Category Archives: Game Philosophy

REAL MAGIC: the System is the Setting.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I cared more about a game’s story than I did its system; I wonder what it would be like if I stared at games’ fake worlds more than their real ones. Instead, the clouds are ignored: I study the winds.

Warning: a few too many words ahead.

~ Continue reading




Money is a weird and enigmatic thing. It blurs the boundaries of value: I might part with five dollars for a pricey beverage (an extremely temporary thing – I could just as well be drinking water), but not five dollars for a game (an arguably permanent thing). I don’t like dealing in money.

I first started selling Probability 0 pre-orders at the price of $9 each, and I didn’t know what that meant. Everything I’d made up to this point had been distributed for the low, low price of TOTALLY FREE and I was okay with that. I sold a few games to sponsors, and I didn’t like playing the money dance so I tried to avoid it.

$9 is infinitely more than $0 in math terms as well as in ‘boundary to reach the game’ terms, because now you suddenly have to go through a whole weird process to send money over the internet to get my game! I don’t really like that at all!

Something I can handle is dropping to $5 from $9. People know things are worth money, but nobody agrees on the value of things. I can drop to $5 from $9 and understand this drop it to a lower caliber of spending. Those who would get it for $9 and be happy can only be happier to get that same thing for FIVE dollars, because they’re losing less MEANINGLESS NUMBER (except, well, money means a lot) for it.

1. People who would have bought it anyway are made happier by a price drop.

For every game, there are people who play it and feel ripped off. This wasn’t worth my $9. This wasn’t worth my $5. This wasn’t worth the time I spent playing it. I don’t think I can say I’m actually going to reduce the number of people who feel like they wasted their money on Probability 0 (I think it’s absolutely worth it but I’m not everyone!), but I’m hopefully going to reduce the intensity.

2. Those who calculate Probability 0’s worth as $5 – $9 will buy the game and not feel ripped off. (Whereas previous to the price drop this bracket of people would have not bought the game at all, or felt ripped off: both things I’d like to avoid.)

3. Those who calculate Probability 0’s worth at less than $5 will still either not buy the game, or feel ripped off.

Dealing with money is kind of annoying. I just want to make the maximum number of ‘good games’ and create joy through them! Is that so much to ask???
(& I can’t just get a job! That means making fewer games, or games of less quality! noooo)

I guess what I’m doing is reducing the potentially unreachable audience, and making happy part of the potentially unhappy audience. ‘Audience,’ as if I am somehow performing the act of ‘selling games’ on a stage. Good use of english, Droqen.

Breaking the Horizon

A game’s Horizon is ‘where you think the game ends’, but it’s also ‘how far it seems like the game’s content will take you (and stay the same? i’m not good at defining this, apparently)’. The way I feel as I approach a so far enjoyable game’s Horizon is best described as: worried I’m going to be disappointed. This is why I love it when Horizons are broken.


Skyrim never breaks the horizon, or at least it has never done so for me: it’s never even come close. New magic spells and new magical equipment, the most likely HORIZON BREAKERS (aside from the story — more on that later), are very often boring as hell. In almost every case I’m presented with a few numbers that I can tell are going to go up as I improve. Numbers are kind of boring. There are then the cases where I do get a genuinely new piece of equipment: however, HORIZON BREAKS are at their best when they are dramatic, as with all things, no? Skyrim — along with many games! It’s not just Skyrim, I’m just picking on it! — is a dense, slow burn through content. LIST TIME:

  • Short-range flames to FIRE BOLT! — Disappointingly inefficient without spending a perk on apprentice magic (the possible mini-horizon break is muffled and left until later; it’s a horizon nudge at best, assuming the player wasn’t expecting a goddamn fireball spell eventually anyway), and too small a change: I already had archery, and probably even a fire arrow. So, you might say, what about new bows?
  • Bad bow to AWESOME BOW! — Numbers? Are you trying to buy me over with numbers, Skyrim? Holds true for all sorts of mundane weaponry and equipment. Slowly increasing numbers are boring because they don’t break horizons.
  • Dragons are awesome, though. (Or…) — The first dragon was not frightening, and I didn’t get to fight it. It might be the Dark Souls in me talking, but when I fought my first dragon for real, I was… disappointed. Then I fought another dragon, and then I fought a blood dragon — and by this point, dragons were just kind of things to fight. Right from the beginning of the game, the game said “Okay, cool, dragons are within the horizon. You’ll be fighting them.” And then I did. Even if the first had impressed me (it didn’t!), would the second or third be any different? In every situation, all of your enemies can be turned on the dragon anyway.
  • Magical Equipment. — Numbers numbers numbers numbers numbers. So afraid to run out of content early, it doles out tiny percentages where they don’t matter. I pick up some GLASS ARMOUR OF RESTORATION and it’s better than what I have by a bit, and it increases my “restoration skill” by 22%. Of course, before this I’d already learned “better armour” and “better restoration”, so this is just a… combination of the two.


