be witching

be witching

be witching, my tabletop game about witch fashion balls, is available now in print-and-play format. players draw outfits, provide commentary on each other’s outfits (opportunity to channel your favorite obnoxious reality TV judge), and then there’s a pageant-style interview round where the players decide who is most worthy of being crowned witchqueen of the ball.

i really like that final interview round, because it stages a showdown between two players without any of the others being eliminated. instead those players are judges, coming up with questions for the finalists and deliberating over their answers.

this game went through many transformations. the first conception of it was as a digital game, inspired by online dollmakers. i might return to that concept someday – i wanted to have something done in time for indiecade, though, and i hate programming. so it became a game with real paperdolls. players would fish for clothes from a communal pile galaxy trucker-style, and each would have its own magical powers and stats. i was still trying to come up with something that could be a print-and-play game, and my solution for doll clothes that could survive the kind of handling that happens in a free-for-all grabby game was laminate. the laminate made the paperdolls even more unwieldy and fiddly though. and i never really liked the galaxy trucker format for this game in the first place.

i really liked coloring the paper dolls though, so i decided to make the game be about actually drawing and designing the outfits instead. the magical clothing became magical accessories that gave you advantages in a simultaneous bidding game that decided the outcome. ultimately the bidding game had really nothing to do with the drawing and designing though – but in playtesting we found that we all really liked the part where we had to make cases for why our outfits most deserved the magic accessories / fit the theme of the ball. so i decided to expand this part and make it a more central part of the game. (the bidding system got ditched entirely, but it featured a few ideas that might make it to their own game.)

the finished game is be witching (whose final name came to me in a dream). i mean, i say finished, but in reality it’s finished-in-time-for-indiecade (the deadline is the end of the month). there’s more i want to do with it – most importantly, i want to hire artists to create more drawing templates to provide for a wider variety of body types to choose from. i want a boy witch body. i want more transfeminine bodies. we’ll see how the game sells. it’s $2 on itch.io – if you pay at least $4 you receive “the kickstarter rewards pack” (there is no actual kickstarter), a set of ten extra cards to mix in. they add words like “boho-chic” to the game’s style vocabulary.

you can purchase be witching here. you’ll need a printer to, like, print everything. or you could just write everything on a pile of index cards.

my patreon patrons, as always, got regular updates on all the different incarnations of the game, on the results of playtesting sessions, and lots of sketches for art that may or may not have made it into the finished game. also, a huge thanks to my playtesters – becca, kenzie, kyra, lisa, rabbit and xandir – who helped make the game what it is today.

aunt flora’s mansion

aunt flora's mansion

aunt flora’s mansion is my second puzzlescript game! my first was a remake of doug beeferman’s 1991 puzzle game, cyberbox. flora’s mansion is a riff off of that game: i made it using all of the pieces from my cyberbox port. there are some neat machines you can build out of cyberbox’s pushers, sliders and teleporters: gates with switches, turnstile-like bottlenecks. it seemed perfect for building some sort of intricate, interlocking, interestingly-connected structure, so that’s what i tried to do with flora’s mansion.

using puzzlescript’s “flickscreen” mode (think of the first legend of zelda: walk off one screen, and the camera “flicks” over to the next), i built a puzzle game that comprises one large, continous area, with puzzles as bottlenecks. (sort of like beeferman’s own cyberbox sequel.) the biggest thrill for me in games as a kid was spaces that existed in parallel, where i could look from one area into another one that i didn’t have immediate access to: the feeling of sneaking around secret passages behind the walls, observing but unobserved. i tried to fit lots of spaces like that into flora’s mansion.

puzzlescript isn’t really built super well to accomodate flickscreen stuff. the whole game is essentially one large room, so there’s no way to reset an individual screen without resetting the whole thing. in fact, originally puzzlescript only saved the number of the room the player was up to and not the state of that room, so trying to “continue” the game just reset the game. stephen fixed the bug yesterday, so the player is no longer required to finish the entire game in a single sitting.

saving’s still not ideal: it’s possible to save in an unwinnable position and not get out of it. without a way to reset individual screens or allow multiple save states, i’ve done the best i can to make getting stuck as hard as possible. in an earlier version of the game, saving happened automatically upon entering a new room (when the name of the room pops up – “MAIN HALL,” “KITCHEN” – that’s when it would save). that made the problem way worse, because you could go exploring an accidentally trigger a save.

