Game Night

adventures in gaming, playthroughs, Process Writing

Since roughly January 2013, I’ve been playing games with a group at TAG. This once-a-week meetup eventually turned into Monday Night RPGs, where we rotate the gamemaster so that they only have to plan roughly every three weeks. Members of the group have come and gone (and will come again, darn it, for those of whom we are waiting to return from studying at NYU), but I’ve been playing games in this context for basically as long as I’ve been making video games (I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs since I was 16, or, in other words, as long as I’ve known my husband).

Recently, it was brought to my attention that I might be learning something through all of that playing! For somebody who studies and makes games, I sure do have a hard time finding time to play them (especially video games), so the fact that these consistent play sessions have been there for me for so long is kind of a miracle, an oasis.

Next Fall, Mia Consalvo will be teaching a class called Player Studies, which I think I’ll be taking. With that future class in mind, I thought it might be worth considering what I learn from playing and participating in these sessions. I’ve always believed that doing a lot of reading is one way to get better at writing, although being a voracious reader doesn’t automatically make you a good writer. In the same way, playing games hopefully makes me a better game designer.

Of course I can identify trends in playstyles and behaviour from my group — we’ve been playing together in the same context for three years (and playing together since I was 16 for some the people in this circle). For now, I don’t want to retroactively make sweeping observations about past sessions. I wasn’t thinking along these lines during those sessions, so this is something to consider for the future, when I have the opportunity or notice something of interest.

Platforms and Programming: One Month in the Life Postmortem

adventures in gaming, critical making, curious games, Process Writing


[WARNING: There are a lot of feelings in this post and there is a lot of frankness — about mental health, mostly. MUCH FRANKNESS AHEAD. If that’s not for you, you probably shouldn’t read this.]

This past semester, I learned how to learn to program (no, that’s not a mistake). With the help and guidance of Rilla Khaled and Pippin Barr, I first learned Processing (Daniel Shiffman is a great programming teacher) and then after a brief evaluation of p5.js, moved on to Phaser and JavaScript.

[A note on guidance: all this learning actually happened under the guidance of a whole community of programmers both in and outside of TAG lab. When I couldn’t figure out how to space out the flower petals around my stem in a Processing exercise, the community was there to help. The other day, when it turned out that I hadn’t learned enough about object-oriented programming in JavaScript to properly manage states in phaser, the community was there to help. So, thank you, community.]

For something that I had been dreading for so long, it was revelatory to find out that I enjoy coding — like, really enjoy it! When the pressure is off and I can appreciate the puzzle of figuring out what to do, I like writing code a lot. This should come as no surprise: I love learning languages, which is why I know, in addition to English and French (the ones that I had to learn), Spanish, a bit of Italian, a bit of German, and an anime fan’s Japanese (so, also not very much).

But, the final project for this class is one of the hardest games that I have ever had to make. It was difficult for a variety of reasons. In my last post, I mentioned how Tom was getting ready to leave for RCMP training, and how I could think of little else, creatively and otherwise. That’s why I decided to make a game about the month between Tom learning of the RCMP’s decision and leaving for Depot. I wanted to take away some of the event’s power by making a game about it.

As I also mentioned in my last post, I would normally never, ever, ever consider making a game (or any kind of writing or other creative work) about something that happened in my life so close to when it happened. Normally, I’d let such an idea sit in a drawer for a few years and then give it a go. But, as I mentioned before, this was hugely preoccupying for me. After being with Tom for nearly ten years and never being apart longer than that one time last year when I went to Europe for 45 days, I knew that this was going to be a big change, and probably a very difficult one.

And it was. I just wasn’t prepared for how hard. A lot of the reasons that made it hard for me to be without him, even though he was an email or a video chat away were because of things that we would normally deal with together — but more on that later.

At first, I didn’t have much time to devote to the game: I had to finish up my semester’s course work, fulfill my TA responsibilities, get Tom ready to leave for the RCMP, and be present for a friend that was also having a hard time. I chose to prioritize my relationships with people that I cared about, and would do so again. And that’s where the time went, up until Tom left.

After Tom left, the game was my priority. I had finished my course work and everything else could be put off for a while. I went into hermit mode and started working on the game. And that’s when my 96-year-old grandfather went into the hospital.

Now, as someone who lives in a town with decent public transit, I haven’t yet acquired my license. We visit my grandfather fairly frequently, and Tom usually would rent a Communauto (car-sharing service) car and off we’d go. I was upset that my grandfather was sick and that I had to rely on there maybe being space in my relative’s cars in order to go visit him, or possibly not visit him at all (as it turns out, I now have a standing offer from a friend to drive me so long as she’s not at work). I was upset because, at 96, even small ailments can be hugely important, and these ones weren’t so small. I found myself completely unable to focus on the project. I felt like my brain was betraying me – this was when I needed to be able to focus the most, and I was getting nothing done.


So, I left the scary parts for later. When I was able to focus, I did the parts that were familiar and pleasurable to me — I wrote dialogue, I drew pictures of my cat and my apartment, and I thought about the design of the game. But, when all that work was finished, the deadline was coming and I still hadn’t programmed anything. What’s worse, I couldn’t remember any of what I had learned all semester. On top of that, feeling like I might not be able to finish the project before the deadline was stressing me out even more, increasing the pressure.

I had actually chosen a slightly early deadline for the project, thinking that I would get nothing done during IndieCade East, which was happening right after the deadline and which was where we were going to show In Tune perhaps for the last time.

