Slaughtertrain has been judged “funny” and “charming” by the powers that be

So we finally saw the votes/rankings for the GameJolt Adventurejam competition that we submitted the first draft of Slaughtertrain to. (Don’t worry, the final version of Slaughtertrain is coming soon!)

And guess what? we were judged SEVENTH FUNNIEST and ELEVENTH MOST CHARMING

See our results here!


I can now proudly tell people that I contributed to a CERTIFIED CHARMING GAME.

I have a feeling that people were just fucking with us, though, since we got only 5 votes total and we got a rather high ranking for visuals (there were no visuals in this version of the game). I am however going to stand by those “funny” and “charming” judgments because that’s what we were going for in the first place. Overall, we were #16 out of 86 total games, whatever that means for a jam with so little judging activity.

The new version of Slaughtertrain is almost done. We’ve got art, sound effects, music, and ONE HUNDRED TRAIN CARS. It’s going to blow your goddamn mind.

SLAUGHTERTRAIN: Game Jolt Adventurejam

Kent, Rosstin and I collaborated again on another game jam game– this time for the two-week-long Game Jolt-hosted Adventurejam. You can find our submission here. If you like it and have a Game Jolt account, consider voting for it.

Slaughtertrain is a Snowpiercer parody made in Twine. We wrote over fifty different train cars with different bizarre, trainbound inhabitants, and gave the player an extremely limited, violence-oriented number of verbs. In each car, the player can either kill everyone present, steal the “bombdrugs” this society uses as currency (and bombs, and drugs), or pay 10 bombdrugs to avoid a confrontation and move to the next train. The player has two major stats: health and bombdrugs. They also carry a weapon, which has its own stats: power and durability. Health, power, and durability are never stated directly, but the player can learn to judge these stats by closely reading the game’s repeated text. Gameplay involves juggling weapons to maximize your chances of slaughter-success, and risking injury to acquire as many bombdrugs as possible.

You may be thinking to yourself, “gee, this doesn’t sound much like what I think of as an adventure game,” but the jam had extremely lax rules (that Slaughtertrain definitely fits) and we wanted a structured deadline to help us hack out this game as fast as possible. We were planning for 100 train cars but didn’t get that far; a second version will probably have all 100. Kent will also do a balance pass on the entire game to make it more challenging and interesting to play. We may also get some art in here? We haven’t thought closely about that part of the game yet.

Slaughtertrain is also notable for containing the most original code I have ever written for a game project. All of the stats, randomization effects, and weapon handling processes are carried out with javascript macros.

Anyway, expect to see a fuller, polished version of this game in the future. We’ll release the .tws sourcefiles at that time too, most likely.

Detective City on!

detective sidebar small

UPDATE: Detective City has been moved! Take a look at THIS BLOG POST!

Its new home online on itch is HERE!

We made a new version of Detective City with ADDITIONAL POLISH!

It’s available on!

This version of Detective City will run in your browser! It also comes with a downloadable version of the game’s source files.

Please feel free to steal our code and/or directly cannibalize our game for any reason. If you’d like to talk to me about this game and how it works, hit me up on twitter at @lmichet.

Detective City – Global Game Jam 2015!

I spent the last ~48 hours doing the Global Game Jam at USC, running pretty much on adrenaline and diet Cokes. I teamed up with Rosstin Murphy, Kent Sutherland, and Meagan Trott to make Detective City, a comedic, randomized choose-your-own-adventure game about a disgraced detective determined to clear her name. You can find and play our jam build here! Look at the bottom of the page for a download. The game is an .html file that will run in your web browser.

Detective City is one of the more-successful jam games I’ve ever worked on. It marks the first time I’ve ever written my own working macros for Twine, too. (A little bit of Code Academy Javascript goes a long way when all you need is randomization, ha.) I wrote the “engine” that controlled game progression and powered our randomization features, as well as a couple tools to help us stay out of Twine If Statement Hell. I guess this makes me the “lead programmer” on Detective City? Hey, I’ll take it.

We were lucky enough to win the judges’ choice “Writing/Theme” award. Here’s our awesome trophy:

We also recorded a “speedrun” of our game to make our jam page more exciting. Take a look at my mad clicking prowress:

Our team will be fixing some bugs in our game and releasing a more-polished, spell-corrected version sometime soon. I’ll probably also crap out a postmortem. But here are the major points about Detective City you should probably be aware of:

  • It is legitimately extremely funny. I was surprised at how good our jokes were with little sleep and very little time.
  • The art Meagan made is extremely rad. It fits the theme perfectly and is also hilarious.
  • There is an insanely huge amount of content in this game. There’s enough for four full playthroughs with no overlap– though you’ll get overlap from playthrough to playthrough thanks to the RNG, I’m sure. STILL, there’s a TON of stuff in here.
  • Like most collaborative writing games I’ve made at jams, we chose to split the game up into large regions and assigned each to a specific writer, with very little overlap. Although we wrote the beginning and end of the game together, we were mostly able to churn out this huge amount of content because we were each charging away at a different part of the story and combining them using StoryIncludes. If you ever do a text-based game with more than one writer, I strongly encourage splitting everything up and going as far as you can to reduce or eliminate interdependence. It makes the experience a lot more relaxed when you know that you don’t have to hit any content quota, or that your writing isn’t dependent on anyone else’s time or energy. We had a great ability to accommodate any reduction in scope, and even sliced out several entire regions right before the end. At previous jams, I’ve worked on narrative-based projects where extricating chunks of the game was a lot harder, and those projects have always been way more stressful and, in the end, less successful.
  • In fact, I’d go so far as to say that text-based jam games should basically never be linear. If they’re randomized, or select from a pool of vignettes or events, they seem to be a lot more fun and easy to finish over a weekend.

Progress on Six Months

I’m still working on my sequel to Swan HIll, a novella-length twine game called Six Months. I’ve been working on it now for about six months off and on. (Ha!) My recent move to Los Angeles has left me pretty isolated, without a lot of things to do or people to hang out with IRL– so I’ve had a lot of time to work on this project. So I’m charging ahead!

I’ve got the feel and direction of the experience nailed down, I think. Six Months is a murder mystery, but it’s not a solveable murder puzzle. There’s no inventory, no clues to pick up. You see, the joy I get from reading detective novels has never been in the solving of the mystery or the revelation of the killer, or anything like that– I like detective novels because they’re often great character studies (of the detective). I want this game to be more like that.

