Category Archives: Games

I write about games! I write a LOT about games! Everything I do about games is here, in this tab, in some way.

CoX: Trancer

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.


One, the story of a cosplayer who looks like one of the most famous girls in gaming, with a relentless online presence. Two, an overachieving supergeek whose boundless energy got an Explorer Position in Portal Corps. Three, there’s the story of a dimensional fold gone wrong, an accident that tethered her to a time-warping extradimensional supertech, and the gun-toting wise-cracking speed demon heroine that comes out the other side.

Zoe (or Emily, or Zoe, depends on the day) is what happens when these three stories collide in one absolute explosion of a girl. She’s incredibly Online, openly queer, and proudly cocksure. You might know her from Cosplay compilations, from her hero work, or maybe from her twitter feed, a high-volume mix of theoretical superphysics, cosplay, more adult content than is strictly professional and all the selfies in the world!

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Game Pile: A Buncha Queer Stuff (I Didn’t Finish)

This time last year, I collected a list of the kinds of games I’d try to play by this time next year. to make Game Piles about. They had something about them that appealed to me, and I wanted to use my platform, as much as I could, to direct some atetention to them, or to what they were trying to do, and I already owned them so the plan was nice and simple: These were the games I’d play for Pride Month.

And Iiii didn’t, or I did, or something about them made them unsuitable, or whatever!

Now this isn’t me going ‘I tried these games and they were bad, so now I’m gunna drag them.’ I think all these games have charm and you should check them out if the pitch works for you. They just didn’t make good Game Piles for me, but I still want them visible for Pride Month.

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4e: Dodge Roll Or Die

If you’ve read my How To Be Series you may have noticed the way that lightly or unarmoured characters present a potential contention for the project. In some cases it’s that characters don’t obviously have much armour on and there’s the counterpoint of characters who definitely don’t have much armour on.

What’s the problem? Just put the character in armour, right? Or just don’t wear armour and use something else instead?

In 4th edition, the system is built around some general math that in general makes it so that the DM can rely on players being able to handle the things the game expects them to handle. There is some tolerance — characters have a real floor of 10+half your level, there’s only so bad you can be at it — but there are archetypes like the Paladin where the game positions you by default to be good at defending yourself with shields and blocks and heavy armour.

What if you don’t want to do that?

Is there an option for you?

original screenshot from Topless Robot, if you’re curious
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Asset Brainstorm #6 — Pixbattlers

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.


Let’s spin the wheel and find what shows up when I look at itch.io’s asset page. Ohoh, what’s this? Pixbattlers, they say?

For the purpose of this exercise, I’m using the pay-what-you-want asset Apolonia in all my examples.

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Game Pile: The Androsynth

Talking about Star Control 2 is a process of pulling apart an encyclopedia of a game and turning all the phrases in it around until they catch the light. A sprawling epic you can fit on a floppy disk, it was one of the most thoroughly crafted games I ever experienced, supported both by its own historical text (Star Control 1), supplementary text (the manuals) and even the first version of The Author’s Twitter (a set of IRC interviews with the developers back in the days before twitter was a thing). Then there’s the implied spaces of that text, where just by dint of being science fiction made by dorks in the 90s, and drawing on a trope space like that with no real shame, there were a host of things in this universe that even one-note gag characters presented to be the point-and-click adventure temporary problems you routed around were still imbued with personality and culture.

It was also that particular characteristic of writing of the time, which I saw as well in other ‘expansive’ universes where every individual character had basically a single hook to get them into your head. In the same way that you can point at each member of the Transformers core cast as a set of speech tics and single personality traits, it’s not hard to look at the cultures of the Star Control 2 universe as kind of two simple ideas mashed together. Xenocidal spiders, capitalist slavers, sweet plants, blue lesbians, miscellaneous shitposters (malicious), miscellaneous shitposters (harmless), lovecraftian fish — they hold together simply, and they do their job.

I talked about the Ur-Quan, the Thraddash and the Dynarri (a culture represented by an individual). I mean ostensibly, I do want to talk about all the interesting cultures of Star Control 2, and probably get to the Supox as well, but there’s one culture, one group, that deserves special attention for being an absentee. It’s not like the Taalo, who you only know of through their absence — an alien culture you encounter in the backstory of the Ur-Quan. Rather, it’s one of the cultures you met in Star Control and then, in Star Control 2

are gone.

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3.5: Sex Is Bad

The Satanic Panic did things to the culture. We can pretend it wasn’t really a thing (because it was a thing about a thing that wasn’t a thing), but undeniably, a bunch of angry parent-types bellowing about the way their kids were being exploited until the exploitation changed colour did pervert the course of business interests. It was largely, just not worth the fuss to do things that could annoy that vocal body, and you could just change the decals on some of the stuff you did. I mean, having a bunch of weird outsider kids who liked playing D&D doing things like ‘being friends’ could be super upsetting for the parents of those kids, especially if those kids were having fun with their friends and not wanting to have fun with their family. Maybe the family sucked? Anyway, point is, that the Satanic Panic had a direct and meaningful impact on the big business juggernaut that was Wizards of the Coast. Famously, they stopped using demonic imagery on Magic: The Gathering for seven years.

Was that why 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons and its followup edition 3.5 thought sex was bad?

Nah probably not, this was probably just further building on the game’s pre-existing protestant ideology that thought Sex Was Bad. Let’s talk about the Ace Rights prestige class.

Content Warning: Acephobia! And uh… amazingly, just general talk about sexual assault? THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A FUN ONE.

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Azurill Says Trans Rights

Okay, get a load of this. This here is an Azurill.

History has been kind to this little mouse, but that helps that it started out as kinda mean in the origin. Azurill is a particular type of Pokemon we tend to group as a baby Pokemon; when they first showed up, Azurill couldn’t be found in the wild, but you could breed one, and then it would evolve into a Marill, which you could encounter in the wild. This was some of that gameplay thingummy, where there were Pokemon that, if you wanted to catch ’em all, you’d have to, you know, make sure some of ’em all were even around to catch.

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How To Be: Sheik

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.

It’s June, it’s Fox’s birthday month, and it’s pride month, which means I have to find a character who’s some variety of queer, and also one of Fox’s favourite characters. The good news is that every single one of Fox’s favourite characters is queer, because they’re her favourite characters, and that’s how that works. I’m a media studies scholar.

Let’s talk about a contentious argument from 2001, which we’re all over now. Let’s talk about Sheik, from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

beautiful Sheik art here by Vashperado
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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