Women In Games Conference – with Francine!

Video Games

The day began with an exciting journey straight into the heart of London. The Event? Women in Games. A conference designed to uphold and enact ideals of diversity and equal opportunity within not only the workplace but also the games industry as a whole – ranging from the people who play games, to the people who make games, and the people who support them.

The conference was a fair journey a way for me being based in Beaconsfield, and it meant an early start was destined. After a devilishly late night spent editing voice actor scripts (for the conference fell upon the same day as my recording sessions for Keyframe) it was time for a tired Kai and an equally sleepmungerous Francine to make their way to the University of Westminster.

How often does one get a chance to dive into the unknown? For myself, it was most importantly a new opportunity to meet, greet and listen to the women (and men) who were the front running individuals in gender equality. Shocking statistics and anecdotes were also the order of the day, highlighting acts of misogyny and unfair treatment based on gender.

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The conference started with a talk by Jenny Richards who is the CEO of Women in Games. Thanks and appreciation was given for attendees. Her introduction was followed by a keynote speech from Andy Payne, Chairman of the UKIE tradebody. I’d previously met Andy as part of a UKIE volunteer internship where I had helped man the UK stall at Gamescom 2015 in Cologne. It was a great pleasure to hear his support for WIG, not only from a moral perspective – he expressed his great displeasure at how the games industry behaved, even though it is a young industry he saw no excuse for asymmetric treatment of women compared to men – but also an economic reasoning that was geared towards increasing roles and skillset in the industry. Interestingly later on in the day Dr Jo Twist would also later mention her disapproval of fiascos like Gamergate that severely damage the potential uptake of women into the games industry at a time when it needs the most diversity.

Following Andy’s keynote speech with another keynote speaker, (Katherine Bidwell of Lumnio City fame) and with an all-female panel on all-thing virtual reality, (plus a brisk coffee) was a well-programmed segment of the morning.

ScreenshotGatehouseWarmerTest

Seeing Francine’s eyes light up during the Lumino City talk was fantastic! It was a great opportunity for me to show Francine how that the methods of game creating are as broad, deep and varied as the theatre arts and other creative industries.

Simply having a computer and some coding experience doesn’t make you good at games design (although the potential of course is all there!) however maintaining passion and the drive to try new things is what Katherine in my eyes was able to impress upon the audience through the example of her company State of Play. It was amazing to hear her story of how Lumino City came about from the smaller venture ‘Loom’ – a beautiful and simple precursor to the much larger puzzle-adventure game.

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Above is an image of the flash-made prototype animations during production of Lumino City.

By following her love of hand crafted things and cross-media components she was able to touch into the soul of the concept. I later remarked to Sam Browne and Sophie Knowles (friends currently based at the NFTS) about how we often separate the roles of visual artist, games designer, audio designer etc… when really the complete experience is truly a combination of all these aesthetics. To obtain the ‘soulful’ game that they desired, State of Play needed to infuse the game as a whole with the hand-crafted principle, however the burden of delivering that principle could well be shouldered by only one main aspect (in this case the visuals) and still the game would be perceived as unique and interesting.

Lumino City may be seen as the exception to the rule – I mean, who has time to spend three years laser cutting staircases and fitting microwave motors into windmills?? – however I was glad how much traction the game has garnered due to it’s unique development and I’m sure it will continue to inspire game makers and players for years to follow!

I later met Katherine amongst a bountiful mix of hungry attendees queuing for lunch. We spoke about the difficulties that arise when working with artists, specifically my own struggles with the Keyframe project. We both agreed that finding someone who can add flow and passion to your project is no easy task. For State of Play, Katherine mentioned how they came across their programmer, and how taking on board the right person can take much luck and time despite the saturation point of our industry for well-established roles. I certainly learned the value of planning time to develop a network of good potential contributors from this particular conversation.

In the VR talk I managed to ask a question about self-identity in VR, specifically tackling the design challenge of giving players freedom over their own appearance much like in modern RPGs. Each panel member understood the question differently: one took the example of empathy building and how taking the identity of another coan be used as a tool for social change, whilst another mentioned how even allowing the player to choose the colour of the inflicted virtual hands in a game (whether it be pink, brown, blue or gold) helped with ownership and therefore buying into the VR world.

It made me aware and pondersome about how as a male I might be experiencing the conference differently to women partaking in the same talks and workshops. Sharing the experience with Francine was great, as I was able to gain a secondary perspective on the conference. We share a whole heap of views and interests, and yet we are different enough in our history and approach to let ideas refract between and around us like a collection of prisms. It was invaluable and amazing to share WIG with her.

There was a willingness (a hunger perhaps) from all parties for engagement with the issues facing women, and I was very pleased to see a good number of men at the conference too to act as more than a sounding board but as contributors to the efforts of WIG.

