Tryst with Destiny

I’ve watched my West Wing, I need to get ‘out in front’ of suggestions of self-importance for drawing a parallel between the formation of our new games company – The Secret Games Company and that of…well…India. The truth is it’s a long-standing ambition, it has largely happened late at night “when the world sleeps” and also I really like Nehru’s voice. I think when they were interviewing for Father of the Nation, they must have looked long and hard for that considered, avuncular manner – just listen: Tryst with Destiny.

This is an announcement and also a signoff, I actually picked the signoff first, it’s the finest signoff I’ve come across, I recommend clicking the link – all the links in fact!

This website will stay here but I am going to be writing things on our new Secret Games Company Website – please visit! We have built it to serve our two projects, Dreaming Spires and Rise, which you can read all about on there.

Dreaming Spires is launching on Kickstarter around October 5th. It would be great if you wanted to follow our progress, we have an Email Signup button on the site also Facebook and Twitter too. It’s being released under the joint banners of The Secret Games Company and Game Salute, a US publisher that works with games on Kickstarter managing every stage from manufacture through to delivery. They are the perfect partners for indies like us.

Thanks very much to everyone who read the blogs and commented (on or offline). I hope to see you at all the above places!

So long and thanks for all the fish!


Filed under Uncategorized

Biography is better

Did you know that Admiral Nelson, bastion of the establishment up on his pillar, was married but spent most of his life living in sin with a dishy Cheshire lass, whom he picked up in Naples and her aged, aristocratic husband? Me neither, till I saw his ‘Great Britons’. That’s the beauty of biography, you’d go over a lot of the same ground focusing on the war or the era but the tangential titbits are often the most interesting. My current favourite is the American Experience series, produced by PBS, which devotes 3-4 hours to the lives of each of the 20th century US presidents. I may be becoming inured to the slightly bombastic style of US documentaries but I find it very intelligent, it moves along at a good pace and the detail is a rare treat. No rushing through the material here but never a dull moment – honest!

Biographic information is easier to remember as well; its better organised than facts on a timeline and the colour of a person’s life helps hold it all together. Plus it’s often more relevant to us, not least as an endless source of consolation. The lives of ‘great’ people are littered with failure, misery and mediocrity. A look at President Truman’s first 40 years is enough to cheer anyone up. As far as I can tell, this applies equally to screen-less media, although I am drawing on a considerably smaller sample. All the best In Our Times focus on a single person and the one biography I have read, Camus, was excellent. There would never have been time to focus on all his affairs or indeed his flirtation with professional football in a book on Existentialism! Even typing “a book on Existentialism” is dull.

Biography’s advantages apply equally in games but no one has yet resolved the need for players to make their own decisions with the point of telling someone’s own particular story. Multiplayer is also hard to conceive if everyone is the same person – this is why there are board games about every possible historical subject but hardly any about a person. And yet, as games evolve, there is less reason to think that these problems will be insurmountable forever.

I am a huge admirer of Assassin’s Creed’s integration and presentation of historical elements. Meeting Leonardo outside the duomo in Florence and visiting his workshop as he jabbers about his inventions and even alludes to his homosexuality is a sign that games are growing up – this sort of factual detail used to only be found in strategy games. The Ubisoft teams clearly have a passion for their subject matter and certainly do it justice. Games’ advantage over other media is that the active role of the player increases their engagement hugely. If you can hold a player’s attention, they will drink this stuff in, just look at fan’s treatment of Mass Effect’s lore; I think they know it better than the writers at this point.

I can’t wait for a game that invites you to live the life of one of history’s great figures facing the same choices but choosing your own path. Card-driven board games, such as Twilight Struggle, use cards to represent the key moments in a historical narrative and while these will inevitably be all jumbled up, the story still comes through. Applying this to an RPG, quests might cover the key events in a person’s life but their order and the player’s choices, when faced with the same decisions, will vary. Cynics might ask if it’s worth using a person’s life as your theme, if you have to split it all up and allow it to be skewed by the player. I would say yes! Games will always take liberties with their subjects; it is the price of player choice, but what better way to explore a great person’s life than to live it?


