The Scrap Bucket

Enduring, persistent, and easily ignored meme: You see someone else’s final draft and you see your own rough draft. It’s easy to forget you see the whole process and you only see the outcome of others’, so it’s easy to think you’re making garbage and other people are making great stuff.

I make a lot of garbage.

I am right now, up at 2 in the morning, with a notebook open in front of me, because I have assigned myself the task of daily blogging, and I want to make sure I do it, because if I’m not meeting all my goals, I might as well make sure I meet this daily goal. I am thirty seven articles ahead of my schedule here, and there have been times I have been sixty articles ahead.

Today I threw out a bunch of scraps.

  • An article about how being Australian means I have to pretend my childhood was like yours, American Reader, even if I know you’re not American, because America has colonised English internet
  • Another genders 101 article about how to just, stop talking about sex with trans people if you don’t actually want to have sex with them
  • An article about how sharing supportive memes can be really miserable (though not always)
  • A twine game about finding your pokemon nature based on your food preferences
  • Vague summary of my PhD meeting today. It went well! I think I hit upon wanting to make people centred technology but in this case technology refers to words
  • Something about primitives, which is a super useful term when describing design and super awful when describing people
  • An article about being angry.
  • An article about how sharing memes about how you love people even though you never put any effort into interacting with them is kinda shitty because it’s just saying ‘thanks for doing the emotional labour, and also I expect you to continue because I reblogged a cake.’
  • An article about why I don’t know what my swearing policy is on this blog especially because I swear a lot in real life and tried to avoid doing it in MTG articles
  • A project document for an RPG concept that I think I kind of want to keep in the oven to cook for a bit
  • Some example _plans for mechanics I haven’t been able to actualise
  • The story of why I wasn’t at SMASH! this year but you could still buy Senpai Notice me and LFG

None of these got made. None of them will. This is an example of scraps, of things I didn’t do in their immediate form. Maybe when I wake up I’ll feel like redoing one of them from the start. But at the moment? Nah.

I write every day. A lot of what I write I’m not happy with and feels like garbage. If you write something and don’t think it’s good enough, do not feel bad about putting it in the drawer and deciding to leave it alone. The practice of practicing is worth it.

Game Pile: Wolfenstein 3D

You know what Wolfenstein 3D is. Probably. if you don’t, here’s your basic rundown.

Wolfenstein 3D is a classic first-person shooter game that was both pretty good and thanks to shareware, widely distributed. One of the games made by id Software, as part of their arc of changing the face of PC gaming, Wolfenstein 3D was a spiritual successor to an old stealth game on the Apple II and other platforms, Castle Wolfenstein. The game started with you trapped in a dungeon full of nazis, with a limited toolset to escape that was, basically, killing nazis.

There, okay, we all done with the basics? Don’t need me explaining graph paper and stuff? Cool. Moving on!

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Design Teleology

Today (when I’m writing this) was a Note Revision day. Basically the way I’m doing my PhD research is mostly reading things and taking notes, then one day a week I’m just crunching all those notes into something coherent. If I can’t explain it, I didn’t get it, so if my notes have a hole in it, I have to go back and re-examine them. This is in my opinion, a good practice to get myself in the habit of re-examining what I knew, and to treat this study as a marathon rather than a sprint. I can read a book and parrot back a few things in it from memory pretty easily, and, since my field of study is relatively obscure and even quite fragmented I can even make it look like I’m super smart just by wavering around on something I read and then give you a mangled explanation, but that’s not understanding it. The ACE system taught me to read a text and quote a few lines, after all, and anything I can do to annoy those miserable arse-wombles, I will do every chance I get.

Anyway, today’s notes were on a book I’ve mentiond before, called Game Research Methods, which was compiled and edited by Lankoski and Bjork, and it’s a book primarily about introducing some tools for researching videogames.

This is a solid book and it’s particularly solid because the opening chapters start with ideas like ‘what is research‘ and ‘how do we prove research,’ and by the end it’s talking about the idea of Grounded Theories where you start by gathering a heckton of data about game, then assemble your theories out of what interesting patterns you see in it. That’s different from conventional research where you start with a hypothesis and then try to gather data that will prove what you’re hypothesising is wrong.

Anyway, one of the things this book does that I’m not wild about, but which isn’t strictly speaking bad, is that it suggests that one of the mandatory things for researching a videogame is playing it exhaustively to ensure an understanding of the systems.

This is something that bugs me, because games do tons of stuff under the hood and you don’t know how it’s doing it. This vision of game design is kind of muffled, because I can go through any game, any game I love, as many times as I want, and I won’t know what the design is trying to do, I can only deal with what the design does in my experience of it. This leads to a problem with gamer mentalities where having played a lot of a game is seen as proof you understand the game, where buying a lot of games makes you informed on how games get made.

It’s a pretty well known fact that games do stuff you don’t know about and won’t understand. You can throw a brick and hit a story about this. Sometimes it’s a bug that people got used to. Or how about the ways games deliberately lie to you, not just about plot, but lie to you through interface.

But here’s the thing.

Is the experience of playing the thing we call a videogame, or is the device designed to give you that experience the thing we call a videogame?

Notes: Sorted Bran Flake Cake

Here’s a thing that taught me something!

