Archive for the 'Game Chef' Category


2011 Nov 7

I’ve updated the game list again, after getting up this morning. I’ll still accept any others that trickle in during the next little bit. I know Shreyas was working on a Minecraft game, but I don’t know if he’s seen the end of the tunnel or not. I made some good progress on stage one of Super Farmhand, my Zelda-inspired game, but I’ll have to post that later. Maybe it’ll be done by the time I’m done reviewing.

All these games look terrific and exciting, folks. Some of them I want to play right now. I’ll try to send out comments and invitations as soon as I can. I’ll aim for at least one review a day, to try to put myself on track to finish in a reasonable time. In the meantime, let us know if any of these get played and how they went! Don’t wait for me!

There may be too many good games here for a single booklet-sized anthology, but that’s a good problem to have. Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it, if enough people accept invitations and are excited about publishing these collectively.

STAGE ONE: The Games

2011 Nov 6

Here’s all the games from the event:

  1. An Analog Tribute to Gauntlet (Gauntlet): Christopher Weeks
  2. Resident Evil+ (Resident Evil): Mike / Gremlin Legions
  3. A Few More Heroes (No More Heroes): Stephen Bretall
  4. Roguish (Rogue): Evan Silberman
  5. Shadow of Colossus (Shadow of the Colossus): Scott Slomiany
  6. Mushroom Kingdom Stories (Super Mario Bros.): Hans Chung-Otterson
  7. Return to Maniac Mansion (Maniac Mansion): Nick Wedig
  8. Scrabblenauts (Scribblenauts): Nick Wedig
  9. Differences (6 Differences): Jackson Tegu
  10. Fortunes and Thieves (Uncharted): Steve Hickey
  11. Dragon and Warrior (Dragon Warrior): Orion Canning
  12. Naughty Duck’s Dream Adventure (DuckTales): A.D. Henderson
  13. Half of Everything is Luck (Goldeneye): Mike Olson
  14. Lost Colony (Alpha Centauri): Mendel Schmiedekamp
  15. Pokemon Paper Edition (Pokemon): Robert Bruce
  16. Heavy is the Head (Civilis/zation): Simon Carryer
  17. Paperboy Unleashed (Paperboy): Lorenzo Trenti
  18. The Fissure (Guild Wars): Trevor Waldorf

And a bonus one, from me, which doesn’t count:

Woohoo! Reviews coming soon.

STAGE ONE: An Autumn Invitational

2011 Oct 26

In an attempt to reinvigorate my drive to work on game stuff, I’m doing a thing.


0. Anyone can participate (the “invitation” part comes later).

1. Pick one of your favorite video games.

2. Create an “analog” game that distills the essence of it, but…

3. Only include the guidelines for playing STAGE ONE or LEVEL ONE (whatever that is).

4. At the end of your rules, briefly describe how the players might create their own STAGE TWO+.

5. Fit everything onto the front and back of a single sheet of paper.

6. Do this by Sunday, November 6, linking it here.


A. I will read and give feedback on all submitted games. I will attempt to play some or all of them.

B. I will also tell the authors what additional work is needed before they will be invited to join a very short anthology (3-8 games?) called STAGE ONE, probably printed as a Scoutbook, which will be Kickstarted/Gogo’d when the booklet is completed (assuming enough people accept the invitations) and distributed at/near cost. Contributors get free copies and rights to their games forever.

C. Games who accept my invitations get played and edited hard, with compassion but little mercy. If we have too many games, we can either try to organize a second booklet or come up with some other plan.

D. This is indie games, so you can always give me the finger and do whatever else you want to with your work, at any time.

E. We all benefit from awesome, tight little games that are great for playing with new audiences.

Thoughts on Running Game Chef

2011 Oct 25

Folks are talking about Game Chef 2011 on SG and offering suggestions for next year. They’re all totally right about everything. But the real crux of running Game Chef is that is has a lot of contradictory aspects and goals, which have to be negotiated and priorities set. This is what I said about how I’ve been thinking about it:

First, one of the things I feel like I’ve learned from participating in and running Game Chef is that there’s really a limit to how much the master chef can control or facilitate as far as participants’ experiences of the contest. If you’re completely hands off, people find it hard to engage with each other or get excited enough to finish. If you go in and try to set up a bunch of structures, it distracts from the task at hand (i.e. designing the game) and puts people together who aren’t interested in what each other is doing, ending up feeling more alienating than relationship-building. So finding the right middle ground is tough.

The way I’m approaching things, I’m trying to keep the attention — as much as possible — on finishing a game and whatever participants need to do that. Connecting with other designers and getting great feedback would be nice, but — in the end — it’s not absolutely critical and it’s not something I think I can be responsible for. Sometimes it happens, othertimes not so much. And I’m not sure there’s a formula that will make it happen most of the time for most people.