currently, to save, you step onto a heart (they’re all over the mansion) and press X or the spacebar. it’ll ding. that’s a save – if you press R (for “reset”) at any time, you’ll jump back to the last time you saved. as long as you don’t save in the middle of a puzzle, you shouldn’t get stuck.

click here to play aunt flora’s mansion! thanks to alan hazelden, stephen lavelle, jonah ostroff and jamie perconti for technical assistance, and jen ada, john h., chris harris, and kelsey higham for playtesting and feedback. and thanks as always to my patreon patrons for supporting the development of this game. they got lots of maps and updates on the game’s progress during development and also got to play it during the month that i was unable to release it because of the saving bug. so if getting to see my projects early is a thing that appeals to you, consider supporting me on patreon!

also, if you click the “hack” link on the bottom of the page, you can check out the source code.

anna’s b-day bundle!

by dominik johann

IT’S MY BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK! specifically on the 28th. i’m turning from a 31-year-old crone into a 32-year-old crone. in honor of that transition, i’m having a week-long sale of some of my games! LESBIAN SPIDER-QUEENS OF MARS, DYS4IA, TWINE AND PUNISHMENT and STAR WENCH are all three dollars each (normally they’re $5!), or grab them all for $10! that’s four games for the price of two! the deal is over once my birthday’s passed, so grab em while you can.

illustration by dominik johann!

cyberbox

cyberbox

when stephen lavelle first implemented realtime games in puzzlescript, i thought it might be neat to implement some basic ZZT stuff in it. (stephen asked me about how timing worked in zzt; i don’t know if he ended up basing any of his puzzlescript features on it.) eventually a simpler idea came through: porting doug beeferman’s dos puzzle game, CYBERBOX.

cyberbox came out in 1991, probably before zzt did. it has a lot of the basic puzzle elements that ended up in zzt: sliders that can only be pushed up and down or left and right, one-way teleporters, “pushers” that continually push other boxes when they’re able, usually used as gates or to set up chain reactions. it’s hard to know whether tim sweeney lifted these ideas from cyberbox or just came up with them simultaneously. he would had to have been pretty far along in constructing the shareware zzt series at that point.

i like cyberbox because it’s clever, tricky, and often good at misdirection. it also, unfortunately, has a life-keeping system: as in, every time you’re forced to restart a puzzle, you lose a life. you get four, and when they’re all out, you have to start the game over from the beginning. that seems like a really needless punishment for this sort of brain game: you need to experiment and to fuck up in order to solve the puzzles! so bringing it to puzzlescript – with its standard-issue “undo” and “retry” features – seemed like a good way to update the game. plus: it’s really easy to mod in new levels. (just click on “hack” on the game page!)

it seemed like an easy first project: if i ported an existing game, i would have a clear image of what the final game should look like. something to work towards. unfortunately, recreating some of the elements of the game turned out to be way more complicated than i expected. (puzzlescript kind of bunks up if you have multiple things pushing objects in different directions at the same time, like the pusher boxes in this game.) it ended up being kind of a frustrating project, involving repeated cries for help on the puzzlescript forums. alan hazelden, jonah ostroff and jamie perconti all helped rewrite my code to get around these weird bugs.

the sixteen puzzles in CYBERBOX are from beeferman’s original game. (the frame story and the graphics are mine, though.) at some point i’d like to design a bunch of original puzzles of my own, but i think i need a break from puzzlescript for a bit. there’s also a really neat dos remake of cyberbox called the continuing adventures of cyberbox which includes a bunch of new features and puzzles and happily nixes the four lives limit, but also drops one of the original game’s puzzles. it’d be cool if having a convenient, editable version of the game encouraged other people to build their own puzzles, too.

click to play CYBERBOX, or click on “hack” to edit it!

new zines: anna’s guide to freelancing & more

anna's guide to freelancing

 

hey all! there are three new zines available in my online store in both paper and pdf forms! they are:

anna’s guide to freelancing: how to not starve or burn out. a collection of advice from my years of freelancing, on how to advocate for yourself with clients, how much to charge, how to work from home and not burn out, etc. a ton of things i’ve had to learn the hard way, basically. you can think of it also as a kind of pep talk on respecting yourself and your work enough to charge a livable amount of money for it. marissa luna did the cover and jenn kaplan contributed a section on taxes, which i don’t know shit about. i’m really proud of this one.

