International Holocaust Remembrance Day… and games.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. As a Jewish person, I’m automatically attached to this and affected by it, directly and indirectly. Antisemites like to use this day to prove that the holocaust didn’t happen and that “even if it did,” it really wasn’t as bad as all “you Jews” make it out to be and we should get over it because it happened 72 years ago. It doesn’t matter how bad or not bad a piece of history is, how long ago it happened, or that holocaust survivors are still alive today; it’s still history, and history should always be acknowledged and taught at every opportunity.

One thing that bothers me (probably a lot more than it should) is that many FPS games that take place during World War II ignore the holocaust (yeah, I know, Wolfenstien and Call of Duty: World War II are our token “but they don’t ignore it!” games). Do ya’ll know what WW2 in Europe was even about??? Germany invaded Poland (1939), and to Hitler, the conquest of Poland would bring Lebensraum, or “living space,” for the German people, and the “racially superior” Germans would colonize the area. About 10% (approximately 3 million people) of Poland’s population was Jewish at this time. This seems like a small number of Jews, however, the Polish Jewish community was the largest in all of Europe. So of course, Hitler would start there. These games wave nazi regalia all around, but why do so if the developers aren’t going to include one of the major identity groups they’re persecuting? Players need a motive other than “we all know nazis are bad so kill ’em.”

Let me use some comparisons to explain why this is a big deal. What if a game’s plot involved women’s voting rights and only included one or two women, neither of whom where the PC? A game that takes place during the Civil War and has no black people, or every single black person the PC (a white person) encounters is a slave? What about a game plot involving mental health, and the PC is perfectly, mentally well? How about a game in which elves are being enslaved and killed, but the PC is a human who’s just a big ol’ friendly savior and totally understands what the elves are going through because how can one not feel sympathy for them?

Those are incredible mistakes right? Put the player in the position of the oppressed, have their character be the oppressed. Educate them on what it was like to be a Jew from 1933-1945. If you aren’t Jewish, all you have to do is ask us to let you know when you get it right.

Never Again.

Krav Maga Teaching Templates

Yeah, I know, another post on teaching. But I love teaching! It not only validates that I know my shit, but it also reminds me of the nuances of a technique.

There’s a very specific template when it comes to teaching Krav Maga (at least, from what I learned from Krav Maga Worldwide but you’ll see this template when you watch videos on youtube too).

  1. Live speed of the technique
  2. Slow speed and exaggerated movement of the technique
  3. Context/anecdotes about why this technique is necessary (can also be #1 depending on the class and technique)
  4. Break the technique down into 2-5 steps (including how safety equipment should be used)
  5. Students person dry work (copying the 2-5 steps one at a time)
  6. Students partner up to practice the technique

Can I carry this over to games? Yes! Krav teaching needs exaggerated visuals because your students are only going to perform at about 40-60% compared to their instructor. The thing to be careful of would be going to slow that the player would lose interest. In total, steps 1-5 should take no longer than three minutes. In a video game, that’s forever! A tutorial of a mechanic should never be longer than 15 seconds, but it also need to show the players what to do. In a video game, the template can be:

  1. Shadow player performing live speed of the mechanic (including the controls).
  2. Mechanic should be shown within the context it will be most often used in
  3. If the player has not performed the mechanic properly (or at all), slow the shadow player down to a slow and exaggerated speed (including the controls).
  4. Player is within an environment where they can practice the mechanic at their own pace.


New Year’s #gamedev Goals

A goal isn’t a goal unless you have a plan. Before you create the plan, it’s only a wish or a dream. My dream is to work on independent projects and publish something. My goal is to work on independent projects for at least 5-10 hours a week and publish one of them by next December.

Since I graduated from DigiPen, I feel like my urgency to create personal game projects has slowed. I’ll work on something when I get a bout of inspiration, but I haven’t gotten a routine going. I like schedules and planned work sessions, even if I have difficulty sticking to them sometimes. Just like trying to make sure I go to specific Krav classes, I need to work on some personal projects at specific set times of the week.

