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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.

Thursday
Sep202012

They were weeks 99, 100, and 101!

Eep. That's interesting. 

Week 99 was the Fun and Games conference, mostly. So that week was covered. 

However, the two weeks since have merged into one somehow, or rather week 100 seems to have got lost. I've not been very well - just a chesty cough and sinus infection - but losing a week like that suggests that perhaps I was less well than I was telling myself. I should pay attention to my partner! I do seem to be pulling out of it now; only one side of my head is blocked and I can bend over without serious sinus pain. And that's before the freshers arrived. Ugh. 

I have done a couple of things even so. 

The programming has crawled forward a couple of teeny baby steps. A player can now save a crop-sowing task, and see a list of saved tasks (although it's not entirely pretty). Next up is editing and deleting tasks, and executing the tasks at the end of the season. I have a hard deadline of end of October now, so I need to focus on getting things working even if not as beautiful as they could be. 

I've emailed the person at UEA who I'm hoping will let me get her students to fill out questionnaires after they play Africulture, but I haven't heard back yet. I may need to chase. 

And I'm still thinking about/making notes for my lit review. I just need a couple more hours in each day, and to be well. Not too much to ask! 

Monday
Sep102012

Fun and Games meta-game

While I'm listening to talks or wandering around at a conference I like to play a "meta-game" of evaluating the slides, presenters, and my experiences, to try and glean pointers for how I can play the conference game better. I do tell people I'm doing this. They've never asked to see what I say, but some do look a little uncomfortable.

In fact, this time I'm going to start out by critiquing my efforts instead.

This conference I went with a really minimalist packing style, at least partially driven by EasyJet's price for hold luggage. I took my normal, lightweight Eddie Bauer backpack as my only piece of luggage. I think it's 18l. I packed an outfit for each day, my wash stuff, and so on. I can say I used everything I brought apart from the notepad, which I only brought as backup for my iPad. I didn't need to, we were given a notepad and pen when we got to the conference, and my iPad was fine. Was there anything I missed? Well, ideally I would had an extra top for the conference dinner. It's nice to dress up (although a little jewellery would have done that), and to be honest it's been really warm and I've got pretty sweaty each day. I know, TMI. There wasn't really anything else I was missing. It worked really well for getting to and through the airport, dealing with the buses, keeping it with me on the last day and so on. I think it was a really good plan actually.

The poster was ok, but I'm going to give myself a "could do better". You can see it below, but sadly it isn't the one that jumps out at you!
5 Sep 2012 12:36
I ended up folding my poster down the middle (due to the hand luggage restrictions), which looked sort of ok, but I think a better idea would be to design a poster that could be split into two separate sheets. Something that deliberately comes apart. They would roll better than the folded poster, and look more deliberate. I also need to make something more visually striking, with less text and more bullet points and pictures. Something that stands out better from a dull background. It's a good challenge. I did have lots of interesting discussions with people who had read my poster - I kind of need to think about what I had to keep explaining. To be fair, I think a lot of people spoke to me rather than read it (too much text I think!).

So, that's my efforts dissected.

In general the presentations suffered from poor lighting - all the rooms were too light, leading to poor contrast on the slides. As this doesn't seem to be that uncommon, I think it's worth trying to find a way to mimic these conditions, just to check the slides are legible. Whether that's reducing the brightness of my monitor or taking my iPad out into the light, I'll try experimenting and checking. I think the biggest problems were pictures that the presenter wanted to talk to that were just too dark, so that's important.

Other than that there was my usual bugbear - too much on the slide. An enormous great table does not become legible when you highlight a cell! Just put the contents on a new slide if you really need to show them, or better yet, put them in the paper and talk around the important bits. There was some nice designs that would have worked well on a one-to-one scale, but as giant slides in front of lots of people the just distracted.

I was interested to see people all presenting on their own machines - if I am to do that and stay minimal I need to do presentations on my iPad. Something to practice on the lab I think! Prezi was an interesting switch - I could actually really see how some of the previous presentations could have used the zooming and moving thing to great effect, but mostly I try to keep my stuff more basic than that. The use of a laser pointer was good if you particularly needed to point something out on the slide (the projection was way above everyone's heads), but I might just fidget with it. Still might be worth investigating. The thing I picked up at my last conference still holds too - dark background with light text works well in too much light.

I'm still pulling together my thoughts overall, but I have a good post-conference buzz going (combined with post-conference knackeredness - I'm thinking lots, but not terribly coherently!). Maybe next time I'll try for a paper...

Saturday
Sep082012

Fun and Games workshop

Conceptualising, Operationalising and Measuring the Player Experience in Videogames, run by Peta Wyeth and Daniel Johnson.

So this was my first ever academic workshop. Started slightly oddly, when they asked me about my presentation. I hadn't talked about participating in a workshop with anyone and hadn't realised that you were supposed to submit a paper for the workshop and present to the group. Heh. Fortunately they weren't particularly upset with me, and let me stay! (This was my fault for not reading the link, but also will remind me to check for any gotchas with anything new I come across in future, even of it sounds like something I already know about!)

There were two questions in this workshop: what are the components of the player experience, and how do we measure them? Why do we want to know got added later, because what you want to use the findings for (e.g. Designing new games? Explaining the impact of games? Etc) affects the bits of the experience you might be interested in and want to measure.

