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Emily Dickinson - The Game

Zonk posted more than 9 years ago | from the my-life-is-one-big-dark-room dept.

Education 58

The panels, lectures, and roundtables are what makes GDC so interesting to attend. The opportunity to hear the thoughts and opinions of game developers in this setting is unique, and every day there are dozens of options for the curious-minded. Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend one particularly intriguing session. The "Game Design Challenge" attempted to stretch the bounds of game design by tasking Peter Molyneux, Will Wright, and Chris Hocking with coming up with a game under the Emily Dickinson License. Read on for impressions and images from the unique experience.The Game Design Challenge was definitely unique. Eric Zimmerman played master of ceremonies, and started the event with a reading of some of the reclusive poet's works to get us in the right frame of mind. The idea of the challenge, he said, was to give everyone a sense of the process behind game design, and to attempt to get everyone thinking about new kinds of games.

* Chris Hocking went first, and presented a unique approach that would have allowed DS players to actually recreate Emily Dickinson's works by taking on the role of her Muse. His design used a formal language structure which would have distilled down her works into their component parts. These parts, then, would have been strung together into a cohesive whole to actually "write" the poem. The concepts were to have been "mined" from the real world as Emily moved about her daily business, with the player's task being to manipulate her just enough to get what they needed for the poem.

* His example was that of an old willow tree, which could have been a point to collect several different concepts such as beauty or strength. Once you had all the necessary components, you'd write them together to complete the poem. As a reward, you'd be treated to a music and video reading of the work you'd completed. He specifically wanted the game to be somewhat open ended, so that the possibility of a sequel could be kept in mind. He also included some rudimentary plans for wireless integration by allowing players to send each other concepts, or to allow a look ahead by viewing another player's completed poem.

* Peter Molyneux got up on stage and said "So, I went a bit overboard." He'd come prepared with an actual demo of a game, entitled "The Room". While it wasn't the crowd's favorite design it was definitely impressive. If you'd like to see part of the demo, I have some video available, but in a nutshell the game involves using "virtual clay" to form objects inside spaces based on Dickinson's poems. Once you'd managed to make an object or alter the area to recreate the environment in which she'd written the poem, a line of the poem was read and you could move on to another object. Molyneux stated that he is dyslexic, and not very familiar with poetry, so he wanted to give a hands on feel to what could have otherwise been a pie in the sky idea.

* Will Wright's was the final design up for consideration, and was a truly inspired idea. It included such charts as the one to the left, showing the overlap between Emily Dickinson readers and GTA players.
*

Then he put forth his goals. He wanted to have the mood dependency and portability of a Tamagotchi, the helpful/annoyance of Clippy, and the relationship and creepy aspects of seaman.

* What he came up with was USB Emily Dickinson. The game would be a small program bundled with a USB memory drive, which is now a large business and an almost impulse buy. The "Emily" program would sit on the drive, and would occasionally interact with you in order to begin to derive an emotional relationship with you.

* These interactions would include Instant Messaging, email, and interruptions while writing. Over time, the program would develop a model of behavior depending on how you'd interacted with it. Will's thought was that, while you could eventually get her to a stable state it was more likely that she'd become romantically obsessed with you, or suicidally depressive. In the latter case, he said, she would have the option of deleting herself off the USB drive.

* To respect the license idea, again, Wright opined that the program could be adapted for any famous figure, and to have many different USB individuals operating on the same computer. If you had enough ports you could even have them interact with each other through natural language generation. Thus, you could slot drives to view a conversation between Marx, Twain, and Homer Simpson. While all of the ideas were stellar, Wright took home the first prize for the second year in a row.

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58 comments

He won? (4, Insightful)

hambonewilkins (739531) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902001)

I actually thought the rest better captured the spirit. Wright won by being funny (I had never heard that Simpsons quote before) but not by having the best design. Which is sad, because I actually thought some of the other designs could be quite playable.

Re:He won? (1)

suineg (647189) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902203)

I think the USB thing could actually catch on though so I don't feel that he won it only by being funny even though it was hilarious.

The AI would have to be tweaked and would need to recognize the other cartridge in order for it to work well but I am sure that would only take some minor programming.

Like making an intellegentsia totally thumb their nose at a buffon yet chat profusely with another genius.

Re:He won? (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902354)

Well, we already set multiple UltraHAL chatbots on each other. IIRC one was fed with Nietzsche, another with Kant and the third read from a Matrix script. Now that was some intelligent discussion...