The main character in the tale is the asshole duke brother from Swan Hill. Before I wrote Swan Hill I was actually writing a story in which Simon played a major role and his brother Robert, the Chancellor wizard guy, was only a background figure– so I’ve had Simon in my head for much longer than I had the protagonist of Swan Hill. Simon’s a bit of a fucked-up guy. He’s very much at home in his duchy, where he’s been in charge of everything for years– but he’s heavily reliant on his family and on the privileges he gets from being the biggest fish in that little pond. When he heads to the city to solve this crime, he has to figure out how to handle himself alone for the first time in his adult life– which is hilarious, because he’s around 40 years old.

Six Months focuses on a ridiculously risky situation Simon puts himself in after an emotional reaction to a relative’s murder. Instead of letting the young, incompetent king and his grasping military policemen handle the investigation, Simon invokes an old-school rite that gives him jurisdiction– so long as he successfully finds and personally kills the perpetrator within six months.

My focus in college was medieval and early modern Europe. During this time, extensive urbanization changed the way people related to their superiors, inferiors, and governments– specifically with regards to the amount of casual violence between individuals, and between individuals and the state. Simon’s problems in Six Months were written with these changes in mind. Although these fictional “six month pledges” are still legal in his country, nobody does them anymore. Culture has changed, but the law hasn’t, and powerful people like Simon still have access to legally murderous acts of revenge. Simon’s friends and family often argue that he shouldn’t have ever made this vow, and while playing as Simon, you may find that you agree.

So Simon has to figure out how to resolve this oath without completely destroying himself and his family. Would it be better to deliberately fail the oath? To accuse the wrong person? To solve the case properly and do the duty everyone expects from him? Because his case is so public, he risks causing harm to various suspected minority groups in the kingdom if he encourages the military police to pursue them. And on top of this, his family has a certain ‘history’ with both of the major groups that may have been responsible for the murder.

Add to this the enormous unresolved emotional baggage Simon had with the murdered person, and you’ve got a mystery that’s less about finding and punishing the evildoer and more about “how do I fix all of this while feeling the least like shit?”

In order for the audience to feel like this is a worthwhile tale sitting through, they’ll have to desperately want to see the solution to Simon’s problems. They’ll have to want him to not feel like shit! To this end, I’ve reduced his assholery. He also spends a lot of time in “fish out of water mode,” so that I’ll have excuses for explaining things to the reader. I feel like this is a big contrast to most of the standard “gritty fantasy” fiction that people read today. In stories like Game of Thrones, we expect to see clever characters brilliantly tricking one another in the gilded, got-your-shit-together halls of cackling political genius. But in Six Months, for reasons both mechanical and thematic, you’re gonna be piloting a guy who does NOT have his shit together AT ALL. (I sometimes worry that too many of the characters in this story have too little of their shit together!)

Anyway, that’s where my brain is on this story so far. If you like slow-burning low-key mystery stuff, and if you have great sympathy with people who don’t have their shit together, you’ll probably like this story a lot.

For a different view on where my head is right now, here are the kind of books I was reading immediately before drafting out the first outlines for this story. They all influenced me in different ways while I was figuring out what kind of story I wanted to tell. I wish I had a list of all those early modern europe urban history books I read in college, but I don’t, sorry. 😦

  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre
  • The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell
  • Shriek by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Good Bye To All That by Robert Graves

Some games I’ve recently enjoyed

Lichdom: Battlemage


When I first saw this game on the web over a year ago, I laughed. I laughed my butt off because “Lichdom” is right up there with “Revengeance” in the dumb-sounding-names category. (Get it? Dumb? DOM?? HA!) I also assumed it would kind of suck. I don’t even know why. Judged a book by its cover, I guess.

Turns out that the game is great, in a wacky kind of way. The spell and loot system– which allows you to craft your own spells out of spell effects that drop from enemies– is fantastic. I created a spell which allows me to throw exploding ice grenades. Then I created a GRAVITY BEAM that drops black holes on dudes. Nice! 

On the other hand, the writing sucks. Troy Baker and Femshep patter on emptily at one another, and my male main character kept shouting “Bitch!!!” for practically no reason whatsoever. He used the word the way people use “shit!”. At one point I think he literally died and came back to life shouting “BITCH!!!!” There was no woman present.

I also appreciate that I had the option to play as a lady, which I am sad to report that I did not accept. I am stupid. If I’d picked the busty female character I could have had Jennifer Hale’s voice!



Some people have criticized this game for being too easy or boring. They are wrong. This game is CHILL. It is beautiful, well-written, and EXTREMELY CHILL. You will wander around a not-particularly-dangerous environment reading fascinating little scraps of paper and munching on blackberries. I like that a lot.

The story behind the game is an apocalyptic sci-fi tale examining the implications of eternal life. What happens when rich dudes are able to make themselves live forever? Will society collapse? (YES.) If it does collapse (YES IT’S COLLAPSING) what will happen? Specifically, what will happen to Seattle and Victoria? Play this game to find out!

I visited Seattle and Victoria precisely two weeks before playing the game for the first time, so that was a fun little coincidence for me. The Pacific Northwest is IRL a very pretty place, but I’m not sure it’s as consistently pretty as this game. I have screenshotted the shit out of it and uploaded precisely thirty of those screenshots to Steam. I am also responsible for the only Steam Guide on how to play this game. Wow! What fame!

The Nightmare Cooperative


I keep telling people that this game is called “Nightmare Collective.” It’s not. It’s a Cooperative. It’s basically “868-Hack but if you controlled up to four dudes at once and they all had a special power.” Like 868-Hack, I am both obsessed with and terrible at it. I haven’t even yet reached the fourth zone.

When I was in college my friends and I were obsessed with Nethack. We had long conversations about the role that hubris and temptation play in permadeath games and I still think that temptation and hubris are the most important parts of any roguelike/roguelikelike/whatever shitty name people are commanding we use this week. Roguelikes. Nightmare Cooperative is a roguelike and it tempts me to awful acts of hubris. This is why I keep coming back to it.

It’s on iOS now, which is cool.

Crypt of the Necrodancer


I have been playing about an hour of Necrodancer every night since it came out on Steam. Do not be misled by the dead-in-zone-two screenshot above: I am a very cool person who has accessed up to zone three of the game. However, I am not yet cool enough to access zone four. I am very sad about this. I am stuck on Zone Three of both this game and Nightmare Cooperative, so I’m probably cursed.

Crypt of the Necrodancer is full-release levels of great but it’s in Early Access. It does that hubris/temptation thing beautifully. It is the only rhythm game I have ever unreservedly loved. I don’t love it enough to marry it, but I’m coldhearted and wouldn’t marry anything anyway.

Meeting strangers in the street

It figures that I would rediscover my desire to exercise at exactly the point in my life when it suddenly became unwise for me to exercise at all.