And, honestly, being an indie designer is kinda like that. Sometimes you connect with folks, othertimes not. Sometimes you make a game that people get and are excited about, and othertimes people don’t really understand it or it can’t find the right audience. The people who end up being successful are those who push a project through and gradually build interest as more and more people play it and get excited about it, even if that takes a while. That’s partially why the games that win Game Chef have never really gone on to be successful, while games that made a less of a splash in the contest end up being bigger deals.

The thing about Game Chef that’s hard to remember sometimes is that it’s not really about the experience of the contest so much. It’s about what that experience does for you — to help you build confidence and experience as a designer — and the games that come out of it (in the event that you get lucky and develop something that people actually want to play repeatedly). And you can get the benefits of that even if it’s not always a perfect experience. There is value, in fact, to be had in persevering through a mixed experience because — lord knows — indie design and publishing is nothing if not full of mixed experiences. If some people don’t get your game, that can drive you to improve and clarify it; whereas folks who’s game gets major praise may be less clear on where to go next.

Now, I don’t mean that as a cop-out. I’ll certainly keep trying my hardest to make the experience the best that I can. There’s no point in upholding suffering as a virtue or something and, really, an incredible amount of good stuff and positive interactions came out of Game Chef this year, as it does every year. But what I’m trying to say is that some of this stuff isn’t really my responsibility or even in my power to make better, given the amount of time and energy I already devote to this. I don’t want to have to closely moderate a forum or coerce people into writing useful reviews (how would I even know what that would look like?). At some point, I have to just trust and hope that people will make a decent good-faith effort and assume that others will be tolerant when people are inevitably late, flakey, slapdash, conservative, judgmental, or otherwise less helpful and supportive of their fellows than they might be.

Designing Game Chef is a kind of game design in an of itself and, in game design, it’s almost always better when you trust the players and don’t try to micromanage or railroad too much. And, although I have some pretty radical notions about contest design (see: Murderland), I’m also limited by the traditions and expectations that I’ve inherited from previous master chefs. Believe me, if I had to create a design contest from scratch, it might not look much like this.

In any event, that’s where my head is about some of this stuff. 1) Yes, we will continue to get better, but 2) recognize that Game Chef — as an institution — can only do so much to create an experience that will be productive for you; and, 3) it’s really about what happens afterward: the contest is just an excuse.

Game Chef Playoffs

2010 Nov 17

Just made an official announcement about the 2010 Game Chef Playoffs. You can vote for the game you want to win, simply by playing it! How cool is that?


2010 Sep 22

Man, reading all these games makes me want to work on design again (specifically, on Ghost Opera).

You cats are awesome.

On Game Descriptions

2010 Sep 19

One minor frustration from Game Chef this year. The vast majority of submitters are apparently incapable of following directions and submitting a short description of their game. Originally it was supposed to be 140 character or less (a Tweet), but everyone ignored it, so I went to 250. Still, most descriptions now are 260-290 and I’m emailing everyone with descriptions over 300 characters and telling them to cut them down.

Really, folks, this is YOUR LOSS. Being able to pitch your game in a couple of sentences is a CRUCIAL SKILL, even if you’re just pitching it to folks at your local game meetup or Games On Demand and don’t go on to develop your game commercially. If you can’t describe your game in 140 characters, you’ve already lost most of your audience.

Game Chef 2010: Midpoint Thoughts

2010 Sep 16

Chatted a bit with Jason about Game Chef today, since he turned in his submission due to upcoming prior commitments this weekend. That got me thinking about a bunch of stuff. Prime points of interest:

  • Game Chef is going great this year
  • 9.5 days might be a bit too long; enough time to stew in your own juices a bit too much and overthink things; maybe we should return to the original 7 days next year, Saturday to Saturday?
  • a thought I had later today, without Jason — maybe there could be a suggested structure for folks who feel lost and haven’t really drafted a game before, like:
    1. write your first draft on Sat and Sun,
    2. play it with your normal group or call up a few friends and play it during the work week,
    3. make revisions on Sat and turn it in;

    it’s true that there’s no right way to write a game, but that method seems to effectively produce pretty solid drafts and many of the more experienced chefs (Jason, Jackson, Joe, to name three J’s) seem to use it for a reason;

  • as a bonus, it means you should write a game that your local crew would be excited about playing, which kinda gives you a built-in audience; as a downside, maybe it discourages more experimental designs, unless you have a really pro-experimentation crew? Then again, experimental designs are sometimes the ones that don’t quite seem to get finished (*holds up my own hand*), so encouraging people to design near the edge of their ability but not right at the bleeding edge might be a good idea;
  • that said, all of this needs to wait until after the playoffs happen, to see how much play that actually generates and what it does for this year’s games, if anything.
  • Still a lot of Game Chef yet to go. Other interesting things to watch include what the fallout will be for Praxis, which has exploded with participation from its normal slow self. It would be cool to have a few more things happening there and a bit more energy, but I worry about keeping the quality of conversation up and focused on actually getting things done, rather than the pipe dreams that seem to dominate the First Thoughts forum at the Forge.

