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Aleks Samoylov

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A member registered Sep 14, 2014 · View creator page →

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Hi, 

Thanks so much for the kind words! Best way to contact me is either through here or twitter, but you can also try my email (person@alekssamoylov.com) - it's just so full of spam at this point that I don't really check it as often.

I will be the first to admit that I made that puzzle way too obscure. Though I suppose it is meant to be a sort of long term mystery, I think I sort of designed for myself more than for prospective players. Can't really promise I won't do something similar in future games (it might be like Miyazaki and poison swamps ... a part of me just can't resist), but I've definitely learned a lot from the feedback I got on this aspect of the game.

Anyways, I will tell you that you are very close when it comes to the Light and Shadow phrases. In both cases, you have the correct region, and in the latter case, you have the correct location (it is, indeed, somewhere in the cave). When it comes to the Light phrase, the precise location of the phrase is most directly pinpointed by the verse "you called for help, it came out wrong."   I do recognize that if one doesn't live in the US, the phrase may or may not be interpreted the same, but I ended up including it as a Twin Peaks: The Return reference.  The way you reveal the Shadow and Light phrases is a bit different than some of the others (they require an extra step), but once you figure out how to reveal one, it will point you towards the method of revealing the other, as the two are analogous.

As for the earth phrase, it describes a location in the "Alternate Desert" region (the empty, dark, nighttime version of the desert). It may require a bit of running around, but it should be in or near a spot that presents itself as a somewhat obvious "point of interest." 

Dang, I love worlds that are just one huge dungeon stretching out in all directions!

Side note, the likely reason the game may have UX issues that other players haven't brought up yet is that, well ... there probably just aren't that many other players, honestly. I guess a lot of people technically own this game because of all the bundles it's been in, but very few people actually download it and play it (based on my analytics). Just the standard fate of most super indie projects, especially really niche ones. So it goes. 

By the same token, being a one person team with very few friends who are actually into bizarro "dream simulator" style video games, I basically have to be my own QA department ... which is the biggest limiting factor for me personally (I can't do music either, but at least there's a lot of really good public domain music out there). While I playtested the heck out of it during the process of development, that unfortunately doesn't catch certain blind spots, since some things feel obvious to me simply by virtue of me having built them in the first place. Like, the fact that there's an interactable door to the left of the TV never felt like an issue, but now that I think of it, it is absolutely possible that some players would reasonably expect the interactable doors to at least all be differentiated by color, which in retrospect would have made sense in the apartment. It was ultimately a subconscious choice of style over usability, in that I liked the fact that almost everything in the space looked like it was made of the same gray material. 

Anyways, while other players rarely hang out on here, the one advantage of it being a small game that nobody plays and me being a small dev that nobody knows is that I do try to offer support on here as much as I can.  Since the game is pretty large for a hyper-indie, there may be other issues and bugs along the way, so let me know if they crop up. For the most part, the bigger known issues are UX oriented and shouldn't be game breaking. 

The player is ultimately supposed to not know where to go or what to do most of the time, but it was definitely not my intention to make it so they couldn't leave the first room :)

You have to open the door of the apartment and leave. When the screen starts getting kind of wonky and bulgy, that means you're on the right track. Just keep walking until it "pops."

Yeah, you are getting the correct number. It's actually 1451. When I said 1461 above, I was basically falling for my own overly convoluted nonsense and was mistaken. The symbols for the numerals 5 and 6 were transposed on that poster. Again, I suspect there was some obscure in-lore reason behind that, but at this point I just don't know for sure anymore. If that was the case, I definitely wouldn't make that same design decision if I was making the game today. That puzzle already has enough steps to it even without the weird red herrings and inconsistencies. 

Okay, I think I've figured out what's going on here. As usual, this is basically mostly my bad. 

The number 391 converts to 1451. So you are partially correct in that it's supposed to be a 5 instead of a 6. As for the 2, the cross inside the circle is supposed to be a 4, and the diagonal dash inside the circle is a 2 (note that the two is not a diagonal on the actual puzzle input panel but is a straight line). I can't fault you for getting that confused, because on the poster in question, not only is the 2 slightly different than it is elsewhere, but the numeral that is used for 6 elsewhere appears to be used as 5. 

Now, I strongly suspect that this was somehow intentional on my end, and that there's supposed to be a clue somewhere about how the scholars investigating that place/symbolic system have an incomplete and partially incorrect "Rosetta stone" (or else one that uses a slightly altered numerical system that changed over thousands of years) and the player is likely supposed to figure out the scholar's mistake through context by realizing that the letters containing that numeral are off ... BUT, that was three years ago (or four, I think, I don't even know anymore, feels like a lifetime ago), so assuming that this was really just me trying extra hard to be "clever," I once again disagree with Past-Me's decision very much, because I now feel like the puzzle is already complicated enough without introducing additional red herrings with transposed symbols and such. I think at the time I actually was afraid it wasn't difficult enough, which, now that I am having trouble digging through it myself I realize was not the case. I may have overcompensated a bit ... 

Or maybe I just used my own early variant, which changed over time, but I totally forgot about making the adjustments on the poster? Or something. 

But yeah, in short, you're not doing it wrong (with the exception of the numeral 2). On that one particular poster, the 5 and 6 are, indeed, transposed. So that is, in fact, 1451 and not 1461, as it may initially appear. 

God, I need to go back to this game and maybe do, like, a "director's cut" where I cut some of the more BS steps from the puzzles and maybe spruce up the visuals a bit. 

Oh wait, never mind, it's the "Unglamorous Secrets" input, isn't it? Hmm, can you tell me which conversion calculators you have been using? There is definitely something wonky going on at some point in the process, as 391 should not convert to either of those numbers.

Hmm, it's been a while since I've gone back to this game, especially with a whole pandemic in the middle. Could you refresh me on which phrase / code you are trying to convert? I have all the answers on a text document ... somewhere, so I'll see if I can dig it up for reference, but if you let me know what the original text input was that let to that specific gematric value, I should hopefully be able to figure out what the issue might be.

I've used Scribus for almost everything so far. I planned to migrate to Affinity Publisher and got myself a copy on sale right before the Pandemic hit. But then it did hit, and I got super depressed, and haven't really published anything since, aside from fulfilling the in-progress Kickstarter at the time, which was already grandfathered into Scribus. So I guess it's still technically Scribus. I used to use Inkscape for the character sheets though. And the cover art, usually. If it's small enough, sometimes I just use LibreOffice or even just the PDF export functionality baked into Google Docs, but if it's more than like three pages it's always been Scribus.

