Hi, I'm Adrian Marple and I'm currently working on an experimental LED game system called Super Orbitron with Mana.
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I'm also the creator of OBVERSION available on Steam.

Older blog entries:

New Name and a Public Appearance

March 15, 2022

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. Part of that is that I just haven’t been doing as much that has felt worth sharing. But I at least wanted to give some updates about the old LED sphere game system thing. For those that don’t know, we (Mana and I) changed the name to Super Orbitron to reflect the fact that we now support multiple games. That, and no one ever knows how to spell “Rhomberman”. We’ve currently got three awesome retro-inspired arcade-style games: snektron (i.e. snake + tron), co-op PacMan, and the original game I started with, bomberman. Mana and I have been steadily chipping away working on Super Orbitron, refining the onboarding, prototyping the decorative housing (see below), and steadily improving all three games. More games will come in the future, but first we really want to nail what we’ve already got.

Now if you’re wondering when you might be able to play this, I’ve got some news for you. We’re planning on showing up at GDC guerilla-style in Yerba Buena Park (San Francisco) Tuesday and Wednesday (3/22 and 3/23) from about 12-5pm. Come join us there if you want to check out Super Orbitron in person. You don’t need to have any sort of GDC pass, just show up with yourself and a non-ancient smartphone.


Super Rhomberman, The Marplebox, and more!

September 28, 2021

It’s been awhile since I’ve told you about what I’ve been up to, so this is going to a bit of an omnibus newsletter. I’ll start with what’s been most exciting for me lately: Super Rhomberman, my bespoke hardware game where you play bomberman on an LED strip wrapped around a sphere. You may recall that I started this as a sort of palate cleanser after launching Obversion. But I naturally had to shelve it when the pandemic struck, but now it’s back and it’s even better than I anticipated. Really just watch the video below to get an idea for what the game is. Shout out to Mana who is doing the music, SFX, and some low level technical stuff. Also thanks to Jedd for filming.

I’ve also been working on The Marplebox. This started as a set of exercises taken from the textbook Rules of Play and, well, let’s just say I couldn’t help but see some ways to improve them. So before I knew it, I ended up with a box full of game materials (generally for simpler party-type games), and nine robust exercises that reference custom decks of cards full of different base games, game elements, and game materials. If you want to see more details about the exercises and a few example games that we created using them, check out this doc.

I guess now it’s time to talk about the games that I normally talk about. Progress on Metasweeper has been quite slow given everything else I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by (quite intentionally I might add). I’ve been working on setting up the mechanics for the ice biome so I can do some level design. I started working on a tutorial area that exists outside the land of the sacred lattice, but I’ve since decided that I need to hold off on this before I devote too much time and energy to it (see the gif below for a cool suit up sequence that I’m definitely going to use somewhere one way or another). And I added a few other little bits of life like tiny snakes that slither amongst the clover (at right angles of course).

For Cooperative Chess on the other hand, I’ve decided to “cut my losses” in a manner of speaking. I’ve grown increasingly annoyed with trying to use electron to package a website as a desktop app and quite frankly I’m just not that excited by the concept anymore, and if I’m not excited, why should I expect people to pay for it. So putting this all together, I’m abandoning launching on Steam and instead just going to throw it up on itch.io (I mean the game is at least good enough to exist somewhere on the internet and represent me). I’m also going to do a little experiment and put a small speed bump prompting the player to sign up for this very newsletter where there used to be a hard road block between the demo and paid version. The site is still restricted for now but you can access it here if you want to check it out.


Metasweeper's got a *Coming Soon* page now!

July 13, 2021

So this one marketing guru-ish person, Chris Zukowski, keeps harping that unless you have a pre-established brand (spoilers: I don’t), you should get your game up on Steam and earning wishlists as soon as possible (the Steam team themselves say pretty much the same thing). So once I took a much needed break after all the Co-op Chess/Steam Next Fest stuff, I whipped together a page and logo and whatnot for Metasweeper, and now it’s live on Steam and ready for all those wishlists!

Wishlist Metasweeper on Steam!

