Getting Hired: My Best Tips

It’s been a little over a year since I was hired at Gameloft, and since then I’ve gone from being an intern to being a full time employee and even getting an extra job title (I’m now a Technical Game Designer and a Game Economy Designer on my project). I’ve been meaning to write this article for almost as long (if not longer, truth be told), though I keep either forgetting or being otherwise too preoccupied. But, seeing as I’m just coming down from all the rambling I’ve been doing at MIGS to young folks about these very topics, this seems like a good time to finally crank this piece out.

Over the several years I’ve spent hunting for a job, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs, but most importantly I learned a lot. Aside from luck and a bit of skill, most of my success can probably be attributed to learning through iteration. With this article, I’m hoping to condense a bit of that into what I think are the most valuable and practical tricks I’ve acquired over the years. I’d like to think they’re universal enough that they can be applied not just to getting a job in game design, but pretty much any job. Hopefully, some of you reading this might learn a thing or two from my mistakes (I saved the best ones for near the end, but they aren’t the last ones so you can’t cheat).

Study Your Field

To be clear, I don’t mean go to school. Of course, school can be immensely helpful. If your field of interest does have specialised studies designed to help give you the necessary skills to get into the industry, absolutely look into that. A lot of companies will use your base level of education not just as a metric of your skill, but also as an indication that you’re actually able to put in the effort and finish something (being able to finish things is a good mark for a lot of employers, so keep that one in mind). But no, that’s not what I’m talking about when I’m referring to studying your field.

What I actually mean is you need to study the actual industry surrounding your field. Do everything in your power to learn how your field works. What are some typical business structures? Who are the big names? What does each position do? What are some common problems facing the industry and what are people trying to do to address them? These are all questions you need to ask. But more importantly, you need to ask them not from a consumer or layman’s point of view. You need to think of it the way an insider does. After all, you’re planning on becoming one.

Games are a great example of an industry where a lot of the consumers seem to think they know how the industry works. Allow me to disabuse you of that notion: most gamers have no idea how games are actually made. Certainly not from a professional business perspective. It’s not just a question of dumping a few assets into Unity and bam there you go.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying gamers are completely ignorant, nor that game developers and publishers are blameless or not deserving of scrutiny. Game devs make mistakes and poor choices quite often, and when they do something that hurts consumers they should absolutely be called out for it. What I’m saying is, the choices they make aren’t arbitrary, and they’re often far less simplistic than you might think. Like any other industry games are fraught with politics, business statistics, technical limitations, human limitations, and the unfortunate realities of, well, the real world. Working on games is a career, and not an easy one. There are many people in this industry who work very hard, even on things that might turn out to be viewed as complete trash. Often times, there are deeper reasons for that trash turning out as it did.

Figure out those reasons. Start understanding why your industry of choice works the way it does. Many industries have plenty of resources that you can dive into and research. Just doing that will immediately put you a step ahead the common schmuck who thinks they knows better than the professional despite having no experience because they’re just that smart. I can guarantee you 9 times out of 10, they’re not, and everyone in the industry can spot those people from a mile away.

Allow me to give a quick example. Do you remember Assassin’s Creed Unity? That game that was buggy to the point of being ridiculed online? A big part of why that is is because the game needed to be rebuilt from the ground up using a new engine, because the old one wasn’t able to support the co-op tech they tried adding with that installment. The engine, being new, didn’t work the same way the old one did for a lot of stuff, so a lot of things that people were used to doing had to be re-learned differently. When an entire massive crew of devs are simultaneously trying to recreate something in a new tool... Well, have you ever tried writing your name with your non-dominant hand? Yeah, it’s kinda like that, but with several thousand people trying to do it on the same piece of paper. Anyway, that’s a grossly simplified representation of what happened and there were certainly many other deeper factors at play, but it might help you understand why this would be a sore spot for a lot of the people who worked on that game. It’s not an excuse by any means, but saying that the game was bad because the team was lazy would just be insulting. I don’t recommend insulting people you want to work with.

Go Where The Pros Go And Do As The Pros Do

Ideally by this point, you know the basics of what you’d need to get into your industry, and you’re just about ready to join it yourself. Well, this is when networking becomes important. There are two big tips I can offer when it comes to networking. The first one has to do with how to find the right people to network with.

