Project: Middleware

promo art

Middleware is a cooperative player-versus-environment deck-building card game designed for up to four players, where you take on the role of the middle people in a cyberpunk dystopia, those who are being slowly crushed down under The System, trying to find some way to live your life and seize control of your own life.

Middleware was designed over the course of six months as a combined DIGC302, BCM311 and DIGC330 project. As a DIGC330 project – which is where I’m focusing attention in this post to be reblogged on that class blog – it focuses heavily on Japanese Genre Storytelling Tropes – character archetypes in media, references to Japanese culture in each character’s life and presence.

Middleware, as delivered, is a Minimal Viable Product, which shows its core gameplay loop and the ways that the game can be advanced. If you’d like to know more about the instructions that demonstrate the core game loop or some design notes, here are some links for you, and for the purpose of grading my work:

If there winds up being a demand for it I can try and write a crash course on the process or a tip list or something.

Now normally I’d just share the game here. I’m a big fan of the idea of sharing games freely and letting people learn from games, and maybe send me money if they want. But, this time, I’ve been doing this design with an eye towards entrepeneurial advancement – I am pretty sure I am going to wind up selling Middleware.

Middleware: Design Notes

You might have noticed during the semester I was working in a small notebook. As it happens, I finished it today, almost on the last day of class – so I figured I’d sit down, cut out the content that relates to Middleware and Transfer San, and share it.

This is a lot of disjointed, confusing notes. Some of these ideas are just drawings, some are considerations of different ways to handle a card. Some are notes on card types, with a very structured approach!

Hopefully this is interesting to you!

#DIGC302 Project Review: Get Game Beta Critique

I’m reviewing the Get Game project, which started out as a twine game (available here), and moved on to a wiki structure (available here).


The aim of Get Game is to address the current crisis of discoverability in videogame media and forward a less-accepted journalistic theory of videogame distribution.


Right now conventional views is that games are broadly represented as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, while a more nuanced view recognises that the factors that make games appealing are subjective and individualised. The phrase that summarised the project, that Angus said to me is ‘there’s a game for everyone.’

Discoverability is one of the ‘known knowns’ of videogame media right now, a thing we know there’s a problem about but don’t have a good solution yet. In the information economy there’s been something of an aspiration that this will fix/solve problems with finding games, but the model of games journalism is still tied heavily to pre-internet finance models, with advertisers financing publication, which in turn invites journalism to instead take on the air of being advertisers more than journalists.

Another element of the discoverability problem is that game marketing and advertising has been done pretty much in one model for the past twenty years, heavily focusing on a narrowing segment of market prominence. This group, known conventionally as ‘the gamer’ has been at odds with the demographics of people who actually play games, a cultural crisis that has been erupted into mainstream with the news stories around #GamerGate.

With the notion that games are for everyone, and that what makes games good is more individualised than merely high scores or some graphical fidelity benchmarks, the aim of the project was to find some way to connect people to games when they might not have the language to do so.


At first the project wanted to make sure there was an interactive flow to keep the information delivered to the consumer in a minimal, direct fashion, with a view to keeping it accessible. Rather than present the consumer with a large, expansive list, an aim was made to use the fundamentally interactive nature of the web to sort the reader to an end point that was meaningful to them.

This version worked very well, though it was natively time consuming to construct. The webpage was, for lack of a better explanation, a tour guide, which meant for every new idea it wanted to explore, it had to have a new pathway added to it. Sometimes these pathways could be forked off existing ones, but it still meant that each new stage took a lot of work.

As this introductory tool became more developed, and with an eye to expandability, Get Game moved on to a wiki structure, seeking to use a decentralised structure with multiple contributors to address future views towards expansion.


I was asked regularly for input and feedback on this topic as the project progressed and I was in the very lucky position to already have some degree of contact within the games media industry. This means that the arc of this project has been made in what looks to me like a very informed way, with a focus on ideas like core engagement and audience access, and, once those ideas were internalised, looking to focus on then moving the project to a larger scale, with room to make sure that the project can scale.

Constructive Feedback and Suggestions for Improvement

The biggest problem that exists for this project at the moment is momentum. The existing media model is working well enough and most people are clinging to it. This project, in order to be of a meaningful size and scope, would need to be curated and populated by good, well informed reviews made from people who had a serious consideration of the media they were working with and the same philosophical review outlook as the creators. That could be done by outsourcing, which could not ethically be done for free, or it could be done by the creators as a passion project alone, which would run the risk of going unseen and invisible.

Another problem is that when this idea is pitched it can come across as perhaps too close to existing ideas, such as crowdfunding review aggregators like Metacritic. It will be easily dismissed even by existing journalists unless they can be induced to consider it on its philosophical merits.

I ultimately think this project could work well as a small funded resource through a system like patreon that seeks to offer some – even small – remuneration for people who are willing to speak about games they love and why they love them, rather than just list the features that exist within the game.

transfer-san Download

Transfer-San is a short (10-15 minutes) Renpy videogame made as a class project made by Grifflon and myself. The game is a very simple science-fiction story that uses the framing device of a school-age visual novel set in a Japanese school to talk about the untranslateable nature of honorifics in Japanese and the ambiguity they can introduce in communication with non-Japanese speakers.

The game is free, and you can download it here:

Continue reading “transfer-san Download”

A Conversation With A Dungeon Master

Foreword: In the process of having this conversation, I had a lot of false starts. One of the things that was important to me was making sure that when I give a voice to someone, even if in this small way, I don’t just turn to the same, standard voices of people mostly like myself. Unfortunately, most of my first-call people to talk to about such developments were simply unavailable – there were conflicts with their schedules or they weren’t comfortable being recorded.

Taking these in stride, I spoke with Cassandra Marshall, who runs a very specific type of game experience, funded through Patreon. Straddling the space somewhere between a small-game developer and a larger multiplayer experience, Cass’ Requineverse RP services somewhere between two to three hundred players, and is entirely crowdfunded.

The nature of game design as she experiences it is a very ‘moving target’ design. Rather than creating discrete systems that need to be robust because they are used over, and over again, the play spaces Cassandra defines are ones where designs can be single-use, throwaway and if they don’t work or aren’t good, they are discarded quickly. This is a really interesting environment for design, something of a ‘fail faster’ landscape, where any ideas you have can be quickly tested. It’s very agile.

Important to this, however, was the idea that because all of her work is very close to the personal spaces of other humans, that her work needed to be done with care. It wasn’t just that she wanted to represent trans people well for its own sake (though that is good) – there was a direct, tangible impact on the people experiencing her work if she handled such things badly. There’s a human interface to games, and her games are, at their truest, about creating stories that people can share and enjoy, so caring for that interface was very important.

I don’t know if what I wind up targeting with my own career is going to be much similar to Cassandra’s experience, but Cassandra’s work is very important and deserves respect that we so rarely give people in the game development space.

Finally, the idea of games as narrative engines is at its simplest and truest here. This is a game space where there is almost no rules and coordinating and structuring the work of multiple people who are themselves, interacting and collaborating with one another in order to run and manage, with some sense of structure and order, an entire world of possibilities around them. This is something that you can’t do with most games – there simply isn’t the processing power in computer games or the storage space in physical games, to properly and accurately emulate everything that goes into a world. A human interpreter is a very, very powerful tool, and component of a lot of roleplaying games that sit in their own little pocket in game development.