Matrix is looking for Game Reviews!

administrative, indie, playthroughs

Hey everyone,

Here’s some exciting news reposted from over on the Matrix supplement:

Matrix Magazine is now accepting game reviews!

We are looking for reviews to post in the Matrix Magazine online supplement as well as for our print version. As of now, Matrix will be printing two game reviews per issue as well as putting a number up online. There is a small honorarium for the reviews that are selected for print.

Your reviews should be:

+ About 500 words long.
+ Canadian and Indie games (smaller developpers) are preferred, but send us what you’re interested in.
+ Accessible to a non-expert audience.

Contact Jessica Rose Marcotte (@jekagames / jess[dot]ro[dot]marcotte[at]gmail[dot]com with your questions and your reviews.

My Experience at the Critical Hit Pre-Jam: Concordia Edition

adventures in gaming, critical hit, game jams, indie, Process Writing


With the Critical Hit Pre-Jam: Dawson Edition (not the official title, but how I’ve been thinking about it) slated for this weekend, I thought I’d take a little bit of time to talk about what the Pre-Jam that happened at Concordia on March 1st and 2nd was like.

This was the first time in a while that I decided to strike it out on my own without my Game of the Year teammates, Nick and Jana. I haven’t made a game completely on my own in some time (August, I think), but I felt like I needed to stretch my “programmer” wings a little bit, if only with Construct 2, which is what I decided to make my game in.

Before the jam happened, I attended narF’s excellent Construct 2 workshop and made a Flappy Bird clone that introduced me to all the basics. I was also lucky enough at the jam itself to have three Construct 2 veterans on-hand: narF, Alicia, and Charlotte, who all gave me a variety of excellent advice over the weekend.

The theme of the jam was “hybrid,” and of course my brainstorm went immediately off the rails when I started to think about the meaning of my own last name, Marcotte. “Marcottage” is, according to Wiktionary (I know, I know, it’s an excellent source), in botany, “a process of plant propagation where soil is tied onto a branch stripped of a ring of bark.” The next logical connection for me was, naturally, apples.


So, the strains of apples that we have around today are kept pure by grafting branches from older apple trees onto young trees. These grafted branches have very little chance to develop resistances to pests and other diseases. Unfortunately, that means that apples get hit with a lot of pesticides.

You know where I’m headed next, right?

Mutated apples. (I guess that it just goes to show that there are an infinite amount of places that you can take a jam theme.)

I thought, “What if the apples were bombarded with so much pesticide that some day something went horribly wrong, and the apples mutated? What if they then duked it out in my fridge?”

My Pre-Jam game, “Apple Rumble”, was born. It is probably the first and only fighting game involving apples as the main characters.

I decided to start with two characters, Granny Smith and Red Delicious. I decided to give them the ability to double-jump, defend themselves by growing protective leaf shields, move left and right, charge into each other, and bite each other. I also decided that while I wanted to show them getting increasingly physically damaged, since I was making everything for the game, including music and art and sound effects, I didn’t have the time to animate them getting more and more damaged. Instead, next to their health bars, I animated a small portrait of them getting increasingly damaged.


Scale was really important to me, because I really did want to have a finished game by the end of the weekend where I had made all the assets myself. Eventually I want to make more arenas, but I limited myself to one for the jam. For this version, I’ve made a fake character selection screen with other contenders such as “Crabapple,” “McIntosh” and “Fuji” that I’d like to learn to program and implement for real.


I got straight to work in Construct 2. Now, normally, I advocate going home to sleep during game jams, but this time I surprised myself. Somehow, I ended up working through the night. I guess that I was overcome by some kind of programmer’s adrenaline (at least, this is what narF called it when I mentioned it to him). I worked until about 5:30 in the morning, finishing the game (except for debugging and polishing). I slept until 8, had breakfast with my parents, and came back to the jam around 11 or so to polish and debug. Thankfully, people at the Dawson Jam won’t have this temptation, since the space will only be open until 9. Go home and sleep!