On a Friday night two months ago, my friend and I were finishing up dinner in Mountain View. We had absolutely nothing to do. I was bored, and honestly feeling a little guilty about it. How can anyone be bored anymore? We have the internet. We have internet piracy. I’m well-paid enough to entertain myself legally, anyway. I shouldn’t be bored.

“Let’s see Maleficent,” I suggested. But my friend had a better idea. He told me that down the street, at Google headquarters, someone had slung a slackline up by the side of the road. A slackline is a practice tightrope, only a couple feet up above the ground. “Want to try it out?” he asked.

I was aggressively in favor of the slackline. “Yes,” I said. “Absolutely. Let’s do this.” Tightropes are the opposite of boring.

Well, I was on the tightrope for less than thirty seconds before I fell off. My right ankle made a loud popping sound and swelled up into a ball the size of a beefy man’s fist. I couldn’t put any weight on it. At the emergency room they told me I had a sprain. An exceptionally bad sprain: my foot and leg were mottled with bruises. I looked like a corpse from the knee down. I attended E3 in Los Angeles with a collapsible travel cane, and at the expo, strangers kept giving me funny looks, as if I must be joking. I’m twenty-five. I have about as much right to use a cane as I have to be bored.

Several weeks later, I was still limping and miserable, still a little swollen. But things were getting better. It was, at least, an exciting story to tell: I just needed rest.

Well, I was about to make a discovery that would end all rest and relaxation in my life and drive me to walk twenty miles in a week for no good reason at all: the long-running Android game Ingress was about to release on iOS.

I’d heard about Ingress from Android-owning friends and it sounded fascinating. A friend told me sometime in 2012 that he’d spent every night of every week for a whole month walking around his neighborhood at four in the morning, playing this game. It was apparently developed by a Google division in an attempt to get people to take pictures of public art and monuments. It was intriguingly weird.

I started playing it in my office. The game immediately asked me which team I wanted to be on. There are two: the Resistance and the Enlightenment. The Resistance is basically the Rebel Alliance, and the Enlightenment is basically the Illuminati. Naturally, I picked the Resistance.

The game showed me a map of my local area. It was covered in glowing beacons. These beacons are “portals” through which “exotic matter” created by ancient aliens is entering our world. Portals are attached to the GPS locations of real buildings and objects out in the world. The teams compete to capture these portals by attaching defensive objects called “resonators”. Each resonator has its own HP. You can destroy portals by firing attack missiles (called “Xmp bursters”) from your current location. There are also mechanics called “linking” and “fielding”, and there are “mods,” and “resonator deploy radius” is a thing. I was intimidated.

I put the game down until that evening, when I wandered into downtown Mountain View to play. The main street of that town is a pretty solid mass of portals. To get more resonators and Xmps, you “hack” portals and extract their loot. I limped down the street to the town hall, hacking everything I could reach. then I found my first unclaimed portal.

I just captured a bunch of stuff in the town hall area and started heading back toward my house. But when I was about a hundred yards away from the park, someone with the playername “JCKL” captured my portal. I freaked out. Had someone been watching me that whole time? I sped up down the street, capturing a few more things. The stranger captured those back as well, only minutes after I had moved on. I was being followed. Was I being stalked? What counts as stalking in this situation? Isn’t stalking the main mechanic of this game?

I was incensed. I was even angrier when I got home and realized that literally every single one of my IRL friends on iOS had joined the Enlightenment team and that they were planning on riding around San Francisco together in a bus, playing the game while drinking mimosas. This is not a joke. That event was scheduled for today. As I write this story, they are currently riding around in the mimosa bus in San Francisco. My friends are now all my enemies and they are all drunk and happy and I am sitting here reminiscing about being stalked through the streets of my town by a stranger named “JCKL,” which is not a particularly comforting name. Did he have a friend named “HYD”? What the fuck was going on around here?

I slammed my laptop shut and checked my phone again. Chillingly, JCKL had captured the portal across the street from my house.

The next day, while fiddling around on my phone, I figured out that linking portals into a triangle creates a “field” and scores you points. I spent that evening after work marching back and forth all around my office. The game has a chat channel, where more-experienced Android players were providing suggestions. “Head down to the park,” one of them told me, noticing my eagerness. “You can find some good XP there.”

So I limped down to the park and captured it. “Good job,” the Android player told me. He asked if I wanted to join the “local Ingress community.”

Ingress players organize entirely over GOOGLE PLUS. Okay, I thought. Whatever. I contacted the necessary people and soon enough I was a member of the South Bay Resistance Google Plus community. They added me to a couple chatty Google Hangouts. The next day, my anonymous benefactor added me to a Hangout for the entire town where I work.

There were a number of friendly, talkative characters in there. A guy we’ll call “CM” was telling me that the community could really “enhance my game.” My chat channel adviser from the previous day was there– we’ll call him “FN”. A few other players were moaning about Enlightenment control over the downtown strip. They all seemed like nice people. I noticed that they were definitely all men.

FN asked if I wanted some free resonators and Xmps. “Sure,” I said. It’s a busy town. It’s not like I was gonna get murdered. I took a long lunch break to walk into town and meet him. At the appointed hour, a young man in a yarmulke and tassels waved at me from the other side of the street. I crossed over and we shook hands. He spoke quietly and quickly and gave me heaps of free gear. We walked around the block to quickly build all the portals in the area. He knew a little story about almost every single one.

Originally, all portals were monuments, but as the game’s worn on, other kinds of public buildings and art have been added. Murals can be portals. Famous buildings can be portals. Hospitals and churches and town halls and civic centers and schools and signs of any kind– everything from fancy house number plaques to Facebook’s enormous “Like” sign near the Dumbarton bridge– can be a portal. Things that are pretty and interesting and important to look at. And, sometimes, things that aren’t. There is apparently a nudist colony in Los Gatos that contains several portals. Non-nudist Ingress players actually pay entrance fees to go in there to capture them.

FN was a long-time player who had submitted most of the portals in the downtown area where I work. As we walked along the block, he told me seven or eight quick little stories. Over the next few weeks, he would keep me up to date on which town halls are built over ancient graveyards, which murals have been painted over by the town, which churches used to be which slightly different kind of churches, and which street-side electrical box was recently “lost”– really, lost from the curb, and nobody knows who took it down– by the municipal utilities department. Wow, I thought. I guess this game really makes you pay attention to your community. That was definitely a wholesome way to spin it to myself.

I felt like I needed a wholesome explanation for what I was doing. I did not tell anyone in my office that I’d been out on the street meeting strangers and swapping tales of municipal corruption. “I really like this triangles game,” I told them. That’s how I thought of it: the game where you go for a stroll and make triangles. Nothing too weird. Nothing embarrassing. But I was embarrassed, a little. I was meeting people in public. That’s kind of weird, isn’t it? But exciting. And I’m an adult now. I can meet internet people in the street if I want.

