Play Spec Symposium
Symposium (3)

Symposium (2)


  • Four new play specs from four new participants
  • Discussion on the verbs that emerge from the core verbs - what Jose Zagal refers to as 'Tactical verbs'.

Today's Contributions

1) Chico from Nongames specifies River Raid in yesterday's comments:

River_raid_autobahn River Raid (Activision, 1982)
Specified by Chico


Steer (avatar)
Dodge (enemies, River borders)
Shoot (enemies, bridges, Fuel Tanks)


Plane (avatar)
Jet (enemy)
Ship (enemy)
Helicopter (enemy)
Bridge (checkpoint)
Natural limits (collision map)
Fuel Tank (health)
Squad (lives)
Fuel Meter (health meter)


Acceleration (avatar and enemies)
Speed (avatar and enemies)
Refueling (avatar)
Vertical Scroll (map)

Chris comments: I'd put the Fuel Meter as an adjective 'Fuel', but that may be a matter of personal taste. Also, I'd personally put 'Enemy' as a Noun, and group the different types of Enemy in brackets afterwards. Purely notational minutae, of course. :) Verb wise this is very similar to Nemesis/Gradius - not suprising, given they are both scrolling shooters. The key difference seems to be the presence of a Health mechanic instead of Lives with instant death.

2) zenBen of zenBenLand decides to take a strangely tangential route and specifies the bat and ball game Breakout here. I reproduce it here without the comments, and have adjusted the spec to match the original arcade cabinet which was the first of these games. (zenBen played an emulated version on PC):

Breaksupersnap Breakout! (Atari, 1976)
Specified by Ben


Move (Rotary Joystick)


Bat (avatar)
Ball (or sphere, polyhedron, polygon, cube, etc depending on your philosophical outlook. I'm a glass half full person (I prefer to ask the more pertinent question - who stole the top half?) so I say its a ball)
Extra Lives
Life Counter


Length (of Bat)
Speed (of Ball)
Consistency (of Blocks)
Effect on Verb (of Power-up)

Chris comments: As with Chico's, I'd put 'Lives' and 'Score' as adjectives - I choose to consider numerical values as properties of nouns and not nouns in their own right, but this is probably just a preference issue. Personally, I've never considered the bat and ball games to be similar to shooters, but I can see the (tenuous) connection... The big difference here, of course, is that the only form of shooting available is 'indirect fire'. I also note that the later game Arkanoid (Taito, 1986) includes power ups that allow for shooting, placing the bat and ball games into more directly related verb space.

3) Jose Zagal of GameLog supplies his specification of Robotron 2084  here. Again, I've reproduced it here without the comments, but you should click through and read the whole post.

Robotron Robotron 2084 (Vid Kidz/Williams, 1982)
Specified by Jose


Move (stick1 - 8 discrete directions)
Fire (stick2 - 8 discrete directions)
Save (collide with a human to score points)

"Tactical verbs":

Dodge (to move with the intention of avoiding a collision)
Circle-Strafe (to move in a circle or arc while firing towards the center)
Strafe (to move in a direction, whilst firing in another)
Lead (to move with the purpose of causing an enemy to move in a certain way)
Wait (to stop moving until a certain condition or state is reached)
Flee (to move in the opposite direction of an enemy)
Circle (to move along, or close to the walls)
Attack (to move towards the enemy while firing)


Spark from Enforcer
Shell from Tank
Missile from Brain
"Bullet" (fired by player)

Chris comments: I personally find the completely enumerated lists of nouns hard to work with, and prefer to group nouns in larger categories, but I stress again that this is a notational choice and not a criticism, per se. I do have to question the choice of 'save' as a verb - since it tends to have a rather different meaning in games. :) Wouldn't 'rescue' be clearer? Jose includes (later in his post) the tactical verbs I have decided to include here - showing vast attention to detail to the play of the game. I find this most intriguing - as our scrolling shooters do not have such subtelties to their play. In Nemesis/Gradius, for instance, the skill of the game is in dodging bullets - there is no capacity to 'lure' the enemy and so forth. I never mastered Robotron, so I find it hard to comment on whether the play of the game could be specified with fewer "tactical verbs". Will return to this issue in the discussion, below. 

4) Patrick of King Lud IC specifies the first FPS of the symposium, Halo here. There's no additional commentary, but don't let that stop you visiting Patrick's Blog and having a dig around.