Note that it will be quite some time before Metasweeper actually launches. So be prepared for it to be in wishlist limbo for a couple years.

In other Metasweeper news, I had a epiphany. I’ve been contemplating how to add NPCs to Metasweeper. Well, I’ve got this avatar that’s a sphere in some sort of self propelling hamster ball cage thing. So I thought, “What if all the NPCs are in their own hamster balls? And what if the cages are actually like diving or space suits and contain an atmosphere necessary for these little guys to survive? They must be explorers!” So yeah I’ve evolved the story so that you and your NPC friends are explorers from another world. That’s why you’re spherical and everything else is more rectilinear (the native life in Metasweeper evolved under the influence of the Sacred Lattice). And the mines are an invasive species (note they also aren’t very rectilinear) that wiped out the native sentient life and part of the game is figuring that out and restoring the ecosystem. I love it when one small design choice just leads to a cascade of other neat little consequences. That’s how you know it was a good choice.


Cooperative Chess Returns

June 8, 2021

Some of you may remember that I made a little prototype for a game called Cooperative Chess. Well, I’ve spent the last 3 or so months improving and productionizing it, and now I’ve got a demo up on steam. If you could do me a favor, please wishlist it to appease the Steam algorithm gods:

Wishlist Co-op Chess on Steam!

You can also play the demo there if you want (but wishlist is the main call to action here). If you don’t have anyone to play with, I’ve deliberately tried to add some solid single player content including some interesting puzzles.

At this point, it behooves me to mention that the impetus for all of this was what we’ve retroactively termed a “molasses jam” with the theme of turning a violent genre non-violent. And all of the games that participated in this slow and sticky game jam have submitted to Steam Next Fest, which requires that you have a demo for your game available for the duration of the event (June 16-20). And true to Parkinson’s Principle it’s come down to the wire getting this demo in place and I’m a wee bit burnt out (after all of this I’m going to be taking a nice little break for myself).

“So what did productionizing Cooperative chess entail?” you might be asking. Well some of it was updating the aesthetics. As you may have noticed, the game is not pure black and white (which is how it started). At one point I just threw in a gradient background for kicks and it ended up sticking and helping drive the rest of the tone for the game: acknowledging chess, but focusing on beginners and willing to shed certain chess standards. And that wasn’t limited to visuals, but broader UX concerns as well. For example, in the image below you can see that the white king is in check (from the attack path emanating from the black queen) and you can also see which pieces can actually do something about it (since all other pieces have reduced opacity).

On the technical side, I had to rewrite everything to use node instead of cramming everything into a single html file like I had before. All this so I could use electron (which bundles a website with chromium to be able to ship as a desktop app). Landing on that tech stack took a while to decide, but ultimately seems like it was the right choice (at very least I’ve learned a lot). Though there were some annoying hurdles that I knew I’d have to deal with that generally proved as bad as expected (shout out to Mason Remaley for helping me integrate the Steam SDK with electron).

I also knew from the outset that I wanted to work with an artist for the cover art and that was a whole saga (or at least it felt like that to me). I tried looking for an artist to contract and ended up going with someone recommended by a friend. Note that this was somewhat of a rushed decision because I needed to make the Steam page for cooperative chess live before the deadline to submit to Steam Next Fest (back in mid April). Well unfortunately, this artist wasn’t really producing something of the quality I wanted - it felt rather lifeless and dull (which is partially my fault for starting her in the wrong direction and probably a bit because she wasn’t super familiar with the idiom of video game art). Fortunately, I had a backup plan. And that was to have a fellow dev and molasses jam participant Mana. Working with Mana it was clear how valuable having a good rapport and back and forth is. We may have gone several weeks past the Steam Next Fest deadline (I just used the substandard drab art for my submission and just held back on marketing), but I’m quite pleased with the outcome. And I’ve definitely learned a thing or two about working with others.

So yeah, that’s the story of Co-op Chess so far. Now I’m going to take that break I mentioned.


P.S. Big shout out to Jon Peck for the SFX and Raph d’Amico for working with me on Co-op Chess to add some juice (juice is an actual term of art within the game dev world for those that don’t know).

