Category: Making

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

Speed Week: Goblin Bakery Game

Well, now, it’s been a week since Speed Week.

How did GAMES MADE QUICK go for me?

First of all, my intention was to do a lot of the documenting of the process on twitter. That was a good idea, and normally, that would work out fine for me. Live editing on Twitter is a pretty easy thing to do when I’m doing stuff like playing around with card face designs. It’s been a nice feature of how twitter can handle me pasting visual information from a graphic tool, or I can screencap lists of text or diagrams.

Thing is, this time, I brought this idea up with Fox. Fox is a person, and she lives in the same house as me, and not on twitter. Which meant that when I did set this time to do work on this game idea, it was a conversation between two people, in a room, back and forth and not in text on twitter. What resulted, then, was not the same thing as a normal twitter thread. Big deal, bit of a bummer.

Instead, we talked about the game as we walked the dog, or when there was downtime during Games Done Quick itself. We did still set limits – We’d have one conversation a day, and that was all there was to it, I wasn’t going to try and stretch it out. I also didn’t do a lot of work on the last two days. Those days were busy for me. That’s okay! With that in mind, how far along did the game get?

First of all, here’s the twitter thread I did.

What we did come up with was a game about goblins raiding a bakery. The game’s tone is light, and sweet, but also chaotic and slightly incompetent. Goblins are meant to be kind of clueless and dumb but in a very sweet and greedy way.

The player goal is to steal a number of cakes from the bakery. You do this by picking up a cake and passing it to the goblin behind you. The cakes are represented by cards, which have a ‘need’ on them to represent how many dice are stacked on them. Complex, tall, teetering cakes need a stack of dice on them to represent concentration and effort from the goblin moving them around.

Players will be rolling dice in real time. Players can control any given goblin as they roll their dice – trying to roll dice that they can stack up, with a specific rule on each card, to make the dice lock in place. Each goblin has a number they also need to roll – in sum – with the cake they’re holding, to pass it along.

The game has a really physical manner, and part of how it’s physical, is that the timer is going to be a piece of music. I spoke to some friends about how to do that, and the piece of music known as Powerhouse served as my general thinking. You have a bucket chain of idiot goblins in a bakery, trying to take cakes off the counter, then pass them along.

The deck of cakes has a number on the back of each card, and that card is the ‘lock’ number. Any dice that’s showing the lock number can’t be picked up and rolled – at least until another Goblin uses a hand to shake their goblin friend.

This gives a basic run-down of how the mechanics work. This is the information I’d use to make a prototype set of rules – some cards in a word document table, a page or two of rules, then share it on Itch to see if anyone wants to playtest it.

This is how small games can get made. It only takes a few conversations, a few exchanges, to get an idea into a prototypeable space. Write down the ideas you have, when you can, and you’ll find you do more work than you think.

Fuzzy Games

In his review of Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy Review, Quinton Smith of Shut Up & Sit Down used the term fuzziness to refer to the way that this enormous, complicated game overwhelmed your ability to predict outcomes from all the possible interactions. When talking about it, he was explaining the way that this game, which is deliberately daunting, creates an ambiguity between what you can commit to doing and what the game will do in response.

Now what makes it somewhat remarkable in the case of this game is that it seems to do this with mostly open information – players have their own tableaus and their own clearly marked scores and crystals and ship designs, with the only real ambiguity being the results that are going to come out of dice when they’re rolled.

This is not a particularly new idea in game design at all, but it is a fun launching point to talk about because one of the things that Big Box: Expensive Miniature Cardboard Pachinko Machine has going for it is lots of open information, which isn’t typical. What Quinns describes as fuzziness is something I look at in my (in progress) PhD thesis, under the descriptive title of Entanglement.

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Practicing Practice

You know that old phrase ‘practice makes perfect?’ It’s one of those little aphorisms that’s so common that we tend not to examine it. Typically it’s trite, and at worst, actively inhibits the conversation, something that makes it seem like the person who says it isn’t really paying attention.

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Speed Week: Game Development Sprints

During any given week, I have a Ke$ha moment, where I wake up in the morning to work on the ph-diddy. Every day I need to work on a large project, that I will still be working on at the end of the year, and every day I make sure I do something on it, even if it’s not amazing. This means I divide my day, every day, into chunks of time with goals to meet between various bits. I try to make sure I have lunch every day, for example.

This week, in AGDQ, I want to dedicate one block of time, each day, to live tweeting developing a game.I had a whole plan, because there’s normally a game jam, called GAMES MADE QUICK. This year, though, the point is to not make a game. It wants to be a take it easy game jam, with the idea that you make something. A level, an asset, a rulebook, a revision, something like that.

I was planning on doing this anyway, but with that in mind I’m going to do some dedicated, focused experiments in using an hour at a time on game development. One hour at a time – a goal that I have to do the play with the project, but put it down when I’m not.

Here are some rules, up front:

  • I pick a start time and tweet that start with
  • If I then fritter away the time in that hour doing nothing, or get interrupted, that’s it, RIP that time.
  • I can work on existing game ideas or projects and that’s okay
  • I can use that hour to do breakdowns of mechanics or things in another game I want to do something with
  • One hour later I summarise what I did or looked at or experimented with.

Now, you might have seen some of this already (hi, future!). I don’t know how well I’m doing. It’s possible life has gotten in the way or these projects, but if we have, that’s a problem that we can accept and move on. This is a game jam that wants to be taken easily. What have we gotten up to? I don’t know, the Jam hasn’t started yet, I’m not doing anything until tomorrow, which is yesterday, because time is fake.

