Jun 082024

When I describe what I do in co-organizing Toronto Games Week, people often say that it sounds stressful and like a lot of work — as opposed to writing or creating stuff, which people think sounds like fun. But they’re both fun in certain ways, stressful in others. 

When my organizing schemes are going well, I wonder to myself: why doesn’t everyone want to do this? It’s so fun! I’ve always felt my creative side and my organizer side were complimentary, but now I’m almost wondering if I may have become an artist so I could be a better arts community organizer.

More on that subject later — but Toronto Games Week starts Thursday, so here are my top picks for you rated with difficulty levels…

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Oct 182023

Is there a thing you know you should do, but don’t? With me, for years, it was paper prototyping. Paper prototyping is the process of sketching out a game design, literally, with pencil and paper, and then playtesting the design ideas you have before you ever sit down in front of a computer. Instead of a computer modeled character you can use an action figure. Instead of generating a random number you have dice throws. Most games have many mechanics that can also work in a board game context, though there’s obviously lots of gamefeel related aspects that need to be digitally tested.

It’s the same as the filmmaking principle that “paper is cheaper than film”, that ideas in a paper script can be added and removed and problems solved far more easily than after a scene has been shot. I would never dream of shooting a short without a script, but it took a familiar motivator to get me creating my first paper prototype:

When it’s hard for me to do something for myself, I can often do it to help someone else.

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Aug 212017

Consumer Virtual Reality is kind of dead, and that’s great news… It’s as though an alien spaceship fell on earth and all the aliens died… and now we have to figure out how to use this strange technology for our very human desires. (From Stranger Playthings: Remaking a VR Counterculture)

VR is weeeird. So we made a weird game with it called Manimal Sanctuary. It’s a lurking simulator where you play a creature that’s part coral reef, part Cthulhu, who feeds off of the emotions of humans.

It’s also weird to exhibit VR games: “Hey, mind strapping this box to your head in a way that effectively blinds you and makes you look silly?” And it’s boring for the people who aren’t wearing the headsets.

We addressed those issues… by doubling down on the weirdness.

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Jul 282017

The last six months or so I’ve been writing and designing a VR game prototype:

Manimal Sanctuary is a lurking simulator. It leverages low-end VR technology to enable every player’s ultimate fantasy: to play a creature part coral reef, part Cthulhu, who consumes human emotions. Set on the Toronto Islands after the rest of the city is consumed by gibbering monstrosities, you eavesdrop on the survivors and their dramas involving things like bad potato crops and graffiti tags. And if those everyday emotions aren’t filling enough, you can always uncover some devastating secrets…

UPDATE: The free demo is available now for iPhone and Android phones that can run Google Cardboard apps.
Daily Vice did a 4 min vid on it filmed on Toronto Island.
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May 082017

Does your mom like puzzles and historical mysteries, and own an iPhone? Why not surprise her on Mother’s Day by installing Wonderland?

Wonderland is an audio drama game set circa 1914, in Toronto’s rough-and-tumble Junction neighbourhood. The end of each chapter poses a puzzle — solve it, and unlock the next one. Stuck? Just put your iPhone in your pocket and go for a walk… every 100 steps, one of the letters in the puzzle is filled in.

Just in time for the start of prime walking season, Wonderland is free for the month of May. Walking simulators are so 2012 — take our walking stimulator for a stroll instead!

Install it for free here

Oct 182016

Cover by Trish Lamanna

You're at Burning Man, with six choices to make before the world goes white.
 Choose wisely. Or wildly. The dust storm won't care.

As a linear storyteller, branching narratives have been challenging for me. I usually have a story I want to tell, and in writing choice-based games I often found myself having to write a bunch of branches I wasn’t as interested in, and I always looped them back to converge with the main story. I preferred making parser games because it felt like I was giving the player more autonomy, even when new parts of the story were gated by puzzles.

But upon reading Sam Ashwell’s “Standard Patterns in Choice-Based Games” I liked the idea of trying different structures, and was taken by what he calls Time Cave. In the past I think I’ve regarded this structure as inefficient somehow — inferior because it didn’t reuse writing in a clever way. But seeing a bunch of these typical structures side-by-side in the article let me drop the notion that there’s a “proper” way to do CYOA, and I decided to try the Time Cave. There’s something pretty beautiful about the way it spreads out exponentially. It does need a lot of writing, but I like writing a lot. Continue reading »