I’ve completed as much of my methodology section as I feel I can right now. There are still some unanswered questions and some parts I want to expand but its a good start.
4.1 Research and Media Examination
The research project began with informal analysis of existing media. The media chosen used effects art to create feeling or communicate its message. From this, strategies on use of effects art as a vehicle for expression were drawn. An analysis of Proteus, an experimental game which explores relaxation, was undertaken in order to discover the techniques used in meditative games (see appendix 1).
Whilst looking into these games, it was found that the main commonality between the most evocative games was their ability to induce relaxation and positivity in their players. An investigation into more games of this type revealed a gap in the market as these experiences were few and far between.
To support the media analysis, an exploration of literature regarding the formal elements of art was conducted. This revealed colour theory and shape techniques that could be used within effects art to bolster the message being provided though its use in game.
This led to a discovery of the meditational feeling produced by abstract art and film, the thread that, at this point in the project, tied the aspects of research together. It was found that abstract animators used visual strategies to create a sense of timelessness and relaxation in their work. As effects art does not make use of characters or environments, but representations of energy and force, there was a clear argument for a similarity between abstract and effects work.
Further research into meditation techniques revealed sensory deprivation as a key component of meditational experiences, which inspired investigation into alternative display methods for interactive media works. Player presence, the idea that the media reality becomes the player’s dominant reality, was an idea that surfaced repeatedly during the investigation. This concept steadily grew to encompass the project, replacing abstract art as the main vehicle for creating relaxing feelings within the work.
4.2 Interactive Experiments with Shape, Colour and Abstraction
As a practice-based project, two game prototypes were developed alongside the contextual research. These drew on ideas and motifs found within the investigation and allowed for early experimentation and testing of ideas.
The first prototype was created to house effects that had been developed as part of ongoing skills acquisition. The research undertaken into colour, shape and meaning was translated into a series of effects that were designed to provoke calm, relaxation and positivity. Mechanically, this prototype explored player choice as a means of interaction within aesthetics driven games.
By the time this prototype was completed, abstract art had become a large part of the project. The second prototype built on the first, utilising abstraction as the main theme of the experience. Abstracted versions of the original effects were made, deconstructing them into their simplest forms whist placing emphasis on the shape, colour, movement and sub-sequential meaning that could be produced. This simplification allowed the ideas behind the effects to shine though without being masked behind complex shaders or needless detail. Visual style and indication of progression was also explored here, making use of changing visual styles to demonstrate progress as seen in media analysis. The styles used were realism, stylistic art, graphic art and abstract art. To provide a degree of uniformity and create a seamless transition, shape and colour were echoed throughout each style.
4.3 Presence – The Final Artefact
As new ideas emerged from literature studies, the abstraction found in the initial prototypes was abandoned in favour of a weather based system of progression that defined player presence as a vehicle for meditation. This favoured ambience and pure exploration over linear, goal-focused stylistic changes. These decisions brought the project back towards effects art, as the sheer number of abstracted textures required would likely diminish the time allotted to effects creation.
This third prototype was produced as the final artefact. Why is this the final one? What makes it the exemplar of my research?
As previously discussed, the project methodology followed was aesthetics-led design (see contextual review). Firstly, the emotion that players should feel whist playing the game was defined. Though the idea of bringing relaxation to players was also imbued in the earlier prototypes, this represented a direct engagement with the subject. From that, questions were asked regarding how the player would interact with the game – what would they do to make them feel relaxed? This was the dynamics section of the MDA framework (see contextual review) and was initially explored though concept art and paper level design. Decisions were informed by research undertaken into emotion in level design and exploration of the motifs found in meditational imagery by sketching whilst listening to guided meditations.
To ensure a positive relationship between the dynamics and the mechanics, an agile method, similar to how the initial prototypes were developed, was picked up here. This means that a dynamic would be defined, a mechanic derived from it, implemented, tested informally, and then redesigned based on player interaction.
What were the final mechanics? How did these create the dynamics?
There was a degree of uncertainty regarding the choice of art style within this prototype. The question had not been met previously, as the variety of styles covered the archetypical styles seen in the majority of computer games. The goal here was to find a balance between an art style that fully supported the research aims, and a style that promoted artistic development. Both literature and personal communications with developers in the field of experimental games suggested that, whilst the art style should remain consistent, an abstract style would allow the player to take their focus away from detail and on to the self. This style however represented a stunt in artistic growth, as models would be simple shapes and materials would consist of one emissive colour.
A highly saturated, hand painted style was initially used, as it was seen as between abstract and realistic. Its use of complex maps and commercial viability also justified its selection. However, a comment by Ed Key, creator of Proteus, that stated that an abstract art style was, in part, responsible for the sense of presence and relaxation felt whilst playing the game. This inspired a change in direction, with a desire to devise an art style that utilized abstraction within the technical considerations of use of diffuse, normal and specular maps as well as complex materials.
To design this style, a number of historical art styles were looked at. The use of line in Byzantine art inspired the idea of abstracting the detail of objects, whilst keeping the main silhouette representative. This was then combined with influence from the curvilinear designs found in art deco, to keep on theme with the idea that circular shapes induce calm. A bright, highly saturated colour scheme that primarily featured blues and greens was used. This was again derived from contextual studies, with the hue inciting relaxation and the level of saturation creating a positive mood.
4.4 User Testing and Evaluation
Formal user testing was undertaken to discover whether the game produced the relaxed feeling that was desired. Participants were invited to individual sessions, in which they were required to fill out a likert scale questionnaire indicating their current mood, how stressed, nervous or relaxed they were and how present they felt in the moment. After playing, they were asked to complete a second questionnaire about their time in the game, being asked the same questions as before. A comparison was then drawn between the participant’s mood before and after playing, suggesting whether or not the player’s mood had been altered by the game.
In addition to this quantitive data, qualitive data was drawn from filming the play session, think aloud protocol and participant interviews. Participant’s facial expressions, body language and reactions were noted whist playing and they were invited to articulate their thoughts and feelings whilst playing the game. This data was entirely more personal, subjective and emotional. Whist it may not provide the concrete evidence that quantive evaluation does, a phenomenological project benefits greatly from the relay of personal experiences.
Participants A and B performed testing on an incomplete version of the “mechanics level”. Their feedback was used to finish this level, which participants C, D and E tested. This level was feature complete and utilized the final art style, however it was considerably smaller and featured more repeating assets, less effects and less height variance in level design than the final game.
Anything that comes up during testing.