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Drama Princess Workshop & Symposium

Posted by Michael on May 25th, 2006, in Development

On 22 and 23 May 2006, we have organised a small workshop and symposium in the Foam Lab in Brussels.

A summary of the symposium’s conclusions can be found here.

On the first day, guests were invited to play certain commercial videogames. Those games were Ico, Black & White, The Sims 2 and Animal Crossing. Facade, Catz and Soul Calibur II were available as well.
And on the second day we discussed the autonomous characters in these games in a round-table format that was open to the public. Present on that day were Maja Kuzmanovic & Nik Gaffney (who had played Ico during the workshop), Judith Dormans & Daan Pasmans (Animal Crossing), Marek Bronstring (Black & White), Maaike Lauwaert & Martijn Hendricks (The Sims 2), Lina Kusaite, Cocky Eek, Theun Karelse, Elke Van Campenhout, Nina Czegledy and of course we, Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn.

The conclusions that our guests came to about the autonomous characters in these games, were largely the same as the ones that we have expressed on these pages before. With the exceptions, to some extent, of Maaike Lauwaert who went as far as calling The Sims 2 an amoral game and Maja Kuzmanovic expressing doubts about the sympathy one feels as a player for Yorda. It must be noted that Maaike had been doing a case study on The Sims for another project and that Maja had not ever played a Playstation game before in her life.

During the discussion we came to a perhaps odd consensus that sophistication of “AI” seems to be reversely related to the believability of the characters. The primitive Animal Crossing creatures were far easier to accept than the complex Sims. Some people even had trouble calling The Sims autonomous because they do not seem to try to accomplish their goals but needed the player’s help with that. Also, their personalities were not considered very diverse as they all responded in the same way to the same stimuli.

Here’s a summarized transcript of the videorecording of the symposium.

Context of Drama Princess
Auriea talks about the autonomous character of the Little Girl in 8 and shows some videos of different demos we have made. Michael explains the basic premise of 8.
Auriea explains how the Girl does not represent the player. The first two demos were made by Auriea and Michael on their own. The second demo -The Formal Diningroom- is still their favourite because the Girl in it shows a certain charm that helped achieve our design goal of the player feeling responsible for her and wanting to protect her. The game was supposed to be a collaboration between the player and the character.
In this second demo, the Girl still missed real autonomy. The randomness in her behaviour made her seem more alive than the more controlled system of the third demo. It seemed like the more intelligence we tried to give her, the dumber she started to look.
The third demo was made with a small team. The engine was completely redone. But despite of the clean system, there were still a lot of errors. Michael explains that we spent so much time making the system that there wasn’t any left for adding content, so it was all process and no data, she had a mind but it was empty. She felt more real to us when she had all her glitches.
Michael explains how the random system, which is very easy to build, is actually better than a sophisticated system, which was a lot harder. This was the start of the Drama Princess project: how much randomness can we allow while retaining the believability and likeability of the character? Another requirement of Drama Princess is that the module be reusable: a virtual actor who can play different roles.
Elke asks whether 8 was finished. Auriea answers we have only made demos and a full design. Michael explains how we couldn’t find commercial funding for it. Auriea adds that we want to come back to 8 one day.

Discussing the workshop games
The day before the symposium, several guests were invited to play specific games. They received a small list with questions to help focus on the autonomous characters in these games. At the symposium they talked about their experiences.

Animal Crossing (Gamecube)
Judith Dormans & Daan Pasmans
Judith introduces the game, assisted by Michael, Daan and Auriea. Judith explains how the characters express themselves. She considers what they say to be monologues through which you get a sense of their personalities. They show emotions through words, animations and facial expressions. Daan explains how they have simple personalities and how their emotions are not persistent. Judith wishes there were more personality types and more sophisticated personalities because the risk exists of ending up with many very similar characters that repeat the same things over and over again. This makes them feel a bit robot-like.
Marek asks what the characters do when you’re not interacting with them. Judith explains that they walk around in (their square in) the world and look at your avatar when you pass by. They don’t engage in any activities like fishing but they can play football with you. And they talk to each other, which can result in emotional shifts.

