Boing Boing 

A romance game that feels like playing a Jane Austen novel

If you've ever wanted to experience the romance, gossip, and tragic social misunderstandings of an Austen heroine, Regency Love is a visual novel made just for you.

Set in the Regency era of England—the late 1700s to the mid 1800s—the game casts you in the role of a young woman of marrying age in a small English town called Darlington. Although you come from a respectable family, your father has passed on, and you feel increasing pressure from your mother to marry soon—and marry well. You can, of course, have your own ideas about it means to marry well, especially as you meet the eligible bachelors of Darlington: the dashing lieutenant Mr. Graham, the intellectual, introspective Mr. Curtis, and the handsome but troubled Mr. Ashcroft.

Your primary choices in the game revolve around dialogue options; the way you speak to other people not only defines your relationships to them, but defines you, by adding to your score for various character traits. Will you be frivolous or sensible? Witty or vulgar? Compassionate or cutting?

It's not all melodrama, however. You'll also have the chance to take tea with townsfolk, go shopping at the haberdashery with your friends, or even play matchmaker for other couples in Darlington. Through the game, you'll also be quizzed both on the social etiquette of the era and Jane Austen novels themselves; correct answers yield "motivation points" that can be channeled into the skills most valued in a lady of your station: practicing the piano, embroidering, painting, and dancing.

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Regency Love was created by Samantha Lin, Jenny Tan, and Melody Wang of Tea for Three Studios, three women inspired not only by their love of Jane Austen, but also a far more modern tale of intrigue and romance: Dragon Age.

As the team explains on their webpage, "we were (re-)playing Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, and thought, 'Hey, why not replace the darkspawns with chickens and Alistair/Zevran/Fenris/Anders with versions of Mr. Darcy/Mr. Knightley/Colonel Brandon/Captain Wentworth?' And so we did."

Although the chickens ultimately became an impossibly wise and maybe slightly telepathic cat, the game otherwise holds fairly true to their vision. Although the original game was released in 2013, they recently launched a new version that also allows players to buy an additional, all-new story as well.

Regency Love is available for $4.99 on iOS, and with around 150,000 words of writing throughout its various paths, feels substantial enough to justify the price.

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You might have been okay at Super Hexagon, back in the day

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I think that just twelve seconds is as long as I'm actually able to survive at Terry Cavanagh's Super Hexagon. The game, with its deep color and throbbing chiptune soundtrack (did you preorder your Hexagon vinyl?) is meant to be difficult; it creates intensity out of simplicity.

Kai Clavier has reimagined Super Hexagon as a blinky old Game & Watch title. I love this demake, mostly because by its nature it cannot go too fast for me. Now, I can last for at least 14 seconds~!!! Sometimes recontextualizing popular modern games using the look and feel of old tech offers something beyond amusing juxtaposition. Demakes can be lenses through which we can see the pure core of a thing.

Kai Clavier is also the creator of Hotel Paradise, a surreal maze that pays tribute to the common nihilistic wander in search of your hotel room. These games are free, but the developer accepts donations.

News of the Super Hexagon demake comes from Offworld's friend Forest Ambassador; you can hear me chat with Forest Ambassador's Merritt Kopas on

Convert your face into emoji

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Like most humans with a smartphone and a sense of joie de vivre, I enjoy peppering my communications liberally with emoji. But until today, I could not actually be emoji. All that has changed, thanks to the Emoji Mosaic tool created by Eric Andrew Lewis.

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Play it now: Composition in a Minor Key

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Composition in a Minor Key, by Aleks Samoylov, isn't just another 'text adventure'—the poetry of its language gets close to you quickly, as you wander the dreamlike night forests, camps and riversides of its small but rich world.

Something I like about this game is that your primary experience involves talking with the vivid characters you meet. Each of them is different, from their cadence to the emotion evoked by meeting them. Perhaps I'm feeling soft today, but I felt sentimental and melancholic speaking to the fortune teller who said my life might have been different if I'd only met that neighbor who loves apricot jam.

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It doesn't take a lot of time to experience Composition in a Minor Key, made last year for a jam. but you'll feel its effects long after you finish, still hear the echoes of its unusual sonic backdrop: Footsteps? Water droplets? Time passing... a clock?

Composition in a Minor Key is available for free or suggested donation; you can also become a Patron of Samoylov's work if you enjoy it.

Exploring the abandoned digital campuses of Second Life universities

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During the late '00s heyday of Second Life, everyone wanted a piece of the popular virtual world, including colleges and universities who set up their own online campuses to engage students and even teach real classes.

