Monday, June 29, 2009

Lies and Seductions


This is my Master's Thesis project, done as part of Petri Lankoski's PhD project for the Medialab in University of Art and Design Helsinki. It's an adventure game about romance, focusing on social interaction with computer-controlled characters. The player is Abby, who's made a bet that she can seduce a Christian rock singer. To succeed, she needs to work her way into his social network, manipulating his friends to help her. The game is based largely on dialogue, with some minigames thrown in. At the core is the Impression System, a memory and personality model that determines what the NPCs think of Abby.

The game is freely downloadable here. There's also a video (by Petri Lankoski).

The Team

  • Petri Lankoski acted as creative lead, participating in many tasks such as concept design, game design, writing and programming.
  • Raisa Omaheimo developed the basic story and characters and wrote some of the cutscenes.
  • Mike Pohjola wrote most of the dialogue and story content, and helped develop the dialogue editor.
  • Niklas Gustafsson designed the 3D characters and modeled and animated Abby.
  • The other characters were modeled and animated by Reettakaisa Neittaanmäki, Linda Kronman, and Anne Parkkali.
  • Kimmo Karvinen designed and modeled the scenes, and made the UI graphics.
  • Jari Suominen made the music and sound effects, and did programming related to that.
  • Josie vd Stel proof edited the dialogue.
  • I focused on game design and implementation, developing the personality model and the AI system, and did most of the programming and building work. I also created a dialogue editor, and participated in the writing.

Technologies I Used

  • Unity 3D engine and development tool
  • C# for scripting
  • Java for a dialogue editor (Swing, XML, DOM)
  • Pathfinding algorithms (Navmesh, A*)

The Impression System

I'll go into a little more detail about the Impression System now, since it's my most important contribution and the topic of my Thesis. It was a bit of an excersize in wheel reinvention - I realized later that Chris Crawford's Storytron ( uses a similar though more complex version of it.

The system models two things: the memory and personality of the NPCs. Both are centered around Abby: what they've witnessed her doing and what they think of it. From this, an overall attitude score is calculated. This is how it works:

The NPCs estimate Abby according to a specific set of characteristics, called impressions. There are twenty impressions altogether, such as: Religious, Slutty, Lesbian, Rich, Intelligent, Exquisite... Whenever Abby says or does something, all NPCs in the vicinity adjust their view of her: for example, flirting with someone will increment the Slutty impression in those who witness it. The impressions can then be directly referred to in conversations (the NPCs might, for example, discuss how slutty they think Abby is, or directly critisize her). They are also used to calculate the general attitude the NPCs have towards Abby.

This is where personality modeling comes in. Each NPC has an opinion about each impression, reflecting if they like or dislike that quality and how strongly. For example, Chris loathes slutty girls while Lord James loves them. The overall attitude, determining general reactions, is calculated as follows:

Attitude = impression_1 x opinion_1 + impression_2 x opinion_2 + ... + impression_N x opinion_N

Improving the attitudes of the NPCs by giving the right impressions to the right people is at the core of the game's challenge. To seduce Chris you need to improve his attitude to the level of love, and attitude is also important in getting his friends to help you.

I think the impression system works pretty well, though there are some oddities, and a lot of tweaking was needed to balance the game of course. It's certainly an improvement to the single-value system used in Meren Vangit.

Working with Unity 3D

My second major contribution involved learning the Unity 3D engine and game development environment ( Its features are most directly applicable to developing 3D action games with physics modeling, so we had to do a lot of scripting of our own to implement the feel and style of an adventure game. Nevertheless, it was definately useful, significantly speeding up the development.

Besides that, there was also lots of tweaking and bizarre problems to solve. We used Softimage XSI to create the models and animations, and importing via the .fbx format proved tricky: sometimes our characters looked less like people and more like aliens from outer space, reflected in one of those funhouse mirrors. Genuine bugs on our part also caused amusing effects: the characters had the tendency to float around in their chairs for instance, or wave full glasses of bear around when walking or talking. Suicide by bad pathfinding was also a common occurrence. Fortunately, we got most of that stuff out by the release. (Not all, though: Probably due to some compatibility issue, there's some annoying graphical bugs on some video cards...)

