Symposium (3)
Symposium (5)

Symposium (4)


  • Two new play specs
  • Further discussion of the various scales at which we can position verbs
  • Discussion of possible extensions to the play spec

Note: my publisher told me yesterday that I have just two days to review the page proofs for Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames, so I'm in a flat tailspin right now. I might not have time to complete this post, and I'll certainly have to postpone Shadow the Colossus to next week. Thanks for your patience.

Today's Contributions

Jack from Gausswerks contributes two specs, one for Doom and one for Killer 7 here, along with comments on his specs which are worth checking. Much appreciated, Jack!

Doom (id Software, 1993)
Specified by Jack


Move (walk, run, turn, strafe, run over items)
Open/Search (operates doors and switches, also probes for secret doors)
Shoot (punch, chainsaw, fire guns)

Toggle Map


Doom Marine (avatar)
Weapons(Fists, Chainsaw, Pistol, Shotgun, Chaingun, Rocket Launcher, Plasma Gun, BFG)
Items (Health, Armor, Ammo, Powerups, Keycards)
Enemies (Former Humans, various Demons)
Boss Monsters (Cyberdemon, Spider Mastermind)

Chris comments: what a neat spec! Looking at this makes me understand why this game had such success: it's so easy to play. As Jack comments on his blog, there is no Aim as a significant verb, because the 2D controls mean that it is irrelevant. Jack's decision to include melee attacks into shoot is unorthodox, but logical, and further highlights the simplicity of this game.  This spec makes it look as if all future FPS games simply convoluted Doom's simple premise with additional controls.

Killer 7 (Capcom, 2005)
Specified by Jack


Move (run forward, 180 turn, navigate)
Aim and Shoot (primary attack, special attack)
Use Special Ability(Character-specific ability)
Access Map
Interact (Iwazaru, Travis, other)

[Menu Verbs]
Switch Killer (change into one of 7 killers)
Use Item
Replenish health

Upgrade abilities (at save points)


The Smiths (Dan, Kaede, Kevin, Con, Coyote, Garcian, and Mask de Smith - avatar)
Blood (collected from enemies, bonus for headshots)
Informants/NPCs (Iwazaru, Travis, Samantha, Harmon)
Heaven Smile (various enemies, bosses)

Chris comments: embarrasingly, I've still not seen this game running. Jack's comments note how, like RE4, this game seperates the Move and Aim/Shoot functions into discrete phases. Looking at the spec, it does seem like a very common set of verbs and nouns - the interesting elements seem to be the multiple avatars and some sort of progression mechanic (is it another case of cRPG style progression mechanics added to a basic shooter verb set?). It does seem at the level of the play spec, the First and Third Person Shooters are all very similar to each other.

Discussion (1): The Middle Ground

This follows on from discussion in day 2.

Jose and I are engaged in debate over verbs that emerge at the level of player choice, what was referred to as 'Tactical Verbs' in the first parst of this discussion. In the comments, Jose continues the discussion:

Regarding 'Tactical Verbs':...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)

The work I've been doing on structural specification covers these "very high" verbs, I contend. The verbs of a structural specification correlate with the goals (and sub-goals) that the player undertakes - such as 'Rescue' in the case of Donkey Kong. These are also the macroVerbs in Patrick's terminology.

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.

This is a sensible approach; I agree that it's premature to group them, but from my perspective I can already see how they relate to the DGD "1.5" model, and therefore the temptation to organise them in this way is palpable.

(Jose; when you say that you're not all that familiar with Temperament Theory, it makes me wonder if I just haven't written enough about it. I thought I'd bored people into the ground with that side of my research efforts... The distinction between Logistical and Tactical play alone is becoming more apparent as I continue informally accumulating case studies. Something to return to after the symposium, perhaps.)

Jose dismissed my suggested term 'maneuvres' as implying movement. I concur.

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.