Over the years, most of these collegiate islands have vanished into the digital ether, but a few digital campuses still remain, pristine but abandoned by students and faculty alike. Patrick Hogan of Fusion decided to go wandering through these pedagogical ghost towns, from Arkansas State University to the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee.

First, I didn’t see a a single other user during my tour. They are all truly abandoned. Second, the college islands are bizarre. They mostly are laid out in a way to evoke stereotypes of how college campuses should look, but mixed in is a streak of absurd choices, like classrooms in tree houses and pirate ships. These decisions might have seemed whimsical at the time, but with the dated graphics, they just look weird.

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This includes the campus for East Carolina University, which features a pirate ship where you can learn about test anxiety. Hogan notes, however that while many of these virtual education spaces might seem bizarre or unpolished, that's part of their charm—and what makes them compelling artifacts from a time when many institutions were making their first, awkward attempts to create digital spaces and engage with people online.

"I actually like how most of these islands represent an attempt by education institutions to embrace the weirdness of the web," writes Hogan. "The current crop of education startups seem bland and antiseptic in comparison to these virtual worlds."

Keep online education weird, everybody.

Mobile game of the week: Spider, Rite of the Shrouded Moon

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I'm not the biggest fan of spiders or anything, but within a few minutes of starting Tiger Style's newest exploration and web-making adventure, I had unlocked a new and grudging sort of appreciation for the little fellas. Diligent, graceful and curious, spiders just want to keep pests out of your mansion and solve mysteries.

2009's Spider: Secret of Bryce Manor was a big hit, and Rite of the Shrouded Moon is its long-awaited follow-up. You play as a little spider, crawling along the edges of a fine old mansion and its furnishings; you can jump with a brisk swipe of the finger, and, gossamer trailing from your spinnaret, you can build webs that catch flies and moths and other things.

This idle physical objective is engrossing on its own, a continual puzzle of how to best use your environment, how to draw ideal geometry. But you, the tiniest interloper, are also unveiling more and more of Blackbird mansion as you snare its snakeflies and swing from its chandeliers. Along the way you start to find little clues, the story of the vast place and the people in it.

The exciting thing that sets Rite of the Shrouded Moon apart from its predecessor is that it depends on the weather where you are. If you enable location services, the world of the game will reflect the climate you're in and the time of day it is, which might mean you encounter different insects, or that you can access some areas on a sunny day that you can't reach in the rain (go over "the itsy bitsy spider" in your head).

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I think this game can appeal to all types of players; it deftly weaves together (ha ha ha a spider joke) elements of adventure, puzzle and even the warmly-ornate and atmospheric hidden-object genre. A bright, peppy electronic soundtrack is a surprising but fun accompaniment—the music and the lively item descriptions keep the experience from feeling gothic or dour.

You can get Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon for $4.99 on iOS. It's slated to come to Android & the PlayStation Vita imminently, too.

Offworld Monday reflection: Now with one hundred percent more digital plants

o-ihs5 Our Monday reflection is a regular weekly item here on Offworld, a special satellite transmission designed to highlight our favorite Offworld stories, wonderful trends, and the stories from elsewhere in the galaxy that got us talking. Sign up here to receive this digest each week via email—it's a great way to avoid missing anything.

Latest Features

Juliet Kahn's debut feature at Offworld is an exploration of the different ways boys and girls tend to be socialized around video games. Interestingly, it takes the shape of a dialogue with her sister, who confidently explains that while there are exceptions to the rule, most girls she knows have internalized all kinds of messages about who games are really intended for. Lots of women I know had a similar story: They loved games as adolescents and young teens, but grew apart from them as they grew up, while boys entrenched.

An exceptional video murder mystery called Contradiction: Spot the Liar set me off on a reminiscence on the "FMV" era of games: You know, live actors and filmic techniques to often dubious effects. Fundamentally I think an arbitrary quest for "realism" or "more Hollywood" often results in some wrong turns for game design, but the endlessly charming and funny Contradiction captures everything we love about that weird lobe of history and none of the worst bits.

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Offworld games

Oh my god, we had so many games about nature. It was, like, nature week at Offworld. Do you like gardening? You can do it with a soda-powered jetpack underground, on a sunless alien planet, or with a cute ghost. Calmly re-assemble the pieces of a broken pot as you reflect on your life. Calmly soar on the wind as a flock of birds. Calmly die in a lurid forest.

