The Hands of an Angry God is available on Amazon Alexa devices

I forgot to write about this in the run-up to WTWTLW’s release, but the Global Game Jam 2018 game I made with Kent Sutherland, Rosstin Murby, Kellie Medlin, and Brook Nichols is now up on the Amazon store!

The Hands of an Angry God is a follow-up to our GGJ17 game, You Got This, Brutadon. It’s also a game for Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo and Echo Dot. In THOAAG you play as an immortal, godlike being who sleeps in a temple, waking only one day every thousand years. When you awake, one of your worshippers will ask you their most burning question. Your response will affect how the entire world behaves, and what people all over the planet believe.

You can find it here!

THOAAG is more toylike than Brutadon– it has no fail-state and it mainly just exists to tell you weird jokes. However, it does contain a truly extraordinary quantity of jokes. This was probably the hardest writing challenge we have given ourselves in three years of GGJ projects with this team– every single sentence had to be a joke and there was absolutely no room for filler material. There are five ages that each generate increasingly-large descriptions of the world state– 240 individual world-state description phrases, and at least two different was for each supplicant to ask you about each problem they have, and separate positive and negative responses for each of those questions. Anyway, it’s very silly.

Try enabling in on the Alexa store! Let me know what you think about it!

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine postmortem

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is out! I served as the game’s editor and staff writer. It was an incredibly complicated project: twenty-four writers worked on it. The game is so large and so unlike most narrative games that it has been difficult for me to describe exactly what I did on it. So many people worked on this game that it has been hard for any of us, really, to describe where our work fits into the whole without diminishing others’ work.

As Bruno Dias has said, Johnnemann opened this project up to its writers in a way that few other games ever risk doing. The result is a mixture which expresses each of our personal hangups and interests but nevertheless maintains a unified creative voice and identity.

Now that the game is out and people can see it, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain exactly what I did on the project, how I did it, and why it was so productive for the project to relinquish control to me and the other writers!


I can break my writing work into four categories: vignettes, other events, flavor text, and character interstitial dialogue.


“Vignettes” were the map events which result in tradeable stories:

WTWTLW Vignette

Vignette writing was shared between nine different writers on this project: me, Duncan Fyfe, Nika Harper, Olivia Wood, George Lockett, Bruno Dias, Cat Manning, Kevin Snow, and Elizabeth LaPensee.

Some of my favorite vignettes that I wrote include Leatherman, a story based on a real man from my home state of Connecticut; Plane, a story about a girl whose father and his plane are mysteriously trapped inside a lake; and the Singers stories, about lounge singers who tap eldritch horrors whenever they sing.

Each vignette writer also wrote the text on their vignette description cards. Here is an example of story description text for one of Bruno Dias’s stories:

WTWTLW Story Description Level 1 edited

Level 1

WTWTLW Story Description Level 2 edited

Level 2

Each story has three levels. The first is supposed to be a fairly regular description of the story’s major events. By the third level, the story description should sound more extreme, like a tall tale.

Almost all events for WTWTLW began as the brush and ink drawings that appear on the event UI. The vignette writers were given batches of these completed images; we would call dibs on the ones that interested us, then write the story using the art as inspiration. We had an extraordinary freedom to interpret them in any way we chose. Most of the vignette art was very easy to re-interpret; images of people in fields, people’s faces, animals and birds, and so on. The most difficult art was the most-specific: my hardest one was the Boxcar story, which depicts a gnarled monster-arm plucking at a man’s hat from inside a train boxcar. It was too specific to easily twist to my own ends, but too vague to suggest a specific story.

A number of the vignettes I wrote are based on things I read about while doing research for this project. The Locust Bait event, where a woman and her children mix their own poison in a bucket after they get a delivery of poison ingredients from her town, is based on a real Dust Bowl phenomenon. However, about half of my events were not based on real myths or historical events. They drew more inspiration from the art prompt than anything else.

Vignettes had to fit two different categorization schemes: the sixteen-category tarot system, and the five-category moods system that the characters use to request stories. The moods are Thrilling, Scary, Hopeful, Tragic, and Funny. The decisions about mood and tarot category were the writers’ to make. You can imagine that with so many different people choosing story moods and tarot categories, the perspectives that went into the vignette mood and tarot systems were highly varied. Editing these story elements ended up being very difficult. I’ll have more to say about that when I talk about editing!

During development, we tracked the number of stories in each Mood and Tarot category using a massive spreadsheet. While Moods were very evenly spread…

Screenshot 2018-03-01 10.41.03

The Tarot categories were all over the place. We were all so eager to write for the Death category that at one point we had to ban vignette writers from writing about death!

Screenshot 2018-03-01 10.40.55

Other Events

There were several other categories of events besides the vignettes. Though they use the same UI, they serve a different purpose in the game’s resource economy. These event types are not voice-acted and were written later during development.

For example, many of the events on the map are “mechanical” events which gift the player free resources, like food or money. I wrote almost all of these:

WTWTLW Mechanical Event

I was limited by the restriction that these mechanical events be one screen long. Anyone who has done writing for games before will recognize the classic struggle to fit as much personality as possible into as few words as possible! There are 28 of these events, split evenly between food, rest, and money.

