So, like most (all?) things that I work on, one of my biggest goals from the outset of designing dhQuest was to have as clear of a visual communication with the game’s many features and forms, etc., as possible.  (There’s lots more to say about this kind of work regarding my other recent game project, The Reunion, as well, but I’ll have to come back to that in a future post.)

dhQuest checks a lot of design boxes at once, stuck as it is between the worlds of pen-and-paper RPGs and digital gaming.  The obvious inspirations to some of the design work are the great pen-and-paper RPGs (I probably don’t even need to mention Dungeons and Dragons by name, but I will anyway), which set the visual standards for a large portion of the tabletop graphic design work, and many of the game’s mechanics as well.


The Player Character Sheet (for the old-school pen-and-paper gamers!) that lets players record their character and their progress as they play.


But the larger design effort, at least for now, was the digital component.  The game leans pretty heavily on this half at the moment, since the tabletop version remains to be turned into the multiplayer experience it was designed to be.

So for the moment, what we have is essentially a digital single-player experience, and one that straddles the line between game and web application.  As a designer, my goal was make sure it looked just enough like both of those two things that it didn’t accidentally fall fully into the category of being just one or the other.

So, here’s a quick look at some of the design and development stages that went into making the current version of dhQuest‘s digital companion piece (and single-player game).


Quest icons, to give players an at-a-glance view of the availability or completion status of quests.

Since most of the interface for dhQuest was essentially a quest logbook (think World of Warcraft, etc.), it was important to make sure that each quest had a distinct graphic presence depending on its availability, or completion status, to the player.  The goal was to let the player know at even a quick glance which obstacles stand between them and any of their goals, and to satisfy them that they had either met or completed those requirements, in order to progress.  (And, breaking with the subdued color scheme, the “help” icon on the lower right is the one instance of white typography in the mix, to make sure it stands out to the player that needs more guidance.)


The resources (Time, Funding, Staff, and Support), and ending goals (Credibility, Network) that players record during their game.

As with any project, it was important to create a library of simple icons to communicate the stats that the player has available to them.  I’ve been happier with other icon sets of mine, but for the moment this seemed to do the job well enough.  And, though it’s probably lost on exactly no one, the shield icons were a nod to the sorts of heraldic visual flourishes that go hand-in-hand with the medieval fantasy aesthetic of older tabletop RPGs.


Icons representing the Team Members players recruit throughout the game. (IT, Library, Faculty, Student Body)

Finally, the player’s other goal is to assemble a local team of experts to their research group, and I wanted to design a simple visual icon for each of these.

The result–for the moment, anyway–is an interface that combines to look like this:


More soon, about the game itself, and the integration of these elements into the user interface.


Retro Projects Retrospective

So this will be the first of probably many retrospective looks at (somewhat, but never quite) completed projects of mine, from the not-so-distant past.  There’s a lot of history to cover, and I didn’t take a lot of notes about the process of the work that went into most of it.  Let’s get started on fixing that.

dhQuest: Planning for the Digital Humanities

So today I’m talking about a game that I helped design (design as in, “how it works”) a month or so back, in consultation with my two co-directors at Hamilton’s DHi, Angel Nieves and Janet Simons.  Long story short, Angel and Janet were running a course at DHSI 2015 on implementing new digital humanities programs, and wanted to try to “game-ify” their content, hoping that it might help people take on a more vivid perspective of what that experience entails.  That might be their own experience (when people choose starting scenarios similar to their own real-life circumstances), or entirely fictional (when you randomly generate a character to guide through this experience).

To skip right to the outcome for a moment, the game was ready (just barely) in time for this same year’s DHSI — as in, made entirely in about 2-3 weeks, from first concept to playable prototype — and we were lucky enough to have an extremely helpful bunch of guinea pig game testers in their class.  (And, to any of you who might read this, thanks again, hugely, for all of the time, feedback, and extremely helpful bug-hunting and feature suggestions.)

This was a bit of a new one for me, too.  Sometimes (well, okay, most of the time), I like to work in my own little vacuum, sitting here at the corner desk of a dark apartment, somewhere in the midnight hours of my own little insomnia vortex. This project, however, was one of the living examples, for me, of how gratifying it can be to work in concert with people as you hastily develop a project practically in front of its audience’s eyes.  “Release early, release often,” they sometimes say in software.  Well, this was definitely that.