Judith talking

Judith then talks about the short term and long term memory of the characters. They can express strong emotions towards you, like anger, but when you go away and come back, they forgot how they felt, and are happy again. This makes them feel robot-like as well. The long term memory of the characters is also limited. They remember certain letters that you write them but they don’t remember having had a conversation with you. They can’t actually read the letters.
The purpose of the characters, according to Judith, is that they give you, as a player, a certain feeling. They create a sense of community and harmony. You feel like you belong there and have friends there. Daan adds that, even though you never see them doing it, they change things in the town to make it more fun. But you don’t really feel that you have a unique bond to the characters because the things they say about other players are not consistent and paradoxical. This randomness makes the characters seem stupid, rather than making you feel there’s a mistake in the programming.
Daan says that it seem like the characters don’t have a bond with each other. Judith adds that nobody has a unique bond in the game. Not the characters amongst each other, nor the characters with the players. In that way, it’s very superficial. The characters hardly ever talk about their relationships with each other. When they do, it’s very striking.

Ico (Playstation 2)
Maja Kuzmanovic & Nik Gaffney

Maja talking

Maja and Nik summarize the game as they experienced it in the few hours they played with it (we allowed them to play our saved games as well). Maja expresses how disappointed they were with the linearity of the narrative. There are so many possibilities in the huge castle but you always move towards one ending. Nik adds that there is always only one way to go from one room to the next. Auriea points out that this linearity is common in games to which Maja replies that, in the six years she hadn’t looked at games, she hoped that something had actually changed.
Maja admires the character design of Yorda because she annoyed her with her passiveness, which she considers to be a strong emotional attachment to the character. Nik explains how, in the beginning of the game, it was only because of the “game over” that happened when Yorda disappeared that they realised she was important to the gameplay. Nik considers her to be only partially autonomous because she doesn’t really do much on her own. Most of the time, she responds when you call out to her. But other than that she doesn’t take much initiative (somehow they didn’t discover Yorda’s ability to draw attention to puzzles).
In response to Marek’s question, Maja praises the hand holding interaction which felt very physical. Nik adds that, next to her ability to open doors, because you are required to drag her around, Yorda encourages you to play the game more slowly. Thanks to this slowness, you get a better sense of space and size of the castle. The game would be much more boring without Yorda because having to drag Yorda around or making sure that she’s following you, influences your attitude into being more careful and deliberate. While waiting for her, Maja adds, you get some time to look around by which you discover things you would otherwise not notice. You also develop this desire to make sure that she is safe, which influences your behaviour as well.
Michael concludes that through these minor annoyances in the gameplay, the game forces you to play your role in the story. Maja stresses that she did care for the character but that she was annoyed with her being so girly and so hopeless.
Auriea offers her interpretation of the story that perhaps it is Yorda who wants to save Ico rather than the other way around and explains how your feelings for Yorda evolve throughout the game.

Nik talking

Because of her ghostlike personality, according to Maja, even the glitches in Yorda’s software are acceptable. What would be considered as mistakes by a scientist, are turned around to work in the artist’s favour in terms of expressing the personality of the character. Maja regrets that nothing seems to really change Yorda’s mood. Her ghostlike appearance only partially justifies this. Nik calls her somewhat flat and predictable because of this. But displaying a wider range of emotions might seem out of character.
The two characters don’t seem to care for each other, according to Nik. Martijn remarks that to him, Yorda seems traumatised, which helps to suggest a lot more psychological depth than most game characters possess. Marek adds that perhaps because she’s not so repsonsive, you start wondering what’s wrong with her.
Michael states that it seems like the personality of Yorda was developed in a very clever way out of the limitations of artificial intelligence. Nik objects by saying that the designers could have chosen other limitations to work with and that small changes, like speeding her up, would dramatically change her personality, even within the same constraints. Maja adds that it is easier to make characters that are somewhat psychologically disturbed than “normal” ones. Nik says that, in this respect, Yorda feels more like a caricature than a character.