In the cities, there are also “moneymaking” events which give the player a chance to earn cash. I wrote most of these late in development as well:

WTWTLW Moneymaking

These are all randomly distributed across the cities in the game, so I had to avoid events that leaned too heavily on a geographic element that might not be present in some parts of the map like trees, the sea, etc.  The outcomes are random: sometimes you make no money at all, and sometimes you hit it big. There are only fourteen of these events in the game, so it is possible to get repeats, but each one has two fully separate stories– the panhandling event and the look-for-work event– so there is a good amount of variation for the player to experience.

I also wrote the game’s tutorial events. These were almost the very last things I wrote for the game, in the early fall of 2017. There’s four of them scattered down the east coast:

WTWTLW Tutorial 2

And finally, there’s the “Story grows in the telling” events. This was also one of the final categories of stories I wrote during development:


Unfortunately, there are so many stories in the map and so many story levels that if we wanted the player to read a new one every time they level a story up, we’d need almost 450 of them! In the game, there are only 17 of them, and they become repetitive. If I could go back in time, I’d see if we could get more writers working on them, or perhaps even figure out a way to represent this level-up process differently, without story text. As it is, I had to write all of them myself under a pretty demanding time limit. The ones that are in there are good, though, I think, and most people don’t have a problem clicking through ones they’ve seen before.

Flavor text

Flavor text I wrote included all the city descriptions:

WTWTLW City Description edited

And the names of almost all the items you can buy in the stores:

WTWTLW Store Items edited

This writing was fairly uncomplicated and there isn’t much to say about it. City descriptions were the hardest: although I’ve been lucky to visit many of America’s larger cities for work or with my family, there were a lot of them on this map that I knew nothing about. I spent a lot of time frantically googling “San Antonio Great Depression” or “El Paso 1930s” to figure out how I could write something that would seem recognizably “El-Paso-y” while also communicating something about what this place was like during the game’s time period.

Character supplement dialogue

Finally, the most difficult part of my writing was the supplemental dialogue for each of the 16 major characters in the story.

When the character writers joined the project, the dialogue system in the game was actually very different. Between when I first began working on the project and when I began editing the game, the dialogue system was completely redesigned.

The new system required mood-specific story request dialogue:

WTWTLW Supplementary Dialogue Request

Mood-specific story approval dialogue:

WTWTLW Supplementary DIalogue Positive Response

Story disapproval dialogue that might hint at the story’s actual mood:

WTWTLW negative story response

Dialogue covering where exactly the character was heading next on the America map:

WTWTLW Next map dialogue

And several other small types of lines that would make the characters react more-realistically to the new conversation flow, like comments about the player leaving a conversation early:

WTWTLW Leaving Campfire

I wrote all of this dialogue with the aim of invisibly tone and voice-matching the work of the original authors. WTWTLW is like a short story collection: none of the writers shared influences or goals, and they all told stories that represented unique personal experiences and motivations. There was no house style. It was as if I had been delivered sixteen completely different short stories with sentences missing cryptically from the middle of paragraphs, and I had to sneak in and add them back in such a way that nobody would notice they’d been written by anyone else.

To make sure I was matching dialogue tone and style, I tried to absorb the writer’s unique treatment of things like grammar, punctuation, and historical slang terms. I also read the “folktales” that each writer created. They were first-person monologues where the character tells you their own vignette-style story in their own voice. Although we never ended up using them in the game, they really helped me nail down character voice. Sometimes I also did some research in order to make sure I fully understood where the writer was coming from. For Fidelina, for example, I read Bless me Ultima, since she’s strongly influenced by Ultima.

I think I did a good job of matching each character’s voice and style! I personally see the disjointedness between my writing and the original author’s writing all the time, but I’m pretty satisfied with what we put out.

In the end, there is also a lot to be said for having one person write all the dialogue that connects the expressive, narrative content to the mechanical demands of the conversation system. The effect of the supplement dialogue is to make the campfire feel like a full, rounded exchange, where you and the character are sharing information in a logical way. Without the supplement dialogue, it would not be clear what the player actually needed to do in the conversation.

The supplement dialogue also couldn’t give away too much. It’s OK for a character to ask for “a scary story about ghosts and murderers” but reject funny ghost stories, because the player should learn that not all ghost stories are scary. It’s OK for the player to fail sometimes, but there should be enough information here for the player to eventually figure out how to satisfy this person. The story rejection dialogue had to give hints about what the real mood of the story the player had shared was, too.


I did all the editing for the project. My edits focused on a few different goals:

  • Standard polish, spelling and grammar, clarification, etc
  • Preserving author voice and intent
  • Matching existing content more closely to mechanical requirements of the conversation systems
  • Reducing passage length to improve the in-game reading experience
  • Preparing the text for VO

The biggest deadlines I had to hit for editing were all VO-related.

Preserving author voice and intent

Many games have multiple writers. Separating characters up among several writers is also actually fairly common. Bioware has done this for years. The biggest difference between industry standard practice and what we did is that we had no house style and, actually, tried to make each piece of content as stylistically different from the others as possible.