There are currently three game projects I am thinking I want to look at for these sprints, though, which I am writing down now so I can come back to this draft later:

  • I have the cards and decks for the card game Die Rich done. What I don’t have is that game’s rulebook written. Worst, despite knowing that game pretty well when I started developing it, I’ve kind of forgotten bits, meaning I have to go back in time and try to reverse-engineer the way my own game design works.
  • I want to make an upgrade to the game Burning Daylight, a game I love heaps but which I feel I rushed through because I was done with developing it. That’s super frustrating to deal with when the game has this powerful character to it I’m excited by.
  • I have a few ideas for microgames, particularly a dice builder game (a competitive one and a cooperative one) and a worker placement game. I kind of like the idea of making a real-time dice roller that forces a sense of speed on players, here in speed week.

If you want to track my progress, and check out my daily sessions, this link will show me talking about it on twitter.

Let’s Talk 2021!

Hey, uh, some of the 2020 plans got a bit weird didn’t they? Phew! Good thing that all of those things are exactly over and now it’s 2021, all the problems that 2020 had are over because we tore the tab off a new calendar.

First up, there are theme months; months when I’ll try to use the theme to focus topics. This means that you’re less likely to get a lot of stuff on this topic all the time. This is going to break down as follows:

  • February is SMOOCH MONTH
  • April is TALEN MONTH
  • June is PRIDE MONTH
  • August is TRICKS MONTH
  • October is DREAD MONTH
  • December is DECEMBERWEEN

I also plan on producing content in the following forms, each week:

  • Every Friday is a Game Pile
  • Every Monday is a Story Pile

You may think: Hang on, these don’t show up on those dates. Yeah, because you live in America. These are Friday and Monday, my time. So nyeh.

Let’s talk about types of topics though. Each of these articles types are going to be ‘lightly capped’ at one post a month. This is to enforce a degree of variety and make sure each of these things have room to breathe.

  • One Magic The Gathering article a month. With the rate of releases of MTG content, I prefer to make sure that my posts on this matter aren’t trying to keep up with the ‘proper’ pace, but instead be pieces that take my ways of playing Magic seriously.
  • One 4th Edition D&D Themed Article. There’s still lots in 4e D&D that deserves some attention. I know I have a thing about forced movement and smart targeting coming up on this one.
  • One 3.5th Edition D&D Themed Article. The awkward ugly cousin of 4th edition, I still have a lot of fondness for dumb things it could do and ways we can do  better than what it asks of us.
  • One How To Be post. These are fun breakdowns of how to approach a character and I try to build them in blocks so the middle section of ‘how do I get at the mechanical core of this idea with the tools I’ve got’ is readable for anyone.
  • One T-Shirt design post.

Now, on to game design and posts about that.

Originally the plan for game making for me was a new thing each month. This meant that each month needed to fit in playtesting and graphic design and printing and prototyping and that worked out okay when I was primarily a student doing Honours, and had some blocks of free time and reason to hang around at the university doing random pickup games with strangers. Since then I’ve had an experience I don’t want to repeat, where someone comes to my table at a convention and asks me about the games I’ve made, and I have to introduce them, in a tiny window, to thirty games.

The notion that face-to-face sales and personal play is important made me feel that more time on fewer games was a way to go. Having a new thing at a convention means you have a conversation, but you don’t have a big backlog to go over. I had low-key the idea that I would try and make at most, two games per convention in 2020; that a single new game to launch at an event was a better idea than having to explain twelve different games to someone who hadn’t seen me in a year.

This meant in game development terms I had four major events in mind: CanCon, Comic-Gong, MOAB, and SMASH! We know there won’t be a CanCon this year, so that’s out, which is a bummer, and the odds are good even if the pandemic dies down and conventions come back, it’s exceedingly unlikely we’ll have those same cons springing up, out of nowhere, this year, at the same size as they would have been. This has put game development on hold, which

Uh

Yeah, that’s been a bit of a thing.

I do seek to present some more pieces on examining game ideas and structural ideas I’ve been working on on this blog. I find this kind of stuff really exciting and interesting, and being able to go back over the games I’ve explained later results in moments of ‘ohhhh wait, that’s how I should do it!’ I do want to keep doing posts like that. This year, I don’t know how those gaming events are going to happen, and so, I’m going to operate on the assumption that they’re not, but that I do want the tools to be available. I’m going to spend this time I’m working on building apparatus to make a game making process, documented and clearly explained in about three months.

There! That’s the plan!

How To Be: The Covers Of 2020

It has now been a full year of How To Be. These articles are fun to make, they’re interesting to play around with, and I have more of them ready to go, so I fully expect to keep doing them. What I do think, though, from all of those articles I’ve made this year, I was frustrated to find that Twitter and Jetpack, two of the ways I promote this blog, don’t present my hilarious book covers in the thumbnails consistently. That means it’s possible that you might not see these book covers and may not have gone looking for them.

Also, since it’s December, and I am tired and you are tired and everyone is tired, how about I show off this year’s How To Be covers, and let you check them out now, as some long-form throwback reading of the rest of the blog.

Yeah?

Yeah.

Yeah.

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Decemberween: Jetpens

I watch a channel of ads.

I

I cannot wrap my head around this.

I cannot, in any sincerity, imagine even in the most preposterous of dystopian cyberpunk-ass future, envision this scenario that came into my life. I know my dad watches long, meaningless streams of seemingly interchangeable interactions between overpaid white blobs, and occasionally talks to the television about what a good or bad job they’re doing. That’s cultural. That’s a game. That’s sport, I know that shit.

In Demolition Man there’s a gag about the idea of characters listening to old retro jingles for the fast food chains that are all that remain of 20th century culture, the only pop songs on the radio being the ads. That feels like it has some stunning boomer energy, really, when you consider it’s basically ‘oh, the ads are becoming so much more of the radio these days!’ which, sure, whatever, I don’t even listen to the radio itself.

But right now, on Youtube, there is a channel that is literally just ads, and I am subscribed to it, and I put it on when I need something restful that isn’t headphone-required. Because it’s a channel about stationery supplies.

JetPens is a store. It is a business, in California, that sells pens and pencils and pencil cases and sharpeners and card dies and obscure book stuff and backpacks and so many things and the store doesn’t serve Australia.