Re:He won? (1)

startled (144833) | more than 9 years ago | (#11903836)

I actually thought the rest better captured the spirit. Wright won by being funny (I had never heard that Simpsons quote before) but not by having the best design. Which is sad, because I actually thought some of the other designs could be quite playable.

Wright's design was innovative, and sounded quite promising-- it could be fun given some tweaking. Hocking's and Molyneux's were both very interesting directions to take, but they ultimately dead-ended. Hocking's would have remained tedious, and the thrill of Molyneux's would wear off after about 15 minutes unless he figured out a way to add real significance to the inter-poem portals. Wright's design was clearly superior.

Re:He won? (1)

Alkaiser (114022) | more than 9 years ago | (#11912591)

The DS game was fairly shallow.

Molyneux's idea sounds cool at first, but limits itself to only falling into the realm of edutainment, and is sorely lacking in the "tainment" part. It's not really a "game" anymore when all you're trying to do is make an object out of virtual clay so it spits another line of text/speech at you. It's basically the same as the old text adventures back in the day with "get yon flask", with a new interface that meets the new level of annoyance of today's level of gamer.

While Wright's idea looks initially like an attempt to rely on comedy, when you look at it a bit deeper, it's the only one that takes the license outside of the realm of "Hey, we should make the player rehash all Dickinson's poems."

This leads me to believe that of the 3, Wright's the only one I'd want to handle a license. Everyone else would just have you play through the events of the movie/TV Show/Book again.

WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11902061)

Images on Slashdot? That's a first.

Re:WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11902145)

acutally, the story before this one also has images. SO this is the second :)

Re:WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11903366)

It's rare, but the last time I saw a bunch was when /. hosted PA's recent Christmas series in December '04.

Scenarios? (2, Interesting)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902072)

Makes me wonder if it was possible to work some stories into these USB personalities. E.g. in one you'd have some AI gone insane and a desaster in some confined area (lab, space station, whatever you prefer) and your goal would be to talk with the AI to find out what happened and perhaps the AI's "feelings" towards you would determine how much of the truth it would reveal or maybe even how many lies it will mix in.

Re:Scenarios? (2, Informative)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902987)

While not exactly the same idea - there was a game called Portal [mobygames.com](more like an interactive novel really) that came out in 1986 whith a similar device. You played an astronaut who returns to an empty planet Earth. You unravel the story of what happened through interacting with a global network called "WorldNet" (remember this game was pre Internet era).
When I played the game back in the '80s I found it really unique. It was interesting to uncover the story elements by going through the databases.
Another game of interest is Suspended [mobygames.com], an Infocom text adventure. In this case you were the central intelligence in control of an automated planet. You get woken up from cryogenic suspension because, of course, all hell as broken loose with the automated computer systems. To find out what is wrong and fix it - you interacted with six robots each which had different functions (sight, hearing, computer access etc.).
Gee, just thinking about how creative the concepts were in these games as well as the Emily Dickinson concepts is making me kind of depressed. I highly doubt anything like Suspended or Portal would get produced today - unless maybe you gave the protaganist a large rocket launcher. The same goes for Emily Dickinson, we'd end up with American McGee's Emily Dickinson. Now entering level "Funeral, in my Brain" - prepare to die Emily!

Re:Scenarios? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 9 years ago | (#11909264)

I played portal on the c64 many years ago. It was very intriguing at the time, but somehow I broke the plotline or made a mistake and couldn't get any more messages, and eventually forgot the whole thing.

I think you're wrong about these getting produced now though. Remember the graphic showing the overlap between Dickenson and GTA? I bet thats roughly the same diagram as for The Sims, and that would be the perfect environment for such a thing. Famous Poets expansion pack, anyone? Hell, I'd buy SimEinstein.

Re:Scenarios? (1)

Bambi Dee (611786) | more than 9 years ago | (#11904804)

Racter (1984) was an Eliza-like "conversation game". I think some reviewer at the time was fooled into thinking it had a kind of plot - the "AI" attempting to figure out whether it has a soul, something in that general direction. I don't think that was in there anywhere, it was probably just a simple-minded chatterbot. It would on occasion come up with amusingly poetic turns of phrase, but there didn't seem to be anything to find out.

I've often wished for something more realistic - more intelligent, more "stateful". Something that's capable of remembering facts, something that can get angry, silly, tired, wistful, ... something that doesn't merely react but has its own agenda. Something that interferes with my "computer life" - emails me, IMs me, even reads my files and remarks on their contents. What I think it doesn't have to be capable of is natural language parsing. Just skip that part if it doesn't work out. Use symbols if you must; restrict grammar and vocabulary to some sort of parse-able subset... just don't pretend you understand when you're basically just remixing my input and pouncing on isolated keywords.

