Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 6 – UX Conclusions

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2 Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!

Conclusions on UX

In the end, I’ve talked a lot of talk about the Giygas battle, and what it might mean. But I haven’t particularly said why.

I work in user experience and I was struck by the experience I had during this final battle and how certain ideas and thoughts struck me regarding it even after the fact. I wanted to understand why I felt the way I did, to try and boil down the brass tacks comprising the experience overall so that I might understand how these effects could be utilized in other experiences people may design. Of course, utilizing one or all of these elements won’t result in the same experience – there is a certain finesse, understanding, and showmanship required to create a memorable experience. But that is precisely why I wanted to explore these elements.

Understanding users, presenting your content effectively and in a way that makes users desire more interaction or to share their interaction experiences with others…this is what comprises a good user experience. Itoi and the Mother team’s understanding of how to represent Giygas and all the artefacts related to the battle with him or leading up to that battle in a way that would make their users experience it precisely in the way that they hoped they would…this is what makes this effective, memorable, and a worthwhile case study.

No one can pick apart the elements described here and recreate verbatim Giygas’s battle as a UX artefact for their own project – there are so many more variables, and the entire experience of the game is also represented in the encapsulation of the particular experience with the battle with Giygas. What they can do is recognize the psychology of design involved in the battle, the elements accounted for and how those elements effected the users, and consider the ways in which these could be implemented for their specific audiences or needs.

I knew after my battle with Giygas I had to write about it as a user experience developer, but I didn’t quite understand how or why. As I gathered my thoughts here, I recognized what I was describing was feelings experienced, emotions understood, and memories and connections created. These are all important aspects of a user experience. While a web client looking to have a user add an item to their cart is unlikely to care about the fear psychology that made the Giygas battle memorable, there are still many lessons and ideas from this case study that hold true to any UX need.

Let’s consider a few key lessons we might be able to take away from our analysis:

User experience is focused on the user.

I’ve harkened many times that in the end, the battle with Giygas is about the player, not about Ness, and that’s with an obvious reason to my end message. This is true of UX as well. Each user’s experience is memorable in that it is their own, and no two are likely to be alike. However, we can craft experiences in such a way that each has a great one, one they want to share.

Psychology is important to experience.

Fear, hope, and a myriad of other emotions the game coerces the player to feel are integral to the final fight against Giygas, and the feelings the player has entering the battle can effect their feelings overall. UX is no different. A user’s emotions when they enter a process on a website can determine how they feel at the end, and the emotions they feel throughout will influence their actions and experience. These emotions need to be accounted for, shifted, and extrapolated upon in whatever way best defines the ideal experience.

Ideas can differ, experience should remain the same.

Plenty of people disagree on what the form of Giygas is meant to look like or represent, but almost all of them agree that it’s unsettling. Whatever your project is, it should be no different. Users might disagree on what the exact messaging of a label should be, or which image best fits with a blog post’s message, or the best brand colors for your messaging. But in the end, what matters is that their experiences all boil down to the same things that you desire for them to feel or that they can complete the tasks they need to complete. If a label is disrupting a user’s experience, it’s probably a good idea to change that label. But if it comes down to semantics and is still intuitive, then the experience hasn’t been tarnished even though each user’s ideas may differ.

Positive emotions are very strong.

The themes of hope and a light at the end of the tunnel ring true in UX. User’s like feeling like they are one step closer to completion, that they’re almost to the finish line. Users enjoy feeling a glimmer of hope, and they enjoy feeling happy throughout the process of whatever their doing. These things seem obvious, but the battle with Giygas reinforces our discussion on that: in something so desolate and bleak (think maybe…a tax audit process on a website?), little moments of happiness and positivity can be what it takes to create a positive, memorable experience overall (assistive features, progress bars, positive feedback after task completions).

Don’t forget the little things….because they might just become the big things.

From the touching chills a player gets when they first notice that their prayers are being “heard” in the game, to the buildup of Porky’s evil reign, to each prayer slowly fracturing Giygas and each Sound Stone melody making Ness and friends stronger…each moment is memorable and matters to the overall experience. One button being non functional or not working as users might intend on your interface might not seem like a big deal when you’re so focused on ensuring your conversion process is streamlined and perfect…so focused on that end goal, but that might be the button the user was hoping to use and changes their perception wildly of the product. And what if this user was a big name blogger, who now talks ill of your product to thousands of followers, who share that article like wildfire….sounds a lot like a Porky situation, doesn’t it?<br> While this scenario might be unlikely, and it’s important to streamline those areas users are most likely to utilize first, it makes for a lesson worth keeping in mind. Tiny moments like remembering a user’s billing information, or showing them costs with shipping and tax up front, or making the registration process a bit more fun and simple – these are all tiny moments that influence your user’s perception of the product overall, and those tiny moments just might be the thing that separates you from your competitor and makes you the winner in your user’s eyes.

This has been my analysis on the final fight with Giygas in Earthbound. I know some of my ideas were obviously following my own interpretations or train of thought, but I hope they made sense in the grand scheme of my analysis and my concepts of the psychology of the fight and how these relate to usability, and maybe gave you a new twist on your own perceptions of the battle, however minor.

I hope you enjoyed, I hope it got you thinking, and I hope you maybe learned something along the way! 🙂 Thanks for reading!

“The War Against Gigyas is Over….Our Travels Together End Here” – Epilogue, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.

Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 5 – Misdirection

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2.
Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!


One of the most enthralling aspects of Giygas from psychology isn’t even the structure of the battle with Giygas itself, but of a reality players realize some time after completing the game.

Giygas has been destroyed, but his destruction caused the rise of another: Porky (Pokey) Minch.

Ah yes, Porky. Is he evil? Is he just a brat? I mean who cares? We have the literal embodiment of terror and evil sitting on our doorstep.

