One Year In Steam Greenlight

Over at Future Proof Games I blogged about how it feels to have our funny, unsettling satire Ossuary languishing in Steam Greenlight for a year.

It feels like a slow struggle. New games are being added to Greenlight daily. Because the primary measure of progress is “percent of the way to the top 100,” this means that your rank can actually slowly drop as some popular games surpass your vote count. Then, on an unclear schedule, a batch of games is greenlit, chopping the top off of the sample set and raising your rank again. It’s two steps forward, one step back.

You can read the rest at the Future Proof Games devblog and you can always vote “Yes” on Steam Greenlight.

Recent Play: April 2015 Week 1

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

  • Kittens Game is an idlegame from bloodrizer. It feels like a less horrific A Dark Room and it’s probably bad for you.
  • “Saturn V” from Archie Pelago felt like an interactive art gallery, and had the same pleasant ambiguity I experience in actual galleries and museums, where I’m never quite sure where the line is between art and architecture: which of this is exhibit and which is window dressing? I actually suggest playing or downloading it without reading the description/artist’s statement first, like I did, to enhance that sensation. My speculation intensified when I came across the lovingly-rendered beer kegs in the basement.
  • I’m glad I didn’t have an Oculus to play the original game-jam game “SightLine”, despite the creators’ recommendation. Early on there’s a set of physics-y bridges that are all wobbly and bouncy, so much so that several times I physics-ed straight through (maybe thanks to the “tunneling” or “bullet-through-paper” issue, maybe due to the elastic rope of the bridge stretching too far). This is weird; genuinely wondrous misdirection and legerdemain, with stuff disappearing, reappearing, and changing when you look away, mixed with some overwrought Stanley-Parable-aping narration and puzzles requiring mindreading. I’m glad they’re making a new game based on the old one’s mechanics. This sort of vision tracking is presumably ideal for VR headsets.
  • “The Burrow” by Fewer Words is one of those interactive art pieces where I’m not sure if I’m done at the end of it. The artist statement says, “Every exchange is significant and becomes a part of the narrative.” If so, actions aren’t mechanically significant, from what I can tell. The first two sections of three give you minor camera control but no real agency, and the third is an odd exploration mobility puzzle thing that reminds me of some of the more esoteric Ages of Myst Online.
  • “HASTE” by VR-Gamers is a prototype with a really cool concept and style but it feels like a brick wall. “Freerunning and when you go fast time slows down” sounds awesome. “I’m not sure if I can make any of these jumps and if I mess up I have to reload from the beginning of the level” feels really frustrating. The creator says “Be prepared to lose often – this game is for hardcore players only.” But one of the things about games is that they’re teaching devices. A good game teaches you how to use it. This one made me wonder if there was an extra key I didn’t know about that would make me succeed at jumps. There wasn’t. I gave up.

On Cultural Appropriation

I started a blog post here and decided it belonged on the Future Proof Games devblog. It’s called “On Cultural Appropriation,” and in it I talk about the phenomenon of cultural appropriation, how critics muddy the waters to try and get people to dismiss it as an issue, how we’re complicit in cultural appropriation in our game Exploit: Zero Day, and how we’re working to make sure we behave respectfully.

If I point out that something in a work is problematic, it doesn’t mean I’m condemning the whole work. Critics of social justice often react to concerns about a work by pretending that people are saying the work is unredeemable. Again, this reframes the discussion in such a way that the concerns can be ignored. Avatar is a great show; how could you question the way it uses Inuit cultural elements? You’re saying it’s a terrible show! End of discussion.

Don’t do that.

Read more and comment at the Future Proof Games Development Blog.

Hot Tin Roof Is Queer

Logo of Hot Tin Roof
Glass Bottom Games‘s noir, mystery-solving metroidvania Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora is queer. Maybe it’s better to say that it queers: it takes the normative and twists it in the direction of the feminine, the feminist, the genderfluid, and the non-hetero. It’s a joyful celebration of subversion.
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Ludus Novus 022: Countdown – A Game For Two Players

In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast, I present a new game, “Countdown,” in spoken word form. Trigger warning for self-injury.

Countdown: A Game For Two Players

The rules are arbitrary in the wherever,
but here, in this circle, they are real.