The presentations took up the morning session (interspersed with coffee), and were a good introduction to people. Next time I definitely would be interested in doing one - it saves so much repetition later! Flow was brought up a lot. The more I hear and read about flow the more trouble I have with it - it seems far too woolly as a concept to talk about and measure. I was slightly startled to discover that immersion isn't even fully defined, and many definitions of flow include immersion as a part. There seems to me to still be a lot of work to do in that area - which makes it a good challenge I guess!

In the afternoon we split into two groups - one looking at drawing a conceptual map of the player experience, and one looking at the methods available to measure that experience. I joined the conceptual map group, and I'm wishing I had taken a photo of our drawing! We had the player and the game, with the experience sitting between the two. The designer was separate. All three sat within the context, which probably needed breaking down further. There was scope for rejigging it in a number of ways, but it didn't feel too far out. (I think the photo was going to be put up on the wiki.) We also drew an expanded model of the experience, with the steps that might occur bad on Don Norman: the player chooses a goal, a strategy, then implements the strategy. The game (or opponents) process that strategy and responds. Then the player receives feedback, interprets that feedback, and checks their new position against their goal. They then adjust their goal and go around the loop again.

One of the things I liked about that was that it works for digital and non-digital games. There was some discussion about whether there was a difference between a video game or a sport. I'm not convinced there is, but it's not clear. Jesper Juul in "Half-Real" makes a point in the introduction about a video game being one where the computer upholds the rules rather than the player. How does that change the experience? Does that mean that the versions of monopoly with an electronic bank (but otherwise board pieces) are video or not? Sadly we only got to those questions at the end of the day, but I think given my current work looking at both face-to-face and online games it's an area I should look into a little. I need to do more reading - self-determination theory was mentioned for sports, and I have not heard of it.

So yeah. I hope to find some time to do some more thinking about this. There was some talk of a special issue, and it would be great to be able to contribute.

Friday
Aug312012

That was week 98

Well, I'm not sure that plan worked so well. I have been incredibly easy to distract this week, which I am at least partially attributing to having a bit of a stuffed sinus issue going on. A bit pathetic, I grant you, but there you go. 

I did manage to get some code done. The front end of the Tasks stuff I'm writing is coming along a bit, so possible tasks get passed through from teh back end, along with the task-appropriate locations, actors and assets. The front end now displays a form for a new task (only when in the correct game stage) with dropdown lists for each of those fields, which change content depending on which task type is selected. 

Sadly there is a lot more to do. You can't really plant a crop until you are either given some in the initial distribution of assets, or can buy it from the market (which needs cash, which needs allocating in the initial distribution of assets). You can't buy it from the market until the market is stocked (which either needs doing from the start, or the game manager needs to do it and currently they can't). 

There are some other nice-to-haves on the UI front as well. At the moment it's a plain text situation. Yawn. And it would be nice to see whether a given asset is currently in your stock before you try to assign it. S much more work to be done. 

On the bright side, I do now have drop down lists pretty much sorted, and I added events to my form model to allow custom things to happen when fields change. Happy with that. 

In writing terms, not much got done! Surprise! I investigated integrating Scrivener with my iPad copy of IAWriter. My problem is a little problem with liking to work offline and the IAWriter Dropbox "integration". If I am offline when I'm writing (which I prefer - no distractions), and work on a Dropbox doc, when I go back online, IAWriter "helpfully" copies over the work I've done offline with my old version from Dropbox. Personally I would expect it to ask me if it can't work out which is newer, but what do I know? I like IAWriter other than that "feature", so I'm investigating workarounds. Other than starting to use iCloud, which for some reason I don't want to do. I think I'd rather keep my cloud data in one place, thanks. 

I also went and looked at the notes I was trying to take on papers, based on a form suggested by Wallace and Wray in their book "Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates". The problem is that without the book on hand I can't remember what half the questions meant, so I don't think that's going to be a long-term option! I shall have to rethink. 

Next week I am off to a conference. I'm not expecting to get a huge amount of PhD work done, but if I do have some spare time I want to plan the next chunk of code I'm going to write. Next week I'll hopefully post a round up of the conference. Fingers crossed, anyway!

Tuesday
Aug282012

That was week 97

(Week 96 was Cricket Week. No PhD work was harmed in the having of this holiday.)

Last week was supposed to be another week of coding, but ended up being about Fun and games 2012 instead. I booked my hotel, flights, did the poster, got it printed, planned my luggage, scoped my walking route from the hotel to the university. I've even made a skirt to wear. I am as ready for that trip as I have ever been to go anywhere, short of actually putting all the stuff in the bag and heading out of the door. 

I did get a little code written. It's now possible to plant a crop in a field. Well, at the back end. And it's not possible yet to harvest the crop, or weed it. Or see it from the player's interface. 

I think it's time to get honest. I'm bored of writing code all the time. I have known for a long time that I have a short attention span, and spending weeks grinding at the same task is not really the best way for me to work. Heaven help me when it comes to writing up. So what I think I'm going to do this week is go back to splitting my time between code and writing. I have a half-written lit review that could do with finishing. That is pretty unrelated to the code, and reducing the time on the code should give me more pressure and something different to look forward to. 

Of course, if I'm having a day where the code is flowing, I'll keep doing it. It is really crucial that I get this done. I just have this feeling that I'll get more done if I spend less time on it! We'll see how it goes by the end of this week.