And that’s precisely the point. Who cares? The tale of poor Porky and who really cares. It’s no wonder that Porky gets fed up with no one noticing him, and goes on to terrorize the world.

This topic has been discussed several times by several other bloggers and commenters, so I want to spin this to be about the psychology of this final fight and how it effects the player.

What it boils down to is the player has been told throughout the entire story “fight Giygas. Beat Giygas. Stop the evil that will come to the world by getting Giygas”. The player focuses on this storyline – in part because they have to, but also because they come to believe it. We fixate so much on our end goal, that at times we forget about the effects of our actions or the surrounding environment.

In this case, we forgot about Porky. Even during the final fight, he struggles for relevance, devoted to nothing more than a brat yelling insults, trying desperately to get us to notice him as he is obviously overshadowed by our greater mission.

And in the end, when we defeat Giygas? Porky flies off – we think running with his tail between his legs like the spineless coward he’s shown himself to be most of the time. But no, he becomes a huge antagonist of Mother 3, wreaking havoc in places Ness never sees. Ness wipes his hands of the issue after defeating Giygas as does the player, thinking “I’ve done it” – yet what they’ve done is driven a new terror to a new place by fixating on one singular end goal.

Of course, the game was designed this way. There’s no way to “be nice to Porky” or “listen to Porky” or “let Porky help us save the world” or “give our PSI to Porky and maybe he’ll stop Giygas” and magically change this outcome. But the game was designed this way to add another layer of psychological depth to Giygas. The player fixates, focusing so hard on their end goal, they tune all external stimuli out, working hard to achieve what they believe they must. And in the end, this fixation caused them to miss a critical problem right under their noses. While there isn’t an option for changing the fate of Porky, most players on their first playthrough don’t even give it a second thought – precisely why it’s effective. We don’t see Porky as a threat, and so we disregard him for the real threat…when in actuality this turns him into his own force to be reckoned with.

When players come to the realization of how Porky has slipped through the cracks, they begin to wonder who was the real villain. Coupling the discussion regarding Giygas’s dialogue and the confusion that surrounds it with Porky’s sudden rise to power makes the player wonder if the whole time they’ve been going about their mission the wrong way, looking at the wrong thing. And I do believe this is exactly what players are intended to feel.

This game doesn’t take itself seriously and in that it hides many meta gems about gameplay itself. The game sets up the big bad boss, but in fighting the boss he doesn’t even have a real face or form, and ends up being defeated by the realization that social emotions are okay. Porky on the other hand becomes increasingly antisocial as he is ignored and overlooked time and time again, to the point that he is driven to the hatred and psychopathy Giygas hoped he might achieve. It’s almost as though they passed each other going down opposite highways – one toward good, the other toward evil.

I don’t think the game’s setup of Giygas and Porky intends that the player feel badly for their actions – there’s literally no other way the game could go, after all. I think it intends to cause a psychological impact that makes the player think about those actions and the repercussions they cause – the ripple effect if you will. It causes players to have a broader outlook, to consider those nuances and think what they might have done differently had they known…and in this regard, it potentially effects how they view the world or other games as they see the forest for the trees, and look at how the tiny details make up the bigger picture.

Again, this is psychological design at its finest. Causing realization, causing you to think, causing you to wonder, feel, and possibly change your outlook.

“And here you stand, ‘ waiting to be burned up with all the rest of the garbage of this universe….Do you want to scream for help here in the dark?!” – Porky (Means Business) Minch, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.

Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 4 – Dialogue

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2.
Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!


Giygas as a fight is heavily influential on the player in many ways we’ve already discussed. But part of what makes Giygas influential is he makes you as the player think about the after. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking “what if…” and “what did it mean…” after the fight, as there’s many blogs much like this.

Giygas’s dialogue is one of those many areas where we question what’s happening. Those familiar with the game’s background know the dialogue of Giygas is taken from “The Military Policemen and the Dismembered Beauty” and that Itoi believed the dialogue to be describing a rape (in actuality the scene is lovemaking turned to murder). Itoi also stated he wanted to bring “living being” sensation to Giygas with these lines – with lines such as “it hurts” when he considered the terror and eroticism. This begs the question though – if Itoi meant to simulate these feelings with Giygas’s dialogue…is Giygas meant to be erotic? What does that mean in this context?

I would argue that eroticism does not mean it’s classical definition in this sense. Rather, I harken back to Itoi stating that when he saw the sequence in the movie, it was “a direct assault on his brain” – sounds quite similar to “you cannot comprehend the true form of Giygas’s attack”. I believe the portrayal here is not eroticism in a sexual sense for the player, but anticipation and confusion coupled with terror, a mixture of unsettling and exciting and enticing toward completion despite reservations to turn back due to the unsettling nature.

I also believe that the living sensation Itoi describes is precisely why Giygas’s dialogue is so unsettling. Up until this point we have assessed Giygas as an abstract representation of purely unfettered negative emotion. And yet…he speaks as though human. He says “it hurts”. He says “I’m happy”. This confuses the representation of Giygas that we’ve been presented with – we see abstraction with no face, only evil, and yet it seems capable of more emotion. The confusion raises questions. What are we doing? Is this right? What does Giygas mean? We become unsettled. Our interpretation no longer matches reality.

I think that not only does the player feel this unsettling and enticing feeling, but Giygas does as well. Considering Mother’s representation of Giygas – as Giegue, fostered by Maria and George. Giegue has a moment of “weakness” – he feels compassion for Ninten as he felt compassion for Maria, and in turn, this may have caused his downfall. Earthbound’s representation of Giegue going fully “dark” – removing his body and mind to further his cause…we are led to believe that all of Giygas’s rationale and emotion have been removed.

