Playing Soldiers

Games fan Tom Richards looks at games based around war, and explores the many perspectives of conflict.

The portrayal of war in games is constantly evolving. Franchises like Call of Duty are just a small percentage of the many games offering different viewpoints to war. Conflict in the real world is ongoing, so how is conflict in the world of games changing?

One of the most well known war games is Call of Duty. From the franchise’s start in 2003, CoD puts players in wars and conflicts ranging from World War Two to more modern conflicts such as the Middle East, Russia or Ukraine or to the future where soldiers wear ‘Exo-Skeletons’ and have laser guns. Call of Duty focuses less on characters and story, and more on the gun-play. For this reason, it can be hard to form any emotional bonds with any of the characters, meaning that there doesn’t seem to be much point in all the killing and violence displayed on-screen.

Call of Duty
The newest addition to the popular franchise, Call of Duty

I don’t have a problem with violence in games and I strongly disagree with claims that real life shootings are inspired by digital ones. However, one mission in Modern Warfare 2, named “No Russian”, is undeniably one of the most controversial moments in gaming. This scene features CIA agent Joseph Allen in deep cover, joining a group of Russian ultra-nationalist terrorists in massacring innocent civilians in an airport. This disturbing scene, although possible to skip at the beginning of the game, still shocked a great deal of people around the world.

No Russian
The hugely controversial ‘No Russian’ mission featured in Modern Warfare 2

Another game based around war is the popular sci-fi role-playing game Fallout 3. This game is different to the likes of Call of Duty because instead of the character taking part in a war, it’s already happened. Fallout is set in post apocalyptic America in the year 2277, 200 years after nuclear bombs set off in the war between America and China devastated the world. Fallout gives the player a look at what can happen as a result of war. There aren’t really any winners. Each side suffers total losses, mutually assured destruction.

Fallout 3
The post-apocalyptic American wastelands featured in Fallout 3

This War of Mine gives a completely different perspective to Call of Duty and other games where you play as the soldier. Set in the besieged fictional city of Pogoren, rather than play as a gun-wielding super-soldier, the aim of the game is to survive as a small group of civilians. This War of Mine swaps explosions and adrenaline for a bleak, somber game that really tries to make players experience an unfamiliar situation.

This War of Mine
This War of Mine shows war from the perspective of civilians trying to survive in a war-zone

All three of these games are related to war, yet they all show war in a different light. There aren’t really any clear specifications for a war game because war affects so many different people from hardened super-soldiers to innocent bystanders. There are so many different viewpoints and stories that it can be difficult to fit into one game.

For great storytelling, games need good guys and bad guys. In the real world, the lines are much more blurred. Both sides commit atrocities and there are always casualties. Games can put players into a number of different roles; soldiers, refugees, terrorists, freedom fighters – It will be fascinating to see where games as a creative medium take our understanding of war and conflict in the future.

Tom Richards is a 14 year old gamer who loves the art, craft and science of games in all their various forms (except for fighting games). He believes a great game should include a good story, characters and zombies. As well as games he loves playing his bass and sax and tweets at @berkokid36

BBC Academy iTunesU

BBC Academy Content on Apple iTunesU

Chromatrope have been working as consultants to the BBC Academy on a range of innovation and development strategy and tactics, with the objective of re-thinking the delivery of online training and development. One of the most exciting projects has seen us working with both the BBC and Apple to bring BBC content to Apple’s iTunesU platform. After (many) months of careful negotiation we’re delighted to announce that BBC content currently available on www.bbc.co.uk/academy and YouTube, will be officially launched, for the first time, on iTunes U on 19th January 2015.

The BBC Academy is the BBC’s training and development division, with a charter remit to train BBC staff and to help to train the wider broadcasting industry. As part of a recent review and ahead of its relocation to Birmingham in 2015, The Academy has signalled that it will increasingly focus on digital delivery for much of its learning content.

BBC Academy iTunesU
BBC Academy iTunesU

Chromatrope have had a key role in originating this project as part of our consultancy work, as well as brokering the relationships between key partners in both Apple and the BBC, we have worked carefully with the BBC’s editorial and legal departments to create a credible, dynamic and authentic content and user proposition.

