PhD Student | Game Designer / QA

PhD Blog

01/02/2018 GGJ, Teaching, Feedback and Florian Veltman.

This two-week block also contained teaching the Quality Assurance & User Experience tutorials. The students were introduced to a new product and have been taught how to search for open bugs, log new bugs, regress old bugs and write a basic test case. The intention is to provide all 4 groups of student equal opportunities to log bugs for their portfolios. Teaching is going well and I have given feedback to a few students about their portfolios and homework so far.


Global Game Jam 2018

Event Date: 26/01/2018 - 28/01/2018

IMG_20180126_173651_752.jpg

My friends Andrew Lindsay, Emma HoughtonJamie King, my partner Carrie France and I attended this year's Global Game Jam 2018 (GGJ). The theme was "Transmissions". Our natural development process began with idea generation using post-it notes and a large, blank wall. By giving ourselves a short, limited time-frame to generate ideas, a large variety of concepts are generated. The next step in this process is to collate post-its with similar themes and vibes. By doing this we expand upon the original points and begin shaping multiple product concepts. In this situation we had around 4 distinct game products on the wall. From here we evaluate each product based on how achievable they will be to create within the time frame, how enthusiastic we are to create said product, and what market appeal the product may have.

IMG_20180126_204511.jpg

After the evaluation of the idea has taken place the entire team fill a folder with reference images for visual style, gameplay and similar inspiring products. After deciding on a visual style we create a list of the mechanics, assets and text required to create a minimum viable product (MVP). Discerning what is required for an MVP is essential during game jams as the intention is to have a playable product by the end of the 48 hours. Polishing and expanding the product can be done outwith the allocated GGJ time. Due to having worked with the team before and having a knowledge of our capabilities, strengths and workflows allowed for us to create a larger scale environment and higher number of objects.

AssetList.PNG
AssetList2.PNG

The asset lists above display both the filler objects needed for the game world to appear 'alive' (not displaying the entire list) alongside the "Memory Objects" which were key assets required to tell the game's story. After detailing the work required and assigning it to the correct team member, we began work on creating our assets. This year Andrew was working in engine working on gameplay and lighting. Emma worked in 3D and level design. Jamie worked in 3D. Carrie created the 2D memories and textures. I worked in 3D, audio, collision and writing the game script. Due to the nature of our previous development experience (Game Designer and Artists) we used Google Drive to store assets and backup builds to. Although this is not ideal, Google Drive allows you to roll back files to previous versions due to the built in version control, thus using it is better than nothing! It is essential however to establish a file structure before development that is easily readable and usable by the team; searching for an asset left in the wrong folder can waste precious time!

Our previous titles from GGJ revolved around the player navigating a confined room environment, this year we decided to deviate from the norm and create a linear narrative experience in what appears to be a vast open environment. The first image of the gallery above depicts the environmental scale whereas the second image shows the linear path the player must progress through to complete the story. The player is guided by a manually created collision track that allows a certain degree of exploration whilst naturally guiding the player through the linear experience (Image 3).

HighresScreenshot00011 (1).png

Lighting, post-processing and scene dressing went through multiple iterations for each location within the game to help capture the tone of the narrative. The story itself was also evaluated, re-written and re-evaluated as much as time would allow for. The use of the mobile phone to receive story through text messages provides the player with some basic backstory and personal notes of the character, but allow the user to fill in the gaps and attempt to piece together the narrative by themselves. We wanted the game to tell a specific story, but at the same time allow each user's experience to be unique.

C-XkXuwXkAIm0yo.jpg

The intention is to justify the academic relevance of No Response in regards to my PhD. The game will undergo multiple stages of evaluation. Currently it is being evaluated during my Quality Assurance & User Experience tutorials by a group of 80 students to provide bug reports and first-pass feedback on the game. This will then be followed up with a few smaller focus groups to discuss the design, visuals, narrative and whether or not the key message was understood. The third method of evaluation will be feedback gained from taking the game to a play-party setting on the 20th February 2018 hosted by IGDA. These evaluative techniques will then feed into the writing of a short paper on the creation of a Serious Game within a game jam setting. All documentation and evaluation on No Response is an ongoing effort.

More images of the product can be found in the No Response page of my portfolio.