If you look at the game closely, you will notice that each character uses spelling, grammar, and punctuation differently from the other characters. Many characters skip Gs at the end of INGs. Some writers turned walking into walkin’, but others settled for walkin alone, with no apostrophe. Most of the writers were very, very consistent with these stylistic choices, and we decided that those choices were something worth preserving.

They were worth preserving because they really do communicate different things. Walkin’ can communicate a kind of jauntiness, perhaps, while walkin might seem to an audience to be more terse and plain– Cormac McCarthyesque, maybe, for some readers. These writers knew what they were doing when they made these choices, and even though the dialogue is all voice-acted, those choices were worth preserving. In fact, when the writers wrote the dialogue, there were no plans to include voice-acting in the game at all!

The only time I steamrolled the writers’ style decisions was when they brought Britishisms into the game. English-speakers are always extremely sensitive to regional spellings, and it was important to me that all the text in the game hewed consistently to American regional spellings.

Editing Characters

The first editing I did on the project was the character dialogue.

By the time I became the game’s editor, the original writers’ contracts had been concluded and I could not put them through the process of full-on second draft rewrites. Ideally, in a world where the project had infinite money and time, I would not have had to do any supplementary dialogue at all: I could have just been part of the original character-writing process as the editor.

The biggest changes I made to the character writing involved adjusting it to work better for VO. Shortening utterances or breaking them up into multiple sentences sometimes made them more palatable as VO lines, or made them easier to read on the screen.

I also added or modified the beginning of many tarot responses so that they would flow naturally from the new “I liked this” or “I didn’t like this” character responses. Here’s a Little Ben line where I made it more clear he was responding directly to the “Family” tarot card:

WTWTLW Supplementary Dialogue Segue

I’ve been editing magazines and publications of various types for over a decade. Of all the projects I’ve been involved in, this was the one where I applied the least pressure to the writers’ decisions. All that wild variation and weird personal interpretation was this game’s unique selling point! Its similarity to a short story collection is part of what makes this game alluring to the kind of people who are likely to enjoy it most. I wanted my edits to polish up the writing and slot it into the new conversation mechanics while leaving the goopy, personal meat of the work intact.

Editing Vignettes

With vignettes, the biggest challenge was getting each passage to fit into the vignette UI! I did plenty of editing for polish, clarity, and style, but honestly, the majority of the hours I spent on vignettes was focused on chipping words off of each passage until they fit in the UI the way I wanted them to.

The UI could take very long text passages because it would decrease the text size to make them fit. However, I felt very strongly that as many vignettes as possible should use the larger text sizes. Here is an example of one of the longest vignette passages I kept in the game:

WTWTLW long text

I also spent a lot of time getting the oldest vignettes to match the new moods system. Those vignettes also sometimes had a heavier emphasis on stats changes, because the health, food, and rest mechanics worked differently when they were written. There was also a fourth stat, “Weirdness,” which was removed from the game entirely during the redesign. I ended up stripping a lot of health, money, rest, and weirdness out of my own vignettes in particular.

It would have been nice to have someone else edit all my own writing for me. All things considered, I think I did a very good job editing my own vignettes, but I would have liked some good feedback on my stuff all the same!

Editing vignette descriptions

Deep in my Google Drive is a gigantic spreadsheet called Vignette Breakdown. There were several continuous months I kept it open on my computer 24/7:

Screenshot 2018-03-03 23.34.08

I edited all the vingette descriptions inside this spreadsheet. However, getting these edits into the game was a more difficult process, because Johnnemann had to insert them into the game’s database manually. We had a color-coded system for tracking which ones had been edited and were pending insertion into the game. There are probably around 800+ story descriptions, since many stories have a different set of three descriptions for each of their two endings.

Looking back, I wish I’d predicted earlier that the story descriptions would be a major editing burden and created a more systematic process for tracking, editing, and testing them. As it is, I believe that the story descriptions are probably the biggest source of confusion for some players, and I think part of that stems from the difficulty I had tracking and editing all of them inside this massive hell spreadsheet.

Tools are great

I am extremely grateful for the vignette testing and character dialogue testing tools that Johnnemann gave me!

I was able to test all the vignettes, vignette descriptions, and other events in a test program that showed me how the UI would display each passage. I spent hours in this test app! Any game which requires players to read printed text to understand the story should force its editors to edit the game as it appears on screen to the player. I have done story consulting and editing for people who don’t build any text testing tools, and it sucks! You can’t do all your editing in word docs or in text editors for scripting systems like Ink. You have to know what the player is going to actually see and what their eyeballs will feel like while they are reading it. You have to see the font, the available whitespace, and the choice UI for yourself.

Here’s an example– when the vignette writers started turning in content, Johnnemann forgot to tell them that the game filled out choices from right to left. So if you wrote:

Screenshot 2018-03-03 23.18.06

it would display like this:

Screenshot 2018-03-03 23.19.02

I remember rushing into the project Slack with a “STOP THE PRESSES!” urgency to warn everyone: “YOUR LIST-BASED JOKES ARE BACKWARDS!!” People enjoy Bruno’s “be a dick” joke a lot, but it works the way it works because we were able to learn ahead of time that choices in WTWTLW fill right-to-left, not left-to-right, as many of us assumed they would. Imagine if we’d learned that only once we got to test the game? I know it would have made a lot of extra work for me in particular, that’s for sure.

