Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Codex Bash Selected for Out Of Index 2017

More exciting news! Codex Bash has been chosen for the Out Of Index 2017 Official Selection in Seoul, South Korea.


Out Of Index is an annual festival of experimental independent games, with a mission statement of exposing unusual and surprising works and making them visible and available to a wider audience. 98 games were submitted to the selection from a grand total of 22 countries, of which 12 made the final shortlist.

The exhibition will be this Saturday 29 July, and it marks the furthest Codex Bash has travelled from its birthplace in Bristol - narrowly beating Los Angeles by a mere 200 miles!

The awards can be live-streamed at 9am BST on the Out Of Index Twitch channel - wish me luck!

Friday, 7 July 2017

Breaking Sonic 2: The Marathon

Earlier in the year I gathered together some friends to try to beat as much of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992, Sega Mega Drive) as we could using some of my hardware and software hacks. We didn't get very far, but it was a lot of fun!

Four players, one controller


First off we tried using the Mega Cooperator - a four button co-operative controller where each player controls one of the Mega Drive's buttons. The buttons change what they do every thirty seconds and the only way to find out what they do is to press them!



Part 1: Emerald Hill Zone
Part 2: Chemical Plant Zone
Part 3: Aquatic Ruin Zone
Part 4: Casino Night Zone

I love way the kit forces everyone to communicate with each other. You need to listen as well as speak, wait as well as act, and unlike Codex Bash - my codebreaking installation which I adapted the hardware from - you have to act in tandem.

Jumping between moving platforms, for example, requires a lot of attention to what the other player is doing. Are they running fast? Are they tapering their speed?

When the game breaks as you play

Then we tried to do the same with the self-glitching emulator I made. I set up a script in the emulator to glitch random bytes of level data every time Sonic collected a ring.

We skipped around levels this time to see what other effects could come up.



I love the way this setup forces you to play the game differently. You play to avoid rings rather than collect rings, and sometimes you have to abuse the way the game's physics work to launch yourself over level geometry that was never meant to be there.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Homunculus - Lyst Summit 2017

Earlier in the month I was at Lyst Summit in Copenhagen. While I was there I worked on a playful performance called Being There, which I’ve talked about in an earlier blog post.

At the same time, this happened…



I say “happened,” because unlike the other games made during the weekend, Homunculus emerged practically fully-formed.

The rules of Homunculus are simple. A participant dons a morphsuit and becomes the homunculus. The player closes their eyes, while a volunteer chooses a “pleasure point” on the homunculus - a hand or an elbow, for example, or an ear. All other parts of the homunculus’ body are “pain points.” I call this “programming” the homunculus.

The player opens their eyes, and must find the pleasure point by touching bits of the homunculus’ body. The homunculus must, through physical movement alone, convey whether the point they have touched is a pleasure point or a pain point.

As you can hopefully see from the video the experience is both awkward and hilarious! Witness, for example, Sabine Harrer (PhD student and member of Copenhagen Game Collective) in stitches watching a player grope around for a pleasure point on a homunculus’ belly.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Being There: An Interactive Performance for Lyst Summit

A couple of weekends ago I flew to Copenhagen to take part in Lyst Summit, a symposium and game jam about love, sex and romance in video games. During the event roughly forty creatives from disciplines inside and outside games collaborated to make experimental games and playful experiences.

I teamed up with Maya Magnat, a performance artist from Tel Aviv, and Anders Børup, a sound designer from Copenhagen, to create Being There - an audio-led role-play for two people.

About Being There


Being There is played by two participants, who each take a headset loaded with an audio track. The two participants start the audio at the same time, and have to follow the actions described to them by the audio. The two tracks start similar, but over time the perspective offered by the two narrators changes. One participant’s view of the events will become increasingly different to the other’s.

The story that participants act out is the story of a relationship from first date to break-up.

If you want to try the prototype version we made during Lyst, the mp3 files are below for you to download and try out. And below them, a bit of an explanation and discussion of the process, if you don’t mind the magic being spoiled!

You will need to hug, hold hands, and have your phone on you to take a photo with.

Download: Participant A
Download: Participant B

The voices are provided by myself, and by writer Jordan Erica Webber.



Monday, 5 June 2017

How Sonic the Hedgehog Uses Colour

There’s a lot of excellent use of colour in the very first Sonic the Hedgehog game on Sega Mega Drive.

Visual readability has been a personal bugbear throughout my time in video games. There’s been some cases where I’ve been really happy with the choices I’ve made, and others where I feel I could have done much better. From my point of view, visual design is only partly about making things look pretty. It is primarily about conveying information that the player needs in order to interact.