You are one of us, now. Here is some creepy stuff to do with Sonic the Hedgehog, in case you ever miss the boring, old kind of video game.

Transmissions from elsewhere

The friendly crew of board game clowns at Shut Up & Sit Down recently returned from GenCon, a great big board game convention in Indiana. You know, I love board game conventions, because I have the liberty of only optionally working in physical games when I feel like it. I attended the UK Board Game Expo after a particularly stressful week of video game assholes on Twitter, and it was like a balm: A room full of earnest folks in World War II costumes, men in top hats really eager for you to try the card game they drew about pirate rabbits, and people trying to build tiny scaffolds with colorful cranes tied to their heads (a real game that I forget the name of). I often find people at board game conventions to be more sociable than the ones at video game things, probably because if board game fans weren't good at getting along face to face they wouldn't have anybody to play with.

You should totally watch this GenCon video, because it's incredibly funny and I'm really proud of my friends and colleagues Quinns, Matt and Pip for doing such a good job sharing the heart and spirit of the board game fandom. And also because I sing a jingle halfway through.

And speaking of playing in person, Hannah Nicklin has a wonderful piece on the work of Holly Gramazio, a designer who genuinely understands the universality of play, doesn't seem to be really bothered with the insistent designations that "video games" place upon designed interaction.

I am friends with everybody I just recommended you read/watch. It is one year on from "GamerGate" and I now have my own video game website I use to celebrate the work of the people I like and whom I think have accomplished interesting things. Nyah, nyah, I won.

Not Games

Photo by Ian Hughes [via]

Photo by Ian Hughes [via]

Hayley Campbell's work at BuzzFeed often involves photos of death masks and naked skeletons and skin carpets and scary things like that (I think she is winning too), but the latest photo gallery she posted contains some absolutely wonderful cruise ship photos from the 1990s, left behind by partygoers who never retrieved their branded memorabilia. The photographs, taken by Ian Hughes, are especially great at capturing the thing I imagine is awkward about cruises: You must have fun; you may not exit the watercraft. You are with these people for the duration.

Hayley also challenges us to remember all the women Lou Bega likes in his 1999 earworm "Mambo No. 5". I forgot Pamela. Try not to forget Pamela.

Piracy gave me a future

Poverty traps its victims in intellectual dead zones. I don't pirate games anymore, but when I needed it, it gave me access to the literature and artistic inspiration of my generation. Read the rest

T-shirt extols the best response to Twitter trolls

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Getting harassed on Twitter? Not sure how to respond? Deep down, you know what to do. And so does this shirt.

Titled "Welcome to the Block Party," it was designed by Elizabeth Simins, a friend of Offworld who created the comic Manic Pixel Dream Girl and previously released the Gaming's Feminist Illuminati shirt.

On Twitter, Simins described it as a garment with some valuable ideas about "how to succeed at the internet." If you've ever been harassed on social media, chances are that you'll agree.

The Block Party design is available until next Wednesday for t-shirts, tank tops and sweatshirts with styles for men and women.

Fix the broken pieces of this pot, also your life

There's something appealing about putting a broken thing back together. It offers a sense of restoring order to the world, or perhaps even affirming that damaged things are still worth saving. In Kintsukuroi, a free mobile game created by Chelsea Saunders, you piece together broken shards of ceramic objects to make them whole again, and perhaps soothe your own jangled nerves in the process.

Kintsukuroi (literally, "golden repair") is named after the Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery using lacquer dusted with precious metals, turning the seams of the once-shattered object into lovely veins of gold or silver. The damage becomes part of the object's history—something that enriches it, rather than something that deprives it of value. Instead of simply discarding something because it has been broken, kintsukuroi suggests that it can become even more beautiful because of, and not despite being broken.

It's a nice metaphor, all around.

Saunders has an extensive post on her website about the development of the game, why she made it, and what she hopes people will get out of it:

Kintsukuroi’s main goal is to center someone who’s anxious—to provide them something to focus on in a calming environment while also giving them a sense of progression and accomplishment... As someone who regularly deals with anxiety I often find myself picturing returning to a calm state in stages, or waves, or pieces of something broken realigning.

If you'd like to try Kintsukuroi, it is currently available for free on Google Play.

Plant a garden with a cute little ghost

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Pol Clarissou's Lil Ghost Garden, made for the virtual pet-themed PetJam, is a pleasant desktop companion. I love the design of his ghost character, a sympathetic looming moonface whose shadow body trundles dutifully around what begins as a sparse garden.

