Opposable Games: Dev Diaries - Ben Curtis talks serious games and Pesky gNats
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Dev Diaries - Ben Curtis talks serious games and Pesky gNats

Posted 2014-06-16 11:09:00 by Dan

Welcome to the first of our dev diaries, where we'll be documenting the work we're producing, profiling our team, and giving you a little insight into how we work at Opposable Games. First up, we've got an interview with producer Ben Curtis, who's been hard at work on Pesky gNats (he'll fill you in on the details).

Hi Ben, can you tell us a little bit about what you do at Opposable Games?

I'm our Producer, so I handle the project management and scoping of new projects as well as overseeing their direction, acting as a contact for any clients or subcontractors we're working with and inputting into the game design. I also have a lot of input into UI design and User Experience, so I often scope and wireframe screens before passing them to one of our artists to produce. I make music for short films and my own projects too, so I've also recently been producing a lot of our audio and music content. Unless a project is of sufficient scope to bring in someone externally I also oversee testing, content and bug fixing, signing off things where necessary!

What’s this gNats all about then?

Pesky gNATs is a brilliant project we're working on for two Irish University professors. It's a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy intervention for children. As you can see just from its name, CBT is aimed squarely at adults, but children are just as likely to experience mental health issues as adults. Pesky gNATs is a CBT course played as a game with their therapist, set on a tropical island with the concepts delivered and reinforced by familiar characters and metaphors. We're also developing a companion app featuring mobile-friendly content and a series of mini-games so the young person can carry on their therapy at home. It's an awesome project and I can already see it's going to help a huge amount of young people get better!

Cool, how’s it been to work on? Can you tell us a little bit about the process?

Without descending too much into project management jargon it's been difficult at times but always productive down to embracing the Agile way! The 3D tropical island was already largely completed when I arrived here, so after taking over we put a lot of effort into a series of animated videos in-game. Following that the scope of the project increased enormously, with companion apps and all sorts of extra features being added over the next 12 months. Step 1 was the companion app, so I produced a series of clickable prototypes with our artists and started rolling out the assets. We're now moving into the next phase which is to add a load of mini-games, so the focus is on concepting and producing design documents again now.

What's your favourite bit to work on been?

Well at the moment I'm working on game design, audio and level design for the mini-games, which I have to say is great fun and a welcome break from the complexities of building my first mobile app!

Are you looking forward to further serious games? If so, why?

Absolutely! While starting with a completely blank canvas is great fun and a brilliant challenge in its own way, producing something that is both fun and serving some other specific function and purpose opens up new ways to be creative and meet the challenge. It's putting a different part of my brain to work, bringing games back to the real world; getting you to re-evaluate constantly whether what you're doing is benefitting or detracting from the goal or whether there's a more elegant way to achieve the same thing.

Where do you see serious games going in the future?

I'm honestly not sure, there's been a bit of a backlash about the latest avenue for serious games in gamification, with the sentiment that it both devalues the original activity and games themselves. Some people think that they offer a false sense of achievement, reducing something as intrinsically satisfying as learning something new to icons or outfits for your character in Classcraft, for instance. Some would say products like Classcraft are an easy way out of making learning actually fun. 

That's not to say serious games don't have their place when properly thought out. Pesky gNATs for instance gamifies something that is both hard for young people to understand and stigmatising for them to actually do. CBT is repackaged as a fun and engaging activity using game concepts to reinforce and enhance the experience through social learning and narrative: helping young people to directly address their mental health issues with play and learning metaphors in a visual, non-stigamitising way.

I have no doubt that simulators for dangerous real-world activities and models of complex systems will continue blur the lines between education or training and games, and hope that they do! It's also amazing to see those games being sent up through titles like Goat Simulator and people having fun with science in games like Universe Sandbox.

Are you excited about the next few months at Opposable Games?

More so than ever. I'm getting my creative juices flowing writing up some storyline for a very exciting mystery game we have in the pipeline, continuing to make music, working on the next phase of the gNATs project and getting cracking with some other of our projects we're working on. Exciting times all round!


Interview conducted by Dan Page


If you'd like to know more about Pesky gNats, you can follow the game's twitter account over at @peskygnats.


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