I also decided to work alone because it’s been so long since I have, but I think that a jam is a great place to get to know people. Working in a team also means that you can focus on one aspect of the game and make it really excellent, or focus on a new skill that you want to learn. For anyone who does feel like working alone, or for anyone else who is curious, the programs that I used for this game are:
Construct 2, which has a free version and is easy to learn, very intuitive. The free version has some limitations.
PyxelEdit, 8$, a great little program for pixel art with onion skinning and sprite sheet exporting.
TuxGuitar, free, a fun program for writing music that lets you place notes on a music sheet and then preview them with jam-appropriate midi-sounding instruments.
Audacity, also free, and when combined with FreeSound.Org or other similar sites, a very powerful tool for making sound effects quickly.

What was great about the Pre-Jam was that everyone seemed really ready to push the limits of their skills and to push into new and interesting design territory. One very interesting game combined physical cards with QR codes on them with an iPad that was set up to interact with them. The iPad kept track of the positions of the players’ resources on the screen as well as their health.

Another game involved having two players work together on the same controller in order to make different monster types to feed to another monster.

I was also especially fascinated by the game that narF and Hamish decided to make in collaboration with everyone else that was at the jam. It was a crowd-sourced Twine-based game. Twine is a free software that’s pretty easy to pick up that is really useful for creating interactive fiction. Throughout the weekend, narF and Hamish asked jammers to play their game, and once they reached the “end” (the game branches), to continue from where that ending left off. Sometimes this meant describing a character, or what would happen next in a pre-existing situation. Sometimes this meant placing objects within the world. I was lucky enough to introduce a perfectly ripe avocado into the game and describe the sheriff in the game as “not looking like Clint Eastwood at all.” I thought this was a great way to engage with other jammers and that it produced a really unique result — and that if narF or anyone else wanted to repeat the experiment, it would continue to produce unique results every time.

I hope to have Apple Rumble up soon for play, but meanwhile, enjoy these screenshots.

The upcoming jam theme is Cataclysm, and I think that it’s a very interesting theme. I’m a bit sad that I won’t be jamming with all of the excellent people that are sure to be at Dawson this weekend. Have fun, make games!

Global Game Jam 2014

adventures in gaming, game jams, indie, Process Writing

You might remember my post about Global Game Jam from last year. It was a big weekend for me! It’s the weekend that I finished my first game! (I had started work on my Pixelles game by then as well, so it’s not the first game that I started to make, but it’s the first that I finished.)

This year, I worked with my new teammates, Nick and Jana, on a game called FishSport: A Sport for Fish.

Here’s how I put it when I posted the game on my social media outlets to show it off: “A Sport for Fish? It’s FishSport! Grab four controllers and four friends and buckle in for a mixed metaphor– er, game about the future and climate change and being a fish who is good at sports.”


About Global Game Jam this year:

TAG has had a new jam coordinator for the past few months, my Critical Hit teammate Charlotte Fisher. She did an amazing job organizing this year’s jam! She and Gina, TAG’s coordinator, worked really hard to get us a great space at Concordia and great prizes and food. Foodwise, we had healthy eating options along with our pizza, plenty of caffeine, but also V8. Prize-wise, Chimera Games in NDG donated a bunch of games for us.

This jam is the first jam where I actually stayed and slept overnight, since I usually drag myself home on the last bus or walk home. TAG’s couches were more comfortable than I thought.

This is also the first jam that my brother, Michael J. Marcotte, participated in. I was so happy to share the experience with him! The game won a silver honour and we gave him the prize since it was his first jam.

All in all, a good jam!

GAMERella: The Making of “Eat Dirt!”

adventures in gaming, game jams, indie, Process Writing


This weekend I cleared my work as best I could, ignored everything else and showed up to Concordia to participate in GAMERella, a game jam for girls, first-time jammers, and first-time game-makers. You can read more about it here.

Before the jam, Nick Kornek and I decided to pair up, then show up at the jam and invite one person who had never, ever made a game or done a jam into our team. We had an idea of what we wanted to do ahead of time, but we were also prepared to be flexible and hear new ideas. Another goal that I had was to make that person’s jam as welcoming and awesome as possible.

Friday night, we found the third member of our team: Jana Sloan Van Geest. She was interested in game narrative and willing to work on our idea. Naturally, after I gave her a quick tutorial on how to use audacity, we had her do the sound design for the game. Luckily, it turned out that she was a natural! The sound for the game is great!