Black & White (Windows PC)
Marek Bronstring
Marek explains the god game, the villagers and the creature. How the creature expresses desires and emotions. The player can punish, reward or leash the creature to educate it to do things for you. This is how the autonomous character in Black & White is different than in the other games. You don’t have to care too much about the creature. It becomes your tool, almost a second avatar.
The creature can take initiative autonomously. He communicates through gestures, not words. But the conscience characters sometimes translate what the creature is thinking. They form an interpretation layer between you and the creature.
The villagers are also autonomous characters and interact with the creature. There’s not much direct communication with the character. In the beginning his personality is more or less blank but through using him as a tool, you get a sense of personality. You want to know whether he is obeying you or if he should be punished. But Marek doesn’t find himself very interested in his personality even though he does amusing things once in a while. Overall, he considers the creature to be his slave.
(video tape switch)

Drama Princess Symposium, Marek talking

If you play the game in a goal-oriented way, according to Marek, the creature can be distracting. But for experimenting and messing around, the creature is great. Michael points out that in this sense, the game is similar to what Maja and Nik had said about Ico: that the game wants to slow you down. Marek confirms that the creature makes you focus on things that you otherwise would not pay attention to. The distraction he offers keeps you interested in the game. Ultimately it depends on your play style and patience whether the creature becomes your tool or a distraction.
Judith has played the game a lot more than Marek and she doesn’t think of the creature as a distraction anymore because she knows exactly what to do and how to do it. So it’s also a matter of skills. Despite of that, in response to a question from Auriea, Judith still feels that the creature seems very much alive (though she’s not sure if that is because of the game’s design or because of her personal liking of monkeys :) ). He doesn’t feel like a robot that you’re programming. Judith calls him more of a soldier than a tool.
Marek agrees that the experience feels more like teaching than programming. Programming is not that straightforward anyway, says Daan, as the creature does not stop doing something merely because you punished him for it once. Sometimes it says at the bottom of the screen that the creature wants to mess around with you.
Marek adds that this second layer, of the advisors interpreting the behaviour of the creature for you (rather than the creature expressing this unambiguously), makes the creature more believable as a living being. Auriea concludes that the way in which the different elements in the game support each other contributes to the believability.

The Sims 2 (MacOSX)
Maaike Lauwaert & Martijn Hendricks
Maaike prefers to call The Sims a suburban household simulator rather than a life simulator. For the Drama Princess research, Maaike and Martijn played in a prefabricated family rather than making a new one. In answer to Michael’s question, Martijn explains that, to him, suburban means a life in which people are more prone to be bored by their lives, life emptied of meaning or questions or real conflicts or drama.
All characters are autonomous Non Player Characters (NPCs). The role of the player is limited to giving them commands but they don’t really need you for that. There’s two things that they won’t do on their own, adds Maaike, typically suburban: shopping and rebuilding and redecorating the house. If they need a new fridge, please give it to them because otherwise they will be depressed in two seconds.
Judith recommends installing the cheats. Then it becomes a very different game. But Maaike wants to criticize the design of the game as most people are playing it.

Maaike expresses moral objections to The Sims being played by children. The game is infused with an ideology focussed on household and consumerism. As such it narrows down the scope of life possibilities for children. She expresses serious problems with the focus of the game on materialistic pleasures. In response to Nik’s question, Maaike says that she finds The Sims more problematic than a doll house because the latter leaves open a lot more role playing and narrative possibilities. A doll house also allows for more blurring of the lines between reality and game.
Compared to violent games, Maaike find The Sims problematic because, unlike shooters, parents will think of The Sims as a good investment, a great present. Judith points out that it is the job of the parents to educate their child.
Elke finds the game quite humorous. She calls it a parody. Maaike understand this intention but doesn’t see the humour.
Martijn asks if it is not humorous in the sense that all games these days are ironic or tongue-in-cheeck, and offer different levels of interpretation. Elke says that she doesn’t think The Sims is a critical game.

In response to Michael’s question about credibility, Maaike says that it would be exaggerating to say that The Sims compare to characters in movies or novels. They are intelligently designed in terms of how they interact with each other and the environment but they never get the same sort of depth as in a novel. Maybe they do get close to characters in television shows.

Martijn finds the characters in The Sims very often extremely hysterical. One moment they are dancing together. The next they are crying. But somehow this does not express their own psychological life but rather the vision of a designer who wants to show contemporary life. Maaike en Martijn confirm Michael’s assessment that it feels like there’s a hidden puppet master pulling the strings and they add that this puppet master is not the player.