I mean I can order from it if I want but I don’t need to. There are local stores in Australia that can probably handle the products, if I want them, but what’s more, I don’t really want to buy them. I have my needs met, here. But instead, I watch this channel of gentle, interesting, upbeat and completely friction free ads, and sometimes, thanks to them, think about the kinds of problems I see in the material objects I work with, and the ways I might work on them going forward.

Oh, and it’s great for gift ideas for Fox.

Decemberween: Bob Ross Stuff!

Bob Ross was an American thing. I don’t ever remember seeing him on TV here, in Australia. He was also a sort of proto-ASMR media format where the man’s gentle voice and soothing style was prone to giving people a sort of relaxation space even if they never joined in and painted. Then you throw in that there were VHS artefacts and analogue TV distortion creating more of the stuff we associate with lo-fi ASMR, and you get a dude who you find out about if you get into ASMR, no matter what.

The thing is, this guy’s work isn’t just about being relaxing, it’s also depicting a hobby, an artistic practice, and it’s a practice that was, formerly, in the day of Bob Ross’ lifetime, involved a bit of work ahead of time; he popularised a form known as wet on wet, where you start with a canvas that’s already slick with a base colour, meaning that colour you introduce has a medium to melt through.

You know what medium can handle that kind of deformationreally easily? Almost all drawing tools on your phone and tablet, and a number on your computer. Put down a blob of colour, then use the smudge tools to get that same wet-on-wet effect.

It’s December. You might like me have free time around friends and family. You might want something you can try out while the family are interested in using tech like tablets and videogames, and still want to work on something together.

So…? Check out Bob Ross’ channel on Youtube. Give it a shot. Make some happy little accidents.

December Shirts: The 2020 Worst Thing Participation Awards

Hey, I know I normally do the T-Shirt designs at the end of the month. This time, there’s a reason that maybe you want some product of mine for the end of the month? I don’t know why, but maybe you do, and because of that, I’m doing this month’s t-shirt designs up front, early.

This is a year that’s been, all told, pretty bad. At first I was working on a design that showed a range of the many ridiculous things that happened this year, informed by resources like is2020over.com. The problem is when you look at the things of 2020, most of those things are total bummers.

With that in mind, and figuring I don’t want to give you depression on a shirt, I thought, let’s cover some of the weird stories this year that didn’t have a chance to be even one of the worst things.

There are three designs, about Murder Hornets, boring UFOs, and The Monolith found in Utah, and you can check their collection here.

How To Be: Wolf Queen Nailah (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 authoritive 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.

And this month, before we talk about our subject, though I mean she’s in the subject of the blog post that you just clicked on so I mean what are we going to cover, suddenly a swerve and it’s going to be about trotting out pairs of characters that can be Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. But see, this marks our twelfth How To Be, and it also marks the first year of this feature. It’s fun! I’ve enjoyed doing that!

And because variety is important to me, we’re going back to Fire Emblem. And maybe, being you’re one of my friends, you might be thinking that yes! I’m going to bring up ya girl Edelgard, who is… very, very similar to Hilda.

No, we’re talking about Nailah, from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. And we’re talking about her because she’s cool, and she can do interesting things, and most importantly, because Fox likes her. I started with one of Fox’s favourite franchises, and then with a character she kinda didn’t like one way or the other? Terrible form on my part.

Let’s look at a Wolf Queen.

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Create From Empathy

I’ve said in the past that the two motivations for creating anything are spite and horny. You either are mad that something doesn’t exist, or that something that does exists wasn’t what you wanted, or you had a deep and personal want for something so you made it because of that. Sometimes the thing you want is just the experience of ‘hey, can I even make something in the first place,’ sometimes you’re horny for praise, sometimes you’re horny for being seen as productive, whatever. It’s a want or it’s spite.

Once you’re making, though, I’d like to encourage you to try and build what you’re building out of a sense of empathy.

When I teach students about how to make things, whether it’s a board game (as a structured object) or something like an instagram account (as an ongoing practice) it’s very easy to get caught up on thinking of an audience as literally the people on the internet who find the thing. This is something I have to try and uproot like a tree stump, every time.

Your audience are not ‘the people who see your work.’ It’s not your followers, god help me it’s not your impressions on a tweet. Your audience are the people who, if they see your work, are likely to like it. They’re the people who will respond to your work if they ever get to see it. When you stop thinking of them as people who are responding to your work, but rather as the people who would respond to it, you can stop worrying about ‘why am I bothering’ but instead ‘how do I make sure this work is as good as possible for the people who haven’t found it yet?’

First of all, there’s a lot of stuff people create without thinking about how an audience might experience it, or participate in it. If you’ve made fifty pages of worldbuilding, that’s fine and good to have, but how many of those pages are going to be useful to the person you’re hoping will read it?  Should you present them fifty pages, unorganised, or is it worth your time, is it respectful of their time and feelings, to go over what you wrote, and see if you can introduce ideas better?

Second, there’s a member of your audience you should have some empathy with, which is you. When you find yourself disinterested in making more of the thing, that’s someone you should listen to. When you find yourself tired, or sore, or bummed, and the urge to create isn’t overwhelming that, if you’re not playing with ideas, if you’re not finding yourself engaged with it… have some empathy with yourself.

You might just not be in the mood for it right now.

And if you’re never in the mood, maybe you don’t want to do it. Take what you learned, and move on.

We often think of our past projects and ideas and ostensible commencements of things as some kind of failing, some kind of moral weakness. This is pretty silly, and it’s a lot like trying to make people feel bad for unfinished games in their Steam library.

We’re all just here, playing with pieces.

So be kind to yourself. And to the people you want to share with.

Wallet Game Worker Placement

Earlier this year, Perennial Clever Cloggs Button Shy put out a competition to make an 18-card Wallet game that wanted to be a worker placement game. That is, a game where placing a ‘worker’ gives you an effect, and it deprives other players of that effect. So if I put my worker on the 3 Pineapples square, and you wanted 3 Pineapples, you have to find some other place for your Pineapple needs.

