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Play the number puzzle that launched a thousand clones, now free

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My mom loves number puzzles, so I recommended her the laudable Threes, which would go on to win Apple's 2014 game of the year. But it was already too late: The clones had gotten to her first.

She was playing 2048, which was being cheered in the press as "the indie hit made in just one weekend". She didn't know it was a free public mod of 1024, which was a free clone of Threes, a finely-tuned experience designed by the well-respected Asher Vollmer (with well-respected artist Greg Wohlwend), and sold on the App Store for $2.99.

One year after the puzzling and provocative Threes cloning controversy—where the free clones ultimately reached many more players than the premium original—the developers are offering a new free, ad-supported version of the game. Vollmer tells the Verge that Threes' paywall "has always felt like a misstep."

Try the game that started it all for free on the App Store or Android Marketplace. And if you like Vollmer and Wohlwend's work, also check out TouchTone, a puzzle game about the surveillance state.

This game sheds light on human rights abuses in Azerbaijan

The first European Games are kicking off in Baku, Azerbaijan. This tiny web browser game stands in protest, highlighting the unlawful detention of political prisoners in the country.Read the rest

Hamlet is way funnier as a choose-your-own-adventure game

To Be Or Not To Be

If you're like me, reading Hamlet has always been a little bit like watching a horror movie, except instead of screaming at the girl to run away from the masked killer instead of into the basement, you're screaming at Hamlet to just freaking do something instead wandering around Denmark being an indecisive jerk and creating problems for everyone.

Well, now you can finally take control in To Be or Not to Be, a laugh out loud funny Hamlet choose-your-own-adventure story that allows you to step into the shoes of Hamlet, Ophelia, or Hamlet Sr. (aka a ghost). It's written by Ryan North, and if you're familiar with his work on Dinosaur Comics, Adventure Time or The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, it shouldn't come as a surprise that To Be or Not to Be is laugh out loud funny.

To Be or Not to Be is full of surprises, particularly ones that use the choose-your-own-adventure format in clever and unexpected ways. For example, if you choose to play as The Ghost and convince young Hamlet to kill Claudius, it immediately shifts you into Hamlet's perspective as his murders his uncle, so you can exactly how messed up of a thing that was to do. The famous play-within-the-play of Hamlet, meanwhile, gets turned into a choose-your-own-adventure book within a choose-your-own-book, complete with its own cover.

This is a must for Shakespeare fans, but even if you're not particularly into the Bard—or could never quite get past the antiquated English—this is an incredibly accessible way to explore one of his most famous works, though it will surely warp your ideas about Hamlet forever, in wonderful ways.

The choices that lead down the canonical path throughout the story are marked by skulls (Yorick skulls, naturally), but the real pleasure of this game is when it allows you to go off-road, exploring the characters and choices in new and occasionally absurd ways that never made it to the stage.

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Originally funded as a printed book on Kickstarter—where it raised over $580,000— To Be or Not to Be also features art from a lot of web-favorite cartoonists, including Kate Beaton (Hark, A Vagrant, Anthony Clark (Nedroid) and Randall Munroe (xkcd).

The game is available on PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. It's also got lots of material to explore in multiple playthroughs, as evinced by this skull flowchart, which I would kind of like to wear as a tank top.

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You can start making your own games today. Yes, you!

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When we established our Offworld colony here at Boing Boing, one of the core tenets of our charter was that we want to remove, wherever possible, the barriers that often shut the act of playing games, and the art of making them, away to a privileged few. We don't believe you must pass a set of "nerd culture" signposts in order to be welcomed. We do not care how "hardcore" you are. We don't believe you must have access to expensive high-end equipment, advanced education or hours upon hours of free time in order to join us in modern play.

We would like Offworld to be a place for curious, intelligent fans of all kinds of digital art and interactive entertainment, from the seasoned player in search of something fresh and new, to that friend of yours who holds up her hands and goes "but I'm not really a gamer", even though she understands tech and culture in every other way. We want you to be able to send her a link to a brief, transformative experience that respects her time and intelligence but does not necessarily demand she possess "geek literacy" or the vocabulary of a traditional controller.

You might notice we don't use the word "gamer" here—we are not involved in "gaming", we do not "game" (we don't mind you using whatever words you like, though). We are hobbyists, yes, but we're interested in play, which encompasses self-expression, creation and communication, not a mere consumer category prescribed to you based on the products you buy. We are here for joy and for sharing, and hopefully to play some small role in helping shift the dialogue around games away from widely-misunderstood culture-pocket to its deserved status as broad cultural object.

