Duncan has been playing with the new retro console ‘GameGadget’. He says it’s great fun playing old Megadrive games in a handheld format, but he is especially looking forward to seeing what new games can be created for the device. If you are interested in a final year project in this area, please send him your ideas via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
On Monday 5th of March Tom Feltwell, one of our MSc by Research students was invited over to Crytek Nottingham by Principal Programmer Mark Tully, to give a presentation about his research in the area of game data analysis. Tom described his arrival at the Nottingham office: “With the sun shining I took the train over to Nottingham from Lincoln and was welcomed into the concrete and glass behemoth that is the Crytek Nottingham office. Signing an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) before entering the inner sanctum, I was able to see all of the up and coming delights that are being worked on by the 100+ strong team!”
Tom works full time within the School of Computer Science and is pursuing a Masters by Research in Automatic Analysis of Spatial User-Generated Data in Games part time. He is working to analyse game data captured from the 2007 shooter Red Orchestra: Ost Front 41-45. The data is collected from play sessions taking place at the University (Fridays, 4.00pm Comp Lab B) and doing some automated analysis to isolate the effects that changes have on game play. Full details about his research will be published in his paper he is submitting to GAMEON 2012.
Tom says: “Initially I was told I would be presenting to the programming team, numbering 20 or so. As the time got closer to 1:30pm, more and more people turned up, until I was faced with a nerve racking sea of industry professionals! Thankfully the talk was really well received and the questions weren’t too taxing. I had a good chat to various team members who had a particular interest in the area, and in some cases were actively working on data analysis of Crytek titles. To top the day off I was treated to a full tour of the office!
It was a real pleasure to get feedback about my work from industry professionals, and I had a fantastic time. I look forward to further collaboration between the University of Lincoln and Crytek Nottingham!”
Yesterday I was asked to do a 20 minute presentation for our regular research seminars. I thought I’ve have a bit of fun with it, so I modernified a presentation I gave at FROG 2009 in Vienna about the value of mischief in games.
I think context is important, so you have to remember that this was given in the Vienna City Hall, in a wood panelled ballroom with chandeliers and giant tapestries of eagles. Mine was the first presentation after one given by the Austrian minister of culture at the very beginning of the conference.
The details of the paper are here:
Ben Kirman, Conor Linehan and Shaun Lawson (2010) On the Edge of Good Taste: Playful Misconduct and Mischief in Online Games, chapter in “Exploring the Edges of Gaming” Editors: Konstantin Mitgutsch, Christoph Klimmt, Herbert Rosenstingl. Vienna, Austria (ISBN 978-3-7003-1758-6, book here, Author’s PDF version download here)
T’other week I was fortunate enough to attend the DiGRA conference with our Frebeluxian PhD student, Oliver. This is the 2-yearly conference of the DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association). I’ve fancied going for years, but combinations of timing and expense have made it difficult. This year I was fortunate enough to have two things accepted into the conference, and the faculty challenge fund award to send me to the Netherlands to participate.
My paper presentation was called “Social Architecture and the Emergence of Power Laws in Online Social Games“. This is a central part of my PhD thesis that argues that the social effects of game design decisions are measurable using a branch of graph theory called SNA (Social Network Analysis). It is more exciting than it sounds (really!), since it demonstrates social activity in games follows a power law. This means that about 10% of players are responsible for over 50% of the social interactions in games. This is a huge deal since games are usually designed (and studied) based on the way that 10% behave. My argument is that the quiet 90% are much more interesting and important.
The second event was a panel and keynote. This was the result of an evening’s discussion with José Zagal, during a conference in Finland, where we bemoaned the general lack of board game related work in game studies (with exceptions!). We decided to do something about it, and when the DiGRA deadline rolled around, we submitted an idea for a panel discussion between famous tabletop game designers. It was accepted, so then we had to pull out all the stops to make the best event we could.
We were ridiculously fortunate to have an amazing group of people accept our invitation to appear on the panel. The discussion itself was to a completely packed audience, and was rich and varied, talking about narrative and the nature of experience, ethics and aesthetics. We are assured there is a video of it which we will share when we can.
It included Chris Bateman, who designed several pen-and-paper RPGs, co-wrote the inspirational text book 21st Century Game Design and worked on many digital games including Discworld Noir, Barbie Horse Adventure, GhostMaster and Motorstorm Apocalypse.
James Wallis (from Spaaace) designed best-selling story games Once upon a Time and Baron Munchausen, and published countless fantastic pen-and-paper RPGs including Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Violence: The Game of Egregious and Repulsive Bloodshed.
Douglas Wilson, from the Copenhagen Game Collective, studies folk games and the possibilities of the physical spaces between rules and cheating. His games, including B.U.T.T.O.N. and J.S. Joust are a joyous mix of play, mischief and violence.
Armand Serveas, from the Stichting Spelgroep Phoenix represented the local games community in the Netherlands, who are active in evangelising games as a hobby, and in addition translating games for the Dutch language.
Finally, we had Reiner Knizia. If the name is not familiar to you, it should be. He is simply the most successful game designer in history, having designed and published well over 500 titles in his career. Games like Lord of the Rings, Heck Meck, Lost Cities and Through the Desert have won countless awards and entertained millions of players all over the world.
The panel was preceded by a superb keynote by Reiner, who kindly shared his ethos of game design in a charming and funny way. He also kindly brought along several hundred copies of his classic dice game Heck Meck, which he gave away free to everyone at the conference.
The talk covered a range of topics about game design based on his oeuvre. He discussed how the desire to “fix” Monopoly lead to Through the Desert, and how Heck Meck was his attempt to create a better, more social version of Yahtzee for mass appeal. He also talked about convergence and the success of Wer War’s? as a digital cooperative family board game.
One of the most valuable insights for me was into his involvement with the recent LEGO board games. As he described it, you get to buy another Lego kit and basically get the game for free. Since Lego intrinsically allows the players to rebuild the model, the inclusion of a modifiable die purposely provokes the Lego player to break his rules and come up with their own games.
Overall DiGRA was an experience to say the least – the organisers tried to capture the essence of play and bring it into the dry and sometimes boring conference experience, and at least for me, they succeeded. I was quite overwhelmed on the first day since I gave my paper presentation and had to organise the panel and introduce Reiner’s keynote, but once I settled into it I had an absolute blast. The whole event was peppered with joy. I got to play a ton of games I had wanted to try for a while, including B.U.T.T.O.N., J.S. Joust, Space Hulk: Death Angel and Nidhogg. I also discovered a bunch of exciting new games that I might not have seen otherwise.
Other standout moments for the conference were the keynotes from Bernie DeKoven, author of the seminal The Well Played Game, and the Skype keynote from Antanas Mockus Šivickas. This in particular was a truly inspirational keynote, from a man that was mayor of Bogotá and used playful means to create social change. From dressing in spandex as “Super Citizen”, to hiring hundreds of mime artists to poke fun at traffic violations, he really embodies the power of a playful nature.
I’ll finish with some random photos of games played during DiGRA, but the one thing you must watch first is the video of the opening party. I was going to write about it at length, but it was just such an odd thing for an academic conference that you probably had to be there. It somehow included an intimate set with scratch legend Kid Koala, Dutch pro-wrestling, Chicken races and pillow fights…