Category Archives: Making

Articles in this category are about tools and ideas about making things, and my belief that you can make things.

Shirt 23.09 — Cui Bono Asked And Answered

If you’re not familiar with it, Cui Bono is a Latin aphorism that has become something of a loanphrase in English because there’s nothing quite like quoting an old dead dude to legitimise your complaint. It means ‘Who Benefits?’ and it’s used in conspiracy circles to encourage you to keep imagining more and more reasons for something to be the responsibility of those people. Thing is, almost always, the answer for ‘why would they do things this shitty way?’ is capitalism. And so:

No small irony in that I made this design on the second of May, back when I was ruminating on whether or not I stick with Redbubble at all. Still looking for alternatives, so maybe this gets edited later.

You can get this design in one of four colours, green, blue, pink or tan.

Cox: Mu’Tant

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.

Roughly one person in a thousand has enough Mu blood to get the attention of the primal forces that drove the magic of antedeluvian Oranbega. Roughly one person in a thousand had the rare linked genes that help the mind tap the process, and most of the Mu you see use intense concentration and sensory deprivation to maintain that mindspace, to use that power.

Tanner, however, got lucky. A simple mutation, a hiccup in his DNA, and that whisper of Oranbegan power is, to him, a shout. When these powers came into their own, the boy took to the streets of Paragon to use his powers, without the oversight of the Mu hierarchy or Arachnos.

At least that’s what he tells people.

And it’s not like they need to know.

Continue Reading →

Justum Bellum Sidus: Making a Plan

One of the classes I teach is about the critical engagement with a videogame text (or paratext). One of the things we do in this subject is to engage with the class materials ourselves to show the students what’s involved. Basically, ‘hey, this is about engaging in something that interests us.’

I proposed, for my pitch, the idea of a video essay that examined the idea of just war in the videogame Starcraft 2. I picked Starcraft 2 as an example for a few reasons:

  • It’s more recent than a lot of my videogame interests. It’s more contemporary to my students’ age group.
  • It’s got a thriving esports scene, a real world paratextual surface, so there’s an element of the game to examine.
  • It’s not something immediately obvious to me, so I’m not just cheating and answering a question I already know.

With that in mind, here’s a little audio of me thinking through my process for how I’d work on this project, in the early days.

Okay But What Gimmicks Can I Make?

Alright, I talked about gimmicks, which I find interesting, because, you know, they change the timing of a trick. They also unfortunately, change the economics of a trick, because in a lot of cases, there are some things you just can’t do, as a person, unless you’re absolutely amazingly good. Back in the day, the magicians had to work to be that good, but these days, there’s an economics to it that creates the category of, well, moneygicians.

whoah, authentically compression artifacted

I want to share a few short videos here, and let me tell you, magic as a community, with its particular kind of patter, can be really uncomfortable to share freely. Anything you look at here, the channels are probably okay, but also, don’t be surprised if like, one of these dudes is into NFTs or something. If you chase videos in this space you might wind up seeing someone doing old timey patter about dames and oh, take my wife, and yaw, ya see, and that sucks, especially to see people still doing it in like, 2019.

Continue Reading →

Moonshiners! and making Choices

Alright, alright, I know I’ve been thick on the ground for game ideas lately. This one’s even more frustrating than normal because I feel like I could convince a university colleague to pump out AI art and beta test it with me in a weekend but I feel like that would be an abuse of our limited time right now.

Here’s the core of it: You’re all Appalachian, redneck ass criminal booze makers and sellers, classic moonshiners. To maintain your business you’re travelling into town every month with a load of product, and while you’re there, you offload product, you recruit gangsters, and you make money through a series of auctions.

Also, you’re werewolves.

Continue Reading →

Design: Shaky Hands

This is going to be one of those ‘write up a game idea’ posts I do – if that’s not your jam, that’s okay! It’s just going to be me taking notes on an idea, and trying to explain it to a general audience. In this case, I’m not approaching a game aesthetic or art resources, but instead I’m approaching a purely mechanical idea to see what fictions can connect to it and what material components I’d need.

Continue Reading →

CoX: Juke

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.

