Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Space Beyond the Rules

I just had an annoying conversation with a friend about the relative merits of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition versus the previous version of the game. I’ll spare you the details, as it’s been discussed ad absurdum elsewhere. It did get me thinking, though, about the role rules play in tabletop roleplaying games.

Tabletop roleplaying games, as I’ve mentioned before, can adapt to players’ actions much more easily and completely than digital games. This is due mostly to the GM‘s ability to roll with the punches and make up stuff in response to an unexpected path taken by the party. Since the origin of tabletop roleplaying games, the roleplaying proper, that is, the social interaction, character quirks, and people-focused play, has been largely separate from the rules. Tabletop RPG rules focus on things like combat, non-social conflict resolution, and supernatural powers. All the fluffy social and character-building stuff is allowed to just occur, with the rules keeping out of its way. Sure, there might be a Diplomacy skill or a Charisma statistic, but those are usually reserved for small parts of the roleplaying: deciding if a character’s argument was convincing enough, or just how pretty the elf princess is. Few systems dedicate more than a page or two to rules governing seemingly important things like falling in love or becoming homesick.

And that’s just fine. Combat, magic, disabling booby traps: these are things that most of us will never experience, things which are nice to have codified and defined for easy processing. Social behavior, however, is something that’s familiar to every tabletop gamer. Even the most reclusive, introverted dice-roller has the experience of getting together with people around a table to play. Human beings understand social situations better than just about anything else, so our creativity is broader and deeper in that area. And I think that’s the interesting part of roleplaying.

Continue reading The Space Beyond the Rules

The Most Important Games

“The 99th” over at Play This Thing! posted a list of the top ten most important games in history. It includes such things as family, fiat money, and Passage. I’ve got issue with a lot of things about this list.

First, as with most top ten lists, there is an issue of definition. What is a game? The much-lauded Chris Crawford has claimed that a game must be made for money, must have a goal, and must allow you to attack your opponent, among other things. By this definition, The Sims, Tetris, and the original release of Cave Story are not games. Many other definitions of games include “fun,” “play,” or “artificial,” although mathematical game theorists would vehemently argue otherwise. Let’s see if we can come up with a definition in the spirit of The 99th’s list.

For the purposes of this post, a “game” is a goal-oriented activity with artificially-established rules that are shared among multiple participants, called “players.” Players need not play simultaneously or adversarially. By “historically important,” I choose to mean “most significantly contributed to and/or were most necessary for the existence of the sort of games I discuss on this site.” As an initial disclaimer: I am not a historian. Now, for my version of The 99th’s list.

Continue reading The Most Important Games

The Goo Variations and Jill Off Harder

My latest column is up at GameSetWatch. It’s entitled “The Goo Variations” and it describes a game design pattern that I’ve dubbed “Variations on a Theme,” as demonstrated by the incredibly stellar World of Goo.

Additionally, Anna Anthropy released an expanded version of her cruel-in-a-nice-way Mighty Jill Off last week, and it’s now clear that she has a spike fetish. Highlights of the even harder Second Tower: when the level decays as if the cartridge has been loosened in the slot, the (Jesse-Venbrux-inspired?) segment where the player must die and trust the game to take care of her, and the absolutely adorable alternate ending cutscene.

The 1UP Show

Clockwise from top left: Leone, Nguyen, Frechette, and O'Donnell.

The 1UP Show does the best “traditional” digital games journalism around. Their latest episode has a review of Dead Space at around 26:13 that’s a perfect example of why this is.

Several folks who know their way around games sit and actually discuss the game. There’s no mention of a review score, but this is definitely a review, as it’s focused on the questions “how good is this game?” and “should people buy it?” The advantages over print media are obvious: you can see video of the game to illustrate their points, and you can see the reviewers as they say things, so that you can get a feeling for their attitudes and motivations. I had fun figuring out how the different people were approaching the game. This is all speculation, of course, but here are my thoughts. It was a little microcosm of all of digital games fandom.

Continue reading The 1UP Show

Necropolis Updated

I’ve updated Necropolis with some tweaks and bug fixes.