Halo1 Halo: Combat Evolved (Bungee, 2001)
Specified by Patrick


{Look up/down
turn left/right
strafe left/right
run foward/backward}

Toggle Flashlight
Toggle Follow/Wait


Space and Obstructions (Move, Jump)
Lighting (Toggle Flashlight)
Alien (Shoot, Bash) {Grunt, Elite, Hunter, Priest(?), Floodie, Flood Elites and Flood Marines, Sentinal Probe}
Vehicle (Commandeer/Move) {Warthog, Scorpion, Banshee, Ghost ect.}
Soldier (Toggle Follow/Wait)
Switches (Use)
Power-ups (Pick-up) {Invisibility Tetrad, Overshield, Weapons, Ammo, Med Pack}


Ammo Supply
Grenade Supply
Vehicle Health
Invisibility Boolean

Chris comments: This is an interesting case; one of the oft overlooked aspects of Halo is that Aim is not really much of a verb in the game, because of the generous auto-aim. GoldenEye 007 had a similar advantage on its lower difficulty settings - I contend that this adds to the market appeal of these games by loweing the barrier to entry. I think one minor verb is missing - Change (weapon), otherwise this seems very thorough. I didn't know you could send orders to people in Halo, and I don't remember what the Use verb does in this game - what does it do? Patrick's spec considers the 'twin stick' controls of modern FPS games as embodying one verb, Move, but a more complicated verb than in other games we have looked at thus far - I'm interested in other people's view on this. I might be tempted to use just Move and Look and assign their separate sticks - but I am not much of an FPS player. I wonder how this spec seems to other FPS players, and hope we will get more specs in this area for comparison.

Many thanks for these initial contributions! We are now at 5 participants (including me) - almost half way through the symposium already, and it's only Wednesday.

Discussion: Tactical Verbs

Jose in his commentary provides some discussion on the application of verbs to his chosen game:

The above is what I'd call the "basic verbs". However, I would propose that maybe we should consider something like "tactical verbs". Tactical verbs are actions taken by the player which, in a certain context, can be interpreted as having a "higher" order of meaning. If you were to ask the player something like "what are you doing?", he would most likely answer in a tactical sense. (I am carrying out these basic verbs in order to meet this immediate goal or purpose)

Now I should begin by saying that I have a (strictly personal) issue with the word 'Tactical' in that I am going to be duty bound to make this correlate with the Tactical skillset from "DGD 1.5", otherwise I am overloading the term and confusing people more than perhaps is usual. (This is my problem, though; there's no reason at all for Jose not to define Tactical verbs as he has done so). To distinguish between the two contexts for the time being, I will use Tactical(JZ) and Tactical(TT) to distinguish between Jose's use of the term and the Temperament Theory meaning.

In the case of Robotron, it seems that all of these verbs do indeed reflect Tactical(TT) issues, although some may tip the boundry into Strategic thinking. Lure in particularly seems to be closer to Strategic thinking than Tactical.

However, in the case of a scrolling shooter like Nemesis/Gradius (and possibly River Raid as well) the Tactical(JZ) verbs are often more Logistical. For instance, where I specified Dodge for Nemesis, this can be performed Tactically(TT) but more commonly the player acquires the skills to Dodge Logistically, that is, they repeat the level so many times they generate a reliable solution which they then implement largely unchanged each time. Case in point, the volcano at the end of level 1; if one has sufficient firepower, one can park in exactly the right spot and destroy all the rocks, if not, one can 'hide' in the corner and avoid all the shots. In both cases, this is not Tactical(TT) play at all, but some kind of Logistical play. I suspect this is why I liked Nemesis so much - because my Tactical(TT) skills are not as good as my Strategic and Logistical skills, and the game affords an advantage to players working Logistically towards a solution.

Is there merit to applying Temperament Theory to the play specs, I wonder; in separating out the Tactical(TT), Logistical and Strategic verbs? (Putting aside Diplomatic skills for now). The disadvantage to this approach must be that most people do not know Temperament Theory well enough to apply it, making this a very narrow application, but this barrier could be overcome by clear definition of the Tactical(TT), Logistical and Strategic terms.

I agree with Jose that there is a role for verbs at a scale between immediate (microVerbs) and framing (macroVerbs). I also agree that they can meaningfully be referred to as Tactics in many cases; perhaps they could be called Methods in others (when they are Logistical). We are dealing with behaviours that emerge from the core verbs, so 'emergent verbs' is another possible designation. Or 'intermediate verbs'?

Can I suggest 'Maneuvres' as a possible alternative term? How do people feel about this? This could subdivide into Tactics, Methods and Strategems to denote Tactical(TT), Logistical and Strategic approaches.

Please share your viewpoint in the comments!

(And, if you haven't submitted a play spec yet, please have a go!)


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Addenda: I shouldn't have associated the Breakout play spec with the 1976 Atari cabinet (although it was the first of the block breaking games), because it doesn't have any of the power up architecture included in this spec. Also, the screenshot is from the 1979 Super Breakout cabinet; the 1976 Breakout was in black and white.