But when we watch the dialogue and the battle unfold, something intriguing happens. It’s almost as though Giygas is regaining his understanding of the feelings he had to suppress as Giegue, trying to rationalize and make sense even as it draws him closer to defeat. It’s almost as though Giygas becomes excited at these revelations, but scared of what they mean. As though Paula’s prayers are speaking to the part of him he worked so hard to hide as Giegue, to the point of destroying himself in order to try and stifle them.

Consider what Giygas says through this lens:
“I’m happy” : Giygas is recognizing the end is near, but also recognizing and accepting the emotions he has tried to stifle. They make him happy, his love for Maria and Ninten, even if it wasn’t acceptable in the Starmen’s eyes, they made him happy. The prayers, the chance to be put to rest, it excites him and allows him to feel the way he wanted to feel.
“I feel good” : Again, the same recognition. Even though the recognition of these feelings is literally causing Giygas to self-destruct, the destruction of himself feels good because it allows him to finally feel happy the way he desired to be, and also he recognizes that his removal from the world may allow Ninten and Maria’s descendants to continue to live on where his existence may have destroyed them. This makes him feel happy, and his sacrifice makes him feel like a “good guy” – he feels, quite literally, good.
“It Hurts” : Giygas can feel these thoughts and recognition of the prayers destroying his essence. Quite literally, it hurts. However, he tends to couple this with “I’m Happy” or “I feel good” as though saying “even though it hurts, I am okay with this”
“I’m so sad” : Giygas is happy that he can finally recognize and feel the emotions he desired, but it is too little too late. He is sad that he has to leave this world in order to be finally allowed to feel them. He is melancholy. He is scared, but excited; worried but wondering.
“It’s not right” : It’s not right what he’s done. It’s not right what the Starmen taught him. It’s not right that he couldn’t feel the way he desired to feel around Maria or Ninten. It’s unjust and unfair that despite his best attempts to stifle his emotions, this final battle has caused him to realize they are okay, only to also have him recognize this means his demise.
*Pain sounds* : Related above to “It Hurts” – Giygas recognizing tangible emotion and feeling, and responding as though he is actually in pain despite being a manifestation of abstract thought. He is recognizing a range of feelings, and reacting as his physical self would.
“Ness” : Attempting to convey these thoughts to Ness, to get him and his friends to recognize what is happening. To know he is not alone even in the desolation he has created, to recognize who is there with him as he reaches the pinnacle of a journey that ends in his destruction. To ensure his final words and feelings do not fall on deaf ears, as Paula hoped her prayers would not: “Ness”.

Consider how each of Paula’s prayers cause the representation of Giygas to fracture and distort further and further ,while this dialogue continues to loop. Paula’s final prayer before reaching to the player’s heart “is consumed by the darkness”. From there, Giygas becomes fatally wounded. Paula’s final prayer, quite literally, seems like it was consumed by the darkness – the all surrounding darkness that is Giygas. As each of Paula’s prayers distorted his perception and made him unbundle his repressed feelings further and further, the final prayer before the one causing his demise was heard and absorbed squarely by Giygas himself.

He recognized the need for his end in Paula’s prayer that hits him directly as it is consumed by the darkness. His emotions exciting and terrifying him, he finally realized even through his attempts to stifle his feelings for humanity that the best course of action was his own destruction.

The final prayer is the player’s prayer, and this causes Giygas to finally self destruct. If we take this into account with the representation of Giygas thus far as the player’s nightmare and the player’s perception, then the player’s hope is the final piece that Giygas needs to recognize that his time must end. Giygas recognizes his compassion for humanity, and the player affirms it with their hopes and desires.

Giygas’s dialogue and the confusion it causes makes many players wonder if fighting Giygas is “right” – that is, is Giygas truly evil, and has the player at the end of the fight destroyed a non-evil thus making them less of a protagonist than they’ve believed?

I would argue that, if we follow the rationale we’ve established so far, the only way for Giygas to realize the non-evil within him was to confront him in the way the player does. The prayers wounded Giygas, but only in so much that they fractured his perception of the abstraction he had made himself – in this way, Giygas is destroying Giygas at his own realization based on the prayers, not the player themselves.

Giygas has destroyed his sense of self down to a level of purely intangible representation in an attempt to be the destroyer the Starmen desired, and when the prayers fracture this representation, Giygas cannot come back to tangible with this new found knowledge or desire – it shatters the core of the being he has become. While he is happy with this knowledge, it also forces an inevitable destruction. I would argue that while Giygas wishes that he could return to the world with this insight (“I’m so sad”), he’s thankful that the player allowed him to have this revelation, and is happy to have the story end in this way, stopping his potential destruction even if his turning to benevolence causes his own demise (“I’m happy”).

You cannot grasp the true form of Giygas’s Attack! – Final Battle, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.

Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 3 – Hope

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2.
Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!


The fight against Giygas is of course, intriguing not only for the representation of Giygas’s form, but for how the battle itself is played out. Once the machine is turned off, absolutely nothing matters except ensuring Paula can continue to pray.

But why?

To me, one of the essences of beauty in this game is this detail to the fight. This is not a fight you win with swords, guns, magic, or smashing baseball bats. What would you smash in an abstract void without a face or a body – as we’ve discussed before? This is nothing but a thought, nothing but the purest, angriest seed of a thought manifested into a dark, sinking hole of destruction and desolation.

So how do you fight?

You pray. You reason. You hope that the darkness you’re feeling, you’re surrounded by, imprisoned in, you hope there is more beyond it. You hope that even if you cannot go on, there’s someone out there whom your life or another life with similar purpose has affected and who can go on to achieve the changes you hoped to see in the world. You hope the world outside of the blackness you’re stuck in is not as bleak, that there is light for someone somewhere, and that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to see it someday soon. If you can just make it through this…without giving up…with that hope that it will be okay…with that hope.


