Machinations Framework

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The theoretical framework behind this project has been accepted as an extended paper for the GameOn North America Conference 2009 in Atlanta. Below you can find a brief explanation. The paper can be found on my website: follow this link.

These feedback diagrams are intended to represent a game's internal economy and flow of resources. According to literature most, if not all, games have an internal economy and this economy plays a vital role in its emergent behavior. A game's economic system is dominated by the flow of resources. In games resources can be anything: from money and property in Monopoly, via ammo and health in first person shooters, to experience points and equipment in role playing games. Even more abstract aspects of games, such as skill level and strategic position can be modeled through the use of resources.

These are dynamic diagrams: you will need to click the start button to activate the diagram. You will see resources moving around and some of the values of the diagram change as a result of the new distribution. The are also interactive. In the diagram below you can activate the 'Converter' by clicking it. The best diagrams almost feel like playing the game, which of course makes sense as these are models of games.

The most basic elements of these feedback diagrams deal with the flow of resources. The resources themselves are represented by small colored circles that flow through the diagram. In games resources are produced by certain entities or actions, in the diagram these are represented by a Source. Actions that cause resources to be removed from the game are represented by a Drain. A Pool is place where resources are gathered. Usually a player or AI has some sort of influence on how to use the resources that are collected in a pool. Often resources can be sent along different paths from a pool. A Gate is a place where resources are immediately redistributed. Flow Connections between the elements determine the routes a resource can travel.

Apart from resources, sources, drains and pools, these diagram uses state information to communicate between the different elements. State is communicated by State Connections (dotted lines). These communicate a numeric value that corresponds to the number of resources that is currently on an entity.

Elements can fire, a source that fires produces a number of resources, a converter or a drain fires when it has gathered enough resources. Sometimes elements are fired automatically, but elements represented with double lines are interactive. These only fire if you click them (and if the diagram is running).

Elements might also be Inhibited. Inhibited elements can never fire, not automatically and not in response to a user click.

The basic elements of these feedback diagrams are Pools, and Gates. Sources, Drains can be replaced by Pools with infinite capacity while Converters and Traders can be created from a combination of these elements.

Follow any of the following links to explore these concepts further.

There are also four tutorials to get you going with the diagrams and the basic concepts behind them.

  • Tutorial 1: Feedback loops in games
  • Tutorial 2: Modeling Starcraft
  • Tutorial 3: Feedback Signatures
  • Tutorial 4: Feedback Patterns
  • Tutorial 5: About modeling, scope and folding diagrams (Note: unsure if this is going to be a tutorial or a paper/discussion)