So, I fought back the feeling that I was somehow disappointing the people who had been so kind as to take time out of their schedule to teach me in a directed study this semester, and I wrote asking for an extension.

The relief was palpable when the extension was granted. That, along with the fact that, at that point, my grandfather was getting better and would be released any day, helped me regain my focus (unfortunately, he’s now back in hospital). Things went slowly at first, but working diligently through IndieCade East at the NYU MAGNET, with the support of some lovely friends there, I managed to program portions of my game. And I was enjoying it. And, given that this was my first time with JavaScript and Phaser, I felt like I was doing a pretty good job. I managed it! It had seemed impossibly stressful the week before, but things fell into place.

Well, so that’s how it was to work on this game. In terms of the workflow, what I would have of course liked to do differently is give myself more time to work on the project long before the due date – that’s kind of my style. But, up until now, I have had the privilege of an excellent support system that has allowed me to focus on my work, even when other things in my life were going on, and this was my first time doing without it. I’m not sure what I could have done differently about that.

That means that it’s time to talk about the game itself and the design decisions.

What I wanted to do in the game was juxtapose some version of the conversations that Tom and I were having about his departure with our cat’s daily shenanigans. As it says in the game, cats don’t care about human drama. They don’t understand it. So, what felt very dramatic and important to me didn’t have much of an impact on our cat at all.

I like the juxtaposition. The game is pretty slow-paced, so there’s time to read the conversations and interact with the environment (at least, I think so). My worry is that there aren’t enough animations to keep the player engaged in each scene.

For this project, I had to scope very tighly given the time frame, but I was also sick of certain of the choices that I usually make while making games on a short timeline. Namely, I wanted to try a different art style. I was sick of making pixel art for these short little games. This was at odds with the fact that I didn’t have much time to work on the game. Each individual animation was taking way too long to make. So, I had to make the decision to do story-board style animations, with very few keyframes and a simple style. Overall, it’s not what I had originally envisioned but I’m happy with the result given the timeframe.

I’m not a professional animator – I just dabble. What that means is that even the storyboard-style animations took enough time that I made relatively few of them. I wish that I could have made more of them, because I wanted to them to function as a visual reward for the player. How I made up for it is made it so that when you click the cat, messages about the cat appear, and I find those fairly entertaining. But that might just be me.

Of course, the most important thing to me about this game is that I programmed it myself in Phaser/JavaScript and that it works. That’s a big milestone for me. It was also one of the main goals of this directed study, so I’m happy that I managed it. It’s an empowering feeling, even if I know that I might struggle just as much the next time that I sit down to program something. I’m okay with that — knowing that I can do it at all is huge.

[This game is available for play here.]


Platforms and Programming: Final Project Begins!

adventures in gaming, critical making, Process Writing

I’ve done it! I’ve moved from Processing to p5.js to Phaser, now. After doing the p5.js tutorials, it seemed like there were few enough differences that I ought to move on to Phaser. My pace has slowed down a bit because of other responsibilities and, well, the fact that it turns out that I was very, very spoiled by Daniel Shiffman’s Learning Processing book. Holy cats, Shiffman! Would you please teach me all future programming things forever?! The Phaser documentation, in comparison, and other library documentations are really pretty horrible. Although I’m told that, in comparison to still other libraries, the Phaser documentation is abundant and clear and wonderful. So it goes.

Naturally, the introductory tutorial for Phaser is a one-screen platformer, something I can make in five minutes in Construct 2. It was essential that I find a project that would keep me engaged and motivated to learn, something like the Earth Twin project for Processing (although Processing is pretty appealing all on its own, I needed to find a project that used its more unique affordances, and that turned out to be computer vision stuff). We came up with the idea that I could combine the Tracery library by Kate Compton with Phaser in order to make something interesting.

So. That project.

I should start by saying that if this were a short story, or any kind of writing, I wouldn’t be touching it before at least a year or two from now, at minimum. It’s possible that a lack of clarity and perspective about the event will interfere with trying to fictionalize/make art about something that’s happening to you right now… It’s raw and tender. And sure, that can make great art, and people do this about their lived (with no fixed end point) experiences all the time. But, as a general rule, I don’t. I don’t really make personal games and if I do involve my own experiences (as one must, to a degree), it’s fictionalized and years after the fact.

Tom, my husband, is leaving for RCMP Depot Training on April 17th. This is a good thing! He made his first steps towards applying something like three years ago now, and he’s finally made it in. The steps to get here were endless. He’s put in a huge amount of work. He’ll be great at being an RCMP officer and jobs with the benefits and pay and other opportunities that this offers him (us) really don’t exist anymore.

However, I have known Tom for basically a decade, and in that time, the longest that we’ve been apart is when I went to Europe last spring for 46 days. He’ll be gone for six months! And afterwards, the chances of him moving back to Montreal is almost exactly zero. I’m a first-year PhD student – I’ll be in Montreal for years yet, and even when I’m done the things that require me to be physically present in the city, the truth is that the community here is unique and supportive in ways that don’t exist in any other Canadian city. Fully 75% of the postings are in the West, with only 25% in the East, so there’s not even a particularly good chance that he’ll be close enough for me to easily visit. They are supposed to take your family situation into account – they want your posting to be mutually beneficial to you and to them, but it’s a lot of uncertainty to have thrown into our lives. The RCMP tells you not to interrupt your life plans and to go on as if you’ll never get it (and when you consider that it took him three years to get in, one definitely could finish a graduate degree in that time, if not a PhD).