Screenshot 2018-03-03 23.52.53

Testing the character conversations in the test app was also very valuable to me. It helped me to figure out that the character dialogue would need additional modifications in order to feel like a real conversation.

There is really nothing like actually seeing what the player will see! Please make your video game editors useful text tools!

What does this all mean???

It is not possible to create a progressive game about American culture without including many different creators from many different backgrounds. If this game had not embraced the diversity of its 24 different writers, it would have been shit.

24 writers is a lot. The sheer scale of the writing effort pushed this game over the edge from “a story that has a lot of different perspectives in it” into “a story ABOUT diversity and different perspectives.” This was an incredible strength. This game’s hiring and creative philosophies embodied its own themes in a way that no other project I’ve ever been on has ever accomplished.

It would not have been possible for one person to write 219 pieces of even OK flash fiction about different American experiences, but it was possible for nine people to each write ~20-30 pieces of really good flash fiction about the specific topics and ideas that interest them personally. It would not have been possible for two or three people to write sixteen diverse and complex characters about sixteen different historical American struggles, but we did find sixteen writers who could each pull the heavy weight of a single character.

In the end, I’m still wondering: what if more, more, more? There’s so many more perspectives we could have added, could have kept adding endlessly– we don’t have any immigrants from Asia or the Caribbean among the headliner characters in this story, for example, though there are many incredible examples of those stories to be found in the early 20th century. We could have kept writing vignettes for this game for at least another couple hundred goes before we started straining for ideas, too. We could have written ten vignettes per each piece of art, really.

The fellowship of writing this kind of stuff alongside the other vignette writers was really something special. I’ve made a ton of friends through this project, and being able to team up and work together and share ideas made all of our writing much stronger. Many of us have had our careers completely changed by this experience. It’s been pretty life-changing for several of us, honestly, even though this particular assignment was not necessarily the biggest check most of us were paid in 2017. It’s pretty much the biggest reason I’m starting an exciting new job in a week, for example.

Imagine a world where instead of hiring one writer, more games hired two or three and had them split the work, sharing the same fee they would have paid a solo writer? Those games could get stronger work from the group than they would from a single person, and though each individual writer would be making less money, there’d be more experience and portfolio work flowing around, and more strong professional connections… more fresh faces getting more of a leg up, probably. I don’t know– it’s complicated, and managing one writer is hard enough for many teams. It’s worth remembering, though, that we made it work, and we loved it, and the reason the writing in this game is so good is that there were so many of us and we were given such an excellent chance to learn from one another.

I don’t think this technique should be limited to a game about a diversity of perspectives, either. As I said above– the technique we used is not special. Plenty of large studios divide character writing up among different writers. I think we’re proof that more indies should be doing that, too.

I don’t think many of us will get this much freedom again, though. WTWTLW is IF, really– interactive fiction. The writing came first in this project. It’s a very peculiar example of interactive fiction, and it enjoys some VO pizazz that most of that genre doesn’t get. But I hope that in a decade some of us will be able to look back on WTWTLW as the moment when IF started to “break through” into the mainstream. We’ll see! I know you’ll be enjoying a ton of text-heavy work from people who worked on this project coming out over the next few years.

If you have any questions about this project, feel free to email me or contact me on twitter. I’d love to spill more of my guts on the processes and challenges involved in making this game.

If you’re playing WTWTLW right now, my advice is to take it slow. It’s not a game that benefits from a death march straight through to the end, the way reviewers play it– it’s a game that benefits from measured, self-reflective play. Get as much out of it as you want. Going completionist on this thing could take 30 hours and might wear you the fuck out. If you’re from America, maybe try walking to your hometown first. See who’s hanging around there. Swap a couple tales. Take the train down to Los Angeles and visit me, maybe.

Or just keep your eyes peeled when you start out. You might find me up in the tip of Maine, running booze across the border.

WTWTLW Michet edited


Matajuegos translated a post of mine!

The videogames blog Matajuegos ran a Spanish translation of my post Let’s Talk About Choices: Traditional CYOA. That post is a detailed examination of the effect that list-format, Choose Your Own Adventure-style choices can have on a hypertext story. It mostly focuses on effects that choice lists can have on the way a player interprets your story, and covers some of the strengths and weaknesses of the choice-list format.

You can find the translation here. It’s by David Marchand, an excellent Twine author I’ve been following for years. The most brilliant thing about this translation is that he translated my screencaps and even translated my animated gif where I demonstrate a scene in Six Months that uses inline links by recreating the gag in Twine 2. Wild as hell!!

Check out Matajuegos if you speak English, too! They do English translations of their original criticism.

Recent shocking developments in the world of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

I haven’t written recently about Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, but it jumped back into the news twice over the last week. Here are the facts:

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine has Sting in it

You know the wolf? This narration wolf guy?

He is voiced by the musician Sting.

There is a big story there that I don’t remember the details to/is not mine to tell, but the basic deal is that Sting did all the wolf’s VO. I’ve known for a while now, and when the story trailer came out, I spent one day showing all my coworkers that video and feeling secretly smug that I knew they were all ignorantly listening to the voice of The Musician Sting.