This recipe – set aside the laddish racing – is a really nice little dessert to make. I’ve done some experimenting with it and some findings so far.

  • The bran cereal can be replaced with muesli or oats. Dicing it up makes it more of a texture than ‘cake with stuff in it.’
  • You can put a lot of things in the bottom of the mug! I’ve done it with diced bits of apple, you can use apple saue, but also jersey caramels, or a dash of strawberry jam
  • You can stick things in the mix! I put in some chocolate chips and they came out of it nice, if they were small enough
  • This thing creates its own sauce with the brown sugar and milk, so you’re best off mixing it with flavours that go well with that, like apple and caramel or vanilla ice cream


3rd Ed D&D – The Whale Monk

We talk a good game about how weird balance was back in Dungeons and Dragons but sometimes it just made a kind of sense. Druids were really good because they could shapeshift into animals and also cast spells. Fighters were bad because they had to stand in one spot and whale on something to get the most of their abilities, and no amount of hit point damage compared to ‘dead on the spot from having your soul ripped out.’

There are however, some odd places that the balance of the game just blind-spotted. It’s a bit of a canard, back in 3rd edition that every book had a broken thing in it, and the more stuff in the book, the more chance you’d find something that slipped up and had more broken stuff in it. Almost every splatbook in 3rd edition featured a class that was busted weak and another that was busted strong, and another that just didn’t work properly. Yet nonetheless, it was in a published book, and that means that it has some reality to it, some unvirtuality that leaves the creative mind of the DM fit to examine the option and decide if it’s okay, or not.

Let me show you something extremely silly and extremely powerful that a reasonable DM might give you a funny look over.

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MTG: Hallar Great

So, there’s this enby.

I love making commander decks. Even the ones that get stomped a fair bit. It’s kind of hard to call a commander deck good, or bad, because Commander 1v1 is such a swingy format with nonsense flying around. It’s like a slightly more splashy vintage where the early turns don’t tend to matter quite as much. You can sometimes just get infinited out by a god draw that the other deck is never planning on actually doing.

What’s more, there are usually a lot of different ways to build a commander deck – my Wasitora for example is nothing like the Wasitora’s I’ve seen online, where I made a value Jund deck and other people make a dragon tribal removal-heavy deck. I’ve been looking

Hallar, the Firefletcher is my latest passion.

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Print and Play: Adventure Town, Pt 5

Today, I wanted to try and finish a prototype of Adventure Town. One sit down session where I hustle my tuchus off and come out of it with something I can present like a real game designer. I honestly feel bad about how long it’s taken to make Adventure Town because part of the point of it was to make something I could hammer out in less than a month as a side-project and distribute freely to my Patreon sponsors as a purely digital product.

Still, what is experimentation if not for the experiment!

Nonetheless, progress. I sat down and tried to think about what more I needed to finish Adventure Town’s first printing. The systems are all in place, really, for what I consider a ‘basic run’ of the game.


The system of Adventure Town is a little bit like a sort of Machi Koro like game. You buy parts of the town, and then adventurers come to town, spend their money, and the businesses in town react to those adventurers. They’ll give you money, or prestige, or maybe they’ll work on your personal quests.

There’s the common sheet, your personal sheet, and then the game has dice and cards. The idea is that for a print and play game, the cards are easily made and reused for each game, and there aren’t many of them – maybe 25 or so.

These cards are all meant to represent adventurers that come to the town at the end of each turn, and that means the card space is going to feature some visual stuff, a picture of the adventurer so that people can focus on that character and know when they show up. So, ideally, they want to be pretty diverse and distinct from one another.

This means the game is built between three different aesthetic spots: The board, the cards, and the player boards, and now

Now I have a problem.

I don’t want to spend a ton of money or time on Adventure Town. I have some art assets I can use already, and now I’m wondering if I should use existing art assets. With that in mind, I’m going to ask my Patreon subscribers for more specific opinions, but the basics are am I going to use the art of FinalbossBlues, which is pixelly, and make the game more like running a JRPG town, or will I use the ink art of the Terrible Character Portrait Pack?

We’ll see how it goes!

Next Step

We’re in what some people are calling a Golden Year for roll-and-write games, which is nice but I’m trying to not let what those games are doing influence me too much. Some of the things you can do with good production values include booklets that change one another, or sequential pages or rules changes, while I’m trying to make a game you can print out and conveniently.

Still, because I have free distribution and production costs (more or less) I can afford to give players a lot of options if making those options is relatively easy. And thus we come to my next thought – offering multiple town maps. The first thought was using cards to represent the town, but part of the point of this game design is to make it so players can draw on and deface the board itself. I was thinking I might want to allow – if the design allows for it – oddball things like being able to blow up or change rules on some locations.

But I’m getting distracted. The point is: Card based board is not an option. Especially because the point of the board is to be replaceable with a simple printing! We’ll talk more about alternate board stuff once I’ve printed out and played with some more boards!

Game Pile: Commander Keen 1: Marooned On Mars

This is an experiment. I explain it in the video, but the basic gist is this: There’s this idea called Stimulated Recall. The idea is that in research, you often want a participant to do something, then you ask them questions about that something. Stimulated Recall involves recording the task, and then getting the participant to watch the video and explain what they’ve seen on the screen.

