The Shortest Look at Mechanics and Difficulty of Super Mario 64 (1996, Nintendo 64)

Super Mario 64 is one of the first video games I ever played. I remember the holiday season my brother got a Nintendo 64, along with games like Cruis’n World, GoldenEye 007, and Super Mario 64. I’m pretty sure I played on the system more than he did…

The core mechanics of Super Mario 64 are platform movement, jumping, collection, limited discovery, racing, and puzzle solving.

Of the things that provide challenge, many goals in the game are made more difficult when the player must react with quick precision in response to the game’s world momentum (gravity often pulls Mario in a direction pretty quickly). The goals are made easier because most tasks can be repeated without consequence if the player fails. For example, in the world Bomb Omb Battlefield, Mario maneuvers around large bombs that are rolling down a mountain to get to the top. About halfway up, there is a slope leading down to the bottom of the mountain, enticing the player with a special red coin. As Mario slides down the slope, his momentum becomes faster and if the player isn’t in line with the coin to start, they will miss it and slide all the way down with no reward. However, they don’t take any damage and this course isn’t timed, so the player can try as many times as they wish without hurting their chances of surviving the rest of the game.

In Super Mario 64, the best player is the one who maxes out all their goals to collect the most stars and red coins, both of which unlock additional content that is not part of the core game once the player has collected a certain amount.

Writing for tabletop RPGs

For Gen Con 2018, I was tasked with writing a guided mode for our game Apocrypha. Guided mode is very similar to any tabletop role playing game, just with the cards, and a guide leads the saints through the story by giving them omens when they take a turn (turn order is by player choice, not clockwise or counterclockwise order). Typically saints will be at the same nexus or two.

You can read the whole thing here. In this post, I’m going to talk more about my personal design and narrative challenges with this piece, and just some other general thoughts.

When it comes to creative writing for games, I question myself a lot more. This is probably because there are people around me way more capable and qualified and I consider narrative design to be a weaker spot in my designer skill set. And yet, I was tasked with writing this and part of me really wanted to jump for joy because I really like working on Apocrypha and if I had to pick any of my games with Lone Shark Games to write for, it’d be that one. I think because of that, I was afraid of disappointing players with a sucky storyline and I felt a lot of pressure because Gen Con.

Regardless, I’m really glad I work with a team that I feel comfortable asking for help. Liz and Skylar are my idols when it comes to role play (I have gone to LARPs with them in the past and like I can’t even, they’re so good). After my first draft, Liz’s feedback to me to lay off the mechanics so much and just tell a story. “Snakenado!” wasn’t a story I came up with, but I did want to do it justice.

The original “Snakenado!” is from the upcoming Apocrypha Hybrid Mission Pack, so it combines the narratives of the Fae and Serpent chapters. I struggled with how to combine those two things in a way that was interesting, compelling, and something I’d enjoy writing. My next draft involved barely any mechanics, but I still picked out the cards that I wanted to have included. This was a good step, but I was using some cards just because they were there to show off cool Serpent of Fae mechanics and not because that card added to the story.

Next draft, scrubbed the useless cards, added a few mechanics, then conducted a playtest with the rest of the team. This is always my favorite part of the game design process because I come away with new problems and new solutions that I wouldn’t have found by myself. So even though it was long and there was a lot to fix, I felt the most confident in the whole process as I wrote yet another draft.

I learned a lot about information that is necessary to provide to the Game Master. In a module where you are not the GM, it’s important to let them know which information is for them only and which is for the players. When the players do something that may lead them out of bounds, you need to tell the GM that that is an indeed an out of bounds situation and what they can do to lead the player back to the story, because some players are going to be outrageous and challenge the GM that they can do whatever they want in the world. So, I learned to provide some tools that the GM can lean on when that happens. Ultimately, the play experience is up to the GM and most of them are pretty awesome at filling in the holes that I missed or didn’t think about. Unlike in digital games, tabletop role playing can function pretty organically and I don’t need to control as much as if I were creating a mod to a video game.

Design Challenge: Dragon Age II Level Design Spec Sheet

I decided to do a level design challenge last month in which I had to modify a level in an existing game and here’s what I came up with. The attached image is how I would present my work to a team! I wanted the bulk of it to be easy to comprehend and be effective enough that they want to hang it up on their wall. (Okay I stole that last bit from Stone Librande’s GDC talk on One-Page Designs, but it’s made me think about how to effectively present my designs.)

Level Spec Sheet - Nintendo Design Test.png

I have proposed some changes to the Sanctuary location during the quest Enemies Among Us. The original level is quite empty and does not give the player enough time to prepare for some difficult combat against Tarohne and her following. Additionally, the intent of this quest is to dig into Dragon Age’s lore about blood magic to show how sinister and powerful the blood mages are; there’s not enough of that in this location.