That's why we so often exhort you, yes, you, reader, to try making games of your own, to engage in their vocabulary to whatever extent you're interested. You don't have to be a professional writer to enjoy keeping a journal, nor a professional actor to enjoy community theatre or improv with your friends. Luckily the barrier to entry for learning to make games is lower now than ever, and free and low-cost resources abound for you to use. We hope this leads to new voices, new modes of expression, new kinds of characters, and new experiences joining the spectrum of what our medium can be and for whom.

All of this has been a long preface to sharing a new resource with you: developer Zoe Quinn (who wrote her own take on the "altgames" manifesto here a few months ago) has unveiled gamesareforeveryone.com, a repository of resources anyone can use as a starting point to answer common questions and find support for entry-level game-making. In the coming months at Offworld we'll be inviting you to join us in low-stakes game jams where you can try out the skills you've learned. For fun. More on that soon! Games are fun, aren't they?

This hilarious topical guessing game is ten bucks and fits in your pocket

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I really like party card games that are not sniggering, low-hanging Cards Against Humanity type things. If you, too, like to use cards to create spontaneous fun conversation and arguments among your friends, we've recommended The Metagame to you in the past, and now we've a new occasion to recommend you check out Monikers, too.

Monikers, as you can grok from this video, is a guessing game that organially creates its own hilarious internal language as you play multiple rounds with friends. You need to get your teammates to guess the name on each of your cards, and as the rounds progress, you have increasing restrictions on how to describe the same thing. The result is often a memorable series of ridiculous gestures you can add to your social vocabulary, and who doesn't want that?

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The original Monikers has been out for a bit now and has been "inexplicably sort of a small hit", according to its creators, who are now making a new expansion called Monikers: Shmonikers—which either enhances the original deck or can exist as an attainable $10 standalone you can currently get via Kickstarter.

Because I am a big fan, I agreed to volunteer a name of a thing for a card in the expansion. I have not decided what thing to name yet. Please hit the big DISCUSS button if you want to leave me some suggestions.

What games must learn from children's books

A designer studies her favorite works of play and picture to explain what's missing from many modern video gamesRead the rest

Wouldn't it be great if Ellen Ripley from Alien was your therapist?

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In thriller and slasher movies, the "Final Girl" is a popular trope: "the last woman alive to confront the killer, ostensibly the one left to tell the story." But what happens to final girls when the movie ends?

The gentle conversation game Final Girls, by spideyj (who describes herself as "just a person who likes playing and making games"), imagines a group therapy session led by a very familiar-looking "Ellen". In the group, girls from popular horror films talk over the effects of their trauma and the lingering challenges of their everyday lives. It's not an occasion for wry film references or humor, nor is it salacious—rather it's a nuanced imagination of these women as whole people, with new hobbies, relationships and opportunities.

The "objectives" of the game itself are very loose—you as the player get to decide whether to encourage the women to open up about recent things that aren't easy to talk about, like having an anxiety attack during a date—or in the case of Laurie from Halloween, feeling happy about life even though the people around her are still struggling.

It's a free, simple browser experience with some surprising depth, using familiar characters to express constructive compassion toward people who suffer from trauma or anxiety, and to provide a remarkably pragmatic look inside an imagined group therapy environment.

This game will make your morning coffee seem kind of scary

I think Keurig machines are awful—it's like fussing with a rocket launcher to make a small, bitter cup of plastic-tasting coffee. Even their own pod creator regrets spawning them (and their plausible associated environmental hazards).

A new interactive fiction game called Morning Rituals, by Lucas J.W. Johnson, has some fun with the hulking, blinking, nearly-sentient coffee machine, with its tedious lever and demanding water tank. The player is compelled to approach it and to go through its motions multiple times per day til the act starts to seem dark. No spoilers or anything, but this type of obeisance is pretty ritualistic.

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Morning Rituals is a well-made Twine game, in that while it's mostly text (besides a leering image of the K-machine, whose color of light you can select), the system you engage with has a sense of permanence, and the repetition of interacting with it helps the player inhabit the fiction. It costs just $1.33, is playable in your browser, and links inside the game itself go to wonderful YouTube tracks by Devin Vibert you can optionally enjoy alongside.

I recommend sending it as a little gift to that friend, relative or co-worker who is always moaning sepulchrally about being shackled to their coffee machine.