This is a small experiment in doing this solo, and we’ll see if I have more to do in this vein. But we’ll come to that later.

‘Broken’ Games

With SGDQ under our belts, one thing I keep hearing is ‘broken’ games. “Break the game,” the term, mostly relates to being able to give a game something that shouldn’t work, and then have it work. Rolling out of bounds, jumping atop things you can’t normally, bouncing off surfaces that are meant to stop you, the way we talk about these behaviours is that the runner has broken the game.

I don’t like this expression.

Look, when you break the game, the game *stops*. That’s a break. That’s when the game comes into pieces. If you want a game to break let’s go to boot up some old DOS4GW games under windows and watch them immediately fall apart as they try to allocate into memory that literally does not exist. That’s a broken game, and hey, I got the game to conclude in record time.

No, what happens when you tell Strider or Pokemon or Super Mario World that you’re writing into some godforsaken region and clipping into a wall and swimming up and down a dirt track, is here’s something you weren’t designed to expect, so handle it. And the thing that’s amazing about a lot of these games is they do.

Making levels back in Quake days meant I got really sensitive about how you triggered things. It was entirely possible that you could design a level that was unwinnable because you put the trigger for ‘finish this level” on the subtly wrong side of a button. When you call a game that can be told you’re approaching the end point from Angle Q at a jajillion units per second, and it reacts to that by going okay boss then the game is the absolute opposite of broken.

It might be permissive. It might be forgiving. It might even be a bit dopey. But you didn’t break the game. You asked the game to do something ridiculous and it didn’t break.


Story Pile: Hello Rockview

There’s this joke, about ska.

The joke is that not many people like ska, and people who do like ska, are funny, and to be laughed at.

It’s not a really good joke, but it seems to be the only way ska music gets brought up. Hey, remember ska? Some people like it! Hah! You do sometimes see the variant ‘I can’t believe there was a time where we thought ska was good,’ usually in reference to the late 90s when a handful of ska bands got a few songs on the radio, which represented, of course, an invasion.

Also it got to be in the Digimon soundtrack because it was cheap, which is probably where a lot of people heard it the first time.

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Staying Sensitive

There’s this story about my grandfather.

Back in the day you did a lot of odd work around the infrastructure of Australia. Power poles and telephone poles were still being put in. It’s funny that now we don’t need them that telephone poles are so comparatively new. Anyway, at the time, my grandfather was sitting, hanging by a strap, to do work on a juncture box – one of the old hard metal boxes full of fuses that were used for determining throughput, fixing fuses, that kind of thing.

Anyway, it seemed that something went wrong in the box, or maybe he messed up – and there was a huge, nasty spark, a belch of lightning that threw him back, off the pole, and kicked him meters away, burned all over. Medical care rushed to help him, kept his eyes covered, and bandaged him up.

Months of healing. Nervousness. Uncertainty. Learning to live in the darkness. Fears he’d lose his sight.

Then, when the time came, when the doctors were as sure that his eyes would be as okay as they could be, they unwound the wrappings from his head, slowly, one by one, letting his burn-healed skill adjust. Slowly, slowly, until finally, they were removed… and he could open his eyes, to see how much damage had been done to his eyes in that moment of lightning.

… and then, he looked around and realised his eyes were fine.

In the flash between the explosion and the impact, his eyes had slammed close, his eyelids had protected him. And this story, we were then told, was proof of how miraculously well-tund our bodies are. Praise Jesus, etcetera.

I heard this story, first, as it was told as something that happened to my grandfather. Then years later I heard someone else, who wasn’t related to me, saying it’d happened to their grandfather. Then some fishing around and it turned out to just be one of those stories, even if it described a phenomenon that could actually happen. It’s a bit like the Bricklayer’s Story.

The thing about this story, the thing that really does nag at me as I go about my day, as I clean my glasses because I know my eyes are getting worse, as I sniff milk to make sure it’s okay, as I run my finger along a surface to detect imperfections in a print, is that sensitivity is so obviously and stupidly important.

Why wouldn’t you want to be sensitive? Your entire body is made up of systems designed to preserve your sensitivity. You check for smells and tastes and touch. You blink to keep your eyes sensitive. You feel pain to keep you from damaging your sense of touch.

In the end, the only person who wants my eyes to be less sensitive is going to sell me glasses or steal from me where I can’t see.

Half Life’s Empty Promises

I think about @Campster‘s take on Half-Life 2 a lot.

There’s absolutely a line of conceptual continuity between Half-Life and Half-Life: And The Rest and Portal Babies. The first games were experiments in linear in-game storytelling, where rather than seize control, fix a camera and make you see things by conventional cinematives, the storytelling of Half-Life was being done while you acted in the space, and rather than concern themselves with how to frame the scene, they recognised that you would frame it yourself, naturally, if they just made it something you wanted to look at. This was really bold, and involves giving up a lot of control, which is something as a designer, you’re always loath to do. Letting players come up with their own stuff is very exciting but it can mean you literally waste effort.