Filed under Films/TV, Game Design, Games, Non-Games

Twilight Struggle

“Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle…”

– John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, 1961

He goes on to the bit about thinking not what your country can do for you but the idea of a twilight struggle is the most intriguing. It casts the whole sorry mess in a rather romantic light but it fits – conflicts playing out behind closed doors and in far-flung corners of the world – murky, secretive affairs… And so the designers of my new Cold War board game felt; the same quote opens their generous (32 page) rulebook. Its name? Twilight Struggle of course.

Board games have had a renaissance in recent years and a thriving sub-culture exists out of sight from ‘normal’ people. As such, there is a fair bit to catch up on. Firstly, they have not heard of any of the games anyone is playing. In fact, if they have heard of a game, we aren’t playing it. “I like Monopoly” someone offers plaintively – we don’t. “I love Cluedo” – kill yourself. “Risk is awesome!” – seriously, I would rather dine on my own head with a side of erm…your head than play Risk. I know this seems a little inconsistent – “but *sniff* you said you liked board games”. The thing is, it was a phoenix from the ashes style rebirth; the old, long, dull games died (in awesome Final Destination-ish ways) and a host of well-designed and imaginative games replaced them. If this is all news to you, go and play Catan but remember now you’ve heard of it, we don’t want to play it anymore. Sorry, I’ll be nice now.

Board Game Geek is the bible of this humble hobby and its games list, the gospel, with 57387 games by today’s count and since popular games have 20000+ votes, the rankings are pretty stable. New games are sometimes briefly overrated as everyone plays them for the first time but on the whole, it’s an accurate indication of quality. Imagine the excitement then, when it became clear that a game appeared to be bucking this trend and mounting a slow but steady climb up the list. Twilight Struggle now sits atop this list-y Olympus with statistical air between it and its nearest rival. “How does this happen?!” I hear you wail in anguished horror. No. Desperate curiosity? No. Faint interest? No answer. I’ll take that as a yes.

Twilight Struggle looks like a war game: big map, endless little counters, historical theme – your average board gamer assumed it was one step from battle re-enactments and gave it a wide berth but slowly its true colours were revealed. Now I would dearly love to tell you that when it was released, in 2005, I had the prescience to take a punt on it but I am an arriviste; I bought it when it reached number 1 and – no zealot like a convert – am atoning for my tardiness by proselytising here, there and everywhere (any excuse).

It’s a two player game, although I’ve played with teams of 3, which worked fine. You take control of the US or the USSR and you aim to earn influence around the world. You do this by playing cards which are all historical events or people, for example, playing the Che Guevara card will remove any US influence in Cuba and give the USSR enough influence to control it. Cards can also be played for their ‘operations points’, which allow you to simply add influence to any country you are connected to on the map or to stage coups in countries where your opponent has influence. Players aim to have enough influence in the world’s 6 regions to dominate or even control them, when their scoring card is played. Judicious scoring, winning the space race and satisfying your populace’s bloodlust without triggering nuclear war will see you win the war but if the game lasts all 10 turns you may not get much sleep. This is a long game. The really scary thing is I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. It’s just so fun, the time flies. My soviets finally eked out a very close victory on Saturday night after 9 hours and I loved every nail-biting minute of it. So sue me.

The reason Twilight Struggle is so engaging is because it creates the impression that the problems you are solving, the tools you are using and the way you are feeling is how it really was. I usually coo about clever mechanics, theme is bonus, but this game has opened my eyes to what is possible with some real attention to the source material. That’s not say it doesn’t have great mechanics, it absolutely does, but it also has cards that outline all the key events and people of the war and a rulebook which goes even further, giving a paragraph of historical context for every card.

