Well and goodness. It’s been six months since I wrote one of these things. The months have been complicated and tough. Teaching, yes. Also, the isolation and sadness that comes from covid, some ongoing climate grief, and the heartbreak living in a world that seems to be tearing itself apart. Many days, I found it hard to do anything beyond what was absolutely and imminently necessary.
Summer helped. There was time to work, but also time to relax. I read some books, played some games, met up with friends (vaccinated and humbly) and caught up on some lagging life chores. Finally, I feel recovered enough to work on the merely important stuff, like keeping y’all up to date on happenings.
So here we go.
Spring and Summer Teaching
At my lovely little middle school, I successfully hosted classes in Interactive Fiction (via Ren’py), Algebra, Board Game Design, Astroneer, and Starbound. The real highlight of that bunch was the game design class. In the first half of Game Design, we focused on theory and analysis. We did some design exercises, talked about game design concepts, and played some of the casual tabletop games available on Board Game Arena. In the second half of Game Design, we built a thing.
Of the games we played, the kids were most excited about Hoarders. So. We took that game as a starting point, designed a small expansion, had it printed by The Game Crafter, then met up at a park to play it in person!
The base game of Hoarders is fully symmetric - with each player having exactly the same abilities, and operating from the same ruleset. For the expansion, we created a small deck of ability cards. At the beginning of the game, each player draws one card from this deck, and that card gives the player a special ability unique to them. These unique abilities break the symmetry of the game, and improve replayability. I feel really good about this. The successful production of this humble expansion would be a win at any time, but it’s an extra notable win for taking place during remote / covid times, with folks collaborating over Zoom and Google Docs.
In other teaching news, I continued teaching classes in programming and game design at ArtCenter. In spring, I successfully ran the second edition of Game Development 1. Then in summer, I taught Computer Science for Designers and Artists. Programming is a challenging subject, and Zoom is a challenging medium. Still, folks persisted, and ultimately succeeded. So that was time well spent.
The Serious Play Conference
Indeed, it happened. It was small, wholly online, but worthwhile. As part of the classroom-oriented Saturday programming, I ran a small lecture/discussion session on using Eco in the middle school classroom. Planning that session took an inordinate amount of time, but I think it went over well. So that was again time well spent.
Games 4 Change Student Challenge
For the second year in a row, I volunteered as a juror on the Games 4 Change Student Challenge (info). That involved playing a dozen-ish games from middle school and high school students. Most of the games were small in scope, but almost all of them had some sort of sparkle. Some thing that showed that the authors cared about what they were building. And those sparkles made me happy.
Every year, I look forward to IndieCade. It just feels like my people. In past years, I’ve supported the festival in various ways: showing games, sharing stories in their scheduled sessions, and even helping to organize parts of the event. While I don’t have time to be a big help in this year, I can still support the festival as a judge. Because judging happens in summer. So I did that, and reviewed a grand total of 15 randomly interesting games.
As always, the entries were wonderfully varied. Some were disturbing. Some were funny. Some were well-intentioned, but not real polished. A couple were outstanding (and are now on my Steam wishlist).
Jury ethics prevents me from saying more :)
At the start of summer, my intention was to focus on DROMP. I’d set myself a goal of bringing the game to the level of a solidly playable pre-alpha tech demo by the end of summer. That would allow me to start showing it around to possible collaborators, funding sources, etc.
Things didn’t work out that way. I was just too burned out.
Working on a complex project, something that is speculative, technically challenging, and artistically challenging ... well that was a little much for me. It required creative energy that I mostly didn’t have. I would work for a couple hours, feel like I was all squeezed out, and step back. With baby steps, I successfully added a new mechanic, but struggled to make real progress when I was just so emotionally exhausted.
So I put that down, and looked for a buddy. Things are better when you’ve got a buddy. At least, they are for me.
My longtime friend and colleague Ariel Marcy has a series of smart and accessible science-oriented tabletop games. Her first game, Go Extinct! is fully published (the second edition just shipped). The other games are variously in process, and I expect at least a few to see the light of day in the next couple years.
One of the obvious virtues of Go Extinct! is that it’s almost infinitely expandable to different ecosystems. If it had a digital implementation, an app of some sort, it would have the ability to reach more folks. Such a digital implementation might also provide a nice little income stream. And extensions to that app might be an easy way to modestly widen that stream.
So. Ariel and I talked. And we’ve agreed to work on this together. Where DROMP is a reach, the Go Extinct! app is a very-well defined problem. Most of the design work is done, excepting some modest UI issues (having to do with the translation from tabletop to tablet), and I totally know how to build the vast majority of the app. The unknown bits can be filled in with straightforward work, and simple playtesting. Which is all very comforting to me.
Working on the app, I was able to be productive and advance the cause of playful science - both of which contribute to me feeling better about me. I could also have the company of a trusted friend and colleague, someone who offered accountability, practical support, and moral support.
This, then, is the next project: Go Extinct!, the app. It’s a pivot, yes. And partly a sad one, for it means DROMP will move to the backburner, yet again. But it’s a happy thing too. It’s a worthwhile project that is within reach of our collective resources, and likely to see the light of day by the end of 2022.
Sprout for Android, again
This was easily fixed with a little bit of effort. Mostly, administrative-type effort. Which is the type of effort I least enjoy. So the issue languished. For months. Sigh.
Yesterday, I finished the last bit of administrata, and again submitted Sprout for Google’s approval. I expect to receive that approval within 1-2 weeks.
tl;dr: Sprout was unavailable on Android for several months. It should return to Android within 1-2 weeks.
Fall approaches. Once again, I will be teaching at both One Spark Academy and ArtCenter. The former starts tomorrow, the latter starts in three weeks. The teaching load is significant - especially as the ArtCenter teaching assignments have been rejiggered. I’ll be teaching a new Unity class, and building that curriculum from scratch.
Because of the teaching load, there will be little time for Patreon updates or for work on the Go Extinct app. I’ll try to be a little more regular about updates, but no promises. The physical rewards will continue to be on-hold (sorry). While things should be better than last fall, it’ll still be squidgy. Anything could change at any time.
Because nothing happens in a vacuum. Having y’all’s company on this road is what makes movement possible. Thank you. Go us!