Back when videogames were more like puzzle boxes, and you were expected to sit there nagging at one for months at a time instead of ditching it for another distraction, it was not uncommon to put more stuff in the game than you’d see on one natural playthrough. There are people who played Commander Keen who have no idea that they had secret levels. Small teams can do this – especially when they’re confronted with some ideas that don’t work or things that wind up being too hard getting junked and moved to other parts of a game. Some stuff that’s ‘too hard’ can get thrown into the content but made hard to get to, as a way to warn you about what you’re getting into. Hey, this level was hard to find, do you really think it’ll be easy to win?

Anyway, this mindset isn’t how things work when videogames cost as much as they do, and it’s harder to carve out exploratory stuff. When you make a linear sequence of narrative, you don’t have a lot of time to break between the game time and the narrative time. Half-Life always tried to keep those two time scales wedded to one another, even if the wedding was entirely illusory. You can go AFK at almost any point in the ‘time sensitive’ story of Half-Life and the game will pick up as you left off. You will always arrive just in time for the events you’re heading towards.

Do to that kind of thing you need to plan ahead, you need to make sure you have teams working on A, B, C, and D with the right priority of effort and the right control to make sure that D and C don’t fall flat because of something with A. That kind of planning just means that you’re going to have to get rid of all the uncontrolled stuff you can, shave away the ways players can create uncontrolled reactions in that extra space. This uncontrolled reaction space, by the way, is known as play.

So Half-Life is essentially a game that wants to minimise your ability to play it.

Pretty weird when you think about that, isn’t it?

This is honestly why some of the decisions and timing in Half-Life don’t make any sense. They’re always trying to minimise ways you can mess up the plan, and the big thing in the core of those plans is that you will advance. The only thing they let you do to break the plan is to die, and then you can come back for more. In essence, Half-Life creates an experience of a corridor, as per the above video.

The thing with this plan is as you shave bits off it, as you drop piece after piece of ‘play’ options, you wind up making this experience that’s focused more on continuity than on content. Anyone who’s worked on a draining project will tell you, when something is hard to make, you find every reason to ditch on the things that don’t matter, and you ditch on them hard. It’s why Half-Life is a corridor escape from a single room, and Half-Life 2 is a corridor escape from a single room that pretends it’s actually an open world with a destination. Look at Xin – a few drifting islands you explicitly can’t travel around or learn anything about.

I guess what I’m saying here is I don’t think there ever was meaning behind anything in Half-Life.

I have this idea, fuelled in part by the existence of expansions like Blue Shift and Opposing Forces that at no point at all did anyone involved in Half-Life really have a ‘point’ for the story. If you can hand the work over to a stranger, and not care if they introduce an entire new enemy faction to your story, you clearly don’t have a vision for what should be in your story. If there was content worth expanding, you could have given them that.

The story of Half-Life, told in one long sequence, rings of someone who is really, really worried you’re going to get bored before they get to the ‘end,’ and so they keep inventing things that it might be. There’s no real foreshadowing – that you can spot the G-man in the background of early stuff doesn’t mean anything because the G-man doesn’t mean anything. That the G-man offers you a choice is meaningless because the choice itself is meaningless. That the G-man shows up periodically to put you on the right part of the plot screams of a storyteller who keeps painting themselves into corners and wants to try and convince you it was good, actually.

Like a taupe Tardis, Half-Life is a series of increasingly unimportant boxes inside unimportant boxes, ever pulling you onwards with the promise there’s some thing at the end, and there never is.

In the end, total silence is Half-Life 3, and it’s the best Half-Life 3 we could ever get.

King Hits in Poker

I’ve been watching poker videos lately. No good reason. But there’s something that fascinates me about poker as a strategy game.

First of all, poker is a strategy game. Set aside the actual money values, make the betting with markers or tokens or whatever. Treat them like hit points. Whatever. The point is, while playing with and for money makes poker more intense it doesn’t make poker not a game of strategy. While there are books on the topic, veritable libraries full of information about how to play poker, what to do when you’re playing poker, reading people, the particular generational behaviours of poker eras, all that stuff doesn’t work if there’s nothing to the game but the money aspect.

The money does connect it to a super interesting kind of materiality, but that’s for another time.

There are very few times in Poker where you’re compelled to give up money. Next to the dealer there are two players who have a forced minimum bet – known as blinds. Usually you’ll hear of two – the big blind and the small blind, and these are there so players can’t just constantly sit out of hands until they have something they want to play with. Blinds also mean that if you do have a good hand, thanks to your automatic bet, you can ‘hide’ it in the blind bet. After all, other players seeing you bet don’t know if you’d have bet if not for the blind.

What this means is that you do have to defend small bets (your blinds), you never have to defend your entire pool of money unless you choose to.

Back in The West Wing, Vice President and sex lizard John Honyes remarked that in Hockey, nobody knows what’s going on during the play. In Leverage, Elliot says he doesn’t like any game where you can’t score on defence. In poker, both of those things are true: As confident as you are, you can’t be sure of what your opponent is doing, and when you’re being the aggressor, you can lose everything.

It’s fascinating though, precisely because you can’t lose what you don’t risk. Your opponent can’t go after your bankroll, can’t make you bet. That means that most of the game is about back-and-forth cajoling, jousting with your opponent. Behaviour changes as your bankroll changes, and the game has a back-and-forth to it as chips change hands, but at the core, your opponent cannot control you, and you can only lose when you put yourself in a position to lose.