But that’s the easy way to add theme – you write it on a card – the difficult bit and what the designers have done so well, is making the mechanics themselves reflect the theme, something Extra Credits is huge on. The mechanics are set up to create the same sorts of decisions that JFK had to make. They can tell some of the story by putting the player in classic Cold War situations. For example, you want to gain control of a country in Central America to establish a presence there – you must stage a coup to do so. Coups are easier to pull off in countries with a low ‘stability’ and the countries that fit the bill: Guatemala, Nicaragua and Haiti – sounds familiar right? Their stability is fixed and often, when you feel that you need to alter the balance of power in a region, you can only afford to target these unstable countries even though you know that your opponent will have little trouble reversing your actions. Its these mechanics, working as gameplay tools and as features of the Cold War theme, which make playing the game feel like leading a superpower through 30 years of…twilight struggle.

I used to think that board games were destined to continue as a thriving but perennial ‘sub-’ culture. I’m not so sure anymore. It’s a sign of the times that two successful video games writers have set up a board game internet show – Shut Up and Sit Down – and fantastic it is too. Twilight Struggle is proof that board games can continue to improve in pace with their computer-y cousins. They are similar enough that as video games grow, board games can piggy-back on their success snapping up gamers curious for a different experience. But they are also different enough to be an enjoyable counterpoint to what is largely a one-man-and-his-machine pastime. Or maybe we will see a fusion of board and video games – a board game controlled by software, which allows face-to-face play with a system more complex than two people could control. Iain M. Banks seems to think so. Personally, I’d be happy just to see more games like Twilight Struggle with all the mechanical elegance of a modern board game but also utterly immersed in a fascinating theme.


Filed under Game Design, Games, Reviews

Indiavid and Codliath

Do you remember when PC gaming was in terminal decline? It was gaming’s own day of days, a ‘squirrel flu’ so irreversible, you were advised to disassemble your PC and bury each bit in its own hole in the garden for fear the prehistoric monster would rise up from the grave. Now it’s the consoles that are at death’s door – one more each children and then its sayonara, try tomorra, nice to know you. Oh and the handhelds or at least all the handhelds that didn’t have the presence of mind to offer a nifty 24 month payment scheme (and a phone).

One factor behind the PC’s stubborn refusal to die quietly is a truly booming indie scene. It’s not only the number of good quality indie titles that’s rising but also their sales. Terraria exemplifies this, coming from nowhere in May, 2011 to sell 630,000 copies in its first 6 weeks, which at an average price of £5 is a cool £3m. I’ll leave you a moment to cry into your tea.

Over it yet? No? Another pic then? OK.

It is an outrageous amount of money for a couple of devs to make but it is, of course, richly deserved. The game is superb, the price generous and the post-launch support excellent. It seems indie devs got fed up sinking years of their lives into games that sank without trace so they started releasing them early and only continuing work if their audience made the right noises. Smart move. Plus its one of those cunning plans with bonus benefits, namely that pirates are stymied and you can fire your PR department cause when you want some attention you can just announce a load of new content. This ploy worked brilliantly for Terraria, which experienced the mother of all spikes after a big update, these are users on Steam:

Pixel-art conquers the AAA behemoth! A David and Goliath tale for the quad-core generation! Anyway nuff of that, go and play Terraria! What’s the idea? Well you start with nowt, not even two pixels to rub together. You dig and chop all the resources you need to build a nice house, a mine and various tools to craft  your produce into useful stuff like torches to light the nether regions and harder, better, faster, stronger pickaxes. As you venture deeper, you reach new strata with new enemies and resources and cool loot lurking in chests. There’s no structure at all beyond a day/night cycle with baddies coming out at night and some NPCs who will buy and sell stuff. But despite its modest 2 dimensions, you feel like an intrepid explorer, digging deeper into the unknown, hellbent on a cheap, warm trip to Oz. Plus the graph is persuasive, its like the entire population of Wales feverishly mining…and then going home to play Terraria. Cheap. Anyway i leave you with Terraria’s music, which is a delicious mix of 8-bit, strings and percussion. Dig it!


