Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Slashware's game Ananias releases on Steam

I got an email from Santiago Zapata that his roguelike Ananias is about to release on Steam tomorrow.  They're having a release party on Twitch at:  It's already on Google Play.  The game's website is here.

I can't say much about it myself, but it might be worth checking in on tomorrow's stream to see if it's your cup of tea!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Zelda Randomizer set to stream at 2 PM Eastern

Aiming to stream an unseen Zelda Randomizer game (barring technical difficulties) today at 2 PM Eastern, at

Friday, December 16, 2016

Stuff concerning @Play, Zelda Randomizer and other things

Hey all!  I feel that I'm starting to build up a list of new topics to discuss, so expect blog resumption soon!

On that note, tomorrow (Saturday) I am going to stream a never-seen-before play of a Zelda Randomizer game.  All the dungeons in different places, the rooms scrambled, the items placed who-knows-where, possible Patra in the first dungeon, and so on.  I will post details, including Twitch channel, when it's ready to go.  (Zelda Randomizer is the thing I wrote about for the @Play book, which got republished on Kotaku a few months ago.)

Speaking of which... I've been wondering if it might be a fun activity to use duplicate Zelda Randomizer games to have multiple people playing, not as a race as is sometimes done over at Speed Runs Live, but as a kind of cooperative thing, where players comment in a chat room about their discoveries and help each other get through the game.  Hmm....

In other news, I'm considering writing another book, although shorter and cheaper, about the stories behind some of the known glitches and odd behaviors of a variety of games.  For example, it's a generally known trick among classic arcade fans that if you wait long enough on the first level the bugs stop shooting at you, and then never shoot for the rest of the game, but the website Computer Archeology discovered why it happens.  I've collected a large number of these odd facts.  Once in a while I post one of them to a website (usually Metafilter), and when I do there's about a 10% chance a big site picks it up and makes a story out of it, such as when Press The Buttons reblogged my discovery of the secret behavior of the fishmen in the original Castlevania.  So I figure I might as well make a book out of 'em, heh.

News on the stream tomorrow....

Friday, September 23, 2016

Roguelike Celebration, Notes on My Talk

I am back, at last, from Roguelike Celebration in San Francisco, and the longest trip I've taken in my whole life.  Thanks to the people who ran it for helping me to attend and for putting up with a hick from rural Georgia.  When I wasn't working on and fretting about the presentation (I was hacking away on it literally minutes before I presented it), I had a great time!

Here are all the talks of the conference, which might be useful to you even if you were there, since they had two tracks going simultaneously.

Other people have discussed the experience of being there. I did that kind of thing last year with IRDC US 2015, so I'll spare you all that this time and, instead, provide an addendum to my own weird little talk.

Carrying the vagueish title "Difficulty in random dungeon games" and noticably not carrying a description like the other talks, mine was, I believe disjoined and weird and rambling, with actual slides marked "Aside." They're not *really* asides, they're there for a reason, the slides being the skeleton that the connective tissue of my talk was supposed to join together, y'see. Whether I succeeded in that or not, well, I leave to you to decide.

Here is the talk (YouTube). Here are my slides (Dropbox link, Powerpoint)

Gachami (Copyright Konami)
Note that I didn't get through the whole thing; the presentation ran out of time right before the Bubble Bobble slide, the point of which was to demonstrate an obscure, but not truly random, play mechanic as an example of the kind of trend-causing behavior I was talking about. (If you get to the end of the slides you'll find a picture of Gachami, who is my favorite video game character of the hour. I heard that the rules of the Internet require me to provide that. Anyway, here's video of the game she's from, the ridiculous Gachagachamp.  It is not a roguelike.)

Speaking of unasked-for personal opinions, my favorite moment of the conference was when one of the Rogue devs (did I mention all three of the creators of Rogue were in the room at the same time, for the first time in 30 years? SO AWESOME!!!) asked the crowd if anyone there knew what Rog-O-Matic was, and of the hundred-or-so people there just two hands went up. One of them was mine; I've even written an article that half of which was on Rog-O-Matic! (I think it's in the book? Here it is on GameSetWatch.)

