Flying Into Tokyo – Japan, Act I: Scene I

In this, part one of my Japan blog series, I’ll be reflecting on my first trip to what is now, certifiably my favourite country on the planet.

With two young children, we were dreading our three-flight journey to our final destination. However, they were well-behaved and only cried a little from aeroplane ear on the first flight.

We would be flying on the 18th May, arriving on the 19th, departing and arriving back in the UK on the 30th. That gave us 11 days and nights to pack full of adventure, experience and memories. We flew from Newcastle (UK) to Schiphol (Amsterdam, Netherlands), then onward to Kansai (Osaka, Japan) before transferring to Haneda (Tokyo, Japan). We only booked the flights in January but managed to snag the whole journey for a little over £1,200 in total. There were cheaper or more direct routes but we chose what worked best for us, as we wanted to treat ourselves as soon as my graduate degree course was finished.

While my availability was the main factor that dictated we visit at this time, we also consulted several different sources when planning our trip. Most relevant to us was the advice on avoiding Golden Week (late April to mid-May), which is a cluster of very busy public holidays. Japan is host to the Rugby World Cup 2019, as well as the 2020 Summer Olympics, making 2018 an opportune time to benefit from some of those early infrastructure improvements while avoiding the heavy foreign influx.

Apt timing.


Taste of sweat? Confirmed.

In our jet-lagged state Japan seemed immediately weird, despite us preparing for the culture shock best we could. Strange tasting and wondrously named products, that fake-money feeling and the sometimes questionable Engrish – they’re taking the piss out of us, right – juxtaposed against an apparently indecipherable but elegantly drawn language.

My son took an immediate dislike to what he would later affectionately refer to as “robot toilets”. I botched and butchered my way to and through an interaction with the post office, in order to pick up our portable wifi device.

My daughter seemed to just be enjoying sitting in all manner of plastic seat. Meanwhile, my partner took immediately to sampling the sweet delights we’d seen in our late-night YouTube video binges.

We knew we were not in Jarra anymore.


After our brief orientation at Kansai airport, we took our connecting domestic flight on towards Haneda, which is one of the two airports serving Tokyo. Haneda is just outside central Tokyo, it’s sister Narita airport is some ways away to the east of the city proper. While I obviously haven’t flown in through it, all recommendations given to me were to, when possible, fly into Tokyo through Haneda, as you fly into the heart of the metropolis’ bay area. It really was quite a sight!

It was now late afternoon and the sun had begun to set in the direction of Mt.Fuji, bathing the city in a golden aura as the sea of lights below had started to glisten. When I was younger I would fantasise about this moment, and, much like the rest of our trip, actually experiencing this blew my expectations out the stratosphere.

We chose to take the Tokyo Monorail into the city, as our apartment was within walking distance of Hamamatsucho Station, in Minato.

My son had demanded to watch a “Japan tram video!” – plus every type of railed transport we could find – each night before bed in the months leading up to our trip. it was something to see him in silent awe as we zippily sped between the familiar glass and concrete high-rises. “This is Japan, Dad”, he whispered.

He was damn right.

When we arrived at Hamamatsucho a proud and sharp looking monorail driver walked past us, briefcase in hand. My son gasped and observed him in reverence as I held his hand and tried to figure out which station exit instructions were ours. “White gloves and black hat!”, he exclaimed. As the train punctually departed he waved frantically at the capped head poking out the rear carriage door, “Goodbye conductor! Thank you!”

Ask my son what he wants to be when he grows up and I’m sure you already know the response.


Walking the streets of Tokyo is a joy. That first evening, romantic. Everything is special. Every detail and disparate form catches your attention.

The city’s loose zoning laws produce a patchwork where modernity meets the ancient and the pristine glass facade of a multiuse tower block can reflect both a cramped, lantern-lit 80’s backstreet and the solitudinous stone courtyard of a secluded shrine, flanked on all sides by a hotchpotch of apartments, restaurants and corporate castles.

Every doorway, window, stairwell and sidestreet exude an allure that entices me to explore their secrets. The pungent scent of fresh foods being prepared. My senses are now hyper-alert as if I’d just been born.

Is this paradise?

Almost 40 million people and yet the streets are clean, so very clean. Order and convenience is king. The people, their language and their culture so different, yet so approachable, welcoming and respectful.

My partner and I would mention these points to each other every single day, in what bordered disbelief. This is what we wanted within our society, back home in England.


At the end of the first day, we were exhausted. We hadn’t slept on the journey so the plan was simply to explore the local area, find food and get to bed. Though between Cafe Lounge COLON and the 100¥ Lawson (hail Lawson!), we may have overdone it.

As we settle down for bed I’m staring, wide-but-dreary-eyed at the soothing lights that illuminate then wane atop the peaks of the mega-structures that surround us. I’m already in love with this country.

Next stop, Akihabara.
Brace for culture shock in 3, 2, 1…

Gaming Addiction

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash.

Today the World Health Organisation is notifying governments that they are to treat gaming disorder as a mental health condition, in line with its 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

When reading various media outlets coverage of the story my mind goes back to a dissertation I wrote in college. The subject was whether or not video games can be considered an art form.

The following excerpt is a chapter from that assignment, where I look at addiction in the context of video games and how a game’s designers decision to employ psychological hooks can have an effect on the behaviour and health of people within society. It is preceded by a chapter on violence in video games and flows into a chapter on exploitative game design. If these topics interest you then I have made the full text available online.


Dissertation (Addiction Chapter Excerpt)

In retrospect, I feel that my writing was rather muddled and unfocused. Evidence and interviews that lacked discussion or analysis, poorly designed surveys that restricted choices, an overload of disparate sources that were cherrypicked mainly for effect. My desire to explore the role of the game designer and my belief that they should consider their social responsibility when making game design choices encroaches upon and makes this dissertation a loosely connected and shallow exploration of the topics covered.

Despite these faults, I thought it was nice to compare my previous exploration of this issue against how I think and feel about it today – I notice some similarities as well as some differences. Perhaps I will revisit this subject in a more focused manner sometime in the future. For now, I can feel glad that action is being taken to help those who may need it.

Video Games Design as an Art Form: Choices and Their Consequences

This dissertation assignment was submitted as part of my final year studies at Gateshead College, where it earned me a Distinction grade mark towards my H.N.D. Creative Media Production qualification.

The module was a special subject investigation on a subject of our choice. For which I chose to explore the subject by examining the role of game design and the consequences a developers choices have for the industry and society.

Looking back I feel that I could very much improve the quality of the research and writing to create a more succinct and strengthened paper. I still hold strong feelings in regards to the subject, th topics explored and the opinions I expressed in this assignment. Therefore, someday I would like to revisit this piece and give an updated view, given the passage of time and changing conversational landscape within the industry and society.


Dissertation

Grade Title Level Value
Distinction Special Subject Investigation For Creative 5 15 UCAS points

 

Itinerary – Japan, Prelude

 

Just returned from our first trip to Japan, where we had a whirlwind time in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Enoshima and Kamakura. Here are our tips for those curious about visiting Japan, followed by the itinerary we researched before we left.

First of all the itinerary below was either very scheduled (e.g. Miyajima) or very lax, depending upon what we wanted to achieve in a specific place and how much time we were going to spend there. It’s best to do a bunch of research first marking down things that interest you, then go back over that research in detail while taking more thorough but relevant notes. I then used Google Maps to find out what was close to where and how much we could reasonably fit into one day. This helped us make an itinerary that gave us direction and flexibility to explore.

We found that the people we interacted with actually spoke more English than we expected. We didn’t have any interactions that we felt failed because of the language barrier, even with those that couldn’t speak any English. The Japanese for please, sorry, thank you and excuse me will get you a long way.

We also didn’t find the subway systems that hard to follow using a combination of google maps for suggested routes and then the station signage for navigation to the correct platforms. Suica card and Japan Rail pass will help you glide through station gates.

Even with a family to feed – hail Lawson – we found feeding ourselves and managing our trash a breeze. In some areas it seems every window is serving food, just don’t forget a lot of buildings house shops and restaurants on higher floors or in basements. Take a backpack and use convenience store recycling points which present on most street corners in urban areas.

That’s all for now but check back soon for a mini-series that covers our trip in more in detail. We thoroughly enjoyed our brief time there and cannot recommend it enough. I already miss the convenience, hospitality and beauty I found in the land of the rising sun.

Tokyo 19th May for 3 nights, check out 22nd and travel to Kyoto.

Sunday 20th: Tsukiji, Asakusa, Akihabara
Monday 21st: Kamakura, Enoshima

Stay Kyoto 22nd May for 4 nights, check out 26th and travel to Tokyo.

Tuesday 22nd: Gion
Wednesday 23rd: Sagano
Thursday 24th: Hiroshima, Miyajima
Friday 25th: Fukakusa, Osaka

Stay Tokyo 26th May for 3 nights, check out 29th and travel back early on 30th.

Saturday 26th: Odaiba
Sunday 27th: Hakone, Mt. Fuji
Monday 28th: Shibuya, Harajuku, Mitaka
Tuesday 29th: Minato, Shinjuku, Airport
Wednesday 30th: Haneda Airport

=======
ARRIVAL
=======
Saturday 19/05 (evening)
– train to hotel
– 7/11 (cash and food)
– explore local area

======
TOKYO
======

NORTH-EAST TOKYO
————————–
Tsukiji – fish market

Asakusa – Naka Misei (street food towards temple), Sensoji temple (oldest in Tokyo), Denpoin Dori (authentic street), Sumida Park (Riverside, near golden turd and SkyTree)

Akihabara – Radio Kaikan (action figs trading cards, 10 floors, next to station), gamers (LTD edition items), Mandrake (adult mags) and M’s Pop Life (adult store), ACOS (5th floor Akiba culture zone – cosplay costumes), Ichi Ni San (Beef Katsu), Gatchapon machines, Square-Enix Cafe, Yodabashi Camera (electronics), Chabara (authentic Japanese food goods)

Ueno – park

Harajuku – Deus Ex Machina Cafe (weird, food), Takeshita Street (tourist trap, check out the side-streets), Meiji Shrine (Yoyogi Park)

EAST TOKYO
—————-
Odaiba – Fun land island, onsen, good views from FujiTV and romantic meal at Hibachi (whiskey restaurant), etc.

WEST TOKYO
—————–
Roppongi – pie Holic (popup store); tsurutontan (giant udon bowls); roppongi hills and Tokyo midtown (luxury stores); Don Quixote;

Shibuya – Shibuya scramble, Tsutaya (Starbucks), Center Gai (shops, restaurants), Yoyogi Park, Niku Yokucho (adult), love hotel hill (adult)

Shimokitazawa (3 min train west of Shibuya), Captains Doughnuts (soy doughnuts and ice cream), Lemonade Lemonaca, Sweet Twist (raw milk gelato)

Shinjuku – Takashimaya (outside Shinjuku station) for KitKat store, Takeshita street for Daijo (biggest 100yen shop) or Saibu Pepe 100 yen shop (also biggest); Don Quixote, Uni Qlo, Isetan (discount and clothes shopping); Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (free 52nd floor observatory); Yodabashi Camera or Labi (many stores, electronics); Godzilla; Kabukicho (red light), Omoide Yokocho (tiny bars) and Golden Gai; VR Zone, SEGA (gaming)

Mitaka – Studio Ghibli Museum

CENTRAL TOKYO
———————-
Minato – Tokyo Tower, Atago Shrine
Chiyoda – Imperial Palace, Tokyo Station

KAMAKURA
—————-
6am train to from Tokyo, breakfast and maybe Hongaku-ji Temple or the museum of national treasures, take the electric railway towards Enoshima, stopping off at Yuigahama Station or Hase Station, Rose flowers at Museum of Literature, exit towards Kōtoku-in (giant Buddha), back towards Hase Station stopping at 7/11 or many restaurants for food, Hase-Dera and temples/museums around there, back on towards Enoshima from Hase Station, walk across to Enoshima island for Colors-Fest! (Art, music, dance and gardening) and Rose flowers at Samuel Cocking Garden, food, temple, shrine, caves and Sea Candle, boat back to shore and then enjoy beachfront till 9pm for Shonan monorail back towards Tokyo leaving from Enoshima transferring at Ofuna

======
KYOTO
======
CENTRAL & NORTH-EAST KYOTO
—————————————–
bullet train to find apartment, 7/11 (cash and food), Higashi Honganji Temple (street East of apt.), explore Gion (North-East)

WEST KYOTO
—————–
Sushi bar Naritaya (outside Arashiyama station), Monkey Park, Bamboo Groves, Tenryu-Ji Temple, Sagano Romantic Train

SOUTH-EAST KYOTO
————————–
Kiyomizudera (AVOID) and Higashiyama
(Viewing platform in temple and the streets)

OSAKA
———
Dotonburi, Denden town, Hozenji Yokocho (restaurants side street off Dotonburi), Shinsekai (old gritty Dotonburi near a tower)

HIROSHIMA & MIYAJIMA
——————————-
[Kyoto] > 3h > 4h Miyajima > 30m [Hiroshima] > 4H Hiroshima > Xh > [Kyoto]
Kyoto > Hiroshima Station (SHINKANSEN HIKARI 491 [13 @ 7:20-9:05] – JRPass)
Hiroshima Station > Miyajimaguchi Station (JR Sanyo Line for IWAKUNI [1 @ 9:15-9:43] – ¥410 single)
Miyajimaguchi > Miyajima (JR West Ferry [9:50-10:00] – JRPass)
Hamanocho
– Imaise Shrine
– Zonkoji
Miyajimacho (main street)
– Street food (Momiji Manju, Oysters)
– Stone Torii
– The Great Torii
– Oka of tower
– Umuto Shrine
– Toyokuni Shrine Pagoda
– Araebisu Shrine
Itsukushima Shrine (floating temple complex)
Daisho-in Temple (Shingon, or Esoteric Buddhist, temple)
Tahoto Pagoda
Daisyoin (9th century Buddhist temple)
Takimiya Shrine (waterfall, behind temple on pathway that runs parallel)
Momijidani Park (along Momiji Walking Path, past Shinomiya Shrine)
Miyajima Ropeway (cable car [9-17] – ¥1,800 return)
– Momijidani Station > Kayatani Station (every 2 mins [10 mins])
– Kayatani Station > Shishiiwa Station (every 15 mins [4 mins])
Mount Misen Summit (1h anti-clockwise route)
– Shishiiwa Observatory
– Misen Primeval Forest Monument
– Kiezu-no-Reikado Hall (Eternal Flame, Lover’s Sanctuary)
– Sankido Hall
– Kannondo Hall / Monjudo Hall
– Kuguri-iwa Rock
– Summit
– Kanman-iwa Rock
– Fun-iwa Rock
– Kaisen-iwa Rock
– Dainichido Hall
– Mizukake Jizo
– Shakujo-no-ume (Crosier Plum)
– Misenhondo Hall
– Gunmonjido Hall / Gyojado Hall
Itsukushimajinja Shrine > Iwasou (bus every 20 min [3 mins] – FREE)
Minamimachi > Omachi > Uonotanacho > Yamatomachi > Shinmachi > Minatomachi (backstreets past temples and shrines, leading to steps over a tunnel, back down to the ferry)
Miyajima > Miyajimaguchi Station (JR West Ferry every 15 mins [14-19] – JRPass)
Miyajimaguchi Station > Shin-Hakushima (JR Sanyo Line for HIRO/ITOZAKI/KURE/SHIRAICHI every 10-15 mins [25-30 mins] – ¥320)
7/11 or McDonalds (food)
Hiroshima Castle (Gion Shindo road)
Genbaku Dome-mae (Atomic Bomb Dome, under Aioi Dori bridge)
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum [8:30-18]
Peace Memorial Park (Cenotaph for A-Bomb Victims, Children’s Peace Memorial)
Shukkei-en Garden [9-5]
Okonomi-mura (food [11-02])
Hiroshima Station

==========
DEPARTURE
==========
Chill day, Food, Shopping, Airport

Always Look Twice

Feeling grateful today as there are only two weeks and four deadlines left before I finish university and head off to Japan. While the workload is high and time is ticking away I feel like I’m finally riding a wave of pressure that is manageable. Yesterday I took another look into the past as I dig up two old posts for the blog archive and realise how far I’ve come these past five years.

I used to struggle with analysing a brief and researching a topic, which I mention in the first post. Spending too much time taking notes on ancillary tasks, deliberating over possible interpretations and getting lost in the meaning of it all, going off on time-consuming tangents that would gain me little or no credit. These things used to be a big problem for me and I would often end up spending too much time up front, making the ‘perfect plan’ which I wouldn’t have enough time left to execute. Jump forward to today and I have an 1800 word assignment due on Monday, which I confidently deconstruct and begin working on within a single morning. A skill bourne out of necessity; having juggled academia, business and family on a never-ending seven day work week. The quality of my work has gotten better too as a result.

My ‘insane’ seven-day work week. The only way to raise two kids, run a business and graduate from university. Take that, Tim Ferris!

The second post seems timely too, as I had spent some time this week animating game characters for a group assignment. It was nice to remind myself of a time when I didn’t have a clue about animation and even just looking at the interface of a 3D computer graphics application would give me anxiety-inducing stress. Now I rather look forward to projects that give me the opportunity to put my skills to practice. I can train a PhD professor or a college freshman the key principles of animation and how to apply them to a 3D scene using Maya. When my son demands to watch one of Hayao Miyazaki‘s Studio Ghibli animations for the umpteenth time I can understand and truly appreciate the artistry and loving craft that goes into every hand-drawn frame.

A paper miniature of the Studio Ghibli Museum, which I'm excited to be visiting with my family at the end of this month!

When I started this journey back in 2013 I was 26 years old and felt I had none of the skills, and virtually no transferable experience, with which I could build my own business in the video games industry. Five years later – plus a ton of student loan debt – I’ve now developed a whole host of skills and that will serve me well for the rest of my professional life. Most of all, my life is as enriched by these skills as it’s enhanced by the opportunities they bring. I’ll be 31 years old this time next week and I now feel set to tackle challenges of the next thirty years of my life.

At 26 I felt defeated, standing at the bottom of a mountain I didn’t believe I could climb. Now I’m near the summit, scrambling determinedly like some kind of Terminator-like Laura Croft. Life’s weird like that, huh?

If I had the time to photoshop Laura Crofts face onto the T-1000 while he metal-hooks his way up a vertical rock face then this is where I would have put the picture.

Dissertation, Dissonance and Desertion

Last Thursdays scheduled post is delayed, as I was working overtime to finish up my individual project for university. Scheduled programming shall resume this week and a post for the individual project will come after the marks are released, sometime early June I expect. However, with that monstrously sized assignment out of the way I’ve only three more assignments before I’m done with my degree course. What a journey it’s been!

My mind and my desk still haven’t recovered from the chaos caused by my individual project.

These past few weeks my goal has been to bring back a lot of the old content that was posted to the blog, which was lost when I migrated from Drupal to WordPress back in the summer of 2016. Back then the blog was less ‘professional online presence’ and more ‘personal development log’. Accordingly, the blog posts have been more focused on my business and professional development.

Though, as I near the end of my course I’ve found myself thinking about the past and future and the overarching story of my journey. Through this contemplation, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to integrate the disparate parts of my past and present, so I can appreciate the value of my efforts and create a new plan for the future. One thing that I thought may help would be to slowly republish a lot of the old blog content as I mentioned so that I can gradually reflect on changes in my activities, knowledge and attitude over time.

It is with hope then, that achieving this small goal will help orientate me onto the best path moving forward. One that leads, but also encourages me, towards my original aim of building a better life for myself. An aim which now encompasses and is propelled by my beautiful family. Of who I am so grateful to have with me on this wild and wonderful ride through life.

My family know where to hide when a deadline is looming–outside!

As it stands I’ve less than four weeks left until the final assignment deadline; 17th May. With my partners support I know I can go hell for leather until then. I owe her so much for her patience and help with everything so far. She gave me the courage and the means to begin this journey, way back in 2013. It is then with great regret that I have to isolate myself when the work gets tough and the clock is against me. Every time I know it’s down to my bad planning and prioritisation, and every time it’s happened I’ve ended up making them suffer another semester’s worth of my cognitive dissonance.

I know I get better over time though. I work more effectively as I learn from my mistakes and make changes. I’m a stronger and more well-developed individual now, with significant life experiences with a paper trail to match. It’s just painful to have to have them experience that with me. This time, however, I wanted to ensure that there’s adequate recompense for their troubles…

No, not just a tasty savoury pancake!

On the 18th May 2018 – the day after my final assignment – my children, my partner and I will be boarding a plane to Japan. And oh boy, the fever is real!

We’ve been romancing the idea for a few years now and the circumstances and occasion (my graduation) just seem to fit. We decided this back in January after my startups first work contract was winding up and with about a month left before our daughter was due to be born. We’ve been researching every day since then, literally!

Hell, my son asks to watch videos of Japanese trams and trains every night before bed, and again every morning when he wakes up. My partner and I vicariously and ritualistically soak up the sights, sounds and tastes of the country every evening while we scoff our food, imagining we can taste the orgasmic deliciousness we’re witnessing on the screen. We are obsessed. Consumed!

Our friends and family are definitely sick of hearing us waffle on, every ten minutes, about where we’re going, what we’ll be doing and the ways in which Japan is different, fascinating and often superior. We couldn’t be more in love though. We just feel a need to shake off the cobwebs of another depressingly unreasonable year in the United Kingdom, spread our wings and experience the other.

It’s an invaluable opportunity for us to learn, grow and bond. For ourselves, our relationship and our future. The knowledge and reference material I hope to collect will be a wealthy resource for my game designs, at the very least! And did we mention we love food?

I’ll be publishing our itinerary here on the blog before we go. If you’re interested I’ll be dumping a ton of in-depth content from our trip once we return home. That is if we don’t turn into starry-eyed otaku, trainspotters or wandering Buddhist monks while we’re there.

‘Mummy, I Want A Pony!!!’

This assignment paper was written as part of my final year studies on the B.Sc. (Hons) Computer Game Design & Production course at Northumbria University. I have also included the marks and comments from the lecturer, Nicholas Lewis.

In this assignment, we were tasked with producing a task-based report that presented a proposal for a video game, adapted from one of three ideas. I chose the pony one.

The word count for each section was pretty tight, at 500 words per heading, so this one was especially difficult for me to cut down. I like to do what I would consider too much research, then fit as much of that in as relevant and possible. It paid off!


12038863 - CM0658 - Assigment 1 Task Based Report

Category Comment Mark Out Of
Game Idea A well-structured report. The game choice and justification present a good discussion, arguing for and against decisions, as well backing up assertions with effective referencing. 18 20
Legal Legal requirements are well presented, clear and justified. 17 20
Development The justification for software chosen is very concise, and bullet points a good range of features. The 2D software is particularly well researched, with each piece of software being well explained. 16 20
Data Security A very effective data security plan which outlines the legislation, vulnerabilities, and corresponding action to be taken. 19 20
NDA All incorrect clauses have been spotted. 10 10
Presentation 9 10
Overall: Overall, a very well presented and researched piece of work. 89 100

 

How Leveraging Business Models Levelled-Up the Video Games Industry

Today I would like to present the most recent assignment paper that I wrote as part of my final year studies on the B.Sc. (Hons) Computer Game Design & Production course at Northumbria University. I have also included the marks and comments from the lecturer, Dan Hodgson, in the hopes that any students who read this may be able to avoid the errors I made that were brought up in the feedback.

In this assignment, we were asked to write a paper, in the form of a position, a review or an investigation. This would be like an essay, but we were expected to write it to academic standards, similar to papers that are written for academic journals.

Since I had recently become enamoured with business models I chose to write an investigation on business models in the games industry.

An investigation paper is one which reports on some secondary research (drawing on other papers and sources to investigate some aspect). Typically this will ask a question (like the questions that those of you who have chosen an ‘investigative’ final year project are researching) but will not call for any primary research or experimentation in attempting to answer the question.


12038863 - CM0657 - Paper Assignment

Category Comment Mark Out Of
Presentation Clear structure, useful abstract. There are a few (not many) errors in grammar or spelling. The tone of the writing is mostly strongly academic, except it is at times a bit flamboyant and metaphoric – for example: “…eventually usurped these relatively ancient colossi and became the goliath of the entertainment industry…” 13 20
Referencing No issues with your referencing format. 10 10
Use of sources, examples and evidence Outstanding breadth and depth of sources. 17 20
Quality of discussion and conclusions This is outstanding work. There is depth and understanding, and a thorough grounding in literature and sources. This reads like a report on emergent business models in the games industry to businessmen in other industries, highlighting not just that actual practices, but the strengths and pitfalls involved. 47 50
Overall: Excellent work. In this final comment, I like to highlight the most obvious route for improvement. In your case, I would say that this is to pull back a bit on the metaphoric language. The reason for this is clarity, especially for readers for whom English is not their first language, which is often true for academic publications. 87 100

 

Why You Should Play Bloodborne, Dan!

Introduction

This is an e-mail I wrote over a course of correspondence with Dan Hodgson, lecturer on the Professional Game Design module at Northumbria University. We’d had a seminar where we focussed on horror games and he’d asked for feedback. It surprised me that during the lesson I was the only person to bring up Bloodborne and its horror elements. Especially in a room full of game design students, where every one of them views the Dark Souls trilogy as sacred.

With a friend recently converted to the cult after picking up and finishing the game last month when it was offered as part of the PlayStation Plus subscription, I thought it may be time to bring up my argument for the genius of Bloodborne’s horror.

The e-mail in its entirety follows…


Hi Dan;

Sorry for being late this week but thanks again for the lecture. I had great fun breaking down the horror elements of one of my, if not the top games. While I was fine doing a design exercise again in class I would have liked, much like everyone I would imagine, to have made an argument for the merits of the game title I played for the homework/research – Bloodborne (PS4, 2015).

It’s a phenomenal game that really takes the Soul’s series of games to new heights in regards to the design, ‘gameplay feel’, setting and themes. I was gutted to hear that no-one had really played this game, especially since it seems every game design student would unanimously attest to the brilliance of the genre-defining landmark title, Dark Souls. So, in addition to literally no feedback on the lesson (just kidding, see the post-script), I have chosen to write up my research notes into a short (warning, turned into almost 900 words) review of the elements that make Bloodborne such an A-tier recommendation when it comes to horror.

The Horror of Bloodborne

– Narrative & Plot
– Aesthetics
– Gameplay

“Prepare yourself for the worst. There are no humans left. They’re all flesh-hungry beasts, now.” – Eileen the Crow, assassin and fellow foreigner to the region

Plot:
The main characters of the overall story don’t understand the power of the ancient blood they found in the catacombs beneath the city of Yarnham, the setting. However, they use it anyway and it eventually causes – after a period of it seeming to manifest a miraculous healing – an eventual blood sickness in its recipients and the rise of beasts, with the most common form being lycanthropy. By this point, blood transfusions using the blood were so common and the establishments centred around controlling its use have become so powerful, that the city was lied to by those in power as to the cause of this sudden ‘Scourge of Beasts’.

“These things you hunt, they’re not beasts, but people” – Old Hunter Djura

Narrative:
At the start of the game we receive a blood transfusion and after some debatable hallucinations, we meet a man that tells us that our job is a Hunter of Beasts and that we must slay them to cleanse the city of the scourge. Though we may actually be playing the role of an antagonist, as the ‘beasts’ that attack you see you as – now a Hunter – as affiliated with the group that is seen by some of the citizens as betrayers of the people. The optional revelation of this betrayal through various dialogue and exploration choices can trigger a hard-hitting feeling of disgust with your own actions as a player. We self-righteously murdered the former towns-folk so we could consume their blood and use it ourselves to become stronger.

“Aren’t you a sick puppy? You drink the blood of half the town, and now this? And you talk of beasts! You hunters are the real killers” – Suspicious Beggar (the betrayer who kills the NPC’s you’ve saved)

Aesthetics:
Frighteningly menacing and variably morphed human-forms of werewolves and other horrors in the vein of Bram Stoker – H.P. Lovecraft cosmic horrors; grim and macabre enemy designs that push the borderline into body-horror. The architecture captures finely the eerie dusk views from Charles Bridge in Prague and grand buildings echo the Gothic wonder of the Barcelona Cathedral.

Levels are designed vertically, on top of each other to show the city rose to power and grew too fast for its own good. Its layout makes no logical sense; frustrating dead ends, traps and pitfalls. They’re filled with strange objects/props and monsters that suggest an otherworldly and misunderstood plague-like menace; alien statues; thousands of haphazardly stacked and chained coffins litter the streets; grotesquely misshapen denizens; infested half-beast citizens of varying levels of sanity see the outsider (our charter) as a horrific threat to attack on sight; Lovecraft inspired bosses (‘Great Ones’), in name and appearance (‘Amygdala’; ‘Celestial Emissary’; ‘Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos’; ‘Rom, the Vacuous Spider’).

“Back foul beast!”, “This city’s finished…”, “Cursed beast!” – various lines of the maddened inhabitants.

Sound design is unsettling with whispering, howling, crying (baby), moaning, heavy breathing, madness induced murmurs; mainly Foley sounds, no music in most areas. Where there is music it is subtly layered and used dynamically to keep your heart thumping during the most intense fight sequences. The original soundtrack is filled with slow, creeping strings that ramp and peak into a shocking crescendo. A definite recommendation!

Combat:
Enemies jump out, large beasts and creatures that move fast, keep up the pace, and oppress you. The rally mechanic – where you can regain a portion of your health if you counter-attack within a second or two – and lack of any shields encourages you to match and surpass the enemies pace to gain victory. This is how Bloodborne takes what it’s big brother Dark Souls seemed to have perfected and strips it down to the fundamentals before turning it to 11 in regards to action (i.e.: combat speed).

The player feels ever more powerful but still vulnerable the entire time; you still have to make split-second decisions while remaining thoughtful of your situation (health, stamina, positioning, etc.) the whole time; it brings out fear and panic through intensity and uncertainty

Losing a life means having to reclaim your resources (blood echoes) from, usually, the last enemy who just killed you! Forcing the player to fight an established threat ramps up the tension an order of magnitude, especially when you have to square off toe-to-toe with a cosmic abomination twice your size.

It harks back to earlier horror games I enjoyed and feared in equal measure. Alone in the Dark, Eternal Darkness, Resident Evil and Silent Hill – spring to mind. Games where you must use bravery and a dash of cunning to face down your fear and overcome adversity…not just run and hide in a cupboard until the horror passes.

Hopefully… “Tonight, Dan joins the Hunt.”
(720 DanPoints for you if you get the reference)

Regards,
Dan

P.S. Wish we had time to discuss more the different types of horror at the front of the lesson, which I think may have helped some people articulate their answers with a bit more common reference.

P.P.S.
Music fans MUST check out this chilling live version of the main theme:
Bloodborne – Suite (Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, 2016)

Architecture fans check out this article:
Understanding the Sublime Architecture of Bloodborne (Barzan, 2015)


post-post-post-scriptum?!

Additionally, Bloodborne fans should check out this recent article, which brought me back to the hunt…
Bloodborne and the Beast Within (McGeady, 2018)

New Look

The blog has a new look which ties in with the theme used on the main site, infinity27.com.

With this change I’m also going to be taking the opportunity to blog more frequently, starting with a series of articles where I publish or re-publish a bunch of my past work and writings. I’ll be trying to publish the most recent work every Tuesday and then old works each Thursday until I run out of material. These will be announced via social media channels but will be placed in the archive chronologically where it’s appropriate.

Had to take some time to focus on my studies and family as it’s my final year and we’ve just had our second child in February. It’s good to be back!