Filed under Games, Reviews


I’ve never heard so many grown men gush in unison. The office is awash with swooning artists and designers gazing longingly into the middle distance. Love is in the air. The object of their fawning is Skyrim, an RPG set in the frosty mountains where dragons soar and giants prowl. What has become of our hitherto hard-nosed industry vets? They’ve regressed into over-enthusiastic fanboys. Bethesda has finally made an Elder Scrolls game everyone can enjoy.

If someone pitched you Skyrim (or any Elder Scrolls game), you would be within your rights to think the designers had got a little carried away. Mechanics abound. If your heart desires, you can buy a pickaxe, mine some ore, smelt an ingot, forge a sword, sharpen it into a ‘fine’ sword, brew a potion, poison the sword, learn an enchantment, steal a soul gem, capture a soul, enchant the sword and then just sell the bleedin’ thing back to the pickaxe vendor for a tidy profit and you get to keep the pickaxe. Can’t say fairer than that. Mercifully, you will find other ways to make your fortune but the boundless freedom and facility to do whatever you like is what makes Skyrim so compelling.

I rarely get that into games’ stories, they are so often predetermined however well this is disguised by branching conversations and moral choices – give me gameplay every time. But I love when a game mixes the two with a meaningful decision. In Mass Effect 2, you weigh a dangerous species’ past crimes and potential future ones against its right to survive. There’s no right answer and the choice you make will impact your game – kill them all and they won’t turn up in future missions and various people will think more or less of you for what you’ve done. However, beyond a smattering of these throughout the game, your character’s arc is chosen for you. Skyrim is truly an open world and it’s so enormous and the options within it so numerous, you feel you can do anything. It has a main quest line but it isn’t given priority, you don’t need to complete parts to unlock other areas or quests lines. This freedom makes you think hard about what you want to do and once you’ve done that, you are much more invested in the choices you make. In Mass Effect 2, you can shape Shepherd’s story but in Skyrim it’s your story to tell. Linearity is a dot to them.

The combat is varied and well-balanced throughout with AI smart enough to make the harder difficulties pleasingly unforgiving. There’s a range of weapon types each with corresponding skill trees, 6 schools of magic and lots of opportunities to sneak around and catch your quarry unawares. Self-medication with potions and food allow you to boost your health, magic and stamina to withstand the abuse meted out by enemies far tougher than you until you can finish them off. And some of the baddies are no shrinking violets. Dragons will swoop down and rain fire on you while irascible giants will cover drive you for 6 to the rapturous appreciation of their Mammoth flock. And those are just the random encounters you will stumble upon out in the wilds. More monstrous beasts await you underground.

The range of crafting options gives significance to every plant and berry you discover on your travels. Pop home and that modest mushroom may be the missing ingredient for your magic potion or indeed your venison stew. Modifying weapons with poisons and enchantments is very satisfying and seeing their effects writ large on hapless victims is equally rewarding. Conversations have just enough significant choices to keep you on your toes and characters (and the occasional book) may offer tips to improve your skills. And the music…wow…it always takes a while to notice a game’s music and this was no different but now I am tapping along to the stirring, Nordic war songs and getting teary during the soulful, pastoral refrains. Some soundperson somewhere deserves a medal. Person, I salute you.

There are of course some janky bits but you are so into the game, you barely notice. Certainly for the first 10-20 hours you are too busy gawping at the sheer scale of the landscapes, the gorgeous art and the myriad options at your fingertips to gripe about bugs. Skyrim feels like a step up for the RPG genre. It’s a timely reminder that however constraining our 6 year old console hardware is becoming, the tech is not the limiting factor on the fun; the design is. The ambition of Bethesda’s designers has been rewarded at last.