Thanks for the response. I've already read through the content at that link, and while it clarifies some things, I am still finding the issue a bit tough to navigate.

I guess it boils down to the fact that, as a sufferer of several fairly severe mental illnesses and a person who plays a lot of games, I have never once, in all my years of both the playing and the suffering, come across a game that was explicitly trying to be therapeutic and actually succeeding. Any time a game has explicitly tried to do this, it felt, for lack of a better word, irritatingly preachy. Unlike a therapist, a piece of software cannot address the extremely individualized and idiosyncratic aspects of any given user's struggle, so its attempts to guide me towards feeling better usually aren't tailored to me, or even just me in that precise moment, under those precise circumstances, and thus feel like an attempt at a one-size-fits-all didactic approach. 

Now, I do play a lot of games, and I do enjoy games, clearly. And I have played many games that were able to help me kill a few dark hours here and there (only when my symptoms weren't too severe, of course, since past a certain point even something as simple as playing a game, no matter how engaging, is pretty much off the menu) but I've never played a game that genuinely alleviated any symptoms in any tangible way. I don't even feel less anxious, less depressed, or less prone to dissociation while playing, say, Myst (one of my favorite games and progenitor of one of my favorite genres) - instead, I am just an anxious, depressed, and dissociating person who happens to be playing Myst. On rare occasions, the pure escapism of a game can basically provide me a source of light distraction, and thus a bit of relief, but that's not really inherently therapeutic, is it? Maybe a coping mechanism? Maybe?

That is, unless distraction and escapism count as therapy in their own right, which I suppose I can see an argument for, though the phrasing does suggest something clinical even after the clarifications, and that trips me up a great deal. I do often appreciate that bit of distraction, despite the basically indisputable fact that as soon as it's over I am right back where I was before, no headway has been made in addressing my issues and no improvement has been made in my overall condition - I go right back to feeling just as awful as I was prior to allowing myself to get distracted, and can sometimes even feel worse if I allowed the distraction to monopolize my time because nothing else could bring any relief (essentially maladaptive self soothing). Still, "relief is relief, no matter how brief," and I understand the potential value of just killing a bit of time with something fun. However, if that's the criterion for what would be considered "therapeutic," in an adjunctive sense, of course, then don't literally ALL games, and ultimately all entertainment media, qualify as such? At least, doesn't every game serve that function for someone

So then what is disqualified? Does Tetris count because it allows many people to relax and zone out for a bit? Since I personally find Dark Souls relaxing, does Dark Souls count as a therapeutic game, despite the fact that it has apparently been known to actually heighten anxiety in others? Could I submit a dungeon crawler, a shooter, a farming sim, a point and click adventure? Does the game have to reference the fact that it's trying to be a therapeutic tool in order to qualify (thus basically ensuring its status as "educational software")? As I mentioned above, whenever a game has done this in the past, I felt patronized by it and profoundly turned off, and you've got to remember that we mentally ill folks can be a prickly and very picky bunch, and we really don't respond well to being patronized when it comes to our illness in particular. 

Now, if I am reading all the info correctly, then one can pretty much submit any kind of game so long as it centers at least one of the four tenets outlined in the article, and I suppose that's that. But it all just feels so vague and broad. For example, there are currently a bunch of games submitted to the jam that appear to be the standard bevy of cross-posted jam spam, but at the end of the day I actually can't think of a concrete reason, besides maybe the cross posting, that they shouldn't be allowed to stay up there. I mean, someone might find them to be helpful in regulating their emotions, or thoughts, or breathing. 

I don't know. At this point, it just seems like I am overthinking it (obviously am), and that this really just isn't the jam for me. And that's fine in the grand scheme of things. I just find this to be increasingly the case with mental health oriented jams in particular. I always find myself wanting to participate in one, and always realize that it's simply not suitable to my specific bundle of illnesses, which feels extra painful because you'd think these would be the jams where people like me would be able to contribute quite a bit, and would be able to feel comfortable or welcome. 

It's nobody's fault, perhaps. In this particular case, I suppose the OCD and the autism are doing the bulk of heavy lifting. Without additional clarity, I just can't conceptualize what is actually expected, and I am too afraid to attempt something that explicitly tries to help people like me in a clinical sense when I clearly can't even help myself and have simply never experienced a game of any kind or genre that I could confidently say addresses any one of my symptoms beyond simply serving as a (often maladaptive) coping mechanism. To even imagine that any work of art could serve as even adjunctive therapy feels almost trivializing to me (and I am a professional artist). These conditions are utterly devastating, and we have to live with them day in and day out. We don't get actual breaks. Even with treatment, they never completely go away, and all that regulating is often a constant drain on our energy and time that others do not have to deal with. And while I appreciate the bits of distraction and relief a game of Tetris can sometimes give us, it feels like an overwhelming, impossible, herculean task to try to plug a gaping abyss with a handful of tetraminos.

Well, either way, at this point there probably isn't enough time left for me to really submit anything anyway, but I do hope that maybe these rants can at least prove somewhat helpful to you, as feedback for future jams.  

Thanks. That does help somewhat, but does still leave me with some questions. 

Based on the "Move, Breathe, Feel, and Think" paradigm, I am assuming analog games, especially in the LARP format, are encouraged? While most of the examples for the Move component feature video games that use motion controls of some kind, I don't think most people participating in itch jams have access to APIs or developer kits to actually be able to make full motion control experiences, let alone test them properly, in the short time span of a jam. There is probably some open source webcam based stuff that exists out there, but I doubt such a thing would be especially newcomer friendly. 

The same goes for breathing. I am sure there are ways that I, as an indie developer, could figure out ways to incorporate breathing into the gameplay, but it would likely take me the better part of a month just to come to grips with the basic input / output implementation, let alone figure out how to work it into a design comprehensive enough to put forth as a competitive jam submission. I can think of a few basic implementations that use standard I/O (keyboard, mouse, controller) off the top of my head, but those cannot be truly interactive - the game cannot provide adequate feedback to the player without actually measuring their breathing, so it would have to rely on essentially telling them how to breathe and hoping they follow directions, or else ask them to breathe in time with their button presses, which might work with a lot of testing, but again relies on the player's ability and desire to follow directions with no way for the game to actually measure whether they are doing it "correctly" and providing them with rewards and encouragement. 