…the police are the crime…

Dead drops and drunk tanks. A door left unlocked. A hole in the guard patrol schedule. An undersecured door, a familiar password, a moment of forgetfulness, or believable forgetfulness. In Praetoria, you could get a lot done by leaning on the way that everyone thought everyone else was corrupt.

Juke was one of them. Secret police, that is. You could only go along for so long, though, until it all went wrong. That’s when he found friends, found rebels, but not the resistance. Instead, it was dead drops and secret messages, and now, nobody knows anything he had to do with the revolution.

So that sucks.

Continue Reading →

T-Shirt: Support Your Local Things

I think at some point I just want to make sports logos of everything that isn’t really appropriate as a sports logo. Anyway, here’s a The Thing as if that’s a sports logo!

You can get this sticker or shirt design here! What’s more, because I made such a big file, it’s available to jam on a bunch of different designs I don’t normally get to use – like you can get a jigsaw of this reference to the 1982 movie The Thing. I don’t know why you would want it, but it’s an option!

I didn’t set up the microskirt option though that seemed… weird.

Feinting Couch

Ah, the age of adventure, of conquest, of nobility and of duels. Yes, the time when if someone defied you, you pulled off your glove and you threw it to the ground and demanded she meet you on the battlefield with god as your witnesses. Sublimated homosexuality and swords with reach, raucous adventure and getting out of town just ahead of the local law, it’s a question not about who did it first, but who did it best.

And the best… needs an audience.

En Garde!

Continue Reading →

Jam Game: The Lost Voyage!

I jammed in the Kenney Jam 2023! Do you know Kenney? Kenney make some of the best creative commons games assets in the world, assets you can put all over the place and use in your game designs. The point of the Kenney Jam was to get people to engage with these assets and make a game quickly. It was fun!

At the moment, I think I’m the only participant in the jam who made a physical game, and if you just want to skip to check it out, the game I made is called The Lost Voyage and it’s over on itch! The game is a push-your-luck yahtzee style dice roller, and I was only able to do a small amount of playtesting, which was more ‘does this engine work’ and not ‘is this the most engaging version of this game.’ It’s free, it’s a print and play game, you’re going to have to put some work into it to play it. But I also want to talk about the process of making it, and, importantly, what I want to do next.

Continue Reading →

Filling Out Factions With Combinatorics And Colour

One of the three most important codified innovations of game design in Magic: The Gathering is the colour wheel system. It’s not that this is the first card game ever to have factions (after all, what are suits, really), but of having an uneven number of factions, who match up with one another in terms of alliances and opposition. It’s a prime number, so there’s no even way to divide them up to create coalitions, everyone works together and against one another, and also, notably, it gives players an immediate philosophical flavour onramp saying hey, does this work for you, and then you can act on that. They are five essential operating vibes.

A lesson you can use from the Magic: The Gathering colour wheel, and which you can use in your own worldbuilding or game design is creating matrices of combinatorics. Or rather, you can give your players colours to fly.

Continue Reading →

Reflecting In A Mirror (Writing Advice Stuff)

There’s a nonzero chance that this one is going to be really, really self-indulgent and kind of maudlin and maybe even preachy, in that particular way of a boy who turned forty yelling at young people when he hits a point and feels like he failed at something nobody was ever grading him on. I got a bad grade at being Talen Lee, a thing that’s possible to have and yet, somehow, I always expected.

This has been kicked off in part by reading The Locked Tomb books, and should therefore be seen as an absolute mark in their favour, even if I don’t think you’d ever be able to get out of them what I got out of them.

Here are the lessons in summary form, so you don’t have to read the rest of this mess:

  • Characterisation is story. The way characters approach things, what they look at and how they care about them is part of how you tell the story.
  • Embrace community. Building friendships with people who are interested in your work, and whose work you are interested in, will help you get better at making things.
  • Buy My Book (Don’t Buy My Book). You need to convince people to engage with what you’ve made and that means being willing to share it with them and even ask them to look at it.
  • You Have To Love your Work. The biggest failing all my work has is that I’m embarrassed of it, and horrified by the idea of putting stuff in it that I care about for fear of revolting people around me. Don’t do that, centre the things you care about.
Continue Reading →

Bonus Design: Time Loop Pins

The line goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. Tonight, the picture is this:

It was inspired by a tumblr post I can’t find right now. That tumblr post suggested having multiples of a badge like this, which I find very, very funny.