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Explore the legacy of Sonic the Hedgehog in these truly weird minigames

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When I wrote an article about how "gamer culture" was gross, irrelevant and false, a hate mob swarmed our advertisers and I was one of the women who got death threats for months. Still, the most controversial article of my career is actually this one—the one where I said Sonic the Hedgehog is weird and has weird fans.

I love the 1990s; I love grunge and machines and day-glo and attitude, and Sonic was created to embody that, to prove that compared to the family-friendly Super Nintendo, the Sega Genesis was fast, and cool, and rebellious. But unlike the timeless Mario franchise, the Sonic brand has aged poorly, a mascot Sega had to carry on wearing like a millstone around its neck through a succession of increasingly-poor games, even after the company had left the console business.

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It's been fascinating to me how a character struck to represent 90's "edge" and rebellion has been reclaimed by his fans so totally: These days, Sonic is now more relevant as the subject of alt sex fanart and fiction or weird MSPaint memes than he is as the face of any game. I'm often told this is a "mean" assertion for me to make; I think the people who think it's "mean" probably objectively take Sonic the Hedgehog too seriously.

A recent, wonderful little series of tribute games by "internet gang" Arcane Kids says what I want to say far better than anything I could write. Their manifesto includes the phrase "make the games you want to see on the Dreamcast", and their recent release, Sonic Dreams is exactly that, posing as a set of prototypes scoured from an old Dreamcast devkit.

The Dreamcast vibe is impeccably conjured: That weird age when the door was about to shut on Sega's console futures, and the "modernization" of Sonic first shimmered into being as an idea. Sonic Dreams lavishes on the wonderful broken-ness of that era and the way it collides with nostalgic, shimmering optimism: The "Make My Sonic" character creator is unsettlingly janky and limited; familiar sound effects and Sega-style tunes pump gleefully over un-anchored physics objects and other oddities.

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It's all very plausible, even the idea that Sega might have wanted a "Sonic Movie Maker", in that grand age when suddenly game consoles could be, like, for everything, and abstractly we assumed users unfailingly wanted to make-their-own everything all the time. But the "Sonic Movie Maker" included in Sonic Dreams is alternately hilarious and disturbing; the game eagerly urges you to place speech balloons where Sonic calls you "dad" as he flails brokenly in the front yard of a dream home, his engine revving fruitlessly.

There are further and increasingly explicit tributes to Sonic's role in various fetishes, and importantly you can share your videos on social media. There is a delightful Geocities guestbook at one point, but I refuse to spoil it for you—nor will I ruin "My Roommate Sonic", which starts with some sofa-tickling and ends triumphantly. m6YoZg

The appeal of this work isn't just to marinate in the inherent absurdity of Sonic and his fandom. I think it's actually a fascinating look at the uncanniness of unfinished ideas and where they collide with corporate mandates; the fun, tactile sense that you have cracked into the devkit of a bygone age, and the idea that, stripped of a certain context, video games are little more than a series of weird objects banging around inside our id.

What will people make of Sonic artifacts in a hundred years? How will they understand Sonic the Hedgehog as anything other than a star of increasingly-surreal, psychosexual artwork? Will I have to shut down my Twitter today for even asking this question? From which comment section comes the passionate Sonic-related screed that scrolls by on Sonic Dreams' fictional "boot menu"? I'm telling you, Sonic is weird and Sonic fans are weird and I think it's awesome.

Visit the amazing "Hedgehog Exposed" page to download Sonic Dreams for yourself. UPDATE: Since we posted this, it's come to our attention that creator Arjun Prakash worked on an allegedly-significant portion of this game without credit. Although Arcane Kids made an apology to Prakash in private, the collective has been asked to do more to address the appropriation of creators' work, specifically that of people of color, and related problems within the group. Offworld reached out to a rep for Arcane Kids, who says the Glitch City collective will soon be issuing a public apology and a list of actions aimed to address structural and communications issues within the group to prevent future problems of this nature.

Soar on the wind as a flock of birds in Gathering Sky

You begin Gathering Sky as a bird. Move your cursor, and it follows. But as you guide it through the sky, slowly adding other birds to your aerial coterie, the nature of your relationship quickly changes: you have become a flock. You not any one bird, but all of them, moving together with the smooth prescience you often see as birds loop through the sky, making hairpin turns in an eerie unison.

