Bolton Lecturer Starts Teaching... in California

The following Press Release has just been issued by University of Bolton, where I currently teach. Cross-posted from

lcad_logoThis week, University of Bolton Senior Lecturer in Game Design Dr. Chris Bateman starts teaching... 5,285 miles away in Laguna Beach, California.

‘Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) first asked me to teach Game Narrative for them back in June last year,’ Chris explains, ‘but I had to decline because of my commitments at Bolton. But after thinking about it, I realised that with the high tech resources at both our campuses it might be possible to teach my class over the internet.’ That is what has happened. Using D2L’s elearning platform Brightspace, Chris will be able to teach his class on the other side of the world this Autumn.

‘I teach a world-class introduction to game narrative theory and practice in the BSc Game Design at Bolton,’ Chris adds, ‘and at LCAD I get to teach the subject as a Visiting Professor on a Master of Fine Art degree – which given the years I’ve spent defending the value of games as an artistic medium is a genuine honour.’ The class at LCAD is a modified version of a module Chris has taught at Bolton for many years, which in turn is based upon workshops he and a colleague used to run for both the BBC and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe when he was working as a full time consultant. The Bachelor's version of the workshops will also be used by Uppsala University, the oldest university in Sweden, for an Interactive Storytelling class commencing in January 2016.

Chris notes that his co-workers are amused that he’s working in Bolton and e-commuting to California: ‘They think I should have gone to California and e-commuted to Bolton instead! But I’m happy with how this worked out, and it’s a great partnership between two exceptional academic institutions.’

Sandy Appleöff, the Founder and Chair of the Art of Game Design MFA at LCAD, says that they particularly wanted Chris to teach the class for them. ‘We’d asked a number of professionals in the games industry to suggest someone to teach game narrative at LCAD, and Chris’ name kept coming up. It was a shame when he initially declined, but a great pleasure when he found away to make it happen anyway. Chris is globally recognised as an expert in game narrative, and is exactly the kind of professional we seek out to teach here at LCAD.’

Chris has enjoyed a highly successful career in game development, working on over forty five games including classic titles such as Discworld Noir and Ghost Master, as well as major global franchises such as Cartoon Network: FusionFall and Motorstorm: Apocalypse. He even self-funded an ‘artgame’ called Play with Fire that was featured in a travelling exhibition. Chris’ talents and work also go well beyond game development, stretching into groundbreaking academic research that combines game studies, neurobiology and philosophy. His work on the foundations to game aesthetics, published as the book Imaginary Games, is part of a long-term project combining philosophy and scientific research to help understand play and games. In 2013, he became the first person in the world to receive a doctorate in the aesthetics of games and play, via a PhD by Publication drawing from his existing work.

University of Bolton offers both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Game Design, Games Art and Game Programming, and Chris teaches on all the games degrees in various capacities, although Game Design is the BSc course that studies Game Narrative under Chris tutorship. The University was one of the first in the UK to offer degrees in game development, and its graduates have gone on to work at major developers such as Rockstar North (based in Dundee), creator of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and TT Games (based in Knutsford), who are responsible for the LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Batman, and LEGO Jurassic World franchises. A team of game students from Bolton recently won two major prizes in this year’s Dare to Be Digital competition.

Laguna College of Art and Design is a world-renowned fine arts university located on the spectacular California coast line. It offers both Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) and Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) degree courses. LCAD is considered one of the best colleges in the United States for traditional and graphic arts, specifically digital game art, with graduating students quickly being snapped up by top gaming companies including Walt Disney Animation, Microsoft, EA, and Activision.

Horror and Punishment

Over on ihobo today, my response to Jed Pressgrove’s recent criticism of 2001’s Silent Hill 2. While I concede many of his points, it is substantially to defend the game (and the team behind it) that I wrote this reply. Here’s an extract:

When my wife and I went on to play Silent Hill 2, it annoyed me with its obvious staged linearity and almost total absence of what I, at the time, considered characteristic of game design. Where was the open structure of the first game? The tightly constructed progression? Why am I so constrained in almost everything I do now?  So it was with some surprise that,  after a few more playthroughs and considerable reflection, Silent Hill 2 eventually came to stand out as an exceptional case of game narrative. Indeed, I am hard pressed to find any game prior to 2001 that fulfils its narrative ambitions to the extent of this game – which is not to say that it is an unqualified success on all fronts. But then, my general view of game narrative prior to 2001, when Silent Hill 2 was released, is rather negative. There are signs of what might be possible… but they are rare, and almost always dragged down by an overbearing emphasis on puzzles or combat.

You can read the entirety of Horror and Punishment over on

Is Gordon Freeman a Character?

Over on ihobo today, I take a crowbar to the popularity of Gordon Freeman as a ‘character’. Here’s an extract:

Every poll asking gamers to rate the best videogame character is topped by Half-Life's Gordon Freeman. But is Gordon even a character, let alone the best that games have produced? This question hinges upon what we mean by 'character', of course. The argument that Gordon qualifies – despite his lack of a clearly recognisable personality or identity – rests on the assumption that a player-character should be an empty shell for the player to inject themselves into… Trouble is, player-as-Gordon has precious little choice because his world consists solely of puzzles to solve, things to crowbar, or things to kill. So if this is the relevant criterion, it doesn't seem like Gordon has the substance to back up his claim to supremacy with any kind of legitimacy beyond popular mandate.