I am making this post because it is the culmination of ideas and thoughts I've been struggling to render on @Play for literally years. I'm not even convinced the main part of the presentation, on "Knowledge, Logic and Wit," is even useful, but people told me they liked it anyway. I could write several articles on these things, especially "Wit." Yes it's a terrible name, someone suggested "intuition" but that doesn't get to the heart of it I think? One could also call it general skill of playing video games.

Anyway, here are my comments on the talk:

1. I worked feverishly the days before the talk trying to assemble a jumble of thoughts into something coherent. This is why the title doesn't really fit the subject well; it drifted a bit in the days, indeed hours, before I gave it.

2. There is a whole essay to be written on how CRPGs have drifted fron pen-and-paper RPGs, often for the worse. It's the copy-of-a-copy phenomenon: early CRPGs were inspired by PnP RPGs, while later CRPGs were inspired by other CRPGs. These days, it's often CRPGs-inspired-by-JRPGs-inspired-by-older-CRPGs. (Remember: Yuji Horii was inspired to create Dragon Quest from seeing Ultima games on display on a trip to the US.)

3. There are multiple essays to be written elaborating on what exactly I mean by Knowledge, Logic and Wit. One thing I wanted to make clearer in the talk: "Wit," in addition to being not the greatest name, is also kind of a cheat, defined as everything that isn't the other two. It might be dividable into narrower categories. Also note that this classification of skill doesn't map as well to real-time and action games, in which reaction speed and decision making under time contraints also matter.

4. On grind: Now understand, I believe that if something is fun, it is its own justification. People play horribly grindy games of their own free will, so I have to conclude there is something enjoyable they get out of them. That doesn't mean that I think people should pander to this desire, the playing of basically empty games. (Some people who make horribly grindy games often think of game design in behavioral terms, like it were a Skinner box. I couldn't be more against that.)

My definition of "grind" is, something mechanical a player has to do to pass time in a game before he's allowed to get to interesting gameplay. Ideally players will have interesting decisions to make at low levels and high. The attempted elimination of gride is DCSS's aim, and it's admirable. (I even think they go a bit too far in it, but I can't fault them for trying.)

It is worth noting that many players (especially retrogamers) believe that Dungeons & Dragons itself is best played as a low-level game, that characters get too powerful at levels above six or so. Interested readers are directed to search out "E6," a variant of D&D that limits players to 6th level.

But what makes grind, grind? Aren't games played for enjoyment, regardless of the form it takes? I don't think so. Listen this.

One aspect of gaming that I hear no one talk about is their improving aspect. That is, playing games helps build alertness, ability to think under pressure, ability to judge situations, ability to look ahead to future game states, logical thinking, intuition, and a plethora of other skills that have real and direct applications for everybody! People who play strategy games very well are likely to be very smart, and people who strive to learn to play strategy games well will become smarter as a result. I don't mean this in an airy "Brain Training" way, but that well-made games push players to improve themselves as a basic function of their playing. Badly made games reward only luck, time, and/or money put into the playing.

This is why I said the human race will thank you for eliminating grind.  It's not entirely hyperbole; it literally wastes the player's time.

5. Every time I try to pin down exactly what wit is I don't do a great job. But there is something there.
Part of it, as mentioned previously, is general skill at gaming. When you've gotten good at Pac-Man, some of the skill transfers over to other maze-like, and even general action gaming. And some of the skill even transfers, slightly, potentially, to real-life situations. (See "improving aspect," above.) Some of it is putting yourself in the mindset of the game designer; detecting when something seems *too easy*, that sort of thing. Some of it is guessing story direction, like figuring out the villain ahead of time in Scooby-Doo. Some of it is subconscious pattern recognition.

Some is getting better with (player) experience, which I find to be a very interesting process in non real-time games....

6. So why is it useful to name Wit at all? Because, and here is the thing: when the moon is full, I think the purpose of roguelike design is to preserve the function of Wit in a game for as long as possible.
The nature of Wit is that it turns into Knowledge (conscious information about the game) with practice. In a non-randomized game, this is nearly immediate, which is why they aren't replayable. Once you know the game, if the game doesn't change on succeeding plays, the fun is gone.

