There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in video games these days, and I don’t just mean within the digital space. There was a very cool lecture last week by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, associate professor of Computer Science at the University of California Santa Cruz. He spoke at the URBN Center at Drexel University, giving his talk, “Growing the Tech Tree: Researching the Future of Gaming,” which posed thought-provoking questions to the undergraduate and graduate audience in attendance.
Discussing the idea of research progress in game development, as well as the limits of language when it comes to creating games, Wardrip-Fruin touched on much of his own experience and what he’s trying to do with his projects. “Research guided by art, rather than pre-set goals, has better success,” he pointed out. He feels that the questions that drive video game development should be driven by the arts, and that this makes better games that are more well-rounded and diverse.
Much of what he talked about was based around ARGs (Alternate Reality Games), which are games that have the real world as a backdrop (remember the “Why So Serious?” game before The Dark Knight came out?). It’s difficult to plan a successful game on that scale, and even more difficult to actually profit from it (other than the obvious fact that it’s more like a huge advertisement). But Wardrip-Fruin asked many questions about them, like how do you make it more personal, or how do you include more people?
But the most interesting part of his talk was when he asked the question, “How could we create smart authoring tools for games?” A program in beta called the Game-o-Matic, a collaboration between Wardrip-Fruin’s department and the graduate program in Digital Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, does just that. You start by making a diagram, with nouns and verbs and relationships between them, and then you develop a very simple game – one that you can re-skin later, if you end up liking the mechanics.
Another big collaborative project he worked on was Prom Week, a game in which the characters – a group of high school students – are trying to deal with the upcoming prom. Some of them have goals in mind – one wants to have a popular date to the prom – and you help them achieve those goals. Each interaction considers over 5,000 social rules, and the characters are presented with social dilemmas. As you make each decision, it branches out into other students and changes how they will treat you.
Noah Wardrip-Fruin is a brilliant mind in the video game development and research scene right now. If you have any interest at all in game creation or how video games work, you should put him on your radar. Check out his games, follow him on Twitter, and if he comes around again, definitely check him out.