Don’t know why Pineapples. Maybe it’s just a funny word. Or maybe lots of worker placement games are colonialist.

Anyway, so I thought about how I might do this without a large, standardised board, and how to do that with a tiny number of cards.  Here’s what I came up with.

The game is divided into four basic parts: your worker card, which can be set to represent four different types of worker, depending on its orientation. Each worker card is split into two halves, and each side is different. So depending on orientation, the card could be A, B, C or D. There’s your four worker choices.

The resources can be shuffled up and arranged however based on each game. Maybe it’s turf or territory, or network nodes, or even a yearbook photo page, meant to represent social connections in, like, I don’t know, Mermaid Prom. Resources can be flipped up or flipped down, to create ways to deplete resources, or transform them. There’s room for them to vary.

Each player gets to place their worker card at one of the two sides of the board, 90 degrees from one another. They get everything in the line they choose, except, the card they have in common.

This gives you resources or opportunities to do special things, which I’m not sure how to track. You can make it so a resource card may have something as potent as ‘win the game’ on it – so you’re trying to jockey things into position where you can force your opponent to pick things you’re not.

What you do with the resources could be like Mana from MTG, where the resources go away at the end of turn, so each turn you’re trying to make a particular combination, to buy a card in the market, or enable something. You add cards from the deck to the marketplace as they go away.

This is the idea. You’re probably aiming to acquire some cards from the Marketplace, and you’re doing it by manipulating the resources with a small number of worker options.

Game idea intrigues me. I may give it a shot if I get a theme I like.

Skub (in Tabletop)

There’s this idea from The Perry Bible Fellowship, which is one of those comics we talk about in the context of ‘one of the good webcomics.’ It is also responsible for the origin point of one of the most widespread neologisms in internet culture today (‘weeb’), but lesser known is the term Skub.

Skub typically is used in gamer circles to refer to something people fight about, often extensively, which does not matter, and does not have serious impact. It’s an idea that clearly picked up in tabletop conversations because we are a ridiculous people who will have extremely heated arguments that attempt to prove our own emotional states as factually correct rather than be willing to openly admit and respect our needs, or to respectfully handle conversations about ideas that aren’t themselves necessarily an attack. It’s tricky stuff, but we make up for it with years on end of extensive, pointless, preposterous fucking fighting over bullshit that doesn’t matter, which we then bikeshed super hard.

Thing is, in tabletop gaming, there’s a lot of stuff that’s player decisions or preference that we tend to try and cook into ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ This can get super complicated, because it’s hard to tease out where some of these arguments have boundaries.

For example, Dungeons & Dragons is the largest corporate driven TTRPG in the world, and has been pretty much forever, and it is as a wing of Hasbro, part of a complex interconnected set of brands and franchises, some of which have been sketchy at best and some of which are having to do a lot of work to try and make good on deeply vile histories, like Monopoly. There’s an entire wing of how Hasbro wants to be a good corporate citizen which is itself, a big conversation that has an assumption in it that such a thing is possible. Then you can go one step above it, like how Dungeons & Dragons is itself an ecosystem all of its own, and whether things like encouraging others to create for it is an act of control or an attempt to address a power imbalance.  There’s a whole conversation there about whether or not it’s possible for Dungeons & Dragons to be capable of good agency given a poisoned root. These are all big and complicated conversations and some of them only work with spherical gamers in a zero-G environment.

But then you keep going down the line and you get into conversations that are definitely definitely skub, but which are being treated with the same tools and academic rigor as if the solution to racism is in the shape of a dice. What can exacerbate this is the work of people who are working hard to create in these spaces, where it’s not hard at all to, thanks to time spent working on critical tools, bring to bear long sentences that translate to what I enjoy is factually correct and what I don’t enjoy is wrong.

Personally, there’s a lot of skubby opinions that I like a lot to talk about, because if I know your flavour of skub, the stuff that matters to you that doesn’t matter in general, I know you better.

Anyway, I don’t like completely unstructured character building. Not my flavour of skub.

Burying ‘Good’

I’ve been writing on this blog now for weeeooo seven years and it sticks out to me every time I go back and review writing, even recent writing, just how often I’m willing to drop the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in discussions of games. It’s a reasonable impulse, because those are useful handle words.

It also comes from a defensive space, and I’m kind of embarrassed about it.

I teach about games. I teach students and ask them to stop using the word ‘good’ when they want to talk critically about games, or ‘bad’ because those words are big baskets with a lot of possible meanings and it’s not clear. Now, obviously on my blog I can have a jocular and funloving tone, whackyhee, but I still realise that I reach for that basket myself not because I don’t have a better way to describe the games I’m talking about, but because I’m often left needing it as a sort of waving stick to throw for an approaching dog.

I feel a lot of the time I need to be careful not about calling games good or bad, but failing to call them good or bad. I’m honestly a little more comfortable with ‘I hated it’ than with ‘this game is bad,’ or ‘this game fucks up this part’ because there at least I’m talking about a detail, I’m divining an intention and trying to explain it (which is, itself, funnier, but at least Roland Barthes has my back there). I am left, still, now, feeling really bad if I criticise a game if I don’t at least put something out there to signal to some arbitary, imagined reader, that hey, if you like it, I don’t mind, that’s okay, this game has Likeable Qualities, which

is dumb?

Like, yeah, there have been people who shouted at me over not being adequately courteous to a videogame, and a few of those are still in my circle of friends, but most of them aren’t. And the people who aren’t, they’re expressing something legitimate in terms of feelings but the idea my opinions aren’t acceptable isn’t the legitimate outcome of that. When I get those reactions, I need to recognise what I’m actually being yelled at about.