I then checked out the STEMNET and UKIE talk hosted by Melanie Washington and Dr Jo Twist (UKIE’s CEO) about becoming a UK Video Games Ambassador. The programme allows anyone involved in the games industry to act as an inspiration to young students, organising and presenting workshops (related to the game industry) in schools and after-school clubs. I was engaged by STEMNET’s goal of expanding the focus of STEM curriculum to include art, enterprise and design (the new term Jo coined being STEAMED over STEM) and to help increase diversity overall. I’ll be certain to join as a VGA, and if you’re interested you can find out more here – http://ukie.org.uk/videogamesambassadors .

IMG-20150807-WA0010Dr Jo Twist and I working together on the UKIE stand, Gamescom 2015

Other workshops were going on in the lecture theatres nearby. Francine dipped into a tech and programming session with Hazel McKendrick. The simple act of code was incredibly interesting for Francine. It was perhaps challenging due to the classic combination of a perceived barrier to entry (creative vs data-handling) and the actual language barrier…

float f = Mathf.cos(theta*whaaaaaaaa????));

Afterwards Francine said to me that some of it was definitely still Ancient Greek to her! However the sheer act of interacting with code, playing around with some basic functions in a browser-based code compiler, allowed her to move a virtual cube, change it’s colour, and stretch a capsule without any foreknowledge whatsoever. She was really pleased with the discovery of her impact on a digital artefact, and it’s this form that engages so much better than an explanation or dreaded PowerPoint slide! I’m very glad this was included in the schedule of the day and the event would do well to offer even more activity-based workshops such as this.

After lunch the wonderful programme of events continued! Of the several panels and workshops I was a big fan of the games design workshop with Katie Goode. Our team was tasked with designing a game for VR headsets, and I think we made a great contribution! See below.

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The educational games panel was also a highlight. The discussion explored the responsibility of game makers to avoid IAP and free-to-play models for young people, and the need for educational games to empower both the student and the teacher to holistically review and track a student’s understanding of the content – not just progress. I of course was taken straight back to the days of playing Zoombinis, where I kind of knew I was playing an educational game, but didn’t feel patronised or monitored- it was to have fun with! The tricky balance of cramming in curricular necessities vs fun gameplay was also a hot topic  for Ruthine Burton of conversation in the panel.

The final panel was focused around branding and getting yourself out there. For the women in the panel they had all had different experiences of their chosen social outlets – Twitch, television, Twitter, Reddit etc – but universally they had received a brush with misogynists online. Julia Hardy was refreshingly quick-witted about the fact, having set up a Misogyny Monday blog that “named and shamed verbal abusers by simply showing them up for the idiots that they are”. Check out the link for some genius sass! http://misogynymonday.tumblr.com/ The others mentioned how comradery and staying vocal were not optional for the advancement of women in the games industry, a notion I whole-heartedly agree with!

Francine got involved in the conversation by asking about the impact of Youtube’s new Gaming platform, to which Hannah Rutherford replied how buggy it was, and restrictive the copyrighting algorithms were when it came to in-game music. She also mentioned the responsibility she had to her subscribers on Twitch, where her community was strongest, and it reminded me of an article on Reddit about the responsibility of the creating community and not just abandoning these structures. For example the problems Reddit has experienced with harressment groups, trolls etc is not thought to have subsided with the migration of users to other websites (voat.co being one of the more popular contenders right now), so the responsibility of Reddit members to increase diversity, nurture it’s community and solve it’s issues had been ignored and discarded. (article here : https://www.reddit.com/r/conspiracy/comments/39iq91/thinking_about_moving_over_to_voatco_and_ditching/)

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Makes we want to search for abandoned forums in a sorta digi-anthropological study! Maybe contacting old forum members and getting a snapshot of their experience.

And so, the WIG conference came to a close with a quick snaffle of wine and some kisses goodbye to Sam, Sophie and of course Lucie who had also attended as a representative of WIGJ (my project manager for Keyframe). I left feeling that I had touched base with my own concerns regarding the games industry, and it was encouraging to see the progressive intentions of not only the organisers and speakers, but the attendees as well. I’d fully recommend getting in touch with Lucie (lu.prunier@gmail.com) to gain a perspective on where the games industry is at with gender diversity, and to get involved with tackling the discrepancies of representing women across the culture of gaming.

Art Style – The Greatest Challenge For A Physicist

Keyframe

After a much belated period of non-posting, it’s about time I got the wider world up to speed on Keyframethe new name for Project Duality!!!!!

Let’s get straight onto the biggest challenge I have had to face up to on the course –  fanfare please – developing and solidifying an art style for the game.