Here, you're the guiding force behind those movements, as the flock glides over the beautiful painted landscapes of the world below. You can also guide them into wind currents, which feel a bit like sky expressways that zip you forward through the level. Although these channels of wind are visible, you can only see a short ways ahead as your flock barrels forward, so if you want to stay in the fast lane you need to anticipate and respond quickly to the twists and turns. It can feel a bit like you're swaying in the thrall of some larger momentum, just like the birds are swaying in yours.

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Created by the small studio A Stranger Gravity, Gathering Sky takes only about an hour to play and there are five levels, each with its own challenges—hawk attack! thunderstorm!—and aesthetics, like the level where your birds start to cut through the clouds instead of over them, making colorful designs as the ground below peeks through the trails you leave behind. The score, composed by Dren McDonald and recorded at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, adds measurably to the experience, brightening the more cheerful moments and intensifying the tension the thunderstorm level, where you fly in near-darkness illuminated by lightning cracks. .

Although the game is mostly a soothing experience, The only points of tension I experienced was the moments when my subpar navigation skills left some birds cut off from the flock, trapped behind obstacles as the rest moved forward. I felt guilty, and sometimes doubled back to retrieve them—I didn't want to leave any birds behind. Going backwards tends to lead to minor chaos, however, sending your flock spiraling in different directions and perhaps even entrapping more of them. The game is at its most elegant when you don't hesitate—when you simply move.

Gathering Sky is available now on iOS, Android, Steam, and the Humble Store.

An adventure game that teaches you how to draw pixel art

I've always wanted to learn how to draw pixel art. I grew up on the adventure games of the 1990s, but even beyond the nostalgic appeal I find the idea of creating art within limitations deeply compelling. It's the same reason I enjoy structured poetic forms, writing exercises, or even the 140-character limit of Twitter.

But I'm no artist, and I've never really been sure where to start. So it was with great interest that I read about the Kickstarter for Pixel Art Academy, an adventure game about attending a school to learn pixel art, which actually teaches you pixel art.

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You play as a student at the Retropolis Academy of Art, a school that welcomes both experienced illustrators and amateurs. You'll be given tasks—watch a video, read an article, make a drawing—that teach you about basic tools and skills, or assigned to create certain types of art and then upload your creations.

Created by Matej "Retro" Jan, Pixel Art Academy will run in your browser, and also be a multiplayer game, which means that you'll be able to share your work with other students and see theirs as well. The Kickstarter campaign has already been funded 22 times over, and you can get your own copy—due out in January 2016—by backing it for $10.

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Interactive movies make their glorious return

In the 90s, games grasped at maturity with "real" video and actors. It was a weird but cult-beloved wrong turn—and we found a game that's revived it beautifully. Read the rest

You can pre-order this hexagonal colored vinyl Super Hexagon soundtrack

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Super Hexagon is probably one of the most elegant and vicious puzzle games of our modern times. The soundtrack, by Chipzel, is also absolutely killer, and now you can pre-order it on vinyl. On hexagon-shaped vinyl. In four different colors.

I mean, you can theoretically pre-order it; preorders from iam8bit open tomorrow, August 13, at 10AM PDT and I am assuming they will go really quickly—they're limited and there are are only 1600 (400 per color, though you can't pick which color you will get), and also the wonderful Cory Schmitz designed the custom clear sleeve, so if owning something this singular and awesome and weird would be important to you, be ready to digitally 'check out' with speed tomorrow.

Hexagon-shaped vinyl. What does it look like when it spins around? Ohhhhh see that's like when you play the gaaaaame omggggg

She Might Think is a lovely, innovative experiment about perception

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She Might Think is a week-long game project by designer Marion Esquian, and it's a really cool idea: It's set in a visually-rich, sprawling apartment space, and it's about the five different women who come to tour the space as potential renters.

Actually, it's not so much about the five women as it is about their observations: Each character is different, and each one has different thoughts about the things she sees in the space. "The goal is secretly to show you that every girl is unique, has her own opinions and definitely doesn't answer to gender stereotypes," Esquian writes on the game's page. "We used the opinions of real women and friends to create our characters."

The art, by Ludivine Bertholoux, is part of what makes the game such a pleasure: Her character designs are playful and distinctive, and the bright colors and confident shapes of the apartment make it feel busy, warm and inviting.

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Esquian and Bertholoux have been releasing a different character each day of the week so far: In other words, each day a new file is available starring the latest character, with the other two already available. This unique episodic structure means that the game's essential "mechanic"—to compare one girl to another, to note their similarities and differences, and your own expectations as a player—is cast as a precious resource.

It's a wonderful creative experiment on several levels; download the latest episode here for free or pay-what-you-want.