The Rumspringa Plan

May 4, 2021

There comes a time when every Amish teen needs to decide whether to abandon their safe, welcoming home and go live amongst the English or become permanent members of the Amish community. And so they are given a trial period called Rumspringa where the draconian strictures of Amish life are relaxed and they can go investigate the outside world for a time. Well, I have never really lived outside the Bay Area. So my idea is to do a sort of Rumspringa myself and see if there’s anywhere that can tempt me away from my comfortable but expensive life here in Silicon Valley.

The idea is to choose a few candidate cities and, over the course of a year or so, visit each for a minimum of two weeks to really get a feel for the place (probably mostly just chill in whatever airbnb I find and see what it’s like to live and work there). A major consideration for choosing which cities to visit is what sort of indie dev scene they have. And to that end I ideally want to try to arrange to have a local guide for each city (I’ll probably resort to cold contacting people if I can’t find a guide through my network). I’m also considering the timing of these visits and I’ll try to line them up with any sort of conference/summit/expo/meetup, which means I’ll probably still have to wait a few months before I even start executing the plan.

So you’re probably asking yourself, “Adrian, what cities are you considering?” (at least those of you who have gotten past the stage of being slightly jealous of this plan who are instead likely thinking “What cities would I go to if I were doing this?”). Well I’ll tell you the cities currently on my list:

  • Vancouver
  • Austin
  • Portland
  • St. Petersburg (where a dev friend recently moved to)
  • Toronto

And here’s some places I’m considering visiting, but will almost certainly not move to:

  • NYC
  • Copenhagen
  • Melbourne

I’ll probably only go to three or four of these. But when I do, I’ll be excited to report on my experience.

If you want to suggest a candidate city I haven’t considered or have a potential guide for a city I listed, absolutely feel free to respond to this email with your suggestion!


Creature Taxonomy

February 23, 2021

I’ve been focusing on fleshing out the world of Metasweeper recently. And I mean that somewhat literally, in that I added some animals and transformed previously lifeless things to flesh and blood (actually it’s still an open question whether creatures in Metasweeper have blood, but’s a consideration for a future date). In doing all of this, I started developing a taxonomy — in a sense play-acting an old school Linnaean natural philosopher, but for a world I created.

I’d like to share the taxa I discovered for the fauna (animals). We’ve got four “phyla”: cube-based, line-based, sphere-based, and darts (I’ll probably come up with more evocative names someday).

Cube-based animals are the most common. They tend to be passive and are generally light and floaty. Examples include the “fireflies” that float around aimlessly and act as points of light; all the doors which are actually ensembles of rectangular columns that rise out of your way when prompted; and the new hoppers that jump around in water and hide when the player gets too close (pictured below).

Line-based animals are far more energetic. They like to move fast and often form spirals. Examples include the signs that resolve to an image when the player approaches (bottom right); bounce pads that are now spirals that launch the player up (bottom left), and the new version of bridges in Shockwood Mire (the new name for the electric swamp); these are comprised of a pair of converging snakes otherwise best described by looking at the image immediately below.

Sphere-base life are the ones that damage the player. For now that includes the “mines” inside the black cubes and the Red Sprites that are one of the main (and most complex) things the player interacts with that isn’t just vanilla minesweeper.

Finally, we’ve got the darts. This is more of speculative group as it now only consists of the little fish-like creatures in the spawn pools and the exact same ones that reside inside the player avatar. But I’ve got vague plans for some flocks of darts that fly around in maybe the desert area and changing the flag symbol to be more obviously of this type.

Then there’s all the flora (and maybe some microbial life), but that’s not as varied and I already talked enough about taxonomy, so I’ll leave that to the imagination of the reader.

