This Is The Electoral Map If-

Walking through the park last night, Fox ruminated to me that she was so annoyed watching one of the American presidential candidates puffing and huffing on the television about how polls couldn’t be true, because he was drawing big crowds of support. Exasperated, she waved a hand and said “Yeah, you fill an auditorium of a thousand people in a country of three hundred million.”

Yesterday, I watched timelines quietly fill with people swapping around memes about this is what the electoral map would look like and making fun of Nate Silver. Not necessarily the same thing, natch, but still.

I sat down and ruminated on this all day. See, one of my personal bugbears about journalism is my oft-repeated notion that Journalism is the task of putting data in meaningful context. The whole point of visualisations and data maps and tweet-sized comparisons is to try and provide people with context that escapes them intuitively. Like, for example, looking at a room full of supporters of one candidate and being horrifiedly certain that he’s going to win.

We are not good at making these judgments intuitively. What our brains do when they sort information is check for the things that are easiest to remember and turns out that it’s super easy for us to remember dealing with a super racist asshole. This is part of why cops are so inclined to think of people as criminals – it’s really easy for them to remember times when it turned out Someone Was A Criminal, so they tend to bias towards that. It’s why experts academics are likely to think problems are caused by The Area Of Their Expertise. You find what you’re used to looking for.

Visualisations and data points are not here to solve everything, they’re here to try and give your mind ways to anchor to information that’s otherwise hard to put into context.

You’re Not A Good Man, Are You, Mr Pence?

You tell yourself that you are, of course, in that middle-management, get-by, Church-once-on-Sunday kind of way. You know the framework you have to deal with, the general ideas of what make a good person and you tell yourself you’re doing the best you can in that spectrum, that nobody’s perfect, that it’s all forgiveable and Jesus will carry away your sins in his blood, and you have to tell yourself this because you know as you stare into the glass of the case that you’re not actually a good man.

You stare into the outlines, the ghost of the man in the reflection, and you think to yourself that you’re still there, that there’s something to you. People were so happy with you after the Vice President debate, you put Kaine in his place, you – you did well, and you came back to the base and dealt with him again. Dealt with the bluster and the low-key fury, the snarling way he treated his wife when she showed him up and you told yourself that it was fine for him to treat you that way (though probably not a great thing that he treated her that way) and you tried to put it out of your mind like all the other things, like all of them, over and over again, while you adjusted your expensive tie and expensive suit and tried to forget for a time what you were actually doing, frame it just as gearing up for 2020.

Then the news.

The staffer telling you what the audio was. Did you ask, then, for details, stop yourself when you realised no, of course you didn’t want to hear that, and then looked at the staffer –

“How bad is it?”

The look of the young man, hand folded over his phone, like he was about to throw up, because to him this isn’t ambitions and long term power plays and it isn’t about him it’s about a job and he’s not getting paid enough and he’s going to have to go have a bunch of journalists remember him as that guy from that time when everything started to fall apart in a new and terrible way, and he murmurs, “It’s… it’s real bad, Governor.”

And you sighed and looked back into the glass.

At the hot dog bun.

With Trump’s name on it.

Did the metaphor bowl you over?

Did you stare at the preserved, artificial breadlike structure that was only there to make sure people could handle the grotesque mystery meat of pounded pig rectum and sawdust in an offcolour casing, the thing renownedly hollow and forgettable, something that you were here to look at, and smile about, and be impressed with and see once again another sodden symbol of the beast whose milk you were drinking nightly, with his name on it, and realise that you were the next Palin?

You can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.

Targets and Objects

So in case you missed it, yesterday, someone well-naturedly reporting on some information put my name, along with the name of John Kane of Gritfish games, in a collection of tweets from developers ‘dropping Oculus support’ in light of the news that there’s a white supremacist* behind the device and its success.

Anyway, the only thing is, I wasn’t developing an Oculus rift game, because I make card games. Neither is John Kane – he’s making a sliding jumping puzzler called Mallow Drops, which is amazing and great and hopefully it’s out soon. Anyway, point is, our tweets about dropping support for the Rift were jokes. They were jokes, and they were jokes you could easily find were jokes. A quick check of my online presence shows almost nothing to do with the Oculus Rift – a single joke, in fact, over a year ago. In this case, I think the journalist who reported on us – and put my name and John’s coincidentally in the middle of an image – made a mistake, and honestly, the kind of mistake they shouldn’t make. It’s not hard to do a little bit of a followup before doing a headline based on tweets: Who are these people, what have they developed, and what does it mean? Nonetheless, it’s a forgiveable, slightly funny mistake. I make a tweet making fun of it, pointing out that it got attention from shitty people directed at me.