It’s not really a proper t-shirt design but it was the only thing I was able to manage tonight that’s reasonably shareable while working on bloodwork and its emergent complexity.

If you want the pin, you can get it here. I do not know if you will or would.

This isn’t this month’s t-shirt design, mind you, it’s just something that I did tonight that I think is funny.

23.07 — Shinigami, But The Cool Ones

There’s a particular genre of shirts I design to wear in front of my students that give them the subtle messages that I am a huge nerd and also they should check the subject outline. I have one, a Naruto shirt, which is consistent at getting students’ attention, but here’s the thing.

I’ve not watched Naruto.


When the Big Three came down, I didn’t wind up buying into Naruto. It didn’t connect to me, but Bleach, man, that series did. I think because I thought Rukia was cute and a boy. But point is, if I have a Naruto shirt, I owe it to myself, to my honest representaiton as a fan, to have a shirt that matches my own cringe, not just the cringe of others.

This design, which I do not imagine anyone but me wants, is available on my Redbubble store.


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.

There were two people he used to be. Once, he used to be a quiet, insular kid who wore hoodies all the time and grumped about being short and feminine but never dared to say anything. The other was a raging, loud, abusive asshole on the internet, winning the game and making everyone involved feel bad. Even himself.

He did lose once though. That loss came with it a dare and a bet and a crossplay and then that got him attention from another cosplayer, and that became a friendship. A friendship that wasn’t based on bullying and winning or on shame and shortness. Took some time, but he learned through it to bring who he was together; he could be a cute, short, prettyboi AND an apex gaming predator AND he could be a friend, all at once.

Then six months later, his friend came back to him and asked him to join her, to pilot a big, stomping, videogame-powered mecha, the realest cosplay possible.

Continue Reading →

T-Shirt: Trans Vegas

Hey, Talen, you do a lot with the trans flag in your designs are you trying to say something yes I am trying to say the trans flag is kickass and right now you need every bit of random reasons to make it clear to say, any trans youth around that you’re not a total shithead and if they’re afraid there’s a reason to look around and see people who care about their existence and are less likely to suddenly turn out to be a fascist anyway hey let’s look at this design it’s from Fallout New Vegas.

The design is a bit small and hard to see on a white background so I recommend if you get it you put it on something dark.

You can get it on stuff and I recommend it on a shirt or get some stickers and slap ’em places you think are cool and I like it on the pin too.

CoX: Hext and Unburning

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.

“Is that her?”


“Yeah, the former sidekick of-“

“You know, don’t call her that.”

“But she was, until the incident,”

“Don’t mention that.”

“Why, what’s the worst that-“

“You know, maybe just stop talking.”

She’s not broken. She’s not wrong. She’s just not like you. Unburning is an angry young woman, in a way that sentence simply could not capture. Some heroes struggle to keep their power under control, and hers is the power of fire that burns as rage – where she becomes more angry, she becomes more powerful… and she recognises that seductive risk.

So, she keeps herself withdrawn. Careful. Quiet.

She knows when she’ll need to be loud.

“Oh, suuuure, it used to be all ‘poison apple’ and ‘cursed to be a frog’ but y’all don’t seem to remember when the time came to solve plagues and poxes, it was the witches that did that, jeeze. No respect.”

Hext. Just Hext. Once, a sidekick, now out on her own, she goes now by just Hext. She’s got that sly, not-quite-impressed college girlboss feel, like she’s free from some form of oversight, except her life and education has featured oh-so-much worse than textbooks. Running around beating up bad guys in her early teens, she’s done with living in a shadow, learned her lessons, and her former mentor… well…

… yeah, none of that, not no more. Bored with that.

Continue Reading →

More thinking About Making QUeer Games

Do you remember Hannah Gadsby?

Nanette And the Limits of Comedy

They’re an Australian comedian, who made the comedy special Nanette, and its follow-up special Douglas. That’s where I know them from. They’re good specials. I liked them a lot. It takes a lot to get me of all people to tune in to a comedian standing in front of an audience just being funny when there’s no presence of a dinosaur or laser beam to keep me from feeling selfconsciously like I’m being educated about art.

Continue Reading →
Back to top