I wasn’t worried about millennials knowing what Sting sounds like because Sting is old as hell. But there was definitely one man to whom I showed the trailer who could be classified as “a contemporary of Sting,” or at least “a semi-adult consumer of music during the time when Sting was most popular,” and halfway through the trailer I looked at him and realized there was better than 50% odds he had heard the speaking voice of Sting and that I was screwed.

Luckily, nobody knows what Sting’s speaking voice is like, and fewer people know what Sting sounds like when Sting is pretending to be a wolf, so nobody noticed. Nobody in the world noticed that Sting was growling on any of our trailers, ha ha ha!! You are all chumps!!

Where The Water Tastes Like Wine got nominated for the Excellence in Narrative award at the IGF

This is very very cool to me. If you’d cornered me in 2006-2007, when I started paying attention to free and “indie” games on the internet– if you’d cornered me at that time and asked me what I thought my future was in games, I probably would have said

  • I don’t have a future in games? How can I have a future in games? I am a girl who does not code
  • All I want is for my college to allow me to make an Inform game for an English project, that will be my supreme games accomplishment in life
  • My other games accomplishment will be running a blog! Games blogging is very cool!!
  • Leave me alone, I am going to go lurk on tigsource for three hours a day on the top floor of the library, I need this to survive

The moment I learned that the IGF existed, I started to pay a shit ton of attention to it; I remember describing it to my mom and dad as “the games Oscars.” The next three years were absolutely wild to watch– I saw indie games take off on Steam and had the surreal experience of explaining “games criticism” to the elderly professor who advised my creative writing thesis. (He eventually refused to allow me to make an Inform game for this project.) At no point did I ever seriously believe that I would ever make a game that would get into the IGF. I assumed that I would have to make a successful game a) solo, as b) a triple-threat ultra-developer who can code, and c) that I would have to find a way to get popular, because indie games were a tiny fucking community where it seemed like everyone knew each other and personal popularity was pretty important. So for the first six months after graduation, I lay around and home and tried to get a job as a textbook editor in NYC.

But it turns out all my cynical beliefs were false and wrong. And, uh, here we are????????

It has been an incredible honor to work on WTWTLW. I do not really deserve this. I did not have a body of available commercial work justifying my participation in the project before Johnnemann invited me, I did not know any of the folks who wrote the 16 main characters, I had been working on the same project for 4 years without releasing it, my job was super confusing and chaotic, and I was honestly feeling quite a lot of despair about my future “in games” in general.

It has been weird figuring out how to talk about my work on WTWTLW because it’s truly a group effort– there were 25 writers, many of whom are very well-known in our scene, and everyone’s work is mixed together in a way that makes it hard to just follow one person’s writing through the game. The idea of having a bunch of writers write in different voices on one game is not new– I mean, just look at Bioware games– but WTWTLW is a game that embraces heterogeneity in a way that no other project I’ve ever seen actually does. For the main characters, editing was all about highlighting and preserving everyone’s unique style choices. The characters use punctuation differently. They spell words differently. And to make the conversation system provide the player with adequate feedback, I actually had to add dialogue to every character by precisely imitating those writers’ unique voices. WTWTLW for me has been a project about marinating myself in a giant vat of Other People’s Good Writing and just absorbing its vibes, or whatever. It is certainly not the kind of thing I ever thought about working on when I was wistfully reading games blogs by Magic Ultracoder Cool Design Dudes on the top floor of my college library in 2007.

Anyway, working on this project has been an amazing experience that made me a much better writer and editor and gave me opportunities to meet and become friends with a lot of people I’m very glad to have met. And even aliens were to swoop down to earth today and delete all video games with a giant space laser, and I never got to see this game release or appear at the IGF, I would still feel like so much of a better person than I was before I worked on it– not only for making so many friends and reading so much of their amazing work, but for having finally been given the opportunity to meet such a serious challenge and do such satisfying work.

I can’t wait for you all to play the game!

The Grub

My Epistle 3 Jam game is done!

Epistle 3 Jam is the jam I’ve been running (in a rather low-effort way) on itch for the last two months. You can read more about it here, and find the whole jam here.

Today I completed my submission: The Grub, a text game about killing Doctor Breen. It has online features, and I am deciding to call it an MMO.

You can find The Grub here.

If you find a bug or something breaks, please contact me on twitter. It is likely that if too many people use the game at once, the online features might not work. We just have no idea when it will break.

I intend on adding more to this game– hopefully, art and music. I simply ran out of time this month. Too much going on!

The server code was written by Bennett Sala, noble brother of Rachel Sala, my roommate and the artist of Frog Fractions 1 and 2. Bennett doesn’t have a social media account or a website for me to link to, but he’s very extremely excellent and the game would not exist without him. Thanks, Bennett!

I plan on playing all of the Epistle 3 Jam games as soon as I can and writing some of them up. Thanks to everyone who participated, and good luck to the folks still working on their stuff!