I don’t think I’m going to drop the word ‘good’ on its own? It’s a solid little word, and if I want to give you a general, leading-paragraph impression, like ‘oh hey, it’s fine, it’s good’ then you should be able to parse that out. But it’s a word of moods and tones, a basket word.

Really, what I want to fight with myself over is that impulse to be defensive and afraid about the idea of stating my opinion when here, seven years from start I know that there are people paying to read this.

Quiet

I’m beginning to wonder if I have a word count per day.

I have taken of late to notice that my writing schedule, while still well in advance of now (indeed, this was written months from ‘now’ as you read this) is still being heavily impacted by the Everything that’s happening right now. So again, if you’re reading this in the future, by the time I wrote this, the sharks with legs hadn’t started raiding the coastal cities yet.

The thing is, some of the elements infringing on my time are expected; I’m sharing workspace with another human, which means I’m very selfconscious about doing any recording. After all, while they work, they may get a phone call; while I’m at work I need them to be quiet so I can talk to my students, and the result is that I feel like a real asshole asking for even more quiet if I want to say, goof around with an audio recording to see how well it goes. Add to this that I’m trying to proactively stay in contact with people remotely who I know aren’t having a good time.

Still, I did notice that when I fell into City of Heroes hard and into World of Warcraft briefly (not since Wardads of Draenor, don’t worry, I haven’t caught up), and even into the family Minecraft server I run, that my writing output was just reduced. I don’t think it’s quite so simple as ‘MMO time eats writing time.’ I think it’s a cousin to this: That time spent playing an MMO is very time-consuming, effort-light, and it’s not doing anything that inspires me to write.

I write a lot in MMORPGs. I write backstories and character builds and guides to how they work and test out tables and spreadsheets. I have a list of characters based on their favourite colours, foods, and disney movies. It’s not like I don’t create when I’m playing these games. I just don’t feel that what I’m creating is interesting to you or worth sharing.

Which is interesting in itself. I do not sit here on high, with this immense swell of knowing to share. I know that my knowledge and memory and my experiences and indeed, my writing, are all parts of this interdependent machinery. Inspiration is not an idea appearing in the dark, but rather the process of a long sequence of semi-random testing and experimentation to see hang on, what do I think other people will find interesting?

I don’t think you want to read that much about my City of Heroes characters. That’s why I only post about them once a month and rarely on-theme with the month. I don’t think you want to hear that much about Jimmy Buffett albums, so again, one a month. I try to keep the D&D content per-book spaced out. All these things are helpful guides to me to remember that what interests you is part of what I do.

This is why I ask ‘hey, what do you think I should write about?’ or ‘any requests?’

And hey, those are useful.

Working on Black Jack’s Dungeon

If you follow my twitter, and like looking at me making things, you may remember seeing me work on a card game that looked a bit like this:

This game was called Black Jack’s Dungeon, and it was created and tested and then I made a proper prototype to test it out more extensively. When it comes to really large games, it can be hard to do playtesting and prototyping with just myself and my small group, because it’s harder to make the proxies work well. An engine that works okay when it’s shrunk down may feel really dull when it’s scaled up.

I made the prototype and found that there were some problems that the game was having when it was scaled up to full size.

  1. It was really slow! The original design relied on players flipping cards until they were satisfied and chose to stop, or overdid it, and ‘went bust.’ This is a bit like how Sector 86 works, but there wasn’t a solid way to handle needing to ‘dismiss’ enemies. Originally, players could choose to take monsters other players flipped, which gave it a cooperative element. This design is still something I can do, but it needs simpler enemies.
  2. It was really uninspiring! The heroes all had simple mechanical abilities, meaning that building a party was just a matter of what art you liked. Since there was one character who had a very special ability (turning into a cow when she was hurt), that made her stand out in a weird way alongside the others.
  3. The actual resolution mechanic for the whole game was just a matter of finding one card of many, and that was kinda boring!
  4. With lots of heroes, but you only getting three a game, it was kinda a bummer to never get to play with most of them, especially when a lot were really dull by comparison. The art was nice, I should make these things desireable.
  5. I used pixel art very sloppily. In a pixel art game, all art should use pixels of the same size (I am led to understand), and I didn’t. This made some of the art extremely unsettling to people who are inclined to notice this kind of thing.

I went back to the drawing board. Obviously, it’s not been a high priority, but it has been on my mind more as of late, what with you know, the thoughts about games that are playable without a large group of people. Particularly, this game struck me as an interesting option to make as a strictly solo, big-deck game.

(Huhuh,  big deck).

My current idea is to design a game where cards are adventuring parties – that you will have one card, with one to five heroes on it, and they have goals and types of prizes they will keep for themselves, when you send them into dungeons. Dungeons will be decks, set up around your little town. To send adventurers into a dungeon, you shuffle their card in, then, in another phase, you flip cards from the top of that dungeon until that hero card pops out – then you sort through the revealed cards and see what that means. Sometimes those cards are just smashed by the heroes; sometimes, they rout the heroes and you have to help the heroes recover.

This is the new mechanism in my mind, where you’re the town sending out and supporting the adventurers. It also gives more room for complex party mechanics, without needing to make 20 cards for all the adventurers.

October Wrapup!

Woo~ooo~Ooo~Oooo it’s trick-or-treating niiiight. Which it wouldn’t be wiiiise to dooo~oo~oooOOO~~ because of the globaaal pandeeemiiiiiiic~ You know now I think of it, it is a little weird to not see more Zombie fiction set on Halloween where they have to work trick-or-treating into the plot somehow. Anyway!

It’s Halloween and it’s the end of October, so it’s time to run down what I got done this month in amongst many other things.

First of all, articles. We did some interesting and different stuff this month, didn’t we? First, there were my readings of Hp Lovecraft writings with some critical response afterwards; I read Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn, aka ‘My Ape Grandma’s Grandson Was A Racist’, The Colour out of Space, aka ‘Space is scary and hicks don’t know when to be afraid,’ Nemesis, aka ‘hey, not so much racism this time,’ and The Statement of Randolph Carter, aka ‘behold the ancient days of a century ago.’ These were fun to do and reasonably easy, so if you want this kind of stuff, I’ll consider doing more readings on theme months.

