Let’s Talk Alex Dev Log

Last month I explored in a blog post the impact that visuals can have on interactive fiction. I compared and analyzed the visual pros and cons of a number of pieces of interactive fiction in an attempt to identify what makes each effective or ineffective. Last week I considered the lessons learned while writing that post. This led me to determine the direction I want to take for my own piece, Let’s Talk Alex, which deals with confronting a romantic partner about abusive behaviors. In this follow up to March’s interactive fiction blog post, I’ll discuss how I’m implementing the takeaways from that post and my rationale for doing so.

My exploration of interactive fiction revealed that often the best pieces of interactive fiction rely more on their writing than their style. This is why I have decided to go in a similarly minimalist style for my piece. There will be no visual imagery, allowing the words to paint the scene. I am also leaning towards shying away from extensive animations and dramatic fonts. My hope is that if the narrative is well written the feeling of the scene will be conveyed effectively enough. That said, I have not completely closed the door on implementing such effects. I’ve seen them be effectively used before in pieces like Miss No Name, so I am aware that they can have a positive effect. Yet I’m hesitant to employ them as I’m concerned that combined with the visual changes I have already implemented, it will come off to the reader as too flashy and distracting from the story.

I was very impressed with the thought put into the visual effects of Queenlash and States of Awareness. Though minimal, it was clear that their authors gave thought into their choices. The regal purple font of Queenlash’s text constantly reminds readers of the characters’ royal status, along with all the responsibility, danger, and historical significance it entails. In States of Awareness, the light sickly green text color acts as a subtle reminder of the zombie apocalypse that is the story’s backdrop. While I will be changing the font color in Lets Talk Alex it will not be determined by the setting, as a regular apartment is not as exotic Ptolemaic Egypt or a zombie apocalypse. Instead, I looked to color theory to find what color would make players feel tense, uneasy, and anxious. While red can evoke these feelings, I was concerned about its connotation as a “bad color.” It is supposed to be unclear to readers if their perception of the romantic partner as abusive is valid or not, and having the font be too much of a give away. While it might change after getting playtester feedback, I’m currently planning on having the font be a pale yellow, with links being a brighter yellow. Since yellow is associated with frustration and illness it may have the effect of making readers feel uneasy, but will not overtly imply that something is wrong. By having the links to new passages be bright yellow, my hope is that this anxious feeling will be heightened when players are deciding how to respond, thereby making the confrontation feel more real. While the effectiveness of this and other style choices I have made will need to be investigated further through playtesting, I am hopeful that the insight I’ve gained from other interactive fiction will make for a strong starting point.

Let’s Talk Alex is planned to release in Summer 2022 on itch.io.

Queenlash and Miss No-Name are available on the Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction 2021 Website.

States of Awareness is available on the Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction 2020 Website.


Miss No-Name. Bellamy Briks, 2021. https://www.springthing.net/2021/play_online/MissNoName/index.html

Queenlash. Kaemi Velatet, 2021. https://www.springthing.net/2021/play_online/Queenlash/Queenlash.html

States of Awareness. Kerry Taylor, 2020. https://www.springthing.net/2020/play_online/TheGolden/index.html

This Week’s Work – Texturing

Unfortunately due to an increase in school work I was unable to write a blog post for this week. So in lieu of my regular musings, enjoy this look at some of what I’ve been working on.

Thank you to Austin Martin and Ashley Leandres for the wonderful models, and for being all around awesome teammates!

The Device
Model in Maya by Austin Martin. Textured by author in Substance Painter.
Textures used on The Device. Made by author in Photoshop.
The Runes
Models made in Maya by Ashley Leandres. Textured by author in Substance Painter.
Texture used on Runes. Made by author in Photoshop.
The Speakers
Model made in Maya by Austin Martin. Textured by author in Substance Painter.
Texture used on Speakers. Made by author in Photoshop.
Check out some of Austin & Ashley’s other work:

Austin Martin – LinkedIn

Ashley Leandres – ArtStation

Unique Game Mechanics: Humor

Welcome to the second edition of Unique Game Mechanics! If you haven’t read my post on psychographic profiles or need a refresher from the Part 1, allow me to give a quick summary.