That afternoon, someone attacked the portal I’d been maintaining outside my office. “Sorry,” I blurted, jumping up from my desk. “Someone is attacking my triangles.”

I rushed outside and around the corner and stood beside the portal. It was a bike rack shaped like a pennyfarthing bicycle. Someone was hitting it with XMP blasts. Every time they destroyed my low-level resonators, I’d put up another one. It was giving me a lot of XP. The attacker was probably getting annoyed.

Suddenly, a tiny middle-aged woman burst from an alley and started hurrying toward me, eyes locked on her phone. I limped away as fast as I could and hid behind a tree. I stood behind that tree for three minutes, tapping away at my own phone. I fought her off. Then I went back inside my office and informed everyone there that I had just scared off the enemy.

My friends were really getting into cheering for the other team. It was a group activity for them, probably very exciting. They were looking forward to the mimosa bus. I had some testy conversations on Facebook and ended up the night by typing the bizarre and triumphant sentence “You have created the oppositional environment in which I thrive.” Then I threw on a jacket and went downtown at one in the morning to capture portals and throw fields.

I strolled around a park where lawn sprinklers spat erratically and a lone janitor dumped trash cans into a dumpster. I wandered back along the main streets of town, where drunk people were sitting on street corners and distressedly muttering about love. I headed home through a neighborhood I don’t usually enter and found a tree in someone’s front yard that was covered in weird little hanging objects. It was too dark to see what they were. I still haven’t been back there in the light.

The next morning my ankle hurt like hell.

It was becoming increasingly clear that I couldn’t continue walking all the time. It wasn’t just Ingress. My foot would act up a little on the long walk between my car and the office, too. A solution struck me: scooters. Walking and biking requires you to push or step with both feet all the time, but little push scooters allow you to push only some of the time, with only one foot. The rest of the time, I’d just stand on my good leg and let my busted one relax. Scooters were clearly my solution to all things, including Ingress.

The going price for adult-sized Razor scooters on craigslist in the Bay Area is about 50$. Someone named Noah, from an upper-class neighborhood in the North Bay, offered me a good-looking one for that price. It was a long drive, but I did the gasoline math and it was still cheaper than ordering a new scooter or a used one from Amazon. So I left work a little early and drove for a full hour through East Bay rush-hour traffic, then north into a region of rolling hills and pine forests.

Noah’s house was on a street full of other houses that covered the full range of ritziness, everything from a hilltop manor to a fenced-off ranch home with six cars parked in the driveway and a “BEWARE OF DOG” sign. Noah pretty much lived in a mansion. It was on a plot sunk about fifteen feet below the level of the road. I stood at the top of the steep driveway and saw an adult man playing baseball with a tiny little boy in the side yard.

Nobody noticed me. “Hey?” I called. They turned and stared. For some reason, the father never said a single word to me during the entire time I spent on his property. He and his boy just stared in silence. “I’m here to buy a scooter from someone called ‘Noah,’” I said.

The father turned and walked into an open door in the side of the house. “NOAH,” he shouted.

Noah emerged from the house. He as a preteen, probably about 12 years old. He was wheeling an adult-sized razor scooter almost as large as himself. “I’m your customer,” I told him.

“This is the scooter,” he said, and handed it to me.

I was overcome by a feeling of extreme embarrassment. I was allowing a mansion-dwelling 12-year-old to sell me his toy. I had fifty dollars in my pocket and I was about to hand them over to a child whose father was allowing him to sell things to strangers on craigslist without any adult input whatsoever. I had been communicating with a 12-year-old over email and hadn’t even realized it.

So I bent down and spun the wheels and did a cursory spin of the handlebars. “Looks good,” I stammered, and handed him the fifty bucks. “Fifty bucks,” I said.

Noah didn’t count the money. He stuck it straight in his pocket. I noticed that the dad and Noah’s little brother were staring at me now, too. I wondered what the dad thought about all this. Probably he was thinking, “This person is a clown. This person sucks.”

Noah’s little brother shrieked, “IS HE GONNA RIDE IT HOME???”

Whatever, kid. I’m a lady. But I obliged him by riding my scooter down the street and out of sight.

I got back in my car and took a moment to reflect on my extreme embarrassment. Whatever, I told myself. Now I can Ingress in good health. I decided to orchestrate as cool an exit from the neighborhood as possible. So I turned on my phone, rolled down my windows, and blasted Matthew Dear’s “Do The Right Thing” as I drove down past Noah’s house. Noah and his brother watched me. Their dad was tossing the ball to himself. He didn’t seem to give a shit.

So now I had an adult-sized Razor scooter. That night, I took it for a spin. I went and hit a bunch of portals around the residential part of town. Scooting was indeed a little easier on my foot. I could go farther and faster, too.

On my way back to my house, at two in the morning, I wheeled the scooter through a downtown area where drunk Silicon Valley punks were piling out of the bars and hollering at one another about how wasted they were. I weaved through the crowd. A bouncer shouted that my scooter was cool. “Thanks, man,” I shouted back. “I bought it from a 12-year-old.”

My scooter made my life much easier, and I started playing Ingress even more. Someone on the Google Hangout for my neighborhood invited me to a “build,” where players capture portals and throw fields. We scheduled a meetup location. “You will know me by my scooter,” I told him.

The build organizer knew everything about the portals and walking routes in the area. The other build attendees included a guy in his forties and a twenty-something software engineer who seemed as if he were about seven feet tall. So far, I’d never seen another woman at a meetup.

“I’m moving to Chicago in a couple weeks,” the organizer told us. “I’m already in contact with the Resistance players over there. So I’m all set.”

Halfway through the evening, an enemy player drove up in a car, blew up all our portals, and had a conversation with our guide. They knew each other pretty well. This guy was a top-level organizer for all the Enlightenment players in the region, and he was one of the people who regularly defended the enemy’s “home base,” in downtown Los Altos. “The guys over there are, like, in a cult,” FN had told me. “Every night at 9 PM, they get in a car and drive very slowly around the whole town.”

“Every night?” I’d asked.

“Yes. Literally every single night.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah. You go down there and blow it up, and five guys will show up in about fifteen minutes and reverse everything you’ve done.”

Later, CM and FN invited me on a build in a part of Palo Alto filled almost completely with office parks. In Silicon Valley, every company with a massive office complex buys six or seven abstract statues made up of of hideous piled polygons or mutilated-looking dancing people. This is not generally true of the newer software companies– the art at Google, for example, is a little more personal and relevant to them as a company– but the old hardware companies and research laboratories scattered around the South Bay are haunted by bronze-plated string-bean families, low-poly animals, and water features made out of giant DNA helixes. I drove down there by myself in the middle of the night and captured a statue of something that looked like a deer.