Randomization obfuscates the processes of the game, changing the world on successive plays, which keeps it in the domain of Wit longer. This is not forever, it's only a delaying process. A walkthrough of NetHack doesn't tell you, step by step, how to win, but there are plenty of spoilers that explain almost everything about the game that can be explained.  If the processes that produced those items were somehow randomized, then those spoilers wouldn't work, but more would arise that detailed the meta-processes used, and so on, without end.  That doesn't mean randomization isn't a (very!) good idea, just that it delays the inevitable.

Even without spoilers and walkthroughs, them you can figure out some things about the game, pick up some Knowledge, but some of that is purposely made invalid when the game ends. But even if all the visually-signifying characteristics of the game changed from play to play, the underlying algorithms remain the same, which keeps the game consistent between plays, which players can subconsciously detect as Wit, but will eventually become Knowledge, which, when applied with Logic, is a surer means of winning.

This is because the nature of thoughtful play involves analysis, which is the process of formalizing successful approaches. This is why I am fascinated by games that cannot be so easily analyzed. Someone came up to me (I forgot who, sorry!) and suggested Go as a game that appeals to Wit very well, and yes that's an extremely good observation. Although analysis provides some headways into Go, the same things that keep computers from playing as well as expert Go players are the same things that keep it in the domain of "Wit," which seems to point at something fundamental. Machine learning folks may have a better name for it than I. Maybe "intractability?"

Anyway, that's it for the moment. Now that the monkey is off my back, maybe I can write @Play columns more frequently again! Until next time....

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Something called the Casino Dungeon

Not a new @Play yet, indeed the time required to write a full column is rather a lot so I might be changing the format soon to something shorter, and also something that covers a wider array of random and procedural-content gaming.  But also....

I'm working on a couple of things that I've been calling SECRET PROJECTS, but they're not really secret so much so much as I don't want to get anyone's hopes up.  But the one I'm working on now is starting to look like it'll at least hit a stage where there will be a good, playable prototype, and I want to ask for you guys' opinions on it when it does.

The working title... well originally (as in, years ago, when I first had the idea) it was going to be Dungeon Solitaire, but then someone else took that name.  (Let's be clear, the Dungeon Solitaire that's already out there I have nothing to do with.)  And anyway it's not really solitaire, but it is a game that uses traditional playing cards.

Playing a ton of Game Freak's Pocket Card Jockey lately, a game I obviously like a whole lot but am still ambivalent about, has convinced me to dust the idea out and finally push through the many weird design questions I still had about it and at least see if someone other than me will find this interesting.

It has more than a few links to old-school, pen-and-paper roleplay gaming, in that characters are fragile and the dungeon is really dangerous.  The dungeons are randomized too, which by my standard at least puts it into roguelike territory, so I'll probably be talking more about it here in the coming weeks.

It's also inspired a bit by an obscure game in D&D's history, the weird roleplaying card game Dragonlance 5th Age, of which I actually have a deck somewhere around here, even though I've only gotten to play it once.  Combat, in some ways, is kind of like a trick-taking card game played against AI opponents.  That kind of replaces the traditional roguelike tactical combat, but like traditional roguelikes, dealing with and taking advantage of the AI is part of the game.

Anyway, when it's in a state to see I'll put it up here, and you can have a look for yourself.  A bit of advance warning though, the prototype will be a console program, and require Python 2.7.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Progress on 86

The Quarries of Scred article, while derailed for a while, is back underway, along with some words on its predecessor Boulder Dash.  The problem, of course, is that these games stand somewhat away from roguelikes in general, although Scred's randomness still brings it back.  It isn't lost on me that, while it seems like half the new games on Steam have roguelike somewhere in its description, Quarries of Scred doesn't.  I think it has strong lessons to teach us, though, about what turn based games can be (that is, real-time), and about map generation, which is rather random-er than your typical procedurally-generated game.

I'm a bit worried, actually, that I keep edging out from under the roguelike banner in these articles.  Back in the days of GameSetWatch I could write the occasional Pixel Journeys article, but I'm not sure if you guys are so interested in essays that don't ultimately come around to being about roguelike games.  I'll probably start (yet) another blog to handle those articles, and just link to it from here when it sees something new.