Finally, I’d like to round out this post by giving my promised report on that whole game accelerator thing. Well, my team bit off way more than we could chew so we only ended up with a demo instead of a launched game like we were supposed to. But we’ve decided to keep at it, albeit at a much slower pace, so it may yet launch eventually. So what did we make? Well, we’ve got a name:Astro Knight. And some gameplay: platform combat. Also a bit of story/theme to hang stuff off: 5 levels corresponding to the 5 stages of grief (image below is from the anger level). More exiting to me is the art style: a kind of quirky, eclectic, retro-feeling synthwave. Part of what gives it this vibe is an edge detection + bloom effect and “animation” that’s actually just the key frames, which gives it an almost strobe-like feel.

But addressing the program at large, the sense of community was great and I’m hoping to stay engaged with it in the future, and I really like the organizer (Willem Delventhal) and the way he thinks. Being honest, I was a bit overqualified so I didn’t learn that much about the actual craft of game design (which wasn’t really one of my goals so that’s fine). Rather, I learned much more about the team dynamics of making a game (which was one of my goals). So overall I found the experience worth it.

Oh and I actually get a surprisingly generous commission for any referrals for future cohorts, so ping me if you’re interested, and I can give you way more details.


P.S. Today, I just finished my 33rd revolution around the sun (while not inside another human). So that’s a thing.

Can't Stop Metasweeping

January 5, 2021

Well, I gave myself a break from Metasweeper (partially because of this game accelerator thing, more on that later), and I think the time off was well spent. I basically just waited until I felt compelled to implement some little feature which then opened up the flood gates of metasweeping productivity. The particular straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak was a little avatar detail where I added the little fish things that normally surround you in a respawn pool to the avatar’s sphere (and they also double as a health indicator). You can see this effect if you look closely in the gif below.

But the more interesting metasweeper development is the new biome: the electric swamp. I had been thinking about some sort of deep forest as the next biome so I’d be able reuse my clover effect in some sort of variant form, and after this recent creative deluge I figured the dungeon could be a series of huts surrounded by small motes. Combine this with the electric snake thing I accidentally devised earlier and BAM! you get an electric swamp. I’m still tweaking tons of details, but here’s a sneak peak:

So this game accelerator thing. First off, just think of it as school; it’s not like an incubator where the organizer keeps some fraction of the game (I’ve had to clarify that to several people). The 20 participants were split into 4 teams (and since I’ve been asked this multiple times as well: no I didn’t know anyone in advance and did not get any say in my team). Side note the team names themselves are a mash up of Harry Potter, Bartle’s player types, and RPG archetypes, so I’m in House Rogue (the others are Houses Ranger, Warrior, and Cleric). We’ll all have about four months to make a game and actually launch it and we’ve chewed through more that two of those already. After a bunch of early team building, prototyping, etc. my team landed on an idea of a Smash Bros.-like platformer where you lose an ability each level. Oh, and you’re an astronaut with a sword.

I’ll talk about this game much more in depth as we get stuff worth sharing next month.


Cooperative Chess

October 27, 2020

I’ve been working a side project as part of a “game jam” with this one group I hang out with, the Bay Area Devs Collective. “Game jam” is in scare quotes because while it has a theme (which I’ll get to in a second) there is no end date (it’s still not done technically) and there are only three of us participating. So the theme by popular vote of people that aren’t actually participating was: turn a violent genre non-violent. I was initially skeptical of this theme since I already gravitate towards non-violent genres and a mere reskinning of some other genre didn’t seem a profound enough change to be worth my while. But when we spent some time brainstorming the implications of this theme, someone surfaced the idea of cooperative chess, and I was pretty much immediately hooked. So yeah, I’ve been making a cooperative version of chess.

The core idea I landed on is that two players are simply trying to complete a game of chess, but I added a few constraints. I’ve long been fascinated by cooperative games where there is required private information*, the most notable being the card game Hanabi (though part of the board game Gloomhaven actually has a more relevant example). So I injected this concept into my Co-op Chess game. I do this by requiring both players to make a couple moves without knowing what the other is doing and therefore must implicitly coordinate to succeed. It’s especially nice because this requires the same sort of theory mind/prediction skills that are prevalent in normal chess, so much of the strategic complexity of chess carries over.

Co-op Chess is not quite released yet (there’s still some bugs and I haven’t fully figured how I’m going to present it to the broader public), but if you’re interested in playing, hit me up and I can show it to you.