Which leads me to the next question, which would be an issue that applies to both analog and digital games. We're game designers, and are hardly experts on exercise regimens, breathing rhythms, and their effects on the body and mind. Therapists generally have to go to training and seminars for that sort of thing, and when it comes to other "interactive" therapy regimens with biofeedback components, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) there is a risk of actually doing more harm than good with the wrong application of a technique.  Some of this can, of course, be remedied through research, but we hardly have the resources to do this properly within a jam context. 

A corporation would hire an expert consultant on such things, and we obviously can't do that, which means we have to spend time we could be coding or making art poring through youtube videos on yoga, medical journals, wikipedia articles, and we probably could do this for hours every day and still not scratch the surface of understanding it after a full month. I doubt it's a huge issue with the breath component (though even then, I'd be worried about users with irregular breathing patterns or conditions such as asthma, and am personally not super comfortable with my ability to tell other people how to do something as crucial as breathing), but the movement component could be potentially fraught - even light aerobic exercise has procedures and orders of operation for safety and the like. When we're talking about recreational products, like Wii sports and Just Dance, it's probably not a huge issue, since players come with no expectations and the premise is simple and scalable to individual preferences - nobody goes into one of those games expecting anything beyond a bit of waggling about. As soon as we start specifically designing games for what is essentially a very specific medical purpose, we become subject to medical levels of liability, at least in the abstract. Sure, major issues or harm are unlikely, but if the game promises that it will make you feel better, in a clinical sense and with the intent of addressing specific clinical issues, and it not only fails to deliver but makes someone sick or injured (hopefully nothing more than a sprained muscle, but still) due to improper exercise instructions given by a keyboard jockey like me who, let's face it, knows diddly squat about proper exercise, then it's no longer just a "bad game" or even a "failed game," it's now "bad therapy" or potentially even a form of "quackery."

And that ultimately brings me to the original question. If the goal is simply to make games first and foremost, and make sure those games, in some abstract way, happen to encourage players to do a bit of light movement and very, very basic breathing exercises, without explicitly promising therapeutic benefits, then that's one thing. If we are supposed to be making therapeutic tools / "treatments" first and foremost, then we're in a whole different ballgame. And I am still not sure which one of the two modalities this jam is oriented towards. I am assuming and hoping it's the former, but the wording is more than a bit unclear on that front, both on the itch page and the deepwell website, which contains a LOT of additional information that I really wish was included on the jam page, as it seems rather important. Now, obviously the video indicates that we don't have to do all of the above, or even more than one, but I kind of feel like this is another one of those tidbits that could have been placed much more front-and-center, and also doesn't really solve the underlying conundrum I am experiencing here. 

I could, for example, try to make a narrative game that incorporates CBT or DBT techniques for the "think" component, but those are modalities that cannot easily be generalized and really work best when applied to individuals and their specific situations over an extended period of time. They are also extremely deep rabbit holes and generally require training for professional therapists to be able to apply well. Just as with physical issues, and perhaps even more so, there is a danger that if someone presents these concepts as scientific fact, but does so incorrectly or incompletely, and if an impressionable player accepts them without some requisite skepticism (a younger player, for example) then it could actually cement harmful thinking patterns instead of helpful ones. 

Both DBT and CBT have their proponents and detractors, and when it comes to the latter there are some good points to consider. Without nuance and care, they can veer away from regulating negative thinking and emotions into dictating cognitive rigidity, forcing patients to minimize their traumas and immediate pain, excessive self blame ("beating yourself up") for "not doing it right," and so on, and so forth. Now, none of those things are the intent of those therapies, and while some people find the methods more or less helpful, if they are presented with nuance by a trained and competent therapist in a one to one setting most of the above pitfalls can be avoided - at worst, the patient may feel that something like CBT is simply not helping them as much as they'd like. But if you read any of the foundational texts, such as Feeling Good, on their own, and fail to parse some of the potential issues, and then start presenting half baked misreadings of CBT techniques in a generalized format, you can actually do some real damage. Since not all therapists are, sadly, created equal, I've known several people whose therapists actively made them feel worse because they themselves didn't really understand the methodologies in question. Without a lot of careful consideration, CBT can turn into "law of attraction" style  "I can think myself out of my pain, and if I can't I'm even more of a failure because it's basic science" nonsense, and DBT can turn into a complete denial of the very traumas that it's supposed to help address. And so on and so forth. In short, while talk therapy carries less stigma than medication when it comes to potential risks, the wrong cure can still be worse than the disease. At least when a patient fails to respond to specific meds, there is usually a managed procedure of stepping down and stepping up and very clear physical indicators. When you're locked into a warped process with a bad therapist, on the other hand, you may not know that there is a problem until years later.  

So I guess in the end my question is no longer whether or not we're supposed to be making games that are about illness versus games designed to address illness. It does seem clear that it's the latter. At this point I am just more concerned with the extent that these games should be labeled as "therapeutic tools" and how this can be done safely by people who, like me, have no actual expertise in something as complex and delicate as mental health.

I don't contest the assertion that games can have real mental health benefits on an individual level. But it's one thing for me to say that Dragon Age Inquisition really helped me through a rough couple of months (mostly because it happened to be new at the time and distracted me for a few hours every day - not like it taught me any actual coping skills or genuinely treated my depression), and a whole other thing for a representative of Bioware to get up on a stage and say, "here's Dragon Age Inquisition, out brand new interactive therapy for depression and PTSD."  

TLDR: I have actual OCD and autism, and once I start typing, I do not stop until every possible angle of an issue that I can possibly think of at the time has been addressed at least once, and thus there is no way for me to do an effective TLDR section without retyping everything. Sorry.

I'm a touch confused by the wording here and would love some clarification. Are games submitted for this jam expected to address mental health and mental illness as a topic, with the aim of destigmatizing the illnesses themselves and creating some level of representation and awareness for sufferers (something like The Cat Lady, or Senua's Sacrifice - I think the former was more successful than the latter, but that's beside the point) ... or are they expected to function as effective therapeutic tools in their own right?

If the latter, are these intended to have real clinical applications with real medical benefits for sufferers beyond a few minutes or hours of distraction? Let's say I have severe depression, PTSD, OCD, and anxiety (I do, in fact) ... are these games expected to provide an experience that, were I to play them, would induce me to feel tangibly better in the long term, such that the game could at the very least become an ongoing additional treatment option alongside my therapy, medication, support groups, etc.? 