Judith agrees with the superficiality of the game. She finds it pathetic that the most interesting thing to do in the game, for her, is cheating on your spouse because it has the most consequences and impact. Michael adds that it is also very easy to make Sims cheat on each other. The thing that Judith likes in the game is designing the house and the characters because that is creative. But the things that the characters can do are very limited.
Martijn thinks that this activity would be fun if the designers had made you care about the characters. The reason why you don’t care is because there is no opportunity in the game to start to care and let that feeling grow. Judith confirms that you only start caring after a long time of playing with the same characters. Elke didn’t care about her Sims because she found them to be very needy. The game got boring very quickly to her. Martijn found it boring because it felt like watching a rerun of a television show.

Judith expresses annoyance with how The Sims do the same things in the same situations every time, regardless even of gender. While that didn’t bother her in Animal Crossing at all. She thinks this is because The Sims are supposed to be real people. By downloading the extras, you can really make them look like people but then you’re confronted with their limited animations. Michael points out that The Sims have enormous amounts of animations but Judith says that for each action, there is only one single animation. That makes them seem robot-like.

Auriea is interested in the similarities between The Sims and Animal Crossing. They both feature autonomous characters living with each other in a small space. The Animal Crossing characters seem to be more believable. Elke points out that you have an avatar in Animal Crossing to which Michael agrees that that might make a big difference because it makes you like the characters better. He refers to the design specification of the creature in Black & White that said that the creature should express liking the player because they thought this was a good trick to make the player like the character. This is absent in The Sims. The Sims hate you as a player. Judith says that that’s also a good thing because then you can do whatever you want to them and you don’t care. Auriea talks about how she wanted to care for them but their always needing something and always being dissatisfied and quickly becoming depressed, made her feel horrible and quit playing.

Judith finds that after a while you know exactly what makes them happy. But that’s boring as well. Martijn adds that the dashboard which reflects their mood and goals is always present on the screen and that this keeps you from investing any emotions in them. Maaike confirms Marek’s question as to wether the life goals of the characters always remain the same. Changes may happen in the next generation as their DNA moves on to their children. Marek thinks it would be interesting if they would change their mind once in a while but Judith points out that they never do things like that on their own, that the player needs to decide this for them. They would never quit a job they don’t like, e.g.
Judith wonders why The Sims don’t commit suicide. Because, Martijn answers, in many ways, it’s a politically correct game and they wouldn’t give an example like that because then their rating would change. Judith does like that the characters can fall in love with people from any gender and Michael adds “but not from any age” to which Judith responds that you can’t have incest either. But even though a Sim’s wife’s sister is defined as “family”, he or she can still have sex with her.

Auriea thinks that the characters say more about the designers of the game that they do about themselves. All characters are little symbols of ideas that the designers had. Despite of it originally being designed by a well known designer -Will Wright- it still feels like a design-by-committee job to her.

Judith explains that she gets frustrated with the game because there are so many options for things to do but all of them refer to this suburban ideal. The way in which Animal Crossing expresses its limitations, is much more acceptable. People replied yes to Michael asking if it would have been better if the Sims were simpler. Elke points out the big difference with Second Life where all characters are played by humans.

Drama Princess Symposium, Martijn talking

Another reason why The Sims are not credible, according to Martijn, is that you are constantly reminded of a vision of people as databases of wants and fears. If the designers would take that away, the player would at least be able to project something onto them. Now all you see is a reflection of some algorithms. Marek wonders whether transparency of a character is reversely related to credibility, giving the example of Yorda from Ico about whose mind the player knows nothing. Maaike agrees because this leaves room for empathy. In The Sims everything is so detailed and filled in that there is no room for empathy. Marek asks if it would be more interesting to not see the interface at all to which Michael replies, only if the game would be more forgiving pointing to the projection of a burning Sims kitchen. Judith points out that many players like the clarity.
Marek claims, under some hilarity of the others, that wish fulfilment might be part of the attraction of The Sims, saying that he would find it lovely if buying a fridge would make him happy.

Judith applauds how the game allows you to manipulate it with many different tools that are available on the internet. Martijn and Auriea conclude that The Sims is not about autonomous characters at all but about a wholly different play experience. The fun is more in the players interacting with each other online, through sharing, than the characters in the game. Michael points out that many more people have bought and presumable play the game than there are people who post on the web forums.
Maaike criticises the fact that the things you are allowed to create as a player always remain within the framework of the game. You can never design a house that is not typically suburban or a character outside of the limitations of the game. Judith counters by saying that you can get S&M outfits for the characters but Maaike considers these to be very much within the framework of the game. Judith says that you can completely change the meshes that make up the characters.

