Further research

Now that I have a fairly coherent product definition, it is appropriate to research all of the components of my design and try to answer a few questions.

To recap on the top level success criteria from my previous post:

  1. It utilizes technology to facilitate and enhance the game (particularly with regards to forcing and end-game state and to track and offer breadcrumbs to players)
  2. It is played outdoors
  3. It is a multi-player game and requires some social contact/connection
  4. It has measurable health benefits
  5. It utilizes at least one application of augmented reality to provide information/feedback to the player
  6. It will utilize GPS tracking to facilitate the game state and catch up mechanics
  7. I’d like to try and implement social media sharing on platforms such as Instagram or TikTok within the game, to bring enhanced relevance of the product to young people

This brings to mind the following:

  1. Why is this a compelling product? What has prompted it’s design and what justification can be offered for the design?
  2. In what ways will my product be original? i.e. what other similar products are available in the market?
  3. In what ways will the product be relevant to the audience?
  4. In what ways will the product offer unique selling points?
  5. How does academic research either challenge or support my assumptions?

Defining success criteria

In my last post, I identified some success criteria for the project:

  1. It is played outdoors
  2. It is a multi-player game and requires some social contact/connection
  3. It has measurable health benefits
  4. It utilizes technology to facilitate and enhance the game (particularly with regards to forcing and end-game state and to track and offer breadcrumbs to players)
  5. It utilizes at least one application of augmented reality to provide information/feedback to the player
  6. It will utilize GPS tracking to facilitate the game state and catch up mechanics
  7. I’d like to try and implement social media sharing on platforms such as Instagram or TikTok within the game, to bring enhanced relevance of the product to young people

I feel it would be helpful to really clearly define the success criteria for the project. I’ve decide to pick one primary success criteria and have several secondary criteria.

One of the principal reasons for undertaking a Masters course in game development is that I felt when I finished my BA, that my technical skills were quite lacking. As a result, I decided that as a generalist designer, I felt quite strongly that my folio should reflect a diverse set of skills and technical applications. On reflection, I now feel ready to define my success criteria for the project.

Primary criteria:

  1. I will primarily experiment in the field of technology and successful implementation of new technology in a game will be the principle purpose of the artifact. This project is particularly attractive as it will likely enable me to experiment with at least 3 technologies I’ve yet to explore in a game development context; creating a mobile product, utilizing networking, utilizing GPS and potentially utilizing Augmented Reality. I expect that it will represent a particularly distinctive piece within my portfolio.

Secondary criteria:

Whilst most of these factors will be addressed as ‘stretch goals’ or additional features, I’ll be particularly pleased if I can implement any or all of the following:

  1. The game will be played outdoors. The contemporary context of this criteria follows from the effects of pandemic lock-down. It is envisaged that many people will be quite eager to explore open and public spaces and a game which is played outdoors will help facilitate this desire among players.
  2. It is a multi-player game and requires some social contact/connection. This criteria follows on from the previous one. Many people will have experienced isolation during recent months and it is anticipated that the future launch of this game will facilitate further connection between people in a fun, playful context.
  3. It has measurable health benefits. Simply put, it is not controversial to suggest that outdoor activity helps general fitness and I will look at ways to offer metrics to players which can support health goals, such as distance traveled and approximate calories burned.
  4. It utilizes technology to facilitate and enhance the game (particularly with regards to forcing and end-game state and to track and offer breadcrumbs to players). It will utilize GPS tracking to facilitate the game state and catch up mechanics
  5. It utilizes at least one application of augmented reality to provide information/feedback to the player. I quite like the idea of presenting AR footprints to the Spy/Seeker, which are generated by the Ninja/Hider as they move. Those footprints will start out red (hot) and rapidly cool (green, then vanish), the older they are. If the Spy is close behind the Ninja, they will be able to use their phone’s camera to see the footprints on the ground.
  6. I’d like to try and implement social media sharing on platforms such as Instagram or TikTok within the game, to bring enhanced relevance of the product to young people. I’ve found some tutorials on how to implement social media sign in and also to render and send media such as video to social media platforms. It would be particularly attractive to use such a feature to widen the audience of this game.