If so, could you provide examples of games that have been successfully used in this manner thus far, and I mean clinically and with clear, proven results, so we could have some notion of what to aspire to ... and so I could add those games to my own treatment plan, because honestly that would be amazing. Off the top of my head, the only thing I can think of is something like Superbetter, which I have tried, and which proved to be more of an overcomplicated, glorified to-do list with gamified components which ultimately did very little that a regular paper to-do list couldn't do. 

While executive dysfunction is something many of us mentally ill folks suffer from, and while it is the low hanging fruit, so to speak, when it comes to seemingly addressable issues, it ultimately results in the creation of mere productivity software and doesn't address the core issue, since the mere act of using the software / playing the game (no matter how fun it is to a healthy mind) becomes "just another thing I am supposed to do" to someone with severe illness related fatigue, motivation issues, anhedonia, and executive dysfunction, which are pretty common symptoms for a lot of mental illnesses.

It's a bit like telling a depressed person to "just exercise' or "try yoga" - those things may certainly have long term benefits when practiced with consistency and rigor, but if you're already going through clinical depression, you may have a hard time simply getting out of bed, getting dressed, or showering. Jogging or yoga are usually out of the question. When it comes to games, I can get so depressed that my favorite games of all time seem like an utter chore. I was so depressed last month, and so deep in dissociation from the PTSD, that I was utterly uninterested in anything, including playing Elden Ring. I have been letting Elden Ring (Elden Ring!) just sit there, gathering dust, for weeks! Instead I basically just stared at the wall for hours, more or less. The very thought of doing something, ANYTHING that I absolutely didn't have to do in order to simply stay alive, was impossible. 

So ultimately, any game that would successfully achieve clinical results, or even provide temporary relief during an actual symptoms heavy period (anyone can play games, or do some form of yoga, when they're feeling at least sort of okay), has to act on one's psyche so quickly, reliably, and effortlessly that it will easily and consistently be able to overcome that initial motivation barrier. It would have to be accessible in ways I can't even imagine.  It's have to be something that I could pick up and feel better within a few minutes, and that sense of improved wellness would need to last long after I stopped playing. As of right now, there aren't even any medications that can do that (safely and without severe damage and risk of addiction). Antidepressants, which are comparatively safe and have a low side effect profile, take a month on average to actually start kicking in. Anything that provides relief faster usually has all kinds of risks, dangers, and caveats. Therapy with trained professionals can take many, many years before any long term results are seen, and those results generally come in the form of improved and refined coping mechanisms at best. Most of these illnesses don't have cures, only treatments and management options. 

As you can see, I am quite interested in participating in this jam, as the topic is near and dear to my heart, but I am currently a bit skeptical if we're expected to attempt the second goal. A game ABOUT depression or PTSD is something I can make from the heart. If I were able to make a game that successfully TREATS depression or PTSD ... well, I'd have done that by now. Or if I am not fit for the task, I would have thought someone would have done that by now, and likely become fabulously wealthy as a result. I suppose I am open to trying to make "therapeutic" games if the inherent limitations of the exercise are acknowledged and addressed, and if the whole thing was treated, and judged, based on the aspirational study in hope and creativity. That would, after all, be an attempt to create a product that could literally change the world by simply existing. 

On a somewhat related note, is this a video-game only jam, or are analogue games, such as tabletop rpgs and larps, acceptable for submission? When it comes to those media, I have seen some clinical application, or at least treatment adjacent applications, since larps especially are essentially designed to create catharsis and have a strong connection to the practices of psychodrama and certain forms of therapy. Even so, these have been limited in scope so far. Obviously, anything that could ellicit "trauma reduction" levels of catharsis also has the potential to simply intensify or trigger trauma, and the legal liability issues were such games undertaken as explicit treatment, would be potentially ruinous.

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Are you talking about tabletop roleplaying games promotion? I don't know. Tell people on twitter and post it on Drivethru as well ... itch is great for a lot of things, but organic discoverability isn't one of them. If you're talking about a video game, this is the wrong forum (so I imagine you probably just spammed this message amongst multiple forums, or else it would have been obvious by the title), but eh, I have some time. I have "shipped" a commercial one before, and my words of wisdom are as follows:

1. If you want someone to play it and you're proud of the game itself, chances are it's good enough that a few people will find it, play it, and even enjoy it. Then it's not a waste anymore.

2. If you want a LOT of people to play it, and you want to make a lot of money in the process ... well ... you have to either get lucky or have a AAA marketing budget. Maybe shop it around to indie publishers as an alternative. There is very little that you, as a solo dev, will be able to do after launch. 

3. Sure, you can send keys to every youtuber from here to the moon, but each one of them whose let's play would actually make a difference gets a bunch of free keys every day and are always going to be more successful than the majority of indie developers can ever dream of, because a lot more people are likely to form a parasocial attachment to a funny guy, gal , or nonbinary individual who plays video games on video. Those youtubers will thus treat you as interchangeable and disposable unless you have a publisher or big money to back you up. Chances that they will play your game above other more profitable, views-generating big names is almost none. It's not zero, but it's very unlikely. 

4. You can try to send actual press releases all over the place, but again, most outlets get swamped with them, and only a few small indie sites will cover it ... and that CAN get you those few players who will genuinely seek out, play, and love your game, but will NOT get you any more than that. If that's your criterion, then it can be worth it. If you actually want to sell it, hmm, your returns will likely be quite limited. 

5. Social media can be a place to promote, but it's full of people who have seen you have multiple public depressive meltdowns and are owned by Elron Must and Markie Zuckerberb. Might work a bit to get a few players, but without a massive strategy or a lot of luck, it won't get you paid much beyond a burrito or two. 

6. If you're really good at viral marketing, that could be something. Engineer some sort of publicity stunt, maybe, or set up and ARG ... but in that case you basically would have to create a whole new game with real world gameplay just to promote your first game. If you're really talented at that sort of thing, though, it could be worthwhile. ARGs aren't inherently monetizable, but they CAN get pretty viral sometimes, and if the ARG is good and engaging enough, then most aficionados don't really mind that it ultimately gives them a sales pitch at the end. Not all ARG participants will convert to buyers, though. 

7. In person networking can help, I hear, but that means going to conventions and being not only social but socially adept, like maxed out on charisma. It also probably means covid would have to end, and it doesn't seem like that's every happening at this point ...