Filed under Games, Reviews

A Noble Quest

I am reading The Calligrapher by Edward Docx and absolutely loving it. Like all the best 20th century fiction; it is erudite and informative but also very hard to put down. You can nourish your brainy bits and have a rollicking good read. To be fair to older and more Russian novels, I am sure they were equally thrilling in their day but while they remain interesting, that page-turning quality is often lost. I think the memory of dense tomes, read under duress at school, can dampen the enthusiasm for anything ‘literary’. Legends like Doris Lessing are forgotten and talented young writers like Docx languish unheard of while Dan Brown saunters around his mega-yacht snacking on babies. If we can rediscover more of these doubly enjoyable reads – recommendations in a comment please! – they could replace their halfwit cousins entirely. Unsuprisingly, ‘.docx’ agrees (his article), he quotes a particularly eye-watering excerpt from the late, great Larsson, which alone is worth the read.

I have only read one of Lessing’s books, Martha Quest, the first in her 5 part series, Children of Violence, which tells the story of the eponymous Martha beginning with her childhood in colonial Africa (where Lessing grew up). The quality of the writing jumps out at you straight away. Her deft descriptions of family life and contemporary society are brilliantly observed and the story is true-to-life and very engaging. Orwell, one of just two postwar novelists The Times deemed more influential than Lessing, penned rules for good writing, which urge the author not to ponce it up with long words and fruity syntax. Lessing’s writing is clear and unpretentious and much the better for it because it’s so easy to read.

Of course, Martha Quest cannot possibly please everyone so you might end up on the long-awaited lounger, lathered in lotion and find Lessing a let-down. But before you grab The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous and flee, there is a distinction to be made. Recommending books is an imprecise exercise but even so there are safe bets and stabs-in-the-dark. John Fowles is a favourite of mine who I know is not to everyone’s taste but I am guilty of proselytizing anyway. Even The Calligrapher will leave some ladies cold (it’s like Martin Amis’s Rachel Papers, if you can’t bear reading about narcissistic men then you might hate it). But Martha Quest is no Magus, it is straightforwardly excellent and its themes are relevant to everyone, in short, it is the safest of safe bets.


Filed under Books, Non-Games

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

After a long wait, Deus Ex: Human Revolution arrived and despite the weight of expectation, it acquitted itself rather well. In games (and in life), I struggle to remember the bad bits after a year or ten. What I do remember about the last Deus Ex is entering areas filled with baddies and finding awesome ways to punish their pesky asses. Enormous insectoid robot? Pah, I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast – you eat pieces of shit for breakfast?! And so it went. Of course there was probably a ton of tiresome jank in Deus Ex and Invisible War that I’ve forgotten but if Human Revolution dares to put a foot wrong, it is pissing on its predecessors’ graves. Such is the lot of the nostalgia sequel. So I approached the latest instalment of this venerable member of video games’ royal family with trepidation but I leave happy.

Those artfully constructed areas with multiple, flexible solutions are back and sneaking through them is still satisfying enough to make it all worthwhile. It’s not new cause it is unmistakably Deus Ex but after this long, the stealth feels almost original. You creep into a room, peek out and watch everyone going about their business and plan how to get through, ideally unseen but certainly unshot since it does not take many to kill you. If you are lucky, your plan comes off perfectly and you are clearly awesome. If someone sees you, you have some exciting improvisation to do and most likely a delightful load screen to watch till you undie. They are good load screens…maybe if we make the screen really nice they won’t notice how lo…I particularly like the fonts, one’s all tapered corners meets boxy-calculator and ends up looking strong but sort of suave and the other’s all coy and normalish till bam, my A’s got no legs, it’s a triangle, that’s all you get – love it. BUT the loading times are murderous and when you end up somewhere you’re going to die a lot…segue

What is bad about Human Revolution is a bunch of the supporting acts. The boss fights were ruined by the load times for me, they were also pretty unimaginative and utterly unsuited to my stealth skills but even without those problems, in a game where you die fast, it is stupid to start your fight with the boss charging at you and before you’ve surveyed the scene so you will die numerous times and you will have to admire those fonts till you don’t li…I still like them, I do, the A is a triangle! I put the game onto easy and saved every time I shot the boss – doesn’t make you feel so awesome.