Not enough direction

Finding out whether you are a good leader, or not, occurs in the planning as well as the doing. At the very beginning of the project (when we were still conceptualising the game mechanics) I had not decided how I wanted to approach the art design, and most game designers would say that’s the way it should be. Since studying and making at the NFTS I’ve learned that getting a solid game loop up and running it by far the most useful thing a designer can do. This is mainly because the art and story can be drastically changed by the slightest of changes to the way the player interacts with these elements. Truthfully they are all interdependant on each other, however for the designer to take the “game first” route has it’s advantages. To take a topical tangent, the Secret Cinema in London recently embraced the Star Wars canon as it’s fiction world theme – so imagine watching The Empire Strikes Back in a cavernous sci-fi cinema being surrounded by noisy ewoks, bounty hunters and storm troopers, compared to watching it on a smart phone. Like the immersive setting of this year’s Secret Cinema, the supporting structure of games design uplifts, subverts, and entrances. However the relationship between the design and art needs to be complimentary. When suddenly the NFTS tutors were confused and alarmed that no placeholder art work had made it into the game I set about doing something of my own. A quick photoshopping later…

gamescreen

But even with the artwork above suddenly influencing the direction of the style, I’d not researched in depth how I wanted my game to look. It’s not that I didn’t do the research! Quite the opposite, A few key images are usually enough to give to artists who are adapting to a given brief… but I’d ended up with many images without a concrete theme, or tone to really unify them.

Without that tone, the unifying principle of the game (and therefore the style), it made it harder to direct the team as a whole. Really these have already defined (memory, external and internal relationships, emotion) but not explicitly used to direct the art style. As in, there’s been no documentation I can give to artists to say “Here, this is the feeling I’m after.”

 

The problems due to this arise most drastically when showing the game to the public. One of our tutors does a fantastic job of teasing out the issues that the public will jump on first, and going into meetings with him is actually difficult without a clear direction on the art style.

To remedy this I’ve undertaken a mad exploratory rush to understand the great art movements of human history. Impressionism. Expressionism. Constructivism. Cubism. Personally I hate ‘ism’s but hey it’s been a fruitful endeavour.

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My Pinterest is full of separate boards containing images that I can refer to and say “hey, this art style is a little like that – I want more of it!”. Funnily enough the Cubist and Constructivist art forms draw very close to the way I want the game to look! It was a really fun experience submerging myself in hundreds of images and artists, and ultimately I feel I can be more assertive in my art direction.

anthony_face_1

Still, in hindsight a dedicated art director is something that this project could have truly benefited from due to my lack of experience in visual art. Fortunately the learning experience hasn’t hampered the development of the game too much, however I do think that as a student of a creative school it is expected that you come with a competent knowledge of art and film. I actually came to the school to learn those skills and should have requested help much, much earlier.

What is Project Duality?

Keyframe

 

What is Project Duality?

Project Duality for Android and iOS tablets is a narrative tile puzzle game about Anthony, a father trying to reconnect with his daughter Clio.

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ontab2 copy g

Drag and scale the borders surrounding Anthony’s tile to reveal more of his world, which in turn trigger memory tiles that may help his goal of redemption, or obstruct his journey with demons from the past. As Anthony reveals more memories, you will have to move and change the shape of the tiles to change Anthony’s relationship to his memories.

 

Why This Game?

I’m really interested in the exploration of memory, and how the understanding of our past experiences changes significantly over time. The name “Duality” comes from this idea of dual causality, a reminder that our memories affect our present action, and our present changes our associations with our memories.

 

What’s The Story?

The story of Anthony and Clio seemed like a natural one to tell in the framework of dual causality. On one side is a father who abandoned his family long ago. On the other is a grown woman trying to start her own family in the absence of a father figure. How they both remember each other is lost in fragmented recollections, some pleasant, others awful. A middle-aged Anthony returns to the once quiet haven of Nine Oaks, Surrey to visit Clio after 18 years to find that everything has changed. Few parts of the town are even recognisable. As he roams around Nine Oaks disorientated and guilt ridden, it’s up to the player to change Anthony’s fate through his memories. Anthony’s chance at being back in Clio’s life is determined by your actions.

 

How Do I Play?

Anthony’s story is told through two types of tile that appear on the screen and you can manipulate these tiles to change the story. Think of each chapter in the game as a puzzle that has multiple solutions, and in reaching these solutions you will alter Anthony’s tale.

The Main tile (or Anthony’s tile) contains the present day Nine Oaks. It usually only ever shows a glimpse of the town environment. By dragging the boundaries of the tile you begin to reveal more of the scene bit by bit. Anthony will automatically interact with any important objects or people currently contained within the Main tile, so the larger you make the tile the more options he has. These options lead to a solution to the chapter. As Anthony comes into contact with other people and places these options will also change.

Memory tiles however stop any other tile from expanding past their own boundaries! They are created whenever you expand the Main tile over any phemonena that induce a memory in Anthony’s mind. Some disappear unless you tap them straight after being revealed. These tiles will begin get in your way so in order to reach a solution to each chapter you must rearrange their layout.

Everything in Nine Oaks can potentially create memories.

Memories also represent choice. At key moments in the game Anthony will be challenged to make a difficult decision or overcome a tricky obstacle. He can use his memories like powerups to help him make the right (or wrong) choice! To enable a Memory tile this to do this you need to expand the tile enough to reveal something new about that memory.

To reach the different solutions for each chapter you will have to balance creating powerup Memory tiles with maintaining enough options for Anthony in the Main tile.

 

When Can I Play?

By September I hope to have the first of three Acts ready to show as a demo. The full game will be an hour long experience so expect a good chunk to try out at EGX in Birmingham!