The game handles this by giving you a powerful incentive to make sure that you sometimes want to put yourself in a position to lose.

The Invisible Orient

Board games have an orientalism problem. This is just a given. If you want to try and talk about the ways Asian nations are perceived and treated in board games, that’s just a given. The problems of Orientalism are about ways that Asian nations are reduced to inhuman archetypes, given alien explanations for their behaviour, or treated as fundamentally exotic.

But that is to me a boring bit of background radiation. It’s not that it’s not a problem, it’s that it’s a problem that you have to completely misunderstand to not recognise. Like, seriously, if you claim there’s no Orientalism in board games, you must not understand what Orientalism is. Representation in media is always going to be carrying its colonial baggage and the only way to address that is to acknowledge it, understand it, and fight it. But again, this is boring.

Instead, think about why this problem is the way it is.

Right now if you look for ‘Asian’ games in board games, you find a lot of things. You can find some really beautiful, elegant, fun, good games, games by great designers. The problem is, if you want games that seem Asian, you find games that are French, German, Belgian, British. They’re designed in Europe, produced in Europe, drawn in Europe and playtested in Europe, and then they’re sent to China to get manufactured, and sent back to Europe to be sold in European stores.

But when you talk about the people who get to make games, the names overwhelmingly show you this problem.

I don’t have a problem with non-Asians making games about Asian things that inspire them. If nothing else I’d be a huge hypocrite to do so. I found the symmetrical nesting of the Chinese Zodiac appealing and created a game that spoke of an Asian-inspired culture. But while I was there I bore in mind that I was dealing with a tiny game, with one artist (me!) and with a minimal toolset.

The problem is that these games are being made and produced and made to represent the market, made to be Asian-ness in games, and the games made by Asian people are not.

The sad truth is there are only so many jobs out there with the title of ‘Board Game Designer.’ As big as the market is, there’s only so much room in the current model for how they get made (and yes, Kickstarter defies this model but we’ll get to that). This is why you’ll see the same ten names if you go through any serious boardgame collection – the companies that produce board games of a certain material quality have already got designers on deck, artists they know, and manufacturers they rely on. This is all infrastructure of board game development.

A single meeple will cost me something like 60 cents. If I buy 10 of them, each will be like 42 cents. If I buy a hundred, twenty cents. If I buy a thousand, well, I don’t rightly know. The things you can do at scale are very different. If you’re a company making a dozen games and you can buy all the meeples for all your games at once, you can get really low rates for them. The same with boxes, cards, plastic components. The companies in Europe that make board games are set up to make lots of board games, and that means that Europe produces a lot of our board games.

This is a real problem! The problem is that this means that when you go into a store, it’s actually difficult to find ‘Asian’ games made by Asian people (and yes, the term ‘Asian’ is massive and it’s encapsulating about three billion plus people) because those people live in countries where they don’t have this infrastructure that’s about scooping them up and connecting their work to the work of the markets that we, in the west can observe. There isn’t a meaningful communication between the two.

If you’re like me, you’ve looked at a lot of amateur Japanese art. Amateur Japanese art that is absolutely, absolutely what we consider professional quality here in the west. These artists are often younger than you think, and getting paid less than you think. And they’re almost always terrifyingly good. When I was learning to draw I was stuck by how excellent these Japanese students, younger than me, were, and I for a time there had this idiot idea that ‘Japanese people are better at art.’

Now that’s nonsense.

On the other hand, Japan has a cultural infrastructure for the fostering, examining and creation of art, and that’s something students can get into when they’re young, care about while they’re young, and stay caring about the whole time. My art is just not very good – I’ve been trying for twenty years, but I know it’s still very bad and sloppy, but I know part of that is that I’m not surrounded by people also doing art, I don’t have stores full of specific tools in regular walking distance, there aren’t regular conventions about examining or learning about this stuff.

It’s infrastructure. It’s the stuff we’re set up to care about.

Now there are a ton of great Asian games. The few I’ve seen direct from the source have been excellent and have included A Fake Artist Goes to New York and String Railroad.

The trick is, from the west, finding them.

This is the real invisible ink of this Orientalism problem. We do not have a default view that we should look to Asia about Asia. We do not think, as a natural thought oh, what do the Asian Game Channels know about this, or really, more specifically, What do the Japanese cons think, and the Indian cons and the Malaysian cons and the Singaporean and –

Now there are things breaking this up – Kickstarter is letting people shortcircuit the publisher system. But kickstarter is a way of converting attention and luck into money. And that attention is almost always best refined through cultural groups. You get the people who care about your work to back your kickstarter. You’d think this means you’d widen your audience, but odds show it’s kind of not the case. If you want to make a Kickstarter Friendly game, which is a male-targeting miniatures-driven grim aesthetic game that hovers around the $60-$80 mark, you can tap that audience with a kickstarter that’s already getting some traction. But if you want to do something out of that type, well, your odds are best relying on the people who already liked your work.

Good news, though, there are some solutions to this. A big one is finding what we call media capitals: These used to be spaces, but these days they’re people, who exist in both worlds. People who can connect these non-Western markets to the Western markets. This means listening to Malaysian game nerds, Japanese game nerds, Asian-Americans and Asian-Australians and all these people because they have some awareness of and connection between these spaces.

