Grotto menu: ☜ Back to Index


Enter Grotto Test Server

About Grotto

Grotto is an experimental, multiplayer, persistent, web-based game framework, developed by Wiley Wiggins and Paul Stiverson.

Grotto serves as a substrate for three interlocking art pieces:

Thanks to

Ariel Uzal, Andy Reitano, Prof. Chandler McWilliams, Prof. Jenna Caravello, Prof. Allison Parrish, Prof. Danny Snelson, Prof. Eddo Stern, Dr. Robbie Fordyce, Diana Thayer, Chris Cuellar, Tristan Espinoza

Process Bibliography

  1. Adams, Tarn. “Dwarf Fortress.” Bay12Games, n.d.

Dwarf Fortress is a videogame that I have chosen as a focus of study, since it encompasses all of the modes of game world apprehension covered in my thesis work, but provides the freedom of play to challenge some of the ideologies usually embedded in games working in these modes.

  1. Ahmed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006

Ahmed’s text gives a counter-view of the phenomenology of spaces like the home and the orientation of bodies in action with objects and tools, then extends these concepts to ideas of sexual orientation. I find these ideas relevant to my work, since I am working with and against data turned into architecture, the family as a navigable space, and a child’s active apprehension of the quotidian, which is initially conceived as alien. This text compliments Bachelard’s Poetics of Space.

  1. Akenson, Donald, and Donald Harman Akenson. Some Family: The Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself. Montréal, CA: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007

When I began to build out my dungeon game, Grotto, I used genealogy data in a format called GEDCOM (invented by the Church of Latter-Day Saints in the 1980’s) as a model for the construction of the maze. A software parser transcribed names and dates and ‘official’ familial relationships into rooms and inscribed cenotaphs and connective passages. I had three grandfathers. My paternal grandfather, doubly removed from my life since my mother was a single-parent and this grandfather, Jack “Red” Wiggins, had abandoned my father’s family when he was 60, converting to Mormonism in order to marry a younger woman. By virtue of Red’s conversion and my coincidental use of GEDCOM, I unknowingly started building the dungeon of Grotto in conversation with a grandfather I never met. Almost a third of the maze in Grotto had already been built by Red– the portion of the dungeon that is the most mysterious to me. This text provides some information and background on the Mormon preoccupation with genealogy and how it has created a religious technology used by people outside that religion, accepting hidden implicit ideas about family and pedigree from that religion as a result.

  1. Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. London ; New York: Verso, 2006

In Grotto I am exploring imagined communities, overlaying nationalistic founding myths with lived experiences of displaced immigrants. Grotto also uses game mechanics to create associations between anonymized strangers to interrogate ideas about community and other.

  1. Bachelard, Gaston, and M. Jolas. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994

Bachelard’s book proposes a phenomenology of architecture that meshes excellently with the visionary architecture of games. It also explores the space of the home in a way that seems to complement Ahmed, and does so in a way that questions the foundations of rational objectivity.

  1. Barron, Alex. “‘Petscop,’ the Creepy YouTube Series That Confounded Gamers on Reddit.” The New Yorker, August 31, 2017.

This is an article about prior art that I may reference. Petscop is an unusual long-form art project that presents a playthrough of a videogame that does not actually exist, which incorporates some horror elements. The way that the audience apprehends the space made by the “game” even with a surrogate player is interesting to me.

  1. Bletzer, Michael. “Revisiting History’s Cenotaphs: The ‘Common Man’ and Ethics of Commemoration in Conflict Archaeology.” Archaeologies 9, no. 1 (April 2013): 56–70.

Cenotaphs figure prominently in my work, and this text situates their use in cultural history. This connects to imagined communities, the Dungeon and the Frontier.

  1. Brazelton, Bennett. “On the 10-Year Anniversary of Minecraft: Two Interventions in Extractive Colonialism.” Cultural Geographies 27, no. 3 (July 2020): 491–97.

Short article about the ways in which Minecraft embeds settler colonialism ideology in its mechanics. I consider Minecraft to be a primary specimen of a Frontier game. Grotto engages with the frontier mode through an emergent narrative about Czech immigrating to Texas to serve as laborers and homestead, contrasted with nationalistic Czech folk legends about the establishment of a homeland.

  1. Craddock, David L. Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games, 2015

A useful history of roguelike/dungeon games that offers an excellent history of the the earliest videogames of any kind, also notable since several of the first game developers profiled here started work at UCLA.