Maaike considers The Sims to be the best example of how randomness is more believable than Aritificial Intelligence in response to Michael’s claim that you can almost read the A.I. theory from the game’s interface. Auriea concludes that The Sims have a perfect A.I. system but it fails to feel alive. Nik disagrees that The Sims have a perfect A.I. system. It has a very specific definition of what a personality would be like and that could be different. Elke points out that The Sims don’t really make choices, that they just respond to their needs and wishes. Nik says that it’s not an A.I. system at all but a personality simulator. It’s not intelligent at all because the characters don’t make decisions, they don’t have motivations or ideas about the world. Michael counters that they do have motivations: they have a goal in life, an aspiration. But Auriea points out that they don’t go towards it. And Michael agrees that you have to help them, that they won’t go after it. But they do know they want it, adds Maja. This is only communicated in icons however, according to Michael.
Maaike questions whether one can consider The Sims to even be autonomous.

Auriea concludes that of the four games, The Sims is the only one that people present explicitly didn’t like as an experience. And this is mostly caused by the lack of empathy or care for the characters. Michael asks if it would be better if The Sims would go after their own goals? Maaike confirms and adds that being able to do something together with the characters would also help. This would lead to a sense of accomplishment that is currently lacking in the game.
Nik offers that perhaps the dissatisfaction that we feel about the suburban lifestyle proves that it might be an accurate description of a life style that many people are happy with.

Auriea asks if there is any feeling of agency in The Sims. Maaike calls the player a facilitator of the needs of the characters. This is another problem with the game, according to Auriea, that you can’t have a real impact on the game world as a player.

Judith concludes that The Sims is a construction game and that it would be a very different game if the characters would be truly autonomous. Maaike agrees that this is a satisfying aspect of the game, especially in combination with the sharing with other players.

Black & White also includes a lot of construction gameplay but it’s much better integrated with the narrative concept of the world, says Michael. Marek points out that the player plays the same role in The Sims as in Black & White. But the characters in Black & White are more responsive. You can make the creatures good or bad, adds Elke, they learn something, they become something. Judith says that there is no good and bad in The Sims. A criminal is a viable profession. Judith disagrees that the player is a god in The Sims because he or she does not have as much control as in Black & White.

Drama Princess Symposium break
Then there was a break with very yummy princessly Foam snacks. We couldn’t eat the banana flower.

General discussion
This started as an expression of what Auriea and Michael thought about the four games that had been discussed and moved into discussing our approach to game design in general to end with talking about some ideas we have for the Drama Princess system.

Auriea starts by stating that even though there are only three personality types in Animal Crossing, and a male and female version of each, sometimes they appear as individual personalities to her, beyond their unique appearance. Judith says that this depends on the experience you had with the characters. You end up liking one more than the other, even though they say the same things. Auriea expresses that somehow you care for the characters and when they leave town, e.g., it is very sad. The friendship that you feel for one of the characters might be based on a complete illusion. And this leads us to take into account the human ability to fill in these things when designing Drama Princess. Judith agrees: the freedom to fill in those things (Animal Crossing) is appreciated more than an explicit definition (The Sims).

Marek is asked if this is a general feeling across larger groups of people in his extensive web forum experience. He thinks that the ambiguity of allowing the player to guess does indeed seem to be interesting to players.

Auriea confesses that Animal Crossing is our favourite game to play. Judith brings up Harvest Moon as a similar game to Animal Crossing, but with a goal. She finds it boring compared to Animal Crossing. Which surprises Auriea because Animal Crossing already seems like it would be boring. And still you keep playing it without really knowing why. Judith agrees: Animal Crossing seems less rich but it is a lot more satisfying.

Across genres and platforms, Auriea continues, Ico is our favourite game of all time.

(switch of video tapes during which we talked about how much we anticpiated Ico while we were working on 8 and how oddly similar both games are)

Maaike compares the intuitive controls of Ico to those in The Endless Forest. Before you know it, you’re dancing in the forest with other players. Normally when I play a game, she says, I get bored after 10 minutes, but we stayed in The Endless Forest much longer. To which Michael responds that this is ironic since some people complain that you can’t do anything in the game. Maaike counters this by embracing the non-pressing nature of The Endless Forest and how happy she was with picking flowers. :)

The intuitivity of the controls may be relative, says Auriea, given the problems newcomers like Maja and Nik had with the Playstation controller.