That’s not to say any given Asian American is going to be an expert on Japanese games, for example. But you’ll find the first place to start with asking people who can see themselves easily in games about people like them.

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Dream Journal: Tent Revival

I had a weird nightmare last night –

I say last night, based entirely on when I’m writing this. You know I load this blog ahead of time so it’s no secret that I’m not writing this literally right now. I actually really like the distance it gives me when I write about something emotionally entangling. With the knowledge I’ve written about it, I can talk about it dispassionately, but nobody I know is going to react to this text now when I’m raw about it, and nobody’s going to read my blog like tea-leaves trying to work out my mood or whether or not I’m okay.

Anyway, it was a really weird nightmare because all I can really remember is the end. I was at a revival church meeting with my parents. Big white tents, sunny day, and like, there were tubs of soda drinks, and bags of chips and lots of things that normally make me happy – indulgent things, the kind of free food nobody checks up on you about or tut-tuts about you having too much.

Then the organ started to play and everyone filed to sit down… and I realised I didn’t have any paper or pen.

And that was… strange. It was deeply strange to wake up, with the lurching feeling of horror from that. Every time I went to church I took notepaper along, ostensibly to ‘take notes’ but realistically speaking it was to draw things, write things, or just play in paper space while I listened. Really, the main discipline of church was being taught how to sit quietly and not cause a fuss – you don’t actually learn much. Sermons are often really basic, really bad demonstrations of ideas or points, they’re much more about setting a tone and a style, and part of that means they have to be boring because if they were fun or exciting or interesting or easy it’s not ‘serious’ enough.

To be caught without paper and pen means staring down this boring demonstration of information by someone who is interpreting a book and if you’ve read the book as well you know what they’re leaving out. It means you’re going to be bored and angry and you will be so for eleven billion hours.


MTG: Notstalgia

Look, I know it’s Magic: The Gathering‘s 25th birthday. I know that it’s a year when the game is going to do a massive victory lap for its own persistence. I don’t mind that. I celebrate that! I love that this game has shown that its particular combination of components and concepts has underneath it all, longevity and excellence in design. I love that I can show my students this game and they can come up with whole games that just use one of the mechanics in Magic. It’s a dizzyngly deep game, and it deserves to spend some time thumping its chest.

There have been, in this year three major dips into the well of nostalgia, between Masters 25, Dominaria, and the hype of returning to a Core Set, yielding Core Set 2019 with a headline of classic Elder Dragons. Woo, 1995!

One of the all-purpose lazy content vehicles you can get out of Magic: The Gathering is the set review. I liked doing them back in the day, in part because new cards excited me but also because I had a gimmick that not many other folk I was reading did: I ignored a lot of cards. There were a lot that weren’t good enough to play with in a deck in the formats I liked.

Since doing this on my blog, however (and I have been doing it now for a bit over a year), I realised I kind of don’t want to do these set reviews in a big part because I don’t want to be too negative. I like Ixalan’s flavour, but my set reviews of it yielded a disconcolate grumpiness, a dispassionate disinterest in the cards themselves. I’ve since shifted a little bit on Ixalan – I certainly regard it more fondly than I did at the launch, and there are still cards from Ixalan I haven’t played with yet that I wanted to.

Yet here I am, looking at the now of Magic, that’s focused on the past of Magic, and remembering that I’ve been there. That wasn’t great. I wanted to leave.

It’s just awkward. Right now, a lot of Magic: The Gathering is about reverence to the past that I hold in disdain. Even my favourite set of the time, a home of some beloved cards, cards that are out of even modern for being Too Something, Onslaught block, has been shown over and over to be full of mistakes. It would make me happy to see the cards of Onslaught brought back to thrive without the pressures of Psychatog, Counterspell, Astral Slide or Goblin Warchief, and yet, those aren’t the parts of the past we remember.

Then again, they brought back Goblin Warchief from that block.

It reminds me of Time Spiral, a block about the history of Magic. A block where we were told we could see anything, see anywhere, we could get a glimpse of Magic’s future, and I hated it because it didn’t show me the future we are in now. I didn’t get to see things like Bestow, or the mindset behind the creature removal of Murder, or the new, interesting and fun ways games can be about stuff other than the draw step.

It’s weird. I love this game but the things of the past five years have shown me greater and more fervent love than anything before it.

I guess what I’m saying is Khans rule.


In June, I did not ‘release’ a game, as per my usual schedule. I made, and had plans to release, the Nyarr, a supplement for tabletop roleplaying games, which as I write this hopefully is out by now. It should be. This represents the first month where I did not release ‘a’ game in two years.

When I was a child, I found that certain dates and times passing gave me enormous anxiety. At uni, I was dreadfully afraid when assignment dates passed in case I missed one or mis-delivered one. Reporting my income to the government comes with an absolute throat-tightening terror, because I’m afraid of doing it too late. This is naturally a great combination with things where I feel guilty about my lack of productivity so I want to avoid confronting them.

With the Nyarr, though, I don’t feel… bad.

I don’t feel great about it, but I do feel peace.