Along with many other sections of the BBC, the BBC Academy already makes extensive downloadable content available through iTunes. Myles Runham, Head of Online, BBC Academy, said, “Our objective is to make our website content as widely available to audiences as possible. Extending this availability to free-to-access learning platforms such as iTunesU is a natural extension of that offer. I’m delighted that our content will sit alongside the wide range of content on offer from other institutions such as the British Council and the Royal Opera House, and universities including Oxford and Cambridge and the Open University.”

Academy material will sit within the ‘Beyond Campus’ section of iTunes.  Academy content now available on iTunes U includes behind the scenes footage of BBC1 programmes Crimewatch and Countryfile revealing how a television programme is put together. For those interested in storytelling, Sarah Phelps, writer of BBC1 dramas including the Crimson Field and JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy and Sally Wainwright who wrote BBC1 dramas Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley are among those sharing their expertise. And for those wanting to make people laugh, Richard Curtis, writer of comedy classics like Blackadder, The Vicar of Dibley, Four Weddings and Notting Hill is one of those sharing thoughts on being productive, staying creative and honing the process of finding the funny.

We’ll be writing up some of the other exciting BBC Academy innovation projects that we’ve involved with here soon, but for now we’re delighted to be able to have worked so closely with both parties to make this happen.

 

OU Poetry Prescription

Open University Poetry Prescription

Feeling loving, adventurous or scared? Poetry Prescription will find you the perfect poem to reflect your mood.

Chromatrope worked with the Open University on another exciting interactive commission, this time to bring a diverse and surprising range of poetry to users based on the moods of the reader. We worked with the Open University’s literature faculty as well as with Open Learn to design a brief that would match the editorial and business ambitions of the project, delivering a flexible and credible web product that can be added to and adapted. The Open University Poetry Prescription is simple, fresh and pithy – but sometimes that’s what’s needed.

OU Poetry Prescription
Open University Poetry Prescription

The Search for Scariness

Games fan Tom Richards takes a look at some of the scariest and cleverest games in the horror genre, to find out what really makes a game scary.

There are currently a lot of games on the market advertising themselves as ‘survival horror’. However for me, many of these games seem to have forgotten what the real meaning of horror is. Outlast and Asylum are two games set in mental institutes, which seem to portray anybody with a mental illness as a horror game villain. One of the most destructive aspects of mental illness is that it is invisible. This means portrayals like those commonly seen in games today discourage the public from seeking further understanding of something that affects so many people. Horror games are supposed to be scary, not just disturbing. So what does make a truly scary game?

Many of the villains in Outlast are portrayed as having a mental illness.
Many of the villains in Outlast are portrayed as having a mental illness.

First of all, one commonly used technique is to provide the player with no weapon or means of protection. Being weak and defenceless while trying to sneak past, or in my case, flee from a monster is a hell of a lot more scary than standing your ground while shooting bullet after bullet in random directions. In the real world, the whole reason that people reach for their baseball bats when they hear a noise downstairs is to have something to protect themselves with. You don’t feel so helpless anymore. Horror games are made to scare and unsettle the player, not provide them with the tools to become immune to any scares, so keep it scary by limiting their firepower.

One thing is for sure; being in the dark with the thought of a silent, terrifying predator stalking you is frightening as hell. The extremely well known horror game Slender uses this theory to great effect, providing the player with just a torch to explore a dark and hostile forest. The aim of the game is to collect eight pages before the Slenderman, a tall featureless humanoid based on urban legends, catches you. With every collected page, the drumming in the background gets louder and faster until the player either collects all the pages or is consumed by the Slenderman. This game is especially effective at scaring the audience since the only patch of light the player is treated to in the game is the small area of torchlight on the screen, so keep the player ‘in the dark’ to keep them scared.