Your character comes off like an ex-angry nerd who has accrued enough general respect, to downgrade his nerd rage to a low-level chippyness. But since he is you, its a bit like bringing a regrettable friend to a party and then feeling obliged to follow them around wincing apologetically when they talk. Still to be fair to him, he does sound a lot better than every NPC in the game simply because he has not caught the insane repeater disease where you only say one thing but boy do you get your mileage out of it. What else? The structure of it all feels a bit off. The hubs don’t really come together like Mass Effect’s and there are fewer of them so you spend an hour or so in a mission and then your inter-mission ice-cream vendor is a mission to find. But really these are minor gripes that only grate towards the end.

The upgrades are well implemented and offer meaningful choices about how to improve your character. You often have a new toy to play with and the difficulty can increase noticeably so you always feel that your last battle was the hairiest. They can feel a bit binary when your path is blocked with a ‘heavy’ object or electrocuted but they are all useful. The hacking minigame is fantastic, simple to grasp but with enough depth to never get old. And finally the production values are very high, I think it looks and sounds great. But really it all comes back to the core gameplay which is as good as it ever was. If you like stealthing at all or want something a bit different or indeed have a penchant for a damn fine load screen, you should definitely play this. I hope this rekindles the Deus Ex franchise, its a winning formula with a rich legacy to draw on and those niggles won’t be hard to address in a sequel.


Filed under Games, Reviews

Documentaries are the new films

Since I have now watched all the films, I have been filling the film-shaped hole in my life with documentaries while Hollywood makes some new ones for me. The thing is, like a lion who has tasted fresh human, I may not be able to return to my old ways. Humans Documentaries are just so delicious good! I’m carried along by the stories just as much, but instead of learning about Ewoks, i’m learning about something that happened here on Earth. Now this is probably the result of being able to watch the best documentaries ever where as with films I already saw 3 Men and a Baby and 3 Men and a Little Lady years ago so I have to settle for less but that only recommends them more.

Before the edutainmentphobes leave to spray ‘traitor’ on my car, I must get across that there really is a documentary for everyone. You may not like 60s history documentaries (why? dammit why?!) but you might have a soft spot for sports, travel or Attenborough’s soothing baritone. I have compiled a list of the best documentaries I have come across, which I think anyone with a passing interest in the subject matter would enjoy. I’m sure there are hundreds more so please pop your recommendations in a comment below.

World at War – The Daddy of the genre, a blow-by-blow acount of WW2 compiled entirely from BBC archive footage and Laurence Olivier’s dulcet narration.

Hoop Dreams – The story of two talented teenagers from 80s  Chicago’s roughest neighbourhoods who are offered scholarships to a top basketball high school.

The Making/History of Modern Britain – Andrew Marr’s twin British history documentaries charting the major phases of Britain’s evolution over the last hundred years through more personal stories that illustrate his points.

Hearts of Darkness – The story of the making of Apocalypse Now, filmed by Coppola’s wife out in the Phillipines while the movie was being made.

Exit Through the Gift Shop – The story of a strange and wonderful Frenchman who became an assistant to Banksy and other famous street artists.

Civilization – A ‘personal view’ from 60s documentary legend, Kenneth Clarke, who covers the history of art through the ages.

This IMDB list is also quite handy.


Filed under Films/TV, Non-Games

Advance Wars: Bringing strategy to the small screen

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, an early 20th century writer and aviator, said “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This is never truer than in designing for mobile, where gamers want something they can pick up and enjoy immediately. Adapting the strategy genre to this type of play is particularly difficult. Strategy games provide a variety of tools and a long-term goal, which can be achieved in a number of ways. Players make big-picture, strategic decisions and more specific, tactical decisions and weighing up the options before choosing the best course of action and then seeing your strategy succeed is the fun part. Strategy games are only enjoyable when the player has understood enough to make smart choices. In mobile games, designers have to strike a balance between simplicity which allows everyone to play the game and complexity which gives rise to interesting decisions.