The resulting game, after 48 hours of work minus sleep, is called “Eat Dirt!” and I am extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish in just one weekend. Nick programmed it, I made the art assets, and Jana made the sound. This is the first time while working in a team that I have been solely responsible for all art assets.

The idea came during the sound and pyxel workshop that TAG and Critical Hit held in anticipation of the Jam on Monday. We were on break and I turned to Nick and said the equivalent of “Ha, ha, Nick, the theme is alchemy. Wouldn’t it be funny if we made a game about composting?”

Nick came back to me two days later and said the equivalent of “let’s make Tetris meets Dig-Dug meets…”

And then we waited… and I did homework and I don’t know what Nick did, probably work and homework…and then Friday came and it was time to jam.

This game jam made me realize how far I’ve come as a gamemaker since I started in January, less than a year ago. This is the seventh game that I’ve made and I never realized how much knowledge I had acquired until it came time to impart it. I taught Jana how to use Audacity and very briefly showed her about Pyxel, the pixel art animation tool that I made all our art assets in.

Jana used mostly sounds from FreeSound.Org as well as a tool called “Otomata” to create our sound and music. She took to it so naturally that, during the playtesting, people asking about the sound design. They would never have guessed that this was her first time doing sound design. I feel extremely happy to have helped someone through their first jam – Jana said she had a blast and it feels great to encourage new game creators the same way that I was encouraged during my first jam.

The game creation went so smoothly that I hardly understand it. I would love to work with Jana and Nick again – and I will! We are looking to port the game for the Arcade Royal and create at least two new modes: “Two Worms, One Compost” and “4-player Coop Versus” (two worms to a composter, cooperatively eating against two other worms in another composter). We’re putting the game jam version up online (here’s a link) but we may eventually distribute this as a full-fledged indie game.


My recommendation is to plug your computer or laptop up to a TV using a HDMI cable, get a USB keyboard, and have one person play on the laptop keyboard and one on the USB keyboard. At TAG, we were lucky enough to be able to project the game onto the wall and have two USB keyboards to hook up to my computer.

The Playtesting for this game was some of the most energetic that I’ve ever experienced as a gamemaker. The cherry on the sundae (and the Sunday, since that was when the playtesting happened) was Nick’s e-sport commentary. It was hilarious, energetic, and really made the game come alive. I’m going to suggest an “e-sport commentary track” which can be toggled on or off.

Actually, “Eat Dirt!” went so well that it took top honours during the judging!

Here are some nice things about GAMERella:

– Nine playable games got made.
– The ratio of men to women was almost fifty-fifty (this is unheard-of in game-making).
– According to informal polling, one-third of people at the Jam were making their first game.


P.S: if you are a woman who would like to make her first game but isn’t sure how, the Pixelles Incubator II is now accepting applications. Or, contact TAG or myself and we’d be happy to point you towards some great resources.

Critical Hit: Assembling Rosie Post-Mortem

adventures in gaming, critical hit, indie, Process Writing

I came into the TAG lab for the Critical Hit collaboratory ten weeks ago feeling rebellious against best practice and fired up about making games that broke all the rules thanks to Pippin Barr’s Curious Games’ Studio. I felt ready to do anything. If, working for just thirty-six hours over the course of six weeks, I could make a game for the Pixelles’ Incubator, or a complete Curious Game, then surely with my team, with each of us putting in 40 hours a week, we should have no problem making just about anything we wanted. I’m still fired up about breaking all the rules, and I think that Rosie doesn’t really play by the rules all that much, but I think that I have greatly matured, even in ten weeks, in terms of my expectations of what is possible to make in that same period of time, and in terms of my knowledge about making games in general. This is my post-mortem about Critical Hit and the creation of Assembling Rosie with Charlotte Fisher and Andy Lunga.

There are a few things that made the Assembling Rosie team unusual compared to other teams. One thing that made us different was that my team would only be together for eight weeks, not ten. Due to prior commitments, Andy and Charlotte had to wait two whole agonizing weeks to come in and work with me (except when they were able to sneak away for an afternoon, and in those early days I think every time they were able to come, we had a workshop). I was there during those first two weeks, doing the best that I could with concept work and paper prototypes, even as I finished up work for the Curious Games Studio. I showcased “Nitrogen Narcosis” alongside our first paper prototype, all those weeks ago. Seems like ages ago! We weren’t the only team that started with a paper prototype – “War Agent” also started on paper.

