May Game Project — Monster Line

Every month of 2022, I am trying, as part of both my PhD project and my all-purpose general game development, develop if not a whole game for game development, a project start, such that I can make playtest prototypes. This is a sort of report of the process throughout the month.


It says a lot about the design this month that I’m looking at my mocked up preview cards from late in the month and quietly being annoyed that it’s going to take me a while to get a test print of this game delivered to my house to play around with it.

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Game Pile: The Castle Of Doctor Brain

In 1992, Sierra On-line was at the top of their game. They had multiple Quest titles, the 3.5 floppy infrastructure let them make a lot of experimental games without incurring the same kind of heavy costs as would eventually bury the company in the CD and internet era. Part of this was because they had, on deck Corey and Lori Ann Cole, the people who made my favourite Sierra games, the Quest For Glory series, with the point-and-click VGA engine. Know what happens when you get cool people who can use interesting tools in a low-cost low-risk environment?

They screw around and make cool shit!

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How To Be: Kyo Kusanagi (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

Buckle up Dweebenheimer it’s time to KING THE FIGHTERS!

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Like A Dog

I have learned
In the small time I have had
With this gangly
Dangling
Enthusiastic
Greedy
Awkward
Flailing
Noisy
Four-legged
Creature I call a name
That a dog exists at all times in a state
Best summarised as ‘Optimistic.’
He sees every time I change my shoes as a chance
(For a walk, you see)
And every time I prepare some food as a chance
(For a treat, you see)
And every time he is told to do a thing
And he does it quickly
That is a chance
(For a reward, you see).

He rarely gets these things.

It is known to me that not every dog is like this
But it seems so simple
And so effortless
I fear that it may be that every dog is like this
And those dogs I see
That do not look up when you move
That do not check for treats
That do wobble with enthusiasm for what good may happen

Have been trained to not hope

I fear sometimes what I learned
That a dog was lucky enough not to

The Structural Failing of Dunkology

It’s easy to make people look stupid.

On the internet it’s incredibly easy to make someone look stupid. You can just take single phrases, put them out of context, and then you make the person who had the temerity to put words out there on the internet look like some kind of big stupid asshole. Any given quote can be put into contexts where it looks bad, a practice that’s very popular amongst Young Earth Creationists that we sometimes refer to as quote mining, or cherry picking. If you control the frame and context of words, you can make the work of any person with a meaningfully large corpus of language say almost anything you want them to say, and in the process, make them look foolish or useless or evil.

Ostensibly, there’s a solution to this; sourcing. If you provide a link to everything you’ve mentioned, people can look at things in their proper context. It helps to build a structure of all these arguments and positions around us, and it means anyone who wants to can look at your argument and the original source, and if they have sourced properly, a whole thread of sources going back to the root.

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Story Pile: Elementary

Oh hey, this happened didn’t it? There was a whole Sherlock Holmes TV series a few years ago that lasted for seven years and went out with pretty good ratings and earned a bunch of praise before it became a footnote in the fanagement story of how fans of another Sherlock Holmes story decided to be proactively racist to Lucy Liu of all people?

Hey, why don’t I check that out? Adrienne says it’s good and she’s neat so let’s check it out.

Oh hey, that was pretty cool!

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Chirality in Game Design

Chriality is a term you probably learned in chemistry class and I learned in Walter White’s chemistry class. No shame in being aware of the roots of our knowledge. Point is, chirality is a term we use to refer to a type of symmetry – where a thing can be constructed with all the pieces relating to one another in the ‘same’ way but the whole object is meaningfully different because they can’t be superimposed.

The simple way to think of it is that chirality is the handedness of the object. Your left hand and right hand (if you got one of each) are structurally ‘the same’ with thumbs and fingers all relatin to one another in roughly the same way and distances, but the construction means that no matter how you try, you cannot rotate the pair so that they are both representing the same position.

Chirality is very important in chemistry, where two chemicals can be identically composed and yet have wildly different effects. Now you know a word you might not have known before. If a thing has this property, this ‘handedness,’ then it’s chiral, and if it can’t be constructed to have a handedness, then it’s known as being achiral.

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CoX: Tatsuhime

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


Name’s Mack. Mack Morito. Syndicate, yeah. Imperial city, too! Yeah, that’s me, that’s the gal. One of those martial artists, the kind who can break tanks and beat guns. How? Channeling chi, the force of will made flesh. Or as Mack likes to say it: She’s got Big Dragon Energy.

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Succubus, Incubus … ?