The first thing is: I know I did the work. I worked on the Nyarr in June and before, I had a plan and a schedule and funds set aside for work and the things that kept the Nyarr from coming out could not be changed without hurting people. If it’s me under pressure, that I can meet; but I cannot force creativity from other people, from other friends. I cannot make people deliver, and the idea that I can shows an ownership of their labour that I simply don’t have.

Second, a game a month is kind of a raw deal if the games are all too similar. If I make two town builder games back to back, they are in direct comparison and it’s unlikely, if you like town builders, you want both. I want to keep making varied and different game types, and so if I put out a game in one month you don’t like, the next game might interest you. That variety means that there will be experiments and unforseen testings.

Third, I have made more than a game a month. Some of them didn’t get released – games like Ruck and Clout got test prints and then got put away. The game Blackjack Dungeon is absolutely a do-over. Then again, in addition to the other games I’ve released as official releases, there were times I released two or three games a month. Games getting time to breathe in development prevents me from making big mistakes and releasing games I’m sad about later.

Alter Access for example, for Middleware, for example, is a small rules patch which was meant to form the first of five expansions for that game that simply haven’t gotten made because I felt bad about them. Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and hammer those out, who knows, but I do feel that Alter Access as a release unto itself is just a bit weak.

Finally, the Nyarr isn’t just my work. It is an experiment in that kind of RPG content, testing the market and making sure the product is valuable to non-mechanical purchasers – but it’s also huge, some 50 a5 pages long. Since that content includes the flavour writing and artwork of people who aren’t me, I want to make sure it’s good and it shows the care for those people’s work I can.

So in the end, I didn’t release an actual game, officially, in June. It was delayed a little.

And I’m okay with that.

That feels like a big deal.

July Wrapup!

I blogged every day, so that’s that goal met. The most notable blog posts of July included the four Kamen Rider essays, which I really enjoyed writing. They were originally going to be a video, but I realised the scope of the editing was just beyond me without source material, and I’d have to go hunting on Youtube for video I could use. I also liked my post showing the day-long process of creating the engine for a boat card game, and the surprisingly positive hindsight view I have of Rise of the Eldrazi.

Next up, the video! This month’s video was Meaningless Heterotopia, a 20 minute long video essay about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a game that has nothing to say despite being convinced it has absolutely got something to say. This video was quite a bit of work, but I did it almost a month before it got released. Notably, this video got made because I already had made video of the gameplay experience, which has taught me about when to record video footage, and how ‘play experience’ cuts together into an interesting video.

I think in hindsight, with a few mistakes notwithstanding (there’s a point where some animations are out of sync), I learned a lot making this. The biggest problem is that in my efforts to keep the video moving, to avoid still images, I shot through a lot of things way too fast. It’d have been better to space out my speech more, if I’d given the text on screen more room to breath.

That said, it hit almost 400 views in a few days and is at 600 views as I write this, which is a huge improvement over Ziggurat. Thank you so much!

This month’s game release was Domains of Meh, which went up on DriveThruCards. It’s a little trick-taking army game, and had to get made between a bunch of other stuff, so I’m pretty happy with how it worked out. The Nyarr is almost good to launch too, I’m just waiting on the last of the artists to get back to me. Working with other people has a time frame all of its own!

Here’s this month’s t-shirt: BAD BEETS.

I also had to get back on unemployment benefits in anticipation of work not coming through, which meant I got into that bureaucracy for just long enough to be reminded of how much it sucked.

Also, my grandmother died.

Clever Bastards

I think about this song a lot.

Ian Dury was a dude who was born when Polio existed, and it wrecked his body. The dude lived a life of singing and shouting and stomping, and was regarded by his passing as one of the great British lyricists. Some of his songs spoke plainly of sadness and helplessness in the face of the need to create, some of them about the nature of British society, and some of them, like this, showed a round-bottomed positivity. He died in the year 2000, at only 57 years of age.

I think the thing about this song that gets me, every time, is the refrain – probably had help from their mum, who had help from her mum.

Back in the seventies, a one-legged street tough who knew how to steal, how to fight and how to cry was recognising that we are all part of long chains of effort, that even the best and brightest were aided by the people who shaped them. Bear it in mind, the connectivity between ourselves and the past, and remember that we didn’t make ourselves, not even those we consider great.

Kamen Rider W Week 4: Sincere

When regarding any production made for Japan by the Japanese without an explicit eye towards translation and distribution – so, you know, lots of stuff – there’s a temptation towards an orientalist lens. The typical weeb view that Anime and Manga and such things are so much deeper than the tawdry production of the west, that these shows aren’t for kids, when they very much are for actual kids.

Continue reading

MTG: Pet Cards XI, Rise of the Eldrazi

After the discomfort of Zendikar, a set I never realised I disliked, I figured Rise of the Eldrazi would be suitably bothersome. After all, it had one of the worst creature combat mechanics of all time in Annihilator, it wanted to clog up the board, it filled the world with little 0/1 tokens and was hard to approach. Not to mention that it introduced us to The Eldrazi, or MTG’s response to Cthulhu, Just Please Without The Racist Baggage.

That the Eldrazi were imprisoned on a plane populated by humanoids who were chalk white is kind of funny in hindsight.

