Experience Assessment and Design in the Analysis of Gameplay by Cowley et al

Experience Assessment and Design in the Analysis of Gameplay is available in Simulation and Gaming (online first version).


We report research on player modeling using psychophysiology and machine learning, conducted through interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers of computer science, psychology, and game design at Aalto University, Helsinki. First, we propose the Play Patterns And eXperience (PPAX) framework to connect three levels of game experience that previously had remained largely unconnected: game design patterns, the interplay of game context with player personality or tendencies, and state-of-the-art measures of experience (both subjective and non-subjective). Second, we describe our methodology for using machine learning to categorize game events to reveal corresponding patterns, culminating in an example experiment. We discuss the relation between automatically detected event clusters and game design patterns, and provide indications on how to incorporate personality profiles of players in the analysis. This novel interdisciplinary collaboration combines basic psychophysiology research with game design patterns and machine learning, and generates new knowledge about the interplay between game experience and design.

Keywords: game design, gameplay patterns, psychophysiology, personality profiles, PPAX framework.

The word cloud of the article's frequently used words.
The word cloud of the article’s frequently used words.


Full reference:

  • Cowley, Kosunen, Lankoski, Kivikangas, Järvelä, Ekman, Kemppainen, Ravaja, forthcoming. Experience Assessment and Design in the Analysis of Gameplay. Simulation and Gaming. DOI=10.1177/1046878113513936

Difficulty Graphs (by Rafael Vázquez)

Rafael Vázquez writes about evaluating the difficulty level of games on Gamasutra in the feature How Tough Is Your Game? Creating Difficulty Graphs:

They are graphical representations of how difficulty changes throughout the game. This is to say that they plot how challenge changes over time. There are two main types, time-based and distance-based. The first places the spikes in challenge according to the time spent played (taking away paused time and death); while the second places them depending on where the challenges appear (assuming a direct route from start to goal).

While the method seems to be targeted to combat-based titles (difficulty formulate uses to the number of enemies), the same idea could be extended to platformers by counting number of jumps (etc.) and multiplying that with a difficulty level?

JGVW Special Issue: Experiencing Games

I just got a copy of the special issue Experiencing games: Games, play and players of the Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds edited by Waern, Thorhauge, Verhagen, and me (the online version should come out by the end of December).

Special issue TOC:

  • Lankoski, Waern, Thorhauge, Verhagen: Introduction to special issue: Experiencing Games: Games, play and players, pp. 175-180. DOI=10.1386/jgvw.3.3.175_7.
  • Kivikangas et al.: A review of the us of psychophysiological methods in game research, pp. 181-199. DOI=10.1386/jgvw.3.3.181_1.
  • Norgard: The corporeal-locomotive craftsman: Gaming in World of Warcraft, pp. 201-218. DOI=10.1386/jgvw.3.3.201_1.
  • Montola: The painful art of extreme role-playing, pp. 219-237. DOI=10.1386/jgvw.3.3.175_7. DOI=10.1386/jgvw.3.3.219_1.
  • Waern: ‘I’m in love with someone that doesn’t exist!’ Bleed in the context of a computer game, pp- 239-257. DOI=10.1386/jgvw.3.3.239_1.
  • Hagen: Designing for player experience: How professional game developers communicate design visions, pp. 259-275. DOI=10.1386/jgvw.3.3.259_1.

(I add direct links to dois when the online versions are available.)

Notes on Aalto Game Design Courses

Now the first year (of two year MA degree programme) of the Game Design and Production at the School of Art and Design at the Aalto University is over (and I am at the Södertörn University), I thought to write notes about the courses.
Game Design:

  • Gameplay Design Workshop (5 days) by Petri Ikonen (Digital Chocolate) & me. (my slides: 1, 2)
  • Lecture 1: Game Design by me
  • Lecture 2: Narrative Design 1/2 by Mikko Rautalahti (Remedy)
  • Lecture 3: Narrative Design 2/2 by Mikko Rautalahti (Remedy)
  • Lecture 4: Level Design for Casual Games by Petri Ikonen (Digital Chocolate)
  • Lecture 5: Gameplay Design Patterns by Jussi Holopainen (NRC)
  • Lecture 6: Level Design by Jarkko Kainulainen (Tribe Studios)

Game Analysis

  • Four mornings with lectures and analytical exercises by me (my slides)
  • Analysis on game reported as an essay

Game Project

  • Two groups of students designed and developed fully playable murder mystery games with great visuals and potential to be polished great games. Tutored and taught by me.

Understanding Games

  • Lectures on Roleplaying Games by Jaakko Stenros (University of Tampere) & Markus Montola (Gray Area)
  • Exam on Tavinor, The art of videogames
  • (alternative for this was a book exam)

Playability Evaluation

  • Workshop (1 day) by Elina Ollila (NRC)
  • Workshop (4 days) by Juha Huhtakallio (Kuuasema)

Quick Intro to Spreadsheets for Game Designers

Claire Blackshaw gives brief intro to using spreadsheets in Opinion: Stop Being The Useless Designer – Excel and Formulas.

Excel (and other spreadsheet programs such as Numbers and Open Office) has excellent tools to quick prototype game system behaviors, as Blackshaw points outs.

For prototyping complex behaviors, writing simple computer programs in unavoidable, I think. I have found Python extremely useful for quick prototyping. There are handy libraries for Python to create and analyze simulations; for example, SimPy for creating sumulations and rpy for statistical calculations (rpy requires R). Pygame can be used for creating playabe prototypes.