The time that he has left in Montreal before leaving coincides with the end of the semester at Concordia and, as a result, all of my deadlines. So, while I would normally a) not make a game about my personal life and b) would definitely not make it while whatever is happening is still in progress, this is all that I can think about right now. It’s taking up a huge amount of my headspace and emotional energy, and many of these deadlines can’t be moved (end-of-term work, TA responsibilities, public talks, conferences, a book chapter). So, in order to deal with it, I’ve decided to make my final project for this class about it. The hope is that it’ll allow me time to think even as I do all the other things that need doing.



This is a game about juxtaposition and duration. It’ll take place over the course of 30 days (roughly a month), which is the amount of time that Tom had between finding out he was accepted and going to Depot and the time that he would be starting there. The genre that I’m aiming for is characterized by an account of events determined by a period of time, exemplified by books like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In writing workshops, we often referred to it as the “a day in the life of” technique. The juxtaposition part is because this’ll be 30 days in the life of our cat, doing cat things (like playing with toys, destroying the furniture, napping), placed alongside procedurally-generated conversations (using Tracery) about topics that Tom and I (or people in similar situations to us) would have to discuss in this limited time-frame.

At first, I thought that I would have one top-down view and that would be the end of it, but then I thought about Molleindustria’s Unmanned which I think is an entry into my “day-in-the-life-of” game genre. The different scenes and perspectives in the game are really nice and very cinematic. Maybe that’s something that I can make work for me (although it will of course be more work). One thing that I like about this game is that the actions that the player has control over (with the radio, with smoking, with playing games with the main character’s child) are symptomatic/revelatory of the character’s internal life and affect the story, without allowing the player to overtly make decisions about the path of the story. The causal link between the two is vague in a satisfying way.

Rilla (Khaled) also pointed me to The Cat and the Coup yesterday, which I’ve downloaded but haven’t yet had the chance to play. I plan to play it as soon as possible.

Art-style-wise, I again do like Unmanned‘s style. I’m used to animating with PyxelEdit but I also like the sort of cut-out minimalist collage style of things like the Fiasco books. Here’s the cover of a Fiasco playset that my brother and I recently made for my friend Allison:


I might go with this kind of style, but I’ll have to figure out a different animation/spritesheet making program. Help and suggestions would definitely be appreciated. I might experiment with OpenToonz but I’m worried about the learning curve in the short amount of time that I have to make this first version of the game. Hey, there’s of course nothing stopping me from working on it after I’ve turned it in for class! I will check it out and see if it’s simple enough (apparently there are a few stability issues).

So far, I’ve got a very basic Tracery thing working in a Phaser tutorial. More as it happens!

Platforms and Programming: OOPs

adventures in gaming, Process Writing

Object-oriented programming really does change a lot of things for Processing. It’s not that the concept of something that is object-oriented was hard for me to understand, but that all of a sudden, there are so many options for where to put a bit of code, and on top of that, the methods in my code need to be called somewhere, and where I call them can make them work, or not. It’s pretty different from just having “setup()” and “draw().” Going forward, on top of learning how one actually does different things with different functions and techniques, my work will be learning about where to place my code. And there’s no right or wrong way of doing that – just ways that break everything and ways that don’t.

The other interesting thing about defining classes and objects and calling methods and all that, is that the error messages in Processing are no longer as accurate as they were for the more basic stuff – Processing no longer necessarily knows where the problem is. So, when calling a new method, sometimes all of a sudden Processing says that my class/object isn’t defined.

So, essentially, when I tried to make my first “game” after redefining my cat drawing as an object (thanks to Gersande for talking some stuff through with me in regards to the constructor), everything broke! And it stayed broken until I spoke with Pippin — together, we rewrote an example program that did everything that I wanted, and then I took that and fixed my broken code.

I’m kind of in love with it. Here’s a .gif of me playing with the cat:

Before moving onto arrays and the rest of the book, I’ll be making another object-oriented interactive thing. I’m trying to stick to things that I have learned in Daniel Schiffman’s Learning Processing so far, rather than jumping ahead so that means that I only have limited resources at my disposal (why, why, why is text so far away? — I may have to break this rule). That has me thinking about what kinds of stories and mechanics I can create (within a reasonable scope) using just what I know so far. One of the things that immediately came to mind was visual metaphor and simple “procedural rhetoric” — which, in turn, reminded me of The Marriage by Rod Humble. By Humble’s own admission, it is a game that “requires explanation” and honestly, it’s a game that I just don’t like. It comes onto my radar every now and again, and the last time that I encountered it was without explanation at IndieCade East as part of the love and rejection arcade at the Museum of the Moving Image, and it reminded me of how annoyed I felt by it. I also don’t really relate to the “meaning” of the game. Which is fine – it’s a personal game.

Anyhow, because of its use of primitive objects as containers for meaning, I thought about it for this next project that I’m planning. I think I want to use bright colours and balls that are repelled away from the mouse…Or something like that. Something about shoving/jostling through a crowd, perhaps? Or about taking space and making space?

Meanwhile, our discussion (this week between Rilla and I) has shifted to game-making softwares. Our first discussion focused heavily on Twine, and we discussed what it might look like to make a platformer in Twine, and what the essential qualities of a genre are, and whether they are important. Eventually, this lead into a discussion of the relative perceived value of some of the different elements that might go into making a game. For example, on forums, people post example code for each other all the time. But then, nobody wants to take your example poem and put it in their game (probably) – but most writers might not offer either. Writing somehow feels personal while code doesn’t quite as much. And writing somehow feels like something that “everyone can do for themselves.” For audio, there’s no shortage of free soundbanks and CC0-licensed items. For art – people are willing to sell 3D models on asset stores, but it also feels personal. But people would definitely be willing to put your free art in their games. Not your poems, though…not your poems…

That’s a big abbreviation of a much-more nuanced and far-reaching discussion.

