Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Being There: An Interactive Performance for Lyst Summit

A couple of weekends ago I flew to Copenhagen to take part in Lyst Summit, a symposium and game jam about love, sex and romance in video games. During the event roughly forty creatives from disciplines inside and outside games collaborated to make experimental games and playful experiences.

I teamed up with Maya Magnat, a performance artist from Tel Aviv, and Anders Børup, a sound designer from Copenhagen, to create Being There - an audio-led role-play for two people.

About Being There


Being There is played by two participants, who each take a headset loaded with an audio track. The two participants start the audio at the same time, and have to follow the actions described to them by the audio. The two tracks start similar, but over time the perspective offered by the two narrators changes. One participant’s view of the events will become increasingly different to the other’s.

The story that participants act out is the story of a relationship from first date to break-up.

If you want to try the prototype version we made during Lyst, the mp3 files are below for you to download and try out. And below them, a bit of an explanation and discussion of the process, if you don’t mind the magic being spoiled!

You will need to hug, hold hands, and have your phone on you to take a photo with.

Download: Participant A
Download: Participant B

The voices are provided by myself, and by writer Jordan Erica Webber.



Monday, 5 June 2017

How Sonic the Hedgehog Uses Colour

There’s a lot of excellent use of colour in the very first Sonic the Hedgehog game on Sega Mega Drive.

Visual readability has been a personal bugbear throughout my time in video games. There’s been some cases where I’ve been really happy with the choices I’ve made, and others where I feel I could have done much better. From my point of view, visual design is only partly about making things look pretty. It is primarily about conveying information that the player needs in order to interact.

Where are the key objects in the scene? What do they do? What can I interact with? How can I interact with it? What is my goal? What should I aim to avoid? Once those questions have been answered, then the developer is free to answer the question “how should I feel about this scene?”


The original Sonic the Hedgehog is visually outstanding not just because it presents landscapes that feel rich, vivid and fleshed out, but also because it has a very strong grasp on delivering key information. I’ve always admired, for example, the fact that Sonic when rolling is the exact same shape as his hit-box

Sonic the Hedgehog conveys its information not just through the shape and form of its visual elements, but also by its use of colour. That’s what makes it an exciting example I want to explore in this article.

Monday, 29 May 2017

On What Games Are

My brother asked me a very interesting question last time I came to visit. He’s an author, and we were talking about why we do what we do.

“If you had to pick two games to demonstrate - to someone who’d never seen video games before - what games are to you, what would they be?”

Originally he asked me to do it in one game, but I couldn't describe the entire medium in one example. Trying to do it in two was much more interesting. You can't describe an entire medium in two examples, but the process of trying to do so is very telling about your perspective as a developer.

I’m going to talk about the two games I chose, but this piece is only partly about the games and why I chose them. It’s also about why the question is interesting in the first place. Eventually it’s a question about Ian Bogost and whether or not games can tell stories.

But I digress.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Building a Glitchable Mega Drive Emulator

This is a little project I did back last summer, to explore glitching games. I've long been inspired by speedrunning, and glitches like the Missingno glitch in Pokémon Red and Blue.

I love being able to pull apart the game and see how they work, an getting an insight into what the data looks like from the perspective of the machine. For example, the Missingno glitch shows us what happens when the GameBoy interprets the player's name as the parameters of a Pokémon.

I also think there's a certain beauty to seeing a game not as a finished work but as a raw material - a starting point to be reinterpreted. Speedrunning gives us a new objective, and can turn a game of exploration into a deep exercise in resource management. Changing the control system for Sonic 2 allowed me to turn a game about dexterity into a game about teamwork.

With this project I worked on modifying GenesisPlus, an open source Sega Mega Drive emulator for Mac, which is bundled as part of OpenEmu. I put in a system of scripting interactions with the console's memory. This means it can write new values into memory on certain triggers. These include a time period passing, a button being pressed, or another value in memory changing.

I then worked on turning this into something that would be fun to play in its own right. I added networking features so that players playing separate copies of the game can interact with each other, using glitching to fuel a competitive challenge.

The video below talks about how I created this, how it works, the thought process I went to, and the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 variant that emerged as a result. I hope you enjoy watching!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Human in the Machine

ELIZA was the world’s first digital psychotherapist. Created from 1964 to 1966, long before Siri and Cortana, long even before the first commerical videogames, ELIZA was an AI that had conversations with its users.

A user, communicating with ELIZA through a terminal, would be asked a question about themselves, and ELIZA would listen, prompting the user with questions.

Except ELIZA had no idea what was going on. ELIZA only created the illusion of understanding, using pattern-matching and substitution to parrot the own user’s words in the the form of a question.


ELIZA’s conversational ability grew over time - not through machine learning, but through users adding new rules and behaviours to her script. She was an illusion, non-sentient and entirely artificial. Nevertheless, users were reported as having meaningful conversations with her. ELIZA talked them through their problems. They found the experience comforting, often revealing to themselves inner feelings they hadn’t acknowledged.

