Monthly Archives: June 2009

Free Copy of Larva Mortus

Found via the blog, if you follow indie developer Rake in Grass on Twitter, they'll send you a code for a free copy of their game Larva Mortus (I got mine just a few minutes after following them). They'll be doing this promotion for another week, so get your code now.

The game is pretty decent. I haven't played enough of it yet to say whether the story is compelling or not, but so far it's really just about the action, not the story, which is fine. It's a top-down shooter where you move with the arrow keys and aim and shoot with the mouse (do developers ever consider us poor laptop-with-trackpad users who have to go hunt down a mouse?). The tone of the game is nice and creepy, with nice music and graphics to support the spooky atmosphere. Once you've killed all of the monsters in a room, it's "cleared", and you are safe in that room from then on. This means you end up spending a decent amount of time just sitting around in cleared rooms as you heal up (I ended up advancing my regeneration stat just to make that time shorter). Maybe it should let you heal faster if you're in a cleared room or something? Anyway, it's a minor quibble. The variety of weapons is nice (I haven't seen them all yet, but you start out with a sword and pistol, and you end up picking up a shotgun, a crossbow, a machine gun, a stake, and a cannon(!)), and it's decently challenging on "normal" difficulty. I definitely recommend it for free, and it's probably worth checking out some of their other games.

Edited to add: Available for both Windows and Mac.

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Game Design Concepts: Level 1

Ian Schreiber has started his free online game design course. The first post discussed what a game is, then he asked people to actually make a game (using Brenda Brathwaite's "The Easiest Game Design Exercise Ever (Really)"). When I read Brenda's post, I didn't end up making a game, but signing up for this class made me actually make a game. It took about 15 minutes (which included doing a little Wikipedia research). It's not a good game, but it's a game. The point of the exercise is simply to get people over the hump of actually making their first game. The homework (or "homeplay" as Ian calls it) is to read the first chapter of his and Brenda's book, read Greg Costikyan's I Have No Words & I Must Design, and play the series Understanding Games, which was all interesting reading/playing.

And now I will share my little game with you. We were just supposed to draw a path and make a simple race-to-the-end game. I decided on a jagged path, which made me decide to do a game about lightning. I did a bit of Wikipedia research, but I mostly didn't use it (although I might in a future game). Here is a poor picture of the game, which I drew with pencil in a notebook:

Here's the text, which is probably too hard to read at this size:


Each player is a negative charge, starting in the cloud.

Each turn, roll two six-sided dice. Pick one of the dice and move that many spaces.

If you land on a lightning bolt, send an opponent back three spaces. Being sent back to a lightning bolt does not trigger it.

The first player to the last space hits the church steeple and wins.

The two-player version is very heavily slanted towards the first player, but the four-player version seems to be a little more balanced. Like I said above, it's not a good game, but it's a game. I'm definitely looking forward to keeping up with this class.

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Bram Cohen's puzzle shop

photos-photo3773.jpgI recently discovered through Twitter that Bram Cohen, best known as the creator of BitTorrent, is also an aficionado of three-dimensional construction puzzles (e.g. the Soma cube). He has lately taken to designing puzzles himself, and now sells several original designs through Shapeways, a web-based service that offers 3D-printed objects based on their creators' uploaded spec documents.

Doubly interesting to me: it's always a delight to learn that someone unexpected is into puzzles -- let alone a designer of them -- and I find the Shapeways business model surprising and intriguing, as well.

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Validating my existence

Well, not really. More like "acknowledging my existence," which is flattering.

Kingdom of Loathing, the massively successful indie casual MMO, has an achievement system. To be precise, an ever-increasing set of trophies. (See this trophy list on the KOL wiki. Spoilers there, obviously.)

Hunter in Darkness A couple of weeks ago, a new one was discovered. This trophy commemorates killing five Wumpuses in a row, without dying, in the hunt-the-wumpus miniquest. (If you're not familiar with KoL, it has a blinding overload of miniquests, all of which are pop-culture references of one sort or another. Gaming culture is well-represented: The Penultimate Fantasy Airship, The Enormous Greater-Than Sign, a whole text adventure segment, and so on.)

