Procedural Authorship: Playing Beowulf research

Procedural Creation

The Playing Beowulf project is about procedural literacy and it involves the development of an educational game authoring software. My work on it focused on the methodology, tools and user interface for procedural authorship – my activities included design, research and development, workshop tutoring and academic output.

This project is based on the London Knowledge Lab (Institute of Education UCL), where I developed part of my Split-PhD research.

In this post I describe the project as well as my activities during that period.

“Sandwich” Research

My full PhD research was about the expressive use of digital media. It was part of the Visual Arts program at the School of Communication and Arts of the University of São Paulo (ECA/USP), in Brasil (post).

In October 2014 I went to London to work in the more practical aspects of this study, by joining the research and development team of the Playing Beowulf project. I worked under the supervision of Prof. Andrew Burn and Dr Alison Gazzard.

This portion of my research had the duration of one year (or three UK academic terms) and was funded by the Science Without Borders program (CNPq) – this modality of research is also known as a “sandwich” PhD.

During this period I wrote three articles – two of them based on my participation on workshops for the project, and a longer one exploring the more theoretical aspects of this study. I also participated actively in the meetings and discussions around the project and presented it at a conference. In the next sections I elaborate more on some of these activities.

Playing Beowulf

The Playing Beowulf project involves the development of MissionMaker, a game authoring software based on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (wikipedia).

The software is to be used in schools and universities, museums and libraries, both as an alternative approach to reading the original text, and as a means to learn about game creation, programming and procedural authorship in a general sense.

Playing Beowulf is a Digital Transformations project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK. Partners include the British Library, University of Sydney and GameCity.

Note: a digital version of the original manuscript for Beowulf is available at the British Library website here.

The Tool

Missionmaker is a tool that allows the creation of games composed of different locations, objects and characters, as well as the definition of rules, behaviors and properties for these elements. It distinguishes itself from most game authoring software because of its particular workflow, which allows even new users to have a simple, but fully playable, environment almost immediately. It is then possible to customize and add new elements gradually, as the program’s interface and features are explored by the user. This approach makes MissionMaker particularly suitable for educational purposes.

Game created in MissionMaker

Game created in MissionMaker

There is a new version of MissionMaker being developed, which will feature a more sophisticated logic system, allowing the authoring of more complex systems and behaviours. It will also include specific assets tailored to support the themes, characters, places and objects from the Beowulf storyworld (read about this new version here).

Abel Drew demos new tool at the LKL (Feb 2015)

Abel Drew demos new tool at the LKL (Feb 2015)

Pilot Workshop

The pilot Workshop for the Playing Beowulf project was held at the IOE in October 2014, mostly with student teachers from the English and Drama programmes.

The participants were encouraged to explore the epic English poem by analyzing and discussing its language, narrative structure and themes, as well as the way the characters, locations and situations are represented.

This involved discussing both the original story and it’s multiple adaptations across different media and languages, from text, drawing and video to sequential art and cinema (such as in the 2007 animated movie directed by Robert Zemeckis).

Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis, 2007)

Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis, 2007)

The workshop included many activities and creative exercises in a variety of different languages and mediums, such as drama, improvisational theater, creative writing, drawing, animation, film and, finally, videogames, using Missionmaker to create interactive adventures based on certain portions of the poem.

Workshop: drama and improvisation activities

Workshop: drama and improvisation activities

Workshop: game authoring in Missionmaker

Workshop: game authoring in Missionmaker

Even though the students had very little time to work on each one of these exercises, the process was very engaging, and led to a rich and interesting scope of creative productions. In the end, they had experienced in a practical manner how different languages and mediums may allow for different – and sometimes unique – perspectives and approaches to representation or expression.

Afterwards I interviewed several of the participants about their experience in the workshop, including the game creation activity. These conversations, together with the case study analyses of the games, resulted in two articles (post).

In April 2015 I presented this study along Theo Bryer and Jane Coles (IOE UCL) at the Storytelling in the Medieval World conference, at University College London (UCL) (post).

The Meaning Potential of Procedurality

This research period also resulted in a longer article, titled The Meaning Potential of Procedurality, where I expand on some of the themes presented in the aforementioned first two articles, and explore in greater depth the theoretical analysis.

In this text I present initial considerations about the meaning potential of procedurality in digital media, from the perspective of the designer working in this medium. The framework used is the Multimodal Analysis approach, as well as a methodology of my own, developed in a previous research (post).

Note: there are download links to the articles mentioned in this post in the above links, or at the Playing Beowulf project’s website (link below).


– Playing Beowulf project (website)
– DARE Collaborative (website)
– Prof. Andrew Burn (website)
– Dra. Alison Gazzard (IOE UCL profile)
– Abel Drew (twitter)

[Posted 2015/01/03. Updated 2015/04/13, 11/18 and 2016/05/31.]

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  5. […] Playing Beowulf is a project currently in development at the London Knowledge Lab (Institute of Education UCL) which involves the development of a game authoring software based on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (read about it here). […]

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