Game Walkthroughs and Web Archiving Project: Integrating Gaming, Web Archiving, and Livestreaming 

“Game Walkthroughs and Web Archiving” was awarded a grant in the 2021-2022 round of the Discretionary Funding Programme (DFP), the aim of which is to support the collaborative activities of the IIPC members by providing funding to accelerate the preservation and accessibility of the web. The project lead is Michael L. Nelson from the Department of Computer Science at Old Dominion University. Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library is a project partner.


By Travis Reid, Ph.D. student at Old Dominion University (ODU), Michael L. Nelson, Professor in the Computer Science Department at ODU, and Michele C. Weigle, Professor in the Computer Science Department at ODU

Introduction

Game walkthroughs are guides that show viewers the steps the player would take while playing a video game. Recording and streaming a user’s interactive web browsing session is similar to a game walkthrough, as it shows the steps the user would take while browsing different websites. The idea of having game walkthroughs for web archiving was first explored in 2013 (“Game Walkthroughs As A Metaphor for Web Preservation”). At that time, web archive crawlers were not ideal for web archiving walkthroughs because they did not allow the user to view the webpage as it was being archived. Recent advancements in web archive crawlers have made it possible to preserve the experience of dynamic web pages by recording a user’s interactive web browsing session. Now, we have several browser-based web archiving tools such as WARCreate, Squidwarc, Brozzler, Browsertrix Crawler, ArchiveWeb.page, and Browsertrix Cloud that allow the user to view a web page while it is being archived, enabling users to create a walkthrough of a web archiving session.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Different ways to participate in gaming (left), web archiving (center), and sport sessions (right)

Figure 1 applies the analogy of different types of video games and basketball scenarios to types of web archiving sessions. Practicing playing a sport like basketball by yourself, playing an offline single player game like Pac-Man, and archiving a web page with a browser extension such as WARCreate are all similar because only one user or player is participating in the session (Figure 1, top row). Playing team sports with a group of people, playing an online multiplayer game like Halo, and collaboratively archiving web pages with Browsertrix Cloud are similar since multiple invited users or players can participate in the sessions (Figure 1, center row). Watching a professional sport on ESPN+, streaming a video game on Twitch, and streaming a web archiving session on YouTube can all be similar because anyone can be a spectator and watch the sporting event, gameplay, or web archiving session (Figure 1, bottom row).

One of our goals in the Game Walkthroughs and Web Archiving project is to create a web archiving livestream like that shown in Figure 1. We want to make web archiving entertaining to a general audience so that it can be enjoyed like a spectator sport. To this end, we have applied a gaming concept to the web archiving process and integrated video games with web archiving. We have created automated web archiving livestreams (video playlist) where the gaming concept of a speedrun was applied to the web archiving process. Presenting the web archiving process in this way can be a general introduction to web archiving for some viewers. We have also created automated gaming livestreams (video playlist) where the capabilities for the in-game characters were determined by the web archiving performance from the web archiving livestream. The current process that we are using for the web archiving and gaming livestreams is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Figure 2: The current process for running our web archiving livestream and gaming livestream.

Web Archiving Livestream

For the web archiving livestream (Figure 2, left side), we wanted to create a livestream where viewers could watch browser-based web crawlers archive web pages. To make the livestreams more entertaining, we made each web archiving livestream into a competition between crawlers to see which crawler performs better at archiving the set of seed URIs. The first step for the web archiving livestream is to use Selenium to set up the browsers that will be used to show information needed for the livestream such as the name and current progress for each crawler. The information currently displayed for a crawler’s progress is the current URL being archived and the number of web pages archived so far. The next step is to get a set of seed URIs from an existing text file and then let each crawler start archiving the URIs. The viewers can then watch the web archiving process in action.

Automated Gaming Livestream

The automated gaming livestream (Figure 2, right side) was created so that viewers can watch a game where the gameplay is influenced by the web archiving and replay performance results from a web archiving livestream or any crawling session. Before an in-game match starts, a game configuration file is needed since it contains information about the selections that will be made in the game for the settings. The game configuration file is modified based on how well the crawlers performed during the web archiving livestream. If a crawler performs well during the web archiving livestream, then the in-game character associated with the crawler will have better items, perks, and other traits. If a crawler performs poorly, then their in-game character will have worse character traits. At the beginning of the gaming livestream, an app automation tool like Selenium (for browser games) or Appium (for locally installed PC games) is used to select the settings for the in-game characters based on the performance of the web crawlers. After the settings are selected by the app automation tool, the match is started and the viewers of the livestream can watch the match between the crawlers’ in-game characters. We have initially implemented this process for two video games, Gun Mayhem 2 More Mayhem and NFL Challenge. However, any game with a mode that does not require a human player could be used for an automated gaming livestream.