    In any event, I’m excited about what’s to come.

Game Chef: Initial Thoughts

2010 Sep 11

Game Chef 2010 finally launched last night. I came up with the theme (journey) and a list of 15 possible ingredients and then Elizabeth picked four random numbers to decide on the spread for this year. I resisted the urge to manipulate the ingredients after she picked them, even though I was secretly hoping for “hyena.” Maybe next year.

I’m interested to keep an eye on how the social stuff shakes out, though I’m going to try to stay out of that for the most part. So far early conversations are happening on the Forge, Praxis, personal blogs, and — for the first time — Twitter. But it’s still early in the game (less than 24 hours) and it’s likely a few other locations will heat up.

While I’m excited by the swell of interest in Game Chef this year, I’m slightly worried we may move back into the 60+ submissions range or perhaps even beat the 2007 record of 82 games. If that’s the case, I may have to drag in some extra judges to do the initial read-through (since I’ve only got 10 days to do it, and those are right when classes start back), but that shouldn’t be too hard, I don’t think.

While my priority should be reading and responding to the 22 games submitted in 2009 (which wasn’t my original plan, but I said I’d do it, so…), I’m thinking a little bit about whether I want to actually design a game this year or not. I figure I’m probably automatically disqualified from being a Finalist, but that doesn’t matter.

The image I can’t quite get out of my mind is that of an ancient cursed city as a plague, like the poisoned forest in Nausicaa, creeping over the land and gradually destroying the natural world like a slowly-expanding desert. Eventually the entire world would be consumed by what is literally urban blight. Perhaps, too, if you sleep in or around the edges of the city, you can wake up to find yourself trapped in a dark, doorless, windowless room it has built around you, entombed within the cursed city.

I’m not sure if that will go anywhere, but it’s fun to think about.

Everyone Can Make Games

2010 Aug 29

Archived from this thread on SG:

So, with Game Chef coming up again, I have to say that I firmly believe that:

1. Everyone can design a game. It’s like how everyone can draw a picture of a flower. You just do it, period. And there it is: a game.

2. Whether a game is “good” or not is completely subjective, depending on what you want from it. Maybe it isn’t particularly successful as a game, but tells you a great deal about the author (insight) or, 20 years down the road, becomes a record of what they were thinking about at the time (nostalgia). Everything is potentially valuable and useful and “good” to someone. And the rest doesn’t matter. Why would anyone want to judge all games by the same set of criteria? Why should every game aspire to be D&D or Dogs in the Vineyard? That’s bullshit. You have to know your (subjective) criteria before you decide how to judge a game.

3. Everyone can learn to make games that work better as games (i.e. creating a consistently enjoyable experience for their players, based on whatever subjective criteria you have for play), given practice and a desire to learn from others. Actually, you can learn to make games that are better at whatever subjective criteria you have, if it’s selling more copies, or causing more controversy, or making you more famous amongst your peers or whatever. People are good at learning to do things. All it takes is time and dedication. Of course, people have different capacities for getting better and different learning speeds, especially as we get older, but I believe that everyone can make incremental progress if they put in the time and energy. That’s one of the simple joys and rewards of being alive.

4. Does that mean that everyone can make a game that will be hugely successful at their own subjective criteria? No. You can definitely get closer to your criteria or more successful, but nothing guarantees that you will be successful at anything you want to do. The challenge and uncertainty is also part of life simple pleasures and vexing frustrations.

5. Sometimes this means, in order to be hugely successful by your own (subjective) standards, you have to change the criteria by which you measure yourself and your games. Maybe you just want to write the best 2-player game about zombies ever written. That’s probably possible. Will it sell a billion copies and make you world famous? Probably not. Who cares though? You did it. You met your criteria. Maybe you want to hack an existing game and run a really memorable campaign that your home playgroup will never forget. Badass. Do that.

A lot of this comes out of my own frustrations and personal journey over the past 10 years or so, coming to terms with my own design and publishing goals and ability to execute on them (at least at this stage in my life). So, changing your personal criteria for success is something near and dear to my heart. I do it all the time and feel like it’s probably critical for human beings to stay sane and satisfied.