I voluntarily quit composing for Rogue Eclipse today. It’s possible to work alongside some of the nicest people around on a really exciting project and still know when something isn’t right for you.

At the end of the day, composing music just isn’t where my heart is anymore.

I want to properly explore a bunch of other avenues of creativity, and more importantly, I desperately want to start making meaningful progress on Where Abundance Lies again.

October 3, 2021

Inhabiting Imaginary Spaces // The Dreaded Subject of Systems

I’m still trying to refine my own ideas and how I talk about play. I don’t want to be didactic, but at the same time, I feel a huge sense of discomfort on how it is often talked about by game designers and theorists. Please don’t take this as some kind of grand overarching theory of play, I’m more just trying to make clear my own feelings on such.

Almost every type of play, or game, primarily focuses on some kind of idea of space. This play-space is often imagined, in which case tools such as illustrations on a board, hand-drawn maps, levels in a videogame; or they can be completely real, as with playing fields, tables or social spaces.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the point of any game is to make being inside that space in some way compelling.

The primal joy of being able to inhabit and exist and move and express within an imagined space is the reason why games of all sorts, and more specifically roleplaying and videogames, are so special to me. I feel that often, far more focus is given to systems that intentionally or unintentionally detract from this, and I think this might be a good rubric for determining my feelings on game design theory.

Does a gameplay system aid or hinder the player in inhabiting the space?

For whose enjoyment does a system exist and what is its intended purpose?

Does a system treat the player as subject or participant?

Hopefully I can use these questions to help talk a bit more constructively about my feelings on game design as opposed to endlessly decrying the core loop as a concept.

October 3, 2021


I came up with a quick and dirty system for random-rolling basic concepts for weapons in the game, which I then imported into Gridless and laid out some very rudimentary stats, which can then be exported to a .json file for Godot to parse, hopefully taking a lot of the legwork out of creating each weapon in-game. My roll tables are as follows:

ARCHETYPES: SMG, Precision, Pistol, Burstfire, Assault, Sniper, Shotgun, Heavy (roll 1d8)

PROPERTES: Ballistic, Smart, Rail, Exotic (roll 1d4)

MANUFACTURERS: Eklund Concern, Temtesh Manufacturing Corporation, Tactical Hardware Design, Imnek Research and Development, XOR Fabrik, Void Ballistics (roll 1d6)

EKLUND CONCERN: Mass-production, function over aesthetic, rugged, dependable

TEMTESH MANUFACTURING CORPORATION: Southeast Asian heavy industrial megafabricator

TACTICAL HARDWARE DESIGN: Overpriced American paramilitary / PMC aesthetic fetish gear

IMNEK R&D: Weapons division of high-end scramjet and rail accelerator manufacture corp

XOR FABRIK: ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛-backed manufacturing arm of [REDACTED] ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ blacksite skunkworks

VOID BALLISTICS: Corporate plaything of a sadistic gun-fetishist billionaire, cruelty by design

After rolling about 40 guns this way, I also added in another kitbashed’ category for improvised weapons, figuring it would make sense for those exploring ruins to try and engineer their own weapons out of spare parts, scrap and schematics. Zeiram’s incredible prop design being entirely to blame for this.

How the fuck I am meant to concept and model neary 50 guns is anybody’s guess really. Pretty sure I’ve set myself an impossible task. That number will likely fall considerably.

August 16, 2021

The Underlands


A vast swathe of boreal forest, moorland and rugged, windswept coast. Nobody knows the exact purpose of the many ruins that starkly dot the lands here, and the best guesses are left to the scholars and theorists, but many cut deep into the land itself, veins of angular concrete hollowing out the stone and earth.


Above ground live the people of the Underlands, a diverse mix of the obsolete technologies that humankind cast off in its passing - synthetic humanoids, biomechanical sleeves, constructed intelligences and workforce robotics. Young and unsure of their own history, they have formed many loose fiefdoms and factions, be they through shared identity, common objectives, or mutual aid and support. Tensions are rife and allegiances fluctuate. Some see the land as theirs by right, others as a resource to be exploited, some treat the ruins with a deep spiritual significance, while many simply try to eke out an existence. Salvaged technology and curiosities of bygone ages intermingle with labour and craftsmanship by hand.


Beneath the land, repositories of bygone ages sit untouched, waiting to be rediscovered. However, journeys into the deep are fraught with risk, be it from others who would contend claims with violence, from many weapons of war that still lie hidden, or other, far more esoteric threats that defy easy explanation.


Far off to the vast and uninhabited steppes of the east, lies a tower that juts out of the earth and pierces the sky like rebar through broken concrete. Those who venture there and back report a deep strangeness to the environment that could not easily be described, and the tower itself has yet to be explored. As such, wild rumours and tales abound as to what could lie inside.

April 27, 2021

The Fun Zone

Yes, I am still banging the drum about overly prescriptive game design.