Another thing that made us unusual was that, other than Andy, we were all taking on roles that were partially or completely unfamiliar to us. Charlotte impressed me the most in this area: she had played a bit with Construct 2 in the past (for example, to make the prototype for our game), but on the whole, she taught herself to program in order to make this game. Similarly, I had dabbled in level design and sound design for my own games (what few they are – as most of you know, I only started making games in January), and these were two of my main roles during the creation of Assembling Rosie. I learned a great deal about sound and level design both, but I also learned a lot about making games in general.

I think that the hardest lessons that I personally had to learn about my expectations for Critical Hit were about scope. Our material was so rich, with so much room for expansion and exploration, that it was easy to go off the rails a bit and start thinking of all the amazing features that we could add. [The second hardest lesson that I had to learn was that many gamers just don’t like block puzzles (at least in the perhaps non-representative sample of people who tried our early block-puzzle prototypes).] Once we learned to be strict with ourselves about reigning in the scope, it became easier to think about short-term and long-term goals: goals for the incubator and beyond, if we so chose.

Looking back, what is most amazing to me is that in the end, none of the work that we did early on was lost – it was just…translated. For example, working with the block puzzle for so long opened us up to the idea, when we decided to nix it, of replacing it with another kind of puzzle. Similarly, for a long time there was supposed to be a weird companion creature who helped put Rosie together whenever she came out the other end of a block puzzle. Instead, there is one particular zombie in our sample levels who accompanies Rosie through the doors (which I like to think of as bathroom doors and which is the reasoning behind her needing that companion – girls, after all, are physically incapable of going to the bathroom alone unless they’re at work).

I remember one of the design challenges that puzzled us for the longest time being how to raise the stakes for the player: we largely wanted to steer away from having the player being able to lose permanently, and we had to make sure that we weren’t punishing players who weren’t yet good at playing and needed more practice. We toyed with the idea of time-limits, of decisions that couldn’t be reversed, and a large number of other solutions but in the end it’s something that we never quite managed to solve on our own. It took the first public playtest to cement the features that we were to keep in the game and to figure out that the stakes were plenty high: people were invested in the puzzles for their own sake, because they wanted to complete the level, rather than for any of the reasons that we thought we had to add.

Amongst the many thousands of things that I also learned was how to filter good advice – because we got a lot of good advice, from people who are great game makers with a ton of experience – but that doesn’t mean that it was always advice that we could take, either because it was advice for a game that wasn’t the one that we were making, or because we just felt strongly about a particular choice. Trusting our choices and seeing them through to their conclusions is the only reason that Assembling Rosie exists in the form that it does: there were various points when we had to decide whether to drop pretty much every feature that made it in the game. There are features that we did drop – like pretty much the whole idea of platforms and that traditional side-scrolling kind of obstacle – and we feel that the game is better for them.

Some of the best advice that we got from mentors was:
– Limit your scope, especially for key mechanics, and/or choose to do a vertical slice that you polish until it gleams like it wants to blind you. (We chose to do a vertical slice.)
– Do a content-lock at a pre-decided point before the end of the collaboratory, and from thereon in, work only at debugging and implementing.
– Don’t be worried just because it’s something that you haven’t seen done before. That’s a good thing.
– Implementing art assets will make the game feel more complete – do it as soon as possible!

A few of my favourite moments with mentors and visitors were meeting Vander Caballero from Minority (the creators of Papo & Yo), talking game stories with CJ Kershner, and having a level designer from Ubisoft tell us that he’d never seen anything quite like Assembling Rosie, and he really wanted to play around with it.

Something that helped me maintain a good momentum and a positive mindset was our use of the whiteboard that was next to our workstation. We filled it with short and longterm tasks, crossing them out or erasing them as we completed them. When the board was empty, we filled it again. On the morning of the 23rd of August, we emptied the board for a final time. It felt great. The board was a constant reminder of how much we had accomplished in a day or a week, and the physical act of erasure was a satisfying way to signal the reaching of a goal.