 

Project Duality – A Backstep To The Future

Keyframe, NFTS

“Duality – A single player game in split screen in which you help [protagonist] navigate two worlds – the memories of the past and their consequences in the present – to save a family relationship from irreparable damage.”

 

splitexp

Past Past Kai:   Hey lets make a game about projectors, no wait festivals, aha what about memories and split screen!! Yey!

Past Kai:             ARGH! How low can you go? Well, pretty low when you don’t have know how your main game mechanic is going to work. *weep*

Present Kai:     Okay, better, things are improving, and the team is coming together! The mechanic is almost there, that Easter break really cleared my head! Lots of work to do though…

Future Kai:      This game will never be finished! And the textures look funny! And I’ve run out of money for cereal! And I deleted the Unity project folder waaaaa!

Future Future Kai:      OMG WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!! *champagne awesplosions everywhere*

So the story goes. 😉

After some unexpected changes to the project my grad project has almost built the foundations necessary to proceed beyond the comfort of non-committal fluffy ideas. This process began with my pitch for Duality:

“Duality – A single player game in split screen in which you help [protagonist] navigate two worlds – the memories of the past and their consequences in the present – to save a family relationship from irreparable damage.”

The idea of using more than one screen to explore different worlds came from a number of influences, includingTV series “24”, the flashy cutscenes in anime games, the Nintendo DS consoles and actual multiplayer splitscreen. However, from the beginning of the Duality concept a question of how multiple view (i.e worlds) interact has been lounging its big fat bottom on the road to progress.

split screen

An example of different types of split screen: TV series 24, Mario Kart 64, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for 3DS

 

I got as far as defining two worlds to be represented by panels (divisions of the complete screen, similar to comic strip panels); one of the present and another of the subjective past. I am drawn to how our memories change as time proceeds, so the idea behind the game was to draw attention to the fluidity of memory. These two worlds and how they were shown to be simultaneously active was the first breakthrough in the concepting phase. Dual causality – our memories affecting our present day decisions, and then the procession of actions in the present affecting those memories – is actually the origin of the name of the project. Showing two worlds on the same screen gave me room to air out interesting ideas, and the concept seemed to stick well with tutors and other students.

Then the roadblock. What to do with these screens? From a cinematic perspective it’s certainly interesting to have multiple screens, but an essential part of good games design is the synergy between gameplay, story, and aesthetic. Up until now I don’t think I’ve had a way of describing the functionality of such a supporting game mechanic… but a drumroll please to announce my latest discovery…

Sliding Block Puzzle Mechanics! Tada!

tiles

Wikipedia says: This is a type of ‘tour puzzle’ that challenges a player to slide flat pieces along certain routes (usually on a board) to establish a certain end-configuration. The pieces to be moved may consist of simple shapes, or they may be imprinted with colours, patterns, sections of a larger picture (like a jigsaw puzzle), numbers, or letters. A great example is Rush Hour, a board game that has you moving vehicles stuck in a traffic jam to let one car escape.

Panels of the first prototype

Panels of the first prototype

When looking at my early prototypes of a classic horizontally splitscreen game the first thing I wanted to give the player the ability to do was to actually manipulate the two panels in as many ways as possible (their size, position, and content). I focused my designer’s gaze using the conceptual lenses of dual causality and memory, and thought that the nature of memory could be portrayed as a smörgåsbord of latent images sitting in the mind waiting to be activated.

Rush Hour - But what if each vehicle tile was a memory panel...?

Rush Hour – But what if each vehicle tile was a memory panel…?

Arranging these active memories like ingredients in the right order and in correct quantity sounded not only challenging but also fun! Much like that of a sliding tile puzzle. Then, multiple-splitscreens provided an oblongular context to contain these memories within their own dedicated panels.

metro

Also, while I hate to draw the comparison, the Windows 8 Metro tiles with their atomic representations of information showed me what could be possible with panels on a screen. Another influence, app game Framed, uses a multiple tiles each containing a scene, and also helped affirm the concept of moving tiles in context to create an desired outcome.

But alone moving panels around to make a configuration doesn’t exactly make for an interesting game, beyond the obvious puzzle challenge. The context of that movement needed strengthening. So I looked to another influence…

grow

I’m not sure if anyone reading will have played free flash games like Grow and Windosill, both of which always fascinated me due to their intricate puzzle spaces. Learning what the worlds could and couldn’t do always felt like a process of discovery rather than lining up a load of objectives and clocking the right ones off in a correct order. Getting the sequence wrong in Grow was just as satisfying because the consequences were played out the whole way through, and the mess you made was presented to you as a glorious accomplishment.

I guess that feeling also arises from games that allows for emergent player behaviour – a blog post for another time methinks 😉

What I longed for in changing the dimensions and position of the panels was a way to affect the memories contained within them. I already knew that there would be a relationship between the configuration of these memory panels, and the character contained in the present day panel, but it was another breakthrough to think that changing the panels themselves might change the memories themselves.

cat

Still confused? Check out this link: http://roxik.com/cat/ and try changing the browser window size a couple of times. Imagine the cat having a variable called “fatness” and it changes with your choice of window size. Fatness at 100% is when the window is as small as can be, and at 0% when the browser is full screen.