PS: Here’s a 3-year-old poem you can use for free in your game, based on how I think the animated adaptation of Swan Lake should have ended:
“The bird was sumptuous; finger-lickin’
Para chuparse los dedos
Meat sucked off bones like fingers, wings,
And what’s this but a shred of silk
Like the colour of Odette’s dress
which was the colour of her eyes
And we knew she’d been missing
for a while
but forgot until the silk was caught in our teeth
Forgot that no good deed goes
unpunished by that magician that
yes, it’s true, you banished
just about fifteen or twenty years ago.
He had a thing, didn’t he,
for swans and also wanting your kingdom
but oh, sorry, we ate it,
and it was sumptuous, and probably
Well, where would a bird pick up a scrap
of a dress except that maybe
Odette patched it up!
when she was lost (didn’t you, Odette?)
She’s a kind soul.

The swan should know.”

Platforms and Programming: My Flower Garden

adventures in gaming, Process Writing, Uncategorized

This week, I ran into my first difficulties with Processing – exercise 7-6. Except, exercise 7-6 of whatever edition of Learning Processing is available through the Concordia Library. When I tried to look up the exercise, it didn’t exist!

My exercise about flower gardens and making flowers with differing numbers of petals based on a function seems to have been replaced in newer editions with an exercise about cars.

Probably because it’s a difficult exercise for someone at that point in their learning.

But I am occasionally stubborn, and I worked at that exercise, dang it! Then, after plenty of googling around, I asked for help.

I am lucky to be surrounded by talented folk at the TAG lab, and luckily enough, on that day, Tony Higuchi had the time to give me a hand. After about an hour or so, and after Tony explained many a concept to me, here is what we ended up with:


And, with a small change of parameters, this:


Yeah, it turned out that this was an exercise that didn’t belong in Lesson 2 of the book.

I am about to learn about objects and object-oriented programming… I hear that there will likely be some sticking points there too.

On the platform studies side of things, we have spent some time looking at the games that are discussed in I AM ERROR, and that felt fruitful. Finding ways to engage and argue with what feels “factual” (maybe because I’m just getting started with platform studies) is challenging. For next week, we have decided to try taking a look at how game-making softwares affect what it is possible to make in them.

I’m reminded of a workshop that I took with Kim Hoang about making visual novel romance games in Construct 2. It was possible to do, and relatively simple, but it was also in a fairly roundabout way, with much of it involving the (adequate but) fairly-limited text options. It was a lot about making things visible or invisible at the right time, and using a global variable to track what ought to be on-screen. It didn’t use any of the features that I end up almost immediately setting up – and when it did, it didn’t use them in the ways that I’m used to. Visual Novel tutorials are not popping up everywhere when you google Construct 2. Probably the thing I remember seeing the most of is stuff involving bullet behaviours (even when I wasn’t looking for that kind of stuff, the code examples that I needed were often linked to enemies and bullets).

Well, I’m back to object-oriented programming – for some reason, people make it sound complicated…

Platforms and Programming: Learning Processing

adventures in gaming, Process Writing

Surprisingly empowering. These are words I’d use to describe the beginning of my odyssey into learning Processing this semester as a part of a directed reading course about platforms and processing with Rilla Khaled and Pippin Barr.

I started “seriously” making video games in January 2013, and in that time, I’ve been using programs like Stencyl, Construct 2, Twine, Unity and others that are meant to facilitate game-making for those who don’t program. I am finally taking the leap into learning to program more “seriously” – what an awful word.


To be clear, I don’t mean to undermine the artists and creators who make games using these sorts of programs, which are amazing and empowering in their own rights. These programs are excellent! They’re powerful! They’re accessible! I want all sorts of people to make games, not just the ones who are interested in learning a programming language.

Nevertheless, as an artist, maker, photographer, creative-type, writer, sculptor, painter, academic, etc… I felt a bit of a chip in my shoulder (and that’s my problem, nobody else’s) about not being able to write code “from scratch” (but I mean, these programming environments are really excellent at predicting things, have plenty built-in already, the libraries are excellent… Is it really from scratch – and who cares?). Thinking about this from a software studies-inspired perspective, I also felt like I learned to do certain things in these programs and it was really easy to do them, but then that there were kinds of actions and things that I wanted to do that they didn’t permit. For example, I want to play around with chatbots, or with having people draw with their mouses. I’m sure it’s possible to do that in Construct 2, but I couldn’t have done it. That drawing stuff is one of the first things that I learned to do in Processing.


I guess, learning to program is also just something that I want to learn to do for myself. I love learning languages – the human ones. I’d say that I’m practically a native speaker for French, an intermediate speaker of Spanish, and a beginner in both German and Italian, with a smattering of the Japanese that I learned from watching subbed anime as a teenager. It’s not that I have something to prove to myself or anyone else, but that I still felt like this was something that I need to do to further my skills and abilities as a game creator – partially just for my own understanding.

The book that I’m learning Processing with, “Learning Processing” by Daniel Shiffman, is excellent. It’s friendly, accessible, and gets you going (nearly) right away. I am surprised at what I’m already able to do after just a few chapters. The truth is, though, that those two years working with WYSIWYG-ish/”not-actual-programming” tools taught me a whole lot about how computers think and about the logic of programming. And really, that feels like about half of what this book is teaching me. So, that feels pretty empowering too. I feel encouraged and eager to go on.