This really isn’t that hard: figure out where the industry professionals meet up, and go there. Many industries have meetups and networking socials. These are meant to be places for industry professionals to get together, make connections, share their knowledge and experience with each other, and maybe even have some fun. Often times, it’s not that hard to join in on these. Look into societies, organisations, and events meant to represent these industries and go to them (for example, video games in Montreal have La Guilde, the IGDA, MIGS, MEGA, CGX, GANG de Devs, and Alliance Numérique, just to name a few). There are resources out there for pretty much every industry, and you should in no way be shy about looking into them. Also, if there are after-parties at events, go there then try to figure out where the after-after-party is (that’s the one all the professionals go to to escape the kids looking for jobs; it’s the MUCH more interesting party).

Now that said, there is a certain code of etiquette that should be respected when it comes to going to these semi-exclusive venues. Keep in mind that when you’re at these events, you’re not there to hunt for a job. That’s what recruitment drives are for, and that’s not why these professionals are there (in fact they’re trying to avoid that). No, you’re here to make business connections, and to absorb as much knowledge as you can. See what these people talk about. You can admit to not being employed in the industry (yet/at the moment), but that shouldn’t be why you’re there. Instead, use this time to get an insider finger on the pulse of the industry. You can even relay some of your own experiences if they’re relevant to impress some people.

If you can act like you’re a professional, soon enough everyone will take it for granted that you are one, and you’d be surprised how friendly and open people can get with their fellow industry-members. This is more of an aside, but I once saw the lead designer of a major studio demonstrate the proper technique for slapping to another industry pro, using the CEO of a decent-sized development studio as his demonstration dummy (all of them were consenting and pretty drunk at the time). On another occasion I heard another big name rant about all sorts of problems that he had with the internal structure of a very big studio (and learned a lot about their corporate structure in the process).

The point is, even if you’re just schmoozing, this is a great way to make connections early that will help you later on. And in some cases, you can end up with some interesting stories (just don’t share names when it comes to the compromising stuff; that will blacklist you fast).

Getting Into The Circle

Okay, so you’re in a place with a lot of potential people to network with, but you’re shy and awkward. Unfortunately to some degree, you’re just going to have to get over that. You won’t accomplish anything huddled up in a corner pretending to stare at your phone (trust me, I’ve done it enough to know). Fortunately for you, there’s a pretty good trick I’ve used time and again to help with this.

To start, you need to just insert yourself into conversation circles. You will find this phenomenon at all major social events: a bunch of people form a little circle where they talk to each other. All you need to do is slide right on into that circle. Find a gap and occupy it, until people gradually make a bit of space for you and you become a part of the circle. It can be awkward at first, but often times someone will take the initiative and introduce themselves. If you can manage to do it, even better. Ideally, try and contribute something relevant to whatever they were discussing. This can be as simple as asking a question or agreeing with someone’s point (though it’s best if you add something in yourself too). Just make sure that whatever you’re adding to the conversation is pertinent. If you do this a few times, you’re bound to end up getting into a conversation with some reasonably outgoing person. If you can, try to remember their names and what they do and/or what you talked about (this isn’t necessary, but helps a great deal). Generally, if they shook your hand and asked your name, you’re good to go.

Now, the next time you go to an event, find one of those people you spoke with last time. Wait until they’re in a new social circle with some other people you haven’t met, then gently slide yourself in and greet the person you know. This is now the perfect opportunity for you to introduce yourself to the people they’re with (or for them to introduce you, if you’re lucky). Congratulations, you now have more people you can find in other circles next time! Rinse and repeat, and soon enough you’ll have a whole bunch of people in your network scattered about. Even if not all of them know your name, they’ll still probably recognise you and say hello when you greet them (or they’ll pretend to remember you because otherwise it’s extra awkward for everyone including them).

One thing to be careful of though, is to not get stuck in the same circle every time. The first time my classmates went to one such event (I was already a 4-year networking vet at this point), they all talked to each other in one big circle. You must not get stuck only talking to people you know. This is acceptable in short bursts (especially if other people you don’t know join your circle), but is not a sustainable strategy for effective networking. Leave your comfort circle and go talk to some strangers!