What’s nice about my Krav classes is that there are a few options for me each day. For a while I stuck to the 10am regime Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a Monday or Friday class at 5pm (of both of I felt like it). Then running on the treadmill Wednesday nights around 6:30/7pm. Nowadays I go Mondays at 5pm, Tuesdays at 7:15pm, and Thursdays at 10am, then Fridays at 5pm if I’m feeling it. With this routine and these set times every week, I’m more likely to go and shift lesser priorities around it.

I need to set a schedule so I do game dev work that is somewhat similar. Even as I write this, I feel like I’m not ready to commit to it because I’m afraid I’ll make excuses about it and disappoint myself. So, I’ll start slow just like I did with fitness. I can commit to two days a week with a goal of two hours of work: Thursday mornings around 6:30-8:30am and Saturday mornings around 7am-9am. In March, I’ll add another day and more hours.

So, please look forward to a Saturday blog post every couple weeks in which I share what I’ve accomplished!

Analysis of a Krav Maga 360 Defense Drill

When my instructors say “Let’s play a game,” in my Krav Maga classes, I get excited. I love games! But, sadly, Krav Maga games don’t exactly match a game designer’s definition of game; there’s no winner, loser, or really even any kind of quest other than tapping someone on the shoulder while they try to block, and if you tap them or they fall outside the small perimeter, the penalty is two burpees (five if you go too hard and cause actual harm to someone). It’s more of a drill, and lasts for 5-10 minutes.

Let’s break this down:

  • This is PvP. There are no teams no matter how many people there are.
  • Player goals: Tap an opponent on the shoulder. Block them from tapping you. Don’t fall outside the ring.
  • Penalty is two burpees for either failing to block someone from tapping you or falling outside the ring. If you take a penalty, you jump back in and continue the game after you complete the burpees.
  • Keep this up for 5-10 minutes (until the instructor calls it).

Having complete PvP and no loyalty makes the game fair in the sense that there is no one team that is better than the other, only individuals. All the big guys in class won’t team up, but they will all eventually come for you. And since Krav Maga is close combat self defense, this is an excellent setting for a class drill (*cough* tutorial *cough*).

The goals for this drill are simple right? I, a 5’4″ 125 pounder, need to tap the outside shoulder of at least one opponent every 10 seconds (so my instructor doesn’t yell at me). Some such opponents are 6’something” and could easily be well over 180lbs. They have this lumbering height advantage that I don’t know how to make up for. Even if I’m fast, they’ll block me before I can touch them. The best way I’ve gotten around this is to tap them from behind where none of their limbs are blocking me and they can’t see me… but this is difficult when everyone keeps their back against the perimeter.

For most, the penalty of two burpees is enough to give the player an urgency to succeed. For me, it’s not. In addition to having failed this drill so many times, I attempted a a 50-Burpees-A-Day-For-30-Days challenge a while ago. Even though I didn’t complete it, it makes two burpees seem like a dream. In fact, I would rather do a couple burpees every 30 seconds for 10 minutes that try to tap someone who’s half a foot taller than me on the shoulder. So, in my opinion this consequence is not dire enough for me to care about how often I get hit (but my instructor’s shouting at me definitely is) and I’m sure I’m not the only one. This also makes me not mind so much if I don’t accomplish the goals of the drill—I did 12 burpees and my core and arms are gonna be more solid than yours!

When thinking of more dire penalties for a drill like this, we need to consider what else the player’s afraid of doing more than once: A run around the building, blitzing punches for more than 45 seconds, wall-sits, pulsing squats… maybe even a combination of these? If I didn’t know what terrible thing I’d have to do when I got out, I think I might feel a bit more urgency. Most of us can handle something we’re only a bit afraid of multiple times if we know it’s coming, but the fear of the unknown exercise probably scares us all. There’s always going to be one fear you hope for over the other, which relieves you and makes it not so scary.