The Concept

So I’ll dive into the proper “how it was made” in my next post(s), but to set the stage, the core concept/goals of this particular game/project were:

  1. We wanted to make a game that made the experience of brainstorming–and ultimately building— a digital humanities program to feel “real” and, more importantly, immediate.  So, while some elaborate fantasy metaphor was tempting, and might have been fun, we wanted this to feel direct and as honest as a game might allow.
  2. But on that topic of fantasy, this is a game we’re talking about, and therefore thaumaturgy.  So, we need to have at least a bit of fun with it, if only to spare our audience’s attention spans as they navigate through a game that essentially just bureaucracy at its core.To that end, we went right back to our nerdy routes and decided to choose Dungeons & Dragons as our inspiration.  In the earliest concepts for dhQuest, the idea was to have small groups (3-5) of players form what are essentially questing parties, deciding as a group how best to approach their tasks.  In the final tyranny of time and deadlines, this part fell away for the first year, but the idea of being the adventurer (complete with stats-crowded Character Sheets) remained.
  3. The game needed to be accessible to people of any level of familiarity with games, or the sorts of game tropes I ended up choosing for this game’s mechanics.  So, less about “winning” and more about either “experimenting,” or, for the hardcore gamers, “maximizing.”  Anyone could theoretically “win” this game with enough time invested, but the experience of either improving in a second session, or pulling off an impressive outcome on your first try — this would be the temptation and challenge of the game.
  4. Lastly (and this would be the big one), this game needed to travel.  So, while the idea of a purely pen-and-paper tabletop experience was grand, we’d have needed to have this game done at least a week earlier to print and travel with it, and then we’d be carrying an extra backpack full of heavy paper and cardstock, which probably wasn’t happening.Thus, the “digital version” was born, and eventually ended up becoming almost exclusively the way to play this game, for now.This required a great many additional things — things like a database that would house all of the game’s quests and rewards, along with a web application that knew how to read and enforce rules, and how to reward players at each step.  And, unsurprisingly, this project also ended up requiring a lot of graphic and web design work.  (Like, a lot, a lot.)

So, with all of the goals decided, I had my marching orders, and it became time to sit down and start designing and developing the thing.  (More starting in the next post.)

A quick look at a piece I’ve been working on in the background of real-life, as I get the time.  Far from finished.

My favorite boots — classic Doc Martens 1460s.  I’ve had a sturdy pair or 3 of these over the years, and have come to identify with them at a few different little phases of life–so I figured I’d give them a tribute in 3d model form.  (It might also be that I can see them all day/every day near my desk.)  I was looking for something a bit tougher to model, and this gave me an excuse to practice with tools I feel like I don’t use often enough — extrusions along curves/paths, for one (for the laces), and particle/”hair” rendering (the carpeting on the rug), and more composition/rendering (Blender/Cycles).

Some definite things to improve for sure — for one, I’m not sure why they’re still tied when they’re off — and this room is in dire need of some furniture!  More as this develops–and when it inevitably gets a low-poly treatment, to become the footwear of a game character (or two) of mine.  Would love any feedback/suggestions.

(And, as always, my love and full respect to Blender, for being both amazing and open source.)



It’s very strange and sad to lose Satoru Iwata.  Whether or not Nintendo has looked much like the rest of the crowd since the early 2000s (when his watch began), the one thing Nintendo has always looked like is Nintendo.  (And imagine how truly tough that is, both as an act to follow, and as a ship to steer in some extremely strange new oceans.)

I know a lot of people don’t always realize what an instrumental figure he was even before he was the head of the company. A genius programmer, an extremely creative developer, and (most importantly) a true lover of games that led even a titan of a company like Nintendo in a way that always tried to be true to the fans and the unique magic of their brand. So much of the gaming industry has gone another way, while Nintendo has always tried to remain itself — and I think fans and developers alike owe a lot to the risks and innovations Nintendo took on over the last decade+ of his leadership.

I’m not sure I can really say how much it’s meant to me that Nintendo has always been exactly what it is — and that that hasn’t meant that it’s ever become some stale relic, or gotten lost in the times.

So here’s to the guy that always took great care of the company (and its many franchises) that I’ve loved since I was a kid.

Video (by IGN), below:

A Farewell Tribute to Nintendo’s Satoru IwataA Farewell Tribute to Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata.http://go.ign.com/thankyouiwata

Posted by IGN Video on Monday, July 13, 2015