Ask for Advice, Not A Job

This is one I’ve heard several times in some form or another, but I overheard a recruiter today say it this way and it really struck a chord. You see, a lot of companies and industries use connections and referrals as one of the go-to ways to find talent. After all, if X person who’s already in the company vouches for someone, they’re probably worth hiring. This is part of why having good connections can be so valuable. In the games industry, it’s absolutely key.

However, there’s a catch to this. When you refer someone to a position, you’re putting your reputation on the line for them. This isn’t something you do with just anyone. I’ve referred several people, but they’re all people I’ve worked with and know to be capable individuals that I genuinely believe would be assets to the company. I’m definitely not going to recommend someone I barely know, let alone never worked with before. For most industry professionals, that’s the simple reality: we aren’t going to help you get the job because we don’t actually know you and whether or not you actually deserve it. This is why so many of them will deflect or ignore such requests.

Now that said, that doesn’t mean we aren’t willing to help you at all. It simply means you need to present your request differently. If you’re going to ask to meet with someone, don’t do it on the pretext of trying to get a job from them. Ask for advice or to “pick their brain” about a subject. Be mindful, listen well, and be respectful of their time. If you do that, many professionals are actually quite willing to offer advice and suggestions. They can help you improve your portfolio, give you good tracks on what to look into to improve your skills, and even just provide you with insight into what they do and how the industry works. If you ask these sorts of questions, they will often not only oblige you, but they’ll remember you later.

I’d like to think I’m a great example of this. I’m more than willing to talk your ear off about anything games industry related and offer whatever tips I can to help you get into the industry. If you’re willing to take the initiative to ask me that sort of thing, and you do so respectfully, I’ll absolutely try to take some time out of my schedule to give you whatever advice I can. Just don’t ask me for a job. If you do all that and I think you might just be the real deal, I might even let you know the next time I see an opportunity I think suits you! But I’m not going to do it just because you asked.

Clean Yourself Up

Honestly, I thought this point was obvious. In my mind it should be. I’ve heard recruiters say variations of it and I’ve kinda scoffed, since it seems so obvious. And yet...That has been proven time and again not to be the case.

If you’re going to get into an industry, you need to have a certain level of professionalism. Practice basic hygiene (I kid you not, the other day I shook hands with a man that scratched his armpits and crotch while we were talking. Needless to say I went and washed my hands thoroughly right after). Try not to dress like a homeless person that just fell out of the dumpster they were sleeping in. Don’t be rude or vulgar to people you haven’t gotten to know yet (even if that’s your normal sense of humour). Learn to form coherent sentences. Spellcheck your resume. Check your resume for errors and inconsistencies. SPELLCHECK YOUR RESUME. Don’t trash talk other companies (they talk to each other, I assure you). Don’t write your application and address it to the wrong company (that one is a common error among those that use the same letter template for every job, which is also a thing you shouldn’t do). Those are some of the big ones.

If you’ve got that covered, here are a few more. Showcase only the work you’re proud of (no one wants to see the bad stuff). Don’t focus on your negative experiences unless you’re following it up with how you learned to improve them. Keep things clear, short and concise (I know I’m not exactly doing the best job with that one, but hey, I’m not looking for a job right now). Get to the point, make it, and be done. Practice your organisational and communicative skills.

Really, there are an abundance of tips on how to present yourself when looking for a job out there. Take heed of them, because they will definitely help. A lot of potential applicants get tossed out because they didn’t take the time to do these fairly simple things. At the end of the day, it demonstrates a certain level of respect for the company you’re applying to or the people you’re communicating with. They’ll appreciate it, and be more willing to listen to you as a result.

Be The Solution

Alright, this is one of my two favourite pieces of advice, because I think it’s probably the most useful one when it comes to framing your mindset when communicating with a potential employer.

The premise for this is simple: when a company puts a job posting up, they are first and foremost looking to solve a problem. They might be lacking in skill or manpower, or just need some fresh blood… But the point is they didn’t put that job posting up out of pure whimsy. This is where you come in. Your goal, as a candidate, is to prove that you are the solution to their problem.