Paula’s prayer isn’t an attempt at a religious statement in the game – at least, not in my eyes. It points at the much broader definition of prayer – people pray because they hope. They hope for the world to be better. They hope to see a change. They hope others will be okay. They hope their lives will turn around soon. Prayers are hope. And when surrounded by the purest form of desolation and destruction, what more is there to do but to hope that things will change?

I find this fitting with Giygas’s attacks stating “You cannot comprehend the true form” – it fits with all the other points of Giygas’s representation. Completely abstracted, so far removed from physicality. How do you comprehend an assault you can’t even see or describe? Giygas is an abstraction of negativity and desolation, assaulting in ways that cannot be described and crippling the protagonists in ways they can feel but cannot understand. How do you fight a negative abstraction of loneliness and pain? With one of togetherness and prosperity. With hope.

And really, the final pin in this concept of Giygas’s form is Paula’s final prayer. Where the player hears her prayer, and prays with all their heart for the heroes to win. Few games remind the player of their role, and yet the entire battle with Giygas becomes a potent cocktail of psychological interaction with the user at several indescribable levels. We all hope we can win a level, hope we can beat a game – and when hope is all that’s standing between you and black abstraction on your screen, surely you’re hoping that mashing that prayer button works. The game reminds you of that, and reminds you how large of a role you played because you facilitated the story. You brought the characters on the screen this far. You chose their actions. They might be the “heroes” but it boils down to you.

The reality of Giygas’s design is that it’s not a boss meant for Ness and his friends to fight. It’s a boss meant for you.

“Paula’s final cry touches the heart of the Player, who prays for the children, having never met them before.” – Paula’s Prayers, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.

Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 2 – Interpretation

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2.
Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!


Of course, a blank screen is nothing worth looking at in a game of the caliber of Earthbound. Thus Giygas has “form” … if we can call it that. A swirling mass of…something. What something? Is it a fetus? Is it a skull? Is it Giegue flipped upside down and skewed a little bit?

Let me put my own personal capper on every debate that’s been had surrounding this concept:
Yes. But also, it doesn’t matter.

I’ll extrapolate, of course.

By yes, I mean yes to all of the above. Whatever you saw as Giygas, that’s…that’s Giygas. And if I may be so bold, I believe that’s precisely the point of Giygas’s design and it’s a brilliant point. Giygas is an abstraction of fear. What do you fear? What do you THINK that fear represents? Giygas is void abstraction, but we as humans when it comes to our villainy…we refuse that as an answer. We want our faces. We want a reason, we want a madman.

So who do you see in the abstraction of Giygas? What do you see? It’s telling of your perception of the purpose of your mission no doubt, and it can be telling of your fear. It can be telling of what you wanted the game to provide you for answers. Or it could be what your mind first thought of as is tried to make sense of the abstraction before you.

And that’s the real beauty of Giygas as a boss. Giygas reflects the player as much as Giygas terrifies the player.

Rorschach ink blots are the first thing I thought when I tried to step back and consider this aspect of Giygas. Two people see very different things in the same blot, and while Roarschach’s blots have not definitively proven any indicators or factors through science, it is enthralling their prevalence and what we consider blot readings to say about a person (

I consider Giygas in this same vein: his form makes many squirm at the sight, but why? What is it about this abstract figure making them uncomfortable? What are they seeing, or not seeing – and what is that speaking to?

To me this concept of Giygas as representation of not any specific thing, but of whatever the player thinks, is further conceptualized within the sequence of “Ness’s” face being shown in Giygas’s eye before the battle begins. Astute players note that there is no way Giygas knows what Ness actually looks like – Ness appears in the past in his robot form and Giygas has not seen Ness’s face prior to this. Some speculate that the face is actually Ninten – protagonist of Earthbound Beginnings – as Giygas “remembers” him. However, this offers nothing in the way of plot mechanic beyond a nod to the precursor game – unless it is pointing to Giygas as a reflection of the player’s internal fears and conceptualizations. The player sees Ness in Giygas’s eye as Giygas peers beyond the robotic visage and into the heart of his enemy to recognize their true fear and their true persona. He reflects it back –this is you, and I can see you, and you will see me in the way you yourself are meant to see me.

What is interesting about this is that this means Giygas is the true nightmare. In Magicant, your final boss is “Ness’s Nightmare” – the Mani Mani statue that led so many in the game astray. If Giygas were accurately named by this assumption I’ve outlined, his true name would be “Your Nightmare”. Ness has found and fought his internal fears in Magicant, but Ness is controlled by someone else: you. Giygas reflecting Ness in his Devil’s Machine eye, only to remove it and appear as a Rorschach like abyss is as though he is saying “This is nightmare level 2….let’s see what your nightmare is, controller of Ness”

Some fear a swirling cloud of death they cannot name. Some fear forgetting their roots and their past. Some fear that maybe their quest is in vain and they are not a true hero after all. Some fear a screen of red and black and representation of death.

So do you see nothing but abstract shape? Giegue skewed and distorted? A helpless babe? A creeping skull?

Ask yourself not what Giygas is really supposed to be. Ask yourself what the form you saw in Giygas meant and how it altered your perception of the game and the meaning of the final battle.

This is psychology of design in its truest sense.

“I’m the evil part of your brain [….] You know deep within the reaches of your mind…” – Ness’s Nightmare and Ness’s echo, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.

Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 1 – Fear

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2.
Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!

Finishing the final battle of Earthbound, I felt a number of things. I spent the next day pouring over the Internet to read ideas, theories, interviews, thoughts on that final fight. I had chills during it. It’s been stated Earthbound’s final fight is one of those crazy boss battles you have to experience to believe, and so I sealed myself off from as many spoilers as I could and I’m thankful I did.