In other news, I decided to participate in this three month long game accelerator thing (https://www.hackubator.games/) where we will be assigned into teams of ~4 and shepherded towards making a game. Ever since finishing Obversion one of my goals was to do more teamwork, and since it hasn’t happened organically, this seems like a great opportunity to kick start it manually. As a result, I’ll probably be doing newsletter posts a bit less frequently. Actually, now that I think of it, I’d love to hear opinions about what the optimal post frequency for this newsletter is, so let know even it’s a curt “once a month”.


* Total nerd aside so feel free to skip this: my interest in cooperative but uncoordinated behavior even extends to my PhD days doing game theory, where I made up the problem of figuring out the computational complexity of finding a symmetric Nash Equilibrium of a symmetric cooperative game (i.e. both parties have the same utility function). Finding a non-symmetric Nash in a cooperative game (regardless of symmetry) is always easy since there is always a pure strategy Nash, but I conjectured that it was PPAD-complete (as hard as finding a normal Nash Equilibrium in a non-cooperative game) to find a symmetric Nash. Alas despite devoting more than a little bit of time to this it still remains an open problem.

New Slightly OP Abilities

October 13, 2020

I’ve been doing a lot more playtesting on Metasweeper, and one of my biggest take-aways is the that beginning isn’t fun enough (a good thing to learn now instead of much later). So I’ve been playing around with adding and rearranging abilities a bit. My first tentative step was to make an ability that tells you whether or not you had to guess and reveals a tile if you do. Well, this turned out to me completely underpowered and no one bothered to use it (though I had to build a minesweeper solver to make it, which is sure to come in handy in the future).

More recently, I’ve been playing another Zelda-like (Blossom Tales) and so far it’s been pretty easy and it gives the player a pretty overpowered (OP) ability right in the first dungeon (suffice to say I’m about two-thirds though the game and haven’t died yet). But being on the easy side doesn’t detract from the experience, because these games are primarily about exploration and discovery. So I’m experimenting with a significantly more overpowered ability for Metasweeper that serves a vaguely similar purpose as my pussyfooted first attempt. For this ability you send out a sonar-like pulse and get to see where all the nearby mines are for a limited time. It’s tied to using mana (meeting another goal of introducing mana earlier) so it still has to be used strategically, but the player doesn’t really have to understand minesweeper while using it, instead creating a sort of mini spatial memory game.

I also recent played through Super Mario Sunshine and it reminded me of the importance of simple movement feeling good. And it’s not just a matter of looking good. The idea is that movement should be a skill: the player can do something active to increase movement speed, even if only by a little. To this end, I’ve started work on a dash ability that’s currently slated to be placed in the middle of the desert, and you can see my efforts to make it visually appealing below (just because I said looks aren’t everything for game feel, doesn’t mean they aren’t still important).

I suppose I did a little work on abilities more than two weeks ago as well, but that’s a bit more subtle to describe and I’ve gone on long enough.

As always, let me know what you think if you feel like it.


The Timeless Way of Building

September 29, 2020

It’s been a light week for sharable Metasweeper content. I’ve been focusing on cleaning up some technical debt and getting a bit more playtesting in. More interestingly though, a steam curator that I reached out to maybe half a year ago told me that they started playing Obversion. They were actually quite effusive about it, but also had some nit-picky but good feedback. I always want to be responsive to this sort of thing (and I vaguely felt like it’s time for an Obversion update - plus this gave me a reason to learn how to implement key rebindings), so I’ve been spending the last week mostly working on that. While I was at it, it dawned on me that MagWest is this weekend and Obversion is one of the games represented so this was the perfect time to put Obversion on sale again. So I’ll be doing a 30% off sale starting Friday.