I’m taking my instructor exam in January. I’ll be able to test some new penalties and see how player’s respond.


Cheat Codes Podcast Episode 148: Light Gnawing

(My favorite thing I’ve done so far) [Listen to the podcast]

Game editor at Lone Shark Games Aviva Schecterson helps us try to make “fetch” happen this week as we pick apart the fallout of Nintendo’s decision to discontinue the Miiverse, Acid Wizard Studio’s fight against free game key resellers, and the death of the current VR cycle. A very spoopy Lightning Round takes us through Twitter’s #DearDavid ghost story saga, then we revisit scary games from childhood and beyond. Dust off your Burn Book and don your favorite shade of pink for this week’s frenemy-laden episode!

The Panel: Alexandra LucasAviva SchectersonJoe Arroyo, & Nikk Golesh

Getting the best out of your playtests

At Gen Con 50, I spoke on a panel with Jake Given, Carly McGinnis, and Matt Fantastic that focused on different aspects of playtesting. So, here’s a post about data tracking when playtesting your games, which is only a portion of the panel, but is that part that I felt most knowledgeable about. This applies to both tabletop and digital games.

When it comes to asking questions before, during, and after your test, go into your test with specific questions in mind. It’s best if they’re already written down, and you should do this before your test starts and when anything comes up during the test. It’s up to you if you want your testers to know what you’re looking for. This may affect your data, but it can also encourage them to take certain risks they may otherwise not do if they were simply playing as normal. For example, when I’m a player in my own tests of Apocrypha, I almost always mutate a confrontation if I can. In normal play, I am too afraid of the potentially bad consequences that I don’t do it unless I feel like I’m seriously in a bad spot. I know that our target players are more likely to mutate than I am, so I just take the risk to simulate being that kind of player.

Your questions need to also be asked in a way that will give you the most data from a player (who is most likely not a game designer). Ask open-ended questions! A lot of these questions will assume you suspect the issues with your game already, and that’s okay. When you’re gauging feeling and fun, the question “did you have fun?” doesn’t give you the answer you’re actually looking for. Try “what parts of the game did you most enjoy?” or even “how did it feel to kill the dragon with your sling-shot?” A negative question like “was the game too long?” will also not give you a usable answer. Watch for when players take out their phones or their eyes gloss over. At what points do they go to the bathroom or get a snack without being prompted? You usually don’t even need to ask a question about this, but some players are too nice and will sit through anything. A question like “which parts of the game could be cut or didn’t seem to make a difference in play?” will help.

There is also the issue of when to ask questions. I prefer to ask at the beginning and end of the test and if I have a quick question about something during gameplay, I keep it short and have a larger discussion after the game is over. Sometimes, what you’re really trying to test doesn’t come up until mid-game. There is no reason to start your test at the beginning. A lot of new designers are afraid of “ruining” their data by missing something important. You won’t. It’s okay. You can test an entire game later. Simulate a specific game state in a few different ways: where players are the most prepared, half prepared, and under prepared. The more random your game is, the more difficult this might be, but it will still inform you about that game state.

Be aware of how many times you have tested a specific part of your game and the way you tested it. If it’s only been a few times and it’s not working, do you need new materials or different players? Do you need a new environment? Do you need more time? Usually you can tell what’s up with a mechanic after a few tests. If you’ve tested something a lot and it’s still not working out, it may be time to remove that mechanic or change it more dramatically.

There is lots of hard data you can record without asking questions. Data you should always record includes your testers full name and contact information (usually email), and gameplay length (not including test discussion time, but including any discussion about setup or strategy). Data that is relevant to your game is going to be specific, so here are some examples of what I record when testing:

  • Apocrypha Adventure Card Game:
    • the number of cards left in the timer deck at the end of the game
    • which virtues players chose to use (or had no choice but) when confronting
    • characters played and who played them
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk:
    • number of haunt rolls until the haunt was triggered
    • the number of tiles are on each floor at the end of the game
    • How long did haunt setup take from the heroes’ side and the traitors side?