  • The player character now starts with 4 health instead of 3. (suggested by guyblade)
  • Text readability enhanced in some situations. (suggested by Andrew)
  • Disable skill made more useful. (suggested by several folks)
  • Small chest contents probabilities adjusted.
  • Minor stability improvements
  • The Bracer is now properly marked as not plural.
  • Fixed crash when equipment was generated with a suffix but no prefix. (reported by Andrew)

My Games


A screenshot from Necropolis

Ms. Lilian Trevithick, lady adventurer and radical steam technician, has come to the infamous Necropolis of Ao in search of adventure and the treasures that are rumored to lurk beneath the earth. She will find fiendish traps as well as useful equipment to help her survive. Can she make it past level 25 with her life intact?

“Necropolis” features procedurally generated dungeons that are never the same twice and a light-hearted steampunk aesthetic. Few games offer the opportunity to wear a Shiny Monocle of Science!

Play “Necropolis”

(I Fell In Love With) The Majesty of Colors

A screenshot from The Majesty of Colors

Last night I dreamed I was an immense beast, floating in darkness. I knew nothing of the surface world until I fell in love with the majesty of colors.

“(I Fell in Love With) The Majesty of Colors” is a pixel-horror game that puts the player behind the tentacles of a titanic, writhing sea creature. It’s a tale of love, loss, and balloons with five different endings. Will you befriend the humans or fight them? The choice is up to you.

Play “(I Fell In Love With) The Majesty of Colors”

Bars of Black and White

A screenshot from Bars of Black and White

You can’t remember the last time you left your room. When you receive a barcode reader in the mail, you discover that the world around you is not what it seems, and must escape the bars of black and white.

“Bars of Black and White” is a game in the room-escape tradition with hand-drawn line art graphics and novel barcode-scanning action. Is the world insane, or is it you?

Play “Bars of Black and White”


A screenshot from Exploit

Information is freedom. As a hotshot computer security cracker, you will solve over 50 puzzles and fight against totalitarianism, abuses of power, and terrorism. Story Mode offers a twist-filled story of international intrigue, and Challenge Mode offers 19 more puzzles to engage the mind. When it’s all done, use the built-in puzzle editor to make and share your own creations!

Play Exploit


A screenshot from Sugarcore

Find out where sweets really come from as you mine licorice, demolish candy orbs, and defend confections from attack! Three quirky characters guide you through 18 levels of sugary goodness.

Play “Sugarcore”

The Bryant Collection

Cover art from The Bryant Collection

A collection of ’story worlds’ by Laura Bryant. They were found at a yard sale in an old strongbox. Five pieces of interactive fiction written by someone who never used a computer. It is interactive fiction, which means that the player types commands in text, and the game responds with text descriptions.

Download The Bryant Collection

LORE and Belief

My tabletop system, the Lightweight Omnipotent Roleplaying Engine, and its first sourcebook, Belief. This world is not as it should be.

Download LORE and Belief

How to Raise a Dragon

A screenshot from How to Raise a Dragon

The dragon: a majestic and complex beast. How is it born? How does it live and die? Magus X. R. Quilliam’s definitive work, How to Raise a Dragon, describes all that is known about these great creatures.

Play “How to Raise a Dragon”

Silent Conversation

A screenshot from Silent Conversation

Read carefully. Run and jump through the text of stories and poems, from the horror of Lovecraft’s “The Nameless City” to the simple beauty of Bashou’s frog haiku. Go for completion or race through the pieces you’ve mastered!

Play “Silent Conversation”

The Mold Fairy

A screenshot from The Mold Fairy

Once upon a time, there was a fairy for everything. One for frost, one for cobwebs, one for dew… and one for mold. When the fairy queen Titania decided that humans had lost their respect for mold, the mold fairy was sent down to teach them the power of the fuzzy fungi. Did the fairy brighten the humans’ lives, or curse them with poisons and spoiled food? Only you can decide.

Play “The Mold Fairy”

Paladin 0

A screenshot from Paladin 0


Play “Paladin 0”


Cover art for Backup

The Prosperity Commission transportation facilities are designed for the utmost safety and reliability. They are equipped with weapon dampening fields, highly-trained security forces, and four redundant computer cores. You are the third backup computer core for a facility under construction. You should never have to wake up. Something is wrong.