Where are the key objects in the scene? What do they do? What can I interact with? How can I interact with it? What is my goal? What should I aim to avoid? Once those questions have been answered, then the developer is free to answer the question “how should I feel about this scene?”


The original Sonic the Hedgehog is visually outstanding not just because it presents landscapes that feel rich, vivid and fleshed out, but also because it has a very strong grasp on delivering key information. I’ve always admired, for example, the fact that Sonic when rolling is the exact same shape as his hit-box

Sonic the Hedgehog conveys its information not just through the shape and form of its visual elements, but also by its use of colour. That’s what makes it an exciting example I want to explore in this article.

Monday, 29 May 2017

On What Games Are

My brother asked me a very interesting question last time I came to visit. He’s an author, and we were talking about why we do what we do.

“If you had to pick two games to demonstrate - to someone who’d never seen video games before - what games are to you, what would they be?”

Originally he asked me to do it in one game, but I couldn't describe the entire medium in one example. Trying to do it in two was much more interesting. You can't describe an entire medium in two examples, but the process of trying to do so is very telling about your perspective as a developer.

I’m going to talk about the two games I chose, but this piece is only partly about the games and why I chose them. It’s also about why the question is interesting in the first place. Eventually it’s a question about Ian Bogost and whether or not games can tell stories.

But I digress.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Building a Glitchable Mega Drive Emulator

This is a little project I did back last summer, to explore glitching games. I've long been inspired by speedrunning, and glitches like the Missingno glitch in Pokémon Red and Blue.

I love being able to pull apart the game and see how they work, an getting an insight into what the data looks like from the perspective of the machine. For example, the Missingno glitch shows us what happens when the GameBoy interprets the player's name as the parameters of a Pokémon.

I also think there's a certain beauty to seeing a game not as a finished work but as a raw material - a starting point to be reinterpreted. Speedrunning gives us a new objective, and can turn a game of exploration into a deep exercise in resource management. Changing the control system for Sonic 2 allowed me to turn a game about dexterity into a game about teamwork.

With this project I worked on modifying GenesisPlus, an open source Sega Mega Drive emulator for Mac, which is bundled as part of OpenEmu. I put in a system of scripting interactions with the console's memory. This means it can write new values into memory on certain triggers. These include a time period passing, a button being pressed, or another value in memory changing.

I then worked on turning this into something that would be fun to play in its own right. I added networking features so that players playing separate copies of the game can interact with each other, using glitching to fuel a competitive challenge.

The video below talks about how I created this, how it works, the thought process I went to, and the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 variant that emerged as a result. I hope you enjoy watching!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Human in the Machine

ELIZA was the world’s first digital psychotherapist. Created from 1964 to 1966, long before Siri and Cortana, long even before the first commerical videogames, ELIZA was an AI that had conversations with its users.

A user, communicating with ELIZA through a terminal, would be asked a question about themselves, and ELIZA would listen, prompting the user with questions.

Except ELIZA had no idea what was going on. ELIZA only created the illusion of understanding, using pattern-matching and substitution to parrot the own user’s words in the the form of a question.


ELIZA’s conversational ability grew over time - not through machine learning, but through users adding new rules and behaviours to her script. She was an illusion, non-sentient and entirely artificial. Nevertheless, users were reported as having meaningful conversations with her. ELIZA talked them through their problems. They found the experience comforting, often revealing to themselves inner feelings they hadn’t acknowledged.

Joseph Weizenbaum, the creator of the program, was dismissive of this response. He had created ELIZA as a parody of artificial intelligence, to demonstrate the superficiality of communication between man and machine. He felt the popular response was merely a result of humanity’s tendency to anthropomorphise the world around them.

Regardless of what was really going on under the hood, users had a meaningful human experience with ELIZA. Whether or not the machine was actually intelligent is not important. Even whether or not users actually believed that the device was intelligent is, arguably, of little consequence.

For the end user, their emotional response was the entirety of the experience. The banality of the program only mattered if believing it to be artificial affected that response.

Maybe it was enough to simply play along with the artifice.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Incredible Playable Show comes to Screenshake Antwerp

This Saturday I'll be bringing The Incredible Playable Show to the Screenshake 2017 festival in Antwerp, Belgium.

The show takes place at at 6pm at Het Bos, Ankerrui 5-7, 2000 Antwerp - taking over the Local Multiplayer Hall for one final digital extravaganza before the evening's Screenshake Party.


Tickets are available from www.screenshake.be

Come along and prepare to be part of an incredible playable experience you will not forget!