Now take the case of a series of panels, one of which is at a max size. Shrink it, and the variable “focus” of that memory changes from 0% to 100%. At 100% the displayed image in the panel changes from showing a large room with many people in it to zooming in on a single face. As focus changes, so does the effect of that memory on the present day – in one case the protagonist is thinking about his emotional connection to a particular character, in another he is considering the memory as whole. Tracking shots and zoom shots would help convey this change. A few links follow :

Tracking shot: http://goo.gl/9a01F7

A variety of cool zooming shots from the man himself, Tarantino:  http://goo.gl/yc9YJI

So unlike sliding block puzzles, where the tiles are unchanging, the content of the panels now have significance and have variables such has focus that change depending on the panel configuration.

In summary the main mechanic of Duality shares this idea of a puzzle space. There are actions the player can make to set up a scenario for the main protagonist, and then when played out player is rewarded with the consequences on the life of the character. The actions in Duality currently incorporate actions adapted from actions taken in the sliding block puzzles such as board game Rush Hour[link].

Next post I’ll go more into detail about the panel actions the player can take to help, or hinder, the protagonist.

Phew! Long blog post!

Working with Ground Shatter @ EGX Rezzed

Video Games

Three days. 16-bit raves. Hundreds of games. Thousands of exhibitors. Here is my own EGX Rezzed Redux on what was seen, heard, smelt, tasted, and played!

Find them all at #EGXRezzedRedux

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The crowds await for EGX to open to the public!

 

Three days. 16-bit raves. Hundreds of games. Thousands of exhibitors. And one chance email, resulting in working on the Ground Shatter ‘Sky Scrappers’ stall.

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The Sky Scrappers stall. Popular amongst people of all ages and abilities! best moment was when a kid ran screaming out of the room because he won against his mates, topped almost by one of his friends repeatedly shrieking “Jessica!!” as his character battled for the top position :3

 

Here is my own EGX Rezzed Redux on what was seen, heard, smelt, tasted, and played!

“Rezzed Games Played / Eye Candy in 124 characters”

Find them all at #EGXRezzedRedux

1) Sky Scrappers – bit biased, but this 90s anime brawler had the best competitive multiplayer game feel for an indie game!

2) Zombie Vikings – layer upon layer of gorgeous art, hilarious scripting and hectic quest-based , best played with two players

3) Steamworld Heist – Revisit a rich world of steambots and starships. XCOM stylie tactics & skilled shots – I lost my hat!

4) Friendship Club – local multiplayer 2D shmup feels like fencing sabre: devastating 3sec action, many parries & blows!

5) I Am Bread – Bagel madness, floppy toast, rolling around in frustration and every last bread-related joke: classic Bossa

6) Starbound – 2D Minecraft with 3D printer mechanic and plant peeps?! Dribblingly good art / desolate planet-splorin’

7) De Mambo – brawl-as-a-ball multiplayer madness, interesting but game feel felt too sluggish to react tactically

8) SuperDungeonBros – castle crashers 3d, in alpha… picking-up-your-friends-and-throwing-them-into-a-hole action!

9) SuperGlad – Adventure Time meets a cosy hot chocolate being sipped through a curly straw. Loveliness!

10) Noct – best bit was when I realised the guy sat next to me was playing too! Tense game, scary creeps, defo buy this!

11) The Talos Principle – heard recently there’s a Serious Sam voiceover for April Fools, nice! Puzzles and androids.

12) Volume – deep story overlaid over a sneaking game, mechanics didn’t feel too fresh. Bithel sticking to a known mayhaps?

13) Tembo the BadAss Elephant – glimpsed this romping elephant destroying stuff in the indie section; bagso ‘splosions!

14) Bloodbourne – the best looking thing I’ve seen in realtime rendering. Boss looked a bit dumb. Uncanny valley much?

15) QUBE – lots of cube-based headaches… clever Portal-esque concept and the only power missing was a juggle cube ability

16) Schrodingers Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark – throwback to 90s games, thumbs up up up for the quark combo mechanic!

17) Shovel Knight – hard.

 

Fast Forward – Feeling Stuck

Keyframe, NFTS

What a week. The beginning saw me returning from my grandparents’ place up in Sunderland a little happier that my Nana has gotten some social stimulus and better nutrition. Throughout the week my project began to develop some semblance of form, but was subsequently hacked down and boiled into its basic constituent forms. From everything I felt like I’d been brought back to nothing.

Capture2
My meeting with Sion and Jon gave me little hope that my projector concept could be worked upon. I was struggling to get a single sentence in that would describe what was in my head, but even given the opportunity I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew I wanted their help in moving forward with the idea. But getting that elevator pitch level of conciseness and complete understanding wasn’t possible. Everything was too nebulous. And their desire for me to work on another project was just too strong.