So why is this flattering? Because the trophy title is "Hunter In Darkness" -- a reference to my game Hunter, in Darkness. Which was my riff on the Wumpus theme, as text IF.

Fame! Something-like-fortune! Thanks, KoL dudes!

(Also thanks to the ifmud homies for pointing this out to me.)

Daily trivia: The Latin name of the Giant Suckered Cave Wumpus is Wumpus yobgregorii. According to me, that's who.

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Gameshelf DVDs for sale!

474904400_f388b69a8f.jpgI am pleased to announce the opening of the video store, where you can purchase a DVD set of the first six episodes of The Gameshelf. The three lovingly hand-burned discs ship in a single standard-size DVD case, making them a nicely eclectic addition to your film shelf. Be the envy of your friends with your ability to watch The Gameshelf from the comfort of your living room, via your DVD player. (And then your can soothe their jealousy by buying them a copy as well.)

As it says on that page, even though you can download or stream the show over the internet for free, I hope you consider buying this collection if you enjoy the show. The money from all purchases will go directly into the production of future episodes, transforming into things like videotape for our hungry cameras, or lunches for our hungry on-camera players. (And, yes, we are producing more episodes. More on that later.)

The shop also sells a collection of the first six Jmac's Arcade installments, and you can save a few bucks if you buy both collections together. Please feel free to leave a comment or write me if you have any questions about this. Thanks!

Image from Olivander's Flickr stream.

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Gameshelf on Twitter, more or less

I'm sitting on a rumbling pile of Gameshelf show news that isn't quite ready to announce yet. In the meantime, allow me to say that I've become a Twitter convert, and you can read my daily steam-venting @jasonmcintosh. Feel free to construct your own narrative about what the heck I'm working on based on a reverse-time reading of my 140-character burbles.

Should I make a separate twitter account for The Gameshelf? I'm thinking it needs one for sure only if the show gets back into a regular production cycle. Until then, you'll have to content yourself with the ramblings of its producer, and the fact that he's just as likely to talk about delicious ham sandwiches and dorky web technologies as he is about games or do-it-yourself TV production. (But I do tweet a lot about that stuff, too.)

P.S.: Gameshelf cast and bloggers should feel free to share their Twitter IDs and links in comments to this post, if they wish. My pre-Web2.0 sense of propriety prevents me from doing it for them!

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Key Hero and the Pooping Turtle Story

My friend Christopher Cotton (who played in The Gameshelf's review of Werewolf) has lately been teaching programming to kids, as part of the Young Scholars Institute in Tennessee's Franklin School District. They're using Java and Processing, the latter a new-hotness language I hadn't heard of before this year, but now I find myself stumbling across references to it all the time.

Here's a video of Christopher running and narrating one 11-year-old student's game, a Guitar Hero clone she wrote with Processing in 90 minutes.

I am immensely proud of Christopher and his students. He's doing what I've wanted to do for years, and what I think there should be a lot more of. There is no reason except for institutional timidity that programming isn't taught as a basic course in every school in this country, and that's a crying shame.

Ten years ago, before I became Yet Another Software Engineer, I spent a year "teaching computer" at an elementary school in Hermon, Maine. I chose to subvert the curriculum (how to type and use Microsoft Word, mostly) by trying to teach computer science concepts instead. I will never forget the moment when one student, in the classroom of second-graders struggling over a three-line Logo program I had them try to type in and execute, Finally Got It. "My turtle pooped!" he cried, and everyone crowded around to witness as his Logo-turtle successfully drew a straight line. Within minutes, not only was every kid's turtle also pooping, but they discovered that changing the number changed the line's length, a fact they started excitedly telling each other about with no prompting from me. I spent the remainder of the period suggesting other things they could try, with the kids spreading each bit of new programming knowledge amongst themselves. I have never had an experience quite like this in my life since.