From my perspective, I have always viewed the play spec as being rooted in the interface. This is why when I write play specs I now include the controls. Indeed, from a game design documentation perspective, one of the advantages of the play spec is to clarify the interface for the game. However, the play specs have always also included verbs that emerge at a higher level of abstraction (but below the structural/macroVerb level).

However, I've always let the play specs branch out to include verbs that are non-atomic. The most common verb of this kind in my play specs is Navigate. There is not and perhaps cannot be a navigate button in a game, but navigation is nonetheless a vital component of play in many games. Consider what the Navigate verb implies (in terms of play) in GTA (with its detailed map and clear markers) versus Shadow of the Colossus (where a terrible map is compensated for by giving  the player a manual compass).

I feel we're getting closer to a reasonable term, but I can't back 'semantic' because why should these middle ground verbs be more associated with meaning than the high level or low level verbs?

In terms of Patrick's microVerbs and macroVerbs, I think the correct phrase would be mezzoVerbs.

However, in terms of general language use, I feel we need terms which are immediately understandable. We have three degrees of abstraction we're considering:

  1. The immediate verbs (or atomic verbs) which are the basic actions of the game, that correlate broadly with the actual interface
  2. The middle ground verbs which reflect the choices the players make.
  3. The framing verbs which apply at the structural level, and therefore should be considered as part of structural specification and not play specification.

Since play specs are subjective, everything in (1) and (2) can be legitimately be referred to as just 'verbs' in the general case. This being so, we could actually sidestep the need to label (2) at all, and simple label (1) more precisely. Nonetheless, I don't think we're ready to let go of labelling (2) just yet.

Let me suggest for the next leg of this discussion:

  1. Verbs refer to those verbs resulting from direct actions within the interface.
  2. Techniques refer to those verbs that emerge from the play of the game. These include verbs like Navigate, which are procedures emerging from components of the game (such as maps, markers and compasses) and also directed activities like Lead, Dodge and Flee from the "tactical" arena.

An advantage of this system is that those who want to seperate out 'Techniques' can do so, but anyone who doesn't is free to include the Techniques in the Verbs category, preserving the subjectivity of the notation.

(Terms I threw away while formulating this:

  • Simple and Compound verbs
  • Atomic and Synthetic verbs
  • Direct and Emergent verbs

Thought I might as well share these).

Or, as an alternative:

  1. Direct or Atomic or Interface Verbs
  2. Technique Verbs

I urge further discussion on this point, and input from anyone participating in this symposium is warmly welcomed! I know it's only terminology, but as I've said before, a good terminology aids in both understanding and remembering a system of thought, and as such is worth striving towards.

Discussion (2): Extending Play Specs

Various issues have arisen regarding extension or codification of the play specification.

A. Donald addresses the issue of enumeration of nouns in the comments to Symposium (3):

I noticed how under NOUNS some people listed off every type of enemy in the game, and then some (like me) just say 'enemies'. Of course either way works, but I think if you say 'enemies {n varieties}' or something like that, then you don't have a cumbersome list, but you are able to tell if the game has a few or a lot of different enemies, which to me is pretty important since gameplay often revolves around how you deal with different enemies.

I agree that it is highly desirable for a play spec to work towards abstracting nouns into related categories - but I believe (and I think you do to) that it must remain a subjective decision as to whether one choose to group in the largest possible category e.g. Enemies, or whether one chooses to group at a different scale. For instance, in my Nemesis/Gradius spec I collect into three bins: Foe, Turret and Boss. There are many different foes, many different turrets and a few different Bosses. I could have grouped these all together as 'Enemies' but in terms of how the game plays the distinction between the moving Foes and the stationary Turrets feels pertinent.

Perhaps it would be prudent to recommend in the context of play specs:

"It can be helpful to try and group the nouns together into related categories. You can use as many or as few of these categories as you feel is appropriate."

