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DiGRA 2015 Conference

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of presenting a paper at DiGRA’s annual conference in Luneburg, Germany. You can see that one here on researchgate or academia.edu.

I’ve been to many industry conferences over the past couple of years, but this was my first academic one. Luneburg happens to be a beautiful corner of Germany, if you’re ever thinking of somewhere to go.

Things that were different were no marketing BS or people stealthily pushing their product in the name of something else. At this conference at least people are upfront about pushing their initiatives or ideas – perhaps best exemplified by the ‘abstracts’ strand of talks, where people with semi-formed ideas not quite yet ready for a paper open them up to critique and discussion, which is refreshingly honest. True, some of them are better formed than others, but that’s admitted upfront. I’m not sure if this is usual for academic conferences, but it seems nice if it were the case that this exists elsewhere.

Things that were the same were beer, interesting conversations and meeting a wide variety of people with similar passions to you, which is always nice! It was a lovely atmosphere and you could feel all the ideas and thinking swirling in the air, especially after a few local lagers…

There were only a few things that I would liked to have been different.

  • It was a fairly small conference (about 250 people I guess?), although I was reliably informed that this is actually quite big for a Games Studies conference (not surprising really). Yet despite this there were 6 talks on at a time, meaning that you would end up with only 5-15 people on average in each one. Whilst I can see that DiGRA would like to give exposure to a wide variety of ideas, I felt that this was too much going on at one time (especially considering that many of the rooms were a big distance from each other). It meant that I missed a good number of papers I was interested in because there would be 3 per session, meaning on average there were 18 an hour being delivered! Again, great amount of content (and later reading), but I would have preferred a little more focus and thematic grouping to the papers. I had to miss several I was interested in because I was delivering my own presentation!

  • In a weird sense I felt as though being quite ‘grounded’, for lack of a better term at the moment, seemed to be frowned upon. It was almost as though I wasn’t using enough fancy words to be there (I usually try to avoid highly specialist terms when making a presentation because you can never assume that other people have a clue what they mean – neither should you.)

  • There is a very heavy humanities basis, which is understandable – it seems to me that the majority of people in Games Studies as it stands at the moment have moved across from disciplines such as film studies, literature or sociology. I would like to see some more design/HCI oriented thinking present. If DiGRA is to continue being a good focal point for what’s happening in Games Studies (and I think it should and does a good job at this in the main) then it might need to work a little harder on encouraging a broader range of disciplines to participate. Note, I said a broader range of disciplines, rather than more material – so I’m not contradicting my earlier point!

  • Few talks had ramifications on new production. Whilst new understanding of what’s already here is important (we really don’t understand much about games at all!), I would have like to see some more talks that really interrogate the core forms and structures of some games in a way that would affect new production. One paper I saw presented that I really enjoyed in this vein though was by Geof Kaufman from Tilt Factor on making games to change attitudes and prejudices.

So, next time, DiGRA is going to be co-located with the Foundations of Digital Games conference in Scotland. It’ll be interesting to see what backgrounds and disciplines are represented there. In the meantime, I’ve got CHI Play to look forward to, which I would imagine would be very different indeed!

My talk at #IGC15

IGC15 Logo

IGC15 Logo

I recently gave a talk at the Indie Games Conference in London. First proper full length speaking engagement! I’ve done a couple of small panels and micro-talks before, but nothing like this – 45 minute slot including Q&A!

Title was “Open Your Heart: Thinking About Emotions in Games”. Thanks to the wonderful efforts of James Coote and his videography you can watch my talk on YouTube (see embedded link below). Rather useful to watch yourself afterwards as well and see how you looked – not an option you often get!

I think it went really well actually. Lots of people came up to discuss what I spoke about at the end – some with similar opinions and shared ideas, some not! But that’s exactly what I wanted really – I don’t think any of us really improve until we’re challenged, and it either means your thinking is off or that you need to communicate your message better the next time you talk about it.

