Representing and reasoning about videogame mechanics for automated design support
Nelson, Mark J.
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Videogame designers hope to sculpt gameplay, but actually work in the concrete medium of computation. What they create is code, artwork, dialogue---everything that goes inside a videogame cartridge. In other materially constrained design domains, design-support tools help bridge this gap by automating portions of a design in some cases, and helping a designer understand the implications of their design decisions in others. I investigate AI-based videogame-design support, and do so from the perspective of putting knowledge-representation and reasoning (KRR) at the front. The KRR-centric approach starts by asking whether we can formalize an aspect of the game-design space in a way suitable for automated or semi-automated analysis, and if so, what can be done with the results. It begins with the question, "what could a computer possibly do here?", attempts to show that the computer actually can do so, and then looks at the implications of the computer doing so for design support. To organize the space of game-design knowledge, I factor the broad notion of game mechanics mechanics into four categories: abstract mechanics, concrete audiovisual representations, thematic mappings, and input mappings. Concretely, I investigate KRR-centric formalizations in three domains, which probe into different portions of the four quadrants of game-design knowledge: 1. using story graphs and story-quality functions for writing interactive stories, 2. automatic game design focused on the "aboutness" of games, which auto-reskins videogames by formalizing generalized spaces of thematic references, and 3. enhancing mechanics-oriented videogame prototypes by encoding the game mechanics in temporal logic, so that they can be both played and queried.