Everyone Should Watch “Alone Together”

Stevonnie Dancing “Alone Together” should be shown in schools. This episode of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe is the best exploration and communication of childhood intimacy and active consent that I’ve ever seen. Katie Mitroff, Hilary Florido, and Rebecca Sugar have crafted a story that does what science fiction does best: explore big concepts through powerful metaphor.

Everyone should watch this episode.

“Alone Together” teaches that intimate relationships are built on trust and mutuality, that intimacy requires active and ongoing mutual consent, and that while intimate acts are important and can be life-changing, they don’t mean the loss of something unrecoverable. It teaches all this through the metaphor of dance, a form of intimacy that is accessible and safe for young people.

I’ll explore the story of this episode, discussing its ending as well as the unexpected character backstory revealed in “Jail Break.”
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Drowning a Deity – Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Episode 2

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The Bioshock series is about power and history. Power from flesh and history transformed. I’ve explored its biopunk underpinnings before, but I haven’t explored the most recent and oroborosian entry in the series: Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 2. It strips the wings from a deity in the service of motivating events in the first game that didn’t need justification, but in the process it introduces some interesting stealth elements in a game not originally built for them.

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Orcs Must Die: Blocking Strategies

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I have a confession: I’m a turtler. And Orcs Must Die 2 doesn’t want me to be.

The game I think of when I read “tower defense” is “Desktop Tower Defense.” It’s my mental archetype of that form, which arose from mods for Starcraft and Warcraft III: a game about preventing waves of invading enemies, or “creeps,” from reaching the exit of a map using stationary towers that attack when the creeps come into range; these towers are built with a budget you earn by killing creeps.

The strategy for “Desktop TD” is primarily about crafting a path for the creeps, one which is circuitous as possible. The towers in “Desktop TD” are solid, so they block creeps, making your towers also serve as your maze. Mastering “Desktop TD,” therefore, requires you to craft a perfect maze, a gleaming labyrinth made from the cheapest towers with just enough addition of special tower types and more powerful, upgraded towers.

Some tower defense games, like “Desktop TD’s” contemporary “Flash Elements TD” have a simpler approach where the creep paths are static and unobstructable. Towers can only be placed in the spaces around the path. I find this approach less interesting, as it allows for less creativity and diversity of play. The most a player can do to affect the process of the creeps, beyond killing them, is by slowing them, often with a tower themed around ice or viscous fluid. Orcs Must Die and the other games I’ll discuss here owe more to the “Desktop TD” style.

The Orcs Must Die series by Robot Entertainment belongs to a subfamily of tower defense games, probably birthed by Sanctum. These tower defense hybrids add a mobile player character with weapons that can supplement the stationary towers. In the case of the Orcs series, the player character is a martial wizard defending a fantasy world against hordes of orcs and other creatures. But unlike Sanctum, its differences go beyond just letting you help your towers with their work.

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How to Fix D&D 4e Combat

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I’ve been running a Dungeons and Dragons fourth edition campaign for going on five years, and it feels like we’ve finally figured out how to fix the combat system. D&D 4e is intensely tactical, more so than any other edition, and I find the grid-focused combat quite fun, but it suffers from some severe problems. The biggest of these for us is that combats stretch on too long without enough excitement. Here’s how to solve that.

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Ludus Novus 024: Decision Point

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In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast, I discuss the decisions we make as game designers and developers and how we are responsible for every aspect of the games we make. I touch on polishing, social justice, and emergent aspects of games.
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Ludus Novus 023: Searching

In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast, I discuss the search for the perfect game and the creation of universes.

When I search through my Steam library and I look for that game, that perfect game, the perfect experience that matches the mood that I am in right that moment, I’m playing a game with the entirety of my library: the entirety of games as a medium.

The music for this episode is “Progress” by mystified from the album Fractal Diner 3. It’s available under a ccby2.5 license.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Ossuary is Coming to Steam

Our unsettling dialogue-focused adventure game Ossuary is coming to Steam. The torturous Greenlight process is over, a bit mysteriously, and now we’ve started the work of preparing all the material we’ll need to be released on the largest video game storefront around.

I’m prone to a sort of postpartum depression around game projects. When I release a new game or finish a major milestone, I often have a flare-up of my chronic depression and find it very hard to motivate and care for myself. I’m definitely experiencing that right now: the Greenlight process for Ossuary took so long and occupied enough emotional space in my brain that its resolution leaves me feeling a bit bereft. I’m managing it pretty well, but it seems ironic that a success, or at least a big step of progress, has brought me so low.

The circumstances around the final approval are weird, but that’s a post for another day.

Recent Play: April 2015 Week 2

Lately I’ve played the following small games that stuck out in my mind:

  • “Softelevision” by James Shasha of Sundae Month is about music and anticapitalism and being in a place, I guess. I’m a sucker for any game that opens with the sound of waves. This makes me think of Outer Wilds. There’s a place, and you can do things that feel like goals, but there’s not really a challenge or a win condition. And most of the time you just kind of want to hang out for a while. This game reminds me that I need to play Crypt Worlds.
  • “MINKOMORA” by Kikopa Games (Joni Kittaka and merritt kopas) is another gentle exploration game. It’s also a gimmick game. I don’t mean that it has some gameplay gimmick like gravity control or slow motion. I mean it’s one of those games that steps outside the normal limits of game. In this case, it comes with an NES-style manual that has background and hints for the game world. The game itself is rather abstract and stylized, but the manual has more representative art that makes the shapes in the game make more sense.
  • “Here Is Where I Carve My Heart” by kittyhorrorshow is an architectural Unity game, one of those for which my personal archetype is Richard Perrin‘s Kairo. There’s a structure, usually all of one material (shiny pink, in this case) which you explore with a fairly standard first-person approach that might just be a tweaked version of the example controller code that comes with Unity. That sounds dismissive, but I love this kind of game. “Carve My Heart” uses a very floaty, low-grav approach that means I was bounding through and around the excavated floating pyramid that was built in a cool-looking voxel tool. You’re searching for floating gems that deliver affirmations. The whole time you’re hearing atmospheric music-box tones. It’s a chill and charming game that only took three hours to make.
  • “Juxtapose” by zillix is a game for Ludum Dare 30 that I found through Warp Door. It’s a moody, pixelly game with a bunch of multiple endings. It feels like some of the classic Flash artsy games circa 2009. I’ve gotten seven of the 13 (!) endings, and they’re pretty varied. There’s some resource and time management that reminds me a lot of Eyezmaze games.
concision

“Concision” Released

I created “Concision” for Twiny Jam, a game jam for Twine games of 300 words or fewer. Twine measures mine at 290. It’s a game about architecture, exploration, and sobbing women without faces.

Bas-relief, commemorative.

Statues, defiant.
Jade, praying.
Jet, writhing.
Carnelian, choking.

You can play “Concision” at itch.io.