Programming exercises and rewards logical thinking and problem-solving in a way that no xeroxed sheet of math problems can. Any kid capable of doing the latter should also be exposed to the former. As we enter an increasingly ludocentric culture, I'm hopeful to see technologies like Processing, and people like Christopher, allowing children to develop their minds and creative powers through game-making. I just wish that it stretched beyond a few lucky kids who happen to live in the right places.

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Digital nonlinear CYOA comic

...or, digital nonlinear CYOA comic with dinosaurs?

I know which one I'd choose.

(Fortunately, they're the same choice. I mean there's only one link there. Narrative forced choice for the win!)

Seriously, this is brilliant on about six different levels. It's digging into CYOA structure, the way players react to CYOA structure, the way videogames react to the way players react to CYOA structure (by putting friction into the lawnmowering process). I could relate it to my current favorite topic, the way online multi-authored multi-threaded text has grown beyond the traditional notion of text as a medium, into some kind of performance -- something that can only be followed in real time, see?

It also riffs on "camping", a familiar notion from multiplayer shooter games. And, on top of that, it's got dinosaurs. So that's six levels right there.

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Polygonal Fury

Polygonal Fury screenshotPolygonal Fury is a new game by a first-time game maker. In the game info, it acknowledges the influence of Boomshine and Circle Chain. The basic idea is that you click on the screen to try to start a chain reaction to destroy a certain number of the shapes on the screen. Boomshine is not a very deep game (it's mostly luck-based), but it has a really nice atmosphere, mostly provided by its excellent, soothing music. The music in Polygonal Fury isn't quite as noteworthy, but the techno beat of it fits pretty nicely with the look of the game, so it works. What makes Polygonal Fury stand out a bit is its strategy.

There are three different shapes, and each one dies in a different way. Circles explode with a certain radius, squares shoot off in one of the four cardinal directions, and triangles fire off a laser at a random other shape on the screen. The thing that makes Polygonal Fury interesting is that you can upgrade the different shapes to do things like give circles a larger explosion radius, make triangles do more damage, get supershapes that are more powerful, and get extra clicks.

It didn't take me too long to win, but the later levels did require a bit of shuffling of upgrade points and discovering the right strategies for what to click when. Definitely worth playing if you like clicky action games with a bit of strategy.

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Random links

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Warzone and the Neverending Tower Defense

An example of a maze in Warzone Tower DefenseI found a new tower defense game via JIG, Warzone Tower Defense. It has a standard (but nice) selection of upgradable towers, and it's an open area (like the Desktop Tower Defense games) instead of pre-defined paths (like most every other tower defense game). As the waves go on and the enemies get tougher, you're forced to build mazes (see the image), which I find kind of tedious. Now, you're forced to build mazes in Desktop Tower Defense, too, but at least that ends. Warzone Tower Defense doesn't end, apparently. It just keeps going and going until you die. Now, this is obviously interesting to some people, as their forum is full of people bragging about the levels they reached (before dying or having their browser crash), sometimes with pictures showing the various complicated mazes they've built.

So, the game is definitely fun for a while, but I really do prefer my tower defense games to be winnable, even if it takes a really long time.

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Jotto Puzzles

Jotto puzzles came about while I was working on the AI to play Twisted Jotto. As I was having the computer try to guess the word, I had it output the number of words the secret word could possibly be, since it was picking somehow from that set of words. I found it kind of neat when it got down to only one possible word, and it came to me that I could record the guesses and turn it into a kind of single-player Jotto without the need for a computer (print out a bunch of them and take them on the subway, for instance). In order to make the game not too easy, I restricted it to scores on individual words of 0, 1, or 2 (so no scores of 3, 4, or 5). And because of how I generated the Jotto puzzles, the words are not necessarily in the order that the computer generated them, so an additional challenge could be to order them (knowing that the computer was adhering to Twisted Jotto rules).