Advance Wars manages to be so complex and rewarding without putting off its relatively impatient audience by using the simplest design solutions that it can to create multi-layered decisions . The most interesting decisions force the player to choose between successes in different areas – do I lose a base and the corresponding income and ability to recruit certain units here in order to save some units or lose the units but hang onto the base till reinforcements arrive? Advance Wars dispenses with strategy game mainstays which it does not require to create this gameplay: diplomacy (you are permanently allied or at war with each CPU), technology, agents. However it does keep different types of terrain and bases, income and recruiting units, and the effects of your particular general, not to mention of course combat on land, at sea and in the air. This many elements could easily be overwhelming in a handheld game but the balance is struck by introducing them gradually and by only making some elements complex. For example, the settlements: cities, bases, airfields and ports all produce 1000 income per turn and all have 10 hit points which is very straightforward, but each produces a different set of units. The temptation is to give each base type its own rules: “bases should have higher defences than airfields”, “cities should produce more money than bases”, etc. Of course they should and it could add another layer of strategy but if the player will lose the sense that they are correctly weighing up all the options, this is something to take away.

Another balancing act is how much information to display prominently. Advance Wars hides some of its complexity in menus. Civilization 5 does a similar thing, placing some of the heavier and more numerical information where the experienced player can access it easily but the beginner will be unlikely to see it. This helps beginners because if you, the player, need to feel you are doing well – not as simple as your game character/faction succeeding in the tutorial – reams of information that you don’t understand won’t help. Advance Wars masters the trade-off between initial appeal based on how much fun a player can have in their first session, for which simple mechanics are crucial, and lasting appeal, which is often born out of complexity. They keep the complexity at a manageable level cramming as much variety and nuance and emergent strategy into the mechanics they are allowed and letting their dreams of representing the effects of what your general had for breakfast die on the vine. He probably would be more effective with a good bacon sarnie in him but that’s another game entirely.

Military Meals (iOS) will be released on the AppStore next week.


Filed under Game Design, Games, Reviews


‘Browse’ is one of those words that starts to look wrong if you write it too many times. ‘Use’ is another, oo-se, us-ee. Don’t even get me started on ‘rhythm’. Anyway…

My uncle put me on to The Browser the other day and I, in turn, recommend it to you. Virality in action. It is, in its own words, a selection of the best features, comment and analysis articles from around the web. What you get is an email a day with links to 5 or so articles from respected publications the world over. As far as I can tell, any subject is fair game, the requirements are simply that the article is interesting, well-written and that it is quite long. The length criterion is key actually because it means that the author has had the chance to really get into their subject and hopefully the reader with them.

I have instructed my email to send these learned letters to their own special folder where unfortunately they tend to just sit there displaying their unread but emboldened (6) until I can look through them and pick one to read. But I have read some excellent articles so as an homage, here is a browser of The Browser:

Sean Parker: Agent of Disruption – Forbes

Tintin and the War – FT (all about Herge)

How the Potato Changed the World – Smithsonian

The Reinvention of the Night – TLS

A Brief History of the Brain – New Scientist

And the link to their daily newsletter:



Filed under Non-Games


You are some of the first brave explorers to wander this barren tract of internet. This is in fact new internet. The equivalent of some rocks off Iceland. So well done and thanks for coming!

This website is part blog, part portfolio so the portfolio stuff will just sit there looking pretty and the blog will be a teeming, thrusting etorrent of…occasional recommendations, the odd review perhaps, musings on games and game design. Basically anything that i think people might like, to do with games, books, music etc. What i suggest is bookmarking it and once in a while, come and look through what i’ve put up. Once i have more posts i will categorize them so you can siphon off all the games/non-games (delete as appropriate) stuff so you don’t have to read anything really boring.

So without further ado, may i recommend this talk by Ian Bogoff, who tried to design the stupidest and most pointless of all social games on facebook to satirize the genre but only succeeded in releasing a hit. Apparently, they were playing ‘ironically’ so er…anyone wanna click my Bacon Cow?


Filed under Game Design, Games, Non-Games