded version of the definition of games offered by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. Most notably, this paper adds to their definition the notion of gameplay as interactive player performance and stresses the importance of representation in games. Play is regarded as the production of signs which are evaluated by the game. As such, semiotic notions of signs can be used to help understand the challenge of dialogues in games, especially if we focus less on the signs and more on the way signs are articulated. Strategies for improving game dialogues, which emerges from this perspective, are proposed.
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The World is Yours
This article found a new home at Game Research.
The game series of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) has many faces. On the one hand it is a very popular gaming franchise; GTA San Andreas was one of the most anticipated and successful games of 2004. Millions of gamers indulged themselves into the various San Andreas cityscapes, car-jacking and killing their way up the criminal ladder. On the other the games are controversial because of their violent and criminal nature; many parents, educators and legislatures worry about that these games might inspire likewise violent and criminal behaviour in children. At the same time, GTA games were well received in critical circles of both game journalist and game academics. Up to the point that no self-respecting game scholar can go without an opinion or – preferably – an article on the game.
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Lost in a Forest
This article found a new home on Game Research.
Branching plot trees are not the way forward for the development of interactive storytelling or narrative gaming. By investigating the gaming nature of many computer mediated narratives and by learning from pen-and-paper role-playing games the story-world and the railroad are presented as successful, alternative structures for interactive storytelling. However, these structures are not without limitations. Taking cues from novelist Neal Stephenson and scholar Marie-Laure Ryan a new structure, the fractal story, is explored and presented as a promising format for expressive narrative gaming.
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Next Level? Eerst maar een Tutorial!
Recently I visited the Games exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and this is my Dutch report of that visit:

Met de tentoonstelling Next Level: Art, Games & Reality doet het Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam een poging om mee te gaan in de hedendaagse culturele ontwikkelingen. Het is dan ook jammer te moeten constateren dat de tentoonstelling aan futiliteit ten onder gaat. Met Next Level laat het Stedelijk zien weinig van het nieuwe medium te hebben begrepen. Kwalijker is het dat het Stedelijk daarmee zich zelf en de ontluikende culturele stroming binnen de games alles behalve een dienst bewijst.
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The Art of Jumping
When Shigeru Miyamoto designed Donkey Kong he invented a new genre of computer games. The platform game where the player jumps around a two dimensional game world, dodging various pits and pendulums, became a recipe on which many successful games were based throughout the eighties and early nineties. With the rise of 3D games in general and the first person shooter genre in particular, the classic platform game has lost its edge. Gamers have moved on, and the release of new platform games is a rare occasion, these days. In this article I will investigate the popular appeal of the 2D platform game during the genre's heyday. What are critical and essential elements of the typical platform game? It is my view that the answer must be looked for in the particular blend of platform gameplay.
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Shadowcaster: A Blueprint for a Different Narrative Game
By reinvestigating the nature of games and narratives this article attempts to bridge the gap between the two in new ways. Games are regarded as ludic and expressive simulations. Stories, and popular fiction in particular, are regarded as means of giving shape and access to fictional universes. Narrative games are ludic interfaces to similar fictional universes. Drawing inspiration from pen-and-paper role-playing games a few strategies of interactive storytelling are investigated. These games have 30 years of experience with strategies that manage to balance player freedom with more or less defined narrative goals. All this is combined in the description of a new type of narrative game. A game in which the ludic resolution of short narrative episodes is the main means of manipulation of the world-simulation.
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Multidimensional Narrativity
In July 2005 I participated in the Intensive Project Theory and History of European Graphic Novel. This Intensive Project was held at the Guenca University. Here you can find a full transcription of my lecture.
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Narrative, Roles and Beliefs in the New Age Era
Friday February 25, 2005. In the morning a small group of twenty-odd participants gathered at the Meertens Institute for a conference on the popular myth and New Age spirituality. Seven presentations were scheduled for the day. Over-all I found the conference quite interesting, although some presentations were more clearly interesting to me than others. Especially the ones that explained in some detail the way popular stories, become myth and possibly turn into belief. Here you can find my notes on six of these presentations
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ECO Salon: Games en Educatie
This is a lecture I gave on games and education for the Educational Faculty Amsterdam. Here I make a case for a better understanding of games by teachers and the use commercially produced games in education. The lecture is in Dutch...
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A Case For Generative Game Grammar (in preperation)
This is an article I have submitted for publication on Gamestudies.org. It is discusses the possibilities of applying Chomsky’s ideas of generative grammar on narrative computer games.
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About Never Ending Stories
-work in progress- This is the working title of my current project: to write something (a book maybe?) on narrative games, including both computer games and pen-and-paper role-playing games. Up until now I have written about 50,000 words, having finished drafts of five (out of nine) chapters. I plan to extract a few articles out of it, some of which you will be able to find here in near future.
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The Graphic Dimension of Nonlinear Text
The advent of new media in western society is accompanied with a few buzz words. 'Visual' and 'nonlinear' are terms that are often used to describe the those media artefacts that are the harbingers of things to come. In this article I will examine what it means for a text to be nonlinear and tie the notion of nonlinear to a visual or graphic structuring of information.
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Volstrekt realistische situaties in computergames? Die hebben we thuis al!
This is the title of a review article I wrote for the Dutch magazine Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis. In this article I review the following books: The Ultimate History of Videogames (Kent 2001), High Score! (DeMaria & Wilson 2004), Trigger Happy (Poole 2000) and Videogames (Newman 2004). As you might have guessed it is written in Dutch (the title is actually a paraphrase from Poole's book).
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Visual Grammar
My MA thesis Visual Grammar, Constructing a Grammar of Visual Design combines literary theory, semiotics and cognitive psychology to study static visual design (posters). You can find all five chapters of this thesis here, but I still have to put the appendixes online.
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