Psychographic profiles are a more precise way of looking at groups then demographics. In terms of games and game development, psychographic profiles can be used to help game designers determine who they should design their game for and who will buy their game. This may seem like common sense, but when creating games that involve unusual or lesser used mechanics it is important to consider “Who will actually buy this thing?” One such mechanic that we don’t see much of in games (at least compared to others) is humor.

Humor Mechanic

                With this mechanic, the player must create something that is funny or amusing to do well at the game. Sometimes there will be restrictions on what they can do to be amusing, like in Cards Against Humanity where you can only use the cards you’ve been dealt or in charades where the player is limited by what they are supposed to depict. Other games like the VR game Comedy Night give players more freedom, with the only restraint being keeping to the relevant topic of the chat room (and the player has can choose what room they join). Someone who would enjoy this type of mechanic could be an adult individual who aspires to be a comedian or entertainer, but so far has only watched other performers online. They want to try performing for an audience of their own, but there are no comedy clubs or similar venues in their area. By playing Comedy Night, this person can hop on anytime and find people who want to watch standup and will give them feedback. In addition to performing, the person in question can also use Comedy Night to watch other amateur comedians and learn from them.

Image Source

Joshua Hoehne, Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/6M9jjeZjscE.

Memories as Inspiration for Game Art

I’ve recently been working on developing assets for a 2D side scroller game as part of a game art class. In this game, the player takes control of a ball as they roll through a museum collecting pieces of art. While the art style of this game is not very elaborate due to my knowledge of Adobe Illustrator being a work in progress, I’ve been able to make the game more unique by drawing upon something I am familiar with: the National Gallery of Art (NGA).

One of my earliest memories of growing up in Washington DC is roaming the halls and courtyards of NGA, staring up starry-eyed at the gorgeous paintings and sculptures. Over the years I’ve grown attached to certain pieces in their collection and have become well acquainted with the architectural elements of the building, such as the wood paneled rooms of the Dutch collection and the black columns of the West Building Rotunda.

West Building Rotunda, the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Originally, I had not intended the game to be set in a specific real world location. However, the further down the design pipeline I went, the more I noticed how my familiarity with NGA was influencing my designs. For example, most of the pieces of art the player collects are part NGA’s permanent collection. Initially this was not a conscious choice on my part, but rather a consequence of brainstorming “famous pieces of art” combined with many memories of viewing NGA’s offerings. Though the more I thought about it, having the game take place in NGA made sense. My knowledge of the museum would be a readily available resource that could help me create a distinct game world.

Artwork collectible items. Artwork images from NGA Collection Search.

With the internet and other modern technologies, it can be very easy to look up new and different things as inspiration. That said, firsthand knowledge and experience remains highly useful. I hope my experience with this project will encourage others to look inwards and see how their memories can improve their creations.


“Collection Search.” National Gallery of Art, http://www.nga.gov/collection/collection-search.html.

West Building Rotunda. National Gallery of Art, http://www.nga.gov/press/2019/holiday.html.

Unique Game Mechanics: Vocabulary

Recently one of my courses tasked the class with coming up with three unique game mechanics, identify what skills they have the player use, and conjuring up a psychographic profile of someone who would enjoy it. As I explained in last weeks blog post, a psychographic profiles provide a more detailed view of the target audience for a game. By using them in the context of this post, we can see how they are useful to game designers, as they give insight into who will enjoy the game when unusual mechanics are used.

Vocabulary Mechanic

Vocabulary mechanics are used when a player must use their knowledge of words (spelling, meaning, origin, context, etc.) to gain an advantage in or progress through a game. The player must determine which word is appropriate for the situation. An example of this would be Scrabble, because players have to account for the correct spelling of a word, how long a word is (longer words can mean more points), and if the word they are thinking of is a real word at all (e.g. players can’t make up words). All these factors must be carried out with the random assortment of letters provided to the player. This type of gameplay mechanic would be appealing to a well-read person, since they would have a wide vocabulary to use. This would imply they are on the older side, as most young children do not have an adequate vocabulary to excel at this game mechanic. Someone who is highly educated and enjoys mental challenges such as crossword puzzles and trivia could also find vocabulary mechanics enjoyable.