Discovered during the writing: amazingly, the publisher of Boulder Dash, First Star Software, is still a living entity.  Back in the microcomputer era they had a reputation for producing interesting and unique products, like the Spy vs. Spy games.  Nowadays they seem mostly to be a rights-holding company that licenses its holdings out to developers, or maybe contracts them to produce games based on their properties for them to sell.  But they still seem to be, fundamentally, First Star Software, not like when Infogrammes decided to drape the gory skin of Atari around their neck.  That's something to celebrate.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

@Play 85: A Talk with Digital Eel, Makers of the Infinite Space Games

Some of the best quasi-roguelike space games out there are Digital Eel's terrific Infinite Space games: Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space and Sea of Stars: Infinite Space III.  Quick-playing, always challenging, and filled with secrets to discover.  @Play spoke with the principals of Digital Eel, Rich Carlson and Iikka Keränen, about the long-lived series.

@P: Tell me about your company -- when was it founded, about the main people and your day jobs?

Iikka Keränen: Rich and I unofficially started Digital Eel in 1999 when we both worked at Looking Glass. That's when we bought the domain name and started working on the (never released) 4X strategy game we called Infinite Space. I have been working in the game industry since 1998 when I was hired by Ion Storm in Dallas TX. For the last fifteen years, I've been at Valve.

Rich Carlson: I was a musician in Minnesota for 20 years before deciding to try to make games for a living. I met Iikk at Ion. We ended up working at four game studios together! You may recall that Ion Storm, Rogue Entertainment, Looking Glass Studios were all closing, one by one, at the time. That was hard to watch, and hard be a part of but the games turned out well. Meantime, Iikka and I became friends and decided to make some games ourselves for fun. Later, when we came to Seattle for another game job, we met artist Bill Sears working at the same studio. He turned out to be as weird as we are, with a terrific sense of humor, and so we all became fast friends too. That's when Digital Eel was "officially" founded. Bill made the splash screen for Plasmaworm and we went on from there as a trio. Henry Kropf is the newest member of the Digital Eel nuclear family. He's been programming professionally for something like 20 years, starting at Vicarious Visions in 1996. (We all started in the game biz at about the same time.) He worked on PC and PS1 projects--the hardcore space-sim, Terminus (Wikipedia), for example. Since then he's worked on a number of projects and ports, most recently for the latter Digital Eel games, as well as being the sole programmer of the fantasy word game SpellBounders (iOS App Store).

@P: That's really interesting! The SAIS games have this outsider art feel, I think at least, like they're from some alternate universe where games evolved subtly differently. For some reason it's weird to think you're embedded in the traditional game development community! I find it difficult to believe you'd have the time or energy for this if you guys worked at, for instance, EA. Are you worried that the day job might interfere with the SAIS games?

RC: It is outsider art! Although Bill worked at game studios, he came from the era of Kustom Kars, underground comix and lowbrow surrealism. If you've read Juxtapoz or Zap Comix, that's the the realm. That's what you see in Weird Worlds, and on the DE splash screens. 60's and 70's counterculture art (done only as Phosphorus can!)

IK: Sometimes it does interfere - Funny that you should mention EA, we actually worked on an EA-published game (American McGee's Alice) after we stopped working on the original Infinite Space "big game", and before we made Plasmaworm and SAIS. That was a time when we really didn't have the energy to do our own thing. Valve is much better at not interfering with life outside the office. I think it has to do with it being a more mature company - most people have families and can't be expected to work seven days a week, that sort of stuff.

RC: We have to work on our games slowly much of the time. But isn't that best if you can? Slow and steady wins the race. We plan carefully and go step by step. Looking back, 15 games in 14 years says we're finishers not flakes.

@P: How did Strange Adventures get started? What are its play inspirations? From whence came the series' unique backstory?

IK: We had run out of steam on the original 4X game, and I had realized I needed to learn proper Windows programming as my previous coding experience was DOS-based. As I taught myself DirectX, we made a simple arcade game called Plasmaworm in 2001 and then decided to make another small game using the content we had created for Infinite Space. This is what became Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. I was a big fan of Starflight, and we had also played a Star Trek boardgame that influenced the early design of Strange Adventures quite a bit. At the beginning, we were planning to have text-based mini adventures on each planet, that sort of stuff. But we soon realized that streamlining the game as much as possible was the way to go. We had written a lot of back story for the 1999 "big game" and had a very rich universe for you to explore - much more content than you'd ever see in a single session, and that kept the game lively and surprising.