In addition to using Unity itself, I learned countless little things of course, in both game design and programming. One of the most interesting, and rewarding, field was pathfinding. Using the A* and navmesh techniques, the paths the characters take just look so wonderfully smooth and natural. Performance optimization was an interesting topic as well: minimizing the number of draw calls without sacrificing too much of the artistic quality. (Seems there are a lot of important tricks, especially when it comes to lighting and textures.)

I'm hoping the use of development environments like this will become more commonplace. It seems like a good way to counter the increasing workloads in game development. Personally, of course, I hope Unity becomes big so my skills will be in greater demand.

Cells - Nantes 1944


Cells - Nantes 1944 was another Medialab project. It's a networked multiplayer game about cooperation, intrigue, and betrayal, in which the players take the roles of Resistance fighters and Gestapo infiltrators in the WWII era France. It's one of my favourite designs so far.

The Team

We had a four person team working on Cells:
  • Jukka Liukkonen designed the user interface and created a set of very athmospheric graphics.
  • Raisa Omaheimo and Jarno Koponen looked into the era and wrote textual content that made you feel you're there.
  • I came up with the original idea and implemented the game in Java.
  • Together, we brainstormed and designed the game mechanics to make it a thrilling and balanced experience for everyone.

Technologies I Used

  • Java GUI programming (Swing, Synth look-and-feel)
  • Java network programming (sockets, serialization)
  • XML for permanent data (read in as DOM)

The Gameplay

The players are divided into two teams, the French Resistance and Gestapo, with different victory conditions. There are a set of targets, such as German military structures, in the game (at the top in the interface). The Resistance tries to destroy those targets while the Gestapo tries to protect them.

To achieve their goals, the Resistance has to work together. For each target, there's a number indicating the strenght of its defences. Only if that many players or more attack the target on the same date, will the target be destroyed. To coordinate, the players have to build a network of contacts, to organize as cells.

The Gestapo players, on the other hand, try to infiltrate these cells, to uncover the dates and targets of the planned attacks. This is possible, because nobody knows on which side the other players are. If Gestapo manages to find out about an attack, they can send troops to protect that target for a day, which will foil the attack.

All of this information is spread in in-game chat sessions between groups of two or more people. The chat is the very core of the game, where a variety of trust games take place as the players try to figure out who to tell what information. In addition to attack plans, they may share their suspicions about others, try to trick spies into revealing themselves... All of this under the constant threat of being listened in by a third party.

To support these core mechanics, there are mechanics for spying on other people's actions, counterspying, and arresting and interrogating other players in Gestapo's name.

The game is all about team play: No individual score is kept. Instead, each player collects points for their team, be it Resistance or Gestapo.

Future Improvements

Despite a lot of people really liking the game concept, it's been difficult to get to play it. To play a meaningful game, you need 10-20 players to play simultaneously, seriously hampering the game's success. In order to fix this, I'm planning to recreate the game as a slower-paced web game, developed on the Java EE architecture. Games will last for days or weeks instead of hours, and real-time chats will be replaced by exchanging messages. Some of the mechanics, especially on the Gestapo side, will probably also be tweaked. The core gameplay, however, will remain the same.

Keiju ja Kummitus (A Phantom and a Fairy)


The Phantom and the Fairy were two projects done for a HUT course, in which we made digital effects for the stage. They're both virtual characters whose visuals reflect the changes in the voice of the voice actor.

The Team

  • Teemu Mäntylä invented and programmed the Phantom character, and played the cello during the show.
  • Lauri Puska sang some opera as the Phantom.
  • Toni Laitinen invented and programmed the Fairy character, and directed it during the show.
  • Elina Teppo did staging and propping and voice acted the Fairy during the show.
  • Ville Häkkinen did programming on the audio analysis side.
  • I wrote the Fairy's story, did propping and other practical arrangements, programmed the Fairy's background, and played the painter during the Fairy show.