The Slenderman
The Slenderman

Another must have for a horror game is good sound design. Long periods of silence rack up the tension and suspense, convincing the player that there has to be something bad around the corner. Of course there always is, but it will always catch you by surprise. One example of this is The Screecher. Technically not an actual game, The Screecher was a total conversion modification for Don’t Starve, a survival game by Klei Entertainment. The Screecher is a horror game in which, yet again, you are hunted by a strange and absolutely terrifying monster. As the player wanders through the dark forest, occasional screeches and screams can be heard in the distance, and the quick, panicked breaths of the “survivors” create lots of tension as the player approaches. Another game named Lurking, takes sound design to a whole other level. The player and monsters are completely blind except for when a sound is made. Different surfaces create different sounds, so will walking at different speeds and the recordings dotted around the area make different levels of noise depending on the tone of the person leaving the messages. The monsters are drawn to these noises and, with no way to protect themselves, it’s an instant game-over for the player. They’re damn scary too.

Lurking uses clever sound design to engage and terrify the payer.
Lurking uses clever sound design to engage and terrify the player.

Everybody is afraid of something. In a game this could be something like rats, cockroaches, spiders or anything that freaks people out. It doesn’t have to be something you’d think of immediately either. It could be something scary about modern life; being kidnapped, terrorism and global warming destroying the world are all examples of quite effective horror settings. It doesn’t have to be a monster hunting you. Being hunted by a human being is often creepier than something fantastical or unimaginable. Another common phobia used in games is claustrophobia. The build up of anticipation as the player approaches a corner in a long corridor with a low field of view can be almost unbearable. Could it be safe? Or could there be another creature waiting for you to stroll unknowingly into it’s jaws?

Resident Evil Revelations has a very low FOV to give the player a feeling of claustrophobia.
Resident Evil Revelations has a very low FOV to give the player a feeling of claustrophobia.

And finally the much used jumpscare, or the moment when something unexpected suddenly catches the player off guard. Loud, fast and terrifying, jumpscares frighten the player for a fraction of a second, but can then be easily forgotten. Just as in a horror film, jumpscares can work brilliantly for the first few times but lose effect after a while. A good horror game uses jumpscares, just not too much.

So here are some of the things needed for a really scary horror game. Like any great story, the horror game genre is more fun with a good narrative; interesting characters and well used techniques. All of these things combined can make a game properly scary and unsettling. Developers need to move away from using the politically incorrect cliché of mental illness as shorthand for scariness. They should instead create unforgettable, creepy and atmospheric experiences that use every trick and tool in the horror book to terrify gamers, and keep them coming back for more.

Tom Richards is a 14 year old gamer who loves the art, craft and science of games in all their various forms (except for fighting games). He believes a great game should include a good story, characters and zombies. As well as games he loves playing his bass and sax and tweets at @berkokid36

Technical Delivery of TEDxExeter 2014

Chromatrope were delighted to be asked to provide the camera, sound, technical and post-production support for the 2014 TEDxExeter. The theme for the event was ‘Ideas Without Frontiers’, with a range of fascinating speakers across the day, building on the successes of the previous years.

TED Front Page Featuring Karima Bennoune
TED Front Page Featuring Karima Bennoune

Following a number of meetings with the clients we designed an approach that would make the most of the opportunity to capture the ‘ideas worth spreading’ of the amazing speakers gathered for the day. We provided a full technical team, with five cameras (three operated) capturing the action, a dedicated sound engineer and media wrangler. Technical coordinator Ed Borgnis did an awesome job of providing the Chromatrope team and the clients with everything that they needed.

Chromatrope Team
Chromatrope Team

On-the-fly vision mixing provided a mixed output, so that the clients could review the material over the course of the day, and necessitating only a modest amount of post production. This meant that we could provide a really fast turnaround, with the edited talks rapidly delivered to the clients on a drive, and the films promptly posted to the TEDx site – slam poet Harry Baker was one of our favourites.

Backstage at TEDxExeter
Backstage at TEDxExeter

We were particularly delighted that ‘BIG TED’ in New York picked up on Karima Bennoune’s passionate and highly personal talk, ‘When people of Muslim heritage challenge fundamentalism’. They posted her film to the main TED site where it has currently attracted an amazing one million views!

It was a real pleasure to be involved in TEDx and to work with the passionate and inspired TEDxExeter team – we’ve agreed to come back and do it all again next year, when the theme will be ‘Taking the Long View’, so we’d urge you to book tickets – and if you’re a TEDx organiser and you’d like to chat to us about covering your event, please get in touch.