I interviewed Erik the Bearik about Brinkwood: Blood of Tyrants, and that was lots of fun. I vented for a bit about ‘ghost hunters‘  and ‘real mystery‘ media, where I pulled my punches and avoided swearing about exploitative nonsense. I also wrote some companion pieces to my SCP Wiki video (and we’ll get to that), where I listed some SCPs I dislike and some I like.

I also did something special this month with videos! Since I’d been doing a lot of experimenting with video this year, I figured I’d bring them together and do five ‘different’ kinds of video.

For Halloween Forever, I talked about the game and about my relationship to Halloween as a cute, fun thing to be enjoyed. This was done by playing the video, then unscriptedly talking about the way the game made me feel. This was really easy to do!

For the SCP wiki, I made a simple video of a series of animations with minimal visual data, but with useful, clear iconography. This works well for representing text media, so maybe this is how I’ll tackle text adventures going forwards. This was also scripted pretty thoroughly before I made the video.

For Scarlet Hollow, I made a very quick series of pan-and-scans over stills from the game, which worked out well for explaining the ways the game worked. This was lightly scripted, but I did do a fair bit of editing to get the right flow down. This meant I could promote the game on kickstarter in an appropriate window, instead of holding things up. This also helped overcome my big problem with visual novels, where I often feel like I’m ‘wasting’ the medium to use video and voice to talk about a primarily textual medium.

 

Finally, Ai: The Somnium Files is like one of your more typical ‘essay-ish’ type videos, though not using the game to make some greater point. I scripted it out, read it, then used a loop of gameplay visuals which I overlaid with graphics to present more information about the game. I was able to weave in video footage and some captioning, which worked out okay, and I liked it.

I think I just talk faster than most video essay people. This video script is 2200 words, and the video is about ten minutes – but a typical audio reading, according to audiobook resources, is around 150 words a minute. Ostensibly, this should mean that this video should be about 15 minutes if I just read slower.

I’ll have to work on that.

For Gloomwood, this was much simpler to make. I recorded myself playing the game, as is, the first time. Everything is here – me messing up, me learning game mechanics, me exploring how the game worked from record to end record.

 I also made a shirt this month! Then I was so happy with how one element on it worked out, I made it into a sticker!

Aiba is a real sweetheart of a character, and I’m really glad to have gotten to play this game. When I make shirts and stickers, it’s often as ‘merch’ of my interests, and so this time I’m glad to be able to make merch of my love of this game.

And finally, personal life stuff? Well, October was busy – I’ve been marking pretty much every week of the month, and the marking has taken up a lot of time. I have a lot of students this semester, and they’re under a lot of stress, which has meant there’s been a lot of late-night mix-ups, or two AM calls from students worrying about how to get things working.

October was nonetheless a lovely month to catch up with some movies and shows I really liked, it was a wonderful experience in video making, and I enjoyed my recordings as well. Let me know if any of the content this month stood out to you as a fave and I’ll see what I can do going forward.

Camp Osum Month Diary

For Asylum Jam 2017, I made a horror game based around that jam’s theme of a zero sum game. My game was very, very quickly made; I documented the process to an extent at the time. Since then I’ve sat it in a drawer and kind of ignored it.

The game at its core is a drafting game, but it’s not a simultaneous drafting game. The game works on a kind of draft I learned as rochester draft; you lay out all the cards on the table, in a grid, and players make choices one at a time, in a circle around the table. These stacks are weighted, so that in each stack, there’s a card that represents the ‘monster’ in this setting. The monster in this story is meant to be a sort of slasher movie monster ala Jason. As players die, they become ghosts, and those ghosts then get to haunt and complicate things for the remaining player, who is trying to escape.

I really like this simple little engine, and I like the way all the pieces work; with three ghosts at the table it can be really hard for the remaining player to pick their way through the stacks of cards that may or may not be boobytrapped by earlier player action. Players want to try and sabotage one another, but they don’t want to make their own potential future as the final player one of immediate defeat, either. The whole idea behind the game is that all victory is a zero sum game: You can only win when either everyone ‘loses’ or when all the other players have lost – and that’s the inspiration for the name, Camp Osum (0-Sum).

I’ve been thinking about revamping this game as a little October release, and I thought I’d give a shot of making the game use pixel art.

  • There are a few asset packs I already own for horror RPGs
  • These assets often focus on backgrounds, a thing I find the most difficult
  • Consistently done pixel art can be really rewarding and nostalgic
  • The game’s mechanics are tense, the game’s art doesn’t have to try and horrify

With that in mind (and I started this back in the first week of October), I’m going to do something a little different here and include a set of pictures from when I worked on this idea each point through the month.

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October Shirt: Ai To Ai

This month and some of last, I played Ai: The Somnium Files. I played it, and I liked it, and I liked it so much I thought about going and buying some merch for it.

There is no official merch for it.

Normally, I’d wait until con season and keep an eye out for Ai: The Somnium Files fanmerch, maybe a print or if I’m really lucky, a keychain of a character like, oh, Aiba’s little teddy bear form would make a great keychain design. I want one of those.

Oh wait, it’s 2020. No con season.

Sigh.

Fuck it, I’ll do it myself.

Here’s the design. It’s an eye, with Aiba, which is part of the general symbolism hammerblowing that is Ai: The Somnium Files. Here, it is, on a shirt, you can use to conceal your body:

But, but, but, what if you don’t want a shirt, but just want a sticker of Aiba to stick on things that matter to you, to mark them as your territory? Well, I made this:

 

Here’s the shirt design, and here’s the Aiba sticker.

How To Be: The Castlevania Gang (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 authoritive 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.

