UC Berkeley Lecture Posted

Just a quick note:  I posted Wednesday’s UC Berkeley Lecture, Design, Games, & Game Design (feat. SpyParty).

Update: I also just posted a related lecture about SpyParty‘s AI system and AI programming and design in general, titled, SpyParty, A Game About AI…plus some ranting.

Update: Arthur Mason posted some pictures of the event to flickr.

Must read this before playing Hecker's game.


  1. Squishy says:

    That was a great talk with a lot of interesting points but Wow you talk quickly! :)

  2. DF says:

    Great talk and cool game! I’d like to know your opinion on something, if possible!
    Do you notice a tendency among authors in the field of computer art/entertainment to emphasize Interactivity when discussing the expressive potential of digital media? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on *procedurality* itself?
    After all, the aspect of digital media that makes it unique does not require interactivity to happen. 
    For example, Spyparty differs from a Bond movie because, instead of using a script, interesting things happen because of characters behaviours, etc.  Although obviously it’s cool to also interact with that system, this is just a detail (in comparison to the whole system that allows this to happen).
    Note that I’m not arguing against the importance and value of interactivity. It’s just that it seems limited (or even superficial) to only study digital media through that specific perspective, which seems to be the case most often than not.
    PS: Sure, interactivity allows for a pratical view of procedurality, and thus functions as a great tool to study it – but it should not be always the main focus.
    PPS: Please don’t think I am criticizing your approach. I’d just like to have your take on this subject!

    • checker says:

      Thanks, and you can feel free to criticize my approach, that’s one of the ways we move this stuff forward! :)

      I think what you’re talking about is the difference between “Digital Media” and “Games”.  They’re related, but aren’t supersets or subsets of each other.  Video Games are clearly a subset of Digital Media, at least implementationally, but Board Games and Card Games and whatnot clearly aren’t, yet they’re Games.  Conway’s Game of Life is much more a Digital Media work than it is a Game, etc.  So, I think for Games (which includes all kinds of games, not just electronic ones), the interactivity is the fundamental differentiator from other art and entertainment forms, so I don’t think it’s a detail at all, it’s the most important characteristic.  The proceduralism is less important, but still very important!  I mean, in painting, it’s not like color is the key and drawing and composition are details, they’re all important aspects of the work.  Personally, I also find the interactivity aspect the most exciting. Procedrualism without interactivity can be neat, but at that point it’s closer to normal visual art.  If the viewer/player can’t interact with it, why not just have it on video?  This is getting far afield, but that’s how I think about it.

    • DF says:

      Thanks for the reply!

      Seems like I was assuming some things wrongly. I guess my point of view on this is a bit more “radical” (or extreme), in the sense that I’m specifically interested in the kind of things that only digital media can do.

      That is, I’d rather have a very simple NPC, but that is 100% procedural, than an NPC capable of doing complex things (like talking), but with less procedurality (for example, based on scripted dialogue, etc).
      I agree that interactivity is essential to most games. My question is specifically about the *emphasis* on that element, which seems to distract from what I personally consider a more important aspect – procedurality.

      If spyparty had no procedurality (an extreme example, I know), it would be an awesome board game, but not a computer game (and I wouldnt even be commenting here, since I’m not interested in board games :).

      Well, your approach is obviously much more pratical, since you have a working prototype of your game, and I have only an idea (ideal?) of what such a game COULD be. :)

      (btw, sorry for my weird english – I’m brasilian and rarely write in english)

    • checker says:

      I think this might just be a case of different people being interested in different aspects of a problem, and that’s a good thing, since it means we’ll explore the space better.  I think the focus on interactivity does indeed “distract” from a focus on procedurality, since one can only truly focus on a single thing, but that’s fine and healthy.  Two different artists can look at a Rembrandt painting and think two different aspects of the painting are the most important, not to mention what happens when an artist and a chemist and a historian look at a Rembrandt painting.  Sounds like the opening line of a joke…

      Also, your English is way better than my Portuguese, so don’t worry about it!  :)

    • DF says:

      Indeed, agree! Thanks Chris

    • Frank Lantz says:

      I’m not sure I understand the distinction between procedure and interaction. You can have procedures that include user input, in which case you have interactivity. DF, are you suggesting that procedures without player input are inherently more expressive or more interesting or something? That seems like an odd claim. Typically games use interactivity to highlight the workings of the procedures of the system, to encourage and reward close observation, analysis, and understanding of the system.