Shitty people? Well of course – the Usual Suspects got involved. Yes, those people, from that place, the place that you probably went, even if you don’t consider yourself part of the culture, etcetera. They really hate this journalist for making this comment, because this journalist is Bad, and they hate him, and whatever. But here’s the thing.They retweet and share me pointing out the failures of the journalist (mostly blocked by now), and post garbage at me about my games in that same place. Ie, where I point out that no, I don’t have Rift games they are telling me my rift games are garbage.

By the way, two other sources contacted me via email and DMs to talk to me about what I said before they put me in headline columns. Also, so did TechRaptor, who I again, made fun of. I’m sure they’ll take the joke well, because as Barthes said, “We have all had a cow, and the cow is dead.”

It’s a nice little object lesson for those that can follow it: These people are not good faith actors, and if you pay people to shitpost, you will buy large volumes of shit. If you coherently look at my post you could be using it as ammunition against the Journalist for the very reasonable mistake of putting two people in a spotlight because you failed to put information in a correct context.


Racist frogs vomiting turds thrown at me, to try and make me feel bad about my place as a software developer.

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DIY Army Stuff

Hey, c’mere.

So I have an idea for a war game, with the army designing, the analogue positioning, like, it’s meant to be sorta like Warhammer 40k, but instead of producing miniatures (which are expensive), using cards. The system I have in mind is kinda core to it, and avoids measurements, too – but I’m wondering about a few ideas.

Here, check out an example scrabble of a card.


Okay, so far so good. The thing with these cards is – see those ‘movement markers?’ They’re the ways you can move the unit. Units move by flipping over, in the direction marked on the unit. So this way, units can have three different ways to move – short little flips along one edge, longer flips along another edge, and longest flips going corner to corner.

Anyway, power, defence, rules text, org value – that’s all secondary. The thing that I want your opinion on, seriously, the thing that I’m thinking about is…

What if the card had a name field you could fill in, and the art was explicitly black-and-white so you could colour/customise your unit with markers?

Is that a ridiculous idea?

Would you want to customise your army to that extent?

Bear in mind this is a card game where you’d buy a deck of units, and you can only ever field about half of them in any individual skirmish. You are customising your army, to some extent.

Think you’d like to be able to customise them? Or would you rather more vibrant, clear art?

Update – NBN Woes

Just in case you were curious and didn’t catch me complaining about this on twitter, my internet connection is basically gone right now while the NBN is installed. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but if you want me for anything, best to tweet at me at @Talen_lee or send me a DM or something.

I’m sending this from a cafe with wifi.

Chasing 1%, Part 2

The reason I titled this Chasing 1% is because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where and how I choose to improve as a Games Person, or Person What Makes Games And Sells Them. Even how you choose to phrase this is an ambiguity, and parsing out my personal challenges with expressing things in terms of I Am and the manifold layers of sin and pride around it doesn’t make it any easier. Let’s pretend I’m saying this decisively and clearly, here: I’m A Game Designer.

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Chasing 1%, Part 1

Recently Steve Dee penned a piece about the struggles of advancing your creative work, particularly as it pertains to the skills required to promote work versus the skills required to create work. It’s a good piece and one I’ve been chewing over for a while now, particularly because much of what we resist in these landscapes are very personal problems.

In independent fields we can all bring to mind that one person who was good at spruiking their wares but those wares were awful, the kind of person who would externalise blame when things didn’t pass a play test. Heck, even outside of creative fields, we all have anecdotes of what we’re pretty sure self-promotion looks like and it’s never pretty. It often feels rude, or unethical. I’ve had plenty of times when I’m trying to sell a product to a consumer, being honest about it, when I’ve been interrupted by Fox to clarify a point that honestly didn’t need clarification, which leaves me with a feeling of awkward ethical quandrary: Would I have been lying if I left out that information? Was it really relevant? Or was I just telling myself it wasn’t relevant in order to sell a unit?

These are not small questions and they are almost always very personal. But what I can offer about this is some tiny drop of help about one area I know is a struggle, and that’s presentation.