This month, we’re going to examine overlapping skillsets as we look at not creating a character but creating a group of characters: The trio of monster hunters from the Fang-Em-Up Netflix anime, Castlevania.


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September Wrapup

Bring out yer alive!

This is our second-last unthemed month of the year, and with it came a scattered arrangement of posts, some that had been written months ago and only came out now, cast off into the far future when I could forget about them. It’s also when I wrote about how to handle money in your game design (and how weird it is that it’s how we handle it in real life, almost like life is an unfair game, odd), about how Elite Beat Agents expresses difficulty, and I put out my article on the charming and interesting Magical Land of Yeld.

This month’s shirt is a pie chart reference to a song! The big shakeup in the store is how I took down some Harry Potter themed merchandise which I once upon a time made as meanspirited jabs at a fandom I wasn’t into, but was willing to sell them, because it didn’t matter if their fandom was bad to me, it was important to them. The thing is, now, selling that stuff can be seen as if I’m okay with JK Rowling’s behaviour, and I’m really not.

This month’s video is another short experiment; an unscripted article on Void Bastards, which took me a very small amount of time to make for a game I’d already pretty much beaten. I quite liked doing this, and I’m hoping it’ll work for some of the other games we’re going to look at going forwards.

This month, I hurt my foot, and that snarled up my grading and that means everything’s been done with not enough time, oh no, oh dear, anyway.

Money (in Games)

Money ey.

It’s really useful.

Money is a thing that is useful, because we have our society built around making it useful. The idea of what money is, to a player, is always going to communicate the way money works for us now. It is what you can consider an ideal general utility; No matter what your needs are, you can usually meet those needs with more money.

Now, money can’t buy you happiness, but that’s okay, because we all experience a lot of different problems, and money, sufficient money, can deal with a lot of those problems – it has an overwhelming amount of, like I said, general utility. Converting unwanted resources into money is generally a reliably good idea, because the money will always be able to be put to some meaningful use.

Games use money all the time – letting you convert resources into a single, fungible, generally useful resource. That’s fine, games use resource management all the time, that’s fantastic. What can happen in games – and JRPGs are often going to land in this space – is where you can be confronted by problems where money doesn’t solve the problems, because it’s not supposed to, but your character can still do things that generates fantastic quantities of money that should address problems.

There are three basic ways that the real world keeps money from solving your problem (and why systems of capitalism often involves forcing these problems upon you), which you can use in games to make sure that you avoid the question of ‘why aren’t players solving this problem with their money.’

1. Depletion

There are things that keep us from saving. Rent, fees, transaction fees, costs for upkeep from week to week, like food and fuel and whatnot, those things are all elements that bleed away your money and keep you from saving. In a game, if you want to keep a player from stockpiling money to the point where it’s a problem, you can make large sums of money, or the things that people use their money for, bring with them the upkeep that depletes their reserves.

2. Scarcity

You can make it so anything that the people want to buy is itself inherently scarce. It can be the product of an extremely limited supply, or the end of a slow process, meaning that any that are made are bought very quickly. This can even feel like an infinite wait – players need to wait for keystones to be made craftable, for example, but the expensive components can become more available later in the game. In the real world, there are some products that aren’t reasonably available at any price once they’re all purchased, because the people who have them are refusing to put them onto that free market.

3. Scale

If you’re making a game where players can earn money that compares to buying ammunition, weapons, health packs or storage options, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can stockpile enough cash to buy a house. In the real world, these purchases do not exist on the same scale – and you can absolutely make your game so that the purchases that should deform the way the game works are simply on a different level. Science fiction games for example, set on spaceships, rarely let players earn money on the level of buying candy bars, that also lets you buy spaceships.

Secret Bonus 4: Let Them

You might notice that these existing tools are all kind of dumb, or rely on a world that’s dumb. They rely on a world where you can have this stuff that’s necessary for living that you then have to siphon away just to ensure people don’t get around artificial blockades in their life that you, the storyteller or game designer, are imposing. Why is it that the system we use for exchanging candy bars is also meant to be applied for managing inflexible needs like homes and medical requirements? That’s weird, the two things are simply not similar – should you be able to sell days of your life or your own health to someone for a candy bar? That’s dumb as hell.

I guess what I’m saying is when you think about money in games, and ways to stop money doing dumb things, you have to notice all the ways money does dumb things in the real world, and notice that they only do that because of an imposed system that’s made to benefit some people.

Weird, huh?

How To Be: Tier Halibel (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 authoritive 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.

This month, we’re going to dive into the world of the dead and look to the Queen of Hueco Mundo by the most powerful shounen anime right, the right of default, the underboob to Matsumoto’s cleavage well, Tier Harribel.


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BDG’s Commedia Del Anime Chart

Hey, did you like this video?

I liked it. I liked it and it gave me a list that was useful as a way to consider collections of characters (like roleplaying characters, or the cast of a book you’re working on), and that seemed a fun thing to play with. Problem is, the complicated system that BDG outlined here isn’t presented with something like a spreadsheet to copy and fill in on your own.

Sooo

I did that.

Here’s a link to a viewable chart, which you can Make a Copy of and fill in with your own characters. Have fun!

Expanding Fighting Fantasy

Thinking about solo adventures.

Far be it from me to point at the everything right now, but you may not realise it, but a lot of normal avenues for me are cut off – I don’t have access to playtest groups right now. Despite this, people are still TTRPG’in it up, tabletop living in online forms like Magic: The Gathering’s camera systems or Tabletop Simulator and the like. Also, Discord is getting a workout as a RPG room for a lot of people, and I know that my booklet games have been selling well on DriveThru.

That got me thinking: What can I do with just a book, for people who don’t have a ton of room or time to play with other people right now?

I loved the Fighting Fantasy books as a kid, because I also didn’t have access to specialised equipment and I didn’t have any friends. These books were an adventure that I could play and share with only the single monopoly dice out of my second hand boardgame we kept in the cupboard. They also could be obtained from the libary and local book exchange and crucially, not paid for with money.