There is, too, a connection between platform studies and learning to program – one that I’m still forming and thinking about. In a way, the basics that I am learning, the somewhat labourious way that I am currently drawing things shape by shape and line by line in Processing, feels connected to the labour of early games, shaped by the affordances of hardware. I said limitations at first but erased that. There are limitations, for sure, but it isn’t as if there ever won’t be a bigger, faster, better SOMETHING coming out on the market that will make older tech feel limited. But, then again, “I AM ERROR,” the book we’re currently reading, talks about how Nintendo deliberately damaged the chip they decided to use to make sure that anything proprietary to Coleco (who owned the patent) wouldn’t be an issue. So that and value-for-money on these chips are two limitations that Nintendo placed on themselves.

Well, these are just a few thoughts for now. More to come as I continue learning processing!

Postmortem: Lone Wolf Commando Assault

adventures in gaming, Process Writing

[This post was written as part of a class assignment, but I thought you might be interested in seeing it as well. If you want to play Lone Wolf Commando Assault, you can find it here.]




“This game would explore what it feels like to have non-combative options in digital spaces that are ostensibly ideal for combat. From dungeon-like caves to hills to canyons just perfect for an ambush, what kind of disruption, even momentarily, happens when game designers program in actions or objectives that go beyond our horizon of expectations?”

This is the question that I set out to answer based on the initial game design document for this project for Digital Games Theory and Research. The explanatory text at the end of Lone Wolf Commando Assault summarizes the message of the game thus “In games, it isn’t just that the design of a space determines its use, but also that only certain actions are programmed in for the player to have their avatar perform.” That, of course, isn’t the whole picture, or it wouldn’t have been necessary to make a game about it.

Lone Wolf Commando Assault is a three-level prototype where the player inhabits the role of Major Biefkake, “one tough mother who has seen the horrors of this world and fights to make it a better place.” In the game, the player navigates across sidescrolling (and in one case downscrolling) levels that lead them to various locations where, if this were a mainstream AAA game, there would be some kind of combat-oriented action to take, such as making a sniper’s nest, setting up an ambush, or entering into combat. Instead, those expectations are subverted — there are no combat-oriented actions programmed into the game, so the player has to choose to do something else instead.



Somewhere along the way, the game began to critique elements of heteronormative, patriarchal masculinity. This started with my choice of avatar, I think, and blossomed out from there. Usually, I would deliberately avoid having the main character of my game a white male – not because white males aren’t good or anything, but because we’ve got plenty of them in games already. I thought about who the main character of the game ought to be instead, but decided that, in order to set the horizon of expectations for my players, considering that I would be working with limited resources compared to the lush 3D worlds of AAA games, I needed to highlight what that horizon was in other ways. So, I decided to make a character that could have walked out of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, with large arms, a white tanktop highlighting exaggerated muscles, and a soulful red bandana reminiscent of Rambo. Friends encouraged me to consider making levels that would also involve classic RPG characters, but given time constraints, I decided to focus in on the story of Major Biefkake, and I also made the decision to be kind to him. In writing the introductory text for the game, I tried to make use of the rhetoric of “fighting for peace” that exists in games (and around war more generally) where the word fighting usually means literally and peace as an end goal is used as a justification for violent action. This is how Major Biefkake came to be fighting to make the world a better place, looking to leave it kinder than when he was born into it. His possible actions are at least as effective if not more so than violence in making the world kinder.

From there, the very fact that Biefkake was a Rambo-Street-Fighter dude with big beefy arms who was not committing acts of violence, but flying kites, having picnics and exploring nature instead somehow made him humorous. Which, I guess, as a critique of how the patriarchy hurts men, is pretty scathing in and of itself.   


One decision that I made probably created quite a bit of extra work for me and may have made my critique of space slightly less effective: it was important for me that, other than the large “LET’S DO IT” and any UI considerations (such as the grenades on which the player’s options are written), all objects in the game be diegetic. What I mean by that is that I wanted to design levels where any items that I placed within them could reasonably be found there and feel natural. This made creating the platformer aspects of the game far more difficult, and in the end, I did have to make some concessions. The level that I am the least happy with is the third one, the Canyon level, where I had to put rocks sticking out because canyons don’t exactly have platforms and I didn’t want the player to just jump to the bottom of the canyon. That’s pretty much what happens anyway, though, and while I liked that this level changes the pace of the game, I’m unhappy with how short it feels and what the descent feels like.

Another major challenge was the amount of art assets that I set out for myself to create. I chose a fairly detailed style, and so each object was fairly time-consuming. The most time-consuming art assets, though, were the multiple-choice visual novel endings for each level. Although they have varying levels of details, having three levels meant drawing 12 manga-style pictures that had to feel like a visual reward for finishing the level. That meant paying quite a bit of attention to consistency across the drawings and that they had to be as good as I could make them. Also, since designing space was a key aspect of this game, I didn’t want to reuse objects from other levels. The number of art assets that it was necessary to create to make each level feel unique definitely made me limit the number of levels more than I would have liked. Thankfully, the programming for this was relatively simple, and I could reuse most of the code between levels. I’m glad that I decided to use Construct 2!

I arrived at most of my design decisions after careful consideration, and I think that what I would have changed about the game if I had to do it over is primarily time-constraint based. If I polished this game further, it would be to re-design the canyon level and add more levels. Perhaps there’s also more of a reward that I could give players at the end of each level – in a visual novel, this would be a photo album or something of that nature where players could review images that they got from getting particular endings or reaching particular points in the game. Maybe, in this case, it should be something like a comic, or maybe I should push the visual novel elements further and have players make more choices after the initial one.