I have spec’d out the following to accomplish these goals:

  1. Pacing: The trigger zones have been moved so that enemy spawn zones are directly in front of the player or just around the corner (audio will clue the player in that something is there). No more enemies appearing yards behind the player, forcing the player to backtrack significantly through a sparse environment.
  2. More candy: I added another codex entry loot item to the East hallway between encounters 4 and 5, an unlockable cache with 2 gold and 1 randomized accessory item in the Northeast corner next to encounter 4, and an unlocked chest with a number of health potions based on our probability formula and one injury kit before encounter 5.
  3. More purpose and variety in enemies early on: To emphasize blood mages, I have added one Blood Mage to encounter 1 and two Blood Mages to encounter 3. To balance this out, I removed some of the generic demon types completely or moved them to other encounters.

These changes fit within our 10-minute play time goal, including cut-scenes.

Gamification for Fitness Challenges!

One of my part-time jobs is teaching Krav Maga at a local martial arts school. I started teaching 7am classes a couple months ago because members said they would come to more classes if ones before work/school were offered. Using what I know abut game design and testing, I put together a survey to supplement this feedback and prove to the school owner that adding this class time would be worth it. It got 13 responses (the way the owner communicates with members efficiently is a separate issue).

krav maga survey 2krav maga survey 3

So far the data was showing that this would be most beneficial to own members with the unlimited membership or the max-class card. This is what I was hoping for. Naturally, earlier class times also got more votes.

krav maga survey 4

This data was a little more disappointing, but I didn’t ask the question correctly. At the time of this survey, there were morning classes at 11am classes Mon/Wed and 10am classes Tue/Thu. The first question was pertaining to ALL classes within the schedule. The second question was only “morning classes at your preferred class time”. (TBH I don’t know what the “none” guy was doing here, but come on bro, you’re messing with my hopes and dreams!). Still, half the people said they would attend more classes if the morning one was offered.

So, 7am Mon/Wed/Fri it is. The 10am on Tue/Thu still exists, and is actually more popular now that the 11am doesn’t exist. At the same time, we also added an 8:30pm class Mon/Wed/Fri too. The 7am had decent attendance, but now only one woman is attending (she’s improving so much with the one on one training I’m giving her though) consistently. I don’t teach the 8:30pm, but it sounds like attendance is dropping, so I put together an “Early Bird & Night Owl 4-week Challenge” to get attendance back up. People said they wanted these classes, so why are they making excuses to come? (I know why, I just like to ask the question.)

krav maga 4-week challenge poster

I created this flyer and reward tiers for each level of winner. I understand things do come up in life, but if getting to the gym is a priority for you, that doesn’t mean you have to be perfect in order to win, which is why the Gold Level exists. I created the Silver Level for students who meet 50% of the challenge, which honestly is a little too nice I think, but that’s why that level is only $20 worth of rewards. I stuggled with whether that reward should require 6 classes or 8 classes. Going to the gym twice a week is still a decent commitment to yourself, so while 6 classes is 50% of the original class total overall, it’s 2/3 of the classes per week (on average), and I think that consistency is most important. If a student wants to do 2 classes the first week, then 4 classes the last week, they’re still getting the 6 classes, but are not accomplishing the goals of the challenge, and that’s their choice.

It starts in a couple weeks, so we’ll see how it works out! I hope to make adjustments and create an even better challenge in August!!!

My Meal Prep System

I love doing meal prep. It’s probably one of the smartest habits you can form if you want to make a change in your diet and health, adjust your budget, and improve your time management during a busy work week. I started meal prepping because I wanted to eat healthier and I hate having to wonder what I should eat when I’m already hungry (because I usually just go for junk food). (And yes, that food in the header image I made!)

If you don’t have the tools, meal prep can be expensive at first. Over time, the cost of the kitchen gadgets, spices, and containers will become irrelevant, so if your reasons behind meal prep matter to you, take this jump (don’t just buy a $40 spiralizer because you think you’ll use it though. Make smart choices).

I’m going to talk about the prep behind the meal prep. Honestly, the difficulty for me is not the meal prep itself, it’s the planning. To make this easier on myself, I have a whole spreadsheet for my weekly meal prep needs.


I typically start here. I fill in my week (and usually the weekend) with my plans. So, Friday night I’ll be babysitting and while I could bring my own food, eating whatever the kids eat is fine with me as long as I’m not off the rails the rest of the week. You can also see that I’ve planned when I’m eating out! This is really important because if, say, on Tuesday I get invited out for lunch, I’ll already know that I’m eating out three (or four) times this week, which is a little excessive for me already. I always have a choice, but my reasons for meal prepping matter enough to me that I’ll say no without feeling like I’m missing out.


I have a few great tabs, and one of them is recipes. This helps the planning behind meal prep go much easier, especially if I’m feeling indifferent about what I should eat. I want to be excited about all my meals though, that way I look forward to cooking and eating them.