8. Consider running a modest Kickstarter before launch, even if you don't need the money to make the actual game. It's a good enough promotional tool, and if you fund then even if you sell zero copies later, at least you'll get a nice little chunk of money up front and will have a small but inherently interested player base ready to experience your game when it comes out. 

In conclusion, there are options. But if you want a LOT of people to play it, those options get much smaller. You may hit the jackpot or you may have a game that lingers in obscurity forever, and it's really hard to know which factors lead to one or the other outcome with any amount of certainty or reliability. Just as it is in pretty much every creative field, really.

Good luck. I hope you do well, for what it's worth. Don't mean to be discouraging. It's just the reality of the "industry," and most similar or adjacent industries, sadly.

Interesting to think about, certainly. 

As far as I am aware, the method for "rating" games on itch is exactly what you've already seen, a bit of an out-of-the-way / almost hidden page where one can write a short review and give out some stars. The problem with this, aside from the fact that it's not really "critique" in any traditional sense, is that itch.io's discoverability is already garbage, and the algorithm is apparently very brutal and devoid of nuance (likely as a result of itch being a fairly small, low budget platform that can't afford to cultivate a powerhouse algorithm) such that if any game gets even one rating below five stars, it's visibility may suffer disproportionally. Of course, this may be mere rumor, but it's said that even a single four star review has been known to hide already difficult to discover games in some nether-region of the search results. 

Either way, just in case, it has been somewhat accepted practice amongst the indie developer communities and scenes in my neck of the woods (most I know are based in anglophone countries, with highest concentration in the US) not to leave ratings below five starts on any indie project on principle, so as to avoid actually harming the designer based on something as subjective as opinion based evaluations. Potentially, it can work the other way around, where giving out five star reviews on principle can be seen as a way to show support and solidarity and potentially improve search results. But as is the case with most algorithm based systems, the actual efficacy or veracity of any of the above is hard to verify.

Of course, this then circles us around to the fact that these ratings systems do not actually constitute "critique." As an alumnus of a semi-traditional fine arts college, I am fairly familiar with the concept and process of peer critique, both in terms of taking critique gracefully and dishing it out constructively, and for me it always comes down to two questions. 

First, is the critique genuinely constructive (can it be practically applied, is it relevant, does it actively take the role of the personal preferences, opinions, and biases of the critic into rigorous consideration)? If not, then it's not worth engaging in - while we are dealing with art here, it is also art that doubles for many as a commercial product and a source of income, and that may come with limitations. For example, if a game has already been fully published and released and its designer has already moved on to other things, then peer critique isn't applicable or relevant. The thing is what it is. Sure it can be revised (if the release is digital only), but only if the designer is open to that and capable of devoting time to that from a practical perspective. Similarly, if the critique addresses something that is outside of the designer's practical or logistical capabilities (such as the inclusion of artwork that they simply don't have a budget to commission), I again would general refrain. 

The second question, when it comes to peer critique, is much more important to me. Has the critique been invited or solicited? If not, then I usually find it rude to give out without asking. This happens way too often in art scenes when certain members become a bit overzealous and overenthusiastic. Back in college, I was home for the summer once and had a friend over who was also an artist, and a student at a different school. She spotted a painting I had done that year just sitting on the floor, and began to give me all sorts of unsolicited advice and criticism, without any prompting or discussion. She didn't even bother to first acknowledge that it was there, ask about it, or ask whether I wanted to talk about it. She just started going off about how I should consider using a more neutral color alongside the flesh tone there, and how she didn't find the perspective convincing, and blah blah. And look, I was in school too, and I had already had that painting critiqued by professors and even a famous visiting painter or two, all of whom gave contradictory crits, and I was tired of it and it was finished, as far as I was concerned, and I was on summer vacation, happy enough to just do art for my own enjoyment for a few months. It was just plain rude. If she had asked, that would be a different story, of course. 

But all of that applies specifically to peer critique. When it comes to press critique, that's ultimately a field that, for better or worse, exists on a separate plane from the actual creators, though there is overlap between the participants. In games, both analog and digital, our biggest problem right now is the fact that there simply is no reliable outlet for thoughtful and useful criticism, as most writing about games is dominated by the Enthusiast Press, which is half content-mill and half marketing arm for the bigger corporate players. That isn't to say that thoughtful, qualitative pieces aren't being written, but that they aren't really the norm. When it comes to tabletop, I can't really think of where to even look for some of this sort of work. It's much easier to find quantitative "reviews" of any given thing, again going back to star ratings and grades that attempt to quantify subjective concerns and don't amount to substantive critique. 

Of course, there is then also the question of how one does this in the tabletop medium, since it is largely concerned with the building of frameworks for the players to tell their own stories with and is ultimately and extremely odd blend of creative writing, technical writing, pedagogy, and systems design. But if I were to start musing on that I'd be here all day. 

So yeah, honestly, problematic indeed. Ultimately, I am not really one who concerns themself with criticism and critique all that much, but I do understand that having centralized outlets for such things can definitely have positive effects on the ecosystem of a creative scene, whether I personally choose to engage with that or not. I imagine at this point, if we actually found a healthy, primarily positive, and nuanced way to talk about an extremely interpretive and multifarious medium, an outlet that wrote about indie games as a sort of "art criticism" could be well appreciated.  

Sorry in advance for how long winded I am probably going to get. I always do. It's literally a medical thing 

First Question

Hmm, if you're looking for a unified, comprehensive resource that lists and catalogues a close-to-complete set of rules-lite small games, I don't believe one exists, but I could be mistaken. That sort of thing could be real good to have for indie games in particular, if it was well set up and truly comprehensive, but I suspect that maintaining and updating that would be a logistical nightmare - as small as this niche is in the grand scheme of things, there are still new things getting made almost every day, many of which are being made in even smaller sub-niches that someone maintaining a database may not immediately be aware of. 

As far as your specific parameters (1 to 4 pages, good for one shots), if you're looking for ready made frameworks or well regarded examples, the "Honey Heist" and the "Lasers and Feelings" models are both very popular and tend to work pretty well if you're looking for something super rules-lite but not SO rules-lite that there are no rolls or dice or stats at all. There are a ton of different hacks of each of them, and they are both "systems" that explicitly encourage hacking and remixing. 

