Leading with the Face

In my previous post about the embodied playtest (where we tested the first designs with actors), I comment on how I want to vary the emotional end-point of experience. What I found during the playtest is that the testers could feel a bit bad about themselves, or at least be shocked at the end of the their session. I want to ensure there is at least one positive end-point to a session. So last night I flicked open Katherine Isbister’s book “Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach,” and funnily enough I opened the book at a section on emotional feedback.

The section is about how the design of faces can influence the player’s emotional experience. Specifically, the section talks about mirroring and how people involuntarily mirror other people’s facial expressions, which then influences their own emotional state. What this means is that the design of a face in your game can then directly influence the emotional state of the player. Indeed, what stood out for me was Isbister’s comment:

Good character designers direct player emotions by using player-characters to underscore desirable feelings (such as triumph or suspense) and to minimize undesirable ones (such as fear or frustration). [page 151]

Isbister refers to the design of Link from The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker to illustrate the point. As you can see with this moment in The Windwaker, the designers guide the player’s emotions through Link’s (the player-character) emotions. He is about to shot out of a cannon, but his emotions shift from fear to determination (see at 1:53). What happened during the embodied playtest with the actors, is that a robot session or “scene” I had designed to be one that facilitates player-empathy was more disturbing than intended. A large part of that was the delivery by the actor. She did a great job of feeling and communicating with her face the trauma the robot is feeling. This, coupled with the text I had written, sent the scene into a much more negatively-intense experience than I had planned. This is why work in directing as well as writing, so I can be a part of all the elements that shape the experience. So while I can temper the experience with my writing, I will also work with Simon (concept artist) and Paul (modeler and animator) to temper the experience via facial expression. This means it isn’t a case of the facial emotions duplicating the emotion of the dialogue (interface text), but of adding more complexity to it. And importantly, as Isbister notes, accenting the moments I want the installation visitor to be lead to. The lead emotions rather than all of them.

The embodied playtest

On Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th August, the whole team came together for our first group onsite meet. Jacek, Simon, and myself flew from Melbourne; and Adam and Paul from outer Brisbane. Over the two days, The Cube team gave us an induction of the site – showing us around the space and facilities. The Cube curator Lubi Thomas and UX designer Sherwin Huang shared things they’ve learned from previous installations; and we went over the game plan with The Cube technical team. We also visited the QUT Robotics Department to talk about their robot research projects, and see a Nao dance! Adam shares a video of it below:

The rest of the team was very excited about the space – they’re as keen on the possibilities as I am. We talked about the design of the project in light of seeing the space, and debated different approaches. The important part for me was also running an embodied playtest.

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Improv and Perfection

Decided to do improvisation with actors during the writing process. This project will be about creating via doing. Getting off the page and out of my head as early as possible. This is in response to my experience with AUTHENTIC. I worked on that for so long, and the greatest leaps forward were when the script was being performed. It is easier to see and hear the holes than when you’re reading and thinking it. Perfection has a direct relationship with manifestation. The less manifestation, the more perfect something is. When a project is in my head, it is perfect. Every step of manifestation during the development and production process takes it further away from that perfection. This is where the skill in directing is – riding this chaotic process to produce something good. Something that can never be the perfect thing, a perfect thing with only one audience (your mind).

I think I’ll draw on improv techniques from directing actors as well as the larp character creation techniques.



“One of these robots will kill you”

Was thinking of changing the title from “Robot University” to something like “One of these robots will kill you” – as a way to build tension, entice people to come, and talk directly to people’s bias and fears about robots. This was partly influenced by my reading a Hitchcock essay in which he says tension starts with the title…



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