Epistle 3 Jam

A week or so ago, Marc Laidlaw– a writer who worked at Valve for years, on HL1 and HL2– published a genderswapped Half Life 3 synposis on his blog. You can read it here. Laidlaw has been out of Valve for the last 18 months. This is probably as good a statement on HL3 as we are ever gonna get from anyone at Valve.

Taken separately, I find the first and last paragraphs of the piece very tragic and emotionally affecting:

And here we are. I spoke of my return to this shore. It has been a circuitous path to lands I once knew, and surprising to see how much the terrain has changed. Enough time has passed that few remember me, or what I was saying when last I spoke, or what precisely we hoped to accomplish. At this point, the resistance will have failed or succeeded, no thanks to me. Old friends have been silenced, or fallen by the wayside. I no longer know or recognize most members of the research team, though I believe the spirit of rebellion still persists. I expect you know better than I the appropriate course of action, and I leave you to it. Expect no further correspondence from me regarding these matters; this is my final epistle.

I do know the appropriate course of action: for us to make Half Life 3 ourselves, as we wish it to be. Half Life 3, it seems, was never really going to be a thing; the realest versions of it are a) this synopsis, and b) whatever version of it exists in the imaginations of us players. Half Life 3 may have never really been anything more than a phantasm in the minds of the people. Whatever we imagine Half Life 3 to be, that version has as much a claim to reality as anything else in the world. Half Life 3 is ours; it belongs to us; it’s up to us to make it.

And it’s better, isn’t there, that there be a hundred competing Half Life 3s, each representing a different facet of that communal hallucination? If Half Life 3’s realest manifestation is in our imaginations, then it’s necessarily an amorphous, many-faceted thing.

So I made this game jam on Itch, the best game jam platform around. There’s currently over 140 participants. I’m very excited to see what everyone makes! The jam has been covered in a couple places, and there have been a few submissions already, so I figured I’d address some of my thoughts on the project here on my blog.

I have very strong opinions on whether you should make a game complaining that Valve never released Half Life 3

You shouldn’t. I feel very strongly that it is a thousand times worse that Laidlaw & Co. never got to make the game they wanted to make than for us to be denied a game we wanted to play. We have played many wonderful games over the last decade. We did not suffer in any real way by missing out on HL3. Reading the blog post, though, it’s very clear that some Valve people did want very badly to make HL3, and that they couldn’t. That’s way sadder.

I’ve worked on a lot of canceled projects– seeing a creative possibility on the horizon and never being able to release it is probably the worst feeling there is. When something seems so real you can almost taste it, when you spend tons and tons of energy on a thing and never get to show it to anyone– that feels like death. It makes you feel like years of your life have been stolen from you. I personally feel like I wasted my early 20s on canceled projects. Those are years of my career I will never get back.

So even though HL3 is a community phantasm we all created together, I will feel somewhat responsible (and very sad) if people make a lot of jam games about how pissed they are at Valve. I hope we make things that make them happy, not sad. It doesn’t feel like they deserve people shitting on them over this.

There is no better way to get involved in game development than by making the real Half Life 3

I think that game jams are one of the best possible ways to get involved in game development.

One of the worst things that young creators do to themselves is take on gigantic projects and then fret forever about whether they are perfect (and then never release them!!). I did this about ten times before I released anything on my own and it’s bad!

Game jams, however, force you to pick a small topic and finish it completely. This is very good. And for people who are getting into game development because they are incredibly excited by great older games like Half Life, maybe picking a limited topic related to a game you like is a great way to get into game development.

Also, you get to put a game called “Half Life 3” as the first game on your itch account, which is pretty great.

Stop telling me we’re gonna get cease-and-desisted

I am not worried about us getting cease-and-desisted.

It’s not a script, it’s a synopsis.

The thing he wrote is not a script. I don’t know why it bugs me so much that outlets keep calling it a “script” when they write about the jam. I don’t want potential jammers thinking like there’s this script asset out there that they have to adapt. It’s more open-ended than that. There’s a lot of freedom for people to make whatever they want.

Also, readers can handle the word “synopsis” just fine, if that’s what you’re worried about.

It’s not a competition.

You can have competitive jams on itch. This isn’t one! I don’t think it would be in the spirit of the situation to run a competitive jam on this topic.

Everyone’s interpretation of this jam idea is super valid.

It’s exactly as cool and good– perhaps even cooler and gooder— for someone to make a dating game for this jam as it is for them to make an FPS. You super don’t have to make an FPS. Whatever you want to imagine HL3 as is exactly as valid as any other kind of thing. It belongs to you now; you can do whatever you want with it.

The synopsis is great and I love it.

I am a giant fan of the synopsis and I think the Breen-grub is the funniest shit. I love how weird the synopsis is; it sounds extremely Half Life-esque.

Thank you to everyone who’s covered the jam. I’m super excited to see what people make! The final versions will all be in on Halloween!

Frog Fractions 2/Glittermitten Grove will be at the Indiecade E3 Showcase

I’m excited to learn that Glittermitten Grove (Frog Fractions 2) will be at E3 this year! Indiecade is hosting a booth again and our game will be at it.

I’ll be at E3 again this year, but I’ll be stuck doing my day job and will only be stopping by the booth randomly. In fact, I’m not sure who will actually be at the booth, but I do know that it will be a fine place to check out the game. (If you can’t wait that long, just check out Youtube.)