For the Metasweeper content that I did work on, I’d like to take the opportunity to do a bit of a design deep dive on recent changes to the first dungeon, the Temple of the Sacred Lattice:

First thing to note is that the layout now conforms to a grid of 6x6 tiles. I made the original floor plan before I decided on a theme for the dungeon, but since I was going to redesign the layout anyway I figured a building devoted to a lattice should be more grid-like. This also allowed me to do a couple things like the make the optional tutorial/puzzle branch on the right wind in an S shape that I find more visually interesting (plus I snuck in a little secret room for me to connect up in the future).

I’ve learned a lot of level design lessons since I originally made this dungeon. One is that long skinny corridors like the one on the left of the original are not great. They tend to lead to situations where the player doesn’t know how to advance depending on the random placement of mines. Similarly, I find it’s a more satisfying experience when a room exposes a lot of tiles to start minesweeping from rather than a small beachhead at the entrance of a door. Putting this together, I replaced that tall skinny room on the left side of the original with the large room in the middle-left of the new Temple. You can also see the “open up a smaller beachhead” principle in the final room before the main dungeon reward: dead center (old) to upper-left (new).

Incidentally, I like how the new arrangement of doors from the opening room (bottom-center for both new and old) now has two doors to the north: one obviously open and the other implicitly closed. This makes it more clear that the open one is the way to advance and that the player doesn’t yet have the ability to open the other. Before, the open door was to the left and felt like it might be side content and the closed door felt like it might be openable if only the player could figure out how. And likewise the true optional content (to the right in both new and old) is now the only door opening to a side as befitting its status as side content.

The most important change though, and the reason prompting me to do this whole level redesign, is moving the room where you gain the flag ability from the top(ish) left to the bottom left. I found that the left corridor of the old version was not sufficiently inviting and players would sometimes be somewhat at a loss as what to do next. But now, this ability (something most players will remember is a crucial to playing minesweeper) is visible right from the start and gives the player an obvious goal. So hopefully there will be fewer players feeling stuck now.

Well, if you actually read through all of that, you must be pretty interested in playing Metasweeper. After I’m done wrapping up my Obversion changes, I’ll finally be ready for some broader playtesting. So ping me if you’re interested in participating in an 1-2 hour discord (or zoom or whatever) meeting so I can observe you playing.


P.S. The subject line comes from one of Christopher Alexander’s books and is one of the things I most aspire to in making games. Alexander (or at least Jesse Schell’s interpretation of Alexander) is also particularly inspiring when it comes to level design and is the best way I know to overcome what might be termed “level designer’s block”. I could talk more about the philosophy of The Timeless Way and how it applies to my level design, but that would be a separate, much longer essay.

Supersaturated Color

September 15, 2020

I got my playable Metasweeper minidemo put together, and have started getting some quality feedback. I won’t bore you with the details, but most of the changes so far center around trying to make the game easier and less punishing (I absolutely am not trying to make a hardcore arcade-style game or a punishing Souls-like or any such thing).

Before all that feedback though, I added all sorts of visual polish to the world, and I’d like to share a couple of the more interesting tidbits. One big thing I learned how to take advantage of is HDR colors (i.e. colors with a value greater that the normal maximum). This causes the color to bleed into adjacent pixels and can make an especially cool effect when used on non-white colors. You see this in the new mana cube effect seen below (and while you’re at it also note the new tile crumbling effect).

The other semi-big change I’d like to share is the doors. They still blink, but each door is now composed of an ensemble of columns that follow you with their gaze and rise up to get out of your way once properly triggered.

Both of these have a lot of things that I’m not quite satisfied with, but it’s a bit too early in the process for polish and I’m satisfied with the overall atmospheric effect.

As always, feedback is welcome.


New Biome

September 1, 2020

After you leave the safe confines of Metasweeper’s starting forest area, what happens? Well, that’s what I’ve been working on the past two weeks. I wanted to give a sudden opening up feeling (similar to Hyrule field from Ocarina of Time) and I quickly selected a new desert biome to suit this purpose. To make convincing desert sand, I changed the directional lighting a bit and added a reflection effect inspired by the game Journey. And while I was messing around with reflections, I perturbed the top of the black tiles that hide mines so that when you travel on top of them, they make a sort of glittering reflection pattern.