What is it about Earthbound’s final fight that makes it so memorable, so elusive, so disconcerting? I want to discuss here some of my thoughts as a usability designer as a series of aspects I noticed, and what I assessed and recognized as I read theories on the topic – hoping to make a bit more sense at what made this experience so memorable and what pearls a UX developer might be able to glean from aspects of it.
Also I will say this: as we go forward in this analysis series, I work to make it a bit depthier and create more correlations between the past ideas, so I have to build a strong foundation – even if it might seem obvious . But let’s start from the top and dredge through the Deep Darkness, shall we?


One thing I recognized was the way in which the game represented fear. Fear is of course, a strong motivating emotion, evoking fight or flight – drive over the obstacle or run as far as possible from it. What’s intriguing about Earthbound’s representation of fear is that they do so by non-traditional means, which I believe makes it so effective. Giygas could easily have been represented as a myriad of things and evoked terror, but representing Giygas as a thing would make him tangible, defeatable, humane.

The representation of Giygas as vastness, as an abstraction of a concept so far removed from a physical body, gives a sense of looming dread. Porky even echos this thought:

If you were to ever see Giygas, you’d be so petrified with fear, you’d never be able to run away! That’s how scary it is… are you terrified? I’m terrified too….I must be experiencing absolute terror.”

This representation does more than provide fear however. The level of fear, the representation of an evil that has no face or body, this provides gravitas. Thematic elements such as music and colors assist in setting mood in any scenario, but coupling these with Giygas’s lack of form creates the sense of a true threat against the universe. There is no man, there is no place to point a finger. Just emptiness, abstraction, the purest feeling of dread and destruction and desolation as a concept.

Many video games give us villains. Few games create a villain from the conceptualization of the deepest root of villainy. And in that, Giygas becomes more than just one final boss fight – he becomes a quintessential version of the boss fight, he is beyond the boss fight. He represents the manifestation of the idea of the boss fight, the meta of meta.

In any game we have a boss driven by hatred, destruction, anger, greed – a myriad of negative emotions comprising their psyche, yet still comprising a form potentially capable of other traits and feelings. Giygas’s representation is not as this form, but as the glimmer in its eye, that seed of what drives evil in its purest, unconstrained form – and this is what makes him all the more fearful. Giygas is the mind of villainy devoid of reason and body – a core abstract idea that due to lacking a for, allows us to interpret it as players in whatever way our minds can decipher, making him an abstract image of our own mental constructs, our own minds – a terrifying concept for every player, indeed.

“You’ve traveled very far from home…do you remember how your long and winding journey began…?” – Mr.Saturn, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.

GHC Reflections: Front End Optimization

One of the single part workshops I attended was a discussion and exploration into front end optimization. As someone who works mostly in front-end design, this was an intriguing talk to me. It was rather technically oriented so the notes are a bit dry, but if you are stepping into this field at all, there are a few pearls you might find useful.

The first and most important note that the presenter made was to optimize your digital projects for the front end, contrary to popular belief. While it is of course important to build your systems on a strong framework and have clear channels to resources and reduce unnecessary clutter in back-end code, people often forget the impact front-end code can have to the end user. If your front-end development is sloppily thrown together, this is the layer that directly hits the user, and can easily result in a degradation of performance even if back-end code is flawlessly executed.

The next point the speaker hit on was minifying HTML, CSS, and Javascript files. The number of lines in a file counts toward the KBs needed to load the site and can slow it down. The speaker pointed out that users are unlikely to care about “pretty code” especially if it’s causing slower performance.

Minifying is a practice I’ve had trouble stepping into myself, if only because I like to “grab and go” with my code. I often hear of keeping two copies: your editing file and then uploading the minified version to the web – I just have had little reason to lately, as my own website’s pages are not incredibly line-heavy. Likely as I work more on larger projects, minifying will become more and more my practice – this speaker’s stressing of it was part of the motivation I needed to look into it more.

Next were a few basic points, like avoiding redirects and bad URLs. Not only can they be confusing and frustrating to the user, but redirects can cause the page load time to increase (as the request has to jump around more than usual), and bad URLs will likely destroy the flow of users actually using the application. Redirects like for a separate mobile versus web version can also cause issues down the road: for instance, content missing from one version of the website and two sets of code to now maintain that have quite a large portion of duplicate content (which may cause issues for search engine optimization). Using responsive design can help fix this issue by allowing one set of code with varied breakpoints to function on all devices. &nbsp;If you must do re-routing, try to limit it to the server side instead of client side to optimize the redirect’s speed and overhead. One last tip: if your redirects attempt to make a user download the app (such as a mobile version of a site redirecting or loading a modal saying you must visit the app store), stop what you’re doing right now. Not only is this annoying and likely to drive traffic away from your site, it’s a poor attempt at getting a hook in a user who isn’t even sure they enjoy your content and can leave a very bad first impression that might make them unlikely to come back. Furthermore, redirecting them to an app because developing your mobile site more robustly wasn’t in your plan shows a laziness to develop your site with their needs in mind.

Allowing GZip Compression was another point made, which required a little more research on my part as I hadn’t heard of it prior. GZip is a compression algorithm for websites that finds similar strings within a file and replaces them temporarily, which can make the file sizes a lot smaller – especially in documents made for the web, where phrases, tags, and whitespace are often repeatedly used. If you (like me) had never heard of GZip and would like more details, find out more here:

Page load times are obviously critical to the success of an application, and can often be an indicator of how optimized performance is (after external factors such as internet speed or evened out, of course). Typical metrics for average load times tend toward users losing interest in a web page if it hasn’t loaded (or at least, loaded something) within half a second. Mobile users tend to have more patience, but after about ten seconds their patience is gone – two seconds or less makes them quite&nbsp;happy though. This number has been one I utilize quite often now when asked “how long is too long” or doing quick load tests. It’s a simple note and numbers to remember, but ones that can really help in a pinch if you’re trying to quickly decide if more optimization of existing code is needed, or to move on to the next task or project as the code “loads reasonably”.