The Keycutter keeps coming back to me as an interesting mechanic and potentially strong theme with characters and stories and more. But it’s only part of my story…

And now I’m at a bit of a crossroads. In one direction lies a fresh start, a scary gulf that I’m completely baffled as to how to cross. The otherside of that ravine promises success, while over here on the ledge there are only notions of the crossing. A game that helps people? A game that challenges my artistic ability? A game that tells a story? A game that uses complex, intricate and beautiful systems? A game in real world spaces? A game involving festivals?

It's all mapped out for all to see, but I still arrived at the wrong castle grrrrrrrrr

It’s all mapped out for all to see, but I still arrived at the wrong castle grrrrrrrrr

The crossroads leads elsewhere also. Looking away from the ravine I can still make out the dim form of my projector idea, reduced now to something simpler. The use of found images, photographs, projection and hand drawn animations. Puzzles. Puzzles puzzles puzzles. I’m desperate to explore it further and there are people interested in the aesthetic. I think it answers a lot of my questions in its simplicity yet the connections are currently only in my mind…

The Context Of Self In Video Games

Video Games

I promised in my last post to track some changes in my autobiographical game concept. Many times over I’ve started writing that post in my mind. But new things have emerged that need instantaneous documentation!

i-love-myself

One of the big challenges with the idea of doing an autobiographical game is that by saying that the game is going to be about ‘me’ I’ve already turned some people off – i.e. it’s not exactly a selling point unless the audience can connect with my personal tale. Now in my mind self reflection is a part of my everyday life, so making a game about ‘me’ doesn’t feel unnatural. It’s like writing poetry to explore my feelings about a memory, heartache or social stigma. It is a hard sell when it comes to perceptions in the old-guard of the games industry, perhaps because it seems self refleciton is difficult to get right in games (Shadow of the Colossus makes a good attempt) and is too close in proximity to self indulgence.

NeverEnding Nightmares - a truly distrubing game just oozing with horror because of its atmosphere

NeverEnding Nightmares – a truly distrubing game just oozing with horror because of its atmosphere

In the case of Matt Gilgenbach’s Neverending Nightmares however there is a context to the development of the game that players can invest in; the developer designed the game attempting to describe his struggles with severe OCD. A horror game with gorey oppressive monsters, repeating corridors and an intense atmosphere of gloom and failure are suitable choices – and the creation of atmosphere is the most essential factor that allows the developer to achieve a dialogue about his disorder. The game talks to us most potently when the game mechanics (e.g. dasterdly slow walking through the unsettling halls, or running resulting in the character being striken by asthmatic breathing) are a snug fit with the developer’s dialogue. What I meant by a ‘snug fit’ is when the restrictions and rules of the game world marry with the core concepts.

So walking slowly is a reflection on inevidibility and struggle of OCD, while the character’s asthma reveals something of the developer’s panic attacks. Before studying at the NFTS I thought that this kind of appraisal was too high brow. However the evidence is in the atmosphere of the game… and it is the WHY behind each interaction and not the HOW that generates the concurrent experience of depth. Even if the player has no idea about the context or the developer’s dialogue, the game feels so unified under its principle concepts that we become engaged in this terrifying story.

Murasaki Baby - it's hard not to feel protective over Baby as some annoying otherchild gets in our way. Scare the shit out of him!!

Murasaki Baby – it’s hard not to feel protective over Baby as some annoying otherchild gets in our way. Scare the shit out of him!!

Murasaki Baby by Ovosonico is another good example of a game that engages in an emotional dialogue with the player. Protecting the cute (if creepy) Baby from harm and nurturing her throughout her dangerous travels is achieved through the use of empathetic gameplay and emotive animations. In the first 5 minutes of MB the player has already developed a bond with Baby simply by pulling her along by the hand with the PSVita’s touch controls and by seeing her delight at jumping over a scary pitfall. Her vulnerability taps into the player’s desire for responsibility. Ovosonico definitely understand empathy.

Empathy and Emotional Mapping Of Mechanics of Murasaki Baby

Empathy and Emotional Mapping Of Mechanics of Murasaki Baby

I made the above diagram to explore the following: these kind of games are truly offering a unique relationship with the games’ concept through specific design choices, often using a limited palette of empathetic game mechanics and with a smooth difficulty curve. It’s where I see the troubles with making an autobiographical game, and since writing this I have already allowed myself to think about ways I can introduce empathetic gameplay that speaks to people about what I want to talk about. My own story is a long and complex one, a mishmash of half-memories and long drawnout strands of behaviour, and I’m not even sure I have yet got the language to begin building a game around. Poetry through gameplay is a tricky business indeed.
However through thinking about the Slide Projector and the teachings my dad gave to me about life, I can sense a stronger concept.

Whilst not trying to make my game universal (you can’t please everyone) I do want to connect people to a journey they can understand, or at least learn quickly to understand.
I’ll say it once more for effect: empathetic gameplay and atmosphere produced by a snug fit design seems to be the path I want to carve out for myself.

The Devising Workshop

Interactive Theatre

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to a workshop at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Francine always mentions these awe-inspiring workshop leaders and sessions, and I thought it was high time to take her up on the offer to go experience one first hand!