If the main thing of mine people are buying right now is a book, and I want to give people stories and adventures and settings to play around in, then what about a solo RPG gamebook? That seems an interesting idea to at least explore.

There’s going to be a linked question here, which is, “Well, why not do this in twine?” or “Why not make this as an actual video game?” or “Why does this have to use a deck of cards when this other thing could do the job?” and the answer to that, largely, is shut up.

Not to be entirely rude, but the reason to do things with this medium is to do things with this medium. I’m not trying to get into programming languages – I know how to design game, I know how to design a game narrative, and I know how to format a book. What’s more, when you start using a digital model, you introduce more tools that often will handle things you do better – things like tracking inventory and whatnot. If you’re dealing with a gamebook or a pdf reader, you can tell the reader they have to do something, if you’re non-confusing, the player will be able to make it work.

A few ideas for this!

1. Flow

The typical problem of a gamebook is that you can emulate a linear flow from point A to point B, but it’s often hard to make a book construct a space. This is because some elements are time-sensitive – the first time you enter a room, you may encounter a version of the room that’s got things in it, but once you deal with them, the book has no inherent way to track that.

Now, there is an option for this – to treat the narrative as an entirely linear flow. Lots of good tricks here; using it as a narrative story that works as part of a journey is pretty good when you deal with something like the Lone Wolf books by Joe Dever. You could also make the narrative about being pursued – backtracking is inherently a problem.

There’s also the hamfisted way some of these narratives work by teleporting you places, or having you kidnapped or moved on. That’s a thing to bear in mind.

One idea for playing with memory is that your character sheet has a fold-over section, with a lot of out-of-context marks on it; when you do the thing the context mark indicates, you make a mark on the non-folded section, and that means that when you eventually flip that section out, you have a bunch of points that represent things you did, and they then send you to a story point that relates to that.

2. Adding Cards

A way to make the game remember – or forget – things is to use some cards. A deck of playing cards could be used to break up into a number of decks; you could have a final encounter represented by a few cards on a table, as a form of rudimentary AI. You could have treasure decks that mean you don’t find the same items in the same locations all the time.

You can also use cards to represent accomplishments – when successful, you can remove cards from a deck, so that later in the dungeon, they won’t show up. This can also be used to make the combat system more complicated in an interesting way.

I’m particularly interested in this because of how it relates to using a deck of cards to randomise encounters and add resistance without necessarily making the bulk of the book into repeating workhorse enemies and monsters.

3. Legacy Elements

Asking someone to physically write on the book is a bit sketchy, but you could have a legacy character sheet with a fold-out section that lets you draw on specific sections of the sheet to indicate things that have changed. Then you can use that section of the sheet to relate to the next (or all next sheets that follow, depending on how you feel about roguelikes).

This is particularly interesting because if entries are numbered, it’s entirely possible that you can make some entries go away with legacy rules; you have an entry that’s only accessible through the legacy elements, threads of story you can’t reach in the first play, but can in the second. That there’s hypertext.

August 2020 Wrapup

And just like that, poof, August disappears!

August, with its theme of magic – which I tend to expand to be about manipulating attention and tricks, so eventually we wind up talking about heists – is pretty hard for me to work with when it comes to games or movies, because I already did The Prestige and Ricky Jay’s TV special, but after that. It’s great (in my opinion) for the other articles of the month, because I can almost always find other stories about the wonderful weirdoes involved in magic, the techniques of magic, the tools magic gives you access to, and that means that I tend to wind up with a lot of articles I’m happy with while Story and Game Piles kinda suffer.

But that’s okay!

By expanding to heists and stealth like I did this year (the art of controlling attention), I got to talk about Logan Lucky, which is great. I got to talk about Breach, which I still really like even after finding out it’s basically copaganda for the cop’s cops. I also got to talk about Volume, a game that I really like, and has gotten a lot better in the five years since its release because the idea of a Britain fallen to classist fascism in an information economy really isn’t very farfetched.

I also wrote about some useful general principles for dealing with people. One of them was confabulation, the way your brain justifies dumb things it does, and that you may literally never realise you were doing, about slugs and loads, and about forces. The forces article even has my favourite line of the month:

The force is not there to set up the trick: The trick is there to hide the force.

This month also was when I slipped out some of the lore of a Scum & Villainy science-fiction setting, with The Synthetic Mystic and the Century Ship. These are going to become important later, but you’ll find out why. Basically, creative content for you to share and enjoy.

I also hammered in on the absolutely unforgiveable Tome of Magic from 3.5 D&D, which is not a good book and full of not good things, but still deserves a tiny star for trying. I did a How To Be about the amazing Sumireko from Touhou Project. I love when I get to do something meaningful about Touhou Project, because the Touhou fans mark out in just the best ways.

August, I made another pair of shirts (though like, technically, it’s four shirts), showing both a math puzzle that’s part of a magic trick (in white and black text), and a reference that’s not actually vague, but you know, you could pretend it’s vague (in white and black text).

This month’s video was a half hour attempt to get started on Jane Jensen’s Gray Matter, during which time I talked about trying to make Narrative Adventures work, and the ways that you can have problems if you’re just creating flag-based trigger messes, the Australian side of the Steam store, and

Teaching started up this month, and that’s been great fun to do. There’s been some concerns about managing workload, but I’ve also been trying to dedicate more time actually building and playing things, rather than trying to manage my life so I’m just getting by. Also, with some things opening up, I’m getting to see my family more often, which is nice.

August Shirt: Magic Nonsense!

I’ve really become way too into shirts that need explanation and nobody’s going to ask for it.

Here’s this month’s shirt designs:

This design relates to that 300 year old magic trick from a Scam Nation video I shared. here it is, on a shirt:

You can get this design as white text or black text!

But wait, there’s more!

And here’s this design on a shirt:

You can get this design in black text or white text!