Applying web best practices is a key component of ensuring optimization. Not only will following best practices likely result in more efficient and optimized code, it will also typically result in cleaner code for developers to understand, and greater optimization for search engines, thus resulting in more end users.

Another practice for optimizing your user’s front end experience is to cache and consolidate your resources. Consolidation can consist of compression (such as GZip) for files and also image compression. Of course, with image resources there is always the fear of a quality trade-off with compression, but when done correctly images typically still have room for at least a bit of optimization with little to no loss in quality. If your site is image heavy, I recommend looking into image compression and load optimization – it can seem scary, especially on a portfolio site where quality is key – but the results can pay off in happier users. This is definitely something I myself need to get more comfortable with learning about and utilizing, especially as I build out my own portfolio projects and such – and so I’ll challenge you to it also.

If you’re still unsure about using compression on your images, you can at least dip your toe in the waters by ensuring you’re using the correct file types for your images. PNGs (portable network graphic) are almost always the most optimized file type for web and mobile use. GIFs (graphic interchange format) are typically best for very small images (think a Wingding style icon, at about the size of ten to twelve point font), or images containing very little color (typically three or less color points). GIF and PNG both support transparency in modern browsers (degradation for transparency can get spotty especially for PNGs in older versions of Internet Explorer. If you’re having issues in IE 7 or 8, the fix can be as simple as saving your PNGs as “Indexed” rather than “RGB” mode). GIF provides support for animation frames – meaning if you require animation in your image and cannot or do not wish to achieve the animation effect with several images and CSS (this can definitely be cumbersome), GIF is the ideal format. JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is ideal for all photographic quality images. BMP (Bitmap Image File) and TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) are not ideally suited for use in web applications any longer.

Another key facet of front end optimization is ensuring you as a developer do everything in your power to combat device limitations for your users. This includes creating adaptively: load resources on user demand and customize images by screen size to ensure the fastest load time – to name a few ways. Practice progressive rendering – loading an image entirely at lower quality and progressively enhancing the image as more power to do so becomes available – helps ensure users with slow graphics cards still get the full experience, even if it starts off a bit fuzzy. JavaScript slowness can be a debilitating issue in slower CPUs; considering this and limiting your necessary JavaScript (of course, don’t betray your functionality needs!) can help every user enjoy your website easily and speedily.

The presenters finished out with a few tools that can be used to measure the performance of front-end and mobile devleopment. can be used on internal sites – which is great for entities with a large intranet presence. Pagespeed is a plugin that can be added to your page to test and gather data on load times. Mobitest is optimized for mobile speed testing, and the Chrome Remote Debugger and Safari Web Inspector allow you to plug in an Android or iOS device respectively and test for performance.

Overall a lot of great information here – some of which I was a bit leery of given my own ways and justifications for those, but could see the merit in what the speaker was suggesting and that it was, at the very least, worth considering and potentially implementing aspects of for each project as the struggle between optimizing and “getting it done” rages on. Regardless, there was plenty I learned or at least gained a stronger awareness of, and I’m very glad I attended the workshop to have my eyes opened a little bit wider.

“There are two ways of constructing software design: One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies, and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. The first method is far more difficult.” – C.A.R Hoare

GHC Reflections: Mobile Design & Security

This lightning panel was rather interesting, as the topics were fairly varied in point but all great to consider for mobile design and the future of data and security.

The first talk discussed a user’s “social fingerprint” – a mathematically unique sequence of how a user interacts with their mobile device on social networks, texting, calling, etc. Essentially, every user boils down to using their device in a slightly different way – when these patterns are calculated no two are exactly alike. This is an interesting concept: we often think everyone talks, texts, or checks Facebook identically – but apparently this could not be farther from the truth. Social fingerprint is more than just -how-, it is who and when: time zones, contacts frequented, and more all makeup the social fingerprint. This term is often used to describe our social usage in general, but it can be investigated deeper to create this truly unique representation of our habits.
The speaker pointed out how if our social fingerprints are indeed unique, they could be used in some capacity for security measures, such as fraud detection. Exploring secure measures beyond the password is definitely exciting territory. I worry though that social fingerprint is “too” unique – in the sense that it could consistently change. If you cut ties with someone you used to call every day, would that not raise an alarm in social fingerprint detection?Obviously social media has ways to trend anticipated life events and interactions between people based on the sheer amount of data – but can everything truly be boiled down to a mathematical signature? I’m excited by the prospect of using social fingerprints, but concerned at the actual application of them – especially if the math and inputs are as complex as they seem they may be.

Another take on security was utilizing GPS to ensure secure interactions. Specifically, the speaker discussed GPS as a means to identify “zones” in the real world that one anticipates accessing devices and the level of comfort they have that at those locations, they are indeed themselves. For instance: home and work may be level 1, where we are confident that if we are here, our device is being accessed by us. Level 2 may be the cafe or laundromat, where we would frequent, but may accidentally leave the device unattended. Level 3 could be our hometown, neighborhood, or even state: where we can be expected to be in general but could easily lose a device within. And level 4 might be anywhere else globally: access from these places would be irregular or unanticipated. The presenter discussed using these levels to give varying degrees of password/access assistance. If I’m at home and forget my password, I expect that I should be able to receive all my hints or assistance channels for logging in. On the town, I may want less options to appear, just in case someone else is on my device. And most definitely I would want heightened security to anyone attempting to access when I’m out of state/country/etc (or trying to access -from- these places), so their hints should be extremely restricted if there at all. The idea was to provide “secure spaces” to heighten security beyond just the password, but to further attempts to breach it or obtain information pertaining to it.