B. Jose suggests speccing out the verbs for the Enemies. This has always been implied in the play specification process, the fact that people don't feel the need to do this suggests that any such "Enemy specification" should be a separate but related extention to play specifications, rather than part of the play specification itself. The play of the game only takes place in the player, after all! (Although animists may believe differently).

That's all I have time for today, I'm afraid! Seven participants so far. The Round Table kicks off on Monday, but I'm away until Tuesday... I had planned to get the symposium launched the week before the Carnival, and hence two weeks before the Round Table - but I got my dates wrong! I don't want to get in the way of the Round Table, but I don't want to curtail the symposium unduly. I guess we'll see how things look on Tuesday.

Have a wonderful weekend!


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I tossed up a play spec for Thief: The Dark Project before seeing this. Depending on how my weekend goes, I may do some revamping based on the discussion.

Are you going to create an online database of play specs?

I have a concern regarding these different "levels" of verbs: With the middle ground verbs (those determined by the player, such as 'prepare ambush'), some games plan for and facilitate these, while others just allow them incidentally. This seems like a pretty important distinction to me, and to group all of these together into one 'middle ground' category doesn't work. Strategy games are designed knowing that "flanking" and "ambushing' will occur. Whereas when DOOM was created, I wonder if the makers said, "hey, I bet lots of players will run in a room, then back out so all of the enemies will bottleneck through the entrance making them easy targets." and designed accordingly, or if that tactic is completely derived from the player. If a game designs to facilitate tactics, then they are an important part of the design, if it doesn't, then the tactics aren't game design, but player reactions.

I think that's a great point, Donald. There are games out there, particularly some of the older games, that have become highly associated with certain tactics or playstyles that are at best perhaps "suggested" by the game, but not really actively fostered or inculcated in the player. In these cases it doesn't seem appropriate to attribute the relevant verbs to something that wasn't designed in--even if many players play it that way because they are experienced or they know better, I think the case that should be assumed is the player plays the game as given.

Of course, this brings to light all sorts of issues regarding legacy skills, particularly for the wide variety of Shooter games.. Many players have been playing Shooters for so long that many of the successful ones are built atop an assumed proficiency and knowledge of genre tropes (like exploding barrels, for instance).

"I believe (and I think you do to) that it must remain a subjective decision as to whether one choose to group in the largest possible category e.g. Enemies, or whether one chooses to group at a different scale."

So use an explicit taxonomy or ontology to group them, then you have all the symbols defined and can use whatever level is relevant for the analysis you are performing at the time. Why not take the (computing-style) ontological appoach of defining properties, and use a reasonable ontology formalism (SHF would be a good first cut in my biased opinion, but you might want more expressiveness or even instances depending on where you want to draw the boundaries)? Then you can also construct groupings based on combinations of properties.

For example, one could define a "Marine" in Starcraft simply as a kind of "Terran Unit" which is in turn a kind of "Unit"; or one could define a "Marine" as equivalent to a "Unit that is produced by Terrans, moves over land, can fire at (Unit that moves over (land or air)), does not see (Unit that is currently cloaked)", plus as many other properties as you wish. Then it's possible to define "Terran Unit" as equivalent to "Unit that is produced by Terrans"; asking a suitable reasoner for subclasses of "Terran Unit" would yield "Marine", amongst others. However, you could also ask for subclasses of "Unit that can fire at Marine" and you'd get back "Marine" amongst others.

Defining every property of an ontology is hard and probably counterproductive given the apparent simplicity of the play specs. I would recommend looking at simple ontologies or plain taxonomies, however, as I suspect the expressive power of play specs would increase significantly.

Coincidentally... Chris, have you considered how play specs could map onto regular expression languages or a further-extended EBNF?

Chris, no worries about a day or two overlap with the Round Table. Last month's RT didn't see any entries until a week after launch. Besides, even though I said 'Monday' on the site, I got the date wrong and had the 6th in, so I'm equally responsible for the gaffe.

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