RC: Other games we played that were inspiring were Frank Butterfield's Voyage of the BSM Pandora, which turned out to be a kind of proof-of-concept that a big game theme could be condensed into a small, short game yet still convey the feeling, not just the flavor, of a star spanning saga. Though the examples I'm mentioning are fantasy-themed, they played into the design concept directly. Proto-roguelike boardgames like Terrence Donelly's Sorcerer's Cave and Greg Costikyan's Deathmaze, were, like modern full-blown roguelikes like Henzell's Dungeon Crawl and NetHack, strong influences as well.

@P: Ah, you said the magic word! Starflight also came up in an interview I did some years back with Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress, who also cites it as an inspiration! And Starflight's lead designer Greg Johnson is also one-half of Johnson-Voorsanger, who made ToeJam & Earl, and the prime mover of the current TJ&E sequel/revision! It's starting to seem like Starflight is a secret nexus of inspiration for roguelike developers. RC: Starflight was a big deal. I remember waiting and waiting, exasperated, for the C-64 port to be released. Seemed to take forever but it was worth it. Btw, Starflight's spiritual cousin, Star Control II, strongly influenced the way music is used in Strange Adventures and Weird Worlds.

@P: All of those games you mentioned before sound really interesting, especially Greg Costikyan's entry. He's a bit of a NetHack fan himself you know.

RC: I didn't. I know he was a hardcore Civ fan. Greg has a fantastic imagination. He's tackled quite a variety of subjects. His ludography is frighteningly impressive. ("A bibliography is a list of the books you've written; a discography is a list of the music you've recorded; and a ludography is a list of the games you've designed." - GC)

@P: I'm a bit interested in that 4X game you mentioned. Is that project entirely abandoned or might it reappear someday? Or alternatively, do you feel it's important to be able to abandon a project that's no longer working, or gone in uninteresting directions?

IK: We have abandoned a few projects for various reasons. The big 4X game was one - it was just too ambitious for us to finish, too similar to some other games, like Master of Orion, and I didn't really know how to do multi-player code at the time (plus the whole MS-DOS thing!). It was a good choice to switch to smaller projects.

RC: For us it's about being caught by something. Like when you get into Game of Thrones or Magic: The Gathering. Only the special, best things capture you. That's what we wait for and pounce on when it shows up!

IK: Even if we do decide to make a 4X style game in the Infinite Space universe, it will not be the old project resurrected. But it's interesting how much "stuff" from it appears in Sea of Stars - for example, the races and most of the items etc have a direct lineage to the old 4X project.

@P: You're calling the games "space roguelikes," could you explain, or even justify, that statement?  

IK: Right, our games don't exactly look like the typical fantasy roguelike! But they do play like one in many ways. We have the procedurally generated maps, high level of randomness and the sense of being dropped in a world that's bigger than what you can experience in one play-through. There's no saving and reloading, so all your actions are permanent. There are tons of items and it's up to the player to figure out how to best use them. I'm a big fan of traditional roguelikes as well, so I know the dissimilarities too, of course. For a while, we used the moniker "Roguelike-like" but it's a bit clumsy.  
RC: Strange Adventures and the rest of the series pass the test in most cases, yet they must be termed as hybrids. I've looked at the Berlin Interpretation and have thought a lot about this. We respect the pure roguelike form very much, for all of the good reasons. We do sometimes say these games are space roguelikes--but in the same way that FTL was termed that. The primary reason is that it is the best way to describe the Infinite Space gameplay, overall, with just one word. Describing SAIS as "space strategy" or "adventure strategy" or "strategy rpg" doesn't convey the gameplay experience at all!

@P: I didn't mean to imply that your games couldn't be roguelikes, we've certainly covered enough games that blur the lines! And I agree that "roguelike-like" is a bit clumsy, as you've probably witnessed, there's a bit of confusion on the proper way to identify games that are inspired by Rogue's randomness and replayable elements but aren't strictly top-down, tactical combat, dungeon exploration.

RC: We have to remember that the first makers of roguelikes didn't invent the Berlin list. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson did. A roguelike is what it is (a randomized, turn-based D&D/Tolkien themed dungeon survival sim on a grid) because early roguelike creators were emulating the features of their favorite game. So, while the venerable roguelike form can number and claim these traits, it can't really own them.