This topic is intriguing looking back because Microsoft has been implementing a similar feature in Outlook. While I appreciate their security at times it can be a bit too overbearing – my work’s servers ping off a cluster not near us geographically, and this triggers the “suspicious activity” login attempt any time I try to get to my email at work. The security concept is great – but something like the presenter discussed, where I have more of a choice in defining my regions, would definitely save headaches at times (like when I try to log in at work for one small thing only to have to go through a chain of security measures which the details for may be at home). Definitely interesting to see this idea being implemented, and curious where the next steps will be with it.

Another speaker in this panel discussed A/B Testing – something among many other versions of testing I’m hoping to become more familiar with in my job. They stated a strong A/B test can be made even more helpful by integrating code to retrieve data on user input or mouse movements – so patterns between sets A and B can be recognized and the user process more readily understood. Sessions and their data could be stored in buckets relative to their version and even the time/cycle or type of user for quicker retrieval and review.

The next topic was accessibility in mobile. This topic was fairly straightforward, but always&nbsp;refreshing to keep in mind. The presenter highly recommended considering the accelorometer – think of technologies like FitBit, and how relevantly accessible its use is beyond just software and screens. Other considerations for accessibility – touch and sound. Consider your feedback to users: a soft pulse/vibration when they press a button, a light ding when an alert appears. Remember to consider how these affordances effect the experience for users who are color-blind, deaf, etc. – are your notification color choices still visibly helpful or even viewable to someone who is color blind? Does your application give another form of feedback if a user is deaf and anticipating a ding (a glowing icon, tactile response, etc)?

The final presenter discussed flexible privacy controls. With the advancement of healthcare digital records and increasingly more sensitive information going digital, at times companies forget the affordances that could be made with physical/paper copies that need digital counterparts. The&nbsp;presenter used healthcare as an example: Certain health records you would like to be visible to your spouse, certain to your family, and certain to only yourself, your doctor (or only certain doctors), and so on. These preferences may also change over time: think a bank account in which a parent has access while a child is in school, but the child may need or wish to remove the parent’s access once they are grown. While these issues in the past were fixed with phone calls or paperwork, digital counterparts need flexible privacy controls to ensure users can take care of these privacy needs with the same ease (or at least, the same to less amount of headache) that they did in analog. These flexible privacy controls can even extend to securing applications themselves: if my healthcare app is linked to my phone, I may want to have additional security measures before starting the app to ensure that no one can tamper with my settings but me (and here we can even correlate to the talks before for more ways to secure our privacy!).

I loved the focus on users and their experiences interacting with their phones and how that relates to the real world in so many of these talks. They pointed out design imperatives and areas for continued development to continue to make phones and in turn technology overall an extension and addition to the “real world” – rather than purely a distraction or separate plane entirely.

“The mobile phone acts as a cursor to connect the digital and the physical” – Marissa Mayer

GHC Reflections: Video Games

The video games topic was definitely helpful not just from a video gaming perspective, but from future technologies and augmenting reality points of view as well. Even if you’re not an intrepid game developer, some of the points were definitely worth noting for any developers, and even interactive media/story planners. Intrigued? I was. Read on for more.

ReconstructMe ( plus correct camera technologies (they suggested Asus Camera) was an interesting project, and was showcased specifically between Maya and Unity. The basic premise of ReconstructMe is using a camera rotating around an object to then render a life-perfect 3D model of that object: a backpack, a laptop, a tree. You could use the technology even on animals and humans – but of course you would only have them in a singular pose unless you were able to edit the model joints from the mesh (which I am uncertain of the capability for). You can then &nbsp;retrieve (from a 3D technology such as Maya) and paint mesh skins for the models to use them in any 3D application (such as Unity), or even configure the models to 3D print replications (like making statues of yourself to put on trophies – for being awesome, of course). When it comes to wanting real-to-life object models, or when the model is needed quickly, ReconstructMe definitely looks like a viable option.

The next presenter focused on developing a hierarchy for critically evaluating learning games, so that they can be more widely accepted and used in STEM classrooms and their merit understood on a broad metric scale. She based her evaluation on Bloom’s Taxonomy, with criteria for Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating. She would then correlate the objectives of the game and player actions to these categories – if task one in a game was to design your own character, she may check that creativity is present in task one. Examples she had of quality STEM teaching games were CodeHero (for Unity and Variables) and Spore (for predator prey interaction). It was intriguing to see someone attempt to quantify a metric for gaming and entertainment based on valuable content rather than personal preference. Something like this, if done with care and properly implemented, could easily make its way into school systems to evaluate games that could be used in the core curriculum and have value to students – an exciting prospect for getting children excited about learning in a fun and different way!

Next, we focused on developing true stories in games – striving for non-linearity. One of the largest downfalls of gaming as a story mode is that our stories often must end up linear: this interaction must occur before this event, leading up to the final boss and ending. While this linearity from a coding perspective seems near unavoidable, this topic focused on ways to branch our stories such that the linearity does not become a limitation. A key takeaway was that our stories may be linear, but our gameplay should strive to be non-linear. A suggestion was “Satellite scenes”, which are based on a player action and then dynamically modifies a tiny bit of the story, until the fragments become the linear whole. Scenes that are the quintessential backbones to the story and must exist or must be in a certain order are known as “Kernel scenes”. Therefore, more open world and progressive, non-linear gameplay lies in tying satellite scenes to shaping the world, and not overpowering the game with a progression of consecutive kernel scenes. Some terminology to remember as a takeaway also: Actors perform actions, the world changes, and these events should relate to each other – and always remember that actors should be people, not things, two or more agents who understand each other and respond properly. Put effort and focus on depth in satellite scenes and letting the player see the little changes their choices make to the world at large (strong core story with flexible relevant nodes that add to gameplay), and your game will provide depth beyond the standard linear story.

