Dissertation Complete and American University

September 20th, 2013

I finished my dissertation! It is titled “Investigating Procedural Expression and Interpretation in Videogames”. While I am pretty tired of the contents of the document, there are some gems in there. I’m pretty happy with the ratio of philosophical to technical to design talk in there. I’ve been really lucky to have had mentors that supported and encouraged this sort of work.

Speaking of being done with the PhD… I am now an assistant professor at American University in Washington DC! Here I am continuing my practice/research with expressive games, while building a games program.

In other news, I recently presented a paper co-authored with Michael Mateas at DiGRA 2013 in Atlanta titled “An Account of Proceduralist Meaning“ and will be going to AIIDE where I will be demoing Game-O-Matic, Prom Week and am a co-author on a paper about the IMMERSE project I worked on last year (“Creating Playable Social Experiences through Whole-body Interaction with Virtual Characters”).

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MAJOR Prom Week Updates

October 16th, 2012

First off, Indiecade was a blast! It was super awesome to be one of the many OUTSTANDING Indiecade finalists.

One of the best parts was being able to show people our BRAND NEW SUPER AWESOME REDESIGNED VERSION OF PROM WEEK! Influenced by some time away from “heavy crunch mode,” and a whole lot of feedback from players and designer friends, we have totally changed how players interact with Prom Week and made new and improved tutorials and levels. And the consensus seems to be that it is WAY BETTER!

If you have played Prom Week before, we definitely recommend you check it out again!

Check it out at Facebook

Or Kongregate

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Recent Cool Things

June 27th, 2012

Prom Week was at the E3 Indiecade Showcase! Here are highlights:

I appear in the July issue of Edge magazine! I pretty much argue that there is a lot of potential for incorporating interesting AI in games, but also acknowledge that there are a lot of design challenges to be addressed. Here’s to more experimental AI based games!

I went to my 4th Foundations of Digital Games Conference where I had a workshop paper on the workings of Game-O-Matic, a conference paper about the theory of meaning Game-O-Matic implements and Prom Week was in the Research and Experimental Game Festival. This is a great conference to see a wide array of game research, and an awesome group of colleagues and friends. Next year it is in Crete for crying out loud! I literally have no idea what I will be doing a year form now, but I’d love to go.

Ian demoed Game-O-Matic at Games for Change. I am really excited to see what sort of games people make with this thing! Game-O-Matic is set for release in early Fall.

And… I advanced to canidacy meaning I will be graduate in June 2013. That whole thing marked the end of a super long, multi-year, crunch. In addition to finishing Game-O-Matic, this summer I hope to finally actually make progress on some of my many side projects.
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Holy cow! I was busy at GDC!

March 13th, 2012

Wow, I was busy at GDC this year!

First off, Prom Week was a finalist for Technical Excellence in the IGF. WOW! That really is the best validation I could have hoped for after all the ridiculously hard work we put into it. Thanks to those who manned the booth, and to all those who stopped by to check it out. Prom Week is an existence proof that much of what was previously thought impossible with characters and story in games can in fact be done. I hope we can take the fact that the IGF judges recognized this and all the attention we’ve gotten from industry as a good sign for the future of storytelling in games.

Speaking of Prom Week, Josh McCoy and I gave a 20 minute talk about how Prom Week works. This was the biggest talk I’ve given yet and, from what I hear, it went over well! Though, I’m sure I’ll be hating it when I watch it in the vault… Still working on getting rid of ums… Anyhow, we’ve had some practice this sort of talk and I feel like we have really distilled the message and figured out how to bring the clear takeaways to the forefront. We had some coverage on gamasutra.

Right after us, Emily Short and Richard Evans talked about their Cotillion, a system that uses a similar approach to social simulation, but a completely different presentation style (pretty much a book where the text is generated based on the simulation and the player’s choices). Seeing it has really inspired me and I have been thinking a lot about how to use Prom Week’s AI system and a more “Cotillion-like” design to make a game about my kitties. We’ll see how far this goes…

The day before I was lucky enough to give a 6 minute “rant” in the “Turing Tantrums” session. What I said was an answer to criticisms I’ve gotten in the last couple years about Prom Week and its AI system from game designers. Pretty much, that AI systems are bad if they don’t serve fun or story. While that is certainly reasonable, I offered a different perspective that at least partially explains why I do what I do: I believe that it is perfectly fine for an AI system to be an end in itself. Note how this puts the AI programmer/designer squarely as an “artist” (i.e. someone who can make weird things and not have to explain themselves). While I definitely think it is in our best interests to figure out how to better share this obsession with systems with players, we shouldn’t necessarily think we need to compromise our visions just because players might not get it. Just be ready to throw on a beret and live poorly. This got coverage on gamasutra too!