  1. Cull, Laura. “Caves, Caverns and Dungeons: Speleological Aesthetics in Computer Games.” In Performance Studies, edited by Bryan Reynolds, p.119-136. London: Macmillan Education UK, 2014.

A games studies article that establishes ideas about occluded maps in games and dungeon/cave aesthetics, which may be useful to refer to.

  1. Fordyce, Robbie. “Dwarf Fortress: Laboratory and Homestead.” Games and Culture 13, no. 1 (January 2018): 3–19.

A useful games studies look at Dwarf Fortress as a game that allows experimentation with structures and processes usually overlooked as implicit in simulation games

  1. Fordyce, Robbie. 2021. “Play, History and Politics: Conceiving Futures Beyond Empire.” Games and Culture 16 (3): 294–304.

  2. Giovanni Battista Piranesi, John Howe, Philip Hofer. The Prisons / Le Carceri. Dover Fine Art, History of Art. Dover Publications, 2010.

Prior artwork– A series of 16 prints by the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi. These drawings are a sort of visionary architecture of impossible forms, constituting vast prisons and vaults, aesthetically harmonious with the sort of generated dungeons explored within roguelike games.

  1. Juul, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2005

A potentially useful Game Studies survey text.

  1. Ossuary. Československý Filmexport, 1970

Jan Svankmajer’s film of a visit to the Ossuary of Kostnice in the Czech Republic, narrated by the steward of the Ossuary as she scolds a field trip tour of children. In orienting myself as a player and character in my own game, I have imagined myself both as a denizen of my dungeon and as caretaker and tourguide.

  1. Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Chichester : Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Academy ; John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

A polemical text towards a phenomenology of architecture that de-privelages vision.

  1. Pipkin, Everest. “Soft Corruptor.” Cordite Poetry Review, August 1, 2021.

Prior Artwork, Soft Corruptor is an unfolding poem about a child’s conception of the spaces within videogames and the space of the home.

  1. Ruberg, Bonnie. “Straight Paths Through Queer Walking Simulators: Wandering on Rails and Speedrunning in Gone Home.” Games and Culture 15, no. 6 (September 2020): 632–52.

An article connecting Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology to ostensibly Queer videogames. The exploration of a domestic space made strange is the starting point of my game Grotto and of the game Gone Home which is critiqued here.

  1. Short, Tanya X., and Tarn Adams. Procedural Storytelling in Game Design. Second edition. Boca Raton: Taylor and Francis, 2019

A practical game design text that discusses methods of procedural generation and storytelling in videogames.

  1. Sicart, Miguel. “Against Procedurality.” Game Studies 11, no. 3 (2011)

When I suggest that games have ideologies embedded in their rules, that should not be interpreted as my saying that their meaning solely resides there. Sicart loosens a formalist interpretation of games to re-emphasize the subjective nature of play that is also so important to me.

  1. Soleri, Paolo. Arcosanti : An Urban Laboratory? San Diego, Calif: Avant Books, 1984

One of the texts referred to in my article The Arcology Mode, which may find a more formal exploration in my thesis writing.

  1. Wiggins, Wiley. “The Arcology Mode,” 2022

Prior writing about future imaginaries, visionary architecture and videogames. Submitted to Flat Journal, available on request.

  1. Wigley, Mark, and Constant. Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire. Rotterdam: Witte de With, Center for Contemporary Art : 010 Publishers, 1998

One of the texts referred to in my article The Arcology Mode, which may find a more formal exploration in my thesis writing. These texts single out visionary architecture proposed as a ‘laboratory’, a cause I think games are naturally suited to.

  1. Zhou, Emily Alison. “Digging and Sinking and Drifting: Allison Parrish’s Machine Poetics - Journal #117 April 2021 - e-Flux.” e-flux. Accessed February 21, 2022.

Much of the descriptive surface of Grotto is text, and the nature of much of this surface is unstable, composted truths blended with fantasies. It should be elusive, without authority, spoken from many mouths. As a result I’ve used markov-chained generative texts from specifically selected corpuses for these “descriptions”. Allison Parrish is a poet who I have studied with and who will serve on advisory committee, and this is an introduction to her work and methods.

  1. Zylinska, Joanna. Perception at the End of the World (or How Not to Play Video Games). Flugschriften, 2020

A game studies text that introduces some concepts related to perception and videogames, which may be useful.