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It’s been a fair few years since my last adventures in theatre, and perhaps the last show I can remember being involved with was an improvised longform created from the saga of my Threshold Festival AR app, nearly a year go to date. However the principles of improv, directing, playwriting and devising have always stuck with me. A wave of refreshment and nostalgia began rolling itself up in me, ready to break as I entered the school reception. I was a little nervous! Especially since they Saturday workshop would be filled to the brim with the likes of Francine’s nearest and dearest course mates. I thought about being on best behaviour… ultimately that of course meant being as silly and participatory as possible!

Francine and I having a laugh as always :)

Francine and I having a laugh as always 🙂

Francine met me with smiles and sunshine, as per usual, and we snuck into the workshop space as the facilitator, Chris, was finishing up his introductions. The group was plentiful, lots of attentive ears pointing in the Chris’s direction (although as I was one of only four males in the room I think I must have turned a few heads 😛 ). Francine zipped a chair under my rear and I sat the other side of old-Aberystwyth-associate Izzy Rabey. Izzy would later mention how strange and simultaneously gorgeous it was that we were sharing another theatre workshop together, as we had done several times in youth theatre.

Already I have written too much about sweet nothing, so I’ll get to the chase. We were taught some very interesting techniques on how to ellict devised work from text. A warm up saw us testing how it felt to judge and be judged. Everyone in a circle was lulled into a calming exercise of breathing, then asked to trust Chris who would choose a single person out of the group. That chosen person had to keep the fact they were chosen a secret, or so he said. This was repeated another time, in between each choosing was a Werewolf style council of accusations. The first time, we were shocked to discover, no one was actually picked. Hilariously the second time everyone was picked. It was a lesson in entering the mindset of someone who may be giving you personal material to transcribe and then use in a devised piece of theatre (minors, those at risk of persecution etc). It was very effective to be placed in the shoes of a nervous, face-strained mask, as well as some who would accuse on no basis other than body languange.

The major part of the workshop saw several volunteers (myself included) getting up in front of everyone to tell a story from their past. Some of the group listened with eyes closed, whilst others became scribes recording the stories. the tales were rooted in reality, and possessed less theatrics thus becoming more engaging to the listeners. The devising would then be built around the texts, and not the verbal accounts. My own story was transformed into a playground bullying chant summoning the evil serpent fears of my first few months in a new school. We were directed to ask lots of questions, and look to building the devised pieces from the answers.

A final exercise asked us to repeat this use of questions and answers, where I took a tweet from a games journalist on my feed and examined his parting phrase “Always a pleasure”. Other groups were given other sources, but ours evoked some interesting discussions about the nature of formality, pleasure, sex, ettiquete, pomp, social climbing, exclusion and power.

The use of these answers to decide upon content and form really gave me some curious thoughts on how I create games. How often have I asked a series of questions in order to generate content? Our methodology teachings with Sion have definitely pushed me in the way of these sorts of ponderings, but to see it work in a collaborative setting was fresh and exciting. It reminded me of the work I did on Anuli and Obi for my Moments of Consequence project.

I’m only scratching the surface with revisiting the process of specific-questioning as a tool for content generation, (maybe it is as obvious as “Ask the right questions and don’t answer any you haven’t come across yet” but I think seeing it in the use of theatre makes me ask the reason why I’m doing this)… I hope I will return to my game making with a renewed guidance on the matter.

Business Socks!

NFTS

I attempt to sum up my most recent expedition into London below… Trips into London were once an often rare affair before the end of 2014. Opportunity however has a funny way of knocking at your door when you least suspect it, even if you prepare for it.

Cryptic enough for you? Well it should be 😉 This year has brought me closer to London than ever before! Meeting some very special people in the world of film and interactive theatre has meant exploration of the busy city streets in some unique and unusual ways – exclusive movie screenings with top name celebs, motorbike taxi runs to meetings with Coney, saloons hidden behind secret doorways and the petal-soft fuzz of canalside wanderings. Courting with the trinket allure of London continues to delight and surprise.

Ingenious Media - our cohort amassed in these fancy lit halls

Ingenious Media – our cohort amassed in these fancy lit halls

Tuesday this week was the beginning of our NFTS Business of Games module. Oh yes, learning all the things about the world of money. Big money at that. Biggest shock for me was a lot of the conversations we were having with our guest speakers (arriving from all sorts of backgrounds – games lawyer and gamerlaw.co.uk blogger Jas Purewal, indie success Mike Bithell, The Guardian Games Editor Keith Stuart and representitives from Miniclip and Bossa Studios) never mentioned amounts lower than £10k! Everything was pitched at revealing the inner workings of real business, and was invaluable even if only to know that it’s all ultimately the same salesmanship as car dealers when it comes to merging and acquisition of studios!

With so much occuring over the last week, and a lot I’m not necessarily allowed to repeat, I’ll keep my “lessons learned” brief:

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#1 I need to research business terms… like wtf are revenues, options, equity and tax credits?