abridged galactipedia of worlds in the hubworld region. an illustrated version of the text file that comes with where in the galaxy is kremlin san antonio? my original vision for kremlin was a digital game that came with a physical component, like the old carmen sandiego games, with their thick paper almanacs. when the game was picked up by gaming in color as a kickstarter reward, that became logistically harder to do. i came back to it, though, because i think the writing in the galactipedia stands pretty well on its own. this version contains a bunch of illustrations by moi as well as a free download code for the game.

what if it’s killing you? a collection of miscellaneous things i’ve written for various places, most of which have never appeared in print. they range from shorter pieces on dinosaur dreams, garfield’s anomie and fanfiction about videogames to longer pieces on experiencing cyberspace and cybersex as a young trans woman and the ways in which women in games and tech fields are expected to martyr themselves. the latter was written for an upcoming anthology on women in tech, “lean out,” but i got permission to include it in this zine.

all of these and many of my earlier zines are available in my online store! (save a buck if you buy all three together!) i only ship physical products to the us right now, because of the unpredictable expense of shipping internationally, but you can download a pdf anywhere in the world. because free selz accounts don’t have a “shopping cart” feature (meaning customers can check out multiple items at the same time), you should email me at the address on the site if you want to buy more than one physical item. (a bundle counts as one item.)

thanks to kissing covens’ patreon patrons for supplying the budget to hire artists and contributors like marissa and jenn.

frog assassin

frog assassin

most of my zzt-inspired work so far has been low-pressure and about exploring and having weird encounters. that’s the part of zzt i find most compelling: its grid-based shootouts often feel frustratingly chancy, which is exacerbated by the resource scarcity that plagues most zzt games. there’s this one approach to combat in zzt that emerged over time that i find kind of compelling, though. i’d be hard-pressed to name an individual author, but eli’s house (which i mention in my book) features a good example of it.

that style of combat is a kind of hand-to-hand combat where the player’s trying to bump into enemies (to stab or punch them, ostensibly) but only when they’re vulnerable, and to avoid them when they’re not. (in eli’s house, enemies change appearance when they go into defensive mode – don’t go near a rat when it’s mouth is open!) so combat becomes this kind of dance where you’re staying away from enemies until you see an opening, then rushing quickly in, then rushing back out. it’s kind of compelling.

frog assassin is a take on that. combat is super super simple: move onto an opponent to squish it, let an opponent move onto you and you’re dead. the enemies in the game all move to a regular beat – one group to the beat, one group to the half-beat, so that fighting mixed groups of them is especially dangerous. and then there are the third kind of guy, watch out for them. you’re often fighting large groups, so looking for openings and not leaving yourself in a vulnerable position is important.

it also takes a little from superfly, a 1990 dos shareware game that i like a lot. in that game you’re using the arrow keys to squish flies, who individually pose no threat to you. squishing them is effortless. they come at you in hordes, though, and their bodies take up space after being squished, so that the threat to you is being trapped in a ring of dead bugs. you’re maneuvering constantly to try and mitigate that. i like that. not about killing things, but being careful how you kill them.

you can download frog assassin (and its gamemaker 8 source file) right here. it’s a free game and so was funded by my generous patreon patrons, who got to see several work-in-progress screens of the game and an early explanation of how it all worked.

 

a whole year

i’ll almost certainly remember 2014 as the year i met my perfect boyfriend, started dating, fell in love, and shacked up. it still amazes me that it’s our anniversary in a couple of months – how has it been a whole year? dense as it was with crises both small and large, it stuns me how fast the year’s gone.

this year i struggled with depression and, as ever, with poverty. but i’ve made a deliberate effort to get better at making money, and not without success. i started my patreon just before the start of the year and now it pays my rent. i’ve shaped my patreon into a kind of dev blog, where i get to show off secret previews of things i’m not yet ready to post in public. i feel like the content i post there is really strong, in variety and in regularity. patreon represents the more regular portion of my income.