Image Source

Patrick Tomasso,UnSplash.com. https://unsplash.com/photos/Oaqk7qqNh_c.

How Games can Improve Stories

If the story a game is based on is compelling, players may be more willing to overlook the use of common (and possibly uninspired) mechanics.  The trouble with this is that there is no one story that will appeal to everyone. Thankfully there exists many tales in literature that have withstood the test of time. While they still might not appeal to the everyone, fairy and folk tales are popular enough that they are a go to when brainstorming ideas for new projects. Along with their enduring popularity, the lore and plot of most fairytales are well understood by their respective cultures (e.g. Grimm’s Fairy Tales in Western/Euro-centric cultures, or The Panchatantra in Indian/South Asian cultures).

This established understanding presents a double edged sword when using fairytales as inspiration for games. The benefit of this approach is the audience already knows the background and motive of the characters, which means less time needs to be allocated for exposition. This is good news for gameplay, since designers get more time to focus on it and players spend more time engaging with it. The downside to this is that outcome of the conflict is predictable. Audiences know how the story ends, so they will likely not be as invested as they would with an original story. Thankfully, there are multiple ways to minimize this drawback.

One of the great things about games is their mechanics allow us to explore and interact with scenarios in a way that is not possible with other mediums, such as art or writing. This means that the possibilities for telling an established fairy tale a different way are greatly expanded. The player can take the role of someone other than the established protagonist, or play as a totally new character who changes the outcome of the original story. They may even step in the shoes of the villain, which can lead to the player having to commit atrocious acts or getting to see the villain in a more positive light. Games can also expand the upon the setting where the story is set, taking the characters to places they otherwise would or could not go and dealing with the wider impacts of their actions. With how much potential games have for breathing new life into well-established stories, I think game designers should not shy away from looking to folk and fairy tales for inspiration.

Using Existing Gameplay Mechanics – A Reflection

For an upcoming assignment I have been tasked with creating a new game. Due to the limited timespan I have to complete this task, I’ve been considering using already established game mechanics. In particular I have been looking at hidden object games as inspiration. However, I worry that this will make my game come across as unoriginal.

There are a myriad of hidden object games out there, particularly in the casual gaming market. As the name suggests, these games are often not as challenging as games designed for PC and consoles. Should I choose to use hidden object mechanics in my game, I want to make sure they don’t bring with them some of the drawbacks of casual games. To do this, I’m considering adding a harsher losing system. For example, if the player selects the wrong object a certain amount of times the game will be over and they will have to restart. Another way to make it more challenging and unique is instead of providing a visually identical icon of what they player is looking for give a vague description of what the player is looking for. Going a step further, these descriptions would be part of dialogue cutscenes and game objects. This would add another level of difficulty because not only does the player not have a perfect image of what they are looking for, but they also must remember past information.

For better or for worse, it is part of human nature to make judgements about things. This is most certainly the case when it comes to games. FPS players are characterized as violence desiring young white men and mobile gamers are envisioned to be bored housewives. It should (hopefully) not come as a surprise that these, as well as other stereotypes, can be revealed to be false should people take the time to dig a little deeper. Although it is not explicitly part of the assignment, I hope that by making hidden object game mechanics more difficult I can challenge players perceptions of the type of people who play those of games.

How Detailed Should A Prototype Be? – A Reflection

Paper prototypes of mechanics should, generally speaking be rough. Artistic skill is not a necessity. This is so as not to limit who can make one. A prototype can be created by a programmer, game designer, or anyone on the design team. This is important because it reduces the time it takes for a prototype is created, which allows for more testing and quicker results. However, a prototype should still be able to convey clearly the mechanic it was created to examine. If it’s being used by someone outside of the design team this becomes even more important, as there is no guarantee that person will have knowledge of how the game works.

While creating a physical prototype of a game mechanic (specifically a type of spell) for an upcoming assignment, I grappled with how detailed to make it. Should I use color? Do I draw it entirely in pencil? Should it be 3d? Do I use printer paper, construction paper, or cardboard? Initially I wanted to represent the spell visually by a green scrap of paper. However, halfway through creating the spell proxies I worried that they would stand out too much, since the background and characters of the prototype were black and white. In the game, the spell does not stand out that much. In fact, in some areas it almost blends in with the environment. The game object itself is also somewhat transparent until detonated. Plus, the logic behind why the game object distracts NPCs is not because of its color, it’s because of its smell. As a result of this I changed my plan to make the prototype spell game object green, instead opting for white pieces of paper.