Dry Voices is a game about DISCOVERY (anagram title!). I made it for Ludum Dare once. I decided that the player would keep discovering new and unexpected things and, now, I’ve finally coined the action I was attempting so long ago:

Breaking the Horizon

is when a player’s comprehension of a game is expanded so much that his or her previous understanding has been SHATTERED.

La-Mulana is a game all about breaking the horizon! Around every corner, there is something new and ridiculous: a new puzzle, a new item, a crazy new way to travel, a new thing like an area with an incredibly slippery floor (I have never experienced a more slippery floor in any game, ever) when every floor previous has provided 100% perfect control.

Regardless of the way you feel about horizon breaking, these are absolutely moments that players REMEMBER. There may be other moments, of course, but anyone who’s paying attention to what a game is as they’re playing it will remember these moments when suddenly you punch out the floor from beneath them.

It is possible to sully a game’s horizon by breaking it too much — to the point that the horizon becomes shattered and uncertain, or to the point that the player starts figuring out which horizons look particularly breakable.

BREAKING THE HORIZON is not the perfect solution to every problem, and it can’t be all you have going for a game. However, placed properly, one huge change that breaks a Horizon is far, far better and far, far memorable compared to several small changes that leave no room for doubt about the future of the game.

So fucking break it, game designers.

You Found The Grappling Hook!
More to be added, probably.

Also, this is seriously the messiest post I’ve ever made! “Sorry!” and/or “Deal with it!”

Approaching the Horizon

You know that moment in a game when you think that you can see the end? Your brain says “Hey! Look: that’s the end,” and if it’s a good game, you get a little disappointed. “No way it’ll end there,” you tell yourself. “I want more.”

Sometimes it’s just the end of a part of the game: “There’s the end of the dungeon,” or “There’s the end of that skill tree.”

It can be a little different: “Things will be like this until I see the end.” Imagine a horizon: you see desert stretching towards it, and believe (reasonably) that the desert will extend forever. Or, at least, until you die. I mean, you’re walking through a desert. “That dragon’s death is the end of the game.” “I will never explore that part of the city; I’m looking at a backdrop.”

All in all, this horizon is at the periphery of what might be progress. “Once I reach that point,” you think to yourself, “there’s no moving forward. I might backtrack; I might move to a new track and progress there; but that is the end of what I’m doing right now.”

I call this thing is called the Horizon, and not the Wall or something similarly terminal, because sometimes it isn’t an ending. It can be more.

New blog post incoming.

Medium as Style

Hello people who make things:

I recently went to a food place where there was a painting of bamboo. The bamboo was fine, but what really struck me were the leaves: while clearly a leaf, each one was also clearly a single brush-stroke. You could say I was seeing stylized leaf, but I like to look at it a different way: It was a painting. The leaf was, in fact, a stylized brushstroke.

Of course, while I say that was illuminating, refreshing, and fascinating, I’m not attempting to devalue other paintings that take a more realistic style whereby the image is the focus rather than a harmonized element.

Well, maybe a little.

‘Retro’ and for example ‘8-bit’ games are attempting to emulate the ‘Medium as Style’ perpetrated by games of ye olde times where the only way to make something look great was to make it work with the technology available. Hats and moustaches easier than head-hair and noses. We all know the Mario story there, right?

Various explosions of technology–and the resulting obsession with it–in so many areas has done a number on the way a lot of games develop. Here I’ll retread well-tread ground:

Games controlled by motion are, well, not great. Kinect suffers lag (I wonder if there’s anyone who hasn’t felt that lag?) and in general they’re only great for broad motions. The quality of control has to strike a balance: Too precise, and the lag becomes painfully clear. Too loose, and the motion controls become… a useless gimmick.

Some games look great; that’s fine. A lot of games that are beautiful seem reliant on their beautiful, tech demo-esque foundation. With all our dynamic lighting and HDR and who gives a shit, I think a lot of people have forgotten just how much control we have over the way our games look. I feel like we–game makers and game enthusiasts et cetera–are suffering for it.

Have I made a blog post exactly like this before? ‘Embrace your medium’ or something along those lines? Probably. Oh well.

Keep on makin’ and playin’ and… I dunno, other stuff.