This data is the kind that gives you a frame of reference for all your notes and is evidence for any issues in the game. So, in your game it might be “how often are the players using their equipment”, “how many times does a player help another player (co-op) and what were the results of those assistances”, and “which class won the most often and which lost the most often?” This is data you do not need to ask players about.

You will also want to record what players say. Use quotes as often as you can and record who said what, and refrain from referring to your testers as “player 1” and “player 2.” Attach their name to their experience; this way you have the context of who that person is and what kind of player they are, and their feedback is easier to contextualize and apply to your game. Your players may suggest how to fix a problem, and while they are almost never right about how to fix it, the way they feel matters more. Your game can be the most numerically balanced game in history, but that doesn’t matter if no one feels good playing it (if fact, most too-well-balanced games feel pretty bad). As a game designer, it’s up to you to figure out the best solution.

To wrap up this long ass post, here are the biggest data tracking mistakes that I see:

  • Not playtesting the game’s final rulebook; do not say anything as players attempt to set up, play through, and finish your game without any input from you. If a player asks a question, give them a non-answer like “I’m not sure, what do you think it should be?” You won’t be in the box with the players.
    • Going in without questions or not knowing what to test – “winging it.” You may get some data, but not as much as you could have otherwise and it can make your testers feel like you wasted their time which is a big no-no if you want them to test with you again.
  • When you’re wrapping up a project, winging the test is a little more acceptable because it’s really just to catch those little problems that have not otherwise appeared.
  • Not getting your tester’s contact information. You may need to ask them questions later or come test again to compare their previous experience of the game.
  • Thinking the data you received from a test is useless. It’s not. Even if it’s not data you wanted, it still tells you something about your game and how a specific player type may respond to it. Do you want this player to be part of your target market? Do you need to make sure they know they may not enjoy this game.

I hope this helps you get better data from your tests! Happy testing 🙂

Game Design Grads Look Back on Group Internship Experience at Lone Shark Games


My alma mater features myself and my fellow Lone Shark interns in an article on their website! This internship was especially exciting for us because we’re all graduates of the Bachelor of Arts in Game Design program at DigiPen and we got to work with some of the best tabletop designers in the industry!

When you’re the least qualified person in the room

A few weeks ago, I was invited to my alma mater to speak as a DigiPen alumni to a College 101 class full of adorable aspiring game developers. I was a little scatter-brained that day, so while I wasn’t most structured guest speaker, most of the time this devolves into the students just asking questions anyway, which it did.

I got the typical “How did you survive?”, “Are you working on anything cool?”, “What are your student loans like?”. But then, this kid in the front row with a powerful head of curly hair slowly raised his hand. When I called him, he asked quietly “What do you do when you’re the least qualified person in the room?” He went on to describe how he felt like he wasn’t a good asset to his team and that he wasn’t very good at what he was doing. He looked like he was about to burst into tears, fuck I was about to burst into tears. This other kid across the room tells him he’s great and he’s fine, trying to give him a little encouragement, but I still needed to answer the question.

DigiPen is a place where you’re surrounded by people who are amazing at what they do. Literally, the talent of the students there is leaking out the walls. As creatives (programmers/engineers included), it’s natural to feel like we’re not good enough, but this feeling is 10x worse at DigiPen. Aside from the garbage grading system where, if you do everything you’re supposed to do, you get a C. You’re average if you do everything right. Make sense? The As and Bs come in when you do exceptional and industry-level work. And, to be honest, while I attended DigiPen, I totally bought into this system. It seemed perfectly rational. I still have to talk myself out of normalizing this grading scale when I describe it to others because it’s absolute garbage (and I say that as someone who did pretty well at DigiPen and graduated, not as a bitter dropout like some people we know) because DigiPen is a school. (Don’t even get me started how doing everything right negatively affects your financial aid and… whatever, basically there’s a plethora of problems.)