Florian Veltman Talk

Event Date: 25/01/2018

https_%2F%2Fcdn.evbuc.com%2Fimages%2F39723288%2F88902722103%2F1%2Foriginal.png

Abertay hosted a platform talk from Florian Veltman. It was extremely interesting to listen to the approach Veltman takes to game design, especially considering he came from an illustrative background. Veltman's portfolio consisted of games developed as either freelance work or produced in a game jam setting - not unlike my own works. What intrigued me was how Veltman had a preference to linear, tailored narrative experiences and stated that dialogue options can water down the player experience. This helped influence the set narrative of No Response as last year we developed Causeway - a game all about narrative choice. Drawing parallels between narrative structure of games and film is a typical conclusion for designers but Veltman likened game story more to that of a book - the player is in control of the pacing. They can experience the story whenever they wish, at whatever pace suits them. The final point stressed was that A-B testing of features is crucial in the decision making process for designers.


18/01/2018 Game Jams, Teaching and Project Update

Although things have been quiet on the blog since the festive period, I have still remained active on my PhD and working on related projects.

Firstly, I have been tidying up work done so far to ensure that my workflow does not get too messy. I have reformatted my Evernote system so that quotations for the Thesis can be easily located, as well as highlighting the most relevant. Every text that I have dissected so far has now also been imported into RefWorks and formatted to ensure that upon writing my thesis the bibliography will populate correctly.

Using Pebblepad I have also started and updated my Professional Development Portfolio (PDP) so as to track all events, projects and learnings relevant to my development as a researcher. This portfolio will assist with the delivery of my Viva Voce when defending my research.


Games Are For Everyone

Event Date: 29/11/2017

https_%2F%2Fcdn.evbuc.com%2Fimages%2F34722727%2F135503210974%2F1%2Foriginal.jpg

Myself, Carrie France, Andrew Lindsay and Emma Houghton traveled to Edinburgh to attend the "GamesAreForEveryone" indie showcase hosted by "We Throw Switches". I attended the showcase to network with other local independent developers and gain some inspiration from the innovative, arcade-like experiences on display. Although the experiences being showcased would not lend themselves to being adapted in an educational setting, the simple control schemes and use of communal (multiplayer) elements tended to engage the users more in these products.


SICSA Funding

Narrative Play Design Project - Funding Application

sicsa-logo.png

As a follow up to the first part of the Narrative Play Design Project I have applied for a funding bursary from SICSA to attend the second aspect of the project. This follow-up to the first meet up in Glasgow will be held in Loch Insh and be hosted by an old peer of mine Jonny Freshwater. The event itself will consist of a few days of further developing our original concepts, but also include team building outdoor exercises. Although there have been a few hitches with the funding application so far, I am hoping funding will be secured and that the event will take place (as it is reliant on industry sponsorship).


Endemol Shine

Games Researcher: Lego Live Stage Production - Application

logo4.jpg

An interesting opportunity arose for a Games Researcher to assist EnemolShine in hosting a Lego Live event in New York. The event requested someone with a working knowledge of games such as Minecraft and Lego Worlds to join their team in developing courses and event maps for a stage production in New York. Unfortunately due to the lateness of receiving the request the position was filled by the time my application had been processed but the events organizer was interested in my studies and requested that the next time I am in London that we should meet up for coffee. They also are keeping me on record for potential future events. Although this application was unsuccessful, the process has helped build my industry network.


Serious Game Jam

Event Date: 10/01/2018 - 12/01/2018

A while back I signed up for the 4th Abertay Serious Game Jam. The purpose of the Serious Game Jam was to develop a game application for highschoolers/ early university students teaching them about Chemistry. The activity was hosted at Abertay University and run by Iain Donald, Kevin Jones and Phillip Smy. I worked with a small team of undergraduates to create a game experience of the experiment "Reduction Using Metal Hydrides". Due to this event being some of my teammates first game jam, I decided to take a back seat and allow them to learn the jam process and build skills in their respective disciplines. On occasion I helped steer conversation and development when the team strayed too far from productivity or were coming up with ideas outwith a work-able scope. By the end of the jam we had a minimum viable product for the first mini-game experiment, all the art assets and a design document detailing how the project would be taken further in future.


