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Computer games design and technology research

Explore our work in computer games design and technology, one of our areas of expertise in Digital and Creative Technologies


As the games industry grows, products and player experiences grow too, catering for different audiences and gameplay tastes. Games now take many forms, from traditional console and computer-based to virtual, augmented and alternate reality, using new and emerging technologies.

Our research brings design theory and development together to produce relevant and practical outputs for people working in the gaming industry, alongside traditional academic-focused theory writing.

We combine game design, development and player psychology in a unified approach. We investigate what drives players and how players derive pleasure from play. This creates a focused design approach that produces games tailored to players' drives and desires.

We explore how player psychology and cognitive processes are involved in interpreting and understanding game content as it is experienced during play. We do this by observing games being played, interviewing gamers and holding focus groups for collecting gameplay data. We also explore how traditional narrative and story theory can be applied to games to produce more critically acclaimed and profitable titles. 

We produce playable games to test our research. Often these games can be commercialised and sold to the public. 1 of our big commercial releases was a first-person horror adventure, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

Our research into disruptive game design provided theoretical foundation for its development. It was developed by The Chinese Room, published by Frictional Games, co-designed by Dr Peter Howell, alongside 1 of our previous lecturers, Dan Pinchbeck. The game experimented with subverting knowledge of gameplay and story elements to explore how players respond to re-learning what they thought they knew about the game world and its inhabitants. The game sold over 120,000 copies in its first week of release.

Our research covers the following topics

  • Game design theory
  • Game development practice
  • Player psychology and the experience of play
  • Narrative and storytelling with games

Facilities

Our facilities include an industry-standard motion capture suite, Virtual Reality suite and PlayStation 4 Development Kits for developing and testing new games. Our researchers have worked as game developers in the gaming industry and many still develop games. 

Collaborations and funders

We have close ties to The Independent Game Developers' Association (TIGA), meaning we can attend TIGA member-only events, and have access to computer games development and policy discussion. We also share our research at trade conferences like Develop, and The Game Developers Conference (GDC), and regularly present papers at academic conferences – including the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) and Philosophy of Computer Games (POCG). 

Our research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the European Research Council (ERC), and our games are published on game portal sites like itch.iosteam.comgog.comhumblebundle.com, PlayStation Store and Google Play.

Projects

Find out more about our latest projects and publications in the fields of disruptive game design, ambient gameplay, pervasive games and ambiguity, game development as playful practice, and cognition as play.

Disruptive game design

We're exploring ways to provide a deep, engaging game experience by disrupting player expectations of games and gameplay. We build this research on a foundation of cognitive psychology, coupled with existing models of gameplay, to create a new framework of ludic knowledge and a new model of ludic action.

Ambient gameplay

We've created a deeper understanding of computer games and given designers new ways of developing richer gameplay. Our ambient gameplay research is inspired by the composer Brian Eno and his ambient music compositions. It focuses on gameplay mechanisms that support different levels of player engagement.

Ambient music is a genre that emphasises tone and atmosphere of traditional structure or rhythm. We analysed 2 research games: Ambient Quest (using pedometers) and Pirate Moods (using radio-frequency identification technology).

The results contained properties of persistence, discovery, engagement, invention, ambiguity and complexity. We benchmarked these themes against existing commercial games to confirm the wider applicability of the result. Games developed using this research included: City Block Cats, Ambient Quest 2.2, Ambient Quest 1.0, and Ambient Quest Pirate Moods.

Pervasive games and ambiguity

This project explores games that are designed to blur the boundaries between playing and not-playing. For example, by using real-world settings, extended play sessions and actors mixed in with the general public. 1 of the aims of pervasive games is to create heightened engagement, and experiences that are hard to discern from real life. These games can also create the phenomenon of apophenia, where players begin to see a game where none exists.

Since creativity and ambiguity are closely linked from a cognitive psychology perspective, the project also covers games for creativity, in particular games that relied on ambiguity as a facilitator of creativity and introspective play.

Game development as playful practice

Typically, developers are focused on creating the best games possible, while avoiding unnecessary obstacles and wasted effort. But some developers enjoy placing extreme obstacles in the way, just to see if they can be overcome.

For example, in 'game jams', people challenge themselves to plan, design, and create games within a short span of time, sometimes within 24 hours. It is this practice of overcoming unnecessary adversity that can be seen a a form of play, and can be observed in other disciplines, such as creative writing.

Our research explores the different ways that game development can be playful, to see how this compares to other media. Ultimately, we are identifying a new perspective on what is often assumed to be a long-practiced and masochistic pastime.

Recent talks on our research include 'Playful Developers: A Study of Artificial Constraints and Developer Experiences', at the DiGRA UK Conference 2017.

Cognition as play

We're exploring the role of comprehension and interpretation in digital games, particularly in walking simulators, they are the key interaction. This practice-based research is being undertaken by 1 of our PhD students, and combines narrative theory with cognitive psychology. Games developed from this research include 'White Lake', a minimalist walking simulator.

Our members

Image of Dr Peter Howell

Dr Peter Howell

  • Email Address peter.howell@port.ac.uk
  • Department School of Creative Technologies
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
  • PhD Supervisor PhD Supervisor
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Mr Neil Dansey

  • Job Title Academic Lead
  • Email Address neil.dansey@port.ac.uk
  • Department School of Creative Technologies
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
  • PhD Supervisor PhD Supervisor
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Mr Gavin Wade

  • Job Title Senior Lecturer
  • Email Address Gavin.Wade@port.ac.uk
  • Department School of Creative Technologies
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
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Mr Ted Turnbull

  • Job Title Senior Lecturer
  • Email Address ted.turnbull@port.ac.uk
  • Department School of Creative Technologies
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
Image of Mrs Leila De Lara

Mrs Leila De Lara

  • Job Title Senior Lecturer
  • Email Address Leila.DeLara@port.ac.uk
  • Department School of Creative Technologies
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
Image of Mr Mohammed Uddin

Mr Mohammed Uddin

  • Job Title Lecturer
  • Email Address jahangir.uddin@port.ac.uk
  • Department School of Creative Technologies
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
Image of Mr Matthew Higgins

Mr Matthew Higgins

  • Job Title Lecturer
  • Email Address Matthew.Higgins@port.ac.uk
  • Department School of Creative Technologies
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

Discover our areas of expertise

Computer games design and technology is one of our 7 areas of expertise in Digital and Creative Technologies. Explore the others below.

 

Research groups

We're exploring a number of research-informed projects that are directly feeding into the design, development, and release of a range of games, both commercial and free.

Interested in a PhD in Digital & Creative Technologies?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Digital & Creative Technologies postgraduate research degrees page.

 

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