“Wait there,” CM told me. “We’re coming to pick you up.”

I sat down on a damp hillside. Behind me, water sprinklers were chuk-chuk-chuking in the dark. The Arcade Fire was playing in an amphitheater nearby and I could hear people screaming faintly over the treetops.

A car came rolling up in the dark and stopped in front of me. FN and CMn were inside. We drove to a synagogue and captured a menorah statue. The grass here was also very rich and wet. (There is a historic drought taking place in California right now, but everyone is still watering their vast, rolling lawns.) We were here to destroy enemy portals with links on them in order to clear “lanes” for the field links we would soon be throwing. “This field should get several tens of thousands of MU,” CM said. MU are the points you get for covering surface area with a field. They stand for “mind units.” In the game, we are apparently covering the earth with mind-control fields in order to fight a race of ancient aliens who are also trying to control people’s minds. Whatever. Everything about the game is weird.

After the menorah, we split up and headed to three different locations. A fourth player was in a completely different town capturing another vertex of our triangle. A fifth player was in Los Altos, clearing blocking links and distracting the enemy in their home territory. We threw the links, and the entire town was covered in a massive blue triangle.

“You may have to defend,” the other players told me. “We don’t know what corner they’ll attack.”

“In the middle of the night?” I asked. “After checkpoint?” Even after checkpoint, they said. So I sat in my car on a bridge over a creek and waited for the enemy to turn up.

They attacked CM’s corner instead. He texted us every few seconds. “They’re coming,” he said. “They can’t see me. They don’t know I’m here. There’s two of them.” Eventually, they took his corner down. The field lasted about fifteen minutes.

“Good work, everyone,” he said. “We should try again another time.”

I later attended a big meetup in a nearby city where we walked around the town hall four times, building and hacking everything until we’d exhausted all the loot in the area. Close to twenty people showed up. Two were women. Most were men in that golden 21-35 gamer demographic, and many were not tech workers. The organizer was a loud, excited guy who worked in a pizza shop. One player was a youngish college student on rollerblades. One player was visiting from Hong Kong. “I need unique captures,” he told me. “I need that badge for level 9.”

I got first dibs on all the captures, however, because I was only couple thousand points away from level 8. I reached it after about an hour of marching around in circles, and everyone cheered.  “You can do real builds now,” they said.

At level 8, all the gear in the game is unlocked. You’re limited to the number of high-level resonators you can place on each portal, however. It takes eight players to make a portal fully level 8. The big meetups in the Bay Area have no problem reaching that number– in fact, they regularly reach 16 to 20 people.

The whole time we built around city hall, the organizers kept worrying that the enemy was gathering to defeat us. “They’re waiting at the gas station. They’ll swoop in the moment we leave,” they fretted. We did a few loops through the surrounding streets. Intoxicated elderly people kept joining our group and walking with us for a few blocks, shouting incoherently. None of them ever once asked why everyone had their phone out. Many of us also had cords winding down to battery packs in our pockets or our backpacks. We must have looked creepy as hell.

Weeks of scooting followed. I developed a system: I would write in a local tea shop until closing at midnight, then spend the next two hours scooting around my neighborhood, fielding it over in the middle of the night. I met up regularly with other players near my office. I drove around bumping friends’ home and work portals to RP8. We met for lunch once in a different part of town and groaned about the poor links the local players were throwing. I learned about “hyperfielding”, which involves nesting three triangles inside another triangle to double your point coverage. My ankle got worse, then better, then worse, then better.

“Your ankle might just stay like this,” my diabetes doctor told me. “Like, it might swell up every time you sit down. These injuries don’t always exactly heal perfect.” I decided I needed to see a joint doctor.

I’d started playing actively in order to beat all my IRL Enlightenment friends, but I was beginning to care less and less about that rivalry. My true enemies were the powerful leaders of the other team, the kinds of people who would jump in their cars at one in the morning and drive into the middle of nowhere to blow up CM’s stuff. My IRL friends were not anywhere close to that dedicated, and the ones who didn’t play were getting annoyed by my behavior. We’d be on our way to dinner when I’d wander into the middle of the street to hack a portal on the opposite side of the road.

“You’re obsessed,” they told me.

“Whatever,” I said. “I’m gonna be super goddamn healthy.” And I was getting super goddamn healthy. My diabetic a1C number, an overall metric of my health, was improving.

When I graduated from college three years ago, an alumnus friend of mine visited the campus and spent the whole weekend reading us the speeches of old graduation speakers. “Have you heard the boredom speech?” he asked me.

The “boredom speech” is a relatively well-known 1995 Dartmouth graduation speech by Joseph Brodsky. You can read it here. It begins this way:

A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by boredom. The reason I’d like to talk to you about it today, on this lofty occasion, is that I believe no liberal arts college prepares you for that eventuality. Neither the humanities nor science offers courses in boredom. At best, they may acquaint you with the sensation by incurring it. But what is a casual  contact to an incurable malaise? The worst monotonous drone coming from a lectern or the most eye-splitting textbook written in turgid English is nothing in comparison to the psychological Sahara that starts right in your bedroom and  spurns the horizon.

And oh, god, he’s right. Life is boredom. Routine is boredom. I am terrified of boredom. It’s everywhere. I’m bored even when I’m not actually bored. I’m bored when I’m working on interesting projects and I’m bored when I’m playing excellent computer games. Literally everything can be boring if you have to do it too many times in a row. Brodsky says in his speech that “life’s main medium is precisely repetition,” and he’s right. Everything is repetition. My nightmare of hell is neverending repetition. I used to have recurrent dreams about digging holes over and over again in a birch forest. I would wake up in a cold sweat. When I was a child, if I had diabetic hypoglycemia in my sleep, I’d fall into a recurring nightmare about ascending an endless stairway made of enormous Lego bricks. It stretched into outer space. I’d wake up shaking and sobbing that I’d never, never be able to stop climbing.

Brodsky says that we must embrace boredom or it will drive us to destroy ourselves. He’s right. Ambition aside, you must try to reach a peace on some level with what you have and what you are, or you will perhaps stop wanting to be alive at all.

But we play games because they offer us an alternative to the crushing perspective provided by meaningless time. Boredom, Brodsky says, “is your window on time’s infinity.” The view from that window is terrifying. The universe is huge and endless and we mean precisely nothing to it. Eons pass. Planets burn and die. The universe doesn’t give a shit; it just is. But we can’t handle thirty minutes by ourselves in a waiting room without a magazine or a phone.

