Games

The Daring Mermaid Expedition

HEY GUESS WHAT I have a game out today!

It's called The Daring Mermaid Expedition, and it's published by the fabulous people at Choice of Games. Available for iOS, Android, on Steam, on Amazon, or you can just start playing in your browser!

Mermaid Expedition is a game set in the Lucy Smokeheart universe. This time, you play as an aspiring scholar of the esteemed Royal German Marinological Society. It's your job to discover proof that mermaids exist, and present your findings to the committee. Also: Pirates! Romance! Deception! It is, if I do say so my own self, very funny and charming. Also entirely scientifically inaccurate and riddled with anachronism!

There are ten endings. "Winning" is probably the most boring one. Sorry?

Anyway! Mermaid Expedition is a special game to me for a lot of reasons. For one, I coded it was well as writing it, which I'd never done before. It's making me question a lot of parts of my self-image, in good, stretchy ways. I don't identify as a programmer, and yet, here I've written a whole game! by myself!

This was also an arduous production process, mostly because my entire life has fallen apart several times over the last couple of years. It's been intense around here. So I want to call out Choice of Games in genera and Rebecca Slitt in particular for being extraordinarily kind about the fact that I blew every deadline they ever gave me, and in some cases by several months. It's not like me, I swear! But thank you, thank you, for your patience, and for working with me to get this lovely little thing into the world.

Anyway! The game is out! Available from multiple outlets! Hurry and give it a shot, it's only $1.99 until Feb. 19. And after that it'll only be $2.99! Cheap!  Consider it buying me a cup of coffee. Happy adventuring!


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Fast News Day

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I said that I had a bunch of unannounced work in the pipeline? Well, announcement season has begun! Yesterday two pieces of news dropped about what I'm doing in 2016, and both of them are basically fantastic in every way.

First: Bookburners! 

I'm a big fan of the idea of short-form serial ebooks; in fact that's exactly what Lucy Smokeheart was. But at Phoenix Comicon I met Julian Yap, who is co-founder of a company called Serial Box along with Molly Barton, formerly Penguin's global digital director. And their vision one-ups mine with an important improvement: working with teams.

I am beyond tickled to say I've joined on to help write the second season of Bookburners, their flagship serial, along with a bunch of writers I'd been dying to work with already: Max Gladstone, Mur Lafferty, Margaret Dunlap, Brian Slattery, and now Amal El-Mohtar is also joining us!

And just wait until you see what the story is about. OMG.

Magic is real, and hungry—trapped in ancient texts and artifacts, only a few who discover it survive to fight back. Detective Sal Brooks is a survivor. Freshly awake to just what dangers are lurking, she joins a Vatican-backed black-ops anti-magic squad: Team Three of the Societas Librorum Occultorum. Together they stand between humanity and magical apocalypse. Some call them the Bookburners. They don’t like the label.

I can't wait until May to share Season 2 with you. But there's no reason you have to wait -- Season 1 is complete now, so feel free to go pick it up on Amazon or in the Serial Box app. Or if you hold your horses just a little while more, an omnibus edition for Season 1 should be available real soon. (I think?)

Strange Horizons

But if you want to do a little reading right now, have I got news for you! A piece on fitness games and New Year's resolutions went up on Strange Horizons yesterday -- and better yet, it's just the first in a column called Metagames that will be a critical look at the intersections between video games, culture, and genre fiction. 

This is an idea that followed from my piece about desire demons in Dragon Age a while back, and when they asked if I'd like to write about games more often, I jumped at the chance. This is going to be so great, you guys. So great!

So 2016 is still looking pretty sunny from a professional perspective. No complaints on the front! Now if only I could get my domestic sphere under control, too...


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Dynamic Loot in Our Time

I'm doing a playthrough of Dragon Age: Inquisition right now, and I keep running into The Loot Problem. On the one hand, 95% of everything I get is well beneath my level and current capabilities. This is a problem common to lots of RPGs, and even MMOs. From my mom on Facebook, which got me thinking about this:

(Apple doesn't fall far from the tree.)

But I also just finished the DA:I Descent DLC, and apparently a few levels early -- so I have the opposite problem, carting around a bunch of super great weapons and armor I won't be leveled up enough to use for some time to come.

I feel like loot drops mapped more closely to the player's current capabilities are a thing whose time has come -- and especially in a single-player game. It's not *super* hard to programmatically make it so that a boss drop or a level treasure chest always yields something %+5 better than what you came in with. A lot of games do this with the actual monsters already, right? And it would neatly solve a lot of linearity problems RPGS have, where they don't want to tell you which place you have to go next... but if you go there first, man, you're gonna get squished.

So why not make all of it dynamic? And then the player is guaranteed to get the zingy feeling of always progressing in power and capability over the course of the game.

It's a little more complex in an MMO, of course, because you don't want people grinding an easy boss to get ever-better weaponry. But if you lock the loot a boss or an area will drop to the level of the character performing the looting when it first mastered that area, then you can still guarantee the first time will be amazing, while also guaranteeing diminishing returns for the grind.