The conversation continues about what influenced the design of the controls in 8 and The Endless Forest -Ico, Neverwinter Nights and Black & White.

Marek mentions a psychology book he’s reading about reciprocity. The fact that the characters in Animal Crossing return your letters might help their credibility and your affection for them. Martijn says this is fundamental Game Theory. Marek adds that the lack of reciprocity may explain why The Sims offers such unsatisfying interaction with the characters. Judith adds that Harvest Moon doesn’t have reciprocity either.
Auriea claims that reciprocity happens in Ico as well but it takes a long time. Marek thinks that that might make it even more rewarding, like the emotional investment into the character finally paying off. Reciprocity is very strong in Black & White too.

Michael says that a good balance needs to be found because if the reciprocity is too direct, the risk exists that you start treating the character as a tool (slave in Black & White, walking key in Ico). Marek claims that it is the context and the goal of the game that make the character feel like a tool or not.

Auriea talks about Black & White as a very succesful example of a believable world, illustrating this with the responsiveness of the characters to what you do. The villagers dancing around a stone that you put down are appreciated a lot by Judith. Black & White succeeds in making you feel like a god by forcing you into that role, according to Auriea, you have the power to destroy everything. Elke questions the morality of this, compared to problems expressed earlier with The Sims. Auriea attributes this to design. The moral problem in The Sims comes from the game being insulting to the player. While in Black & White, adds Michael, the game is continuously saying how great you are as a player/god.

Auriea doesn’t expect Black & White to be high art. It’s just a moment out of things. And that needs to be a good experience, including forgetting about time.
Elke asks about our use of the term “jeu d’auteur” on our website. Michael explains how his moral problem with Black & White was that there was no authorship in the definition of good and evil. And because of the lack of explicit authorship, the game fell back on cliché conceptions of what is good and what is evil. Even if you made your creature fall in love with the creature of your opponent, the game would still force the two to fight for the purpose of the linear narrative.
Auriea concludes that all games have issues like this but when their strengths overcome their weaknesses, they can be enjoyable nonetheless. The absense of authors, however, means that there is often nobody who can stand up for a game project. Even Peter Molyneux, who designed Black & White, explicitly tries to design a game where the player is supposedly the author, according to Michael.
Marek says it’s about shared authorship and a game will always be a simplification. Nik interrupts by saying that the choice of what to sacrifice in this simplification is a matter of authorship. Michael claims that these choices are often made for reasons that have nothing to do with authorship: technical or economic reasons, e.g. Random decisons (Auriea). Focus groups (Nik).

Martijn asks which games we think are good examples of games with a strong authorial view. Ico and the early Silent Hill games are about the only ones, says Auriea. Martijn agrees that authorship seems to be pretty much absent in commercial game culture.

Martijn wonders to what extent one’s affective relationships with characters depend on either system design or aesthetics, referring to what Nik said about the speed of Yorda’s animations defining her character. Auriea says that Yorda’s personality seems to be built as a solution to a problem. The designers knew that they couldn’t make the character realistic so they use the glitches to create her personality. It’s probably because this made her feel ghostlike that they made her look more like a ghost. Then you don’t see her faults as faults. This is a perfectly acceptable creative process, according to Michael. The aesthetic that resulted from this, Auriea continues, influenced the design of the whole world which turns the game into a very impressive statement.
Marek says that less realistic graphics are adventageous because characters are allowed to be more strange that way.
Martijn says that another failure of The Sims is its lack of camera system. You have to move the camera yourself instead of it being used as the important tool it can be to create affective relationships with the characters. That makes The Sims seem like a fish tank, says Auriea.

Drama Princess Symposium, Auriea talking

Auriea mentions Façade. Not many people have played it. Marek recommends it: it’s a flawed game but it is very important and interesting. Due to its flaws or in spite of its flaws? asks Nik. Michael explains how Façade has two levels. The level of the story that you can discover when you stay in character as you’re interacting with the two autonomous characters in the game. And the other level that consists of messing with the game and testing what the text parser will understand and seeing how the characters will respond to this.
Marek thinks the text-input interface turns the story into a game, like improvised theater. Judith feels it’s similar to Dungeons and Dragons in that respect.