Program a strange, corrupted computer and discover its secrets

Imagine that you find a mysterious old computer, perhaps in a basement or a garage. When you boot it up, the "Tesselated Intelligence System"—or TIS-100—displays a copyright dating back to 1972 and an error message: "CORRUPTED SEGMENTS DETECTED, INITIALIZING DEBUGGER."

You're taken to a self-test diagnostic tool, where you have to create new programs and rewrite the corrupted code in the machine, with a little help from a photocopied computer manual straight out the 1980s.

This is TIS-100, which bills itself as "the assembly language puzzle game that nobody asked for." Created by Zachtronics, the company best known for Spacechem and Infiniminer (aka the precursor to Minecraft), it caters to some highly specific tastes involving nostalgia and coding.

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In order to debug the code, you're given a grid of twelve programming nodes and tasked with taking certain numerical inputs and turning them into certain numerical outputs, using the language spelled out in the manual.

Within each puzzle there's a debug button you can push, which doesn't seem to debug anything but instead displays strange, disjointed messages, either from the former owner or the creator of the machine itself. Who made the TIS-100, and why? What is it really for? The game suggests the answers will be revealed after you finish debugging, although I can't say for sure because it's super hard and I haven't beaten it.

Like a lot of coding problems, there's more than one way to solve each of the puzzles, and already plenty of people online who want to share and debate their solutions. There's also a sandbox option where you can create your own TIS-100 puzzles, and use them to frustrate other players.

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But be aware: This is most definitely a game for the programming and mathematically inclined—or at least people willing to work really hard and stretch their brains in that direction. Although I can fake my way through HTML and a little CSS, I'm not much of a programmer, and the learning curve for TIS-100 felt steep to me indeed.

If you're not sure whether or not the game is for you, try reading the "manual" for the TIS-100 that comes with the game as a PDF, or watching a tutorial on Youtube. If it seems fascinating or makes you nod your head in understanding, proceed with confidence. If you feel like you've been catapulted into one of those nightmares where you suddenly have a math test in a class you've never attended, perhaps another game would be a better fit.

TIS-100 is currently available on Steam Early Access for Windows, OSX and Linux, and a final version is expected in several months.

Treat yourself to a playful series of mysterious packages

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Every time I enter my building lobby and see a puffy envelope, a lumpy box strangled with glossy tape or a parcel with a foreign customs stamp, I look to see if it's for me. I mean, I never have any reason to think it would be for me; it's not my birthday, I haven't ordered anything, and very few people have my current address. But I look anyway, because the very idea of a surprise mysterious package is so much fun.

Read the rest

Explore worlds generated by poems

Astaeria is a "first-person poetry visualizer" by Emma—select a poem, and an abstract world of colors and shapes blossoms around that poem, with procedurally-generated music.

Read the rest

How hip hop can teach you to code

The artist may change, but the template remains the same Read the rest

Our favorite Splatoon memes, straight from the Miiverse

Thanks to Laura's joyful feature here at Offworld, we already know one of the best things about Splatoon is that you don't have to hear from the other players via voice chat. But in the family-friendly yet nonetheless weird and offbeat Splatoon universe, users are taking advantage of art to express themselves in wonderful ways.

Many of these come via "Bad Miiverse Posts", a great Twitter feed that captures the best user posts from Nintendo's carefully-curated online world. Users are often kids who create accidental comedy when they express things about their parents:

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Many Splatoon players wish to demonstrate, to varying degrees of success, how hip they are to internet memes:

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Kids assert themselves: CGXK_mtW0AAnFA7

Some people are really good at art:

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Splatoon also makes for good Vines. Even Nintendo itself, which has historically been a little behind when it comes to players' collaborating online, is on board, Tweeting some of its favorite pieces.

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I DON'T KNOW. YOU TELL ME.

Play it now: You Are A Hoverboard

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You Are A Hoverboard, by Chris Wade, is a few loveable steps beyond your usual physics toy: It's a world where animal friends open their hearts to help you out, and everything is going to be okay.

Read the rest

Longtime woman game dev on being a 'cultural fit'

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Laralyn McWilliams has been in the video game business for half her life. It's not that there are no women her age in game development, simply that there are few, and only recently has she begun to speak out about her experience of the industry.