In summary, I will principally commit to achieving my primary criteria but also look to deliver as many secondary criteria as I can. This is quite an ambitious project, but I do believe that it is innovative, experimental and a worthwhile contribution to my offering as a designer.

 

Review of material and ideas

Much of the teaching on this module has now been delivered and I’m able to start bringing together ideas and thinking to produce a shortlist of potential products.

I’m particularly focused in a number of areas both for this module and for the wider course. One of my key learning objectives throughout this course is to push my bounds from a technical perspective. I’m keen to use new technologies to provide innovative solutions and this is one domain in which I hope to tread new ground. I’m also quite keen on the notion that experimental games can sometimes exist wholly or partially within the serious games field and also that they can service a well-being need and I’d like to experiment in these three areas. I’m also interested in the concept of utilizing games for self-development and one personal flaw which I’m keen to work on is a tendency to procrastinate.

With the above factors in mind, I’ve conceived two potential projects to work on:

  1. A game loop centered around procrastination. The game itself would mechanically revolve around leaving a steady stream of tasks until the last minute. A good example of task management in a game might be in the Overcooked series of games.
  2. A game based around using emergent technology to facilitate the traditional game, hide and seek.

On reflection, of these two games, I believe that the second game has the most potential. It’s an idea I’ve toyed around with for a while and I feel it meets a few key suitability criteria for fields of experimentation. I’ll return to the problem of procrastination in a later project.

First of all, I’d like to create the game for mobile. Many mobile games tend to be static (i.e. you can play them anywhere, but you stay in one place). There are a few noteworthy games produced by Niantec (Ingress, 2012 and Pokemon Go, 2016) which require the players to move around to find in game items using GPS placement, but these tend to be the exception to the rule. I also like that there are clear well-being applications to getting people to play games which require real world movement. This is especially pertinent in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that many people have spent months indoors doing very little exercise. Another well being factor to this experimentation is that many people, particularly those who don’t live in large households haven’t had the opportunity to socialize during multiple lock-downs. I’d therefore like to prototype a game which meets the following success criteria:

  1. It is played outdoors
  2. It is a multi-player game and requires some social contact/connection
  3. It has measurable health benefits
  4. It utilizes technology to facilitate and enhance the game (particularly with regards to forcing and end-game state and to track and offer breadcrumbs to players)
  5. It utilizes at least one application of augmented reality to provide information/feedback to the player
  6. It will utilize GPS tracking to facilitate the game state and catch up mechanics
  7. I’d like to try and implement social media sharing on platforms such as Instagram or TikTok within the game, to bring enhanced relevance of the product to young people

The overall benefit of such a game might be that its effectiveness in bringing people together socially and for exercise and may make the traditional folk game popular among young people again.

I’ll begin work on producing a Game Design Document, which outlines the key features.

Future research

My long-term ambition is to eventually become a researcher, or a teacher, or a hybrid of the two. I passionately believe that games are fascinating, because among other things they help us bring people together, they help us learn, laugh and rise to abstract challenges in associative ways. Crucially, they are interactive and I think agency is the primary factor as to why the games industry has dwarfed the creative television, film and music industries combined. I trained as a game designer with a very practical viewpoint. I’m a particularly strong adherent to the ideals of User-Centered design and feel that many commercial game productions often cater to clusters of player typologies or demographics, because it is more convenient and profitable to do so than considering intrinsic, personal desires to play games. The salient detail here is that it is at the convenience of the production entity, not the user.