Download “Backup”

Babies Dream of Dead Worlds

A screenshot from Babies Dream of Dead Worlds

Before we have memory, before we know what this world is, we dream. Babies dream of what came before, of universes that are no longer there. Babies dream of dead worlds.

Play “Babies Dream of Dead Worlds”


A screenshot from Procrastination

I put it off until the last minute, but it’s finally done.

Play “Procrastination”


A screenshot from Waves

A Ludum Dare entry, and the precursor to my later, larger game, Beneath the Waves.

Play “Waves”


A screenshot from Looming

This game is about two lovers named January and September.
No, wait; it’s about a group of people who don’t believe in the sky.
No, it’s about a pantheon of scientific disciplines.
Or maybe it’s about an ancient beast who knew exactly when it was going to die, and how.

It’s about a place. A place called Looming.

Play Looming


A screenshot from Narthex

After a long journey, you will reach the Narthex, the waiting place before the oracle. There you must wait until your time. Then you will be given the answer to a single question. This game has two endings. The second is not worth getting.

Play “Narthex”

The Day

A screenshot from The Day
It’s Tia’s birthday, and she’s looking forward to beating all of her friends with the new card her dad gave her! Beat the other kids by choosing the right cards, and earn more cards until you’re the best of them all!

And don’t go into the woods, or the guards will kill you.

Play “The Day”

A Ride Home

A screenshot from A Ride Home
Morning again. Time to check the beacon.

Play “A Ride Home”

Beneath the Waves

A screenshot from Beneath the Waves
I loved you once, split-toed dirt-swimmer. These idols are the bones of wonders. Why should the sun claim the land any more than the sea?

Play Beneath the Waves

Passing the Ball

A screenshot from Passing the Ball
A game about parenting, playing catch, and digital safety for kids commissioned by the folks behind GDC Online (a professional conference for connected gaming) for the non-profit organization Web Wise Kids (now defunct).

Play “Passing the Ball”


A screenshot from Necropolis

I’ve decided to try my hand at Flash game development. It’s always been a dream of mine to make a living at creating games, and Flash games seem to be a viable way for individual, independent developers to earn a living.

My first game has just been released, thanks in part to a sponsorship from It’s a truly global market when a Spanish-language games site headquartered in Spain can fund an English-language game from one guy in North Carolina.

Necropolis is a game about Ms. Lilian Trevithick, lady adventurer and radical steam technician, who has come to the infamous Necropolis of Ao in search of adventure. She descends through 25 procedurally-generated levels of traps and treasure to achieve her goal.

Please give me any comments, compliments, or criticisms that come to mind playing the game! This is the first game I’ve released in years, so I’m both very nervous and very excited.

Play Necropolis now.

The Neo-Retro Urge

If you play independent digital games, you’re surely familiar with the retro style. Even the scary mainstream publishers have put out titles like Megaman/Rockman 9. This neo-retro approach — I’m not sure if there’s a common name for it — has modern developers make new games that could theoretically run on old hardware. There are quite a few excellent neo-retro games out there, like La-Mulana, a tribute to the MSX, most of the entries in the TIGSource Bootleg Demakes competition, and a work-in-progress game I’ve been playing today, This game is Wizard.

I’m making a distinction here between neo-retro games and games that just use “retro” graphics. Pixel art like in Cave Story or lo-fi art like in Cactus’s games are purely artistic choices, and don’t necessarily represent a deliberate restriction of the game design like the neo-retro approach. That’s what it is, really: a restriction.

Continue reading The Neo-Retro Urge

Games As Art

Anna Anthropy, who I’ve been referencing far too much lately, posted about a discussion she attended on indie games. She mentions her irritation at Jason Rohrer, the artsy developer of “Passage” whom everyone loves to flame:

[he] kept steering the discussion back to roger ebert and the discussion of whether games “can be” art. jason rohrer clearly feels as though games need to be somehow legitimized by an outside force – that we need to prove to roger ebert that games are capable of being classified as art.

I find this question annoying. The answer to “can games be art” or “are games art” is yes, by any definition of the word “art.” I can express myself with games. Games can have messages. Great. Let’s move on and discuss games as art. It seems like those who ask if games can be art are actually asking permission from society. “Can you please call games art?” It reflects an essential immaturity and adolescence to the game-discussing community.

Continue reading Games As Art