i’ve also put more energy into selling things, that’s where money for food and bills and other expenses comes from. i sell zines on selz and games on itch. i’ve been trying to find ways to allow previously-free work to make me money: you can still play the censored version of lesbian spider-queens for free online, but folks who are willing to pay can have an uncensored version on their desktop. i’m still really excited i was able to finally release the uncensored version of the game – that was one of the most unexpected surprises of the year. money from sales isn’t as dependable as my patreon income, but it helps a lot, and just having products on sale means that i’ll occasionally wake up to discover i’ve sold an old game or zine, and that’s nice.

i feel like my craft has gone in a bunch of exciting new directions this year. in particular, i’m moving into working more with non-digital games and storytelling games. i feel like my writing is becoming more confident. here are some projects from this year i’m really proud of:

magic missile. this is a game for social media, but one where the technology is wholly managed by the players: image search and twitter or facebook. playtesting it with friends, i was very anxious that it wouldn’t be well-received or understood (it’s one of several social games i’ve developed where only the initiator of the game explicitly knows the rules), but all the games of it that i ran turned out to be super fun and clever. i like the direction this project started me moving in.

gay cats go to the weird weird woods (and its immediate predecessor emotica) both developed out of my work with zzt (my book on which was published this year, but was mostly written last year, so it’s not on this list). they were also vehicles for exploring the kind of creative, failure-free play i like in games like cosmic osmo and parts of lego island. moving in with my bf also meant moving in with this little gay baby, and seeing my encyclopedia frown have a friend and companion has given me lots of FEELINGS, which i tried to channel in this game about an adventure i imagined the two of them having together.

star court. for all the stuff i kept adding to this game i’m amazed it works as well as a game as it does. my guess is that there are passages in this game that still haven’t been seen by anyone but myself, and it feels good to think that. it’s wildly-branching and very chance-heavy, but there are definite strategies for those who look for them and i feel good about that too. it’s probably the most content-rich thing i’ve ever written, and definitely my longest and biggest twine story. inspired by a hypercard stack, it’s really clear to me now that twine is the contemporary successor hypercard has been waiting for.

plucky kid detective was my first story game (or “role-playing game”). games tend to spiral quickly into absurdity but it’s fun and it feels good to have finally published a story game, despite my anxiety that the game’s not good enough. this is territory that i want to explore, and now i feel like i’ve taken a few steps over the border. i published it as a zine, and on the subject of zines, i’m also really proud of letters to an absent child, in which i used animal crossing’s “letters from mom” as a frame to write about my own relationship with my own mom. i sent her a copy the other day and she really liked it.

the mystery of the missing mythics. a continuation of the stuff i was doing with social technology in magic missile. it feels good that by having the player manage to social media parts of these projects i don’t have the technological barriers of working with APIs and online databases keeping me from this area of design. this was one of the most fun projects this year, both to design and to write. i feel really good about the story i wrote. i don’t know if anyone’s tried the “pick images for a friend” option yet, but i spent a day researching / making up facts about numbers for the “password entry” part and i’m pretty proud for the character i was able to give what would otherwise be a pretty boring process.

despite a lot of struggle i feel like i’m in a really good place entering the new year, both in terms of my depression and my money situation. looking forward to a new year in gay cat manor with hope.

the mystery of the missing mythics

the mystery of the missing mythics

magic missile was my first experiment in designing play around internet image searches. some time later i had the idea of a twine game that would pull images from image search for use in the story. i liked the element of chance that image searches provide: really specific searches will have really similar results, but most will have a pretty diverse selection. the google image search API was way beyond me, though.

i worked on other things for a while until i had the idea of structuring the game like madlibs - that way most of the technology would be on the player’s end (image search sites, tabbed browsing) and not mine. that meant most of my work was in finding good image searches and finding surprising ways to use the images the player picks. which i hope i did a good job of. THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MYTHICS was one of my most fun twine stories to write, and is probably one of the silliest.

i tried a new thing with this one: i let my patreon patrons have access to it a few days before everybody else, during which time i added a few of less necessary features i wanted. (those features were a set of default images players can use if they want to skip the image search part of the game, and the ability to pick images for someone else and send them, encoded. it might be the first recorded use of the rot13 function in twine.) patrons also got an early concept demo. i’ll probably do this with future games – if you want tons of updates and sneak previews of stuff i’m working on, being a patron is where it’s at.

play THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MYTHICS! the type that appears in the game is copse.

we must make the games we wish to play in the world