@P: Describe the basic "explore a space in a limited time" gameplay.

RC: One roguelike aspect that isn't always mentioned--I don't think it's on the Berlin list--is clocks. Food clock. Radiation exposure clock. Spell duration clocks. Thirst clock. Poison damage clock. Etc. If one of these clocks time out, your character is in trouble, which adds more tension to the game. Awesome! I think clocks are an essential part of a roguelike game. Sea of Stars, Weird Worlds and Strange Adventures use clocks too. The primary one is to return to player character's homeworld within a set period of time or suffer a reward penalty. This victory condition mirrors somewhat the idea of Star Trek's "five year mission", or Darwin's voyage, or a pirate adventure for that matter.

@P: The alien races provide a good mix of beings to interact with, each of which presenting their own personality in behavior, text and combat. Any favorites?

RC: I really like one of the new species we added to Sea of Stars, the Calatians. They're mentioned in the previous games but actually make an appearance in IS3 as a full-fledged race. They boast of their mighty ships and fearsome weaponry that appear in conbat as small and unthreatening. Are they bluffing? (Tip: If you're nice to them, you might even get rewarded with one to add to your flotilla.)

IK: The Tchorak have been my favorite for a long time, just because they are so... alien. Of course, I know much more about them than you'll see in any of our games, but I hope you'll get to know them better one of these days.

RC: I can't wait to explain the sex life of a Tchorak. Or maybe I can.

@P: Secret item features (Like "hypervision," or the Lookout Frogs & Toy Robot, or the Crystal Fish?) What inspired them? Why don't more items have these features? Is there a magic number?

IK: These items are a bit like a card that allows you to break one specific rule in a boardgame - they're limited by the number of rules that can be broken in a useful way. I do agree we should think of more, there are probably fun things that we've missed.

RC: What Iikka said. There is a sweet spot where it feels good and we sort of "call it." But it's also a matter of seeing a possibile connection that might be interesting or entertaining or, more importantly, useful. If the designer puts a ship thief in the game, she should put one or two things in to help the player prevent theft as well.

@P: One-in-eight games in the original two Infinite Space games are "mission games," where the game rules change slightly and unexpectedly in the middle of play? What inspired them?

IK: I think it was at least partly inspired by some random events in 4X games, like Master of Orion where occasionally a "space amoeba" appears and starts to wreak havoc. In Strange Adventures we just had one, and we didn't want it to happen every time because that would have made the game very repetitive, so we made it fairly rare. Now, in Sea of Stars we have five different missions (and counting...) and we can just randomly pick one.

RC: These games are intended to be like instant space opera generators, so it stands to reason that every once in a while a chance to "save the galaxy," or save your character's homeworld, etc., should be included. It also breaks the game up from session to session, enhancing replayabilty, we hope, by helping to keep things fresh and surprising.

@P: One interesting thing about Weird Worlds in particular is how frequently one can come up non-combat, or what we might call "instant win" solutions to game problems, like [SPOILERS] Mirroring enemy fleets into black holes, Vacuum Collapsing the Yellow Kawangii or using the Chromium Gong on Primordius. These solutions seems to be deprecated somewhat in Sea of Stars in favor of more traditional combat. Is there a particular reason?

IK: With the exception of the mirror, these still work :) But we have tried to balance some items to make them less game-breaking - the gong no longer has unlimited uses, the hyperdrive is not always the best choice, and so on. This is mainly done to keep the game challenging even if you find the item.

@P: On the play changes with each version. Especially the substantial formula changes in Sea of Stars (Maj. Brass prologue dropped, set sector size, no need to return home at end, all mission games, removal of popular earlier items like Aetheric Mirror and Mantle of Babulon.) Was this to fix a perceived lack in the earlier games? Is the new game's 3D starmap related to them? Will we see any of these items return in later updates?

IK: We chose not to implement the mirror for various reasons - for example, we don't want you to accidentally move Haven Station or the Klakar Nest. If we made space stations non-mirrorable like the space hulk was in Weird Worlds, then you'd keep running into situations where you get a sensor blip but can't use the mirror, and that tells you it's a homeworld. If the mirror ever does appear, it will need to have some different kind of behavior. The Mantle would be easy enough to make, but as in Weird Worlds it would end up reducing your score so it's not a great item - also, combat is fun! It would perhaps be more interesting to come up with other ways to befriend specific races.