And there’s more!!! Ian Bogost demoed the game generator I’ve been working on for the last year or so at the GDC GameIT Summit. Its called Game-O-Matic and it will create a game about anything you want! The demo and talk went very well. Of course, making games isn’t easy, and getting a computer to make them for you is even harder, but I am very happy with where we are and I am confident that when we release (late Summer) using it will definitely be a delight. There was coverage on this talk too!

So in general, I have had an incredibly busy year, and I’ve found myself leading up two outwardly visible, crazy ambitious, projects that people seem to care about. That rules! But my queue of weird things I wanna make for my own sake is getting way too long and dusty. I really wanna make something new! And I need to get out of school someday (year 10 at UC Santa Cruz…). But for now, time to make Game-O-Matic rule!

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Prom Week is Released!

February 19th, 2012

Prom Week, the game I’ve been working on with colleagues at the Expressive Intelligence Studio for 2.5 years, has been released! Making this game has been an intense journey that really pushed my design and coding chops. Go here for more info. And check it out below!

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These guys wrote books full of this stuff

November 7th, 2011

“To know what actions are virtuous, and what vicious — in other words, to know what actions tend, on the whole, to happiness, and what to unhappiness — in the case of each and every man, in each and all the conditions in which they may severally be placed, is the profoundest and most complex study to which the greatest human mind ever has been, or ever can be, directed. It is, nevertheless, the constant study to which each and every man — the humblest in intellect as well as the greatest — is necessarily driven by the desires and necessities of his own existence. It is also the study in which each and every person, from his cradle to his grave, must necessarily form his own conclusions; because no one else knows or feels, or can know or feel, as he knows and feels, the desires and necessities, the hopes, and fears, and impulses of his own nature, or the pressure of his own circumstances.”

- Lysander Spooner in Vices are Not Crimes

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Still Not Done with Reflect

April 21st, 2011

I created Reflect as an expression of something I felt was wrong with my life. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t feel the wonder I felt during special moments in nature, or office parks (an eccentricity of mine), all of the time. When one is busy, they rarely  pay attention to the spatial reality around them, and when nothing was going on we fill our heads with thoughts of pending tasks and other people and places. I wanted to create something that would try to do something about this. Inspired by my experiences with PilotWings 64, I created Reflect have the player slow down, and look around while still performing tasks. In the game, the player looks through the perspective of various animals and attempts to mimic their movements.

If I were to recreate Reflect again there are many things I would do differently (mostly pertaining to interface and pacing), but overall I am happy with how it turned out. However, I still can’t get its themes out of my head. I’m not done with them.

Two years ago I started work on a new project born from the same ideas. Pieces of my Life is a game about the time we spend in bathroom stalls. Mechanically, it is far simpler than Reflect. The player’s main task is to let somewhere between one and three minutes pass. The game is set in various low-res 3D bathrooms, and the player has the limited ability to look around and observe people through the cracks between stalls, listen to the sounds, read graffiti and much more. A small diary entry precedes each level.

Sadly, the realities of the path I have chosen for myself have slowed progress on this project to a halt. I just thought I’d say something about a project I’ve been thinking about almost everyday for two years.

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Why I have a hard time talking to people about politics

March 19th, 2011

I reluctantly call myself a libertarian. I say reluctantly because I hate to be associated with those on the mainstream right who only opportunistically use the rhetoric of libertarianism when it suits them and also hate to be associated with the anti-authority for the sake of being anti-authoritarian anarchists. I’ve recently been finding solace in what some are calling left libertarianism (note that these aren’t the left libertarians referenced in the first part of the wikipedia article but rather  what is described in this article).

Anyhow, I came across this quote from a leading figure in this field Roderick Long that succinctly explained why I have a hard time ever speaking to anyone about mainstream politics:

“I see today’s political landscape as dominated by two closely related myths: first, that big business and big government are natural enemies, and second, that the economic system that prevails in most industrialised countries, including the u.s., is an approximation to a free market (rather than, as I see it, a long-established and ongoing system of massive government intervention on behalf of the corporate elite). These myths not only mask the corporatist reality of government/business partnership but tend to strengthen that reality; on the right (including, alas, large sections of libertarianism), the case for free markets is distorted into a defense of existing corporate privilege, while on the left, the case against existing corporate privilege is distorted into a case against free markets – so that each wing of the ruling class offers itself as an antidote to the other, and alternatives to both are rendered invisible.”

- Roderick Long

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February 23rd, 2011

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Games and Art is no more

February 22nd, 2011
  • I’m not really that into games.

    What I look like now

  • Art makes me angry more often than it makes me happy.
  • I am Mike Treanor.

=> gamesandart.com is now mtreanor.com

I hope to actually write here now. I think I didn’t use the last blog both because its “mission” was flawed and because I wasn’t smart enough yet. Well, this blog doesn’t have a mission and whether I’m smart enough or not, I’m now more opinionated than ever!

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