Was I over thinking things? This is not a final product, so why fret over the color of things? This goes back to what I previously mentioned about outside playtesters.  What color things are might influence what approach they take. For example, in the game since the spell does not stand out much players might place it near another, clearer object, to track where they placed it. If the prototype featured a spell that clearly stood out, then there is no chance for this dynamic to be mimicked. To accurately simulate a game mechanic in a prototype, more has to be considered then just how the mechanic works. Other details of design should be considered as well.


Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 7: Prototyping” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.

When Should Designers Ask Question?

In chapter 9 of Game Design Workshop, Tracy Fullerton presents a several groups of questions that game designers can utilize during the playtesting process. Some of these are intended to explore the game experience (285-286), learn about the playtesters gaming background (285), and capture playtester comments and observations (301). Although the sample questions Fullerton provides are intended for playtesters, I believe it is worthwhile for game designers to ask themselves some of these questions as well.

When a designer should ask themselves these questions can depend on where they are in the design process. Consider the questions Fullerton gives as examples as playtesting warm-up discussion prompts. During the conceptualization stage the designer could consider what games they play, what they like about those games, what was the last game they purchased, and where do they find out about new games. (285) With this example the main benefit would be helping a designer brainstorm new ideas for games by reflecting on games the like. Other questions, like what would you change if you could change one thing, are helpful to consider earlier in the design process in case later some features need to be cut or tweaked. (301) Even during the more technical parts of designing, it would be wise to address questions such as if there are any loopholes in the system. (301)

Exploring these questions during the design process might seem redundant if they are going to be asked during playtesting as well. However, I believe there are benefits that can be gleaned from doing so. Game design is often not a solitary activity, hence clear communication is important. Thinking about some of these questions during the design process can help provide clear and rational answers if team members ask similar questions down the road. Another significant reward is being able to better understand what playtesters and players might be thinking when they play the game. Since it is important for a game designer to be an advocate for the player, this opportunity for insight into the mind of a player should not be overlooked.


Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 9: Playtesting” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.

Finding Inspiration: A Brief Reflection

In Chapter 6 of Game Design Workshop, Tracy Fullerton goes over in some depth various methods for coming up with ideas. She also rightfully emphasizes the importance of having multiple sources of inspiration (e.g. books, music, film, photography, etc.). (169)  However, in Chapter 6 Fullerton never touches on the effectiveness of some of these inspiration sources over others. In fact, the way she presents them makes it seem like all inspiration sources are created equal, when in reality this is not the case. Anyone who has had to come up with ideas (which most likely includes the person reading this) will attest that some things are more effective in generating them than others. Considering the thoroughness of Fullerton’s writing, I was at first confused and surprised that she did not touch on this area. After some brief reflection, however, I came to realize that this omission made sense. As has been detailed in other parts of Game Design Workshop and in this blog, not everyone enjoys the same things. It stands to reason then that not all things will be equally inspiring to all people.

Examining some of things that have inspired me in the past, I discovered a few insights about finding inspiration that others may find useful. Just because a person enjoys something, doesn’t mean it will provide them with ideas. I enjoy listening to music (an activity Fullerton uses as an example) and do it on a regular basis, but I cannot recall I time where it was the source of a creative concept. Another realization I had was that things that are not done for pleasure can also be sources of creativity. For example, at my previous job one of the requirements was to assist with hurricane relief in the event of such a meteorological event. While in training for this aspect of the job, I came up with an idea for a simulation game where players could experience what it’s like to go through a hurricane for various age groups and at different income levels. This led me to another insight, which is ideas don’t always come to us at the right time. While the hurricane simulation idea is one that I believe has protentional, when it first came to me I did not have the time, knowledge, or resources to elaborate on it. Now, roughly a year and a half after thinking of it, I am taking classes where that and other ideas I’ve previously had can finally be relevant. Ideas can come from expected and unexpected sources, and even if they are not useful at the time they are generated it never hurts to keep them on the backburner.


Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 6: Conceptualization” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.

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