Get ready, because this next part is my favorite…


The grocery list!!! So, I make my list based on the recipes I’m using, then decide where I will buy these items (based on amount and availability). I walk around the grocery store with my spreadsheet open, inputting the price of items as I put them in my cart. (Side note: When I first started this and my boyfriend was helping me shop, he’d go grab something on the list and put it in the cart without checking the price. I’d have him go to check and occasionally he would come back with a cheaper item.) I love shopping at Trader Joe’s because their prices are based on unit, not weight, and it’s very easy for me to know exactly what I’m going to pay at the register (assuming I don’t buy alcohol or non-food items). Above, I shopped at QFC for items that were not available at TJ’s, and their items are based on weight. I weighed the onions and cauliflower, actually picking out a smaller head of cauliflower because it was $3 less based on weight, and tried to estimate my total. I was only about $0.10 off in the end 😀

Because I wasn’t going to prep my smoothies on Sunday, I decided I’d buy the ingredients later, and since I didn’t really need anything else from Costco, I didn’t want to make the trip on a weekend. And yeah I have cottage cheese twice because protein and I eat a lot of it, but it won’t need to be on my list next week.

In total, my meal prep cost this week was just under $55, and this is pretty usual. Next week I’ll probably buy some organic chicken from Costco for $25-$30, and freeze 2/3 of it to use over the next couple weeks, so the cost then may be higher, but I won’t need chicken for the rest of the month. Even if I spent $80 on groceries on day for 13 meals + snacks throughout the week, that’s more than double the amount of meals I get for eating out every day (the average American spends $12.75 on each meal out). More food should be reason enough for you to do this! For my situation, I’m a non-married woman who occasionally also lets her boyfriend partake in the dinners and lunches she makes, has the desire to stick to a $250/month food budget, and actually enjoys cooking.

And you’re probably thinking “I don’t have time to cook on the weekends” and I’m going to say “We all have the same 24 hours” and then you’ll say “well you must have more time than me” and I’ll say “I make meal prep a priority”. I have ditched friends on the weekend to meal prep, not because they aren’t important to me, but because I’m important to me. It’s a little selfish, but I can reschedule a couple hours of time with my friends much more easily than I can reschedule 6-8 hours of meal prep. And we all gotta eat. I can even talk on the phone or watch shows I like while meal prepping. And later, I’ll have an extra $12.75 sitting around in which I can go out with my friends for a treat because I put in the work to relieve my stress and my budget around food.

“To be useful, an item must be used.” – Francine Jay, The Joy of Less.

Something I like to think about when creating systems and content in games. This quote helps me when I’m feeling overwhelmed about all I want to do with my projects; I just need to think about the things that my players will find useful and enjoy. Don’t confuse this for thinking of how games look (Mirror’s EdgeThomas Was Alone, or Journey), although that stuff is nice too. This is what I think of when it comes to mechanics and how to not overwhelm players, especially when trying to teach them the mechanics as well.  Minimalism is also very much about living an intentional life. Translate this to: Giving players an intentional design.

I originally started with the quote that is the post’s title, but I think the featured image gives some important advice as well. As game designers, getting “the perfect amount” of something in our game is so important to the player’s experience.

Monster Systems for The Dark Waters

I’ve been working on transferring over monsters from the bestiary into a spreadsheet for The Dark Waters (can you believe I was just working in a word doc before? Spreadsheets is so much easier to keep track of systems and stats). I’ve added speed to all monsters, since only a couple used that stat before, and I’ve standardized legendary monsters to use three dice to determine their speed. I do think this might be a bit too random, but I want legendary monsters to be unpredictable in a few aspects and this is where I started today. (You’ll notice I use “octopuses” instead of “octopi”. The plural of “octopus” is “octopuses” or “octopodes” because to word is derived from Greek, not Latin, although “octopi” is socially accepted and some dictionaries have put it in because it’s such a common assumption in English. Also octopuses are my favorite creatures!)


Graphic Design and Game Dev

I’ve been working on this tabletop game off and on (mostly off) for a few years. The original was a project for DigiPen that I had to create within 4-6 weeks. It’s a total mess at the moment because I’m deconstructing and reconstructing different parts, but I’m trying to push through and get it to a place where I’m satisfied so I can hold some helpful playtest sessions.

Tonight, I didn’t really feel like making words go good, so I focused more on the visual stuff. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break and just focus on the artistic part of design. How the content is presented, especially with the tabletop market as saturated as it is and there already being a few very established role-playing games, The Dark Waters will need to be unique in appearance to stand out. I also want my playtests to enjoy reading the content as well. On the left is the first iteration of my layout; on the right, the original. SUPER NOTE that the content is not final and I simply took whatever was in that original document since I’m not working on this section right now.

Serenia_example_pg10Serenia_Original_pdf 16

Believe it or not, it only took me a couple hours to create a master spread and arrange this content using InDesign. I think I spent a good half hour looking for the header font. This layout also brings some of the feeling I want into the game… I want more mythical and mysterious, maybe even alien-like, mermaids. This is not a Disney game. The blue-orange palette brings a livelier vibe than I want, but I can experiment more as I learn more about graphic design, and my goal was for it to stand out without a header bar. It’s better than just plain, white Microsoft Word…