The Joy of Creation

When making a game

is one ‘working on it’ or ‘playing with it’?

Remind yourself of what you’d like to be doing, and how you’d like to feel, once in a while. It’s good for you.


Hello. I am here to tell you a story. The other day, I was playing System Shock 2 (for maybe the third time – and I hope to play it many more), and I was running around with pockets chock-full of crap.

“I don’t really need this broken shotgun,” I told myself at last, finally having grown sick and tired of all the clutter. “I don’t really need this anti-toxin syringe, these speed-boosting syringes, or — seeing as I can’t use them — these grenades.” I didn’t have the requisite skills to use the grenade launcher, which I had ditched some distance back.

I carried on, a small pile of items left piled on the ground. This deck of the ship was infuriatingly labyrinthine despite the fact I had an easy-to-access map, but I didn’t worry about ever needing to find my stash again.

Warning: Spoilers incoming.

Continue reading

‘Indie’ or Not?

“Essentially we are asking each of the teams to develop their games and in turn they will get a share of the sales revenue.”

“In exchange for you making your game, you will get a fraction of your money. (Also a fraction of the credit, probably.)”

I’m… gonna lean towards indie. Thanks.

Solving Problems & Making Games

Solving a problem (especially, I’ve found, in code) goes (or should go) something like this:

1. What is the problem? The problem is X.

2. More importantly, what is the goal? The goal is Y. I find that too often this is missed — a problem exists and everyone wants to solve it, but if you don’t know what the end result will be, how will you know how to get there?

(3.) Do I know how to reach the goal? (‘Do I know how to solve the problem, theoretically?’) If 2. is skipped, this step most often is too. If the answer is ‘no’ then you have two options (neither of which is ‘proceed blindly’):
a. Break the problem into multiple problems that are smaller. Repeat from step 1 for each.
b. Seek new information from any sources you may have at your disposal. If successful, proceed to 4.

4. Go about solving the problem.

This is the way I approach programming, but not most other things. Art and music, to me, are vastly different in that I never, ever know exactly what I want the end result to be, and it bothers the hell out of me. It’s the reason I feel more comfortable coding than I do doing art or music.

But games are the same way, and I absolutely love making them.

Very often, I find that artistic endeavours are not so much driven by being solutions to problems… because they aren’t. Art, music, and games all fall under this umbrella of things that can’t exactly be planned out ahead of time.

Well, okay, games can — at their heart, they’re just programs with a pretty shell. I can’t do things that way, and I can’t make games with makeshift, temporary programmer art (rectangles, boxes). It’s got to come together all together for me and it’s terrible but it’s the only way I can do things.

… is this the dividing line for ‘games as art’? I doubt it, but it’s an interesting thought.

Right. So, I’ve found that anyone who comes at programming without utilizing the above steps is generally very amateur in their approach (blindly writing code, ‘hey hey will this work? yessss (or more frequently noooooo)’) — but maybe I’m mistaken about these creative, artistic things not being able to use these steps at all.

How do you approach ‘logical’ code-like problems? Is it different from the way you approach creative ideas (more applicable if you have, in fact, taken such things to completion, I guess — or have at least started and done a decent amount)?


When coming at any of these things, the process I generally use is

1. What do I want to make? Kind of? (Sometimes I even skip this step.)

2. Make it. Or make something.

3. Does it feel good? Look good? Sound good? Play good? If yes, keep it and maybe advance to 4. If not, go back one or two steps or just give up and wait until the next time I feel like doing something.

4. Elaborate.

Fuck advertising in my games.

It is with reluctance that I do not change the title.

Let’s start from the top. eCPM = moneys per 1000 ‘impressions’. As I understand, an ‘eCPM’ of $0.25 is fairly common, but for argument’s sake let’s assume an eCPM of $1.00 (this is being really generous! it’s better than what I’ve seen for either of my games and waay better than what I’ve found to be average in my research).

So pretend I have a game that displays a 10-second ad (this is what Mochi does nowadays). Pretend it’s a very, very small game that takes little to no time to load (this was the case with N?na).

1000 impressions x 10 seconds = ~2.75 hours of ad viewing.

We can tone it down and say that each ad is a still picture that requires, on average, 3 seconds to be viewed and/or dismissed.

That’s still 50 minutes of ad viewing.

I’m getting a dollar (but probably less) for every hour~ish (but probably more) of time wasted (and not even wasted playing a fun game!).

So: fuck it. I’m not gonna waste your time micro-working you for a tiny fraction of minimum wage.

Bye, Mochi!

EDIT —> Even for successful games.