The feedback that I received from my peers and other playtesters for the game was positive. Many people appreciated the tone of the writing involved – one person noted that it managed not to be too preachy while still getting the point across. The critique that I was aiming for in the game seemed to come across, and that allowed people to engage with critiquing that critique – nice!

One person did note that it was at times difficult to tell an object in the foreground from an object in the background. That’s something that I would definitely work when polishing this game further – playing with lighting and perspective is a challenge for me as a visual artist.

One playtester noted that, “while [the game] critiques expectations about actions possibly in a different space in games, it doesn’t really offer the player more freedom, but simply replaces the static choices traditionally associated with the spaces with other choices, which (while refreshing as a subversion of standard tropes) are just as constraining.” My thoughts are that this is absolutely true – this is not a game that increases player agency. Instead, the inability to perform the expected actions is part of the point: we do what is programmed into the game for us to do, and we can’t really do anything else. Ultimately, I think constraining what a player is able to do in a game is part of a designer’s tool kit: if we could do anything – everything – that we wanted in games all the time, any time, then I think games would be a lot less interesting. While I enjoy emergent gameplay, I am especially pleased when a game supports my subversive play when I least expect it – it is a moment, mediated through the game, that a designer is sharing with me. “Yes,” that designer is saying, “I thought someone might want to try that in the game.” I don’t think that the point is for a game to give players every option that they might think of (because it probably won’t), but rather for games to start giving us more varied decisions overall to make in those spaces.


adventures in gaming, Process Writing, talks


[Cross-posted here:]

Last week was IndieCade 2015, a festival celebrating indie games in all their forms, and, thanks to TAG and many other folks, I was there with In Tune as an official Night Games selection. It has been one year and one month between the creation of the first prototype of the game and showcasing it at IndieCade as an official selection. In between, there have been many adventures.


In Tune was created at last year’s mLab-hosted satelite location of boobjam 2014, which happened at the end of September. Boobjam is a game jam that encourages creators to think about breasts in ways that they aren’t normally considered in games – as something other than objects for the straight cis-male gaze. Inspired by the theme of the jam, In Tune came about as we thought about bodies and their interactions. It is fair to say that we were also inspired by the awkwardness of bodies. Most importantly, it is concerned with the navigation of consent – firstly around those bodies and the negotiation of physical contact, and then, using that physical negotiation to extend the thinking into other areas.



By now, In Tune has showed in many places, both locally and internationally. For each venue that we have shown it at, we have had to track down the safer space/inclusivity/anti-harassment or similar policy. We do not show the game in spaces which don’t have one, and always have a printed copy of the policy on-hand. This serves to raise awareness for the existence of such policies and makes sure that we are knowledgeable about available resources in case any concerns should arise when people play our game.


In Tune works with a Mac Computer (with an OS older than El Capitan), PlayStation Moves, a Makey-Makey, some wires, and handmade conductive sleeves that slip over the PlayStation moves. Our game has also been through many phases: first with tinfoil and PlayStation 3 Controllers, then with a variety of custom controllers (held together by solder, hot glue, and a prayer) and finally PlayStation Moves. This makes it a difficult game to judge for showcases like IndieCade. We have been lucky enough to have had judges that either heard about the game and believed in it based on the strength of the trailer and other documentation, or they got the chance to play it at other events (which the game was at because somebody either believed in it on the strengths of the trailer and surrounding documentation or got to play it at another event).

Due to changes in the way that bluetooth works on the latest releases of Mac OS (El Capitan), the API that we use to pair our PlayStation Moves to the computer no longer works, not to mention that getting PlayStation Moves to pair with PC has pretty much always been a difficult prospect (even the Copenhagen Game Collective wouldn’t touch it, in the end). So, we either have to keep a computer with an older OS (thus breaking many Apps on it) or continually be able to wipe a computer to bring it back to a version of the OS that works for us.

So, as you might be able to tell, the tech alone puts some restrictions on our ability to distribute In Tune as anything other than an installation piece, which is why it is so important for us that we get to take it around and show it. We are currently working on low-cost and low-time-cost ways to distribute the game. With the Makey-Makey Go coming out (hopefully this December), we think that we might be able to help people put together kits for under fifty or sixty dollars (used PS moves at 15USD per controller, the Makey-Makey Go for around 20USD, and then some conductive thread, wires and fabric).

However, even if it weren’t for the tech requirements of the game, this is a game with potentially sensitive content that has to be framed a certain way, and, perhaps most importantly, where the rules have to be carefully introduced. So, in considering how we share the game, we will potentially have to provide documentation and long-distance volunteer training in the future for the many people who have requested copies of the game for educational and workshop purposes. We trained a volunteer this weekend for the Green Mountain Game festival, and that went pretty well. Something to consider…


You can read some of the articles that have been written about In Tune here:

It’s been getting quite a warm reception, and we have had a dozen requests from people who would like to show the game for workshops and other educational contexts.


Taking In Tune to IndieCade was a fascinating experience, both during our actual game showcase and for me as a “young game maker and scholar.” I was surrounded by and got to discuss with people who I have been reading about (Celia Pearce, Brenda Laurel) or playing games by, and it really helped my studies come alive for me. Perhaps especially because in English Literature, my focus was on Middle English studies when it wasn’t on Creative Writing, which means that many of the writers I was engaging with have been dead for many hundreds of years. That makes being a part of a relatively young medium like games and games studies very interesting.

