Research Projects and Publications
Published Conference Paper
Proceedings of POCG 2016, The 10th International Philosophy of Computer Games Conference
A Theoretical Framework of Ludic Knowledge: A Case Study in Disruption and Cognitive Engagement (Howell, P., 2016)
Abstract: This paper presents a theoretical framework of ludic knowledge applicable to game design. It was developed as a basis for disrupting player knowledge of ‘normative’ game rules and behaviours, stored as different types of ludic knowledge (intraludic, interludic, transludic, and extraludic), with the aim of supporting a player’s cognitive engagement with a game. The framework describes these different types of knowledge and how they inform player expectation, engagement with gameplay choices, and critical responses to games before, during, and after play. Following the work by Howell, Stevens, and Eyles (2014) that presented an initial schema-based framework of player learning during gameplay, this paper further develops the framework based on its application to the design and development of the commercial game Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (The Chinese Room, 2013); a first-person horror-adventure title released for PC. While the theoretical framework of ludic knowledge was developed to support the concept of ‘disruption’, it can also be applied as a standalone tool usable as a basis for critical analysis of how players engage with and talk about games more generally.
Keywords: Ludic Knowledge, Intraludic, Interludic, Transludic, Extraludic, Disruptive Game Design, Disruption, Expectation, Cognitive Engagement
Historic Artefact Digital Reconstruction
In 2016, the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth approached the University looking for collaboration in developing a key artefact exhibit. The Mary Rose's Billethead
, or figurehead, had recently been recovered from the sea bed. The museum wanted a digital reconstruction of the artefact produced to show visitors how the object would have appeared when it was in use on the ship.
This required a lengthy process of analysis and interpretation of the heavily eroded piece of wood that had been recovered. Using a combination of laser scanning, photogrammetry, and shadow photography, surface relief detail was obtained. This in conjunction with detailed measurements of the artefact was used to produce a digital reconstruction of the Billethead.
The reconstruction was provided as high quality static and animated renders, some of which can be seen below. Visit the Mary Rose Museum Website
for further details on this and their numerous other exhibits.
Disruptive Game Design: A Commercial Design and Development Methodology for Supporting Player Cognitive Engagement in Digital Games (Howell, P., 2015)
Abstract: First-person games often support the player’s gradual accretion of knowledge of the game’s rules during gameplay. They thus focus on challenging and developing performative skills, which in turn supports the player in attaining feelings of achievement and skills mastery. However, an alternative disruptive game design approach is proposed as an approach that encourages players to engage in higher-order thinking, in addition to performative challenges. This requires players to cognitively engage with the game at a deeper level. This stems from the player’s expectations of game rules and behaviours being disrupted, rather than supported, requiring players to learn and re-learn the game rules as they play. This disruptive approach to design aims to support players in satiating their needs for not only achievement and mastery at a performative level but also, their needs for problem-solving and creativity.
Utilising a Research through Design methodology, a model of game space proposes different stages of a game’s creation, from conceptualisation through to the final player experience. The Ludic Action Model (LAM), developed from existing game studies and cognitive psychological theory, affords an understanding of how the player forms expectations in the game as played. A conceptual framework of game components is then constructed and mapped to the Ludic Action Model, providing a basis for understanding how different components of a game interact with and influence the player’s cognitive and motor processes. The Ludic Action Model and the conceptual framework of game components are used to construct the Disruptive Game Feature Design and Development (DisDev) model, created as a design tool for ‘disruptive’ games. The disruptive game design approach is then applied to the design, development, and publication of a commercial game, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (The Chinese Room, 2013). This application demonstrated the suitability of the design approach, and the proposed models, for establishing disruptive game features in the game as designed, developing those features in the game as created, to the final resolution in the game as published, which the player will then experience in the game as played.
A phenomenological template analysis of online player discussions of the game shows that players tend to evaluate their personal game as played (i.e. their personal play experience) in relation to their a priori game as expected (i.e. the experience that they expected the game to provide). Players reported their play experiences in ways that suggested they had experienced cognitive engagement and higher-order thinking. However, player attitudes towards this type of play experience were highly polarised and seemingly dependent on the correspondence between actual and expected play experiences. The discussion also showed that different methods of disruption have a variable effect on the player experience depending on the primacy of the game feature being disrupted. Primary features are more effectively disrupted when the game’s responses to established player actions are subsequently altered. Secondary game features, only present in some sections, are most effectively disrupted when their initially contextualised behaviour is subsequently altered, or recontextualised. In addition, story-based feature disruption is most effected when the initial encoding stage is ambiguous, thus disrupting players’ attempts to form an initial understanding of them. However, these different methods of disruption may be most effective when used in conjunction with each other.