Some Refelections on the Game Project Course

In the Game Project course students design and develop a game from a scratch to (at least) beta level. It is obvious that current version of the game project course has some flaws. Currently the structure suffers issues of the big-design-first model. The course milestones set does not require prototyping and iteration. This has worked somewhat, and it seems that groups are creating interesting games. However, the last deadline is looming and they have a lot of to do to get their games ready.

To improve the course in the future, I searched alternative approaches to game development process for the Game Project course and found Clinton Keith’s (2010) book Agile Game Development with Scrum.

The overall structure of project in Scrum is show the figure below.

The overall structure of the Scrum project (Keith 2010)

Roughly, a Scrum project consist of sprints that last two to four weeks and have a clear target. Each sprint starts with planning meeting in which the target of the sprint is set. The target is a  feature list that should be developed by the end of the sprint. The initial list of the features are features (and each feature have a priority) are set in the concept sprint. Each sprint contains design, asset creation, coding, and testing. After each  sprint, the team should have a working game build. (Keith 2010.)

I am yet not exactly sure how to adapt Scrum for the course, as there are some roles (such as Scrum master) that might need rethinking for the course context.

However, I like the idea of sprints. Students would set targets for each sprint  with the teacher. Two to four weeks sprint in the course lasting almost the whole academic year means 7 to 14 sprints. That would split the goals to more manageable smaller sub-goals, as each sprint has its own feature list that should be ready at the end of the sprint. The Scrum process has natural checkpoints (at the end of each sprint) where we can check how the project progress.


Keith. C. 2010.  Agile Game Development with Scrum. Addison Wesley.

Chat Mapper

Chat Mapper is a tool for writing branching dialogue. It is free for personal use and indie or commercial licenses are affordable. However, free version does not allow exporting dialogue to xml and use it within a game.

The interface looks nice and how the branching is visualized is great.

The Chat Mapper documentation says that scripting (LUA) can be used to control dialogue flow. This, I guess, means that to use exported xml, the game engine needs to support LUA, at least in the extend used to build logic to the dialogue flow.

Character-Driven Game Design & Lies and Seductions

Lies and Seductions

The game can be downloaded for free at www.liesandseductions.com or get with the Character-Driven Game Design. OSX and Windows versions available. Works also in Linux via Wine.

Lies and Seductions is a single player game about seduction, lies, and betrayal.

Are you able to guide Abby to seduce a rock star, Chris, promised to stay virgin untill marriage? In order to success you need to gather dirty little secrets, use those secrets in your advantage, and make an impression on Chris.


  • four seduceable characters
  • flirt, mislied, eavesdrop, and pump information
  • persuade characters to help you to reach the goal
  • play Texas hold’em poker
  • dance to impress
  • non-player characters forms opionnions based on your choices they perceive
  • three different endings

Character-Driven Game Design: A Design Approach and Its Bases In Character Engagement

| Buy the book | Free PDF |

Back cover says:

In the Character-Driven Game Design, Petri Lankoski presents a theory that illuminates how game characters contribute to shaping the playing experience. Based on this theory he provides design tools for character-based games which utilize methods and theories derived from dramatic writing and game research.

“The use of Lajos Egri’s bone structure for a three dimensional-character and of Murray Smith’s three levels of imaginative engagement with characters allows the candidate to expose the full complexity of the imaginary persons represented and controlled in a single-player game. What makes his design-center approach even more interesting is that gameplay is an integral part of it.”
Bernard Perron, Associate Professor, Université de Montréal

“Lankoski does a great job laying out the theory of primary interest to him, and making the case for the need to tether character design to game design more tightly than has been the case in the past. Certainly, too, putting attention to social networks of characters and finding useful design patterns to guide this level of game design is also of great value, and underexplored in the field.”
Katherine Isbister, Associate Professor, Polytechnic Institute of New York University


List of Publications 9
Acknowledgements 10
Introduction 11
– Characters as Facilitators of the Playing Experience? 12
– The Context of This Study 13
– Game Design 14
– Game Research 15
– Cognitive Sciences and Film Studies drawing on Cognitive Sciences 16
– Dramatic Writing for Theatre and Film 17
– Goals 18
– Methods 18
– Qualitative Analysis 19
– Gameplay Design Patterns 19
– Structure of This Thesis 20
Game Characters 21
– Understanding Other People 21
– Mimicry and Empathy 22
– Person Schema 22
– Player Characters 23
Game and Gameplay Design 29
– Game Design Approaches 29
– Game Design and Character Design 30
– Missing Link: From Character Design to Gameplay Design 33
Character Engagement and Game Design 35
– Characters in Computer Games: Toward Understanding Interpretation and Design 35
– Player Character Engagement in Computer Games 35
– Gameplay Design Patterns for Believable Non-Player Characters 36
– Gameplay Design Patterns for Social Networks and Conflicts 37
– Lies and Seductions 38
– Character-Driven Game Design: Characters, Conflict, and Gameplay 38
Conclusions 41
– Characters and the Playing Experience 41
– Game and Character Design 44
– Concluding Remarks 46
References 47
Appendix 1: Research Material 57
Appendix 2: Gameplay Design Patterns 61
– Actions Have Social Consequences 61
– Character Defining Actions 62
– Detective Structure 63
– Enforced Character Behavior 64
– Faction 64
– Information Passing 65
– Internal Conflict 66
– Internal Rivalry 67
– Loyalty 67
– Melodramatic Structure 68
– Outcast 69
– Player-Designed Character 70
– Social Gatekeeper 70
– Social Maintenance 71
– Social Norms 71
– Traitor 72
– Trait Regulated Behavior 73
– References 74
Appendix 3: Lies and Seductions Credits 75
– Article 1 76
– Article 2 92
– Article 3 116
– Article 4 132
– Article 5 156
– Article 6 162
Abstract 182