If you are prone to operating within the fantasy RP space, or MMORPG space, or really just almost any place where someone will use the word ‘cleric’ that isn’t actually and literally a seminary, you’re going to hear the word ‘succubus.’ It’s a classic monster, because it asks the horrifying question, What If Girls, and then follows up on it in a way that tells you a lot about the creator of the piece. It’s a term that, as I understand it, owes its origin to Malleus Maleficarum, which is also extremely sketchy on what a succubus actually is or does – most of the heavy lifting is done by the word itself, which implies its meaning, as succubus had a coherent Latin meaning from the first read.

The next term is Incubus – which you will usually see as a masculine alternative to the feminine succubus. The idea is that an incubus is a hot dude demon, who wants sex, and that matches with the hot girl demon, who wants sex, the succubus. This is the kind of thing you’ll see in monster manuals, where these terms for what is probably the same species or heritage nonetheless has gendered terminology, like, you know, livestock.

And of course, when this comes up, I will be a tiresome chore of a dude and I will bring up: That’s not what they mean.

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3.5: The Adherent

The 3.5 D&D Paladin has problems. It may be one of the better melee classes in the book out of the box but that doesn’t mean a hell of a lot and there are a number of levels where the Paladin just increases a few numbers and nothing else changes for them. These are known as ‘dead levels,’ and honestly, in 3rd edition D&D, for the melee characters, you could do worse than that. A couple of classes got worse when they levelled up.

I therefore tried to solve this problem in the fashion that to me looked the most sensible, straightforward, and functional way. That is, I decided to make a single class that addressed the Paladin’s balance problems, integrated Domains as a design element, and let players play a whle bunch of different characters that were only united by being primarily combatants and empowered by something beyond the self.

I made the Adherent.

the least horny Legend of Cryptids art I could find
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Story Pile: Orson & Olivia

A recent conversation on twitter kicked around with the question of ‘hey, do you remember a television program that it seems nobody else remembers?’ and that led to a lot of people sharing the ways that television, for all that it’s this heavily documented and mass produced resource that feels infinitely replicated in our streaming now, is still a massive sprawling media space of things that didn’t necessarily stick to the culture at large. Of course, there are always some people who remember everything. The people who made works are often the people who will always stand by and recognise the part they had in the place of things.

For example, Orson and Olivia is remembered, at the least, because of the voice actors.

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MTG: New Capenna Overview

Overall, my first impression of New Capenna is that I’m just not particularly into it. I look at the spoilers, which have a lot of word-dense cards, and I don’t have a particularly strong reaction to most of it. I’m sure it’s fine and I’m sure there are cards that can do busted things, but I’m just not that interested in it.

Part of it is that I’m not very interested in these factions, certainly not how they’re expressed. The art deco city is cool, the magepunk tech is cool, the idea of a city founded by angels and run by demons all work, sure, that’s… fine. It’s not like they did a bad job of doing what they’re doing. It’s just not something I personally find very interesting, and part of that, I think, is because to me ‘demon’ has a set of affiliations and tone that makes a white-blue-green one feel ‘wrong.’ Or rather, feel non-demony.

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The Preposterous Anxiety of Nothing Going Wrong

I got my booster shot today.

Not today today, today when I write this. You’re not reading this for ages, which is a thing I do in part to help build a buffer, and avoid blog posts all bunching up around times when I’m productive, but also so, very pointedly, you are never dealing with the me who wrote the blog post you just read except in the rare case of Kenny Rogers dying. Which is a weird one but don’t expect it to happen again, I don’t think Kenny Rogers can die twice.

I do this in part for the emotional control it offers me, and to make sure I don’t shoot from the hip too readily. Everything has had a chance to cool. Plus that means when I do say something really emotionally revealing, like about fucking Lilo and Stitch, nobody notices.

Anyway, I got my booster shot today.

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Game Pile: Kingdom

The original plan for this article was to make it as a series of nesting paragraphs, where the first paragraph is at the start of the page, the second at the bottom, the next paragraph was in the second place, and so on so you had to keep scrolling from the top to the bottom back and forth with the conclusion being the paragraph in the centre of the whole article.

This was a cute idea, represented the gameplay loop of Kingdom, somewhat easy for me to do, clever, and an absolutely terrible idea to do for you. It’s a cute idea, and it invokes the game, but if I did that, every person with a screen reader would want to choke me.

Instead what I decided to do was introduce this game with a completely incomprehensible statement that implied some knowledge you’d have to have of the game going forward.

Don’t worry, I like this game.

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Shirt: The Idyllshire Copycoeurl

You know now I’m open about playing Final Fantasy XIV there’s a whole bunch of specific niche jokes I can make that don’t make me feel like I’m divulging the location of a covert operative.

These two designs, the Profile and Bell designs, are available on Redbubble. I recommend a baseball 3/4 style, for that proper ‘sports teams supports’ design.

