Rio Paralympics - what to watch

As for the Olympics, I thought I'd pick out a few sports from the Paralympics that I find interesting to watch. As well as specific sports, it's a good exercise for live game designers to look at the different ways in which sports can be adapted to those with differing physical needs. There are six different classes of paratriathlon, for example, each using different adaptations to the conventional race structure. But these sports are particularly interesting to me on design terms alone:

Football, 5-a-side At the Paralympics, two versions of football are played but this version, adapted entirely for blind and partially-sighted players, is fantastic. Side boards prevent the ball leaving play easily and the ball contains bells, allowing players to follow it, but only roughly. As a result, attackers run with the ball at their feet with incredible skill, using touch alone to navigate defences. Goalkeepers are sighted but each team has a spotter behind the opponent's goal, who can give signals and tap on the goalposts to give attackers cues. The entire game works in a format that is recognisably football, yet entirely suited to play without the primary sense required for the standard game.

Boccia A stablemate of bowls or petanque played with weighted leather balls, Boccia is suitable for people with a range of physical impairments, who use different equipment to play the same game, from wheelchairs to launching ramps for shots. A high level of skill and tactical thinking is required but the game is recognisably itself across differing levels of disability classification.

Wheelchair Rugby although not directly related to rugby, this game has received a makeover on inclusion in the Paralympics, as its original informal name of "murderball" was a bit aggressive for the casual crowd. Teams of four compete to pass and carry a ball into a try area, but contact is both permitted and encouraged. Players are classified in terms of physical ability on a scale from 0.5 to 3.5, and a team can only have 8 points of players on the pitch at a time, so there is a role for players with a wide range of capacities and abilities.

Rio Olympics - what to watch

The summer Olympics are upon us! I thought I'd recommend few events I find interesting from a game design perspective. I consider sport just as important an area of games as anything else and certainly the area with the greatest cultural reach, so why shouldn't we consider a festival of sport also a festival of our culture as game designers? Here are my picks:

Handball Teams of seven compete to throw a small ball into goals at either end of the pitch. A fantastic sport almost unplayed in the UK but rightly popular elsewhere, understanding handball helps you understand almost any other game with a scoring object and two goals to put it in.

Volleyball Probably the world's most underrated sport, to play and to watch. A game about feints and setups, and the defences trying to decipher them. Skip the other net sports and go for this. Beach volleyball is excellent too.

Track Cycling, Individual Sprint So simple on paper: best of three races of three laps between two cyclists. However, as being behind another cyclist lets you accelerate past them using their slipstream, the riders try to fake the other rider to go in front, sometimes coming to an absolute halt. Get too far behind however, and the leader can open up and leave you behind completely. Fascinating and nervy duels emerge.

Rugby Sevens By removing over half the players but keeping the pitch size the same, rugby sevens keeps the same shape as rugby union but removes a lot of the brutal impact and tackling, making for a fast and exhilarating running game. First time in the Olympics.

Fencing almost too fast to follow by eye and with scoring following elaborate rules, fencing is pretty impenetrable for new fans. However, the presentation of modern fencing is amazing and does a lot to elevate the contest, and it's worth catching a couple of bouts. Épée is probably easiest for beginners.

Modern Pentathlon A weird relic of Olympic history, Modern Pentathlon combines all the skills a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines may require - horse riding, swimming and running, and shooting and fencing. To stay relevant, it has developed its own quirks, with shooting and running combined into a final, staggered start event. The horses are assigned to contestants by random draw, a tiny change that completely changes the feel of the event. 

Taekwondo there are many combat sports at the Olympics but Taekwondo is the most videogame-like: different kicks scores points based on difficulty and location, which introduces risk-and-reward to tactical choices. Probably the closest thing you'll see to fighting game decisions in real life. Plus, it looks futuresports as heck.


Here's a new thing I've been working on - an escape room! If you're unfamiliar with escape rooms, they're a type of game where several people are locked into a room together and solve puzzles against a time limit in order to escape. The rooms are heavily themed and provide a highly immersive experience. I'm excited about them: they're a chance to develop a regular structure for physical games, where the basic rules are fixed and the designers can do anything around that.

I've been working with Oubliette, a new company bringing an escape room to Brixton, London. Mink has previously built an escape room in Portland, Oregan and she's developing a new version of that room to the UK. They're already found a space and gone a long way to turn it into a tiny dystopia, tucked behind an innocent-looking adventure shop.

They've been running a Kickstarter and while it's hit its target, there are still three days to get tickets and other goodies like in-world stories written by Kieron Gillen and Naomi Alderman, among other treats.

Bees In a Tin

I spoke last Friday at Bees In A Tin, a conference in Birmingham about unusual interfaces organised by Mary&Varied. It was a great day! The range of talks and workshops was really varied, from people talking about rocks and geology, to the ideomotor effect (I have a strong subconscious power over paperclips, it turns out), and a talk entirely told with two turntables, a box of 7"s and a bottle of champagne.

I gave a talk on a forthcoming project of mine, the Animated Typewriter, in which an IBM Selectric typewriter can operate itself and also receive and react to input from a user, running a text adventure that subverts the reliability of the machine itself. The talk is about the technical concerns of developing such a device. Audio of my talk is now online (along with all the other talks and a panel I spoke on with Holly Gramazio and Sarah Angliss), as are pictures of the day on Flickr.

Many thanks to Many&Varied for inviting me to speak, and to everyone who spoke or attended! I had a great day learned a lot, and met many interesting people. Also, it was fun to effectively publicly reveal the typewriter for the first time. More news on that story as it develops.