For those who weren’t at IGC15, it was a great conference (that I sadly could only make one day of – it was 2 days) with an interesting and diverse line-up of strong speakers on a wide array of topics. I learnt a lot! Thanks to Byron and Jake for organising it and here’s looking forward to next time.

Love in Games

The other week I was party to an IGDA London event on Love in Games – which was great! Being closely aligned to my favourite topic (emotion in games) this was stimulating evening with an interesting array of viewpoints on the title ‘Love in Games’. If you’re in London regularly then you could do worse than join the IGDA London Facebook page. It’s not active all the time – talks are ad hoc rather than regular, but they put on some good events (usually at LSBU near Elephant and Castle) and you should check them out.

OpenHeart

Esther MacCallum-Stewart was first up by offering a more academic take on things. As an established academic who’s written extensively on sexuality and love in games her main beef was, “Why do games always have to be about f*cking?”. Good question really. She drew well-deserved attention to the crudeness of how love it dealt with in video games, and that we miss out on the nuances and multi-dimensionality of the phenomenon we collectively refer to as love.

Ste Curran – journalist, radio presenter, performer and general gamey-dude-at-large took his (usual) tangential take on the topic. Instead of speaking directly to the topic in hand in a kind of problems, how-to, solutions kind of way like most of us would do, he instead took an approach that challenged us to rethink our relationship with love altogether. How many ways it can be experienced, how fleeting it is and how subjective our experience of love is.

Christos Reid always has an interesting viewpoint on things – his passion and practice being autobiographical games, and so he opted to talk about how games could be made to explore the difficult situations that romance often puts us in. His example – first dates! I look forward to seeing a short game by him sometime on the subject, since this would be an excellent example of how the role-playing aspect of games can force us to play as and then understand someone else’s point of view – whether we find it comfortable or not.

Finally, my favourite talk of the evening was by Aubrey Hesselgren. He didn’t have anything particularly to say about love and its portrayal within video games, but he is the first person I’ve ever seen try and propose a system for representing and handling emotions in games. Essentially, the idea is to use 3D vectors to represent different aspects of an emotion or emotional experience. In this way you can plot them in 3D space, discern relationships between them, and then track the emotional journey through 3D space. It was a honest attempt to abstract out emotions into a workable system. I need a dedicated beer with this man! This will be a most interesting thing to keep an eye on….

AdventureX 2014

So, another year and another AdventureX – a point and click graphics adventure convention that’s in its fourth year (and which I’ve had the honour of attending from its small beginnings in its first year!). Despite losing the UEA London campus from last year (the building was sold), AdventureX has managed to retain a good central London location thanks to the help of Siobhan Thomas of LSBU.

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Regrettably, with my new childcare duties I was only able to attend Saturday this year (as opposed to the Sunday as well), but it was still well worth showing up!

Nice selection of panels with some good topics chosen – branching narrative in adventure games (see my previous post which was sparked from it), decision-making in storygames and others.

You can see some of panels which were recorded on the AdventureX Facebook page actually, if you wanted to be there but couldn’t. The live stream wasn’t working on the day due to the flaky internet of LSBU, which was a shame since the denizens of the AGS forums (the original supporters and reason for AdventureX getting off the ground) are a fairly far-flung bunch.

I always find AdventureX inspiring and I always come round to it thinking, “Damn! I still haven’t started/made an adventure game yet! Got to sort that out!” The people there are great and it’s amazing to see a fair few people be so committed to the community of what is still a pretty niche genre. Award this year goes to Francisco Gonzalez (otherwise known as Grundislav) for coming all the way from USA!

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For some reason, adventure games have always struck a chord with me. There are so many that I haven’t played – it’s not as though I have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the classics or the modern releases made in similar vein (many of which are made with Adventure Game StudioWadjetEye Games being of particular note). I think it’s because I grew up playing many of them as a child/teenager. My strongest memories of late childhood videogaming are of LucasArts adventure classics and the odd Sierra game (although I never got into the  “‘Quests“).