Of course, this membrane is porous.
It flutters and flows and lets pass
certain realities and unrealities.
The game isn’t the same if the world changes.
And games can change your world.

But the magic circle creates a promise of escape.
At any time, you can step outside the circle.
At any time, you can make this stop.

The music for this episode is “Third Moment – A Road Through the Forest” from Three Moments by Darrell Burgan. It’s available under a ccby3.0 license.

Any feedback is welcome in the comments.

The Perils of a Long D&D Campaign

A map of the campaign setting I’ve been running a Dungeons and Dragons 4e game called “Urgo” for almost five years. All of my original five players have been replaced except one. It was always a high-magic, swashbuckling campaign featuring airships and demigods, and it’s escalated from there. The player characters are level 16 of 30 and we’ve reached a point in the game where it takes some effort to maintain the tone and even more effort to properly prepare. For some background, here’s the current situation:
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The First Cabinet in Gone Home: A Close Reading

This blog is supported in part by my Patreon. You can help support content like this by pledging a monthly donation.

Gone Home is an amazing work. Yes, it’s a bit sappy and its ending is a bit pleasant and optimistic, but screw that. “Sentimentality, empathy, and being too soft should not be seen as weaknesses.” Gone Home is sweet, although certainly not sickeningly so; it is the sweet of a “sour” candy where the sour sanding soon fades away.

I’m writing about a single cabinet in the game. This one: 2015-03-08_00001

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Conscious Incompetence

I like thinking and talking about stuff, but when try to I do so I often suspect that I don’t know enough to say something genuinely interesting. It’s not impostor syndrome (though I totally suffer from that). It’s a fear that if I talk about a complex subject that I don’t fully understand then I will come across as foolish (and therefore provide no benefit) to someone who knows it better. I’ve experienced this from the other side: seeing people write naïve things that aren’t even wrong about how software development works.

There are a few topics that I’m comfortable discussing because I know my limits in them:

  • Computer science and software development
  • Game design and development
  • Creative writing
  • Social justice, maybe?
  • Cooking

While there are plenty of topics that I’m sure I don’t know much about (beekeeping), there are a few that I consistently hesitate to write about for fear of creating a naïve argument. Some examples are Discordianism (due to my uncertainty with postmodernism and theology), economics, and narrative. I’m not even sure where to start to learn more; I don’t have much time for learning outside my focus fields, and I don’t even know enough to optimize that time. I don’t want to waste time reading a bunch of poorly-written texts before I gain enough understanding to tell what the good sources are.

I’m part of a mailing list that deals with art in games, and I often feel like one of the least-informed members. There are academics with years of theoretical underpinnings talking about complex things and I hesitate to spend an hour crafting what I think is insight only to discover that I’ve wasted the time and attention of an expert who recognizes my thoughts as that of an underinformed beginner.

Short of learning more (which I’m trying to do, despite the time it takes), I’m not sure how to deal with this dilemma. Any advice? How do you know when you’re well-informed enough to discuss something outside of your comfort zone?

Hadean Lands

Map screen of the iOS version of Hadean LandsI’ve been playing Hadean Lands by Andrew Plotkin, a parser-based interactive fiction game that I backed on Kickstarter in 2010. It was just released; almost four years is a long time to wait for an IF game, but with this game’s complexity I can understand what took so long.

The game is an exploration of alchemical processes. It follows the tradition of steampunk and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, among others, by examining a society in which a form of magic exists from a speculative fiction perspective: it’s set on a “marcher,” an alchemical spaceship, where you are a mysterious “swabbie” after a mysterious accident. At the same time, it’s a stunningly well-implemented work of IF programming.
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The Sublime Bioshock 2

Bioshock 2 is the best Bioshock. It has the best gameplay and story, yes, but it also is the best at being Bioshock. Bioshock games share a fundamental DNA. A lighthouse, a man, a city — okay, sure, but it’s more than such a banal recitation of symbols. Bioshock is about extreme philosophy, parenthood, and the subversion of flesh, mind, and environment. Bioshock 2 is the purest instance of this formula.

I’ll be discussing Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Bioshock: Infinite. I won’t be discussing DLC/expansion packs, although Minerva’s Den is excellent and Burial at Sea is impressive if eventually disappointing.

There will be spoilers.
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