Other than that, there are just SO many. I myself have written at least, like, 7 that would probably fit the criteria, and a few others that might debatably fit. And I'm a nobody with no real following or whatnot. I am sure the cup runneth over once you get into the large ocean of broader ttrpg possibilities. Doing a simple google search yields some results but those are mostly comprised of listicles with Top 5 or Top 10 lists and such. 

I wouldn't even say that most of the stuff you've even listed qualifies fully. I wouldn't say Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) is necessarily rules-lite or small, and Forged in the Dark (FitD) is crunchy as heck (and was originally an extreme hack of PbtA anyways), and OSR is more of a broad design "philosophy" than a framework ... and nobody seems to 100% agree on what that philosophy actually IS in concrete terms ... it's one of those "I'll know it when I see it" deals, except everyone seems to know and see it in different ways and in relation to different things (not that that's a bad thing). Then you've got your other similarly vague "movements" like Lyric Games and Sworddream, and newer frameworks like Trophy and, and, and ... yeah, I can definitely see how it can be hard to comprehend and overwhelming. 

My advice would be to just research and explore at your leisure based on your own interests - itch is a great place to find a lot of good small ttrpg games to quickly check out, even if its search function can be a bit fiddly at times. I'd also follow that up with the "make your own" - not in a dismissive way, but in the sense that you already know exactly what YOU like, so nothing beats a totally custom system that will 100% be what you want it to be. I definitely understand the desire to build on top of a proven framework, and that can be good fun too, and I definitely understand the desire to explore other models so that you can do yours "the right way" and that's also not a bad idea, but at the end of the day, there's not really a "right way" just a way that is "right for you."

There are also some podcasts that cover a bunch of indie stuff, and those may be a good way to get familiarized in less immediately committal way (like, you know, you can listen to them while doing something else, like driving). Personally, I would still very much recommend Modifier, hosted by Meghan Dornbrock, for a good overview. I am not sure if the podcast is currently on a hiatus (a lot of things made by small creators are due to the pandemic - since honestly just functioning has been hard these past few years) or if it's defunct, but it's backlog is still incredibly good, informative, and relevant. Meghan is a great interviewer and super open to designers of all stripes. There's even an episode with me in it (shameless).

And if you're looking for something super quick and ready to go for an upcoming session, again, I would very much recommend taking a look at Honey Heist (and its various hacks) or Lasers and Feelings (and its various hacks), since one can pretty much pick up and run them in literally minutes. I'd be happy to talk about other possibilities and give out more recommendations, of course. 

Second Question

From what I can gather, the board is now pretty quiet for fairly standard reasons. Perhaps there was some drama behind the scenes that I am not aware of (there is always some kind of drama in ttrpgs, I guess), but from what I could gather, it was simply a case of too much, too soon. 

I think the most enduring online communities need space to grow organically, and I think that may still someday happen for this board, or at least I still hold out hope.  When itch.io announced that they were looking for input from indie tabletop game designers in how to create and structure this forum, some leading voices in the scene at the time saw this (understandably) as a great opportunity to establish a new centralized discussion hub for indie ttrpgs all across the board, a sort of unifying space outside of twitter (which, as we all know, is where most "discourse" happens these days, and which is more or less designed to be free from the pesky burdens of nuance and readability). 

Prior to this, there used to be a "circle" of indie ttrpg designers on Google Plus, of all places. It was probably one of the few things that specifically thrived on that platform. I have no idea how or why this happened, as I wasn't really there for those "halcyon days" and at the end of the day that fact may well be emblematic of the core issue. While there were a lot of cool people doing and talking about a lot of cool things on Google+ in those days, it appears to me that even that group was comparatively insular, and that in the end it was more or less a large clique of friends who happened to rally around and meet based on a specific hobby. While there is nothing wrong with that inherently, it does cultivate a bit of a "cool kids table" dynamic, likely without intending to. I have been around making ttrgps for years before I even knew that group was a thing, and by the time I did, Google+ had shut down. I suspect a lot of other designers were in the same boat. The Google+ group ended up becoming something a lot of us found out about in retrospect, talked about in almost reverent tones by former members, a lot of whom then went on to be quite successful (comparatively speaking) in the "scene," especially once let's play podcasts started to really become a thing. I suppose the chronology varies for everyone, but basically a lot of newer designers (and many working in the margins) ended up "missing out" on that mythical Camelot of communication and networking.

When itch set up these forums, there was a big push, coming from industry newcomers and emerging marginalized designers, to make this the New Camelot. It was an exciting prospect, since we had all heard the stories of how great it used to be back in those Google+ days, and we all wanted a taste. 

Unfortunately, I feel like we might have wanted it a bit too much. When you try to force a thing like that to happen, instead of it happening organically, it's just not likely to work out, at least in my experience. Another related issue, in my view, was that a ton of people joined and participated in the initial set-up discussions, but then the immediate influx ended up being extremely overwhelming for some, and I am sure many folks felt self conscious about actually posting and interacting if they weren't already friends with some of the other people, and so on, and so forth. The majority of the introduction posts seemed to come flooding within a very short period of time, and the pressure to "build something" was very high, too high not to cause a deflation and loss of interest amongst many participants. 

And then, of course, many of the leadership figures, who may still be lurking occasionally, simply became too busy to tend to this garden very actively (and possibly too discouraged?) - some of them ended up having quite a bit of deserved success (again, comparatively speaking, whatever success means in indie terms), and moderating and promoting a forum, let alone trying to establish a culture within it that would lead to fruitful networking and exchange, likely became a very distant priority. Plus, a lot of people were already overwhelmed trying to keep up with several discord servers established to fill a similar role. Inertia sort of took over from there.

Personally, I still see the potential, but I don't want to force anything or rush anything. I asked the itch folks to set me up as moderator last year, but there isn't much to moderate usually, so I mostly just log in every few days and check to see if there is new spam than needs removing. Occasionally there's a post like yours or a new intro. I did try to promote the forum again back then, and we did get some interest and discussion going, but in the end it was like three people, myself included, arguing over whether or not ttrpg discourse can ever not get heated. It got a bit heated. But it was literally like one thread.

