Archive for category: Game Design

How to be really bad at game development

30 Sep
September 30, 2015

Cliff Harris laying down the truth bombs.


19 Sep
September 19, 2015

Some interesting tweets from Steam Spy today.

Those aren’t the kind of results you’d expect, are they? You’d think there’d be more overlap between core RPG fans. Or at least between Pillars and Wasteland fans.

Of course, some folks won’t be buying these games on Steam, for whatever reason, so the Steam statistics are an incomplete picture of the whole. Still, I’m surprised.

I think it speaks to genre being less meaningful than type of core experience/mechanics the game offers. The theme is possibly also important, some folks may be fans of post-apocalyptic wastelands but not traditional fantasy, and vice versa.


MOAR Mechs

04 Jul
July 4, 2015

I’ve been having trouble designing an Easy mech deck.

Mainly because there are no weak mechs in the current card set. Which is something that testers have brought up before.

So I decided fuck it, let me paint some new mechs to fill out the lower tiers. 🙂

New mech card #1 – Surveillance Drone

New mech card #2 – Spyder


New mech card #3 – Tarantula


On Making Space For Creativity

03 Jul
July 3, 2015

I had a great idea for a game prototype in the shower this morning. One that is reasonable in scope and achievable with my limited art budget. Which is great, and I look forward to finishing System Crash so that I can play around with it.

But it’s always like that, I’ve found. Ideas come in the shower, while I’m out on walks, or basically any time when I’m away from screens etc and my brain has space to churn.

That’s my simple theory of creativity. Spend time filling your mind with a range of influences: tv, books, music, art, life and so on. Then do some activity that forces your bran to switch modes from “processing input” to “ruminating”.

The ideas will bubble up naturally. Without any effort from you, your unconscious will get busy forming new connections, combining and rearranging your influences into new and interesting configurations. You just have to give it the space to do so, away from the million inputs and distractions of the modern world.

And have some easy, non-intrusive way to capture those fleeting ideas as they float up from your unconsciousness at hand, or they’ll slip from your mind as easily as they entered it. A computer with an active internet connection doesn’t count, by the way, unless you can stop yourself “just checking twitter quickly” when you’re recording your ideas. 😉

Before you know it, your problem will go from being “how do I be creative?” to “which of these ideas do I pursue?!? I can’t fit all of them in!”

Antichamber: An Overnight Success, Seven Years In The Making

09 Jun
June 9, 2015

Brain Pain

26 May
May 26, 2015

Man, but balancing System Crash is a gigantic pain in the ass.

Just impossible to handcraft ~100 missions. All I can do is setup distribution tables and hope my maths works out.

If it doesn’t, the difficulty ‘curve’ is gonna look like something a lie detector machine strapped to a politician would spit out. :p

If I could time travel, I’d go back and slap the younger me who thought “Yeah, a card game, that’ll be an easy project”. -_-

Screenshot Sunday

24 May
May 24, 2015


Reward screen now colours rewards by rarity, more exciting.

The psychology of presentation is interesting. Giving people a rare reward isn’t that exciting unless the game makes a fuss about it. Blizzard are great at that kind of thing, Hearthstone has a bunch of little cues that add up to a juicy experience.

I’m still learning. 😛

Talking to Make Games

20 May
May 20, 2015

I was out of town last week, flying up to Joburg for the day job.

It wasn’t ALL business, though. I got in some great board gaming, Cyclades continues to be fantastic and I finally played some Dominion, which was enough to put it on my “future buys” list.

I also gave a talk on System Crash to the Joburg Make Games community, discussing development, design decisions, challenges faced, etc.

Luckily it was recorded (thanks, Eugene!). So, for your enjoyment, dear blog reader, I present my talk. 🙂

(It picks up once we actually get the game running properly, past the text intro bits)

Pseudo-Card Sets

04 May
May 4, 2015

System Crash doesn’t have card sets in the same was as other CCGs.

The cards are not divided by colour, like Magic the Gathering:


Nor are there character classes with class-specific cards, like Hearthstone:


I wish I could say that choice was made for the sake of a clever design, but no; the real reason is a far more tawdry one – money. I tried to split cards according to faction, but that always left me with too few “common” cards. There were always gaps in deck-building options.

In the end the approach I decided on was to allow any card in any deck and to try and encourage the idea that certain cards go together through the use of synergies. In other words, certain card combinations work much more effectively than others. Canny players, once they learn these synergies, will gravitate toward building their decks around them. And since there are more cards than can fit into any one deck, that will mean they need to make trade-offs.

Which should help avoid the primary problem with allowing any deck to contain any card – that people could simply build a deck with the most effective cards for any situation. The best Agents, the best Direct Damage, the best Resources Boosters, the best Crowd Control. That’s not what we want, that isn’t fun.