Then Martijn interjects with some Burger King chicken web game with video of a real person. Similar to a cam girl, Michael suggests. Martijn considers this to be problematic in terms of developing sympathy for the character.

Marek mentions someone who played the role of somebody being shot in Façade and the hilarious responses of the characters.
Auriea praises the voice acting of Façade as another way in which aesthetics are important.
Marek says that it could be argued that a game should refuse to work with you if you start messing with it but Auriea thinks that it’s better to give people a laugh than to disappoint them.

Then we go on bitching some more about The Sims, complaining that they always find body odor bad even when they’re married.

Michael talks about the Drama Princess blog and how it is just a collection of random thoughts so far. Michael explains how we’re trying to stay away from designing the characters themselves in favour of trying to design the space between them. He explains the idea of the character not having complete knowledge of the world but instead relying on usage instructions that are attached to objects and other characters. He tries to approach the problem from the outside, more from the director’s point of view than from the actor’s.
The starting point of Drama Princess is randomness. And the search for ways to remove the negative aspects of randomness. One of the objections to randomness would be that the characters won’t behave consistently, that they will apear mad or hysterical. To solve this problem, characters don’t need to have a mind but instead a set of rules about doing things in a sequence and not making radical switches between sequences.
According to Nik this is more than an issue of shaping or constraining the randomness. Defining sequences is a form of scripting and you have to think about when it makes sense to use scripted sequences and when to use a degree of randomness.
Michael talks about complex high levels actions that consist of simple low level actions and a system that picks sometimes from one and sometimes from the other. Michael explains how we don’t have a specific story to tell. We’re open for anything happening.
Nik adds that predefined sequences of actions can turn into a characteristic when done repeatedly. This is fairly easy to solve computationally through Markov models, e.g. that add an element of chance to certain actions being included in the sequence. Situations can change the probabilities over time, giving the character development and personality. Judith says that Black & White contains statistics about such probabilities than can change.

Maja reminds us that we are also interested in the effects that the environment has on the development of the character and mentions A-Life techniques in which the environment shapes the growth of an organism. Michael says that our interest is more in the imagination of the player than in what actually happens. We don’t want to build a simulated organism because we know that that is going to fail. Maja says that you don’t need to use A-Life techniques literally but that you could use them to simulate growth, to develop personality traits.
Nik adds that one of the most simple techniques is a feedback loop: a sort of reward system; food that stops you from being hungry, e.g. Michael asks what this contributes to the spectator’s experience. Maja says it reduces the randomness. Auriea interprets interaction between environment and characters as an alternative to scripting.
Nik thinks that as soon as you move away from a well-defined script one has to develop a system. Randomness is one such system, a computer simulation of noise. But you want to convey the impression that there is a much richer world than has actually been built. So the question is what systems can you use to give this impression. You want something simple and manageable that gives you rich results. Results that seem rich, adds Michael. Michael jokes that noise is extremely rich but Nik counters that its variation is also extremely consistent. That’s how you get the different colours of noise. He thinks that statistical methods could be more interesting than symbolic A.I. Essentially you want to tame or shape randomness.
Michael wonders about shaping randomness according to things that have no logical connection to the simulation. Shaping the randomness according to a certain curve, e.g. Sort of a shape for shape’s sake rather than making decisions about how characters live.
Nik says you still want a certain system that allows you to model the personality of the character. A general system that is not tied to a specific character. The Markov model could work for this because it is general enough, it’s computationally very respectable and it can adapt over time.

Maja wonders if this is becoming too technical for some people who seem to be zoning out. :)

Michael asks adapting to what and Nik answers to other characters, to the environment, to the story, etc. This is exactly what is difficult, according to Michael: how do you author these things and on what level?
Maja asks if we want characters that change over time. Michael says that the goal is for the player to have an emotional response to the characters. If this requires changing over time, then yes.

Nik asks how do you model very significant, life-changing events like the burning kitchen in The Sims? Auriea replies that in the case of the Sims, such things don’t really change them. Nik believes that using such events to change characters fundamentally is interesting, even if you’re only scrambling their previous preferences.

