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Headless Swarm Released

Headless Swarm” has landed.

It’s the first season of paid story for Exploit: Zero Day, our cyberthriller puzzle game about social justice hacktivism. The game’s still in alpha1 but buying “Headless Swarm” will get you immediate access to the game, the free season of story “Black Echoes,” and the first couple of jobs in the new season.

Our living story approach to plot in Exploit: Zero Day means that we release story gradually over time during the first run of a season. It means that you get to play story sooner and lets us adapt our approach as we see how story is received. “Headless Swarm” will be nine jobs in total, released over the coming months and all included in the single purchase.

This storyline is pretty cool, I think! It focuses around a real, scary hacking technique and explores the growing ubiquity of drones, the effect cyberintrusion and hacktivism can have on society, and how corporations use the fear of cyberattack to collect power. I’m also proud of the new characters and organizations we’ve written: Kilroy-sama is weird and silly, OnyxHorde feels like a good balance between sinister and contemptible, and Shay Oakes legit creeps me out. I hope players enjoy it, too.

Check out “Headless Swarm” here!

  1. With free access given periodically through our newsletter.

Exploit: Zero Day – Headless Swarm Landing December 1

For years I’ve been working at Future Proof Games with my partner Melissa on Exploit: Zero Day, a cyberthriller with living story where you roleplay as a hacktivist by making and solving puzzles that represent computer systems. It’s been in closed alpha testing for a while, but on December 1, 2016 we’ll be releasing our first season of paid story: “Headless Swarm.”

You can read more about the release and the game on our announcement blog post, but here I’ll just say that I really hope people check the game out and spread the word about the release. Even if you don’t want to buy the season right now, please sign up for the newsletter and you can get free alpha access when the season comes out. Make some puzzles, play the free story, and let us know what you think. And if you like it, consider picking up “Headless Swarm!”

With everything going on in the world right now, both Melissa and I want to feel like we’re making a difference. We’re trying to do that in a bunch of different ways but one of them is with Exploit: Zero Day. We want this game to be a way to explore difficult moral topics and modern technological ethics and encourage players to think hard about them, especially if they’ve never done so before. The more people hear about the game, the more successful we can be at that.

Please let your friends know about the game! If you’re press or a streamer, please reach out to us for free media keys on distribute().

Ludus Novus 026: Reflection

In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast, I discuss the election and GamerGate and how we can make a difference with games. I start with an excerpt from Austin Walker’s recent, amazing piece “A Note on Trump, Waypoint, and Why We Play.” I move on to discuss mirror neurons, Gone Home, my presumptuous racial awareness thanks to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, my plans to survive violent abuse, and the power of games to promote compassion.

The Ludus Novus podcast is supported by my patrons. To help, please visit my Patreon.

The theme music is “A Foolish Game (Vox Harmony Adds)” by Snowflake, Admiral Bob, and Sackjo22, available on ccMixter under a ccby3.0 license.

Breaking Down at Sex Down South

It’s the sign of a good conference if you’re affected emotionally, but I generally prefer not to end up in tears.

I recently attended Sex Down South, a sex and sexuality conference in Atlanta. It’s a great event featuring sex educators and layfolk discussing sex, advocacy, and relationships in an array of lectures, panels, and workshops. One of the things I love about it is that it explicitly prioritizes the experiences of people of color and queer folk: perspectives that are often overlooked in discussions about sex.

This year’s theme was “The Politics of Pleasure,” and most talks explored that in some way: the idea that how we choose our partners is political, the difficulty of approaching consent around trauma survivors or when exploring complicated kinks, or the process of effective advocacy for healthier sexuality. It was heavy stuff, and by early in the third and final day I was socially exhausted.

Continue reading Breaking Down at Sex Down South

Invisible Design in Picross 3D: Round 2

Why is no one talking about Picross 3D: Round 2?

Picross 3D Round 2 Complete Puzzle

To put it another way, what can I say about Picross 3D: Round 2?

It is an ideal game. It’s not perfect; I could list flaws like the error-prone controls if I were ever inclined to write a review. But as someone who likes to write about games as works of art and craft, it’s almost too ideal to grasp. Like the smooth carved-wood toys you produce when solving puzzles in the game, there are no hard corners or rough spots to get a rhetorical grip on.

The game just follows. It follows from its ruleset and its heritage and the decisions made in its design are all either necessary or arbitrary. The decisions are hard to even notice and games like these receive less attention in the critical space due to this invisible design.