I’ve spent the last few weeks helping to submit several games I’ve worked on to a variety of events and festivals and I gotta say: I never realized how expensive it was before! Most of these events have submission fees, and they pile up. It only reminds me how important it is for us to have a lot of indie curators working in public. Stuff like Warp Door is great, and’s front page, and @moshboy’s work on the massive 1000 gamemakers twitter thread. I miss a LOT. I’ve seen some people remark– often, people who have to stop working on curation for whatever reason– that the curation mechanisms of the past (often, the one they’re specifically working on) are obsolete, but I’m pretty sure that’s never been true. More than ever before, there are tons of free, small games to play, and few good ways of finding them.

I hope someday to have enough free time in my own life to run a curation site for small stuff, but right now I’m so busy (with stuff like… festival submissions!!!) that I don’t have time to even play many of those games, much less curate a selection of them.

Check out bitsy

Bitsy is a game creation tool in development by Adam Le Doux. It’s a bare-bones toolset for making small, stark, environment-explory games. I see it following in the tradition of Pico-8: both are game engines with strict limitations designed to encourage creativity within tight constraints.

The limitations in Bitsy are more intense, however. While Pic0-8 limits colors and filesize, Bitsy limits you to a specific category of tile-based game with arrow-key controls and a three-color palette. No sound. Nothing moves around but the avatar; all animations are limited to two frames. Nevertheless, people are able to achieve some really interesting things with this toolset.

Here are some examples of bitsy games I liked:

The Summit High by Sam Wrong

Zen Garden, Portland, The Day Before My Wedding by Cephalopodunk

Dog Walking, Dog Running, and Dog Still by Cephalopodunk

HIS ONLY LOVE by codejill

Modern Living by Night Driver

You’ve got three categories of objects to play with: a player avatar, environment tiles, and “sprites” which can trigger text boxes if the player bumps into them. The background is always a solid color; sprites and environment tiles can be different colors, and the player is always the same color as the sprites. This encourages a particular attitude toward the art which I find quite charming. Check out Dog Walking, Dog Running, and Dog Still above for some really neat ways of using pixel art, colors, and scene layouts.

Bitsy seems perfect for creating extremely short, poemlike games about low-stakes interactions or environment exploration. Unfortunately, I’m a garish asshole and the games I made with Bitsy this week are kind of senseless and berserk:

Don’t Go South, a game about not going south. My first attempt.

Goodfishas, about fish violence.

Reunion, SCI FI BODY HORROR!! focused around a specific visual joke.

The creator is going to add more features eventually, and takes feedback on Bitsy’s itch forum. If you are looking for a toylike gamemaking tool that will encourage you to be as creative as you can within the tightest possible constraints, check this one out. It’s extremely charming and I hope it flourishes.

I am now my own webmaster and my power is immense and mindboggling

I recently learned how to host my own sites through Amazon Web Services, so I’ve been migrating all the sites I own off of my friend’s server/my Namecheap hosting and storing them there. Namecheap is pretty, well, cheap, but I’ve decided I like the AWS hosting experience much better, and it’s honestly cheaper in the long run for a lot of the sites I own.

I’ve taken this opportunity to back up a lot of the Plus Ultra games hosted at, and to create more sensible locations for some of the older games and media which were previously only reachable at very specific weird locations on my old site.

New locations for some of my/my friends’ older games

Other cool stuff

I’ve also hosted some other media online for future reference.


It’s worth saying that I use this face repeatedly on twitter not because it means anything specific to me, but because its blandness achieves, I think, the perfect VOID of emotion. It is a null expression in that it’s a facial expression that communicates ABSOLUTELY NO EXPRESSION WHATSOEVER.

Also, it’s a bad, ugly face; I do not know why anyone is attracted to Norman Reedus. I can understand Kojima’s obsession with Mads, but his obsession with Reedus is totally baffling and suggests to me that Kojima is not a genius human, but, in fact, an ensorcelled victim ridden by some strange demonic spirit whose sexual tastes are totally orthogonal to normal human experience. Perhaps he sold his soul to the devil, and in exchange for giving him game development success, the devil cursed him with an attraction to the face and body of Norman Reedus. Who knows!

And, finally: here is the content of the excerpt of The Dream Journeys of Bram Hessom, as it appears in Frog Fractions 2/Glittermitten Grove.

People often contacted me after GMG came out to ask me where the rest of TDJOBH could be read. Sorry, the story can’t be read in full online!! I’m not done with it! But if you’d like to read the original form the story took when I was trying to write it for the first time in 2013, you can check out the ‘Under the Village’ unfinished demo linked above.

But, backstory: The Dream Journeys currently exists as a 90-page draft manuscript that requires major edits. I put the first 15 pages into Frog Fractions 2 because Jim suggested to me that I could put anything, “even a novel,” into the game– so I took him up on that offer.

I plan on finishing it– doubling its length, probably– and releasing it someday. It’s special to me because it is mostly just a sendup of late 19th/early 20th century adventure fiction like Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Lost World, etc. This genre was very influential to me as a child.