Gun Mayhem 2 More Mayhem Demo

Gun Mayhem 2 More Mayhem is similar to other fighting games like Super Smash Bros. and Brawlhalla where the goal is to knock the opponent off the stage. When a player gets knocked off the stage, they lose a life. The winner of the match will be the last player left on the stage. Gun Mayhem 2 More Mayhem is a Flash game that is played in a web browser. Selenium was used to automate this game since it is a browser game. In Gun Mayhem 2 More Mayhem, the crawler’s speed was used to determine which perk to use and the gun to use. Some example perks are infinite ammo, triple jump, and no recoil when firing a gun. The fastest crawler used the fastest gun and was given an infinite ammo perk (Figure 3, left side). The slowest crawler used the slowest gun and did not get a perk (Figure 3, right side).

Figure 3
Figure 3: The character selections made for the fastest and slowest web crawlers

NFL Challenge Demo

NFL Challenge is a NFL Football simulator that was released in 1985 and was popular during the 1980s. The performance of a team is based on the player attributes that are stored in editable text files. It is possible to change the stats for the players, like the speed, passing, and kicking ratings, and it is possible to change the name of the team and the players on the team. This customization allows us to  rename the team to the name of the web crawler and to rename the players of the team to the names of the contributors of the tool. NFL Challenge is a MS-DOS game that can be played with an emulator named DOSBox. Appium was used to automate the game since NFL Challenge is a locally installed game. In NFL Challenge, the fastest crawler would get the team with the fastest players based on the players’ speed attribute (Figure 4, left side) and the other crawler would get the team with the slowest players (Figure 4, right side).

Figure 4
Figure 4: The player attributes for the teams associated with the fastest and slowest web crawlers. The speed ratings are the times for the 40-yard dash, so the lower numbers are faster.

Future Work

In future work, we plan on making more improvements to the livestreams. We will update the web archiving livestreams and the gaming livestreams so that they can run at the same time. The web archiving livestream will use more than the speed of a web archive crawler when determining the crawler’s performance, such as using metrics from Brunelle’s memento damage algorithm which is used to measure the replay quality of archived web pages. During future web archiving livestreams, we will also evaluate and compare the capture and playback of web pages archived by different web archives and archiving tools like the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, archive.today, and Arquivo.pt. We will update the gaming livestreams so that they can support more games and games from different genres. The games that we supported so far are multiplayer games. We will also try to automate single player games where the in-game character for each crawler can compete to see which player gets the highest score on a level or which player finishes the level the fastest. For games that allow creating a level or game world, we would like to use what happens during a crawling session to determine how the level is created. If the crawler was not able to archive most of the resources, then more enemies or obstacles could be placed in the level to make it more difficult to complete the level. Some games that we will try to automate include: Rocket League, Brawhalla, Quake, and DOTA 2. When the scripts for the gaming livestream are ready to be released publicly, it will also be possible for anyone to add support for more games that can be automated. We will also have longer runs for the gaming livestreams so that a campaign or season in a game can be completed. A campaign is a game mode where the same characters can play a continuing story until it is completed. A season for the gaming livestreams will be like a season for a sport where there are a certain number of matches that must be completed for each team during a simulated year and a playoff tournament that ends with a championship match.

Summary

We are developing a proof of concept that involves integrating gaming and web archiving. We have integrated gaming and web archiving so that web archiving can be more entertaining to watch and enjoyed like a spectator sport. We have applied the gaming concept of a speedrun to the web archiving process by having a competition between two crawlers where the crawler that finished archiving the set of seed URIs first would be the winner of the competition. We have also created automated web archiving and gaming livestreams where the web archiving performance of web crawlers from the web archiving livestreams were used to determine the capabilities of the characters inside of the Gun Mayhem 2 More Mayhem and NFL Challenge video games that were played during the gaming livestreams. In the future, more nuanced evaluation of the crawling and replay performance can be used to better influence in-game environments and capabilities.

If you have any questions or feedback, you can email Travis Reid at treid003@odu.edu.

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