Phones Have Never Been Normal

I was born in the early 1980s. In the first house I remember living, we had a phone that was a pale yellow, with a thick transluscent plastic ring on the front. You dialed a number by sliding that ring around in sequence. When you picked it up, you could make a call to someone who was physically in their home at the time you called them. It had a long, twisty cable that you could really mess up but which kept you near it, by the little table in the hallway. The cable was very short – you could stand up, next to the phone, but that was it.

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4e: The Misbegotten Identity of ‘Ki.’

The origin system in 4th edition D&D was one of the subtler bits of design tech they had. The basic idea was that if you made an overarching term to explain how a bunch of mechanics ‘felt’ you could then reference that term. If something worked one way because of how divine spellcasters worked, by making all the spellcasters that worked that way ‘divine’ you could tidy up feat payloads and make the game work a lot more fluidly.

This system got broke up into:

  • Martial, where you stab and bash and use weapons and armour and you get a bunch of mechanics based on movement, pushing and pulling things
  • Arcane, where you do wizard stuff, magic about thinking, and you get a bunch of mechanics based on making zones, summoning things and long-term effects
  • Divine, where you do cleric stuff, magic about getting an invisible friend to help you out, and you get a bunch of mechanics based on on healing, radiant damage, and ongoing rules-setting
  • Primal, where you do naturey stuff, connected to animals, plants and so on, and you get mechanics based on Just Having More Hitpoints.
  • Shadow, Sir Not Appearing In This Conversation
  • Psionic, where you get to do mind-warpy stuff, and the mechanics were linked with the power points mechanic*.

This, like the role system, was excellent for giving identity to unify mechanical identity, gave players a way to understand their characters, didn’t get in the way doing it, and I’ve written about it in the past. It’s great.

Wait, what’s that *?

What’s that about?

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Story Pile: The Irregulars

In 2016, Netflix announced that Tom Bidwell, the director of Netflix’s Watership Down was going to make a new series based on the Baker Street Irregulars. For those familiar with Sherlock Holmes stuff, that’s an exciting idea — the Irregulars is a term that Holmes used to refer to a group of youths around Baker Street who he could rely on to do all the tedious parts of investigation that he wouldn’t want to be caught doing. The premise, Bidwell described was even more interesting:

Sherlock Holmes had a group of street kids he’d use to help him gather clues so our series is what if Sherlock was a drug addict and a delinquent and the kids solve the whole case whilst he takes credit.

The idea of ‘Sherlock without Sherlock’ is a really cool one, and it’s not the only time this idea’s been floated. Gene Wilder made The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, which even used an actor who’d been renowned throughout the 60s for playing Holmes. The Great Mouse Detective has Sherlock Holmes in the literal background of its own story, and that movie whips. There’s a lot you can do around Holmes, right?

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Loose Using

All our words through loose using have lost their edge

Ernest Hemingway

Is that a real quote? I don’t know. I learned it from an old videogame, called Wordtris, where it was part of the copy protection. Wordtris was a tetris-like game, where you were given letters and you were rewarded for spelling dictionary words. You had descending letters, and, as of games of the early 90s, Wordtris relied on a copy protection system, where to start the game, you had to provide some information that was available in the manual.

Wordrtris, being a game about fancy words and knowing words, made its information quotes from a variety of sources about words. There are quotes from this game’s copy protection that linger with me even now, particularly the paper burns, but the words fly away, an idea that has given me hope about ideas outlasting materials.

The lasting quote, however, is this Hemingway one. Which I cannot attribute, though I can find a host of sources saying ‘Hemingway said this.’ Is that true? Don’t know. Not a big Hemingway guy.

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Velocity in King of Tokyo

Look, normally I’d treat this as a thing in a whole Game Pile Article, but it doesn’t seem worth it to me, not at this point, especially when the game is so similar to one I’ve already written about. The game is King of Tokyo, but the new information this time is the mechanics presented in the Dark Edition of the game.

I have played more editions of King of Tokyo than I have of most board games. Setting aside long-hauler games like Magic: The Gathering where the rules are changed every time a new card gets designed, I have played at least four versions of King of Tokyo and own one. I like this game, and as a game, the version I own has some problems.

They’re not huge problems, mind you, they just are problems. Some cards you can buy introduce powers that are a little weird, and can create odd rules interactions that don’t work. The rules stated in the version I own are a little ambiguous about timing, things like when you enter Tokyo in the turn. Those are things that can be treated as refinements of what’s already there, ways to make the system work better, but which is just the kind of things the system has right there.

There are two big problems with King of Tokyo, and those problems are tied to one larger problem: A lack of velocity.