Overall, working with Charlotte and Andy was a really good fit. We had few conflicts, and those conflicts that we did have were quickly solved, mostly involving the normal misunderstandings of learning to work with one another. Compared to other teams, we had fewer conflicts, and once we got used to each other’s styles of working, these conflicts became non-existant. Largely, although we didn’t think that we couldn’t trust each other, we still had to learn to trust each other to know what we were doing, and to trust each other to make decisions independently, because it would have become difficult to, say, clear each individual design, programming, or art decision with the whole team. Thankfully, we learned that trust fairly quickly, and we retained a positive attitude about the project throughout the entire experience. We celebrated small victories even as we moved on to our next goals. Andy’s art is a perfect fit for the game, Charlotte managed to meet every programming challenge that was put before her, and I think that my brain-eating sounds are delightfully squishy and my ideograms and graffiti aren’t too embarrassing compared to Andy’s magical backgrounds. The levels that I designed with Charlotte turned out to have a good learning curve and challenge rating, and our metaphors were well-received.

Here’s what we said about the game during this Friday’s presentation at Google Montreal (sans introductions and thank-yous), where the game was extremely well-received and the stations to play it weren’t empty for a moment during the entire soiree:

Assembling Rosie is a puzzle-platformer game with a twist. What we have for you tonight is a vertical slice, three sample levels that demonstrate what the full game will be.

In the game, you play the role of Rosie, a female zombie who was a punk tattoo artist in life and who must discover her new identity in death. As a zombie, Rosie has the ability to switch out her body parts for objects that she encounters in the environment in order to complete puzzles and acquire delicious brains. All the while, she encounters other zombies who judge her performance and appearance. These other zombies can choose to help or hinder her based on their interactions together.

Through the game’s own rules and systems, we are exploring the perpetuation of female stereotypes and traditional roles as well as the external pressures on women who are expected to navigate these roles. Modern women are expected to juggle a variety of identities and switch at a moment’s notice and we were interested in exploring that in our game.

We were interested in video games as a medium for this exploration not only because we are gamemakers, but also because of the problematic treatment of female gamers in game culture as well as the often troubling portrayal of female characters in games. What could be better than making a game with a strong female lead who has to face up to these problems?

Included in the slice are pieces of graffiti that take jabs at Rosie’s femininity and identity, many of which are lifted directly from Xbox Live transcripts. What’s worse is that, in order to access these insults and slurs, and indeed in order to complete the levels, Rosie must adopt a vacuum arm and start cleaning, thus suggesting a stereotypical role that she is being forced to embody.

Having said that, we wanted to avoid being overly didactic and wanted to make a genuinely fun game – something that would be fun to play and would retain a sense of humour. We hope that you’ll enjoy the game.”

I’m extremely grateful for what the Critical Hit collaboratory allowed me to experience over the last ten weeks. We’re still figuring out a means of distribution for Assembling Rosie, but I’ll be sure to let you all know when it’s available online. Meanwhile, you can listen to Charlotte and I talk about the game on CBC Quebec AM.

Critical Hit: Plus que ca change…

adventures in gaming, critical hit, indie, Process Writing

When the mentors and industry people who came to talk to us about Critical Hit told us that our game would change every week, I didn’t believe them – or, more accurately, I didn’t want to believe them. I should have guessed that they were right, since in the first week alone the game changed drastically at least three times. Naturally, what they predicted is exactly what’s happening. Thankfully, we haven’t abandoned anything that spoke to us metaphorically or ideologically: the changes that we’ve made have continually been to narrow our focus, to make something that we will be able to complete in the remaining five and a half weeks of Critical Hit.

Luckily, the art assets haven’t changed all that much since we’ve kept the kinds of objects in the game consistent, so Andy has still been able to plug away, creating awesome and funny animations for us. Also, as I’ve probably mentioned, Charlotte is a speed demon when it comes to prototyping – she is able to get at the core of what is essential to testing a mechanic with no bells and whistles (that’s my job as the sound person later on).

We have also had an amazing support team in the form of just about everyone at Critical Hit and all the amazing mentors that have been brought in. It isn’t always easy to hear how your game is really great conceptually but that you’ll never be able to make and polish all those amazing mechanics in the time remaining, but we’ve tried to balance not being swayed by every single thing that everyone says with taking good advice when we hear it.