Games can give us respite, delivering us to frantic little worlds where things are constantly interesting, constantly changing, never boring, where we can fill up our time and push back the horror of infinity. But when we put the game down, we can sometimes feel a moment of profound hollowness. Games are just escape– boredom is eternal. Games are real experiences, but they’re not real in the way we are real, in the way our friends and relationships and homes and even boredom are all real.

But Ingress blurs the line between escape and real experience. Ingress is real. I have met real people in physical meatspace while playing it. I have marched four times around a city hall that looks like a chrome space station. I captured a statue of a dancing deer in the middle of the night and I listened to The Arcade Fire make weird cannon-shot sounds over three miles of empty corporate lawns. I drove to Noah’s house and bought his scooter for fifty bucks.

Three months ago, I was spending 100% of my time around good friends who were, pretty much, incredibly similar to myself. All young, all highly educated, all relatively healthy, all atheists. All literate in the jargon of software development, venture capital, and videogames. We all have the same hobbies. We like the same movies. We hang out in the same kinds of places. We want the same things out of life. We like one another and get along well, but let’s face it: we live in a bubble. We are one another’s bubble.

Ingress broke that for me. It’s a temporary fix, probably. But it’s working. It’s easier to make a peace with yourself when you have access to weird and exciting places and people. Things are boring. My apartment is boring. My toys are boring. But now I know FN’s stories. I’ve seen a lot of ugly corporate art. I know which parks are open after dark, which churches have the best graveyards. I’m having real experiences, seeing real things, meeting real strangers on the street.

My life is just bigger than it used to be, that’s all. My time is better.

Last night I met up with sixteen other Ingress players at a bench outside a sandwich shop. Rollerblades kid was there. The guy from Hong Kong was there. A pair of parents in their forties asked me about my scooter. A young family with a preschool-aged child was there. A woman with a bright orange phone case told me about how she and her three sisters were all level-8 resistance players, about how they could do a pretty good fielding operation together.

We walked down the street to a nearby university and wandered back and forth between the dorms, capturing portals. A soccer game was going on in a nearby stadium and we could hear the music and the people cheering. We came across a walled-off garden where two hundred professorial-looking types in suits and dresses were gathered on a lawn, laughing and drinking and listening to live music. The husband from the older couple raced the five-year-old down the sidewalk.

We split up to go back to our cars. We met up again at a nearby town’s civic center, where more players were waiting for us. All the fountains on the civic center’s grounds had been switched off. “The water is gone!” The little boy yelled. I hacked a bunch of ugly metal art. We started talking about sprained ankles. One of the other women shook my hand and gave me a silicone bracelet that said RESISTANCE in embossed white text. Whenever we introduced ourselves to one another, we mentioned where we played. “I’ve seen you around,” some told me. “I’ve bumped your portals.”

After the civic center we grouped up into several cars and drove to a nearby graveyard. A thick carpet of portals– all headstones– covered the entire property. We sat on a retaining wall outside the graveyard while one of the other women handed out cookies. Then we hopped the wall and wandered around in the dark.

The little boy yelped, and his dad trained a flashlight on him. “He’s got a bug,” someone cried.

“Oh, yeah,” one of the organizers said. “This whole place is filled with cockroaches.”

We wandered around the graveyard laughing in the dark while cockroaches scuttled underfoot. We talked about ghosts. The little boy started sneaking up behind people and scaring them. The guy from Hong Kong told me a story about how when he was in college, the school administration shut down the electricity at night and the students protested by throwing glassware out the windows. “Two times we did it,” he said.

We split up then into two groups. Seven of us headed down the road to a local strip filled with nightclubs and expensive stores. It was almost 11 PM, and the preschooler was still going strong. We waited in a plaza where a crowd of mustachioed Russian men were smoking cigars outside a Starbucks. Three players who lived in the area joined us there and we marched down the road to a local Enlightenment player’s work portal– an enormous corporate statue of an art-deco robot assembling a paperclip. We played a prank on him by capturing his portal, placing all our resonators as close to it as possible, filling its mod slots up with useless mods, and using a rare weapon to flip it back to the Enlightenment side. If he was gonna guard these portals all week long, we could at least make them shitty for him.

Many of these people have gone out again today to do the same thing all over again. But I’m sitting here in a local coffee-shop writing about this and planning a drive up into the peninsula, to a park filled with more unique captures. I might do this in the middle of the goddamn night. I might stay up until one in the morning. I’ll scoot until I’m falling asleep on my feet. Maybe something crazy will happen. Maybe it won’t. That’s okay. I can stand to be a little bit bored tonight.

Cosmically– on boredom’s vast scale– this game hasn’t been much of a change to my life. My life wouldn’t have been that much different if I’d never met these strangers in the street. I’d be okay, and I’d be healthy. I’d be working on the same things, going to the same weekend parties, eating the same food, living in the same city.

I’d just have a lot fewer stories to tell.

Some thoughts about that harassment essay

You maybe surprised to learn that I did not plan to publish that harassment article at all.

I wrote it a year and half ago in an attempt to clear my head. I composed it directly in WordPress, then panicked and set its publish date for ‘far, far, in the future.’ Every few weeks I’d wonder whether it was time to finally publish. Every time, I thought: not yet, not yet. Someday, though.

Well, the “far future” occurred one month ago. I’d completely forgotten about the article and it published totally without my realizing it. When I woke up that morning, someone from Critical Distance was tweeting at me. I’d accidentally published something highly topical. I actually had to go back and change all the dates so they made sense.

I am not even close to the saddest harassment story from the last several months. Please read this long article about how relentless and inescapable harassment can be for many people. I quit writing online because I could, because I had other passions and skills to rely on. A lot of people getting harassed on the internet are getting harassed at the place they work. They make money out here. By attacking them in the place where they sustain themselves, their harassers are doing a lot more damage. Harassers are also often more aggressive to LGBTQ people and people of color. Don’t let this shit stand, please, particularly if you’re in a position of power that allows you to help directly.

Anyway, thanks for all the kind feedback! Having my raw thoughts accidentally broadcast all over the internet didn’t turn out so badly after all. Here are some additional thoughts I’ve had over the last three weeks:

1) It’s definitely OK to jump ship

Some people have been saying things like, “man, it’s so sad you didn’t hang in there,” “It’s too bad you didn’t have thicker skin,” etc. I’ve seen the same thing occasionally written about other people who got out while the going was good.

Here’s my opinion on the subject: suffering sucks! If you are in a shitty situation and you can escape it and you want to escape it and need to escape it for your personal health and peace of mind, then yes, jump the hell off that stupid rat-infested rotten shit ship. You don’t owe your continued suffering or martyrdom to anyone. Jump right off. Swim the fuck out of there.