Technologies I Used

  • GIMP to create the Fairy's background elements
  • Pure Data to program the Fairy's background
  • Audio and video playback systems in the Odeion Hall (at HUT)

The Phantom

The Phantom is the ghost of an opera singer who only exists when he sings. We filmed Lauri, our singer, in real time off stage and projected his image on a canvas next to Teemu playing his cello. The louder the ghost sings, the less transparent he appears.

The Fairy

The Fairy is a sparkling sphere of light that lives inside a painting, flies around and talks to the painter. The show consisted of the painter (played by me) and the painting projected onto a blank canvas. The painting changes as the painter and the Fairy take turns to paint items into it. The Fairy, controlled in real time by Toni and voice acted by Elina, is projected into the painting, flying around the items. The louder Elina speaks, the brighter the Fairy is and the more she sparkles. She also has three emotional states (changed by the push of a button): yellow for happy, blue for sad, and red for angry. The short dramatic arc ends with the Fairy painting a gun and shooting the painter.

Inside a Live Reptile Tent

On fall 2006, I took a minor subject in University of Art and Design Helsinki, Medialab department. I took a variety of courses, from drama theory to game analysis and design, learning a lot of new things and getting some much needed perspective. But the big production course, Inside a Live Reptile tent, from January to March 2007, was by far the most intense.

The Course

The course was directed by Teijo Pellinen, Chris Hales, Pipsa Asiala, and Jouko-Thomas Kleine. I could say a lot about the course arrangements (and I did) but that's not the topic of this blog. Let's just say it was a learning experience for us all, in lots of different ways.

The objective was to create a stage show that uses interactive audiovisual elements. The actual contents of the show were in a flux for most of the course's duration, but we ended up playing with the themes of death and motifs of fire and water. It was a two-month intensive course, during which we had little time for other studies and activities.

We began by doing some excersizes and brainstorming, then split into groups based on individual interests. I ended up in the groups dedicated to story and the dramatic arc of the show, but ended up doing lots of different things in the end. In the following sections, I'll describe a few of the more important sub-projects I was involved in:

The Fireman's Miniroom

In the story, there was a fireman who suffocated in a burning building. In the show, there was a small, dark room the audience would enter with flashlights. They'd point them at various items from toy firetrucks and burnt-down chairs to the body of the fireman (me!). This triggered images, depicting the events leading to his death, to be projected on the wall (images created by the very talented Diana de Sousa).

So, I got to play with light sensors, two Arduino boards, lots of wire and duct tape, and Macromedia Director. I had only used wire and duct tape before, but after five hectic days on site, it all worked together smoothly. Of course, when the D-Day came, way too many people entered the room and once, practically flooding it with light and rendering the whole interaction moot. Oh well.

The Black River Arcade Game

In line with the ever-mutating story, I programmed a small Java game, in retro style, depicting the fireman and a swimmer on the Black River. I used the same arcade game base code as in Lemmings Remake and A Dog's Job.

It's a two-player collaborative arcade game: The swimmer tries to swim upstream to a raft, avoiding dangers brought down by the currents (logs, zombie crocodiles and black swans). The fireman, standing on the raft, tries to destroy these dangers with his axe. Extra complexity is added by the varying speeds of the currents, forcing the swimmer to swim sideways to slower currents or be swept away.

The graphics are by me, except for the swimmer, who was created by Katarzyna Miron. The sounds were provided by Antti Mäki.

Staging and Propping

In addition to my main projects, I ended up doing some staging and propping work, mostly for the fireman's room. For this purpose, I frequently visited the prop room, a wondrous collection of... things (I don't think there's a narrower category to encompass that all). We also went a bit pyromaniac with some old furniture to create an atmosphere of a burning building, and borrowed a real fireman's suit from the fire department. In addition, I helped with some sewing as well as hanging cheap flashlights from the ceiling.