@P: Maybe describe a bit on the use of nebulas & black holes, their role in the design as an obstacle to exploration. (Nebulas usually slow the player down greatly upon entry; Black Holes may be hidden at the start of a map, and force the player to decide to turn back to forge ahead and possibly risk losing immediately.)

IK: Since we're dealing with a time limit, adding "terrain" forces you to make plans around it and makes the game more interesting, and different each time. We originally had ideas for other kinds of obstacles, like asteroid fields, but just these two made the cut.

@P: Events — derelict ship, supernova, Esmeralda, alien rescues. Their appearance, and the timing with which they appear, has the potential to either profoundly change the game, or not really change it much at all, depending on when they turn up, it feels to me like an essential part of the Infinite Space experience. Do you agree?

IK: Oh yes, these are a big part of making each game session unique and giving you the sense that almost anything can happen in the Infinite Space universe, from the silly to the spectacular.

@P: The Infinite Space games have board and card game versions? What are they like?

RC: They're fun. Eat Electric Death! is an old school hex and turn-based tactical starship combat boardgame based on the ships, ship system, items, and the way ships manuever, in the computer game versions. Infinite Space: Explorers is essentially a starship combat card game that uses a "starmap" board to keep track of where fleets are, which stars have been explored and where card battles occur. The two Diceland Space sets based in the IS games use James Ernest's unique combat system with giant paper dice. Each die is a starship and you roll them on the table in combat. It's diceless and real time. Nobody makes games like Cheapass Games.

@P: How did James Ernst and Cheapass Games help the Strange Adventures series to get started?

RC: By generously providing a distribution point for the game. Indie game portals didn't exist then, so it was terrific to have his support. He also got CD's made of the first three or four games. Those are like collector's items now.  

@P: On mods... Where did you get the idea to make the game moddable? How easy is it, would you say, to make a mod? What are your favorite mods?

 IK: Rich and I both made mods before we started working in the game industry, so it was natural to us. I also think that the same things that make the game easy to modify, make it easier for us to create the content for it in the first place. There are a lot of cool mods, but the "Even Stranger" and "Even Weirder" series is a standout favorite for sure. Modding tends to get harder as games get more complex, but we try to make it as easy as possible. In Sea of Stars, we use standard text file format to store all the data in the game so it's possible to get started with just a text editor.

@P: Will we see the return of Major Brass?

IK: He's the face of the Terran Space Fleet :) Not sure if he's going to make a personal appearance, but anything's possible!

RC: New face; same Brass.

@P: Who was Phosphorous?

IK: Phosphorous, aka. Bill Sears was the third Eel and our main artist for over a decade. He made the splash screen art for half a dozen games, tons of Weird Worlds items and creatures, etc. We had some unforgettable times together, and multiple road trips down to IGF in California. He passed away after a heart attack in 2012. We really miss him.

RC: Bill was an amazing friend and contributor. And musician, as we later found out! But not in the traditional sense of guitars and trombones. His music was strange, handmade in his garage and surrealistic. Technically it would be called musique concrete and found sound music. You know how it is. Usually when you hear sound collages that are a bit avant garde, you say no! Turn it off! But it isn't that way at all with Bill's music. It is engrossing like falling into a mind adventure. Very special stuff.

@P: Is any of his music in the games? Do you think there might be a place for it, even if just one or two pieces, or are there rights or thematic issues? Is there a place where readers can find them on the internet?

IK: Bill created music for both Brainpipe (Steam - Desura) and Data Jammers (Steam - Desura). We shared an Independent Games Festival audio award for Brainpipe. You can listen to some of Bill's music for Data Jammers here, and mixed medleys of Brainpipe music here: Smetlov's Locus - Trippocampus - Cognative Cascade.

Thanks to Rich and Iikka for talking with me, and for putting up with my whimsical and makeshift interview process!  Which reminds me, I still have a followup interview with Tarn Adams to finish....  by the way, surprise!  This isn't from the book but is an entirely new column!  I'll probably be splitting the column between book stuff and entirely new essays for a while, so don't forget about the site even if you already have it!