That might seem kind of obvious when you put it that way, but it’s something that should be built into how you interact with a company. As much as they might try to promote their “humanity” a company is first and foremost a business. They aren’t there for you. It sounds cruel, but it’s true. So when you present yourself with the mindset of being someone that deserves to be hired by them because you’re so great, that’s not really going to get you much traction. They don’t owe you anything, and they aren’t all that interested in making sacrifices for you unless they really see a value in doing so. Instead, frame yourself as “the person who will solve their problem”. Don’t even stop there. Be the person who will solve their problem better than anyone else, because you have an edge that they don’t have (see my next tip for more about that). Better yet, if you can also demonstrate your ability to solve their problems, that can go a long way towards making you stand out (of course, you need to be careful not to come off as being a cocky goober who thinks you can do their job better than them, either; there’s a balance there).

Naturally, in order to do this effectively, you need to figure out what their problem actually is. That’s where you need to read the job posting carefully and do plenty of research on the company. Figure out what exactly their problem is, then do everything you can to make yourself out to be the best solution to that problem. I firmly believe that doing that will always make you an appealing candidate.

Have an Edge

This is my other favourite piece of advice. But I’m going to contextualise it a bit before getting into the meat.

I started off in a generalist multimedia program. This meant that I knew how to design video games, code, do art, do 3D stuff, animate, do graphic design, and a whole bunch of other stuff. That’s great and all, but it didn’t actually land me a job. After a couple years with no success, I went back to school and got a specialised degree in game design. On top of that, I relabelled myself as a “technical designer”, or as I liked to say “a designer that can actually build the games he comes up with” (explaining what a technical designer actually is is an entire article unto itself). I did this because I noticed that among most of my peers, I had a much stronger code background than any of them (in part because of my prior studies, but also because I did a lot of game jams where I had to do the code because I was the only one who knew how).

Within a few months, Gameloft put up a posting for a Technical Design Intern. I looked it over and noticed that the two key things they were looking for was someone who knew the Unity engine, and knew how to program in C#. As it happened, I had both of those skills in abundance. In fact everything they listed, I had. I even had the title! So, I applied, and the rest is history.

I know for a fact that the key reason I was hired was the fact that by having a design background and technical skills, I was effectively solving two of their problems at once. And it’s not even like I didn’t have these skills before. I just needed to showcase them properly. In this case it was simply a matter of putting certain skills in the right order and making sure my title reflected the key difference I could bring to their company over other generalist designers. This was my edge (these days my edge is probably more the fact that I’m actually pretty good at numbers, and therefore can do game economy design too, but that’s a story for another day).

So, the moral of this story is that while having a broad knowledge base is excellent and extremely useful, especially if you’re not sure what it is you want to do exactly at first, once you have that you should absolutely find something that sets you apart from everyone else that has gone through the same training you have. Is there a skill you’re particularly good at, or a unique combination of skills that you have? Do you know a tool no one else does? These are all things that can be your edge.

This is why you can’t rely on school alone. School will give you access to many potential edges, but it’s up to you to pursue them, either through projects, extracurriculars, or in your spare time. It may seem like hard work, but I guarantee that the people who do it are at an extreme advantage. I mean, that is why I call it an edge.

Be Persistent

Alright, those were my two biggest ones, so I’ll wind down with some simpler stuff.

Being persistent is difficult. By the time you’re looking for a job, you’re probably already paying bills and have expenses you either can’t afford or have to work some crappy retail job to keep afloat. I spent three years in this city before finally landing something. Believe me, I get it.

But it’s exactly because of that that I can say you mustn’t lose hope. Times can be tough, but if you’ve really got the conviction, you’ll get there eventually. Just keep iterating. Learn from others’ mistakes. Learn from your own mistakes. Take every opportunity you can to hone your skills and knowledge and network. It’s not a waste of time. I may not have gotten a job through my connections, but it’s through my connections that I steadily improved my portfolio and my ability to answer difficult questions. All of my past efforts, even the failures (especially the failures) have taught me how to get better, and that eventually paid off.

For that matter, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. There are resources out there for just about everything, and people with the knowledge and desire to help you find them. We’re all in this together, and one of us succeeds, we all do. So, don’t give up!