I’d like to challenge that paradigm. The arts have a long history of patronage and many creative works, particularly during the renaissance era, were bespoke and commissioned at the behest of a wealthy benefactor to an artist. We see some evidence of this economic style of production working successfully, in crowd-funded platforms such as Kickstarter and Patreon. Today’s game development industry is built upon industrialized commercial frameworks and I’d like to suggest that there is much to gain by developing a much deeper, personally focused understanding of what motivations the user may (consciously or even sub-consciously) have when selecting games, the way they engage with games and their perceived outcomes and expectations of games. I suspect many surveys will have had the same top-down approach and consequently the same problems and so I intend to examine the relationship between game publisher and end consumer from a much more user-centric perspective. I think this is one area where collaboration between the field of psychology, anthropology, sociology and game studies may trailblaze new ground, when individual disciplinary approaches might be frustrated.

Workflow and process for Experimental Games

I’ve written up an approximate workflow I intend to follow when evaluating my study in experimental games and the method of definition and selection of the product:

Produce a mindmap of ideas: https://whimsical.com/experimental-games-7B8DKbvHusq83jhNwKwcbd.

Review all of the recordings of previous sessions. Many of the blog posts I’ve posted and tagged with experimental.

Compile a shortlist for my projects and establish success criteria.

Product score my ideas and establish how the shortlist my be considered experimental, have achievable criteria and how I can rationalize the concept as a pitch.

Produce a blog post explaining my choice.

Compile my pitch document as per the assignment.

Produce a video pitch as per the assignment.

Pushing the bounds of experimentation

I’m coming to the end of my notes on experimentation seminars and will start to draw everything together into a project plan. There are many great topics which I have discussed over the past week. Notably discussion on serious games and user audiences/experience, but I’m now close enough to the submission deadline where I must pick a project to experiment with and put a pitch together. I’m going to conclude with a series of prompts to help me with defining my ideation:

what directions am I experimenting?
how can I push my experimentation further?
what are the risks of sliding back into the familiar?
what constraints can inspire/enable experimentation?
what affordances can inspire/enable experimentation?
what audiences will be suitable? what audiences will be unsuitable?
define the purpose more: personal, political, social, whimsical, provocative, anthropological. Think about domains.

I’m mindful that when trying to define a user audience, Nick Yee’s work on player typology has been put together in a handy reference: http://quanticfoundry.com/2015/12/15/handy-reference/. He’s also recently been working on motivation and behaviour in a segmentation approach; an area which I hope to delve into further in my masterwork thesis: https://quanticfoundry.com/2020/08/17/player-segments/.

I’m also keen to explore whether my game might serve multiple purposes and audiences, particularly when applied as a serious game.

Assumptions and Audiences

This post is aimed at discussing the factors I should consider as a designer when I try to accommodate one or more audiences and a reflection on the assumptions I may hold. As a User-Centered designer, one of my main considerations is to ensure that I design for a user, rather than myself. That means I must acknowledge certain biases which may affect the decisions I take in designing games.

I must be aware of biases I may hold as a result of my upbringing. I may hold certain political, religious, social and cognitive biases which affect not only the kinds of games I play, but also the way I play them. I should also consider these factors in my audience. Our most recent seminar discussed the use of random game idea generators, such as Orteil’s generator, which can be accessed here: http://orteil.dashnet.org/gamegen.

I should be mindful of risk in a product. Risk can be viewed as both an intrinsic or extrinsic factor (or both). A player may take a risk that the game will meet their expectations and personal assumptions. I take a risk that the product I develop will meet such expectations and assumptions and risk engaging or alienating my player. Risk can also be considered in the context of the game itself. Perhaps a game might be built around the concept of risky decisions and interaction?

It occurs to me that as many of the game ideas I’ve been contemplating of late have been looked at through the lens of uncertainty (and G. Costikyan’s excellent book, Uncertainty in Games is a great resource for this (Costikyan, 2015)), risk may also be a compelling lens through which I can look at Ideation and player experience.

Experimentation is quite likely when leaning into a game idea and pursuing one or more factors to an extreme. This does lead me to consider whether such factors as Risk and Uncertainty might be successfully pursued when they are viewed as an incremental or sliding incline.