The /Gaming for Everyone/ pavilion was my favourite spot throughout the festival, because so many excellent games that might not fit the traditional mold of the festival, or were late entries for newly made games, were able to showcase there as well as community organizations that are responsible for helping to get new and different people making games. I was so happy to see “We Are Fine, We’ll Be Fine” ( there along with Nicole and Hope, and to see a few folks from Pixelles Montreal there as well, along with similar initiatives from around the continent, including Dames Making Games and Different Games.

I also got to spend time with the incomparable Dietrich Squinkifer (Squinky for short) who may be joining us again in Montreal soon and the transplanted Allison Cole (former mLab coordinator currently doing her thing at the NYU Game Center). Squinky is much more familiar with the folks from the IndieCade community and was kind enough to let me tag along as their entourage and introduced me to many cool people.

Another highlight of the festival for me was Pillowtalk: A Keynote Conversation, which featured discussions of intimacy and consent with designers who I am personally very interested in, including Naomi Clark (Consentacle — always great to see another game concerned with consent!), Nina Freeman (who just released Cibelle today), and Robert Yang (Hurt Me Plenty).

Overall, I think that I could have had a very different experience of IndieCade just depending on which events I chose to go to and which tents that I entered, but that I had the options that I did is a good thing, even as IndieCade grows larger and larger… I imagine that sustaining the event’s character with all of that growth is a challenge. I’ll be keeping an eye on how the IndieCade organizers handle it all.

Critical Making and Design: Rita Hayworth Isn’t In This Game

adventures in gaming, critical making, Process Writing

This week, for my directed reading course, I attempted to make a game using alienation theatre techniques, as described by Brecht in his Organum on Theatre. The only person that has playtested it so far is my husband, so I only have his and my own opinions to go on so far to judge how well the project turned out. For what it’s worth, I had fun with it! I will also be reading Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed and Frasca’s Videogames of the Oppressed, but have deliberately avoided reading and engaging with them until after I finished making this game and writing about it.

As a reminder, you can watch a bit of the film as a reminder of some of the scenes that I’ve taken inspiration from…

This is a game for people who have seen The Shawshank Redemption. It probably won’t do anything for you if you haven’t. That being said, you should both read “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and watch “The Shawshank Redemption” if you haven’t already.

You can play the game here:

Specifically, the Brechtian concepts I’m engaging with are the ones elucidated in sections 39, 41, 43, 44, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 54, 67, 72, 75, of Brecht’s Organum. You can read paraphrase notes on the Organum here: – I found them helpful, because while Brecht writes very well and has interesting things to say, it can be hard to tease out a simple summary to describe his meaning. I’ll pull out some of Buwert’s paraphrases to explain some of my choices for this game.

Sections 47, 48, 49, 50 and 51 are perhaps the ones that influenced me the most for the game.

“47. The actor must abandon all attempts to get the audience to identify with the character. His speech must not flow in the way we expect an actors speech to flow ‘parsonical sing-song’.”

Morgan Freeman’s voice is itself a character in cinema – his warm, friendly narration is unmistakable. So I got rid of it. Much of the audio in the game consists of truncated text-to-speech versions of Freeman’s voiceover. I have to say, it almost hurts. But, for me, hearing his lines interpreted by CodeWelt’s CW Speak both calls to mind the film, Freeman himself, and a strange reality (the one I have created) where it isn’t Morgan Freeman speaking the lines – thus separating the actor from the character, as is suggested in section 48 and 50.

Similarly, in the opening introduction/contextualization of the game, I identify the “agents” of the game (the “yous” that I address with “You are,” if you will): Andy Dufresne, the actor that portrayed Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and the player, further trying to separate the actor from the character and, as in section 49, trying to demonstrate the thoughts of opinions of all those agents. I tried to keep this separation clear by addressing the Player in the various mini-games, also writing in opinions for actor Tim Robbins (who would like to win an Oscar), and instructing the Player to “help Andy,” further highlighting the separation between the two of them.

Sections 51 and 72 say, in paraphrase:
“51. In order that the viewer identifies the character as being the portrayal of a particular individual at a certain moment in a certain situation, all illusions that the actor is the character and the set is the location must be broken.”

“72. The composer is liberated in no longer having to create an atmosphere to aid spectator immersion. Likewise the set-designer no longer has to create the illusion of an actual place. The set should give hints of greater interest than a mimetic representation would.”

Many of my aesthetic choices for the set pieces and character animation stem from these two sections. I was also limited by time, having made this game in under a week, but I also deliberately chose to not model the sets after those seen in the movie (with the exception of the pipe scene, which I really wanted to feel like the movie even if it didn’t quite look like it). Similarly, there is no music in the game because Brecht suggests in section 71 that songs should not be used for emotional expression or discharge — which is exactly the use of all the music in the film. Trying to use songs to demonstrate something extra, on top of all the other outputs of the game (text, audio, visual, etc) seemed like it would be excessive.

Section 41 says, in paraphrase by Buwert:
“41. It is a process of sketching, where ‘the way it is’ is accompanied by a multitude of possibilities of ways ‘it could be’.”

To represent this, I have animated a ghostly character, identical to Andy/Tim who follows Andy/Tim around and performs other possible outcomes – mostly involving walking in the other direction or tripping.

“44. Things which never seem to change seem to us unchangeable. The viewer must be amazed by the familiar and through this come to question and interrogate normality.”