Anyway, I started to answer his question by making a joke. “Lol I feel inadequate all the time, it’s just natural. I feel unqualified right now, who am I to talk to you guys, ya know?” And then I got serious.

I work with a handful of the most talented designers and devs in the tabletop games industry. I even get to put my hands on the work of our partners like Paizo and Wizards of the Coast. And I won’t forget Penny Arcade’s Thornwatch. These people are extremely reputable and have, at minimum, 10 years more experience than me.

I just graduated from college and my name is on a sprinkling of games. I am DEFINITELY the least qualified person in the room. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to offer.

Now, I know my cool boss and super reputable game designer, Mike Selinker, is probably gonna read this, and maybe my coworkers will too (Hi!), but I don’t feel like I need to be cautious of anything that I say because even though I am young and green and inexperienced, I’m barely ever made to feel that way (okay maybe when I don’t understand a reference from before I was born but on a professional level, rarely). Whenever I get something wrong, my coworkers just correct me (usually involving discussion) and show me how to do it properly for next time, and that’s what really makes me feel like I’m on their level, or at least I’ll get there eventually. They respect me enough to help me instead of pointing out that I don’t know.

And this goes both ways. There are times, although much less often than the above case, where I offer up some gem and it’s taken into consideration. The fact that these amazing and uber-talented people take the time to scrutinize what I say and give me feedback (good or bad) shows me that, actually: I am A qualified person in the room. I may be the lowest on the totem pole, but I still make a difference. The fact that I was pretty sick this week and took two days off to recover and there was work that wasn’t getting done because I was out shows me how much my job matters; these games wouldn’t be what they are without me in the equation.

When the feeling of not belonging comes from being surrounded by so many talented people, try to remember that you’re next to them for a reason. You do have something unique to offer this industry and you’ll make it if you nurture and own that unique part of yourself that brought you to this place.

Level design & the grocery store

I recently had a conversation with my therapist about how I shop. Frequently I have found shopping to be an overwhelming experience, whether it be because of all the other people or simply because I am trying to find an item and I can’t. I expressed to her that when I get overwhelmed, like many people, I start to list objects in the space around me, and this really got me thinking about level design, how a store is organized, and how society associates certain items together.

For example, it makes some kind of strange sense for avocados and tomatoes to be next to each other in produce. In a recipe where avocado is used, tomatoes are usually around, and even if they aren’t, both avocados and tomatoes are considered fruits even though they seem like vegetables.

An example that doesn’t make sense: Milk and cheese are not together. WHY? Milk is almost always along the back wall of a store. Cheese is usually by the bacon, which for some reason is also separated from the rest of the meat. This I find really strange. At least milk and lactose-free milk are together?

But on that note, I saw an arrangement of Lucerne almond milk at Safeway the other day that struck me as odd. I know that it wasn’t just an accident because the price signs were labeled in this order as well. The order was: Almond milk, Vanilla Almond milk, Unsweetened Vanilla Almond milk, and Unsweetened Almond milk.

To reiterate shorthand, it’s odd that the order is: A, VA, UVA, UA.
I personally would choose to arrange the milk: A, UA, VA, UVA
However, I would have been okay with: A, VA, UA, UVA

The store is laid out in such a way that most people will find things quickly. Sure, I guess if you eat cheese and bacon together, that aisle works for you. For me, I keep kosher, but most of the kosher food that I eat is NOT on the three kosher shelves at my store. I only go to the kosher aisle to pick up kedem, shabbos candles, and of course, Wachy Mac.

What’s curious about Wacky Mac is that it’s NEVER with all the other boxed mac and cheese. It is also one of two kosher boxed mac and cheese brands that I have been able to find since going kosher (the other brand was some weird-ass gluten-free, lactose-free thing at Whole Foods). Why isn’t it in the regular mac aisle? I think it would sell a lot better because hello fun shapes for children, and also it wouldn’t be so hard to find it the first time I’m at a new grocery store, assuming that store even has a kosher section.