Yet despite this, when I went to get a list of pet cards from Rise I was shocked, shocked to see how many cards there were in this set that I loved. So much so that I felt like I could do a pet card from this set for each major mechanic in the set.

Continue reading

The Most Casual Autoethnography

I’ve thrown around this term a fair bit recently, in non-academic circles. Part of that is because I want to get familiar with it, and I want to know how to best explain it to other people. As with many concepts, it’s best if you can explain it with a concept.

So let’s talk about one of the most common ways you engage with Autoethnography: Reviews.

You don’t normally get it for things like soup or shoes or teacups but if you’re – like me – the kind of person who engages with the output of Video Essay Youtube or Board Game Review people, you’re dealing with autoethnography. Every games reviewer is an autoethnographer – they play a game, they examine what they played, then they examine that experience, usually, and tell you what they derive from that.

Some models of reviewership want to be dispassionate, remove the reviewer from the review. This is obviously contentious, because some people seem to think they can have a pure, objective, non-biased perception of a game, and also nonsense, because it’s almost always the byproduct of trying to be ‘right’ about a game. Part of why autoethnography wants to ensure the reviewer is a component of the review is because that way, if you understand the reviewer – even generally – you can use that to inform your reviews.

Now, this isn’t strictly speaking true: The model for what they do is autoethnographic, but because they’re not doing it with academic structures and rigor, it’s not really reasonable to call it autoethnography. It’s much more about making this work approachable, converting academic stuff into stuff that you can handle. If I can’t explain it usefully, it’s a sign I either don’t understand how to talk to you, or don’t understand what the thing I’m talking about is.

This was all brought on by doing some old readings and finding responses to Lindsay Ellis’ rather excellent critical series, The Whole Plate. This series uses Transformers, a type of generally shallow trash media, as a base grounding to examine a whole host of film theory concepts, and it’s really good.

One of the ChannelAwesome people, that Doug Walker guy who, apparently, sucks a lot? Put out a video in which he forwarded that there was no point, at all, to ever critically exmaine trash media.

This is, I feel, a good opportunity to put these two positions in contrast. One of these two reviewers uses the experience of watching Transformers as a venue to explain and explore a whole host of film theory, and one of them thinks there’s no value to critical theory at all. And right there, you can use that as a platform to decide which of these two people you should consider when it comes tim to examine media critically.

Game Pile: Hey, That’s My Fish!

One of the funny things about reviewing board games versus computer games is that computer game reviews tend to be about describing what a game lets you act like you do, and board games tend to be about explaining how the game works. It’s an interesting conundrum, where the process of trying to explain why you should play a board game, you’re often taught, in a general way how to play it if you already own it.

I’m personally a fan of a model Tom Francis proposed in How To Explain Your Games To An Asshole, a model that includes one of my favourite ways to start talking about a game: Tell us about the fantasy of the game.

Hey, That’s My Fish is a game about playing a team of penguins trying to stave off starvation and maroon other penguins on ice floes where they’re probably doomed. It’s also a really neat little state machine that duplicates a bunch of computer game tropes with some really simple, elegant rules.

Also, since the game is a board game, most of the pictures for it have been taken by other board game sites, and I’d feel a bit crap taking pictures from them for the write-up. I can’t take my own pictures right now, so rather than scoop up other people’s pictures of their counter tops, instead, I’m just going to use some public domain pictures of penguins. Continue reading

Project: Voiceless

The Pitch: It’s a hidden identity game where all the players are merfolk princesses, who have surrendered their voices to the Sea Witch. Except one of you is the Sea Witch, and in the midst of the group is a powerful charm that binds all your hexes. If it’s laid upon the Sea Witch, all the curses will be broken and everyone is free, and you each know a little about the women around you.

Except none of you can talk.


Voiceless is made up of cards:

  • Identity cards, of which you get dealt one at the start of the game
  • The Hex card

The identity cards have an identical back. One of them represents the Sea Witch, and the remaining cards represent roles.

The most basic kind of role is just a mermaid princess. These win if the curse is broken. There’s also a Sea Witch, who wins if any of the princesses gets cursed.

Setup: Choose the princesses you want to include in each game. There should be some proportion of princesses to Sea Witch, and some princesses that complicate the game. Shuffle these princesses, deal one to each player face-down. Players can look at their card at the start of the game. Put the Hex card where everyone can reach it.

Play Loop: Players cannot talk throughout the play.

Starting with a first player, a player looks at another card on the table. They can then take the Hex card and either hand it to the next player (showing they are done), or hand it to another player face up. Players can then vote on whether or not they trust that with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote.

If the players all vote thumbs-up on one player, that player is Hexed, and the game ends. Cards are revealed and then players determine who won based on their role cards.


I mostly need art for this. The game at its core just needs a handful of pictures of mermaids, including at least one that can be The Sea Witch, so with a clearly different palette and style of the others. The aim would be to have the mermaids, as princesses, represent extremely different styles of personality, such as ‘mean girl’ or ‘innocent’ and I would want to make sure these mermaids didn’t represent just one vision of cool mermaidness. They wouldn’t need action shots or physical prowess or detailed weapons or whatever, just pictures of cool, Disney-Princess style mermaids.

Do you think you have the skills for this? Are you interested in the idea? Feel free to contact me, either via the Twitter DMs or by emailing me!