When I’m casually chatting with anyone from business I become the nodding dog, whistfully allowing the waves of financial phrases and terminology to wash over me. In 4 days I’ve let my lungs get quite soggy. Thankfully, I know that in the time it takes to watch Spirited Away I can probably get a lot of the jargon down. Jas’s gamerlaw.co.uk looks like the place to start, alongside researching SEIS funding opportunities and tax relief and all that. I’m not expecting to become a business boffin. But man do I need to swat up!

Guerilla Games HQ... dribble...

Guerilla Games HQ… dribble…

#2 I want to run a studio

Hells yes I do! And hells yes I’m now terrified of that prospect! After attending the TIGA event I was really encouraged by the offerings available from investors and funders, but the statistics just seem to add up to a sobering stone-walled gloominess. As quoted by our speakers at Ingenious, games companies are traditionally expected to make 1/5 games a hit. Now that means I’ve got to potentially make 5 games before I see any return!! Naive of me not to think otherwise, but really? And it’s expected by investors / funding schemes to show that you can create “revenue” for at least a year before they’ll take you seriously. So evidence of survival in a hit-driven entertainment industry has to be there too. Essentially all the advice points to making a business plan as early as possible.

It’s making me ponder what kind of games I want to make and how they will be viewed by potential investors: the one thing TIGA investors recommended was to UNDERSTAND THE FINANCIAL INCENTIVES OF THE INVESTORS (especially TAX INCENTIVES) because your game won’t fit everyone’s bill. So am I making a game that can be proved to have appeal to investors and audiences (and myself)? Well, the audience must come first in my opinion, because there’s no business without an audience!

But instead of Guerilla, should I be aspiring to be like Dan Pinchbeck and co?

But instead of Guerilla, should I be aspiring to be like Dan Pinchbeck and co from The Chinese Room?

#3 I want to run a studio (of a different sort)

I really want to do a proper interview of our successful Games grad students, because I think the passion that they infuse into their projects springs from all sorts of reservoirs. I ask myself now what my lake might look like. The plausibility of actually setting up a studio in the next 10 years is not unimaginable and I think now I’m starting to think about how I might run a studio. My manifesto follows:
Firstly, I want to run a studio that is the Punchdrunk or the Coney of video games. Secondly I want to encourage young developers and artists and support them in a creatively and professionally safe environment. Thirdly I want my studio’s success to be measured in the amount of time given to my team, not in digits and dollar signs.

  • Why Punchdrunk? Because they developed a model for interactive theatre and made it renowned, profitable and innovative beyond compare. Why Coney? Because they subvert, surprise, and dedicate themselves to the stimulation of community consciousness. Why not choose a games company to compare to? I still feel ill-equipped to judge the ‘spirit’ and ethos of most games studios at a non-superfitial level. It’s an area I will persevere to find more about
  • I remember when I first mentored at the Festival of Code with North Liverpool Academy. It was a huge eye opener to the possiblities that were available to young students, and the work they completed (on time) and presented was astonishing. I never had the support that they had, and I recall thinking “I can so do more to help.” Giving something of the things I’ve learned in education and outside of it feels like the most natural progression, so when these whizkids are looking for work experience or a job in their first studio, I want my studio to be the enticing and exciting place to serendipitously see advertised on Twitter or in a magazine.
  • Both Imre from Bossa and Dan Pinchbeck of The Chinese Room (on different occasions) have mentioned their desire to create environments for people to flourish. The success and momentum of their companies are, at their core, built around giving folks the hours to work at something they could quite possibly love, and not just focused around profits. THis idea rang with resonance within me the first time I heard it and I can’t imagine operating in any other way that wasn’t out of necessity. Survival doesn’t mean taking on a huge contract or expanding wildly when the opportunity arises, no it’s about seeing that risky maneuvers risk the livelihoods of your staff! The guy from Miniclip told us how scared he was having this kind of responsibility. Rosetinted Speccy over here sees it as a very arduous, wonderful gift to be able to provide a creative industry for workmates and their families. Fingers crossed I might make it some day.
I should have gone with something people could rave on and on about!

I should have gone with something people could rave on and on about!

#4 I was looking at Kickstarter all wrong!

This deserves a post all to itself! But really a lot of issues that arose with my Kickstarter campaign (which ended up successful btw!) came from the fact I didn’t dedicate myself to retaining backers. I did send many post-event emails about. But with school work came distraction and a lot of my investment into the mailing list for Threshold Forgotten Futures just simply fizzled out. An interesting talk from Digital Jam’s Tanya Laird talked about upgrading backers from simple donators to become awesome ambassadors of the invested project. In that way they move from just giving money to actually diverting more people and more social media coverage into your project, above and beyond just the kickstarter. Crowd-lifting is the name of this process of uplifting backers. In principle it’s good community building with an aim to get better loyalty. I’d argue that community building is really hard and just depending on the goodwill of ambassadors would not have solved my many campaign issues, but they may well have alleviated had I spent more time with the evangelical supporters on my side.

End of brief almanac of thoughts!!