First things first, as a card game designer, here are four resources I use the heck out of:

These are free resources that you can use for the creation of your games. GIMP I use a lot because it’s familiar to me for designing card faces. I know that some folk swear by Scribus, or Illustrator – software you may already have. It isn’t important to me which you use, because what you should be using are the tools you’re familiar with and you can get mileage out of. I know that a deft person could use HTML code or Word or Google Docs to create fairly decent card faces for a number of purposes.

Use what you’re comfortable with, but be aware of its edges, what it can’t do. When you know what you can’t do yet, you can start looking for workarounds, or avoid making games that require those ‘can’t’ areas.

Other than that the rest of these resources can give you an enormous leap forward in producing quality looking games without busting your bump on making every individual piece yourself. You don’t have to have the skills to reinvent the wheel, after all.

But that’s just pragmatic advice. The major piece of advice I have is recognise when you could be spending effort better. A piece of advice I give students starting out with games is find the thing you want to do the least of, then design your game so you avoid it. That’s how games like Dog Bear avoid creating any art assets (until the wonderful Cass Marshall hooked me up with some from her and another artist). That’s why The Suits works without redesigning card faces.

That’s good advice for making a game and finishing it. When it comes time to sell a game, that’s when you have to start on refining a different set of skills. And refining that different set of skills is going to be, as with everything in adulthood, a do-it-yourself project.

So with that out of the way, here’s a short list of context for this advice:

  1. Success Is Random – Despite what we’re told about meritocracy, the idea that your product succeeds or fails based entirely on its quality is simply incorrect. You’re competing with everything, with everyone, on every day, which means you might catch a potential buyer when they’re poor, or a potential fan when they’re cranky. This is not on you. You are putting your work out there to be experienced, not filling a progress bar full of Effort at the end of which is Reward.
  2. With Random Events, Roll More Dice – gamers know full well the best way to see lots of crits isn’t to magic your dice somehow, it’s to roll more dice. The more chances you give yourself to randomly succeed the better. This means putting your games into a variety of fora, going to different cons, talking to and listening to a lot of different people, trying things out that ideally don’t risk you anything.
  3. I Am A Very Small Fish – Most of my work as a producer has been at the scale where a weekend, selling product face to face with a consumer is a good scale to work with. I do not have a sum of money to hire artists on any regular basis, I do not have a Patreon set up for same, I do not have a publisher, I do not pay for advertising. My costs are mostly in the form of getting attention and at times, giving product away.
  4. I Was Raised To Sell – The skillset I earned from my family growing up was one of sales, whether I was selling god or printers. Don’t mistake it: Part of why I can do what I do is because I’m familiar with convincing people on the spot to make a decision. In fact, that knowledge is part of why I want to make sure I’m respectful of people and their time – I could get people to buy things they don’t want more often than I do.

Tomorrow, assuming everything goes well I’ll go into the philosophical struggle of ‘What goes into a game’ and ways to work on getting people to engage with your games and why you’re not bad for wanting that attention.


Sometimes when you’re thinking of something to say, you’ll have a single sentence slip past your lips that needs a lot of unpacking to make sense, and even then it won’t:

I – it’s not just me, it never has been just me. I’ve always had help and dealt with people pushing me to try things. Even the things I think I own and the things I made believing they were mine, I’ve been told, repeatedly, aren’t really good enough, aren’t up to the standards, aren’t things I should be proud of because who cares if a game got done fast or a book got finished it’s not that good, it’s not something you did it’s something other people did as well, and none of these games are about me, they’re about trying to express something of my friends, because my friends are worth being the subject of stories

Don’t – always be sure to keep things away from what you do do, deny what you know isn’t true, be careful about positive claims because they can be disproven. If someone says what you do is great you don’t have to back that up, but you can say hey look okay you don’t have to go that far

Make – none of it is making, it’s all just bringing stuff together, it’s all just seeing other games and other ideas and struggling to fit them together, that’s not making anything, I just cobble things together and hope that nobody notices the crack or has the same problem I do of not being able to have fun when I’m in the grip of that miserable anhedonia did I do this right, did I make this fun, is this game good fuck if I know, but everyone else is laughing and enjoying themselves

Art – oh god the complex synthesis and definition of if I’m making art or if a game is a design or what does that mean or is it more in the broader sense of creating things that people around you have to value or is it about the notion that all art is manipulation I don’t know if I can handle the weight of that or is it about the graphics I work with in the creation of my games because if  I don’t put that artist forward more I’ll be seen as an arsehole oh god oh god oh god.

There’s a lot to be said and I don’t quite have words for it yet.

More on this later, on the practical and pragmatic mindset shift of how to sell games.