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Exploring video game design and development

Our members have produced commercial titles as part of their research-informed practice


A key feature of the Advanced Games Research Group is research-informed practice, and the majority of our projects have a significant developmental aspect – with research directly feeding into the design, development, and release of a range of games, both commercial and free.

You can find links to all of the project publications below as well as links to available games developed as part of the projects.

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
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

Key research projects

This project is exploring the potential of disrupting and subverting a player's expectations and pre-existing knowledge of games and gameplay, in order to provide a deeper, more cognitively engaging play experience. The project has been developed from a foundation of cognitive psychology coupled with existing models of gameplay, leading to the creation of a new framework of 'Ludic Knowledge' and a new model of 'Ludic Action'.

The project is both theoretical and practical, with research directly informing development of playable products.

Publications from this project

Talks given on this project

  • Howell, P. (2017). The Game's the Thing: Approaching Practice-based Research in Game Design. Presented at the Practice Research in Creative and Cultural Industries Conference, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK.

Games developed from this project

Originating with one of our PhD students, this project is exploring the implications of minimalist principles as known from traditional artforms such as painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and dance, in the newest artform - games. The intention is to clearly define the language, and present an analytical model, that enables discussion about the minimalist techniques and their usage within the context of games.

Games developed from this project

  • Bound.RE

This project is centred around pervasive games - these are 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. One aim of pervasive games is to create an engaging or "spooky" experience that is sometimes difficult to discern from real life, and the phenomenon of apophenia (where players begin to "see" a game where none exists) was the subject of the project's first paper, leading into a general interest in ambiguity and creative interpretation in games. 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.

Publications from this project:

Typically game developers are focused on creating the best end-product possible while avoiding unnecessary obstacles and wasted effort. However, some developers enjoy placing extreme obstacles in the way, just to see if they can be overcome. Examples of this are extreme Game Jams and retro "demakes" of AAA games. This practice of overcoming unnecessary adversity can be seen as a form of play, and can be observed in other disciplines, for example creative writing. This research project is exploring the different ways in which the process of game development can itself be "playful", with a view to examining how this compares to other media, and how game development might offer a unique perspective on what appears to be a long-practised and masochistic pastime.

Talks given on this project

  • Dansey, N & Howell, P. (2017). Playful Developers: A Study of Artificial Constraints and Developer Experiences. Presented at the DiGRA UK Conference 2017, MediaCityUK & The University of Salford, Manchester, UK.

This project is exploring the role of comprehension and interpretation in digital games, particularly in ‘walking simulators’, where comprehension and interpretation are the key interaction – a form of ‘introspective play’. Through the application of games theory this project endeavours to gain further understanding of walking simulators and how ‘introspective play’ can be facilitated through game design.

Games developed from this project

Inspired by Brian Eno's ambient music, which is persistent and supports different levels of engagement, this research explores ambient gameplay in computer, video and pervasive games. Through the creation of original games containing ambient gameplay and looking for ambient gameplay in existing commercial games, this research focuses on gameplay that supports a range of depths of player engagement. This research is not concerned with ambient intelligent environments or other technologies that might support ambience, but focusses on gameplay mechanisms.

The definition of ambient music is used as a starting point for developing a tentative set of properties that enable ambient gameplay. A game design research methodology is initially used. Two very different research games, Ambient Quest (using pedometers) and Pirate Moods (using RFID, radio-frequency identification, technology) are analysed. The resulting qualitative ambient gameplay schema contains themes of persistence, discovery, engagement, invention, ambiguity and complexity. In order to confirm the wider applicability of this result a case study of an existing commercial game, Civilization IV, is undertaken. Ambient gameplay properties of engagement, complexity, abstraction, persistence and modelessness identified in Civilization IV, and other commercial games, are combined with the ambient gameplay schema to develop a definition of ambient gameplay. This definition is the basis for a set of investigative lenses (lenses of persistence, attention, locative simultaneity, modelessness, automation and abstraction) for identifying ambient gameplay.

This research creates a deeper understanding of computer games and hence gives game designers new ways of developing richer gameplay and gives games researchers new ways of viewing and investigating games.

Publications from this project

Games developed from this project

  • City Block Cats
  • Stina & The Wolf RPG Experimental Prototype
  • Ambient Quest 2.2
  • Ambient Quest 1.0
  • Ambient Quest Pirate Moods

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