The Ossuary


grids, time

Thinking some half-baked thoughts today about the grid that I’m painting on in Archon, Descartes, dualistic thought as a root of thinking of humans and nature as separate, mapping and counter-mapping, the peculiarities of the perspective of Dwarf Fortress (top down orthographic, moving down in altitude through slices of the earth but still bounded by fog of war based on what the dwarves have discovered.) How Archon let me fudge the perspective and grid in a way I couldn’t have if it was a functioning game (sometimes I show the tops of structures instead of a single layer slice, in one frame I completely explode the grid into a mess). Thinking about single player games that sit in wait for the player to be a catalyst to move npc’s into motion, something that dungeons seem to do– wait for the adventurer. How that feeds into the idea of that separation, with humans on top as primary actors. With a brain on top acting on a body. How I placed myself in the dungeon not as the adventurer, but as one of the monsters sitting in wait, playing a different game of care for a shrine. How much is Dwarf Fortress actively simulating in the deep areas still shrouded by fog of war? Thinking about the wide time simulation that happens at world gen and between fortresses, and the step by step time that happens during play.

More ➜

Grotto Tasks

Going to try to get back to logging Grotto work. Right now I am working on stuff every Saturday up until the DMA thesis show next spring. Recently we gave npc’s a flag to ‘illuminate’ if they’re carrying a candle drop, I added some icon bullets for doors to show state, and on saturday we added locked doors to stairwells and added keys. Over the last few weeks we’ve done a lot of tweaking to the auto poetry for room descriptions and I cleaned and cultivated a few new text corpuses to generate room descriptions at different depths of the dungeon. These still need to be tweaked, and I’d like to get a better handle on how the markovify functions have moved around since my original ones in order to keep making little adjustments.

More ➜

end of summer

It’s been a busy summer. Over the last couple of months I’ve written two articles, animated a music video, printed a little art book, built a big wooden projector enclosure and done a lot of work on grotto with my friend Paul (oh, and I made a barely playable twine game based on a dream I had about a horror text adventure version of Dig Dug). Right now I’m taking some of the visual work that’s going towards a future graphical version of grotto and working it into something for a fall group show at UCLA. Hopefully the two articles I wrote get published as one of them supports this work for the fall show.

More ➜


In addition to communication within a player class, I’ve also been thinking about playing with the current darkness mechanic to allow for different perception for different classes.

More ➜

the dungeon, the frontier, the arcology

My thesis project is about historical and future imaginaries, played out in a game substrate (a web-based game environment I call Grotto.)

More ➜

language communities

I’ve been looking for a while for mechanical ways to represent “imagined communities” (Anderson), and especially linguistic communities. Grotto is starting from very abstract and sometimes arbitrary formal bits- random character classes (robot, animal etc) with meaninglessly arbitrary skills that don’t have an immediately obvious mechanical use.

More ➜


I really enjoy the way stuff looks when I draw it with the tile painting program we made, but to actually include it seems like it would be so complicated. Using something pre-made like d3 seems much easier, but visually boring.

More ➜


Grotto has some somewhat unique challenges to its success as an actual game because it uses an atomic maze structure where exits are blind guesses about what is inside adjoining rooms. This mode is inherited from interactive fiction, Hunt the Wumpus, MUDS, etc– games that either had puzzles within the rooms themselves, or relied on constructing a mental model of the maze based on guesses (each one potentially fatal, in the case of Wumpus). I’ve had critiques about whether the game is intelligible and whether there is any player enticement to play. I’ve kind of sidestepped these critiques by saying that the real game mechanics haven’t been implemented yet, and that they would be the sugar that activates the content I am spreading through the maze in room and item descriptions. This suggests that I have some kind of plan for game mechanics though, and all my game design ideas gravitate towards roguelike mechanics, which may not be a good fit here. A roguelike structure where a visual map is slowly completed by exploring would probably require a substantial amount of retooling.

More ➜

Grotto 0.8.0



  • Eyes for characters to view items
  • Arena for fighting ancestors
  • Inline files for Items




More ➜

class item ideas

  • robot item: (servo? actuator? battery?) action? (work? compute?)

More ➜

items, eyes, maps

Today was a first planning meeting to resume development on Grotto, and start the big project– the one I’m now calling Phantom Homeland (I got a good laugh out of calling it Dusičky for a little while, but come on).