At one point, I had thought I would post a Jotto puzzle every day with an annotated solution. The annotated solutions lasted for exactly 5 days before I lost interest, but I did manage to post a Jotto puzzle every day for about 14 months. Here's the first Jotto puzzle I posted:

guess  score
-----  -----
dells    0
swims    1
gummy    0
bract    0
pique    1
whoop    2
And here's the rot-13 annotated solution:

Ybgf bs mrebf urer, fb guvf fubhyqa'g or gbb onq. Yrg'f fgneg ol ybbxvat ng rnpu jbeq gung qbrfa'g fpber mreb.

fjvzf fpberf 1, ohg jr pna xabpx bhg gur f'f sebz qryyf naq gur z sebz thzzl. Gung yrnirf hf jvgu rvgure j be v.

cvdhr fpberf 1, ohg jr pna xabpx bhg gur r sebz qryyf naq gur h sebz thzzl. Gung yrnirf hf jvgu c, v, be d

jubbc fpberf 2. Hasbeghangryl, vg qbrfa'g funer nal yrggref jvgu gur jbeqf gung fpber 0.

Jr ner yrsg jvgu:


Vs gur jbeq unf na v, gura vg unf ab j (jv=1) naq ab c (cvd=1). Gung tvirf hf ubb=2, juvpu vf rvgure ub be bb. Guvf tvirf hf gjb pbzovangvbaf: vub be vbb.

Vs gur jbeq qbrfa'g unir na v, gura vg unf n j (jv=1) naq rvgure n c be n d (cvd=1). Vs vg'f jc, gura gung gnxrf pner bs jubbc (jubbc=2). Vs vg'f jd, gura jr arrq rvgure na u be na b (jubbc=2). Guvf tvirf hf guerr zber pbzovangvbaf: jc, jdu, be jdb.

Jr abj unir svir cbffvoyr pbzovangvbaf. Fvapr gurer vf ab h (thzzl=0), vg'f hayvxryl gung gurer vf n d, fb jr pna vtaber gubfr pbzovangvbaf. Nyfb, vs vg'f jc, gura gurer jbhyq or ab ibjryf (nyy bs gur ibjryf, vapyhqvat l, ner ryvzvangrq ol jc), fb jr pna vtaber gung sbe abj. Gung yrnirf hf jvgu whfg gjb pbzovangvbaf: vub be vbb.

Abj, jr znxr n yvfg bs gur yrggref gung nera'g va nal bs gur thrffrf. Gurfr (cyhf cbffvoyr ercrgvgvbaf bs yrggref jr'ir nyernql thrffrq) ner jung jr arrq gb svyy bhg gur jbeq:


Gur a whzcf bhg evtug njnl, fvapr vg vf gur zbfg pbzzba yrggre yrsg. vbba ybbxf cebzvfvat, naq, vaqrrq, vg tvirf gur nafjre: bavba.

Here are a couple of other Jotto puzzles to whet your appetite:

guess  score
-----  -----
conus    2
trods    0
showy    2
ponty    2
benis    1
yugas    1
honda    2

guess  score
-----  -----
downs    2
yoops    1
ergot    1
vista    1
allod    1
lenes    1
hurds    1
prawn    2
union    1

guess  score
-----  -----
ratus    2
gnarl    2
mimeo    0
capul    1
lurry    2
hardy    1
churn    2
I've also done ones with custom words, including the word "jotto" itself and my five-letter username elsewhere (which happens to be a legal five-letter word). I'm happy to do a custom one for anyone else, and I can do it for any number of letters (not sure how well 3 would work, but anything larger than that should work, although I haven't tested how easy it might be to generate/solve ones longer than eight letters).

Want more Jotto puzzles? I present to you all of the Jotto puzzles I created back when I was first working on these. If there's interest, I can generate arbitrarily many more. These are just text files, and you can print them out as they are on normal-sized paper and use the blank space to the right as your working space for solving. There are files with puzzles of five, six, seven, and eight letters.


Share and enjoy.
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[Boston area] Settlers Tournament at Eureka in Brookline, June 9

My local game store, Eureka, is hosting a Mayfair-sponsored Settlers of Catan tournament on Tuesday, June 9, at 6:30 PM. The winner gets an all-expense paid trip to GenCon this summer, where they will get to play in the North American finals for a chance to win a trip to Essen in the fall. Tournament entry is $10. More details at the Eureka website.

Edit: I just registered. Any other locals want to join me?

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