At this point me and the other mods who check in occasionally are mostly just holding and maintaining the space and hoping that it can have a chance to become something at some point. I think expecting it to be the New Big Thing is not the most productive thing, and likely contributed to it being something close to a ghost town, so I personally hope it's allowed to slowly evolve in time. Who knows? 

https://thealeks.itch.io/pleroma

Honestly, that last one doesn't feel like that much of a stretch. The other stuff actually feels trickier in some ways. PDFs are, by definition, portable, and I can't think of a single actually indie game designer (I don't include relatively large middle-market companies like Monte Cook games and White Wolf in that assessment) who will fault you for simply buying their game once, and literally emailing the PDF to the other members of your group. It's kind of an honor system, with the understanding that there's a big difference between violating our intellectual property rights (this usually involves selling the game without our permission or distributing it via a download link for whoever stumbles on it to pirate with impunity) and simply using the product in a manner consistent with common sense usability and convenience. 

If you were playing in person, you wouldn't each buy a separate copy of the rulebook to reference (at least not normally) - you'd likely buy one, and keep it on the table for everyone's use. Especially these days, now that in-person meetings are inaccessible for a literal overwhelming majority of people for various apocalyptic and dystopian reasons, it would be unreasonable of me to demand you buy 5 copies of the same game for the purpose of one campaign or even a one shot. Heck, as much as I find Monte Cook Games' 100 dollar PDFs to be an inaccessible, gatekeepy, and overall kind of gross move (like one step from turning a game into an NFT or something) masquerading as "praxis," even they argue that the exorbitant price tag will be worth because they figure that multiple people will pool their cash and buy and share their product together. 

There are also plenty of indie games, including most of my own, that offer limited but regularly refreshed pool of community copies, specifically on itch.io, which you can download for free, no questions asked, honor system and all that. They are meant for people experiencing poverty or marginalized people in general, but I don't mind if someone occasionally grabs one just to demo a game, with the hope that they will eventually "return it" to the pool by buying a paid copy (most community copy pools add new copies every time a certain number of people buy a game at full price). 

So yeah, a PDF and your friends' email addresses are all you need for something like that.

As for actual Roll20 alternatives, unfortunately it's less cut and dry. Personally, I think many traditional "big name" games are barely designed to be played smoothly in person, let alone online, so no matter which service you choose, you're still not only wrestling with the tedium of keeping track of all the numbers and grid positions or whatnot, but also constantly having to deal with tech issues borne from that fact that you are likely using at least three different but interconnected platforms and technologies all at the same time. The latter kind of screws with me most, and makes me reluctant to play online, just because I am so tired of players getting cut off during an important story beat, and us not realizing that this happened until five minutes later, or them still having audio output but no input, so they keep talking for 10 minutes before they realize that everyone isn't being really rude but just aren't hearing them, and so on. But this is the world we live in, so it's really part of the bargain until the technology itself improves sufficiently (which I am not optimistic about - I kind of think we're close to hitting diminishing returns). 

Currently, the only things I can think of are exactly the same that you'd get by googling "roll20 competitors" and checking on the first page of result. I haven't tried all of them, but I imagine they all have their strengths and weaknesses and none are perfect all of the time for any one person. Is the lag on the connection end or the voice client's end? If the latter, you can always try using a different service for voice while still using TTS.

At this point, I am personally hesitant to play anything online if it can't simply be played in a discord room without additional software running. 

Hi Michał, welcome. It's a pretty quiet forum, but it doesn't always have to be! Even when we're just lurking about, we're still here.

Welcome, nice to see you here!

Oh dang, that looks neat.

Hi, I'll leave this message up for a while in case it's a genuine request for advice (I'd be willing to offer some myself as well), but this is a Tabletop Roleplaying Games Forum, which means it is concerned mainly with NON-digital roleplaying and storytelling games. Coding isn't usually a relevant topic here, since most of these games are presented in book / pdf format and do not require coding skills to produce.

Anyway, I dabble a bit in coding and game development, but am far from an expert. That said, there are SO many tutorials online, including some that start with the most basic of basics, that you shouldn't have too much trouble learning these skills if you just trawl around youtube for a while.

I have never heard of a language called Scratch - unless you meant "from scratch" which is just an expression that means to make something from raw ingredients, so to speak. Similarly, I don't think chrome is a language? A Chromebook is probably fine for learning, but I am not sure how much flexibility it'll give you. It's runs a fairly stripped down operating system, so you're going to need to do some research on how to best set up a working coding environment on there. 

If you are restricted to a Chromebook, your simplest bet to start making games quickly is probably Twine, which lets you work directly in your browser and saves your projects in your browser as well (just don't delete your history before exporting). It may not seem like much, but it's quite accessible, can be used to make interesting things (you're mostly going to be restricted to choose-your-own adventure and visual novel type stuff, but I have hacked it in the past to do very retro roleplaying and dungeon crawling games). It can also be a good way to start learning to code while also seeing some results right away, since you can begin , by simply stringing passages together using a visual interface and very basic markup, but then slowly start looking up more advanced things as you need them. The concepts you can learn this way will usually apply to coding in general - conditional statements, variables, and so on. 

If you want to get more advanced and more flexible, Python is an excellent language to start learning and does, I believe, work with Chromebooks after a bit of extra installation work. Just google "Python and Pygame on Chromebook" and some resources / instructions should pop up for you. Pygame is not widely used, but has a community of its own, and has even been used to make a handful of commercial games. It can be used to make a variety of 2D games - literally any 2D genre you want. It is, however, a completely "from scratch" process. It will not give you any kind of drag-and-drop functionality and you will need to code almost everything from the ground up.

I also believe that the most recent versions of Unity may actually run on Chromebook, if you want more of an "engine" experience. The advantage here is there are a lot of plugins and resources out there, tons of free learning materials (as it is one of the most widely used game engines in the world right now), the ability to set up your scenes visually, and the fact that it can be used for both 2d and 3d games, and even VR. The two big drawbacks is that it can be tough to run on lower end computers (so you'll probably need a nicer / newer chromebook to run it well), does not have a totally open license (it's free to use and sell your games on PC, but you will have to pay if you want to port them to consoles and such), and has its own learning curve issues, in that you won't only be having to learn coding but also the specific quirks and methods of Unity itself.

Anyways, good luck. Hope this helps a bit. My final word of advice is start small. I KNOW that what you're planning to do is a massive open world RPG game with tons of features and a custom physics engine that will make you a millionaire - but that's just not going to happen. Start with pong then slowly progress from there. You will not be making the next Skyrim, or even the next Stardew Valley, any time soon. Get creative with your limitations and you will grow faster.