Joseph Weizenbaum, the creator of the program, was dismissive of this response. He had created ELIZA as a parody of artificial intelligence, to demonstrate the superficiality of communication between man and machine. He felt the popular response was merely a result of humanity’s tendency to anthropomorphise the world around them.

Regardless of what was really going on under the hood, users had a meaningful human experience with ELIZA. Whether or not the machine was actually intelligent is not important. Even whether or not users actually believed that the device was intelligent is, arguably, of little consequence.

For the end user, their emotional response was the entirety of the experience. The banality of the program only mattered if believing it to be artificial affected that response.

Maybe it was enough to simply play along with the artifice.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Incredible Playable Show comes to Screenshake Antwerp

This Saturday I'll be bringing The Incredible Playable Show to the Screenshake 2017 festival in Antwerp, Belgium.

The show takes place at at 6pm at Het Bos, Ankerrui 5-7, 2000 Antwerp - taking over the Local Multiplayer Hall for one final digital extravaganza before the evening's Screenshake Party.


Tickets are available from www.screenshake.be

Come along and prepare to be part of an incredible playable experience you will not forget!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Mega Cooperator - a Teamwork-Fuelled Custom Controller

The Mega Cooperator is a custom controller I built for Sega Mega Drive consoles. It plugs into the console's controller port and mimics the actions of four buttons. One button is randomly assigned to each of the four players. Every 30 seconds the actions switch around, so players need to communicate to figure out who has what, and to operate the game.

I’ve been excited for a long time about re-interpreting classic games in new ways, seeing them as a canvas to be explored rather than as finished products. I’ve also been inspired by the amount of teamwork that was present in Codex Bash.

By adapting the 4-button custom controller I made for that game, I found I could take existing single-player games and turn them into comedic teamwork experiences.


Sunday, 27 November 2016

Welcome to the Incredible Playable Show!

Current show dates for The Incredible Playable Show are listed on the show website

Follow The Incredible Playable Show on Facebook for news on upcoming shows and events!

This October I made my way to Nottingham for GameCity once again. I’ve always loved the GameCity festival, with its focus on creativity and hunger for experimental work. Its audience mixes children and families among academics and industry professionals, and new unknown works sit side-by-side with established names. It’s the home of Dash & Bash, one of my favourite pieces of work, so it was a perfect choice of venue to debut my latest project: The Incredible Playable Show!

The idea of a playable stage show has been on my mind for years, as the next logical step from touring local-multiplayer installations. I’m keen to explore the opportunities the stage offers as a space for games, and to find the best ways to mix performance and play.

Over the four days of the festival I ran the show six times, and was given GameCity 2016's Spirit of the Festival award.

The trailer below, filmed at a subsequent performance at the Bristol Improv Theatre, should give a good feel for what the show is like!


What is The Incredible Playable Show?


The show is takes games of my own invention - involving physical interaction, running around and unconventional homemade controllers - and puts them into a theatre context. Spectators are invited onto the stage to become players, and must interact with each other and the audience to progress.

Still from BBC Click, 26 November 2016
Sometimes players take the role of human controllers. Other times they must climb through the audience, who have become real-world obstacles in a digital game. In the final act the audience must work together to solve coded messages, getting out of their chairs to pass clues to each other and share ideas.

Each set ran for 45 minutes. As well as operating the tech, I donned a ringmaster's jacket and drew upon my improv skills to become The Incredibly Playful Showman.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Winner of the GameCity Spirit of the Festival Award

Autumn 2016 has been a busy season for me and Codex Bash! September saw me jetting off to Abu Dhabi to run it at an A MAZE popup at the Discrict Me festival. October took me to GameCity in Nottingham to run it as part of the fringe, as well as running a brand new project called The Incredible Playable Show. Then in November I turned to bustling Hamburg to show Codex Bash at the Play16 festival, where I also ran Go! Power Team! complete with morphsuits.

In particular, The Incredible Playable Show was a roaring success, and I took from it a great many lessons about how digital games where we take them into completely new contexts. And it saw me earn the coveted Spirit of the Festival Award at GameCity - a great honour indeed!


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Only Reality That Matters

In an early version of Codex Bash, one of the puzzles - the one involving paper circuit diagrams - was different.

Recent players will have rummaged through laminated sheets strewn around the room and, I hope, will have tripped over a few before they got to the puzzle where they had to use them. But in the first version of the puzzle these circuit diagrams were all in the one booklet, pictured below. Hardly anyone could solve the puzzle without being told what to do.


I changed the user interface over and over. At one the point where the screen would show a picture of the schematics booklet, and the booklet itself would be in clear view right next to the screen. Yet players would still stare at the screen for ages trying to make sense of it. They would look directly at the booklet and stare back at the screen again, without laying a finger on the booklet itself.

I needed to work out what was going on.