Continue reading Invisible Design in Picross 3D: Round 2

“The Majesty of Colors” Remastered

Majesty Greenlight PromoBig news! As part of Future Proof Games, I’m remastering my classic Flash art game “The Majesty of Colors” for modern technologies. Instead of Flash, the game will be available natively for Windows, OSX, Linux, iOS, and Android. We’re polishing some rough edges but otherwise staying true to the original.

This feels very odd! “(I Fell in Love With) The Majesty of Colors” is one of the first games I made that got any attention and remains one of my most-recognized games. It can be a bit frustrating sometimes that a game I made almost eight years ago is more familiar to folks than my recent work, but the truth is that “Majesty” is one of my favorite projects I’ve worked on, along with Looming, Ossuary, and Exploit: Zero Day. Out of all my games that are becoming inaccessible due to the fading of Adobe Flash, “Majesty” is the one I most want to preserve.

I’m hoping that there’s an audience for weird little art games in the modern gaming world, especially on Steam. If you think there is, please vote for us on Steam Greenlight.

Otherwise, you can see the trailer and get more information on the official website of “The Majesty of Colors”.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Strange Symmetra: Accretive Design in Overwatch

Symmetra_Overwatch_001Symmetra is the most strangely-designed character in Blizzard’s Overwatch. In a game where most heroes’ roles can be summed up in a few words (“fast flanker,” “mobile area-denial tank,” “AOE healer,” “slowing defender”) and their story concepts naturally arise from their roles (“time-traveling jet pilot,” “leaping electric gorilla,” “portable DJ,” “cute ice Satan”1), Symmetra makes little sense.

She builds many tiny sentries, gives minor shields to allies, builds teleporters, and can attack with either a short-range cumulative auto-aim beam or a slow-moving death orb. This is explained by her being a combination architect and sci-fi construction worker, shaping solid forms out of light. She is the only character with “photonic” technology, and it is not explained how being able to project physical holograms also lets you bend space and time to craft a teleportation portal.

I have no special insight into the Overwatch design process, but I can speculate with some confidence about how it proceeded. Symmetra (and indeed all the heroes) were not designed from the ground up. They were assembled using an accretive process, where abilities were assembled piecemeal and then unified with a story-based concept.
Continue reading Strange Symmetra: Accretive Design in Overwatch

  1. I find Mei infuriating to play against.

Audacious Compassion Podcast

My partner Melissa and I have started a new project: a monthly podcast called Audacious Compassion about how to demonstrate empathy in difficult everyday situations. The first episode, “Go Buy a Caddy,” is up and you can subscribe via RSS or iTunes. You can even rate us five stars on iTunes if you like!
Continue reading Audacious Compassion Podcast

Challenge is a Calibration

I’ve read one too many “git gud” posts arguing that challenge is essential to games and that including an easy mode on, say, Dark Souls would ruin it; if you don’t want a hard game, don’t play Dark Souls. They’re wrong. Firstly, challenge isn’t an inherent aspect of games: it’s just one way of evoking certain player responses. Challenge is partly a personal preference thing: some people want a smooth experience and I do think that Dark Souls is a poor choice for that, and that experiencing Dark Souls as a cake walk won’t let you understand Dark Souls.

But that’s not the point. My perspective was summarized pretty eloquently by Rob Fearon but I feel like it can be distilled even further. The argument: what is hard for you might not be hard for me.

Look at it this way.

Continue reading Challenge is a Calibration

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The Transformative Power of Good Writing – Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order, developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda, should have been awful. If you’d asked me before release, I’d have predicted that the ninth game in a franchise, an alternate-history game set in the 1960s where the Nazis won World War II, featuring B.J. Blazkowicz as a recovered locked-in veteran, would only be good for a few hot takes and maybe some mediocre shooting with nose firmly held.

Instead, this game is one of the best I’ve played. It’s not just great, it’s well-crafted. That is to say that, beyond the things that appeal to my personal preferences (alternate history, cool sci-fi, a diverse cast, a dark tone, a considered pace) it shows great skill in how it executes what it sets out to do.

The credit for this success belongs to various factors—the expressive visual art, the excellent voice acting, and the well-polished rule systems—but more than anything, it’s thanks to the excellent writing.

Continue reading The Transformative Power of Good Writing – Wolfenstein: The New Order