Captain Blood (1988) had conversations with aliens in an iconic language called Bluddian. You could only use words the game actually knew (by clicking their icons) so at least you weren't tricked into thinking you could say anything you want and be understood. On the other hand, conversations still weren't very intelligent and "destroy planet" could easily yield the same answer as "you tell me planet coordinates". I think. Hm.

Closest I can think of was Galatea (2000), wherein you'd converse with Pygmallion's "awakened" statue. It didn't use full sentences at all; you were basically either "asking" or "telling" about subjects of your (or her) choosing and the program turned these into full sentences (Input: tell galatea about her artist; Output: "The artist," you say gently. "It says on the placard that he has committed suicide." [...]). It wasn't like looking up stuff in a book though: there was an actual plot, and she didn't take too kindly to being prodded or otherwise treated like a machine. It was quite touching, actually, and worth several replays.

Re:Scenarios? (1)

Boronx (228853) | more than 9 years ago | (#11906879)

I haven't played with it much, but Chris Crawford's Siboot [erasmatazz.com] has an icon language similar to Bluddian that forms the basis of the game.

Re:Scenarios? (1)

Bambi Dee (611786) | more than 9 years ago | (#11908460)

Yes, I've seen a friend of mine play it (assuming the "Siboot II" on your linked page is the same as or at least similiar to "Trust and Betrayal - Legend of Siboot"). It looked interesting, although I can't say I understood it. I'm not into strategy games usually so I sort of forgot about it again. Thanks for the reminder.

Re:Scenarios? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11906861)

Ha! I wonder: have you played any Bungie games recently? I, myself, just got through with a 24-hour Bungie Marathon and had a blast, vid-master style ;)

Re:Scenarios? (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 9 years ago | (#11910307)

Actually I was thinking about Bungie's "I Love Bees" ARG at the time I wrote that post. And maybe a bit of System Shock

I'd rather play Halo. (0, Troll)

Cooler1011 (829888) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902171)

Read the sig in conjunction with the title, please. Also, I hope this whole contest was a novelty. What kind of waste-o-time challenge IS this?

Re:I'd rather play Halo. (2, Insightful)

StrikerObi (145657) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902631)

The idea is to challenge the developers to NOT make games like Halo and GTA. If you hate Halo you should probably be interested in something like this. Obviously it'll never happen, but the goal is to make a game concept that is totally different from everything else out there.

Re:I'd rather play Halo. (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#11903104)

God, I'd really like to see some truly innovative game designs get released. Everyone seems to forget that before RTS and FPS became genres they came about from single games exploring a new space.
I think the only really innovative game I've played recently is Katamari Damacy. And they released it here as a low cost title, I guess because they didn't think any Americans would want to play something so unusual. Hell, even the end credits were great!

Re:I'd rather play Halo. (1)

bitkari (195639) | more than 9 years ago | (#11903997)

You're lucky! Here in Europe we didn't get Katamari Damacy at all.

Katamari isn't alone. There are tons of great games that just don't get published in certain territories, or indeed at all.

And don't start me on the amazing games that get bought-up then promptly shelved by certain publishers so that they do not compete with their "AAA" titles.

Re:I'd rather play Halo. (1)

bar-agent (698856) | more than 9 years ago | (#11904105)

I think the only really innovative game I've played recently is Katamari Damacy. And they released it here as a low cost title, I guess because they didn't think any Americans would want to play something so unusual.

It might have been more popular if either of the words "katmari" or "damacy" actually meant anything.

Re:I'd rather play Halo. (1)

Blackwulf (34848) | more than 9 years ago | (#11904639)

I think one of the proposed English titles was "Trashman" or "Garbageman".

I'm personally glad they kept the original Japanese title (Katamari Damashii = Clump of Souls) instead of Americanizing it.

Re:I'd rather play Halo. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11904803)

I'm personally glad they kept the original Japanese title (Katamari Damashii = Clump of Souls) instead of Americanizing it.

They probably would have translated it as "Big Soul Booger".

Re:I'd rather play Halo. (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#11905360)

As if being called "Tetris" stopped that game from being popular.
I don't think there is a good American name for it - to be frank the game SOUNDS really stupid when you read about it. About the only thing they could have called it that would make any sense would be like "Roll Up".
Maybe they should have just shortened it to Katamari.
Then again "Metal Gear Solid Katamari World Eater" might have garnered more attention.