I’ve also completed a pretty thorough draft of Metasweeper’s first real “dungeon”: the desert mesa. While working on the mesa sandstone, my fancy new custom terrain editor really started to pay off. I was able to take the beveling and randomize it a little bit and mess with the slopes (it’s surprising how much it looks like weathered sandstone without much effort on my part). And there were some nice dividends making an interesting and complex level design that would have been quite painful without this terrain editor. Side note: the dungeon layout itself basically just uses a large chunk of the content of the previous Metasweeper prototype.

Still a ton of work left in this new section (and plenty in the starting area for that matter), but I’m hoping to create a playable pre-alpha mini demo in the next week or so.


Serendipity in Metasweeper

August 18, 2020

After you leave the safe confines of Metasweeper’s starting forest area, what happens? Well, that’s what I’ve been working on the past two weeks. I wanted to give a sudden opening up feeling (similar to Hyrule field from Ocarina of Time) and I quickly selected a new desert biome to suit this purpose. To make convincing desert sand, I changed the directional lighting a bit and added a reflection effect inspired by the game Journey. And while I was messing around with reflections, I perturbed the top of the black tiles that hide mines so that when you travel on top of them, they make a sort of glittering reflection pattern.

Next up, I started messing around with a shader from Obversion thinking it might be a cool abstract pattern for the puzzle sections (for those technically inclined: the old shader produced a procedural Voronoi diagram and I switched from using the standard Euclidean metric to a Manhattan metric which fits the “things move at right angles” principle much better). What I produced already looks quite a bit like the veins you might see in some stones, so I replaced the bland grey neutral terrain material I previously had and now it looks way better (side note I also added Beveling to the terrain mesh which you might be able to see in this image as well).

The last thing to share doesn’t fit the theme as well. I was trying to make the forest floor look more interesting and I think I accomplished that. But it certainly took a meandering path to get there (I started out thinking moss, then grass, and finally a bed of clover). I’m embedding a video since gif compression completely ruins the aesthetic and it’s really hard to notice for instance the trample effect where the clover shrinks when you pass over it and slowly moves back into shape.

As always your feedback is welcome.


New Metasweeper Terrain System

August 4, 2020

Somehow I got it in my head that I should use a terrain system for Metasweeper. But Unity’s default system, makes very little sense for Metasweeper (where everything must conform to the grid). So I spent a couple days trying to talk myself out of making my own terrain system and failed. As you can see in the gif below, I set up control surfaces that you can select just like another other Unity game object (since they are game objects) and when you move these around it communicates to the terrain system “back end” to regenerate the entire ground mesh. You can also change what type of surface a grid square is and it automatically changes appearance (for the technically minded, I generate a texture where each pixel maps to a grid square then interpret the color of that pixel as the type in the terrain’s shader).

I also got stuck in my head the idea of Trees that move at right angles, so of course I ended up making a whole procedural tree system, that even talks to the Terrain system to make the roots conform to the ground.

All still works in progress naturally, but there’s a lot of potential all around. It ought to make level design not only easier, but more enjoyable. And because these are custom systems, I can do all sorts of little things that wouldn’t be very easy otherwise, like add a little bit of noise to meshes in order to make them feel rougher, or bevel the edges of walls.

As always, let me know what you think!


Blinky Doors and Firefly Glyphs

July 21, 2020

I’ve been greatly encouraged by my overhaul of Metasweeper. In particular it absolutely feels right to make all the important things in Metasweeper spirits (or maybe I’ll call them sprites, not sure yet). Just playing around with idea has led to a cascade of new ideas that makes the world feel more and more cohesive, and more importantly like a place you want to spend your time. Side note: this feels a lot like the cascade of design choices that I made in Obversion after I decided to drop the greyscale aesthetic and add color.

These are some gifs to give you a taste of what I’m building towards. We’ve got blinking doors that tell you what they want before they’ll open, a little starting forest village that shows a bit of what the overworld might look like, and lastly a sign composed of a swarm of firefly-like sprites that coalesce to form glyphs when the player approaches.