It's a thought, anyway. And I'd be surprised if it hadn't been tried already. Anybody know an example?


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Games Belong to Me

I'm a gamer. I also happen to be a woman and a feminist. And I am angry.

A bunch of frightened little boys led by a bitter ex-boyfriend have created this thing called #GamerGate. I haven't addressed it here directly before, though we've spoken about it on CulturesCast, mainly because I was afraid the filth would splash over onto me. And it couldn't keep up, I thought. The whole thing will blow over. It would be enough, I thought, to continue quietly playing and making my games; living well is the best revenge.

But that's a decision rooted in fear, and that's exactly what those frightened little boys are angling for. Meanwhile, game developers are being harassed, games journalists and critics are being harassed, and in the latest, these trolls somehow persuaded a major advertiser to pull a campaign from one of my favorite industry publications.

I'm not afraid anymore. I'm furious. I will not be silent.

Fuck those guys. They're not gamers. You know who's a gamer? I am.

Games are mine. I've earned them through trigger blisters and sleep deprivation, through screen headaches and corrupt save files and knowing the cheat codes but not using them. Games are mine, and they have always been mine.

Zaxxon is mine, and BC Quest for Tires, Centipede, Space Invaders. Joust is mine, and the Dragonriders of Pern strategy game that nobody else seems to remember ever existed. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is mine, earned in notes about currency made on scrap paper in a room lit only by screen glow long after I should have been asleep.

Infocom is mine, from my first whispering taste of Zork to Infidel and Wishbringer and Trinity, a game whose haunting premise is with me to this day.  I earned Infocom in all the years I spent all my allowance on their games -- and then waited eight to twelve weeks for international delivery to the Philippine Islands. Do you know how long twelve weeks are when you're eleven years old?

Infocom gave me Leather Goddesses of Phobos, Moonmist, Plundered Hearts -- games that even then catered to a female audience. Women have always played. We have always been here.

Games are mine from the lunchtimes spent staying in the geometry room playing Spy Hunter instead of going outside. Archon is mine. Wing Commander is mine. Nethack is mine, from a thousand corpses eaten and sinks kicked to the bottom of the pit where I found my own bones... twice over.

Ultima is mine, every damn one of them, even the last one when it was so bugged you couldn't find Shamino and so couldn't win. EverQuest is mine, and The Sims. Zelda is mine, and Ocarina of Time is my Zelda. Samorost is mine, and Boomshine, and Grow games. Katamari Damacy is mine. Phoenix Wright is mine. Kingdom of Loathing is mine.

Farmville is mine from the intricate spreadsheets establishing quickest time-to-mastery and the 4am wakeups to harvest a limited-time crop.

Glitch was mine, and always will be in my heart. May it be so again.

Dragon Age is mine, and so is Mass Effect. Journey is mine. So are Railroad Tycoon, World of Goo, and dozens of Big Fish hidden object games. It should go without saying that I own the hell out of Candy Crush, too.

Games are mine from the Space Invaders t-shirt I made myself to wear to E3, all the way to the Zelda cross-stitch map I swear I'll finish one day.

Games are mine because of the games I've made, games that have always pursued a social justice agenda, from Perplex City and our quiet matter-of-fact gay marriages back in 2006, all the way to that game I made called America 2049 that is explicitly and comprehensively about social justice and oppression.

When I speak about representation of women in games, I am no outsider agitating for changes that would ruin things for core gamers. I am a core gamer, and I am acting to shape an art form I love to promote a world I want to live in.

And when these frightened little boys growl and threaten that feminists are ruining games, what they do not understand is that they are attacking me in my place of strength. They cannot take something away from me, because it is not theirs to take.

Games belong to me. They have always belonged to me. And they always will.


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Twitter Scavenger Hunt Rules

What's a birthday celebration without a party game to playtest? Tonight starting at 9pm Eastern, we'll be having a Twitter Scavenger Hunt. Here are the rules:

• Every so often, I'll post a challenge for you to find with the hashtag #andreatsh. Each challenge will also include a unique hashtag, starting with #tsh1 and moving on. I'll be posting new ones as I see fit, and not on any particular schedule, so keep your eyes peeled. 

• You find an image that fits the bill. You can search for something already out there on the interwebs, or you can photograph or Photoshop something of your own. Some things will be easy to find, some not so much. Part of your strategy will be deciding which challenges to go after, and which to skip over in order to rack up the most points.

• When you've found (or made!) something, link it on Twitter with the hashtag for what it's a response to, so I know how to credit the points. Also use the hashtag #andreatsh so bystanders can keep track of the game if they like!

• First response in gets ten points, second gets five, all others get one point. From time to time, I may also award style points for an exceptional entry -- up to fifteen, especially if an entry obviously took a lot of effort to create.

• The game will be over when I run out of challenges or I get tired and have to go to bed, whichever comes first.

• There will be prizes! The prizes are candy. When the game is over, email me your post address to andrhia@gmail.com and I'll send out your winnings and/or a participation certificate sometime later this week.

Right. We're ready? We're set? Let's have some fun out there! :D :D


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