Teaching

Quality Assurance & User Experience

As of Tuesday 16th January, both Alice Bowman and myself have become teaching assistants for Dr Iain Donald's module "Quality Assurance & User Experience". We take 4 tutorial classes a week and are teaching a total of 80 Games Design & Production Management students. In this module the students will learn the QA process and actively test multiple projects - of varying scope - throughout the year. Our first week of classes has gone surprisingly well. Generally, I would say that I am not a very confident public speaker, but I feel that my delivery of the first 2 classes went without a hitch. The first session has comprised of getting the students to play the product and perform some basic agile testing. This is to get the students used to the general 'game feel' and gain a better understanding of the product that they will be providing further structured testing on.


Potential Narrative Project

Stormcloud Games - Frank Arnot

I was recently contacted by Frank Arnot of Stormcloud Games about the potential to provide assistance on a narrative-based game project. I believe that if development goes forward, that it would be of great benefit to my professional portfolio to work with Frank. Not only would the work provide further experience of narrative development, but would be a chance to enhance my network within the games industry. I will hopefully hear further information on the project in this coming month.


29/11/2017 Beginning Prototyping and Fortnightly Blog Updates

After speaking with Mona about the PhD process, today I decided that it would be best to begin writing a fortnightly blog with a summary of what I have been up to so far. This will be useful to help me keep track of my professional development as well as give anyone viewing my webpage an idea of my development process, thoughts and the PhD lifestyle in general. I will be writing these post in an informal style to better communicate my feelings at the time of writing.

Since my last blog excerpt things have been progressing quite rapidly. After weeks of just pure information gathering and 'coding' I decided that it would be best to do what I enjoy most... making stuff. I found that it is quite easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of reading. One research paper will send you to another, and another, and soon enough you end up in an area that's far from where you began. Although this process is great fun, it can also be quite daunting. The wealth of information out there is both a blessing and a curse.

I intend to develop multiple prototypes in an effort to help support teenage cancer patients with the emotional, mental and physical struggles that arise when living with cancer. These prototypes will focus on separate ways to support the user with the potential for the best aspects to be used in developing one final videogame artifact.


Not Alone

(Title Pending)

Chatbot1.PNG

To begin the development aspect of this PhD, I started working on a game concept in Twine for a pre-scripted messenger game similar to the Lifeline series. This game would act as a notification system to remind the user to take any medications at specific times of the day in a more 'human' way. The user would interact with a 'chatbot' that would attempt to relay useful information based on the player's responses. These responses could then be recorded to allow the user to gain an understanding of their overall mood and attitude towards medication.

Chatbot2.PNG

Although this prototype remains in its infancy as of current, I believe that the concept still has potential for further exploration. To carry this concept on further I will be writing a first draft of a script and potential responses for the 'chatbot' based on user input. The intention was to create an application that acts as a friend who is going through a similar situation to the user. I fear however that this application could trigger the opposite effect, and after a while of engaging with the app could cause the user to feel even more isolated than before using it.


With You

(Title Pending)

The second prototype I have been working on is a 3D exploration game depicting the stories of multiple cancer patients on the ward. The game will use the ward as the 'Hub World' where the player can travel to different character's memories and see how living with cancer effected their day-to-day lives. This game will draw inspiration from documentaries in terms of structure and styling. The prototype is in early stages at current but I will detail the process so far:

Firstly, I started experimenting with 'whiteboxing' the ward environment using Unreal geometry and simple models exported from Maya.

After creating a basic whitebox to get an idea of the scale and contents of the environment, I then low-poly modeled the contents of the room in Maya and replaced the whitebox contents.

As stated earlier, I wanted to use the ward scene as a hub for transporting the player to other scenes. I decided that the next scene I would create was the player character's bedroom. Due to being early in the development cycle I decided to attempt creating an environment in a slightly different style. I dropped the polycount slightly and adopted a slightly more colourful palette.

Recently I have been working on adding the player controller, basic scene/ map swapping and an object "pick-up and interact" system. This has been my first proper experience learning Blueprint in Unreal Engine 4, as my prior visual scripting knowledge came from using Kismet in UDK. I have also made some visual tweaks to the bedroom scene including adding "Godrays" and editing the lighting slightly.