  • Behavioural modelling is not game design
  • Punishing a player from deviating from your intended behavioural model has real-world parallels and none of them are good
  • Punishing a player for not engaging with your game in the way you, the designer intended them to in an environment with no material consequence is absurd
  • What constitutes fun’ for somebody might be entirely different from what you as a designer intend
  • No I do not intend to play Doom: Eternal’

Look I’m aware that NuDoom and other games with clearly defined and formalised mechanics and loops get a lot of love, but I am so intensely weary of what amounts to a prescriptivist approach to play that has become utterly prevalent in game design over the past couple of decades. NuDoom’s approach of mechanistically enforcing an optimal style of play exactly in line with the designer’s intent (what Hugo Martin referred to as The Fun Zone’) teaches the player by punishing them for deviation, through repetition.

Platformers such as Limbo, Inside and Little Nightmares actively punish the player for not anticipating the designer’s explicit intent in a scene, often forcing a fail state on the player for mistiming moves or simply not interpreting the designer’s tells’ correctly. Call of Duty railroads players through its blockbuster setpieces, as do many other prestige’ games, often having players embody avatars that may make decisions fundamentally at odds with a player’s interpretation of the setting.

The designer’s role in these types of games therefore becomes fundamentally similar to that of a film director, and interaction with the game is reduced to a state of not-quite-passivity, whereby a player’s agency is strictly meted out and parametrised. I feel the prevalence of this approach is fundamentally limiting. It is not a requirement for games to emulate cinema. Game design’s response to ludonarrative dissonance’ has simply been to constrict ludology to fit a given narrative.

I desperately wish there were more games that truly bucked this trend. STALKER will forever remain one of my absolute favourite games of all time due to just going in a wildly different direction which has never been fully replicated, giving the player a fairly standard set of first-person shooter controls, but baking in incredibly rich background mechanics, and giving wide remit on how to tackle almost any given task. I can think of so many games that would benefit from emulating STALKERs wide-remit approach to player agency, be they immersive sims, traditional CRPGs, first-person shooters, open-world sandboxes etc etc.

Cruelty Squad is another great example of this, giving the player large, entirely nonlinear levels and a set of basic mechanics and more exotic tools with which to interact with their environment. There are no incorrect approaches. Experienced players can finish levels in seconds. This is encouraged, but never actually mandated. Cruelty Squad was developed by a single developer in a free, open-source game engine and has by almost all conceivable metrics been an absolute success.

Hell, Breath Of The Wild is one of the most successful videogames ever.

I think game design thinking just needs to fundamentally trust the player more. That’s really just it.

March 31, 2021

OSR and Negative Space

I wrote a really terrible article last week about my distaste of formalised core loops in game design theory. I was honestly kind of surprised that some folk responded at all, and I had some really good explanations from people far more versed in this sort of thing than I am. That said, my view hasn’t altogether changed, and I still find the idea of tightly structuring and defining what the player can and should do to be infuriatingly narrow.

There are so many examples of entire gaming subcultures based around breaking out of imposed limitations: Speedrunning, boundary-breaking, virtual tourism, pacifist runs are just a prominent few. These are not new developments, and I would argue contribute a houge amount of worth and richness to gaming as a medium. And yet there is a lot of talk in design circles about saving the player from themselves or ensuring they don’t optimise the fun out of a given game, which while no doubt well-intentioned, can feel condescending and paternalistic.

I think part of my newfound distaste for this kind of approach partially stems from my newfound infatuation with the OSR (or, OldSchool Roleplaying/Renaissance) movement, which unlike more conventional pen-and-paper roleplaying, favours mechanical simplicity, and relies on conversation between the players and game-master to arbitrate what is or is not possible or plausible in a session of play.

Games like Knave, Mothership, The Black Hack or Best Left Buried, and modules like The Stygian Library, Deep Carbon Observatory or Lorn Song Of The Bachelor are all hugely imaginative, but share a common design thread of minimalist rulesets that encourage a more freeform and interpretative approach to play that is wildly exciting to me.

This is radically different from looped approaches, which attempt to model player behaviour in predictable and repeatable ways. I also think this is a solid example of what Jennifer Scheurle refers to in her wonderful article about Valheim and use of negative space in game design on Polygon. This, as somebody without much formal design experience under my belt, was absolutely eye-opening. Simplicity of formal mechanics and trust in how the player engages with the game are really at the heart of what I yearn for more of.

I realise I have touched on a lot here without going into detail on any of it, as to do so would take way more time than I have to spare, so I will just instead bullet point a summary of my thoughts:

  • Trust in how a player engages with your work is preferable to me over trying to define how they experience it.
  • The concept of defining a core loop’ for a game is potentially useful, but often abused.
  • OSR is a wonderful movement from a really diverse set of voices that deserves more serious consideration in game design circles.
  • OSR mechanics would be staggeringly difficult to interpret into videogames, but perhaps negative space in design is a common thread.
  • There are alternatives to established videogame design conventions hugely worth exploring

March 10, 2021