It’s a genre that I strongly feel peaked well before it’s time (notice how I’m reticent to say that ‘adventure games died‘, because, well, they didn’t!), and I’m glad there’s a subtle resurgence of them, with more and more independent developers finding themselves able to rely on them for a (however modest) living.

Maybe I’ll have something to exhibit next year. We’ll see…

 

Belated ExPlay Conference Post

This is one of those posts that I’ve been meaning to get round to forever, but never really happened. Better late than never anyway.

Well, I went to the ExPlay conference at the end of October in Bath which was great. A wonderfully curated selection of talks, workshops and small but well-formed expo area. For a quick run-down of how the festival turned out you can watch the montage video of ExPlay 2013 here.

As for me, I was on a panel with the title, “Entertainment vs. Education: Where’s the sweet spot for learning games?”. This is due to my background as a secondary science teacher, my new chosen career and passion for games design, plus my involvement in the London Educational Games Meetup (LEGup) which happens at various venues around London each month.

I’m pretty chuffed to have been invited as a speaker at this conference and I got a ton of really interesting feedback on what I’d said as a result (if you were there and gave feedback – cheers! Always grateful for ANY and ALL feedback!).

This is still a really new area as far as many designers are concerned. I got the distinct impression that many people either hadn’t really thought about it being a viable market, or that it would be the same as making games for entertainment – just with different content.

In summary, my points were as such (and note that these come from a secondary school viewpoint, rather than primary school viewpoint where there is quite a lot of good stuff happening already):

  1. There REALLY is a sweet spot

    The reason a lot of developers haven’t got involved with this before is either because of the shadow of ‘edutainment’ of ages past, or because it’s really bloody hard. And it is. But to whoever manages to start solving the problem in this balance, there is a lot of satisfaction (and a lot of money) to be had in it.
    (note that secondary schools have VERY little going on with regards to educational games due to all sorts of logistical and curriculum restrictions – I’d be glad to clarify if you wanted me to. Contact me).

  2. The classroom IS the platform

    You wouldn’t release a game originally developed for mouse and keyboard for the iPhone without drastic reworking. You wouldn’t really release a tablet game straight onto iPhone without some thought along the way – because tablets and phones are different both in terms of size, hit zones, what kind of interface is possible, play habits and locales, play session lengths and so on.

    So why would you do the same with a heavily restricted play space with lots of extra criteria outside the control of the teacher, never mind the players/pupils? 

    You cannot focus just on what technological platform is available (web/Windows/tablets etc.). The classroom has more needs, restrictions and dynamics going on that just that. You MUST bear in mind how an app/game can be deployed in the classroom/homework setting BEFORE you design it!

  3. You need to get experts involved

    Time and time again I see well-meaning (or opportunity seeking!) developers making forays into this area without consulting experts in the field before hand. That would be teachers, especially in regards to the above point. Why you wouldn’t do your research before designing and building a product in any area is beyond me and it’s no less important here. Yet people do tend to think, “I went to school, therefore I know about how to make an educational game.” Yes, it is on the same level as, “I like playing games, therefore I know how to design games,” but it still crops up pretty frequently.

Anyway, if anyone with an interest in educational games is reading this then I hope this has been helpful. Don’t forget to check out edugameshub – the website of LEGup (mentioned above) where I’m also a commissioning editor. If you have any more questions regarding the above – feel free to get in touch.

AdventureX time again!

It’s nearly Christmas. So not only is it time to drink and be merry, it’s also time for AdventureX!

Originally arising out of a meetup of members of the Adventure Game Studio forums, AdventureX has evolved into an adventure game conference/game show organised in central London near to Liverpool Street station. It’s in its third year now and if you’re not there this year then I strongly recommend that you make a point of coming next year.

There’s a mix of guest speakers (including Charles Cecil this year and Tim Childs – creator of Knightmare), demos of games in progress, panels and talks on adventure design and culture.