Some fundamental questions exist for me in the context of determining my game. The core purpose of a game requires definition.

Is it for an audience?
Is it for me? if so, for what purpose?
Is it just to see what happens? to prove or disprove a theory?
For monetary gain
For commercial release? If so, what factors affect its viability?
Is it original? Has it been done before? If not, why not?
Is it to teach something? What epistemic factors may be at play?
Is it to soothe an ill? Can and should games act as panacea?

Following the initial brainstorm of my idea (see https://whimsical.com/experimental-games-7B8DKbvHusq83jhNwKwcbd.), I have concluded that my Ideation is quite weak. I had a pretty clear idea going in what I wanted to make, but this doesn’t make it a poor idea. I could also push further experimentation with iteration. I’d also like to make longevity and replayability one of my criteria for success.

Assessment and review of games can often be considered ‘biased’ when a score is involved and this can be observed particularly in the trade and game press. Dan Gilbert gives an excellent Ted talk on this, which can be viewed here: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_why_we_make_bad_decisions?language=en and his discussion essentially comes down to the fact that whilst we are good at comparison, we are extra-ordinarily bad at estimation, from a cognitive perspective.

One assumption in particular extremely worthy of consideration is that of representation. As a designer I am aware of the importance of representation in games when it comes to gender, race, sexuality and any other number of defined and protected classes. I feel quite strongly that there is a moral aspect to representation. Not only should all people be supported and included, regardless of any particular classification, we have a moral obligation to ensure that our games engage people. All people.

I am conscious of assumptions of assumptions I may make about my product. I’m a strong proponent of divergent and emergent behaviour in games but there is a risk associated with accommodating un-prescribed behaviour; my game could be used for good, but also bad purposes. But from an experimental perspective, how can my ideation accomodating this risk and add value and weight to the design?

As a user centred designer, I’m conscious that many UX principles may be at play with my game, particularly when it comes to assessing how the user interfaces with the product. https://lawsofux.com/ is a great starting point for considering such factors.

 

 

Creativity in Games

I’ve decided to write a post reflecting on the weekly seminars I’ve participated in throughout my module and the first post will be in response the session on creativity in games.

A number of ideas have been presented about what constitutes a creative experience in games. Any such review of game theory might be remiss without at least an acknowledgement of the work on Flow Theory originally proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi http://Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins. Chicago.. I’m also mindful of the work on Self-Determination theory by E.L. Deci and R.M. Ryan, particularly as it pertains to behaviour and engagement within games.  http://Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum.

There are multiple facets to consider. We briefly discussed a systemic perspective on games, particularly with regards to the use of industrial systems and grind mechanics. We covered fear and tension in games and examined whether they are fun and/or cathartic. We also looked at Narrative in games and I feel an acknowledgement of the ludic narrative of the player is an especially important factor in examining gameplay experiences.

In response, I’m prompted to ask a question I’ve long considered as being quite key to creating games: Do they have to be recreational artifacts? Can they in fact offer outcomes other than ‘fun’, such as learning, health and well-being. One particular complication involves that of personal taste. Simply put, no two people are alike, their tastes can wildly differ and they can even change on an internal, intrinsic basis, moment to moment. This makes designing a user-centered experience particularly troublesome (although in my opinion, no less worthwhile) endeavour.

The session also looked at whether fun can be delayed and whether delayed gratification is either comparable or desirable to an immediate reward. Such a notion does in fact challenge the somewhat controversial work on Operant Conditioning undertaken by B.F. Skinner http://Skinner, B. F. (1963). Operant behavior. American Psychologist, 18(8), 503. .

It also raises the question of how you challenge individuals. Perhaps games can be about choices or decisions, rather than fun? Perhaps there may be a serious application, as I mentioned above. Perhaps they can be about tackling real world problems, such as illness, learning or conflict?

We also discussed taboo subjects, the central learning pillar being about how to handle controversial or even potentially offensive topics with care and respect.