In addition to liking that game (Breakout), I was in fact interested to see how this 'tangential' genre linking would wash with you :D
Its a reflection of the tenuous nature of genre definition, and since genre preference came up as a possible tool in your grand player typology experiment, I'm interested to know if anyone would accept the reasoning I used in redefining genre. I wouldn't, if I was of a mind to be rigid in my definitions.

Playing Devil's advocate a little, perhaps.

I thought about speccing F.E.A.R. which adds some neat play variations to the standard shooter format with bullet-time style capability (eg you can throw a grenade, go into slow-mode, and auto-detonate the grenade when its in the middle of your enemies with a single shot) and psychologically reactive enemies (they basically panic and run away if you overwhelm their squad with fire). But it seemed to obvious :)

Hey, I figured I'd give my shot at a play spec. I know it's not a full fledged shooter, but I love Resident Evil 4 (Capcom 2005), so I'm doing it, and you can't stop me!

move {walk, run, strafe, step backwards, 180 turn)

context sensitive actions {climb, dodge, swim, jump, roll, open, close, push, pull, hide Ashley, and various other specific tasks which all involve pushing one button or a combination of buttons when the game tells you to. This includes the interactive cutscenes}

aim and shoot
snipe (a variation of aim and shoot)
grenade (a variation of aim and shoot)
knife (a variation of aim and shoot)
stay/follow (commands for Ashley)
kick (even though it is context sensitive, kinda, it is a part of combat and not only used in special circumstances)

pick up item
use item {heal, special items, read notes}
combine/mix items
arrange items
look around
look at map

shop {buy item, buy weapon, upgrade weapon, buy special item}

animals (you can interact with them, but most don't do that much. A few animals when interacted with provide items, like fish and chickens)

environmental "obstacles" {fences, windows, doors, ladders, etc. Most environmental obstacles are interacted with using the context sensitive verbs}

items {health, ammo, special items, notes}

health {Leon's and Ashley's}

I think this is all of it. Let me know if I left anything out; I haven't played the game in a while : )

zenBen: the point of the symposium is to get different people playing with play specs; I don't really mind what people choose to spec, although I'm hopeful to explore patterns in verbs if we get enough games in a similar space. Thanks for taking part!

Don: RE4 so clearly has Move, Shoot and Aim in its play spec that it's indisputably fair game! :)


I'm not all that familiar with temperament theory. But, at first glance, it doesn't quite fit to well.

When I first thought about the issue, the word that popped to mind was "strategic" but I changed it to "tactical" in an attempt to reflect the fact that they still refer very much to "little picture" verbs. By this I mean that if you were to consider, say, a short time-slice of play (30 seconds), these verbs would easily have been carried out by the player many times!(How many times do you dodge in 30 seconds of Space Invaders?)

This is in contrast to "very high" verbs that might apply to a much longer segment of gameplay. For example, we could argue that Donkey Kong has only 1 high level verb: rescue (the damsel in distress). (a separate, yet related, discussion would be how the higher-level the verb, the more similar it becomes to a goal)

Anyways, I think that for now we should pick a term to refer to the level directly above the micro-micro verbs and that having multiple categorizations is perhaps too soon. As we start to come up with more and more verbs we can organically see what new categories we might need to refer to them.

So, "maneuvres" doesn't work for me due to its implication of some kind of movement. I'll admit that "tactical" still works for me, but if not I'd be willing to go with macroverbs.

However, lets think about the relation between verbs and the game interface. (ie, what does the player press/move/etc. on his physical hardware input device to get things done in the game) Due in part to their immediacy, it seems that all microverbs have a 1:1 relationship with the input interface. In other words, one input results in one microverb being carried out. In this case, one input would be equal to one button press, one movement of the joystick, two buttons pressed at the same time, etc.
However, combo moves that require multiple sequential button presses (typical in fighting games), would end up being considered as macroverbs.

Hmmm..that doesn't feel right.

So, how about considering different verbs from the perspective of WHO assigns their meaning. We can consider as microverbs those verbs that are interpreted by the computer. Based on the input received from the player, the computer/progam decides what verb is carried out in the game.

Macroverbs, on the other hand, are interpreted by humans. (ooh! you're dodging! fleeing! preparing an ambush!). The computer doesn't really have any semantinc understanding of what is going on.

So, perhaps we could use "semantic verbs" to refer to macroverbs! I think I actually prefer that to tactical verbs...sorry for the roundabout discussion to get to that point!

Jose: never apologise to me for rambling! I'm always delighted to see other people engage in my verbal vice. :) I'm going to pick up a lot of your points here in today's post. Thanks for continuing to contribute!

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