I don’t even know if I should describe the current version of the game at all since who knows when things might change again, but I think it’s a worthwhile exercise and it’ll be nice to have this to look back on, so here goes. We’ve dispensed with body types in that we’ve combined the body types with the items that we had representing our stereotypes: Rosie can now wield a vacuum cleaner to take items through subterranean mazes, and once she’s acquired those, she can carry them in her inventory, which is the baby carriage. In the mazes are items that she can use for different purposes: the red light, which lets her examine dark areas and read hidden text, the briefcase, which she can use to break through glass obstacles (ceilings, shall we say?), and blocks, which come as circles, squares and triangles, and are placed in different configurations to complete puzzles. From the maze, she can also acquire a very shiny bikini, which causes other zombies to follow her. Other than that, there will be other objects in the maze that help and hinder and refer to different metaphors. Rosie is still looking for brains and other zombies still give her a piece of their mind, which she can return with interest.

So, if you were to stop by today, you’d be able to see some of Andy’s great animations and concept art, some of our prototypes for the puzzles from Charlotte, and some good ol’ fashioned paper map level design from me. Here’s a picture.


More soon!

Critical Hit: Call for Voice Actors

adventures in gaming, critical hit, indie, Process Writing

Hi Internet, but particularly people of Montreal!

I’m starting on the audio for our Critical Hit Collaboratory game, Assembling Rosie (working title) and I need your best zombie noises! I plan to be setting up a few recording sessions here at Concordia and I was hoping that some of you might be willing to contribute your voices. The recording shouldn’t take more than an hour or so: we’ll do some zombie growls, zombie groans and confused zombie “huhs?” and any other noise you have that you want to throw at us.

If this is something that you might be interested in, please let me know at The recording sessions aren’t scheduled yet but they should be happening Monday to Friday, between 9 AM and 8 PM (although ideally we’d like to finish the recording before 5 PM). We’ll schedule them based on general availabilities of our volunteer zombies.

Thanks so much! Hoping to hear your best undead soon!

Critical Hit: End of Week 3

adventures in gaming, critical hit, indie, Process Writing

So, as you all probably know by now, or maybe you don’t, I’m a part of the newly-formed Rivet Games (we have twitter as of today! @rivet_games) and I’m taking part in the Critical Hit collaboratory that’s going on in the TAG space at Concordia this summer. You might also know that Charlotte and Andy, the rest of my team, weren’t really around for the first two weeks of the 10-week incubator because they were finishing up another contract. Well, this week was their first week with me and wow did things ever start to move around here!

We’ve made ourselves a schedule and so far we’re ahead of it, so that’s great news. We’re doing our first character models and prototyping the mechanics. On my end, I’ve been redrawing all of those ideograms via tablet this week and I’m now onto storyboarding. Our main issues are that even with all this great progress, ten weeks isn’t all that much, and that we still haven’t quite found the perfect gameplay for all the sections of our game – in particular, we’re searching for ways to introduce the stereotype objects in a more seamless way, and we’re also trying to liven up the gameplay between the block puzzles – we do know that we’re going to have a zombie reaction system, but we’re not sure what else the player should be doing at that point. We’re toying with the idea of maybe consolidating the puzzle section and the zombie reaction section in some way. We’re hoping that we’ll be inspired while we’re prototyping but we also have to be aware of how much time we have. We need to control our scale.

Our aim right now is to create a first “vertical slice” that shows just what kind of game this is and how the mechanics work.

Well, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of what I’ve been working on since I should get back to it: a few of the “thoughts” of the zombies. These will appear in thought-bubbles above their heads when they react to the player. Try to interpret them?






Curious Games and Critical Hit: Playtesting

adventures in gaming, curious games, indie, playthroughs, Process Writing, research

Yesterday, the Curious Games Studio showcase joined forces with the first Critical Hit playtest. So bitter! So sweet! So bittersweet! (By which I mean I’m really going to miss having Pippin Barr around – he’s our first Visiting Game Designer and he leaves Montreal today. Pippin is excellent at giving creative feedback and working with him during the Curious Games studio has changed the way that I think about game creation, especially in regards to my role as a game creator and in terms of what it is possible to do in a game, even with limited resources. Thanks, Pippin!)

Something especially interesting about this joint playing was that I have a game for the Curious Games studio (as you all probably know) and I had a paper prototype of our game for Critical Hit out as well. This is something else that I never would have expected – having enough games in progress to playtest two of them at once. Madness. (Really – I spent a lot of time trying to move between both games. Unfortunately, that probably means that they were both a little underplayed – but it still felt good to have that much to show.)