To find out more, you can visit the AdventureX website here.

As for me, I’ll be there both days helping run the event. Come find me and say, “Hi!” if you’re there!

 

For reference, here’s a short film on last years event:

Pictures of ‘Totally Guilty’

As promised in the previous post, pics from the prize-winning game I helped make at the Global Gamecraft Gamejam – ‘Totally Guilty’, where I did all the writing.

It was a more complicated version of ‘Memory’, and in this game you took the role of an NSA operative aiming to make connections between various citizens in your  database. The more connections they shared, the more suspicious looking and guilty they were (and hence the more points you got).

Enjoy. The combinations of descriptions and facial features led to some, er, ‘interesting’ biographies!

 

I was a London Global Gamecraft prize winner!

So Saturday just gone was the London Global Gamecraft game jam at Skills Matter (near Barbican/Old Street). My first game jam, and if they are all as well-run and have as nice an atmosphere as this one then I’ll be doing many more!

Being my first game jam, I didn’t really know what to expect and just went down with my laptop (and naively, a second monitor, as if I was going to have space for that!) to check it out and see where I could fit in. But it was all good – I soon found myself in a group with the wonderful and talented Robin, Yuji  and Luke.

Global Gamecraft is slightly different to other jams in that they are one day jams where you have 11/12 hours to make a game (cf. the more common 48 hours-ish/weekend format). So, after the theme was announced at 9am, we had till 8pm only to get everything sorted! Pretty damn tight restraints, but great to get you focused!

The theme was ‘The Impact of Prism’ – an interesting topical theme and well chosen in my opinion.

Our team decided to go with a variation on the classic ‘memory game’, where you match cards based on similar symbols or names etc. In our variation (called ‘Totally Guilty!’), you play the part of an NSA operative who is investigating the files you have on random people from around the US. As all are presumed guilty until proven otherwise, any matching criteria (such as interests, background etc.) is seen to link potential threats together and make them more suspicious. It is your job to connect these people together and flag them as threats and candidates for surveillance and/or arrest.

Whilst mechanically simple, our game used randomly generated faces and biographies to add extra interest. These faces and biographies were assembled using random combinations of pre-made facial features/characteristics and facts.

What we ended up with were some truly nightmarish faces and interesting/comical/disturbing/all-the-above personal backgrounds!

After pizza had been consumed, beer had been relished and judging was complete, we were chosen as the ‘Best Team Game’ which apparently meant it was the game that judges would most like to see be developed into a fully-fledged release! Cheers judges!

When I get hold of the code I’ll take some screen shots to show the full results, but for now I leave you with some photos of the ‘attract’ screen with our certificate proudly displayed by it!

Final Credits:

  • Design – Myself, Yuji  , Robin, Luke (with Pepe and Cristina tagging along and helping!)
  • Coding – Yuji  and Robin
  • Art and soundtrack – Luke
  • Writing – Me.

 

 

 

It’s that time – Develop 2013!

From Monday 8th July – Friday 12th I’ll be in Brighton for the annual Develop Conference, where I’ll be Head Conference Associate, coordinating a group of 20 or so volunteers to help run the conference.

If you’re there then please feel free to come say hello. I’m one of the people running around in (usually) red Develop t-shirts. I have shaved head, which might help narrow it down!

If you came here because we swapped cards/details, look forward to seeing you again. In the meantime, you can find out more about me at the pages  at the top and find links to my LinkedIn and Twitter pages on the ‘About‘ page.

Cheers!

I wrote an article for edugames hub

So I forgot to mention the other day that I wrote an article for the launch of the website for the London Educational Games Meetup (LEGup).It’s giving advice to designers/developers on how to make their educational games from the point of view of a teacher.

The article is here.

So many times I see people putting some great effort into apps/games, having not really done their research on what is wanted or even viable in the educational market. So this is written from my experience as a teacher, saying what designers/developers need to keep in mind if they want their app/game to succeed, be adopted and sell well.

Hope it helps someone!