Random Ideas

During the production process, there was a lot of brainstorming and cool ideas, but unfortunately most of them never saw the light of day (or, well, the darkness of the stage but anyway...). Here are a couple of mine:
  • Divine Discourse: An installation entered by one audience member at a time. There's an altar with a pillow in front of it. Under the pillow, there's a pressure sensor connected to a computer, connected in turn to a hidden speaker. When the audience member enters, a voice of a goddess starts to speak, demanding they kneel down before her. If they refuse, the demands become more forceful, if they comply, the story takes another direction.
  • Interactive Instruments: There's a live stage performance and some instruments the audience can play (no skill needed to make strange sounds). Some of the instruments make sounds of harmony, while the others represent discord. The actors adjust their performance based on which instruments are played more.

Meren Vangit (Trapped by the Sea)


An HUT project, Meren vangit was my first serious attempt at interactive storytelling. It's a branching-structure adventure story set in the age of sailing. Its outcome is based on the player's interactions with various non-player characters. Graphically, it looks like a book that writes itself based on the player's choices.

The Team

There were five people working on this product:
  • Jarno Väkeväinen acted as the project lead and created the UI graphics.
  • Olli Katila drew the various pictures on the pages on the book.
  • Osku Kannisto composed several atmospheric pieces of background music.
  • Jukka Larja did the huge job of both programming the game and implementing a scripting language I used to write the game.
  • In addition to coming up with the concept, I designed and wrote the story.

Technologies I Used

  • Special, XML-based scripting language developed for this project.

Story Overview

The player takes the role of the captain of a small vessel that's trapped, through powerful magic, in a small sea area consisting of three small islands. He must travel between those three islands, interacting with their inhabitants, and find a way to reverse the spell. During all this, he must make sure his crew stays loyal to him.

The Crew

In order to keep his crew loyal, the player needs to understand their personalities. This creates the true challenge of the game. The members of the crew are as follows:
  • Phileas, captain and the player character
  • William, a brave, stern, and snobbish first mate
  • Humphrey, an old and experienced boatswain who doens't like being bossed around
  • Elmer, an old and superstitious carpenter
  • Benjamin, a self-learned Native American doctor who prefers the scientific world view
  • John, a charming and flirtatious sailor
  • Horace, a cynical sailor fed up with sea life
  • Edmund, Horace's romantic son
  • Hutch, a mean spirited sailor who listens only to force
  • Alice, a strong-headed stowaway
  • Emil, a young and incompetent cook looking for appreciation
  • Jim and Jesse, two fearful, thieving ten-year-olds
  • d'Argenlieu, a contemptuous noblewoman booking passage on the ship


The player spends most of the game traveling between the islands, having adventures on them, and interacting with the crew. The islands are as follows:
  • Lost Colony, a townful of people with European origin
  • The Native Island, a jungle island with a Native American tribe
  • The Desert Island
The player can freely travel between the islands. On each island, there are adventures to be had and choices to be made. Eventually, these adventures lead to uncovering the mysterious spell and the means to its reversal. The choices the player makes during the adventures affect the loyalty of the different crewmembers. For example, on the Native Island, Hutch semiaccidentally insults the natives: letting them punish him pleases Benjamin but displeases Hutch and also William (who considers the natives less worthy).

In addition, there are shorter pieces of story, picked semi-randomly from a pool, that take place during the voyages between the islands. Each of them describes some kind of a problem (such as a storm) or a conflict between the crewmembers (such as William and Humphrey disagreeing on maneuvers). The player's choices during these, once again, affect the loyalty of different members. (Chris Crawford calls these "interstitial stories" in his book Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling.)

Finally, as the player attempts to lift the spell, the group is drawn into a magical dream reality that draws on their personalities, tempting them to disobey the captain for different reasons each. Good relations with the NPC, as well as good understanding on their personality, are the key to winning these confrontations. If large enough number of the crew come through these trials still loyal, the spell is lifted and the journey can continue.


