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  • Prom Week: How A Game Can Simulate Real-World Relationships

    - Aaron Reed, Ben Samuel, Mike Treanor and Josh McCoy

  • 3. Social History

    One of the aspects of Prom Week that we are proudest of is the concept of an ever expanding social history between the characters. Every social exchange the player selects gets placed into a social history. Entries in the social history are then reasoned over in determining what characters want to do with each other (e.g., "if this person has done several nice things to me lately, I'll be more inclined to do something nice to them"). Additionally, social history references can be realized in dialogue as well.

    This means that characters can reference specific events that transpired in the past, which adds weight to every single choice the player makes. The player is not only playing a game to increase affinity between two characters -- they are creating a moment in time between those two characters that they'll remember forever (well, at least for the rest of the week), and will influence how they behave around each other, and how they'll interact with the entire student body. In a game as dynamic and procedural as Prom Week, seeing concrete references to player actions was supremely satisfying and validating.

    There are various goals the player can shoot for during gameplay. Here we see one goal is to get Doug a new relationship. The social mini-map at the bottom reveals some mutual romance between him and Chloe, which hints at a good starting place for the goal.

    4. Making a game from within a university

    Besides leveraging the university structure to create a not necessarily commercially viable game in the first place, we were also able to leverage the university system in other ways that helped the project. The game's team represented a wide variety of both talented and multidisciplinary people: even from just the core team, our non-game backgrounds included sociology, professional acting and writing, and a number of other skills that all proved useful in different ways.

    While Prom Week was partially funded by research grants, many of the team members were working on the project not for a paycheck, but because they really believed in the idea and wanted to see the game succeed.

    An ancillary benefit was that we were able to make creating the game a teaching experience, both for the undergraduates who worked on various parts of the project for class credit, and the graduate students who managed, planned, and executed the game design and construction.

    5. People cared in industry, press, and academia

    One thing that we were flattered and humbled by is that Prom Week seems to have made an impact in spheres that are important to us, namely the game industry, press, and academia.

    On the industry front, we're proud to say that Prom Week was a finalist in the category of Technical Excellence at the 2012 Independent Games Festival, and was selected to be featured during IndieCade's E3 showcase in June 2012. We presented the game to several industry veterans who visited UCSC and who walked away impressed. We were also asked to give a talk at both the AI Game Dev Summit in France, 2011, and again at the Game Developers Conference 2012.

    In the world of academia, we've been mentioned in other talks (such as Emily Short and Richard Evans' GDC presentation of Cotillion) in the same breath as Facade as a seminal achievement in Interactive Storytelling. Perhaps more importantly, our research has been, and is being, used as a component in other research projects. This includes other research being done at the Expressive Intelligence Studio, such as Anne Sullivan's GrailGM project, which takes Prom Week's social simulation technology and uses it to power a socially driven RPG, as well as other projects outside of UC Santa Cruz too. One such project is using Prom Week's simulation technology to help teach conflict resolution, and another is incorporating it into a deployment simulator of sorts, training soldiers about cultural idiosyncrasies of situations that they are likely unfamiliar with.

    We're also very pleased with the amount of attention Prom Week has received in the press. This ranges from written reviews and impressions of the game done by members of the press, to articles and interviews that we've given for members of the press, to this very post mortem that you're reading right now! Prom Week can be a difficult game to wrap one's head around, but we are happy with the number of people who seem to "get" it.

    Character actions and emotions are conveyed with fully realized English dialogue. Here, Doug tried attempting a pick up line on Chloe, but because he has traits that identify him as an introvert (namely he is both shy and timid), his pick up line was not particularly smooth.


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