      To say that SpyParty “differs from a Bond movie because instead of using a script interesting things happen because of characters behaviors” is just plain wrong, imo. SP differs from a Bond movie *in just about every way possible*. Watching a Bond movie and playing SP are two extremely different kinds of experiences. Apart from sharing a theme and some motifs they have very little in common. Furthermore, the NPC characters’ behaviors are not particularly interesting apart from the interaction of the two players for which they serves as a complex armature.

      To say that “If SP had no procedurality it would be a board game” is also confusing. To begin with most Board games have procedures in them.

      Mostly, I find the opposition between procedures and interactivity misleading. Emphasizing interactivity does not mean de-emphasizing procedures, since the interactivity takes place *with* and *through* the procedures.

    • DF says:

      Hi Frank, I’ll try to clarify some of my points.
      >> I’m not sure I understand the distinction between procedure and interaction.>>> …most Board games have procedures
      About procedurality, sorry for not making that clear – I’m considering specifically digital media (that is, automatic procedurality). So it doesn’t apply to a board game, for example.

      Interactivity is the act of modifying a system (so a board game is interactive, for example).
      >>  DF, are you suggesting that procedures without player input are inherently more expressive or more interesting or something?
      Not at all! My point is specifically from the research/discussion perspective. I agree with authors like Janet Murray, Alan Kay and Michael Mateas, who believe digital media is still fundamentally unexplored by most artists (and other creative people, like game designers, for example). So, there should be at least a bit more studies dealing with the more fundamental elements and nature of the medium (which, according to these authors, is procedurality), instead of focusing so much in the “top layers” (or even in one specific “top layer”, like interactivity).
      It’s as if 70% of all studies about Cinema were about, say, editing (as opposed to a more even distribution of efforts in understanding the medium).
      >> [comparing spyparty and bond] is just plain wrong
      I was just comparing them in a fundamental perspective (also, I don’t think there’s nothing wrong in making a comparison). Cinema is fundamentally linear, digital media is not (it does allow for linear content, but that is not a fundamental use of its potential). 
      Again, I agree with you that interactivity has a major role in games. I’m just saying that most of this role has to do to the more fundamental concept of procedurality.

      >> Furthermore, the NPC characters’ behaviors are not particularly interesting apart…
      It’s cool that you said that, since it makes clear how we represent different perspectives;

      To me, this “living vitual world” of the party is fascinating. It’s what makes the game interesting and unique in comparison to other media – say, a movie about spies, or a Spyparty board game (which would be interactive, by the way).
      So I guess that, as Chris pointed above, it’s just that we don’t share the same specific interests on this subject.
      That said, I do think that, in order to fully take advantage of the expressive qualities of a certain media, you have to explore it from it’s unique and fundamental aspects. Interactivity is not fundamental to digital media, but automatic procedurality is.
      It’s like that analogy with Cinema: you can simply film a play in a stage, and that would be a kind of Cinema. But you wouldn’t be taking full advantage of the medium  (composing, camera movements, editing, etc.).
      That has nothing to do with quality, of course. A movie like Dogville (which is almost “filmed theatre”) is much better (to me) than Transformers 2, for example.

      But that’s were my specific interest comes in – to me, an experience like Façade is MUCH more interesting than Heavy Rain: http://www.7luas.com.br/english/heavy-rain-x-facade
      >> Emphasizing interactivity does not mean de-emphasizing procedures (…) interactivity takes place (…) *through* procedures.
      Exactly, totally agree on that! But that is not what I personally feel from the majority of what I read on the subject. I could paste some quotes here about this from my research, but this comment is already ridiculously long as it is.. Sorry for that!

      I do notice that recent studies are more in that direction, though, so the future looks bright :)

    • DF says:

      The blog system reformatted my comment. I hope it’s still readable!

    • Frank Lantz says:

      I think I prefer Chris’ approach – “decide what you’re interested in and focus on that” to any claims for procedurality’s primacy or supposedly unique, fundamental status. I can think of lots of stuff that’s considered “digital media” that doesn’t have much automatic procedurality in it, blogs for example!

    • DF says:

      you know what, I agree! much less stressful :)

  3. checker says:

    I updated the post with another related lecture I just synced up and posted.

    • Zaphos says:

      Watching the AI talk, & have a random note — you said no one’s working on stuff like ik for hands, but fwiw people in robotics and a few in graphics do work on control for grasping; there’s a whole grad course at cmu on it — http://graphics.cs.cmu.edu/nsp/course/16-899/

      I know you were talking about the games industry specifically, so maybe it’s not relevant!  Just thought it might be of interest :)

    • checker says:

      Yeah, sorry, I meant “no one is putting this stuff into games”, which presents a whole new set of problems.  Yes, the robotics people are doing it, and the math and papers from that work is very helpful, but they have an even harder technical problem than we do, due to the physicality of the system.  They don’t, however, have the game design issues, which is what I wish people would work on.  Ico shows you don’t even have to have a very good IK solver to have an amazingly compelling mechanic.  