Section 44 affected my choice of material. The Shawshank Redemption is a much-loved movie and, according to IMDb, it, along with The Godfather, are the top-rated movies of all-time. It also features, as previously mentioned, Morgan Freeman’s voice, and other things that seem constant and comforting. As such, I felt it was appropriate material for this game.

Finally, as Brecht reminds us in section 75, my goal was entertainment, to some degree, and so I tried to keep a good sense of fun and humour throughout the game.

Okay, time for what went well and what didn’t go so well:

– This game took way longer than I anticipated, and I only started to make it on Saturday after carefully considering what I would do, because all of my work seemed to take longer than it should have this week.

– The bugs! One problem with working with a semi-WYSIWYG program like Construct 2 is that it isn’t always clear why something goes wrong. Specifically, I had a great deal of trouble with audio for this project, and without the audio, the project sort of falls apart, without the absence of Morgan Freeman’s voice and other contextualizing quotes from the film.

– As always, I am learning to use different design approaches to make games and other objects, and I don’t know how well I am reconciling making a “good” game and getting the ideas that I intend to across. For what it’s worth, my one playtester seemed to get the sensations and provocations that I was going for.

– I’m still not programming in JavaScript or learning a programming language…I think I’ve got the logic down, though, and someone recently suggested this cool-looking game to me for further practice: The Human Resource Machine ( I plan to start in Phaser soon with JavaScript, if I ever find the time…

– Those SHOES – I’m quite happy with my shoe-shining animations.

– Global Variables: I used something like five or six global variables as switches in this game, and I’m quite happy with the results. I feel like this game was excellent practice for me.

We’ll see what players have to say!

Critical Making and Design: Cultural Ambassadors

adventures in gaming, critical making, Process Writing, research

This week, I made a game called Cultural Ambassadors by attempting to defamiliarize Space Invaders and the act of shooting.

Given that I had just a week (and that I am trying to limit the number of hours I spend on this one class), I started with someone else’s Space Invader clone made using Construct 2. In playing it, it quickly became clear that this wasn’t quite a perfect clone of the original game, but close enough for the base on which I would build this new game.


Taking a common way that I’ve seen defamiliarization explained (“What if an alien encountered this cultural object – how would they understand it?”) to its natural conclusion, I made a game where aliens are enamoured with our television commercials and think that places like Starbucks and McDonalds are really kind of awesome — and isn’t it a shame that not everyone has access to the rolled back prices of Walmart? So, helpfully, the Golbos on Globes team (they were very impressed by Holmes on Holmes and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) has decided to make over your planet…starting with your town. And by you, I mean a tiny robot carrying a book with the ability to beam cultural objects up to these aliens to counteract all that they have learned from cable commercials.


As errant hammers fly, there’s the chance that they’ll miss the building that they are converting and accidentally hit you instead. Meanwhile, you send them books, movies, games, music and other cultural objects to take a look at. Those who are affected by them have minor epiphanic moments (“oh I see”, “I understand!”, “now I get it”) and leave Earth’s skies.

Here is the list of items that the game chooses from for you to throw:
“Throwing Cultural Object: ” & choose(“Octavia Butler’s Kindred”,”Will Shakespeare’s Plays”,”Gone Home by Fullbright”,”Jesus Christ Superstar”,”Amadeus (1984)”,”Tanya Tagaq’s Throatsinging”, “Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water”, “Schindler’s List (1993)”, “Europa Europa (1990)”, “Carl Sagan’s Cosmos”, “Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent”, “Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis”, “Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House”, “Squinky’s Coffee: A Misunderstanding”, “Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird”, “S. E. Hinton’s Rumble Fish”, “Jean Paul Riopelle’s La Roue/Cold Dog – Indian Summer”, “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete (2013)”, “Idiocracy (2006)”, “Journey by Thatgamecompany”, “Anna Anthropy’s dys4ia”, “Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man”, “Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things”, “Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One”, “Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist”, “Richard Adams’ Watership Down”, “Papo y Yo by Minority”, “Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence”)

Given that the game was made in under a week, I mostly went with what occurred to me to chuck at aliens if I wanted them to understand my culture beyond McDonald’s commercials – which feels fine for a prototype. However, also, given that the list is short, each entry matters more… I had to decide if my loving a cultural object and thinking that it was interesting was enough for it to go on the list – and I tried to mostly stay away from “canon important cultural objects”, which are mostly the work of dead white dudes, and instead include a bit more variety. Then again, I happen to love Shakespeare and chose to include his work — and I guess that it’s okay to appreciate and love an object even understanding that it might contribute to a problem or be problematic, something that I occasionally wrestle with. I tried to balance it out with work by creators that I feel might be underexposed or would be excluded from the canon.




Something that you might be interested to know is that I have never made a game that involved the act of shooting before. That’s a conscious decision and that might actually be why I chose shooting as something to defamiliarize. However, because I started from Space Invaders, there’s some meaning embedded in the rules already, and the act still feels oppositional. There’s a lot of history in the act of shooting, I guess, and shooting hammers or wifi beams doesn’t erase that, especially in as familiar an object as Space Invaders. Trying to get shooting to feel like something other than shooting is difficult. What I think does work is this idea of accidental or unintended harm on the part of the aliens and their colonizer attitude. What doesn’t work, is, as I’ve mentioned, this sense of opposition — that we should shoot at the other, or assume that they mean us harm.

One of the things that I am quickly realizing about my approach to design work, having done three projects in three weeks, is that I enjoy making things that revolve around some element of humour, but that I want my audience to be in on the joke – or I want it to be possible for them to be in on the joke without too many obstacles.