Published Conference Paper
Proceedings of DiGRA 2014 Conference: <Verb that ends in ‘ing’> the <noun> of Game <plural noun>
Disrupting the Player's Schematised Knowledge of Game Components (Howell, P., Stevens, B., & Eyles, M., 2014)
Abstract: The concept of ‘conservatism’ in game design has been a subject of debate for a number of years. This ‘conservatism’ is linked to ‘player-centricity’ in design. Such player-centricity can be suggested to place a limit on the fulfilment of high level cognitive player needs. A framework is thus proposed for disruptive game design that focuses on the player and how they learn about game components. It actively seeks the disruption of knowledge construction as well as the recall process used in applying that knowledge to new situations. Such disruption aims to increase the player’s cognitive engagement with the game in a way that does not entirely prevent them from understanding the game, which may cause frustration or confusion. This design approach thus aims to provide greater potential for fulfilment of a player’s high level cognitive needs. The framework is applied to a small case study of the game Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (The Chinese Room, 2013) that was designed and developed utilising its principles.
Keywords: Schema, Disruptive Game Design, Cognition, Memory, Development-led Research
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Postmortem Report (Howell, P., 2014)
Abstract: A look back at the development of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs from the perspective of The Chinese Room, and which focuses on not just its development but the collaboration with series creator Frictional Games.
Publisher Keywords: Business, Marketing, Design, Production, Indie, PC, Postmortem.
Published Conference Paper
Proceedings of DiGRA 2011 Conference: Think Design Play
Schematically Disruptive Game Design (Howell, P., 2011)
Many games focus their resources at satiating player ‘needs’, and meeting perceived expectations that players have of how games should behave and of what constitutes enjoyable, gratifying gameplay. This paper outlines an alternate position on game design – one which focuses on disrupting these expectations, on designing games that players cannot succeed in simply by relying on their pre-acquired gameplay experiences. A critique of current game design trends is offered, and possible future outcomes of these trends analysed. The proposed framework for ‘Schematically Disruptive Design’ is discussed in relation to the current body of literature, alongside a justification of taking a development-led, horror-focused approach to this research programme. The current position of the research and intended direction of study is lastly outlined, along with the intended application of future results.
Schema, schematisation, disruptive gameplay, engagement, horror, development-led research.
Unpublished Pilot Study
PGCert Pilot Study,
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is copyright of Frictional Games, 2010
Implicit Fear Mechanisms and Player Experience in Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Howell, P., 2010)
Abstract: As a means of informing future game level design, this study was intended to explore the theory that the use of implicit fear heightens immersion and enjoyment of a game. Interviews were carried out with participants that had played Amnesia: The Dark Descent, asking them whether they found the game scary, immersive and enjoyable, and what caused this.
Results showed that both sound and lighting had significant impact on player immersion, with sound being the most influential. Additionally, player-avatar identification and utilisation of preexisting schema were found to have possible effects on immersion and enjoyment. The results of this study conclude that the relationship between fear, and immersion and enjoyment of a game is not necessarily causal in one direction. Immersion through other game mechanisms may result in the eliciting of fear from a player as much as fear may result in immersion in a game.
Keywords: Fear, Implicit, Immersion, Emotion, Games, Schema.
PGCert Proof of Concept Documentation,
Great Expectations: Designing Game Environments that Operate Against Player Schema and the Influence of this on Perceived Levels of Fear
(Howell, P., 2011)
This document outlines my initial study plan for researching, analysing, evaluating and designing with schema, and schematic disruption, or incongruence. This document was intended to be the first of three, forming a full, Masters length thesis, however as I transferred onto the Ph.D programme before I completed the full thesis, this document served as a foundation to the early stages of the PhD literature review.
The original research outlines a requirement for a bespoke level to be created, and I had planned to use the Unreal Development Kit to achieve this. The reference video below combined with the Tools Analysis in the document explains why this decision would have been the most suitable when considering the available engine technology that I had at the time.
Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Study of the Influence of Game World Lighting in a First Person Shooter on a Player's Decision Making Processes
(Howell, P., 2010)
This study was designed to investigate the impact of lighting in a First Person Shooter game world environment on a player’s decision making processes in relation to previous research in the field of experimental psychology and games research.
The study used a level built in UnrealEd 2, with two distinctive lighting versions which were designed to direct players to follow particular paths through the level. It was predicted that players would follow these lighting cues and take the routes intended by the design.
It was shown that, whilst players did show a tendency to follow the expected routes, the effect was far less pronounced than was predicted. It was shown that other design aspects such as music played a large role in influencing a player also, as well as psychological preconceptions of what to expect when playing a game in the First Person Shooter genre. Previous gaming experience also appears to have an impact on how players make decisions and the possible influence a level designer can hope to have over these decisions.
The map is available to download from ModDB
: First-person-shooter, lighting, decision-making, player, pathways, schema.