Re:I'd rather play Halo. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11907418)

>I guess because they didn't think any Americans would want to play something so unusual.

And sadly they were right. KD got great reviews but did not sell well.

As a game designer, I want to make games like these but I also like being able to buy food.

Re:I'd rather play Halo. (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#11907836)

"As a game designer, I want to make games like these but I also like being able to buy food."

Absolutely. Just the same as in any other media, video games aren't any different. It's the same reason why we get crap churned out of Hollywood and have to look for the gems.

And just like Hollywood, so many of these games are produced very professionally with technically excellent design, but many of them lack (um for lack of a better term) soul. They just don't feel like anyone had fun MAKING the game or really had something novel they WANTED to express.

A game doesn't have to be completely off the wall and different to be good, as Half Life 2 has shown - I just bemoan the lack of attempts to try anything original. I'm kind of wondering how Sid Meier's Pirates is going to do on the Xbox. Sure it's based on an old game, but it seems so fresh because it plays so differently from anything else out there.

Emily Dickinson was a stupid bitch. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11902252)

I respect her wishes by not reading her shitty poetry; she didn't want it published, and I agree with her on that.

The Room - What Engine? (1)

inio (26835) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902388)

Anyone have a clue what engine The Room used?

Re:The Room - What Engine? (1)

UWC (664779) | more than 9 years ago | (#11903844)

From the Wired article about this panel, it sounded like Molyneux was using the presentation as an opportunity to show off an engine he was already working on.

Zero Effect (2, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902418)

What he came up with was USB Emily Dickinson. The game would be a small program bundled with a USB memory drive, which is now a large business and an almost impulse buy.
Except that this would at least double the cost of the game. Still, there's a good idea here. If games are supposed to be fun, you shouldn't make it a major hassle to install them. No-install games on CDs would be very popular. There are technical problems, of course, but they're not insurmountable. The really hard part would be persuading your developers to leave out all the "cool" features that are too hard to support on this kind of game. But a lot of those features don't really add to the user experience anyway -- and would be more than made up for by being able to do a quick game whenever you're near a computer.

Re:Zero Effect (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902584)

It'd double the cost of the game, but it'd add very little to the cost of a memory drive with which it was bundled....

In any case: goooooooo Wright!

Re:Zero Effect (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902741)

Assuming (a) the consumer actually needs a USB drive and (b) there's enough extra space on the USB drive for the consumer's needs. Even if those are both true, that only works the first time the consumer buys a USB game.

Re:Zero Effect (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#11906869)

Assuming (a) the consumer actually needs a USB drive and (b) there's enough extra space on the USB drive for the consumer's needs. Even if those are both true, that only works the first time the consumer buys a USB game.

I'm confident that once the public finds out they can have their very own Emily Dickenson electronic virtual pet on their keychain, and have it connect to other literary virtual pets, that the legenary American drive for consumption will cause everyone to run out and buy ten each.

Er... well, that's the THEORY at least. Heh.

(Actually I've been working, off and on, on a game design that would just LOVE the kind of hardware that would make a pocket Emily Dickenson possible. Some day, Gadget, some day! Mrroowowr!)

Re:Zero Effect (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11902620)

No-install games on CDs would be very popular.

No-install games on CD? It'll never work. Next you'll be telling me that this magic machine of yours can also connect to a big TV instead of a monitor, or that you can control it with some sort of special "game pad" instead of a good old keyboard. That's just crazy.

Whoa! (2, Interesting)

xMonkey (154829) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902421)

If you watch the Peter Molyneux video demo, it is actually very impressive.

One thing to note is this:

The user is playing a game in a room, With a chest.

When They open the chest there is a minature room, which they enter. Then that room is connected to the room that had the chest, which has the minature room they were now in.

The left the minature room and re-entered the original room (now minature too?) that had a chest with another minature (minature) room.

Thats cool.

Re:Whoa! (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902641)

The user is playing a game in a room, With a chest.

When They open the chest there is a minature room, which they enter. Then that room is connected to the room that had the chest, which has the minature room they were now in.

The left the minature room and re-entered the original room (now minature too?) that had a chest with another minature (minature) room.


It sounds merely like a gamespace realization of a usage-produced hypertext system, such as used with the softlinks over at Everything [everything2.com].

Well I say "merely," but this is actually a very powerful idea.

Emily Dickinson game (4, Funny)

justforaday (560408) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902661)

The most fun I've ever had with Emily Dickinson poems is trying to find one that you can't sing to the tune of Giligan's Island...