Here are some great times when it’s a good idea to jump the fuck off the ship:

  1. You aren’t getting paid to suffer
  2. You don’t have the energy, time, or money to weather this bullshit
  3. This isn’t the only outlet for your creative passions and you will feel just as (or more) fulfilled doing something else
  4. Your friend on the USS Sunshine Utopia has thrown you a nice life raft and you have a limited amount of time to get on that fucking raft and join your friend on a different ship full of happiness and fulfillment
  5. Absolutely any other reason. Jump off if you want to. Make yourself happy, please.

The sad thing here is that many people getting harassed on the internet do not have anyone to throw them a life raft. It’s important for you to be the kind of person who throws rafts. There are three or four people specifically responsible for helping me disembark from Shit Ship and without them I might even now be a bloated corpse on the bottom of the sea.

2) I think I underplayed how bad the Witcher thing actually was

No, it wasn’t just ‘people calling me bad names.’

The Real Bad Stuff lasted a solid week. Kent handled most of that. But for weeks afterwards, people would link through to the site from the harassers’ home forum and all my blood would rush into my head and I’d feel like barfing. People kept popping by to say more shitty shit. For about six months afterwards, I actually got heart palpitations every time I tried to publish an article. My hands would shake and I’d get weak-kneed and I’d have to go lie down. My housemates would see me lying stricken on a couch and they’d say, “woah, you look sickly,” and because I didn’t feel like saying “strangers on the internet are giving me a panic attack!!!” I’d say “no, man, it’s cool,” and I’d get up and limp over to another room and toss myself on a different couch and sweat.

And please, remember: I’m a lady, so this was not the only time people randomly harassed me. People wrote low-grade aggressive stuff to and about me on a regular basis. The Witcher bullshit was just the biggest single event, and it occurred at a moment when I was making big choices about how to spend my time.

3) Wait, there are still people in the universe who think that personal essays are somehow bad?

Ha! Haa! Haaaaaaa. Personal essays have been around for a bajillion years. They’re in AP English. I took a course about them in college. You will find them in many notable, long-venerated publications. It is not arrogant or self-absorbed or narcissistic to write creative nonfiction about your personal experiences. Men and women and adults and teenagers and college students and even children all participate in this fine, well-established form of literature.

And guess what? Some of those people are games writers! Shocking!! If you don’t like games writing with a hint of the personal in it, I’m very sorry for you, because you’re missing out on a lot of fine shit. For starters, go read some of these brilliant stories and see if it changes your mind.

4) I should probably just finish The Witcher, because The Wild Hunt looks badass

5) Getting paid is way important


It is normal and admirable for writers and other creators to want to find a way to sustain themselves with their passions. You should respect that they are seeking a way to get paid. You should be cool with the fact that “I’m not getting paid” was a significant part of my decision to “let harassment beat me.”

You may be a writer who is OK with writing as an unpaid pastime. But bear in mind that the things you get out of that experience– positive feedback, a community, friends, status– are in themselves a kind of payment. They are the earnings of your unpaid labor. This is how a lot of people get into online writing: they’re getting something valuable out of the experience.

But some people are not getting anything valuable out of the experience. Some people are getting shat on.

And furthermore, nobody can live on status alone. That’s why it’s important that paying outlets hire women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. Everyone eventually arrives at a moment when they must make big decisions about how to spend their time. If the professional games-writing community refuses to give these oodles of highly qualified women and minorities paying positions, those people are going to jump the fuck off the ship, and you are going to lose their voices and perspectives. Remember: unique voices and perspectives have an inherent value that exists in their difference from the mainstream. Respect that.

Why I Stopped Writing on the Internet (for a while)

Three and a half years ago, I was still in college. At the time, my friend Kent and I ran a blog about videogames. We had an absolute blast, but we weren’t really interested in taking it any further. Sometime in 2010, however, I almost completely lost my will to put my writing on the internet. This contributed to the fact that I haven’t posted anything on that blog in almost 2 years.

Let’s start at the beginning: I started playing The Witcher. I was unimpressed with it. I’d heard that it was the Jesus of modern western RPGs, but it turns out that modern western RPGs do not have a Jesus, and although The Witcher is pretty good, its story is not super compelling to me. The parts that I played had a rather shallow and childish emotional range– and they reminded me very strongly of other Bioware/Bioware-esque games where I’d been disappointed by the story’s emotional range. I wrote a very haphazard article about all this in a few hours, ran it through the Kent Filter (it passed with flying colors, by the way), and posted it on the site. (You won’t find it. I’ve since deleted it.)

Shortly after the article came online, someone linked to it in a general-interest RPG fan forum. I don’t know who this person was, but if I ever meet them in public, I am kicking them in the nuts they probably have. This person posted that I was a “bitch” who had a “PhD” and suggested that I was performing an uninformed hit-job on RPGs in general. They also steered the discussion towards the fact that I’d offhandedly given FFVII the thumbs-up for showing its protagonist vulnerable and crying onscreen (something western RPGs rarely do). If you know anything about the way western RPG fans talk about JRPGs, you can guess what kind of effect that had.

The post was very obviously an attempt to set me up for trolling and online harassment. It was abundantly clear on our website that I do not have a PhD, that I don’t frequently play or discuss mainstream JRPGs, and that I don’t hate Bioware games. The person who said those things wasn’t interested in talking about my article with anyone; he was hoping to rile his readers into seeing me as a fair-game target for the community’s vitriol. And it worked! Our site was filled with people calling me a cunt. Even more people were calling me a cunt on that forum.

Kent did most of the damage control. I, meanwhile, slowly stopped writing. I stopped reading the comments. I even stopped playing The Witcher. (I still haven’t finished it. Every time I pick it up, I remember this whole thing and get so goddamn angry I can’t think.) And I started questioning the very reason I was putting my work on the internet at all.

When Kent and I started that site, we wanted to write thoughtful essays with vague academic overtones for a general audience. Shortly after the Witcher debacle, I had an email conversation with another games writer about whether it was possible to have real, meaningful conversations with ordinary people about games on the internet. I determined that it was not, and that it was not worth it, because that audience of “ordinary people” contained a substantial portion of assholes, and I didn’t feel like writing for assholes.

Complete openness is good for some things. It is good for shooting the shit with friends, maybe. It is not good for discussing complex or sensitive topics with strangers, or for talking about privilege and prejudice, or for starting conversations which kill sacred cows. This Witcher shit helped me realize that I did not want to write in an open environment anymore. I wanted civilizing rules! So I did a 180 and refocused entirely on my writing for school. In school– and in face-to-face conversation with my friends and people I respect– people are not allowed to call me a cunt just because they disagree with me.

