Knack: An Underappreciated Lesson in Accessibility, Variable Challenge, and Cross-Generational Appeal

I have been waiting and waiting but finally, the time has arrived when my first-born is able to play games. Proper games that is, with an actual controller, rather than the simplistic tablet-based apps that we have previously suffered through together.

It has been surprisingly difficult finding contemporary games on current consoles that are both appropriately rated for a 3-4 year old and, more importantly, actually playable for someone with tiny hands and developing reflexes. So much so in fact, that we have spent a number of months relying on my back catalogue of Gamecube and Wii titles to fill our gaming time.

About a month ago though, Knack appeared as a monthly game on PlayStation Plus. A few weeks later, it was the first game that my son had ever finished, almost entirely of his own volition. Moreover, I had also finished it (on a harder difficulty level) and had a pretty damn good time playing it as well.

Watching my son play on Easy and then playing through myself on Hard gave me a unique perspective that I would have missed had I simply played through once by myself. Given the fairly mediocre review scores the game received upon release, I felt it was necessary to argue the case for this game being an excellent lesson in game design for accessibility, variable challenge, and cross-generational appeal, even if by other measures of design it may fall over a little bit. Let’s have a look!

Continue reading “Knack: An Underappreciated Lesson in Accessibility, Variable Challenge, and Cross-Generational Appeal”

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Incest, Bestiality & Infanticide: Why is Game Horror Often Afraid of Taboos?

The purpose of horror is to unsettle people, to make them feel afraid, disgusted or dirty, to make them stare in the face of the very worst aspects of the human psyche, all within an ultimately safe and controllable environment. The screen, or the page, is the barrier between unspeakable terror and relative safety. It is a barrier, through which we should be able to experience things that we would be unable to face in the real world for any number of reasons.

However, even within the realms of darkness that is the horror genre of games (and to some extent also, of films and literature) there remain certain subjects, certain taboo content that is forced to remain under the surface, slowly circling in the depths. Everybody knows that they’re down there, but very, very few choose to acknowledge them. As the title suggests, two candidates for these lurking topics are child killing, or infanticide, and bestiality, but there are many others. Just about any perverse or depraved sexual or necrotic act one could imagine is likely to be on the very list that horror is almost too scared to show you.

But you can imagine it. We all know that these awful things happen in the real world – in that regard, what we hear on the evening news is infinitely more horrific than any horror game, film or book. Murder, rape, imprisonment and torture are all frequently discussed on prime time evening broadcasting, yet are shunned by the very media that is supposed to portray that content in a way that is safe and more readily approachable.

Continue reading “Incest, Bestiality & Infanticide: Why is Game Horror Often Afraid of Taboos?”

Philosophy of Computer Games (POCG2016) Conference Paper & Talk

The first post-doc publication following on from the work completed during my PhD was presented today at the Philosophy of Computer Games (POCG2016) Conference in Malta’s Institute of Digital Games.

Titled A Theoretical Framework of Ludic Knowledge: A Case Study in Disruption and Cognitive Engagement, it presents the culmination of my work looking at how different knowledge types and different memory types may be leveraged by game designers to produce different types of gameplay experience. The case study in question is of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs which I co-designed alongside Dan Pinchbeck at The Chinese Room.

The paper can be found in full here and, if you really want to listen to my lovely voice, my full conference session can be watched here.

Mechanical Criticism: Transistor and Ether One

Two games in particular have surprised me recently because I loved the one that I expected to hate (Transistor) and have decidedly mixed feelings towards the one I expected to love (Ether One). In this article, I will offer a short critique of why I think these games had these very different effects on me by analysing some of the games’ mechanics and how they fit within the ludodiegesis of each game.

Continue reading “Mechanical Criticism: Transistor and Ether One”

‘The Doctor Will See You Now’, or, ‘Bugger Me, I Finished!’

So, the primary reason why this blog has been a little ‘tumble-weedy’ for the last year or so has finally been finished. I submitted my PhD thesis in September and had my viva examination in November and have now printed, bound, and delivered the final copy to the University. After 5 years, I can finally fill my spare time with spurious ‘stuff’ again without the constant nagging guilt of not spending every waking moment writing. Or reading. Or thinking about writing or reading.

The final title is Disruptive Game Design: A Commercial Design and Development Methodology for Supporting Player Cognitive Engagement in Digital Games. Yes, a little long (as the printer reminded me as I paid for him to use two type blocks on the cover rather than one), but it gets the point across!

This has been one of the toughest things I think I have ever done but I enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn’t have got to this stage without the outstanding support of everyone else involved though: my supervisors, my family, and especially my wife and son. Thanks to everyone!

DiGRA 2014 Paper: Disrupting the Player’s Schematised Knowledge of Game Components

My DiGRA 2014 Paper, Disrupting the Player’s Schematised Knowledge of Game Components, is now available via the DiGRA Digital Library database.

The paper outlines the theoretical basis for the disruptive game design philosophy and framework that I have been developing over the past 4 years and also provides a small case study of how it was implemented in two instances in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

In other news, I am approaching completion of my thesis (finally) and should be submitting it for examination and viva around Christmas time. Further journal publications are in the works that will further expand some of the ideas that I didn’t have space to write about in this DiGRA paper and I will post those here as they become available.

Frequent blog posts will hopefully resume once again shortly… I have many topics I’d like to write about and no time in which to write them!

The DiGRA 2014 paper can be found here.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Postmortem Report Now Available on Gamasutra

You can head on over to Gamasutra now to have a read of what is hopefully an interesting and honest postmortem report following the development of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs!