‘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)

VR & Games in Education

A fortnight ago I got to spend time teaching two groups at Gateshead College. I had arranged with the staff an opportunity to present a lesson on computer and video games, VR and how they relate, which included activities and talks with their Level 2 Games students. The key objective behind the session was to provide the students with insights and perspectives on an emerging technology and how that relates to their current studies and future career options.

I arrived at the idea, of providing a service to education institutions, after noticing that there is a significant difference in the current usage and direction of VR development against the expectations and experience of the general public. It seems as though the enthusiasm and excitement of VR among developers – those in the realm of video and computer games specifically – is off kilter with the reality that most people in the street have experienced or imagined. This was no more evident to myself than when I held a public VR demo last month. During that time I interacted with a lot of people, some of whom had a very jaded or fanciful impressions of what the new wave of VR tech was capable of, before trying an experience for themselves on a high-end Oculus Rift setup.

So how is educating students on games courses going to help? Surely they are already in the know, right?

Not exactly as you may expect. Being a student myself I simply looked to my peers, who have been watching VR, have even tried it, own it or even develop for it themselves. It was slightly surprising to find that even the future developers of VR content sometimes have little familiarity with the applications, possibilities and limitations of the tech, beyond the idea of it replacing traditional displays as an output device.


Since I had gained knowledge of – and experience developing for – VR, I decided to give the students a non-technical crash course in the subject. Something that wasn’t going to be patronisingly basic, but also something that was technically and verbally orientated to their level of comprehension. My aim was to get them to start thinking more broadly about the potential of what is essentially a new medium through which to experience, learn and play. I want to try and use this approach to begin bridging the gap of expectation and reality that I had witnessed. After all, the students are making their first steps at crossing that bridge, between the public and industry.

I arrived early to setup and test my equipment, which proved crucial as I had to work with the staff to overcome some technical difficulties that would have ruined the presentation I had planned. These moments of worry were trivial however, as by arriving early and coming prepared I even had time for some speaking exercises after working around the issues.

I kept the talk dynamic and alive by constantly asking the students to explain what they know about the different aspects of VR, then challenging their expectations and explaining away any misconceptions around where the tech is currently at. It was great to have a snappy and literate conversation and I found that as the students became more comfortable and interested, that they would frequently ask questions and start exploring their own ideas. This was a great outcome, as the students started explaining things to each other, reinforcing their own knowledge while expanding that of their peers.

I hadn’t any formal training in teaching to a class, so I had prepared for the event by seeking advice from experienced tutors I knew as well as reading around the matter. For instance, to keep the students tuned in I followed some advice on varying the activities every 7-10 minutes, encouraging the students to stay active with group activities that aided the transition between segments of my presentation. This worked really well and I noticed that I managed to keep most of the class engaged at almost every point. However, getting a class to shout out suggestions didn’t work quite as well when the vibe in the room was more conservative or there was a single dominant voice. This is something I look to address in my approach in future but overall was acceptable in this first attempt.

The most successful activity I felt, was the inclusion of the Marshmallow Challenge, created by Tom Wujec. I decided to try and inspire the students to improve their attitude towards their study of games and VR, by adopting a leaner, iterative approach towards the development of their personal and academic projects. My reasoning behind this was to show the students that they should not be afraid to fail, that they should test their assumptions early and be ready to adapt their plan to overcome any difficulties they face. At the same time I wanted them to experience working together in unfamiliar teams, to a tight deadline with shifting expectations and sometimes less than optimal tools. This would hopefully show them that failure is not the end but simply a stepping stone on the route to a true and worthwhile success.

I tied the presentation up by reflecting on how I went from where they are now to where I am today. I made sure to provide the students with a step-by-step approach on how to progress and backed it up with inspiring examples of success, stories of dedicated people such as Yang Bing. An open Q&A to round off the lesson was a chance for me to clear up any burning questions and became the chance for me to really enthuse students with that can-do feeling that we all need to keep us moving forward in life.


Feedback on the day was positive, from the students and the staff. I feel I have learned just as much as the students and it was great to see a younger generation that can be just as, if not more, effervescent and imaginative as those I see working in the VR industry today.

Gateshead College games department have invited me back for more sessions with their students, as well as involving me with the deployment of a live brief that includes feedback and ongoing support for their higher education level students.

This is an exciting time and I am looking at how I can expand this service into more institutions across the region. I have created a page dedicated to promoting this service, which I call VR for Education.