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Asset Brainstorm #5 — Some Phantasy Robots

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.


Wow this one was a story. How I got here isn’t important, what’s important is the assets, and what ideas they inspire. For this month, I grabbed Ansimuz’s Phantasy Tiny RPG Mobs Pack.

Disclosure! I haven’t bought this pack yet. These are made using the preview images from itch.io. The reason I haven’t bought this pack yet is because Ansimuz has a lot of assets available and I am considering buying up big blocks of packs. Since I don’t want to spend another dang week planning ahead about what I’ll purchase, I’ve grabbed this preview image to work with and hopefully it’s okay.

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Story Pile: House

One of the last television programs I watched, regularly, when there was a television in my house plugged into a plug in the wall that was connected to an antenna on the roof that pulled signals out of the air and converted one of five free-to-air channels, paid for with advertisement revenue of me watching the show, was House. I remembered thinking it was very clever, a very smart series, whose main character was very smart and clever and that justified such complex narratives.

I wasn’t quite sure what I expected when I rewatched the show. My memories of the show cut off at some point, which I assumed meant I just wasn’t that into sitting on my sofa to watch something far away from a system of videogames and music I had in the other room. What I expected to find in hindsight was a show that was probably really intelligent and thoughtful, and that I’d still find it annoying because I’d grown tired of dealing with dudes who fancied they were like House.

Turns out I was half right.

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MTG: April 2022’s Custom Cards

I like making Magic cards. It’s easily my favourite way to engage with the game. In the name of discipline, in the name of getting cards done I will sometimes make cards I’m not wildly happy with, but largely, I like my cards. Since my normal theme of April is to try and focus on me and on being indulgent, it can be challenging to really nail down what makes a me month worth of cards. After all, many of them are my precious babies.

What can the cards be about then, in this context?

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains primarily custom magic cards.

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April 2022 Wrapup

It’s the end of the month, it’s time for me to point out to you all these great, corking articles that keep you up to date with the kinds of things I’ve been doing that you may have missed. I know that my particular form of blog writing isn’t for everyone, so I hope having a guide for the stuff I’m really proud of is really useful.

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Game Pile: Beneath A Steel Sky

I have said, in the past, that the work of Sir Terry Pratchett is ‘funny, witty, satirical and as serious as a heart attack.’ There’s this particular period of oh I dunno, immediately post-Thatcherite Britain which seemed to bring out people who were very good at making you laugh about things like how immensely and completely screwed you all were in a surveillance state with a corrupt media apparatus, I wonder why.

One such work was 1994’s Beneath A Steel Sky, a game that came out in that time when spoken audio and cutscenes were a special feature that would sell the CD-ROM copy of a game. The game fit without those scenes on a few disks, which were comparatively easy to pirate, and it was also relatively easy to play without much in the way of copy protection problems, which meant that the CD-ROM version, with its illustrated comic book pages, backstory on the manual file, and gosh-wow-sugoi cutscenes of 3d rendered helicopters was a thing that you went to someone’s house to watch like it was a special movie event, and the disk version was the one you got swapped in the playground.

Beneath A Steel Sky tells the story of Robert Foster, an outsider from the wilds of the Outback, who is captured and taken to Union City, whose spires and towers hold and contain a worker population that one day dream of earning enough money to be able to get down to ground level. Workers and their work are kept up high, meaning that to travel down towards the ground requires elevator access, and through these spires, large, dense populations are kept under control. The closer you are to the ground, the more wealth you have, until eventually you can get down out of the towers, reach the soil of the actual world, log off, and perhaps finally, touch grass.

Foster gets kidnapped from the Outback at gunpoint, his home is destroyed with a nuke, and then the helicopter he’s arrived in crashes, leaving you to escape into the bowels of this dreadful machinery, seeking answers for how you got here, why they wanted you, why this world is the way it is, and what now now that your life has been destroyed. You have a circuit card that holds your only friend left in the world, an AI named Joey, and that’s… it. There’s a guard down those stairs and he’ll kill you.

Work it out.

Normally I don’t do this when I talk about games old enough to vote then get sick of trying to vote because all the politicians are the same, man, but I’m actually putting up a Spoiler Warning here. Beneath A Steel Sky is free on GoG and Steam, and if you’re at all interested in this kind of game and you’ve never played it before, I do recommend you try it out. Get a guide so you can refer to it when you get frustrated trying to work out the game’s sense of logic, but otherwise, just soak in the mood of one of the great cyberpunk videogames of the 1990s, and come back here after.

I’m not a believer in spoilers ruining a work, but I do think that Beneath A Steel Sky is much, much funnier and cleverer than my explication of it could be. I’d rather you get in the choir so I can preach to you.

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