Auriea points out that change over time is not as interesting as changes through interaction with characters and environment because the latter leads you deeper into the narrative. Michael admits that changes in characters definitely sound like something that is very important when judging the believability and likeability of a character. Even the small changes in the relationships in Animal Crossing are very pleasurable, according to Judith. Auriea says that Animal Crossing might not be a good model for what we want to make because it lives and dies by its limitations. Black & White also has limitations, says Judith, but -as with Animal Crossing- its concept is adapted to these limitations so well that you don’t get frustrated with them.
Marek wonders if a combination of prescripted life-changing events and smaller action-reaction events would work. The latter would make you believe that the former are spontaneous. The small A.I. events have consequences but don’t impact the overall game. But they make the big scripted events seem emergent. It’s a smoke and mirrors kind of thing.

Auriea talks a bit about 144 which will be the first environment for Drama Princess, but keeps it suitably vague. :)
But this doesn’t mean that we won’t continue developing The Endless Forest. With 144 we want to prove we can make a small single player self-contained game.

And then there’s some discussion about being control freaks in the design of interactive works and more munching of pretty amuse-gueules. After which we have a very nice Tibetan diner with vegetarian Momo’s.

Pingback by Grand Text Auto » Drama Princess

Posted on May 31, 2006 at 5:22 pm

[…] They recently held a roundtable discussion where they evaluated Animal Crossing, the Sims, Black and White and more (the transcript seems truncated, actually). Other posts evaluate various books and authoring systems for interactive character and narrative. […]

Pingback by Drama Princess » Blog Archive » Drama Princess Symposium evaluation

Posted on June 5, 2006 at 11:41 pm

[…] This is a little summary of what came out of our Drama Princess Symposium last month. […]

Comment by maja

Posted on June 19, 2006 at 6:38 pm

your transcript is excellent - but maybe call it an impression, or summary or annotated transcript, as you have included comments by yourselves that were not on video.

btw - i’m not sure whether my lack of sympathy for yorda originates in my own (psychological) issues with fragile little girls, or from my first time with the playstation (nik was in the same situation, but didn’t feel as strongly irritated by yorda). i think it’s just my ost-europa upbringing ;) - i am still quite impressed with the way they designed her to be able to provoke such strong emotions in me!

i’m looking forward to your evaluation!

Comment by Michael

Posted on June 19, 2006 at 7:38 pm

I called it a “summarized transcript”. I didn’t add so much comments, though.

Yeah, it’s still very hard for games to be enjoyable by non-gamers. You have to get over this big obstacle first before you can enjoy them. We hope to help lower this treshold a bit with our work.

The evaluation is here. Sort of. Maybe I should call it an impression? ;)

Pingback by Drama Princess » Blog Archive » Variety in behaviour

Posted on June 21, 2006 at 8:03 am

[…] One of the interesting things that came out of the Drama Princess Symposium was the fact that it was perfectly acceptable for an autonomous character to be stupid, as long as it was believable. One of the things that made The Sims less believable was the fact that all Sims play the same animation to achieve the same goal. The fact that they had an enormous amount of opportunities to choose as their goal (=intelligent) did not make up for this. […]

Comment by axcho

Posted on January 24, 2007 at 3:11 am

I just read this for the first time. It is very interesting. Thanks for writing up a summary of it! :)

Pingback by Tale of Tales» Blog Archive » Essay on The Endless Forest

Posted on April 1, 2007 at 12:02 am

[…] Dutch Judith Dormans is bachelor student at the faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the Maastricht University, specialising in game studies. She participated in our Drama Princess Symposium and now she’s written quite an impressive in-depth essay about The Endless Forest. She criticizes Salen & Zimmerman’s rules-based analysis of games as being limited and argues for broadening the horizons of game studies. A case study of The Endless Forest shows that the theories about formal systems aren’t sufficient anymore. They give no room for the participatory nature of games and they put too much emphasis on the traditional forms of games. It is required to redefine what the formal system of a game is. […]

Pingback by No Drama « Maaike Lauwaert

Posted on November 25, 2007 at 12:44 pm

[…] · No Comments Participation in 2006 with Martijn Hendriks in the “Drama Princess” symposium andworkshop by Tale of Tales at the Foam Lab Brussels. […]

Comment by elton john

Posted on December 30, 2009 at 11:47 am

it helped me with my homework thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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