The change was refreshing. It took me a good nine months to completely stop writing on the internet, but after I did, I got a ton of really valuable, edifying stuff done. Here is a total list of the things I accomplished in academia and the “real world” during the next two years after I stopped putting my writing on the internet:

  1. I wrote the story for and helped design two different week-long sessions of an ARG that had several hundred participants
  2. I wrote a 280-page novel for my senior thesis, which won the largest departmental prize in my entire Creative Writing department
  3. I wrote a thirty-page paper on English-language Catholic bibles and completed my History degree
  4. I graduated from college
  5. I got a full-time job writing computer game stories
  6. I moved all the way across the entire United States
  7. I participated in game jams and made projects that make me smile. I also once got to work on a team with IF writers I respect
  8. I learned four different interactive fiction authoring systems
  9. I learned how to live on my own like an adult
  10. I signed a lease???
  11. I and my friends made a website that randomly generates conspiracy theories
  12. I learned how to enjoy videogames again without feeling as though I must write about them

Kent has also achieved things in life since we stopped writing on the internet. We are each so busy achieving things that we do not have time to write all the time, for zero dollars, about games on the internet anymore.

Our perspectives have also changed. Whenever I look at my old articles, I feel as if I am watching a space alien try to communicate to me. Many of our ideas boiled down to, “Why can’t games be perfect?!?” I now know several answers to that question, and all of them are a bit disappointing. It’s hard for games to be perfect. It’s particularly hard for games to be my kind of “perfect” when they are aimed at a “general audience” and cost many millions of dollars to make.

Over time, I have gradually regained the desire to write on the internet, but not in the way I used to. I no longer go around ranching and slaughtering sacred cows. It’s not that I don’t have opinions anymore; it’s that I no longer feel the internet is the best place to share all of them. I admire and respect people who put up with the audience’s bullshit, but during my hiatus, I felt like the problem at hand was so big, cruel, sexist, and messed-up that breaking myself against it wasn’t productive. I could do better for myself in environments where people didn’t call me a cunt all the time. I only have so much time to live my life, and I’d rather spend it making cool things for kind and grateful people.

If the vocal audience served by the average games media outlet represented the IRL standard for humans to behave toward one another, society would be an unbelievably fucked-up mess. Luckily, there are better environments and people in the world, and if you’re at the end of your wits, seeking them out is definitely worth it. And, as I’ve come to learn, some of those people are actually hiding out on the internet, too.

Five years later: what I think about early access

I’m getting super burnt out on early access games.

In 2009, I bought Minecraft. I spent the next year and a half breathlessly following its update schedule. This was the first time I’d ever purchased an unfinished game.

Following Minecraft’s development took a lot of energy during a time when I had a lot of energy to give. I spent 5-7 hours a day in my school’s library, and when I wasn’t doing my homework or attending a class in that building, I was hunched in a library carrel playing Minecraft. I followed Notch on twitter, checked his blog regularly, read the forums several times a week, and talked about the game all the time with my friends. For parts of 2010, following Minecraft was basically my biggest hobby.

I felt at the time that Minecraft was deserving of my energy and my constant fixed attention. And though it took a lot of energy to follow that game’s development process, it didn’t take too much. I didn’t have to join a special forum if I didn’t want to. I got frequent Minecraft updates on regular games news sites alongside other news. Notch’s twitter was fun to read. He really put himself out there, and I didn’t feel like I had to work hard to figure out what he was doing or what was coming next. He updated all the goddamn time, too.

Most of the early-access games I’ve purchased in the past year, however, do not measure up to Minecraft when it comes to early-access performance. Here are my biggest gripes:

  • A lot of Kickstarter projects send me weekly updates. I don’t care about what you’re doing this week. I want something tangible I can interact with, or a cool video I can watch, or a picture I can see. I don’t want 90+ wall-of-text updates sent directly to my email inbox. I have unsubscribed from most Kickstarter update mailing lists. (In case you’re wondering, the worst offender here is Project Eternity.)
  • I’ve bought a lot of Steam Early Access projects that are simply not fun enough to waste my time on. It’s hard to stay excited by something when the initial Early Access versions are so uncompelling. Minecraft had uniquely compelling early versions. If there’s nothing uniquely compelling about your game yet, I don’t really want to see it. I’ve had my enthusiasm for several games killed by the fact that their Early Access builds are so lame. 
  • The vast number of Early Access games out now makes it impossible to give any individual one the attention I gave Minecraft. I follow too many people on Twitter already to start adding developers from every Kickstarter I’ve bought. I don’t have the time or the energy to read twenty development blogs a week, particularly when so many are so poorly written.
  • And that’s another problem: a lot of developers are really bad at communicating about their unfinished game. Notch is really a very good communicator. The same can’t be said for the people behind a lot of the projects I’m currently interested in.
  • Many Kickstarters ask their backers to join special forums for secret information. Look: I’m profoundly uninterested in joining your forum. I backed your Kickstarter because I liked your pitch, not because I wanted to sign into your website once a week. If you are not producing Double-Fine-quality backer content, there is no reason to hide your development process from non-backers, and no reason for you to force me to join your forum to access any of that information.

So far, here are the two games I think have done the best with early aaccess/open development since Minecraft:

  • Don’t Starve did the best at early access. They had a days-to-next update counter on the front menu of the game and updated quite frequently. Their update announcements were well-written, featured a lot of unique art, and were honestly exciting to get in my inbox. All versions of the game were fun to play.
  • Double Fine Adventure (Broken Age) did the best at open development, of course. The documentary series is really well-done. If you’re going for “development as a participatory experience”, there is nothing better than actually letting people see– see– who you are, what you’re doing, and what your biggest struggles are like.

Now, I know a lot of developers are encouraging heavy participation because they need a pool of testers. A lot of people clearly like and appreciate this dynamic: for them, backing an early access project means joining a community, giving a part of yourself to something you’re excited about.

But this is simply not how I do early access anymore. I don’t have the time or the energy. I back projects and buy early versions because I like the pitch, not because I want to join a club. Unless you have some Don’t Starve-quality shit, or unless your development tell-all is as fascinating as Double Fine’s, I do not really want to see your game until it’s perfect. And that usually means that I don’t want to see it until it’s done.

Are developers wrong to want legions of loyal fans constantly engaged in their unfinished product? In principle, no. But Early Access developers and Kickstarter teams should do a better job remembering that their supporters’ time and attention is precious. I think the biggest problem is that a lot of the partially-developed games I’m playing are simply not very good, and therefore undeserving of my time and attention.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that I no longer think early access is the future, or that it’s even better than regular development. It’s just another way of doing things. It seems to be harder than regular development, and it only seems to work for certain kinds of projects. It requires you to be better than the average bear.

And depending on how you run your show, it may require your fans to give something of themselves that– like me– they may not want to give.