Based on the theory that you learn best from your mistakes, this was a giant step towards my enlightenment. Here are some of the lessons I learned:
  • Don't bite more than you can chew. 13 interactive characters and a wide-arcing storyline with magic, adventure, racial issues, social conflict, and romance is a little too much for 5 credit points. All the characters ended up with skeleton stories, with far too little for the player to base character understanding on. The plot moves ahead similarly quickly, with little attention paid to detail or refinement.
  • If you don't have time to do your research, stay clear of historical settings.
  • Sometimes simple is just simple. The personality model of the crewmembers is very simplistic: they have only one number to describe their attitude. This number is adjusted manually for each crewmember whenever the player does something meaningful. It'd have often made sense to distinguish between, say, frienship, respect, and fear (punishing someone, for example, causes fear but loses frienship). In addition, I had to manually adjust all 13 NPCs in lots and lots of places, which soon became tedious.
All in all, it was a good learning experience, with lessons I've already used in the development of Lies and Seductions. Interactive storytelling is a very interesting line of study, and creating this game only made me more enthusiastic about it.



This game is a project on a computer graphics course. It doesn't look too impressive, because it's just an excersize in using various OpenGL features. Nevertheless, it's worth a mention here, since it gave us insight into the workings of computer graphics on a low level of abstraction.

The Team

  • Toni Laitinen came up with the concept and did programming.
  • I also did programming.

Technologies We Used

  • OpenGL
  • C
  • Pair programming (which I found worked well because there were a lot of things neither of us had never done before)

Triple Trouble


This is a little course project we did in Flash. It's a very simple adventure game about a set of triplets who get abducted by aliens and have to use their identical looks to escape. I'd have liked to create a full adventure using the concept, but due to the project's scope we ended up with a simple, slightly interactive cartoon movie.

The Team

  • Rogemond Nicolas did actionscript programming and documentation.
  • I did actionscript programming, wrote the script, drew the graphical elements, and animated the characters.

Technologies I Used

  • Flash
  • Actionscript

A Dog's Job


This game was created as part of a course on multimedia programming. It's about the life of a sheep dog, dutifully herding his flock and protecting them from predators. The player's task is to drive a group of idly wandering sheep into a den, while keeping wolves away from them, his presense and voice his only tools.

The Team

A team of three was involved in making A Dog's Job:
  • Riku Björklund programmed the game logic, using my basecode for arcade games (first used in Lemmings Remake).
  • Jukka Larja programmed the AI of the animals, using e.g. flock AI algorithms to make the sheep move nicely as a group when not disturbed.
  • I created the graphics and animations.

Technologies I Used

  • GIMP (open source drawing software) to draw the terrain and animations
  • Java-based animation viewer to run the animations


The gameplay is simple: The player moves the dog around and barks as necessary. When not disturbed, the sheep wonder around as a flock (using flock AI), looking for grass to eat, while the wolves try to make a meal of them. If the dog approaches, both the sheep and the volves move away from them - by barking he can chase them faster and from longer distance. If he can drive the sheep into a den without getting them eaten, the dog wins. Terrain considerations add some complexity - the sheep can't go into water or forest, while the dog and the wolves can.

The Animation

I used the same, simple animation method that I'd used in Lemmings Remake, to create the different animals: frame by frame, arranged in a grid in an image file. I find I enjoy doing pixel animation in the old-fashioned way quite a lot. Fiddling with the minute details is relaxing, but since the characters are small and the animations short, it doesn't take too long to make. (As a side note, I modeled the running animations of the dog and the wolf on the closing theme of the anime series Wolf's Rain.)

Teach a Dog


This is a little Java excersize I did on a simple learning AI. You train your dog by giving them commands and then rewarding or punishing him for his behavior. The commands can be anything you like, though the dog can only perform a limited set of actions. In the beginning, he responds to the commands randomly but with time he learns from your feedback. A later version also adds different visitors that enter your house. You can teach your loyal watchdog to greet your wife with a warm lick but drive burglars away with teeth and growl. Train him well enough, and you won't even need to give any commands!