You can read all of Is Gordon Freeman a Character? over at

Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing

PTFVW The IGDA's Game Writers Special Interest Group has produced a sequel to the book I edited (Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames) entitled Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing. The new book is edited by Wendy Despain, whose consultancy Quantum Content is part of the International Hobo family, and who sits on the executive panel of the SIG. I received a copy of the book from Wendy when I met her up in Yellowstone Park before leaving the States, and enjoyed reading it on the plane back to the UK. The new book is a great supplement to the first one, with lots of useful information and advice from professional game writers covering a wide variety of interesting and useful topics. But don't take my word for it - there's a review on Slashdot which also praises it.

My Words in Other Voices

Microphone03_2 There are few aspects of being a game writer which are truly rewarding, but the one shining jewel in the experience of writing for games is the amazing transformation that voice actors perform in bringing a script to life. Good voice actors – and there are many such people – can rescue a lacklustre script, invigorate an average script and immortalise a good one. It is not much of an exaggeration to claim that the appalling general quality of videogames narrative taken as a whole would seem even more dire were it not for the incredible work that voice actors perform in making dry text into living people and tangible emotions.

My first voice recording sessions were for Discworld Noir, which was also my first videogame script. I’d worked on the previous Discworld game, but not in a lead role. I was lucky to get a truly exceptional voice cast to work with. (I mentioned them briefly before, when I noted that three out of four of them worked on Mirrormask). I was also extremely lucky to have the Discworld author himself, Terry Pratchett, edit the script for the game (while on holiday in Australia) – with the minimum of tampering, Terry brought out the comedy in the script, and polished my rough work to a neat sparkle.

Rob Brydon, a Welsh comedian now most famous for the BBC comedy Marion and Geoff, provided the voice of the protagonist, Lewton, and several other minor characters. Since the game features a hard boiled monologue for the delivery of almost all information, including error messages, Rob had to endure a grueling week of recording several thousand lines of speech. One particular aspect of the script caused ever growing frustration: a mistake in the way the shooting script had been compiled meant that every door in the game produced a line of dialogue in the script: “After all, a door is just a door”. After reading this line about twenty times, it became Rob’s own personal hell. I can only hope that he has successfully blocked it from his memory in the years since!

Nigel Planer, probably still best known as the moping hippy Neil in the BBC comedy The Young Ones, was perhaps the most meticulously professional in his approach to the recording sessions. He spent some time getting the studio set up just perfectly to his requirements, then delivered all the lines with comfortable aplomb. There was no doubt he had done this sort of voice acting job many times before.

The voice of all the female characters in Noir, Kate Robbins, was a sheer delight to work with. She completed all of her lines in a one day session, delivering them with a glorious lustre and a seemingly infinite supply of accents. Carlotta, the femme fatale of the story, exudes a smouldering quality heightened by the lustrous accent Kate performed. Most amazingly, the script called for the troll diva Sapphire to sing a song (a pastiche composed and written by Paul Weir) which Kate recorded on the day, from the sheet music, without ever having heard it before. Classy!

Finally, my favourite of the voice actors for this game was Robert Llewellyn, most famous as the android Kryten in the BBC Comedy Red Dwarf (although he is also a writer of popular novels). Throughout the long recording sessions, I was keeping myself sane by tallying a scorecard for whose lines were getting the most lasts – mine, or those added by Terry in the editing phase. (In the end, we broke about even). One line in particular has stuck in memory: it came in Robert’s lines for the Butler, my favourite character in the game. The Butler – a savagely deadpan wit – introduces Lewton (the protagonist) to the Library at the Von Uberwald mansion, saying: “The Libraris Apocrypha is a collection of obscurities and rare volumes from across the continent. If knowledge were an animal, the Libraris would be a great dragon. Sir by the same scale would be kebab on an ant’s barbecue.” It cracked Robert up so much, we had to take a short break to restore order.

I’ve had many other voice sessions since then, but few so memorable. It was, however, a great personal honour to record the narrator script for Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition with Tom Baker back in 2004. (Do I need to make it explicit that Tom is most famous as the fourth Doctor in the BBC science fiction serial Doctor Who?) He arrived at the London studio where we were holding the recordings as larger than life as ever, and immediately launched into a discussion about the tone of the script, and the use of the word “inculcate” in the introduction. Later, after recording hundreds of narration lines with effortless aplomb, he launched into a random anecdote about somebody he had been involved in years before, then straight back into reading lines. There was something magical about the whole experience.

In the book I edited on Game Writing, Coray Seifert’s chapter on voice actors is called “Adding Magic”. Undeniably, that’s what the many great voice actors and actresses contribute to every game script they animate: a miraculous, supernatural talent to bring mere words into spectacular life. Our videogame stories would be utterly impoverished without them.