More ➜


More ➜


More ➜


Last night I was thinking about how to evolve the gui for grotto. Specifically- taking the older text view and fusing some elements from the joystick-gui view into it. I’d like to add a div with a top down map view of the room you are in with glyphs signifying items and doors. I added some new tiles to my drawing tool and started playing with the most minimal way to represent objects. when I stopped trying hard to represent things and abstracted all the way down to two-tile glyphs, I immediately unlocked a memory- another atari game (eyeroll emoji). The creatures from imagic’s Cosmic Arc

More ➜

post crit roadmap session

Post mud room show spitball session

More ➜

UCLA Show notes

Last night was the first public viewing of Mud Room. As of this morning I’ve fixed a number of bugs I identified in the first show. There’s a remaining problem where the kneeling pad errors out when the pad is set to keyboard press/release but works with keyboard write, which is a little problematic since people kneeling for over 10 seconds trigger multiple kneels. I’ll likely need to fix this after the show is over.

More ➜


A lot of development work and not a lot of reflection or documentation. I’ll take a moment here.

More ➜

Grotto 1-8-22

Grotto: Pair programming session on the Grotto codebase today.

More ➜

grotto api

Good day of work with @thismatters today, we installed the django-rest-framework which enabled api pages for rooms. This will enable abstracting the grotto data out into new UI’s. I had hoped to get the new html/css/vanilla js UI I started working on in time for Monday’s review, but it seems unlikely.

More ➜

Grotto 0.3alpha notes

Another pair session with @thismatters today, working on items and room attributes for Grotto/Mud Room.

More ➜

grotto and mudroom items

Grotto itemBuilder branch commit 519f103750178349cbf9d2e646e61744088f138c

More ➜

Grotto 0.1 alpha

An instance of Grotto is now up at

More ➜

grotto 2-9-21 exits

I got some assistance today with automatically connecting rooms by symmetrical exits from my friend Paul. Now, as you generate rooms they randomly link to up to three previous rooms, so that you get a repeating node pattern that balances out into shapes like the Hunt the Wumpus “squashed dodecahedron” I linked in an earlier post. I added a sidebar of exit links to rooms & made the bullets lil emoji doors because why not.

More ➜

grotto 2-8-21

libsass is installed and working. I started making some cursory room styles with a couple of fun background-image outliers for weird room color names. Login/registration page is next.

More ➜

grotto 2-6-21

Room detail pages are loading, room generator is working and creating rooms! Before I start writing any css, I want to figure out how to install sass. Django’s default system of lots of app-level static folders confuses the hell out of me when it comes to managing css, I’d like a single compiled stylesheet and sass partials can live at app-level if they have to.

More ➜


some grotto pomodoros- I got rooms listing at /mapBuilder/index.html and the button triggers the old room generator script, but the script still needs to be adapted to add rooms to the database not make flat html documents. right now markovify can’t find its corpus text document even though the path looks right to me.

More ➜


Worlds crappiest page flowchart for grotto v 0.0000001

More ➜

jan 28 grotto

Had time for some Grotto pomodoros today. I am most of the way through the django tutorials but I still don’t really know what I am doing. The parts that are the main mystery to me atm are views and models.Today I am looking at I conceptually understand what a view is in MVC but I don’t really know anything about the python functions that is using to construct those views. Today I’m starting here in my reading.

More ➜

grotto 1-14-21 pomodoros

I did 2-ish pomodoros for Grotto today, focusing on the Django tutorial project. I got here.

More ➜

zero players

I reposted Paolo’s Games Without Players piece yesterday because every time I think about how best to situate Thicket, I feel like it would be as a zero player mode simulation, constantly reseeding itself. I don’t think of Thicket as being a particularly healthy space to inhabit, it’s purposely about themes that bother me- predation, hierarchy, violence, manipulation.

More ➜


I’m back in Austin but I’m “bubbled” with my partner and her mom and sister. My Mother lives in Austin but I haven’t gone to go see her. We quarantined two weeks when we got here, and then my partner’s Mom had an exposure scare so we waited longer. My mother has gotten increasingly despondent, even though we had got her an iPhone and managed to show her how to facetime with us on it.

More ➜


It occurred to me that since I’m already writing some python for this and I need a CRUD app with users and a database, maybe i should use Django for this.

More ➜

room descriptions

Today I repurposed one of my python random text generators to use as a grotto page generator. Pulling from a corpus made of these dungeon descriptions, this spits out 20 html pages, with hashid filenames and titles from a master color list I’ve compiled (part of which I scraped from Joyce’s Ulysses with another python script). Then I try to detect major color words in those names and assign a background-color to the page body (this is one of those times it would be great to know how to use more advanced machine learning 😒). For not a ton of work, this is creating some pretty cool results! The room descriptions are mushed up rpg-inspired poetry which I like, since this game wouldn’t have any room interactions really, just moving from room to room, looking for/avoiding other people.

More ➜

grotto links

This is the very first grotto post.

More ➜