For most of her career, she says she preferred to avoid discussions of gender, but learned startling things about herself and others once she began to bring it up:

It was a little over a year ago when I started to speak very quietly, very pragmatically about the experiences of women in game development. The backlash was clear and immediate. Those discussions were unwelcome and were met with open hostility from some colleagues. At one point, I was told directly that any discussion of women’s experiences in game development was like debating religion and politics--it wasn't just divisive, it was “off topic” in a game development group.

I said in response that I thought of myself as a game developer first and a woman second. When those words left my mouth, I was stunned: not just because I’d said them, but because in that moment, I meant them. I felt gutted, by the clear exclusion of my colleagues and by awareness of my own complicity.

In a new post she's written at Gamasutra, titled "We're Not Pegs", she provides an englightening and measured look at her experience, and at the countless tiny alienations women often experience in development and are discouraged from discussing. She recalls the first time she read this popular piece from a black woman engineer at Google, where the writer described the subtle ways she found herself adapting her self-expression and identity to fit in, to put her white colleagues at ease.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The deceptively-controversial topic of what makes a "cultural fit", and who does (and does not) have an easy time being a "cultural fit", has come up in games-oriented social media lately thanks to Holly Nielsen's piece in the Guardian about her perception of a "dress code" in the game industry. She argued the prevailing preference for checkered shirts and industry tees—or the idea clothes don't matter altogether—had led to a sort of dude culture "uniform", which limits fashion choices for women and emphasizes their outlier status. Women game developers and journalists are, Nielsen wrote, left with few choices except to be "one of the guys", lest they draw unwanted attention for being "dressed up" or "sexy", or lest they be mistaken for other professions.

While plenty of women related to Nielsen's experience (and others didn't), her piece brought a surprising degree of censure from men all over the industry, who argued about everything from the semantics of the phrase "dress code" to all the more important issues people concerned with sexism should be paying attention to instead. Laralyn McWilliams' article addresses this response:

I saw derision from many of those same peers whose opinions had shaped me over the years. "That’s so stupid--there’s no dress code. I wear what I want," those mostly white male colleagues said. “There are no rules other than ‘please wear clothes.’”

They missed the point. When you're already nearly perfectly round and a good match for the hole in which you want to fit, you don't sweat a few differences. You still fit in that hole so gracefully, so naturally, that you can sport your few minimally unique edges or your slightly off shade with pride, as a badge of honor. I don’t blame them for not seeing it: when your peg easily fits in the hole, it’s easy to assume that the hole fits everyone, or in fact that the hole doesn’t even exist.

If you have a shape that's not an easy fit, though, you become aware of anything that calls out those differences.

Further, she says it's not just women or feminine people who are affected by this implicit suite of rules, who feel the pressure to whittle themselves down until they "fit". People with religious needs, a same-gender partner, or even folks who don't drink alcohol struggle in environments where cultural uniformity to the dominant paradigm is encouraged, and examining that paradigm is met with swift rebuke.

Read McWilliams' whole post over at Gamasutra. Watch her speak about game design here. You can also hear her speak on the inaugural #1ReasontoBe panel, which Brenda Romero and I annually curate at the Game Developers Conference, here.

Sweet, sleepy days ahead for fans of farming sims

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Maybe someday I'll tell you the story of how Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town saved my life. For now, I'll describe some of my favorite moments in the sweet farm sim: Riding my horse to the top of a mountain at sunset. The first morning of winter, when you open your front door to find your fields blanketed in snow.

The good old Harvest Moon series, at its best on old portable Nintendo platforms, has lost its luster in recent years (some complex acquisition-related issue eventually happened with the brand). But there was a time when I would have recommended it to anyone who's soothed by patient ritual, in tiny step-by-step creation of a homestead, a little business, a life and a marriage. Living and building, year after year, in a kind village.

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There's a new farm sim called World's Dawn seeking funding, and from what I've seen of its generous three-season demo, it has a lot of what I loved about classic farm games, but with a little bit more sophistication to the writing. And you can play either as a girl or boy farmer, and further choose whether you want to romance girl or boy villagers (or both), an option that's rarely available in the traditional franchise (though back in the day I once married a mermaid).

Heartily recommend the free demo. I do wish there was an easy way to pause the game—haven't found one, but I think it'd be an important adaptation for folks playing the game on a PC during their day—but other than that, I'm excited to see where this hearty fan tribute to a favorite genre goes.

I didn't like shooting games. Then I fell in love with Splatoon

Nintendo's colorful, joyful new squid kid splatterfest is fresh as heck Read the rest