Technologies I Used

  • Java

The AI Mechanic

The game is rather repetitive - you just give commands and give feedback. The interesting was to create the learning mechanic. The dog always responds to the commands in three phases, with three options each: bark/growl/be quiet, run/walk/stay put, and lick/bite/do nothing. For each phase, there's a matrix: one dimension for the three options, one for the commands the player has issued so far, and one for the different visitors. The values in this matrix represent the desirability of each action with each command/visitor combination. When a visitor arrives and a command (optional) is issued, the dog finds the action with the highest value for that combination (with some random variation added) and performs it.

If the dog is rewarded, all the desirability values related to the selected action are increased, making him more likely in general to perform that action in the future. This way you can develop you dog's general nature into a specific direction. The desirability values related to the action combined with the command or the visitor are increased more, however, making the dog more likely to respond to that command and that visitor with that action in the future. The opposite is true for punishment.

I played with the idea of making this into a more interesting game, in the spirit of the Lassie stories, but haven't got around to it yet at least.

Lemmings Remake


I've always been a great fan of the Lemmings games. As a kid I used to draw up my own level designs on paper and have my friends solve them. As I grew more confident with Java, I finally decided to take it a step further.

Basically, it's Lemmings 1, with the original eight skills, but with my own graphics, animations and level designs. I also included fast forward and highlighting from the sequels for better playability.

Technologies I Used

  • Java (Swing for graphics)
  • GIMP to create the levels and animations

Charting New Territory

This was the first real-time graphical game I've created, so I had a lot to learn about drawing in Swing and working with the frame rate. And, of course it was my first attempt at pixel animation, which I think worked out great! I used a primitive but functional method of laying the frames out on a grid, then separating them in the program.

For future use, I created a generic package that handles the real-time updates and animations in games like this. I've used it in a couple of later games. It could use some performance optimization, though...

Guardian Angel aka MMOCGRPG

The acronym stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Character Graphics Role Playing Game. It's an engine for, well, character-graphics-based MMORPGs by Mikko Rasa. I worked on designing a ruleset and a world to be built on that engine (called Guardian Angel). Unfortunately, both the ruleset and the world were far too ambitious for our skills and resources for that time, and even the engine never got finished. I had some fun, however, creating the world as well as some cool ASCII art.

The Team

  • Mikko Rasa came up with the idea and built the engine.
  • Viljami Lappalainen helped us design story, gameplay, and the ruleset.
  • I designed the game world, and created ASCII art.

Neverwinter Nights


When Neverwinter Nights came out, I too took my chances with the Aurora editor that allowed players to create their own worlds and adventures. I never finished any of my projects, but I tried out a lot of concepts, tried to accomplish a lot of effects with the scripting system, and learned a lot about designing game stories and scenarios. In my designs, I focused less on combat encounters and more on creating an interactive story with meaningful choices.

Technologies I Used

  • NWN Aurora Toolset (including scripting)

Three Virtues

Three Virtues was the project I got the most results in. I wanted to create a story about the conflict between three virtues, represented by three guiding spirits, called Aeors. The player chooses one at the beginning, and then gains supernatural powers related to its virtue. Whether the player manages to live by the virtue he selected, determines a great deal of the final outcome of the story. The virtues I chose were Courage, Wisdom, and Love (similar to the three principles, Truth, Love, and Courage, in Ultima IV, as I later discovered).

I really liked developing the story and characters and writing dialogue trees, as well as scripts that made the story progress at a nice pace. I was surprised to find, though, that I also enjoyed building the physical aspects of the world: adjusting the color of the sunrise, adding frog croaking into the stream, creating different people, their looks and clothing... It was just enthralling to see my vision of the little agrarian village come to life, bit by bit, detail by detail. I also became quite obsessive about getting the music right, finding themes for the different characters, fading one piece into another in the middle of dialogue to support the advancement of the story.

I only completed one small chapter of the story that was to become a truly epic arc. Nonetheless, good practice and an even better experience.