Making Metasweeper a True Zelda-like

July 7, 2020

I’d been struggling a bit to decide what to do with Metasweeper. For one, from watching people play I think the death timer is not serving the game well (you would die after a fixed time and making a mistake would speed up the clock). It encourages players to barrel through and not engage with the actual minesweeping. Also I’ve been more and more inclined to describe Metasweeper as a “Minesweeper Zelda-like”, but I’m reaching the conclusion that the current experience should be much more Zelda-like: health, overworld, dungeons, piece of heart equivalents, etc. So it’s back to the drawing board (for at least a prototype).

Overworld map from _A Link Between Worlds_

Connected is the issue of trying to do some compelling world building. Changing to an overworld with dungeons is inconsistent the the proto-narrative I had in mind (but it probably wasn’t very good anyway). From the Metasweeper prototype that exists today, the one little bit of implied world building that resonates are these little wandering spirits that are in one of three states and have a whole lifecycle thing that has compelling gameplay implications. So I want to build on these. In general, I like the idea of a world filled with spirits (like an animist religion such as Japanese Shinto) and the player interacts with various spirits each with a distinct personality expressed through simple behavior.

Kodama from Japanese folklore as appeared in _Princess Mononoke_

As usual let me know your thoughts if you have any, and I’ll be sure to keep you up to date on the latest Metasweeper developments.


Metasweeper Progress Report

June 23, 2020

I’ve been continuing work on Metasweeper (my new minesweeper adventure game) and having a great time with it. I recently finished a draft of the first level, and I’m taking a few days to step back, do some testing, and think about high level stuff. For one, I’ve got ideas about more abilities/scenarios to add and I think that will be enough for anywhere from two to four more such levels (and from testing it looks like this level takes something like 2 hours to complete). So there’s a real game here!

As always, let me know what you think. And I’m not looking for extra testers yet, but if you’re just dying to check it out, I’ll be able to make an exception.


Next Game Sneak Peek

June 9, 2020

I haven’t been sharing this publicly, but I wanted to give all of you a sneak peek at what I’m working on for my next game. It’s codenamed Metasweeper and it’s a Minesweeper Zelda-like (or Minesweeper Adventure game; mashup of Minesweeper and Zelda? - I’m still working through the best hook for the game).

As you can see, rather than clicking on squares like in standard minesweeper, you control a player character that lets you select tiles to interact with. Everything is still very much is the graybox stage (i.e. I have made no real attempt to make it look good), but eventually I’ll be looking to work with an artist, ideally as a full blown collaborator, but I’ve got UpWorks and similar sites as backups. So if you know any artists that might be interested feel free to shoot me an email. Or if you just want to share your feedback on what you see here I’d welcome those emails too!

Have a great day!

New Movement System in Obversion!

May 4, 2020

I’m proud to announce AUTOMOVE, my latest commitment to removing the execution skill from Obversion! Just point at where you want to go and the game will do it’s best to find a path over there no matter how many jumps or how convoluted a path it may be. It really takes the tedium out of climbing stairs and the frustration out of some of those jumps that even Autojump isn’t quite good enough to help you execute.

In light of this new feature, I’m planning on putting Obversion on sale next week (and for those curious about some inside baseball, I’ll also be activating one of Obversion’s limited Steam visibility rounds). And I figured I’d let you all know in advance.


Announcing the Name of my post-Obversion interlude project

March 31, 2020

For those that have been paying attention to my social media channels, I’ve posting about a mysterious game involving 3D printing and LEDs. Well, I’d like to finally announce that the game is:

That’s Bomberman, but on a Rhombicosidodeahedron. You play by connecting you phone to the Raspberry Pi’s wifi access point. Then it’s just move and bomb in explosive 8-player free-for-all action!

One of the things that excited me about this project in the first place was the physicality of the game - you actually have to be present to maneuver around the sphere in order to play. But of course, with shelter in place, I’m not going to be able to do any playtesting for quite some time, so it’s only appropriate that I share the waiting for players to be ready sandbox music I composed. We might all be waiting some time, but rest assured I’ll let you know the next opportunity to come play Super Rhomberman.

Stay safe,