Stay Vigilant

Okay, maybe that part got a bit sappy. Let’s end on a slightly more practical note, while also tying things back neatly to the first of these points I made.

You should always try to stay vigilant, especially for opportunities. When it comes to job hunting, these can come and go in a flash. Jobs can get swept up in a matter of days or hours sometimes. This is definitely true in the games industry, where the problems that need solving often need that solution yesterday. It’s very fast paced: blink and you’ll miss it.

That is why you need to arm yourself with a good repertoire of tools to help you. LinkedIn Jobs is one that served me well. Almost all the big companies here use it, and it’s how I found my job. I set it up to give me regular notifications about postings based on the filters “video game design” and “video games montreal”. Simple enough, but it gives me no shortage of results on a regular basis. I apply for industry newsletters and keep an eye out for industry events. I keep a large number of LinkedIn connections to industry insiders who post news about the industry. I also check gaming news regularly to keep myself abreast of what’s going on in the broader industry. I might even occasionally check how some companies are doing on the stock market. These are all things you can do in your underwear at home.

And it’s not just about being aware either. Your resume and portfolio should always be up to date, so that you can send them at a moment’s notice. Keep a mental map of the broad points about every company you’re interested in, so that you can reference that knowledge if you need to write a cover letter. Keep in semi-regular touch with the people in your network. Make sure that if someone decides to look you up, you are prepared. Extra pro-tip: it’s actually much easier to regularly update stuff as it is changes rather than do large passes later. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way…


Alright, I think that about covers all my biggest pieces of advice when it comes to finding a job. I hope some of it might have been useful for you (or perhaps someone you know). And of course don’t forget: reading all of this is useless if you don’t act on it, so go out there and get yourselves hired already!

Bonus: Keep Busy and Your Skills Sharp

Someone pointed out that I should add this point, and they’re absolutely right (merci Jérôme). While you’re hunting for a job, don’t forget to actually practice your craft as well. Work on personal projects and go to game jams (these are fantastic for building your portfolio, developing your skills, and also for networking with other talented people who might even be able to help you later). If you’re not in games, there are often equivalent activities. Either way, participate actively in doing the thing you want to get hired for. This helps you get better and also demonstrates your dedication to the craft, which is something that reflects well on you as a professional.

Furthermore, try to find a job that is at least tangentially related to your field if you can. For example, I did a fair amount of part time work as a playtester for some noteworthy mobile titles prior to being hired (I actually still do some on the side, albeit not as often) and worked for some independent projects as well. This not only helped to pay my expenses while I searched for a full-time job, but also proved to be useful points on my resume as relevant experience. Just be wary not to depend on these too much: independent projects can often fall apart suddenly (especially if there’s no business plan or money backing it) and these sorts of jobs won’t necessarily be enough to keep a roof over your head. They are not an excuse to stop your search, but rather a mechanism to help you with your search.

Most industries have low barrier to entry jobs that they just need filled, no higher requirements necessary. This is a good chance for you to develop a rapport with the company and its employees as well in some cases (though don’t forget that the job you were hired for comes first). Through that, you can make connections, learn things from the inside, and maybe even make a good impression on someone who could help get you a job. If you’re lucky enough that the need is there and your talents have been noticed, it can definitely happen.

Bonus 2: Don’t Be Too Picky About Your First Job

This is a mistake that I’ve heard quite a few times. I was admittedly a little guilty of it too at first, though I don’t think quite as much. It’s pretty common that people say they want to go work at X big name company. In games, it’s usually a AAA studio, because they want to work on the big titles that everyone knows. While it’s not impossible to get hired by one of these studios, I’ll warn you right now that it’s not very common, certainly not when it comes to the really high value brands. The people guiding today’s big titles aren’t juniors fresh out of school; they’re usually seasoned experts with a lot of experience under their belt. Games in particular is an industry where experience and seniority will usually trump raw talent, because experience is reliable and stable, which is what you need in a big company structure to keep things running smoothly. So don’t be heartbroken if they don’t ask you to have a key role in the next big project. That will come eventually, after you’ve paid your dues.