Another upshoot of this was that I didn’t get as much of a chance to playtest other people’s work, but, at least for Curious Games studio, I know that there’ll be an effort to put all of the games online, and I’ll be sure to post them here, and I’ll have other opportunities to playtest my fellow Crit-Hitters’ (hey, how’s that for a group name, TAGsters?) games. What I did get to playtest was all a super-effective use of our eight weeks of class-time: a creepy home invasion game with a sinister ending (this is a pun about fire – all the internet points if you kind of get it although it’s not a very good pun), a game where you just can’t win with your high-maintenance significant other and a game where your job as the game’s camera is to keep Sir Capsule alive by properly panning around and alerting him to dangers ahead (Capsule being the default sprite in Unity if you don’t create a model).

So, here are some of my notes about the playtests as I think through what people’s reactions mean:

There were two major physical problems that I didn’t anticipate during the playtest. One is something that would only ever occur if it was necessary to play the game in a room full of people: it’s really annoying and almost impossible to put headphones on over a scuba diving mask. A solution might have been to use earbuds, but in my experience (at Pixelles when I forgot to bring headphones), people are reluctant to share earbuds, and probably rightly so. The other is very simple, and something that should have occurred to me since I wear them half the time myself: glasses. Scuba diving masks and glasses. When I mentioned it to Pippin, he said basically that it was another opportunity for something funny to happen: people having to lean in close to their screens to play. Maybe. I can’t really think of another solution. I have the option of wearing contacts that I usually carry with me, so it didn’t occur to me, although maybe it’s not a problem I would have been able to fix even if I had thought about it ahead of time.

From a programming perspective, I noticed a bug when playing the game through multiple times: the air sometimes doesn’t reset to its original levels and I noticed that people had a lot of trouble with accidentally clicking on the whistle instead of the piece that they wanted and that they usually seemed to forget entirely about being able to move the perspective around using the arrow keys. The whistle thing was intentional, although I disliked that it interrupted the gameplay and might try to do something like make it even smaller or put it someplace where the player is unlikely to click it by accident.

People seemed to mostly enjoy the novelty of the equipment and sort of marvelled at the difficulty of playing the game in the equipment compared to without. I should add that using the particular mac mouse that we playtested with was plenty difficult without gloves as well. Something that I wasn’t altogether satisfied with but that I think is overall unavoidable is that I found the process of getting on the equipment and the process of adjusting the mask sizes to be slow and cumbersome to the process of playing the game. Honestly, it does mimic reality: getting equipment on and off is something that divers have to deal with and we all have our rituals of what goes on first, what goes on last, and everything in between. But I hadn’t intended for the equipment process itself to be a part of the game because I only really needed the difficulty to be part of the gameplay.

I watched about six pairs of people play the game. I was again struck by the way that the interaction between the two players is really what makes the game – the experience of playing together and laughing together was wonderful to watch. I also got to think more about my own design and how I seemed to have unconsciously embedded more aspects of nitrogen narcosis than I had thought: for example, it’s possible to play five games of tic-tac-toe throughout the game (or more if you run into extra time and Player 2 is willing to drag around Player 1’s ‘O’s for him to the right spot and not cheat…) and tic-tac-toe is a simple enough game that that’s arguably pretty repetitive. As I watched people play yesterday, I remembered a story that I had heard about a diver whose responsibility it was to tie a line to a wreck. He wasn’t able to tie the knot properly and someone else took over for him. Later on, at depth, he found an end of rope that wasn’t tied to anything, and, being narc’d, he started to repeatedly tie knots in it, as if trying to fulfill his earlier responsibility. He would have done that until he ran out of air had his buddy not noticed and brought him up (it’s my understanding that the knot-tying diver was actually violent in his desire not to stop his work). I’d say that out of the six playthroughs that I saw, in four cases both players seemed to really like it, in one playthrough the players seemed a little mystified, and in one case the equipment seemed to interfere with the enjoyment of the game.

What seemed the most successful overall was the interaction between programming and the physical world – how what someone was wearing in the physical world affected what they were able to do in the programmed space. That’s pretty cool.