Plot-wise, The Dream Journeys is primarily about what happens to Bram after his biological father chooses not to kill him and instead banishes him to the fish world. While there, meets an anthropomorphic talking fish-man whose civilization was destroyed by his dad’s inter-dimensional crime syndicate. Bram and his new fish buddy, Tahey, parasite themselves onto a religious war in fish-land so that they can gain control over a radio-teleportation device and return to Earth. Instead of returning to Earth, however, they find themselves traveling here and there across an ancient network of worlds filled with many kinds of odd sentient creatures. (I cannot believe that this paragraph makes sense to me, but it does!)

My favorite thing about Jules Verne’s work is that it was, at the time, science fiction– but today it reads like fantasy. I started writing The Dream Journeys because I wanted to write fantasy about characters who believe that they are living in a science fiction story. The story’s title is actually a reference to another influential work I read when I was younger, HPL’s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” which has a plot somewhat similar to the Dream Journeys, particularly in its fantastical elements. You can find the Dream Quest here. It’s a bizarre story with an ending that I find incredibly poignant . Nostalgia and homesickness are, it sometimes seems, a kind of constant and incurable curse that modern young adults in my profession are all forced to live under. We spend a lot of time making homes that will never quite match the rosy imagined fantasies of the places we used to live, and building fantasy worlds which blurrily reflect the vanished places and circumstances of our childhoods. I can’t quite tell you whether I fear or long for the moment when I realize my creative journey has really just taken me on a squirrely trip into the back of my own head.

One thing canceled, one thing on hiatus, new (commercial) games in progress

Hey folks, I know I’ve mentioned in the past that I will be releasing a sci-fi story collection called “Other Orbits.” I’ve decided not to do that anymore!

Other Orbits would have been an art overhaul of my already-released story The Hive Abroad, paired with two other stories that were new when I planned this collection: Redundant, and an unreleased story called The Long Slide, about a woman who is dying slowly from damage caused by the nanobots designed to keep her alive.

Anyway, two out of the three of these are now released. And I’m not really interested in finishing edits and polish on The Long Slide, partially because it’s just dark and miserable in a really unproductive way and represents the worst parts of my feelings about my own health issues. I think I’ll eventually replace The Hive Abroad with the new, art-updated version, but that’s it. Other Orbits is toast. Sorry! Nothing lost, really, though. Redundant is real good and you should play it!

I’ve got some other news which is a little more upsetting to me, though: Six Months is basically on hiatus for the first half of 2017.

The reason? I am doing too many other things. I wanted Six Months to be a proof of my writing and narrative design ability– I mean, I wanted to tell a good story, but I also wanted to create an amazing proof of skill. I wanted Six Months to be my resume, and I wanted it to be big and bold enough to cover up all those years when I was working on cancelled and failed games. But it’s been, like, three years now, and people are offering to pay me to make faster things which will be equally as good a proof of my skills, so– yeah. Six Months is going on the back burner while I get that stuff done.

I have every intention of finishing Six Months, because it’s kickass and I think people will buy it. Problem is, it’s literally novel-length. I just gotta ship my other stuff and wave it around in people’s faces and say “LOOK AT ME,  LOOK AT MY ‘SKILL SET,’ I’M GREAT!” And in the process I’m gonna learn Unity, which is going to make shipping Six Months even easier.

Anyway, here’s the stuff I’ve worked on/am working on right now, both in and out of games:

  • I wrote for Frog Fractions 2, and the stuff I wrote is hilarious, so when that comes out I’m gonna wave it hard as hell in your faces
  • I wrote for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, which is also super cool. Beautiful weird stuff going on in that game! I’m very excited for people to someday see it.
  • I am doing story consulting and writing for a AAA game being developed in the LA area! But that’s a secret still.
  • I am going to be doing some amount of story consulting for an additional indie game!
  • My friend Nate Ruegger and I are writing a screenplay version of Redundant! We finished the first draft extremely fast and I am incredibly stoked about it. This will be the first thing I finish in 2017. It turns out that when two people who are eager to impress one another write a screenplay together, shit gets done! Fast!!
  • My friends Kent Sutherland and Brody Brooks and I are working on a new version of Words Must Die! We are making a whole new game with a slightly different linking mechanic and a whole lot more polish. We’re gonna sell it for money.

And I’m also working my day job! For years I’ve been working on side projects all night long after getting home from work, but the hours don’t match up in a way that leaves space for Six Months anymore.

And, to be honest, I have not worked on it in a month. It’s better to recognize that and make a plan to put it down (and take it back up again, eventually) so that I don’t wear myself out worrying about the fact I’m not working on it!

About story consulting: at my old job I worked with a creative partner who taught me a very specific iterative story-pitch process that I’ve now started using elsewhere. It’s good for early-stage story planning stuff and it’s great at helping non-writer team members understand the process and the possibilities involved in coming up with a story for their game. It’s also good for helping the writer understand exactly what the other parties’ critiques are about. I hope I get to use it at more places in the future because I like this process a lot and it’s produced really great results every time I use it!

Anyway, no fear: you will eventually be able to help a sweaty sad duke investigate his dead brother’s horrific grenade murder. Just not yet.