15/04/2018

The Adventure Zone fan art - "You're Going To Be Amazing"


It's not often that I make fan art, but I felt like I had to pay homage to The Adventure Zone (Balance Arc) and this is how I chose to do it. It's probably the most emotionally affecting story that I've engaged with in recent memory and I enjoyed it very much.

21/03/2018

Dragon's Dogma plot structure


As part of the early stages of my PhD research, I've been studying branching narratives and trying to come up with a consistent system for diagramming them. This image represents my current solution, and this approach seems to work for any game that I've tried so far, including tabletop RPGs.

I'm currently only looking at the structure of how the branching narrative functions, rather than any actual story content. The goal is to be able to disassemble and reassemble these structures, to fit the current status of the story. It's early days yet.

Here's a sort of key for the diagram:


30/11/2017

I'm still here


I've been struggling, settling into my new life in Cornwall. It's frustrating because the PhD is basically a dream opportunity for me but I feel like I'm blowing it. But that's depression, I guess.

I knew it was going to be hard, living alone in a new place, making sure I socialise, trying to find new friends, adjusting to a new occupation, trying to ensure I stay on top of normal-person-things like fitness, hygiene and other responsibilities. But it feels like, however much I try to prepare, things are always so much harder to deal with than I imagined. And I end up feeling more and more like a failure. And then I realise that it's the depression making it worse (though there's always that part of me that believes that it's actually just me being lazy or not good enough).

So anyway, I am here. And I'm working as hard as I seem to be able to, even though I'm pretty sure that it's not currently hard enough. I'm now well enough to write about it, so I'm hoping that things are turning around. I feel like I'm going to have some interesting things to write about and share through my research - I'm looking forward to those days.

27/09/2017

Thinky ChéBo


I am now a PhD student at the wonderful Falmouth University. More specifically, at their fantastic Games Academy. So this is where I'll mostly be for the next three or four years, at least.

The subject of my studentship is "Developing New Approaches to Branching Narratives in Computer Games", with my pitch revolving around bringing the way video game stories are handled closer to those of pen-and-paper roleplaying games, via a sort of virtual gamemaster. I could write more about it but I've been doing a lot of that recently and I'm sure my initial ideas are going to change drastically once my research begins properly.

My head's still spinning from the big change in lifestyle and moving and so on. It took a lot of hard work to get here but I'm pretty hopeful for the future. And, for the first time, I'm making my living via video games, which was basically my dream. I've also begun a little teaching-style work so it will be very interesting to see where that takes me. All-in-all, a positive change but tinged with sadness while I must mostly live away from my partner for at least a few years.

06/06/2017

Thoughts on Dark Souls - The Board Game (Lost in Translation)

I recently played Dark Souls - The Board Game and had some thoughts that I wanted to share. While I’m not saying that it's a bad game, I do think it’s a bad translation of the video games into a board game. In particular, there’s major friction between the video games’ emphasis on skill-based gameplay and the board game’s emphasis on luck-based gameplay. I know that the video games include some reliance on luck and the board game includes some reliance on skill but their balances are massively different.


Most noticeably, I found the character progression to be very unsatisfying in a way that goes against the feel of the video games. The souls (currency) that you earn in the board game (at a frustratingly slow rate, I found) can be used to progress your character in one of two ways. You can either level up your stats (strength, dexterity, intelligence and faith) or buy new item cards from a deck. Both of these options have major flaws, in my opinion:

09/03/2017

Apps for Mental Health

I'd like to take the time to share some recommendations for a few free apps for smartphones (I'm on Android but hopefully they are on iPhones too) that I feel help me to manage my own mental health. To give you a little context, I suffer with depression and anxiety and have been taking medication for it (on and off but mostly on) for a few years. I know that there are often stories going around about how smartphones and social media can be bad for mental health but I certainly feel like my phone is one of the biggest factors in helping me stay on top of things and it definitely has a positive impact on my mental health (when used correctly). And so, on to the list:

Daylio

Probably the most useful and effective of the apps that I use is Daylio. It works like a sort of micro-journal for moods and activities so allows me to inject small doses of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) into my day-to-day activities. At any time during the day, I open the app and record my mood (on a scale), what activities I've been up to recently (via selecting from user-defined icons) and a short statement about how I'm feeling and why (if I wish). The app then provides insights into mood and activity patterns, including charting mood over days, months and years and showing which activities are linked to which moods. This grants me a great insight into my behavioural patterns and allows me to improve my emotional intelligence. Even just the fact that I'm taking a little time to assess and analyse my moods and activities each day is a great help - it keeps me mindful and present. I highly recommend doing something similar.

Habitica

Combining a habit tracker, recurring tasks and a to-do list with some light game elements, Habitica is a great way to gamify (make a game of) your important tasks. Checking off your daily tasks, completing to-dos and fulfilling good habits rewards you with items and fake currency that you can use to improve the little character that represents you. Conversely, missing tasks and partaking in bad habits causes injury to your character. Once you've been using it for a while, you unlock more items, level up your character and unlock skills that you can use in the game for certain benefits. Importantly, you also gain the ability to form a group with other users and combine your efforts to resolve quests together. This group accountability can help push you to achieve your goals and not let your team down. I really like having access to this method of tracking my achievements and the little extra rewards (though not real) that I get for accomplishing my goals give me an extra reason to be productive.

Zombies! Run

To follow the theme of gamifying things that I should be doing anyway, Zombies! Run is the way that I make myself get outside and run or walk more. It is similar to other run trackers (Endomondo/Runtastic) in that it maps where you go and how fast you go there and all that. On top of that, there are some light game and story elements. Over a series of episodes (one run at a time), a post apocalyptic zombie survival story is presented to you purely through audio while you are out running. It frames your runs as reconnaissance and supply missions for a colony of survivors (including optional zombie chase segments, to boost your speed) with other characters speaking to you directly. Between runs, you can use the supplies that you found in a simple management game of upgrading your settlement. Again, having that extra level of rewards and progression encourages me to do these positive things more frequently. Whether it's because I want to improve my fitness or find out what happens next in the story, the runs are just as good for me.

Down Dog

Allowing me to quickly set up custom yoga practices (read: short and low-level, for now) with spoken instructions and photo guides, Down Dog really helps make yoga accessible to me. The benefits of exercise with regards to mental health are well-known and yoga also improves flexibility and includes a sort of meditative element which I think helps with mindfulness and stress-management. I really struggle with commitment to classes and motivation though, so being able to quickly get into an activity when I can muster the energy or will is very important to me. This app really helps me in that respect. It also doesn't cost anything (unlike classes), so that's good too.

And that is the end of my list. I didn't want to throw too much information at you so I stuck to the apps that I feel help me the most and tried to give some insight as to why so that you can get an idea of whether they might be good for you too. If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything I mentioned here or mental health in general, please don't hesitate to get in touch. I'm happy to talk about my experiences, especially if it might benefit others or help with understanding.

08/08/2016

Misrepresentation?

I've recently been witness to a discussion about whether or not somebody (specifically, a heterosexual, cisgendered white man) should give a presentation about the representation (in a particular medium) of a social group (a minority) that they are not a part of. Some members of the given social group were wary of having a privileged person speaking on their behalf with no inside knowledge of the issues that they've faced, stating that a member of said group should be giving a presentation instead (or that the presenter's talk should be on another subject). Others were supportive of the presenter, stating that he is knowledgeable about the medium in question, has spent years researching this particular topic (including speaking with many people from said social group) and would approach it with care and consideration. It may be important to note that the presenter was invited to give a talk on any subject he wanted - he chose the representation of said social group in said medium - he wasn't invited in the place of somebody from that group.

This has troubled me. I am of the opinion that anybody should be able to give a presentation on any subject, so long as it is well-researched, considerate and useful. But I am not part of the social group mentioned above, so maybe my opinion is invalid. I certainly don't want to offend anybody.