Narrative Play Design Project

Event Date: 24/11/2017

I received my workstation (MSI Stealth Pro). Unboxing the laptop felt like Christmas. Carefully unwrapping and laying the laptop out ready to power it on... only to find a massive line of dead pixels running down the center of the screen!

Thankfully after a quick chat with the finance department a replacement was ordered, which arrived in time for the Narrative Play Design Project hosted in Glasgow.

Myself, Dr Iain Donald, Robyn McMillan and Alice Bowman traveled down to Glasgow Caledonian University on the 24th November to meet with narrative game makers and others working in theater and screenplay writing. The event began with talks from educators, those in theater production and a guest talk from Jon McKellan of NoCode. We then split into small teams to develop small narrative-based game concepts and prototypes. I was also pleased to meet up with old course-mates Andrew Reid and Michael Saiger who had helped organise the event.

My team's prototype was a comical VR prototype set in an office where the player had to discover who had eaten their lunch by exploring the environment and rummaging through their colleagues possessions and personal emails. The idea was to take the typical office quarrels and controversies and exaggerate them. During the 2 hours of coming up with the games concept I quickly threw together a white-box environment for what the game may look like if we get time to take the idea further.


Although the start of this PhD process has been busy, I must admit I have felt somewhat directionless. The scope of the research project is so large and vague that it has been difficult to figure out where I wish to take it. I hope that with further time and development of prototypes and concepts that my research question will clarify itself more. I am grateful to have gained the opportunity to once more delve into the creative aspect of games development as my 2 years in QA, although useful and insightful, were not where I saw myself in the long term. 

Alexander TarvetComment
12/10/2017 Supervisor Meeting and Project Requirements

After meeting with my supervisors today (Robin Sloan and Euan Dempster) the methodology for carrying out my PhD has been altered slightly although the process will remain the same. The project will still revolve around the creation of game artefacts but the methodology shall focus on the iterative design on one or more prototypes; based on user feedback and the implementation of game design theory. This creation and evaluation of game artefacts - through post mortem - will underpin the research and literature.

Create -> Evaluate -> Reflect -> Refine

My focus for the next two weeks of work is to read, collate, find key words and code data from a mixture of books and journals to help form my literature review. Alongside these literature studies I intend to dedicate at least one day a week on improving my practical abilities in Unreal Engine 4 to assist with the creation of prototypes later in this studentship.

Another thing of note is that although there are 3 PhD studentships the collaboration may not involve working together on practical projects, but may diverge more into information and knowledge sharing. There may be some practical project collaboration later, but it appears that we will all be working on a wide range of separate prototype videogames - at least in the early stages. There is no requirement for developing one (or more) polished video games by the end of this studentship.

Alexander TarvetComment
04/10/2017 PhD Studentship - Interactive Storytelling to Support Cancer Patients.
2eb020e3-5c6c-4370-a8ec-f5905a4477a9-Colour+Abertay+Uni+Logo.png

Today marked my first day at Abertay University as a PhD Student in Interactive Storytelling to Support Cancer Patients. I have been granted the amazing opportunity to work alongside two other talented designers - Alice Bowman and Robyn McMillan - on a collaborative interactive game with MacMillan Cancer Support to teach the public about different cancers, treatment options and side effects. Although, the details of what will be required or expected from this "Serious Game"/ series of serious games is yet to be defined. Kindly funded by Northwood Charitable Trust.

Considering this is our first week of study, the majority of work that will be undertaken will consist of compiling and analysing literature as well as gaining an understanding our core strengths and viewing portfolios of previous works. I have also opted to attend a selection of undergraduate classes as a 'refresher' course to help strengthen my practical skills in preparation for the collaborative project as well as delivering lectures when required.

I was pleased to recently discover that my supervisors during my studentship will be Robin Sloan and Euan Dempster. Robin provided supervision during my Honours year of Game Design & Production Management when developing Forget-Me-Knot and writing my dissertation. Next Wednesday (11/10/17) a meeting will be hosted with the PhD students, supervisors and sponsors to clearly define the requirements and expectations from the collaborative project(s).

I will attach a link to this blog post with the Research Proposal I submitted to gain entry to this studentship. The proposal was a rough approximation of the field of research and study that I intend to undertake but this will likely evolve as time goes on.

Research Proposal: Click Here!

Alexander TarvetComment