For this playtest, I was specifically trying to see how people felt about our two gameplay mechanics: the ideograms (if they were communicating properly and were fairly easy to interpret) and the block puzzles (specifically: how people felt about them and their relationship to the body that they created).

The answer for the ideograms is a resounding yes: people almost always got the sense of what they were supposed to mean without any help (although there may be a slight learning curve to learning the “language” of our particular ideograms), and what’s more, they really enjoyed them. I think that it would not be difficult to expand our ideogram “vocabulary” as much as we want, because all that’s involved is drawing a 2-D ideogram with no frills – just an outline, really. When the ideograms weren’t clear, people sometimes chose them because they enjoyed their ambiguity.

The answer for the puzzles is unsurprisingly complex, and it revealed a great deal of complexity in regard’s to people’s thoughts about body image.

How the playtest worked:
I provided written instructions to the players and then tried to step back (although most people didn’t really read them and I ended up explaining things that were on the sheet every time anyhow – I don’t mind, it gave me a chance to interact with the playtesters).


So, as I mentioned, the ideograms really seemed to work. Where things get much more difficult is in the matter of the block puzzles. As a mechanic for sorting out which body parts the player got, the block puzzle seems to work well metaphorically. Where things get more complicated is in terms of which body parts are included in the puzzles.

One person noted that she would have chosen Rosie’s body parts except that she didn’t want to have tattoos (Rosie’s body has tattoos because of her backstory) – she didn’t like tattoos and didn’t feel that they properly represented what she wanted. That’s really interesting because it points to stigma that we didn’t consider: it’s true that there are still some people who feel strangely about tattoos – especially, for example, in a professional workplace (although I’m under the impression that this is less of a problem than it used to be, I really don’t know).

On the other hand, this is a game about being pressured to make choices that the player doesn’t necessarily want to make – in terms of what their body should look like and what career they will end up in. This same player felt that we should include more varieties of body part (maybe we can vary them between the puzzles, because we do have a limitation for the number of blocks that we can include in the puzzle). She also suggested throwing in one other accessory to help narrow down the character’s role – something that the player gets to choose. In terms of blocks, we do have two pairs of skinny arms (that was to increase the likelihood that the player would feel the need of choosing a skinny block) and we could change one for something else, but we really have to think about what that choice would mean.

Another playtester said that they weren’t sure whether they were happy with their body: “I found it hard to tell if I was ‘happy’ with my body… I didn’t have any sense of its utility, for instance. I was inclined to just like it because it was mine.”

Personally, I don’t want players to dislike the body that they end up with – I think that the reframing of the body will only happen when they interact with other zombies – which, for the playtest, were simulated by the crowd of people and the ideograms – and people were allowed to choose whatever ideogram they wanted. In the context of the game, the zombies will be choosing from a more limited set based on what body parts come out and what “stereotype” object the player has.

Similarly, the “stereotype” object is represented in the paper prototype by a small gift box (I felt that it was a waste of resources to make a mini-version of each object for inclusion in the puzzle), and I had whoever the player chose as their assembler assign them whatever object that they want. In the game, we want the player to experience each of the five stereotypes one by one.

I think that forcing the player to take out the objects from the puzzle in a specific order (say, legs first, then arms, then torso, then “present”) might help constrain people’s choices in the puzzle while creating more of a sense of difficulty, since, as it has been pointed out, people can just take out any body part opportunistically right now. I don’t know how difficult that would be but it would make sense if the body were being built from the ground up.

I’ve got a lot to think about!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the playtest and thanks to the Curious Games Studio students and the Critical Hit participants for sharing their games.

Curious Games: Nitrogen Narcosis Up on Kongregate!

adventures in gaming, curious games, indie, Process Writing

Hey everyone,

So here’s a link to Nitrogen Narcosis up on Kongregate.

You will need:
– a scuba mask (or a ski mask, or swimming goggles – these can be bought at the dollar store)
– neoprene gloves (or gardening gloves, or work gloves).
– a mouse (with those gloves on, your trackpad won’t detect your movements all that well)
– Optional: a scuba vest with 10 lbs of lead weights in it or a vest with 10 lbs of something else in it.

We’ll be playtesting the Curious Games Studio games at Concordia this Wednesday, the 26th, in the afternoon. Get in touch with me if you’d like more information!