So synergy sets form what might be considered “pseudo-card sets” in SC. And core to those synergies are the card subtypes.

Each card is one of the basic types: Agent, Event, Modifier or Support. The basic types are then further sub-divided into subtypes (although certain subtypes are represented across multiple basic types).

One Agent may have the Law subtype, indicating that it is part of one of the game world’s law enforcement agencies. Another Agent may be a Criminal, a member of the criminal underworld. I try to differentiate these subtypes through mechanics.

Law Agents, for example, get group synergies for having other Law agents in play, and have strong armor. They also synergize well with the Mech subtype.


Whereas Criminal cards involve a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Criminal agents are powerful for their Credit cost, but playing one often invokes an extra cost for the player, representing the “Devil’s Bargain” you need to enter into to call on those treacherous allies. They synergize well with the Deception subtype (an Event subtype), and have ways to debuff opponents.


The Anarch subtype are raiders, terrorists and street gangers. Their mechanics focus on speed and overwhelming an opponent with early aggression. They’re the Rush archetype. The Haste ability features in their set, and they have a number of powerful synergies for getting Anarch Agents on the board quickly and buffing their attack.

They don’t have the staying power of other Agents, long-term, but they can dominate the early game.


Subtypes can also be further specialized by additional subtypes. Yakuza cards, for example, are a subtype of the Criminal set.


Importantly, the more narrow/specialized a subtype, the more powerful the synergies between cards that focus on that subtype.

A card that affects Agents generally won’t be as powerful as a card that affects only Criminal Agents. And a card that affects Criminals won’t be as powerful as a card that affects only Yakuza Criminals.

For example:

Take Cover affects all Agents, and isn’t particularly powerful.

MetroSec Blockade affects only Law Agents. It’s the same cost as Take Cover, but the effect is twice as strong.

Little Tokyo affects only Yakuza Agents. It’s more specialized than Blockade and it’s also more powerful. It costs 33% more, but the effect is twice as strong.

For interest’s sake, I’ll end off with the full list of card subtypes in System Crash (so far):

Multi-Type Keywords
Program – all software cards
Deception – cards which aren’t direct attacks or buffs/debuffs, but which manipulate the player or enemies’ resources and agents. Tricksy tricks (support or event cards)
Connection – cards which represent an ally or resource the player can call on indirectly for support or resources (support or event cards).
Deck – a device for enhancing hacking abilities (support or modifier cards).

Support Subtypes
Security – security systems and devices. Cameras, turrets etc.
Tactic – battlefield manoeuvers granting buffs and debuffs to agents in combat.
ICE – long-term cyberspace defenses, firewalls etc.
Virus – code that infects an enemy system over time, to that enemies detriment.
AI – Intelligent programs.

Modifier Subtypes
Implant – a cybernetic upgrade for an Agent
Chem – any kind of chemical agent, whether a stim, poison etc.

Event Subtypes
Assault – Cards that destroy or directly damage other cards.
Exploit – Cards that exploit weaknesses in computer systems but which aren’t programs.
ICEBreaker – code that destroys or damages ICE.
Utility – a software tool.

Agent Subtypes
Criminal – Agents who corrupt or circumvent societies laws for profit. Syndicates, assassins, burglars
Anarch – Agents who spit on societies laws and conventions, living off-grid and making their own rules. Free spirits, street gangers, terrorists, raiders and reavers.
Corp – Agents of the megacorporations who run the world. Zaibatsu men and women, corporate security forces etc.
Law – Agents of law enforcement. MetroSec, detectives etc. Some upstanding, many corrupt, selling their services to the corps.
Runner – Grey and black-market mercs and soldiers of fortune, characters who make their living in the shadows cast by the glass and steel towers of the megacorps.
*Media – Agents of the media networks, celebrities, journalists.
Mech – Robots, androids.

Agent Sub-Subtypes
Yakuza – Members of the Japanese Yakuza crime syndicate.

*Media agents aren’t in the game yet, but are planned for future SC expansions.


12 Apr
April 12, 2015

It’s so easy, as a player, to pick apart the flaws of a big game, to think “why didn’t someone pick up this thing, that issue?”

But even just glancing through these slides, you get a sense of how many moving parts are involved in creating a Skyrim, a Fallout 3. How many people you need to synchronize to create even a single dungeon, what a process it must be to synchronize all those artists and designers and engineers.

It’s much more akin to co-ordinating a symphony than the workings of an lone auteur. Remarkable that what emerges is anything less than complete chaos.

That fire I had when I was younger, that righteous condemnation so often expressed on forums, it’s melted into sympathy.

This shit be hard, yo.