Hi, I think you're probably better off asking this in the appropriate group. You're more likely to find the answers you're looking for at the following link:

https://itch.io/t/981862/robloxian-20

https://thealeks.itch.io/pleroma

I can only speak for myself. This is a really cool app, but I probably wouldn't want to use it during actual play, unless the game I was playing was very specifically on brand with it (retro-futuristic science fiction or cyberpunk, maybe), the reason being that it would likely distract from the aesthetic and the imagination-play otherwise. If I'm playing in a fantasy, steampunk, gothic, or even modern day (horror, action, investigation, supernatural, etc.) setting, I wouldn't want my rolls to be associated with a robot. 

If I WAS playing in an appropriate setting, however, this could be a cool  little addition to the vibe. It's certainly VERY well made. Personally, I think you're on to something here. If you plan to create a larger variety of themes for this (or have created them already), I am sure some folks will be interested in using them to enhance the mood of their sessions and just add a bit of fun to the proceedings. You know, a mechanical calculating machine for steampunk, a divining pool or enchanted mirror for fantasy, a sentient skull amulet for horror or gothic fantasy, etc. 

On another note, you should also definitely design one. That's how most of us get started, after all. "Oh, we need more of this thing. Hmm ... I am gonna make more of this thing."

I agree. There was a cool one I saw recently (so, within the last few years, since it's all kind of blur at this point), that was mainly inspired by Control.  I can't quite remember the name offhand. I'll try to dig it up and post the link, It was short and sweet, possibly a Trophy incursion/hack, and had really nice, Control inspired graphic design. If anyone else remembers better, (or if the author is seeing this) please let me know. 

But yeah, stuff like SCP provides for a lot of potential. 

Hi, DeReel, welcome aboard! It's quiet here, but we're around. Please feel free to post if you have questions or interesting discussion ideas, and reach out if you have any questions or suggestions.

Yeah, that'd be great. I've tried to find groups pre-pandemic, and have found again and again that it was easy to find DnD/Pathfinder meetups and almost impossible to find anything else.  That may vary regionally, of course.

Nice to meet you, Tanya! This is still a very quiet space, but we're going to slowly try to make it a bit more active (if we can do that without tempers flaring too much). So please feel welcome to stretch out, makes some posts, and invite other chill peoples. 

Fair enough. My first instinct would have been to remove it as off-topic, so I appreciate your having taken the time to provide a justification. It's a short enough jam, seems interesting, and maybe some tabletop folks would indeed be into it (I would definitely consider it, but I am very tired lately). Good luck. I'll be looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.

The question here was not which one is better or worse, or which one is right or wrong, or even what views, in the past, you have found to be inherently aggressive because certain unidentified people didn't preface their statements as I personally suggest they should have. It's not about the specific chips on our specific shoulders.

The question you posed at the top of the thread was "Can the RPG Theory well be unpoisoned?" If we are to answer that question we have to ask ourselves how to do that for everyone who comes to it in good faith (with the obvious caveats that bigotry of any kind is not tolerated). It's not about making sure that your viewpoint is accepted as truth. It's about making sure that people with different viewpoints feel comfortable and show one another courtesy, respect, and understanding. 

I am  not implying that anyone has to actually buy into my philosophy (and I am not a strict relativist, by the way - I simply think that if certain rules or systems work *for* someone, even if that's just one person, then they have a valid reason to exist, and that most configurations can work *for* either specific people or a specific purpose). My point was that even if you privately think someone is dead wrong, let them, as you put it, do the work they think they can do in peace, without being screamed at by anyone. 

Nobody should be trying to keep someone from doing what they want to do if what they want to do isn't hurting anybody, and that also means that, when you're out there talking theory, it might help to avoid "yucking their yum," so to speak. 

And let's be realistic, as passionate as we might get about the topic, game design really isn't a life or death affair - we can afford to let other people hold vastly different ideas about the process of design because at the end of the day we aren't commanding troops, building jet engines, or developing vaccines. What we do has value, but it's not something that warrants vitriol. 

Again, what I am speaking to right now has nothing to do with actual game design, because this topic was not about game design but rather about how we discuss it. This is not about what methodologies, systems, approaches, or "factions" are right or wrong. This is about making sure that when people do talk about those thing, they can do so without their blood pressure going up (because that can cause actual harm). 

And to that effect, I am more than happy to make some definitive statements. Like I said, not a strict relativist. I try to be pragmatic.

I feel that in some cases, hard lines must be drawn so that people don't get hurt. How one comports oneself among one's peers is subject to that principle for me. I am not interested in creating needless anxiety for people just because someone thinks dice pool resolution mechanics are inherently better than reading the shapes in the clouds. It's not worth it. So I am more than happy to make a strong statement on that: let them do their work in peace and if you can't simply respect one another's approaches and engage without prescribing, do not engage.

I also feel that in some cases, drawing a hard line will in fact be counterproductive and will result in more anxiety. The example above works for this purpose too, as it contains both scenarios in one. It's not worth insisting that dice pool mechanics are inherently better, even if you think they are. The way we talk to each other has the potential to do harm, and has to be approached with that in mind. If we want to avoid toxicity, we have to draw hard lines, establish certain norms. The way we design games, on the other hand, is, frankly, our own business at the end of the day. It isn't worth it to cross the lines or violate the norms established in the previous "step" for the sake of dice pools. Let the other person do the work they think they can do in peace.

This topic, I thought, was about exchanging ideas about theory  in a way that doesn't lead people to dread reading the replies to a post they made in good faith, and your question was "can we do that."

I think we probably can. Whether or not we will is a different matter entirely. 

In any case, I'm probably going to retire myself from this particular thread going forward. When I am into a topic and passionate about it, it can be a bit of a double edged sword. I just can't keep myself from writing novellas every time. I think at this point I've articulated what I wanted to and will just end up going in a circle if I keep at it. 

Everything having been said, I really appreciate what everyone's brought to this discussion so far, and would like to thank the OP for starting it up, even if we seem to disagree on certain points.

Thanks! Those jams should give me plenty to chew on for starters.

The title more or less says it all: I'd love to hear suggestions for explicitly Play-By-Post oriented games or games that you feel fit the Play-By-Post format exceptionally well. I'm currently very interested in said format for various reasons, so I'd also very much welcome discussion of ideas for or experiences with Play-By-Post mechanics, different variants of PbP (what makes forum play different from snail mail play, and etc.), and so on.