      Of course, saying “no one” is also an exaggeration, so substitute “not enough people” for the more balanced statement.  :)

  4. Alan Au says:

    So this discussion of interactivity vs. procedurality may be a bit off-topic (which is supposedly about the UCB talk), but I do wonder whether the game would benefit if, say, the “party” aspect was given more prominence.

    Presumably the spy and the sniper don’t care that it’s a party, but neither do the NPCs care about the spy and sniper.  Is there a host?  Is there a guest of honor?  Are there any scheduled activities (like a speech or award presentation)?  These are all possibly procedural, but they also add extra social interactions with the potential to alter the gameplay experience (for better for worse!).

    • checker says:

      Yeah, emphasizing the “Clockwork Party” as Frank Lantz–coincidentally posting above–calls it, is a big goal.  There will hopefully be a lot of large scale “state changes” that the Sniper can trigger.  There’s a scene in Peter Seller’s The Party where everybody sits down for dinner.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to go that far, but that would be totally awesome.  Opera singer performs an aria.  Phone rings.  People dance.  Etc.

      Also, the partygoers will react to odd behavior (they already get miffed if you interrupt them in conversation, and I’m going to push hard on this in the future).

    • Alan Au says:

      So yes, I guess part of the thing I’m thinking about is the notion of an emergent party narrative, maybe even the idea that NPC characters have some “preferred” behaviors.  Of course, the effect would have to be subtle, and I have no idea how this would affect game balance.  I suppose it encourages players to understand the behavioral “expectations” associated with each character, which could be immersive, or it could just be distracting.

    • DF says:

      Seems cool!

      Your idea made me think of situations in which most of the guests do the same thing (getting together to sing a birthday song, going to he balcony to see an accident on the street bellow, etc) and the spy player would have to drop what he’s doing to do the same, or else he would be noticed as not being a “good guest” :)

      That is, explore the contrast between “good guests” and the spy (which is much more worried about his mission).

    • checker says:

      Yeah, both of these ideas (partygoers shifting states and the Spy having to decide what to do, and different personalities having different behaviors the Spy has to take into account) are on the list, and hopefully I’ll get to them.  I think they’re both fairly advanced, though, for both Spy and Sniper, since knowing that the General likes to chase skirts and then being able to do that or detect it requires even more knowledge about the party and personalities.  Which I love, but I’ll have to ease players into it, since the game is already overwhelming.  :)

      Keep the ideas coming!  I should start a brainstorming page and comment thread.

    • DF says:

      >> knowing that the General likes to chase skirts and then being able to do that or detect it requires even more knowledge about the party and personalities

      A way to avoid this is to have this generated randomly for a certain game mode.
      As you said, might begin to get pretty complicated though :p

  5. Jon says:

    I would just quickly like to thank you for uploading your lectures, I find them both thought provoking and inspiring and your way of thinking about games sure is a fresh breeze in this comparatively stagnated (when it comes to big releases) “industry”.

    What really got me thinking was your “three seconds of quake” comment. People tend to see games as a form of film, at least in actual execution, and as long as that doesn’t change games will never become an artform of their own. That way of thinking limits the development of games. Games are interactive *systems* – not reels of pictures that you trigger by shooting the same amount of bad guys in the same spot every time – and that is what one should focus on to create memorable games: something that’s (potentially) different every time you play it. I think the evolution of games has been severely hampered by the fact that movies were there first. I wonder how someone who’d never seen a movie would design a game.

    In other words I think you’re game is a great way to move things forward in this development, and I hope to do my part in the not too far away future.

  6. justin says:

    [Hi Justin, I edited your comment.  I really don’t like to do this, in general, but it just seemed a bit beyond the pale with the “bastards” and the “retards” and the “lazy” and whatnot.  Also, posting identical comments here and on The Witness blog is suboptimal.  At least write them a little custom to the game on whose site you’re posting.  Thanks – Chris]

    ok guys, here i go: update!
    gametrailers published the interview with: “Jonathan Blow, Chris Hecker, and ‘Notch’ ” unfortunately they divided the interview in 4 parts that they will release throughout the month , but the interview is great and very informative about inde scene:

I have temporarily disabled blog comments due to spammers, come join us on the SpyParty Discord if you have questions or comments!