Microsoft or Open Source? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11902749)

I took my Power in my Hand -
And went against the World -
'Twas not so much as David-had-
But I-was twice as bold-

I aimed by Pebble-but Myself
Was all the one that fell-
Was it Goliath-was too large-
Or was myself-too small?

Re:Emily Dickinson game (1)

jpmoney (323533) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902913)

The same also goes for "The Yellow Rose of Texas".

Can you tell where I went to high school? *ducks*

Re:Emily Dickinson game (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11941317)

Ha, this is slashdot, you can't fool us. We all learned that form Babylon 5!

Re:Emily Dickinson game (2, Informative)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#11905434)

Death sets a thing significant

The eye had hurried by,
Except a perished creature
Entreat us tenderly

To ponder little workmanships
In crayon or in wool,
With "This was last her fingers did,"
Industrious until

The thimble weighed too heavy,
The stitches stopped themselves,
And then 't was put among the dust
Upon the closet shelves.

A book I have, a friend gave,
Whose pencil, here and there,
Had notched the place that pleased him,--
At rest his fingers are.

Now, when I read, I read not,
For interrupting tears
Obliterate the etchings
Too costly for repairs.

Wait, we already have this (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#11902672)

A system that allows computer-generated presences to communicate with each other, with you able to watch the results?

All you have to do is open up emacs and start up psychoanalyze-pinhead and poof, there you go. Eliza meets Zippy the Pinhead!

(For more information, go here [ibm.com] and scroll down a little.)

Oh God this is great (0, Redundant)

Nintenfreak (831523) | more than 9 years ago | (#11903516)

"Emily: I love to sit here alone"
"WillDude: You do? ... Are you lonely?"
"Emily: I am feeling lonely-- The hour of evening is sad-- it was once my shady hour."
"WillDude: ASL?"
"Emily: Alas, a bodily interview is derived us, we must make letters answer."
"WillDude: So... Want to cyber?"

digital clay (2, Interesting)

oskillator (670034) | more than 9 years ago | (#11905025)

Peter Molyneux's "digital clay" voxel modelling system was pretty damn cool. I can't say I thought his game idea was that good, though; asking a computer to recognize shapes seems like it would lead to a problem like the "guess the verb" problem in bad text adventures, where you know exactly what to do but still spend a long time trying to figure out what phrasing the developer implemented. In this case, though it'd be more like "guess the bit-pattern."

Chris Hocking for the Win! (2, Insightful)

Zonk (12082) | more than 9 years ago | (#11905724)

I tried to avoid putting an opinion into the writeup, but IMHO Chris had the idea that was most true to the spirit of the design challenge. His lateral thinking was really excellent to hear described, and in my mind conjured up a game that was part Rez, part DDR, part World of Warcraft's crafting aspect, and part slam dance poetry session. Just sitting in the audience I had a real sense of what he was trying to get across and where he wanted to go with it.

I respect Mr. Molyneux's vision a lot, but from other session writeups I've seen it seems like he made the demo to kill more than just the Emily Dickinson bird. Slapping the Dickinson license into your tech demo is cool and all, but not really in my idea of the challenge's spirit.

Will Wright, I think, half came up with USB Emily just to goof around. Even his goofing around (obviously) is good work, but he seemed almost embarrased to recieve the prize for the competition.

Re:Chris Hocking for the Win! (2, Funny)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 9 years ago | (#11910994)

The sad thing is looking at Will's and Peter's ideas and comparing them to what Will and Peter are actually making in RL.

Will's idea: "Eliza bot cum Sims! The first one will more than likely be boring but we'll make a killing on selling the expansion packs!"

Peter's idea: "I have an idea that really has nothing to do with Emily Dickenson! I'll market it as the best Emily Dickenson game out there but the only thing you'll learn about her from playing my game is that appearently she liked clay alot! Of course, since I don't really know anyhting about Emily, the game will be rather short."

All we need is John Romero to show up and talk about Emily being sent to hell after she commits suicide and the entire game is her killing demons in an attempt to escape, in the dark! I can see the adversiting now. "Emily Dickenson is going to make you her ...."

Re:Chris Hocking for the Win! (1)

The-Bus (138060) | more than 9 years ago | (#11927714)

All we need is John Romero to show up and talk about Emily being sent to hell after she commits suicide and the entire game is her killing demons in an attempt to escape, in the dark! I can see the adversiting now. "Emily Dickenson is going to make you her ...."


That's American McGee you're talking about.
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