Joe Nelson - Game Director at Ninja Theory

Updated: Mar 7, 2019


Joe is an Alumni of Uclan, he studied game design and is currently a Game Director at Ninja Theory Ltd.


Joes talk is specifically about the Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice game and how the team kept the vision of the game.


'A journey into hell, through the lease of mental health'


The team worked using 'pillars', to support the vision. Those 'pillars' consist of different constraints which keep the continuity of the research, games material and story.


Constraints - Dark age technology, authentic display of mental health

Research - Professor of neuroscience at Cambridge, who was integral to how the game displayed mental health, delusions and hallucinations. Dr Elizabeth who teaches English literature at Cambridge had a vast amount of knowledge on Norse Mythology. Service users with first hand experience with the mental health that the game depicts.


Games often use patterns to allow users to predict what the next stage is in a game. Associating colours to tasks, 'A blue key will open the blue door'. These predictions create a model of the world that the game is set in.


Affordance: immediately knowing the use of something.


One obstacle that the team found was how to show delusions and hallucinations in the game. The person playing the game is very well aware that they are playing a game that has been created. Whereas real life delusions and hallucinations are difficult to distinguish between the real world.


Joe referenced Plato several times during his talk. 'Allegory of the cave' was the first example he gave.

'Life is like being stuck in a cave watching shadows flittering across the walls of the cave creating perfect shapes'


Within the game, colours and shapes associate with patterns. Our brains priorities these patterns, e.g. a red splatter on a wall will alert the gamers to a danger as they recognise this as blood on a wall.


'When creating a game, you need to remember that the real world has room for staplers'


In a real office, in the real world. People will have staplers on their desks and they will move around the office as needed when being used. In a game, staplers will only be there if they are designed, made and put into the game. Games are a simplified version of reality.


Ultimately, real life psychosis is harmful. The game is not intending to exploit psychosis, but to use it appropriately to highlight different aspects within the game.

At the end of the talk, there weren't many questions from the audience. Bex and one of the game design tutors asked questions about professionalism and transitioning to the real world of work.


  • What is the intent of the work you want to show in your portfolio?

  • Provide work which is realistic standard for the brief you are working towards.

  • Show tangible output of work in your examples. E.g, don't provide a piece of work which took you 3 weeks to make when it isn't realistic for you spend that much time on something in a job.

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