My main take-away’s from this session were to think about a broader definition of a game. To think of the audience, its purpose, the specific experience or experiences it is designed to engender and prompted me to reflect on practical ways to tackle a long-held notion I’ve yet to respond to; Can games act as Panacea? I.e. can they meet a real or perceived need and how can we define that need and still judge the successes and shortcomings of a particular game on that basis. I will continue to reflect on this notion throughout the module.

Plans for Semester 2

Its been quite a while since I have posted on this blog and a large part of the delay is due to finding my feet with the new semester. I have found collecting my thoughts in a written format during semester one useful however and hope to continue this practice. This post is hopefully the first of many throughout study block 2.

Before I outline my plans for study block two, I think it’s important to reflect on my progress so far and acknowledge some of my successes and also forthcoming challenges. First of all, let’s start with the successes. I achieved a number of expected and even a couple of unexpected goals in study block one. The biggest, and most pleasant surprise was my academic results. I achieved a distinction on both modules, setting me up for a trajectory I had dreamed of, but had thought might be beyond my grasp. I took the time to talk to both of my tutors at the beginning of study block 1. I’ve already outlined in previous posts that I’m considering a step into doctoral studentship and the academic boundary to take this route is a Merit/2:1 in either a BA or post-graduate course. Two distinction sets me up with a giant leapfrog against the curve. Indeed, if I achieve just two passes this semester and at least a distinction in my final project in study block three, I should get a Merit. So as far as this semester is concerned, any grade above a pass only solidifies my chances and I’m quietly confident that my work is usually to a standard of Merit or greater. I hope to bring the level of focus and quality to my work in study block 2 that I brought in study block 1. It is of course only right I emphasize that my result not only reflects the work I put in, but the excellent tuition I received by my module leaders.

One of the principle reasons for my enrollment on my course was not only to seek appropriate qualification for a PhD studentship, but also to improve my technical skills. All three of my academic years during my BA were somewhat fraught (for a variety of different reasons) and I found myself leaning quite hard into theoretical and project management aspects of a game-development skill-set. Whilst this is no bad thing, my technical skills, particularly with regards to programming have been somewhat lacking and I’m pleased to acknowledge, that to a large extent they are coming along in leaps and bounds.

Not only have I gained a reasonable degree of competence with a particular engine (in my case, Unity), I’m now competent at managing teams, source control, my own conception and delivery of projects and I can confidently prototype, demonstrate and communicate ideas in a digital format. Does that mean I’ve reached my technical goals? of course not. I doubt I ever will. Just as there are a wide variety of technical tools available for game development today, technology moves forward at a frightening pace and I now feel competent enough to at least keep my skill-set fresh and up to date. I genuinely relish the idea, rather than dread the delivery of projects for which I am accountable.

I’ve picked up a number of useful skills. I have implemented AI. I have the ability to produce digital prototypes of my games. I’ve even begun rounding out my skills in additional areas, such as animation and implementation of animations in engines, such as my test video here: https://youtu.be/IpO92fkx1b0. I have also undertaken game development projects outside of university, including participation in this years Global Game Jam. You can find a link to our submission here: https://globalgamejam.org/2021/games/psychomania-0. Although missing some animations, it is a complete prototype and I think would be genuinely fun to play after the jam.

One final mention is that I also took on the role of a department rep for students in my cohort. This gave me the opportunity to raise suggestions and issues of concern and help the University drive forward continuing improvement with its course delivery and development.

So where next? I have two modules this study block; firstly, I have a specialist pathway module in experimental game design. Secondly, I have a collaborative module with other students in the form of a group game development project. I will cover my thoughts and processes on these modules in later posts.

For now though, I’m one third of the way through my course and in contrast to my study during my BA, the postgraduate course is a breath of fresh air. I have genuine freedom to explore my professional practice in an academic context and I think it’s fair to say I’m thriving on the autonomous nature of post-graduate study as a result. Onwards and upwards!