This intrigued me from the standpoint of an experiences (as a user experience lover!) – be the experience a story, video games, or an alternate reality/marketing plan, considering the ripple effect on individual users rather than the funnel to the end goal is definitely something that can add finesse and excitement to any endeavor where participation from and excitement by the audience is hoped for!

The final presenter discussed the XBox SmartGlass, which is relevant for contextual use of augmented reality and future media consumption beyond simply video games. The XBox SmartGlass&nbsp;is designed to turn any smart device into a controller. It accounts for devices and the media SmartGlass is being used with through simplified text entry and contextual user interface – with the hope of keeping users engaged even when away from their initial screen, or continue to keep them interacting with their secondary device and engaged while at the primary screen. Examples included Forza, where the second device would provide an aerial GPS view, or a game like God of War, where SmartGlass may provide hints, maps, weaknesses, or additional scenes and content contextual as you progress, so there is never a need to look up a game guide. Again, as a UX person, I loved the idea of contextual content and assistance or depth added for users without additional work on their part, or without distracting them if they do not wish to utilize that aspect of the experience. I would love to see more contextual work like SmartGlass appearing in other media, and hopefully as AR continues to develop, on more devices as well.

As a lover of video games, I went into this talk expecting to be happy I went even if the content was lacking (because video games!). Instead I found quite a bit of content that inspired me beyond what I anticipated, and points for innovation beyond the gaming sphere. It’s amazing how gaming has become so strongly linked to experiences and technology development in our culture, and it’s exciting to see the possible applications across other modes and mediums as we continue to develop these immersive entertainment worlds.

“Video games foster the mindset that allows creativity to grow.” – Nolan Bushnell

ReconstructMe copyright ReconstructMe Team, Spore copyright Spore, Xbox copyright Microsoft

GHC Reflections: Web and Mobile Dev

The web and mobile dev lightning talk featured tons of technologies and trends for the next generation of development.

“World of Workout” was a concept discussed for a contextual mobile RPG based in real-world fitness. It would use pattern recognition to recognize user’s workouts – sparing them the complexity of having to input their info themselves (ie holding phone in an arm workout holster and doing squats, phone can recognize this motion). The workout info would then affect the progress of the game avatar, with stats available to the avatar for workouts done by the user, such as speed boosts for sprinting, strength for weights, and stamina for distance running. Another interesting feature they&nbsp;proposed was accelerated improvement at the start of the game so users are encouraged to get into a daily routine, but also adding in a fatigue factor so that rewards are reduced when workouts would become excessive. There would also be random rewards and associated notifications for doing “challenge” workouts with extra benefits attached.

This idea really resonated with me as part of the “future of user experience”: what better immersion is there than in a good game? And as we have learned, users appreciate apps responding to them and to receive gratification: which pattern recognition and rewards both do. After seeing this idea, I sketched out the concept for a similar game-incentive idea during a hackathon: TaskWarriors, an RPG based on checking things off your task list and gaining skill and gold based on the priority of the task and type of task (helping you balance your days -and- ensure you complete high priority tasks before their deadlines). I’d really like to re-explore TaskWarriors, since if done right, I think it could work very well like World of Workout seems (hopefully) fated to. It has also gotten me considering other avenues where gamification/customization and rewards could help with immersion and user experience – hopefully I can learn more and get more chances to potentially implement this in the future!

Parallax Scrolling was another feature discussed during this talk: specifically technologies with features that can aid or enhance parallax development. Javascript and CSS3 were discussed as features to aid in transitions, transforming, and opacity, while HTML5’s Canvas, WebGL, and SVG were also noted. Flash, VML, YUI scroll animation, jquery plugins such as Jarallax, and Javascripts such as pixi.js or easing effect tween.js were also featured as possible parallax technologies.

Parallax is definitely an intriguing artistic feature for making a website seem more interactive. Obviously, like any interactive feature, there’s definitely a point where it could be much too much. But there are some beautiful parallax scrolling websites that show what an awesome addition it can be to your content, especially on websites telling a story with a long scrolling page, like this one:

3D Graphics for web programmers was actually highly interesting to me. I’m terrible at making models (at least, at present) but have had a bit of experience with Unity, and always found 3D development interesting, even though I’m not the best at it right now. Though I would need to learn modelling to actually implement, the 3D Graphics presentation focused on three.js, a plugin that seems to make it extremely easy to program 3D elements into web pages on the website – rather than building them in Flash, Unity, or another engine. Three.js uses a what (mesh for the item and a pointlight for light source), a where (scene.PerspectiveCamera) and a how (translate, rotate, scale; requestAnimationFrame) at its most basic core to render and move 3D objects. Source code is available at in which the presenter used only three.js, teapot.js (the item), and an HTML5 page to create the example.

CourseSketch was the final web and mobile technology shown, which was also really exciting from a college student perspective. It was a sketch-based learning platform being developed for MOOCs which would allow recognition of sketches to enhance automated grading capabilities of online problems. The examples given that were in development were truss diagrams for engineering, compound diagrams for chemistry, and Kanji for Japanese. Of course, with many more courses moving to online submission and grading, one can see applications for this technology well beyond the MOOC platform and into more education avenues – given of course the technology were robustly developed, and taking into account various drawing styles or other hiccups that may occur.

Overall there were a lot of intriguing development tools and concepts discussed. Obviously this talk hit home with me as World of Workout inspired the beginning conceptualization and planning for the Task Warriors app, even if it hasn’t seen fruition (yet! I hope I can continue it!). I love talks like these that bring to light new ideas and useful technologies – they have so much inspiration and energy within them that drives tech forward.

One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man” – Elbert Hubbard

Task Warriors copyright Bri, Jess and Russ copyright