And that doesn’t just go for specific titles or companies either. In Montreal at least, it’s very common for people to say they don’t want to go into mobile gaming. I was one of them at first. But truth be told, there can often be a lot of fluidity when it comes to industries with sub-categories, especially if the fundamental skills are shared across them. Game developers in mobile, indie, and AAA all bounce frequently from one category to the other, because the tools and skills involved are largely the same. So don’t think you’ll necessarily get pigeonholed into a category just because you took a job. That only becomes a problem if you present yourself that way. Take the opportunities you can find, and build from there. A perfect opportunity isn’t going to just show up, so don’t pass up on other chances waiting for one.

An Update Long Overdue

It has been quite some time since I last posted here, hasn't it? A little over half a year, in fact. Truth be told, I've wanted to post here long before now, but despite having an abundance of things to write about, none of them really gave me enough motivation to do so. Not to mention in the last two months, my life has been so hectic that this is the first weekend I've actually been able to just sit down and rest. But I digress.

A lot has happened since the last time I made a blog post on this site: I've participated in four game jams (for one of which we won the best game award), I graduated from university (again), I made a great deal of progress on several of my personal projects, and perhaps most importantly, I got my first job in the industry. Though there are a great many things I could say about all of these things, the last one is the one I really want to talk about. After all, this blog is by and large about my professional development, and what bigger thing is there than my first position in my desired career?

Granted, it's only a 6 month internship, but being placed as a technical game designer at a major studio (Gameloft, if you're wondering) is certainly a huge step for me. It's quite potentially that foot in the door that I needed. Either I make myself invaluable enough to them that they choose to keep me on after my contract is done, or I have a very nice addition to my CV. And that's not even accounting for the connections and experience I gain along the way.

Experience. That word has perhaps been at the core of all of my challenges so far. As someone just getting into the industry, there's a fairly major issue with the fact that almost every single posting you can find requires some form of experience. You need work experience to have your application recognised, if even looked at at all (I know many recruiters deny this, but I've yet to see evidence to convince me otherwise). And even if you choose to go the networking route, that requires a certain level of social experience (in other words, useful contacts). On top of that you need the luck to be in the right place at the right time, and have exactly what they're looking for. Of course, all of this makes a certain degree of sense; a company has needs, and they can't just hire a complete unknown in the hopes that they'll turn out to be good. That's a huge risk. On that front, I had the good fortune of being at exactly at the right place at the right time and having both social and skills experience I could leverage to get in. After all as I've said before, I know I have the abilities needed to be a good designer. I just need people to know it.

And that's where my new challenge lies. I've gotten into a company, at least for a few months. I've been assigned to a project. A new one at that, with a much smaller team meaning I get to have much more input than I might otherwise have had. It's intimidating, but at the same time, it's exactly the kind of opportunity I should be hoping for. But there is a snag there. I can only prove myself if I get the chance to demonstrate my skill, and in order to do that, I have to get people to listen to me.

You see, even though I've gotten in, I have no authority, seniority, or rapport with the people I work with. In other words, I have no experience. Not in this context. As a technical designer, my job more or less is to figure out the structure of a given task, and then tell the programmers what tools or features I need to execute that structure. The problem lies in the fact that even though I can easily define a system, I have to get the programmers to go along with it. This is the part that is difficult. As of the present moment, I don't think the programmers on the team fully understand just what my role is. Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure I do myself. What I do know is that on at least two occasions, I've noticed early on that an existing system I've been asked to work on was flawed and pointed out the thing that we needed, was subsequently told by a programmer that this was not the way things were built, and a week later found out that the programmer was told by someone higher up to essentially do the same thing I suggested a week earlier.

Now don't misunderstand. This isn't me complaining about my coworkers or even stroking my own ego for ultimately being right. At the time there were very valid reasons for building things the way they were built and not accepting my proposals. After all in these instances what I was proposing were akin to massive overhauls of how the existing systems worked. And I am a junior with no real authority after all. What would I know of how their systems worked? These guys not only have technical knowledge that I don't, but experience with the engine that allows them to know that certain solutions I might have taken as obvious choices to be impractical and unstable. These are fair criticisms that can be levied against me and my proposals, and I have no real defense against them. In fact, I can think of a lot of young boiterous designers who might come in and say everything is wrong and needs to be redone, when in fact they have no idea what they're talking about. There's yet to be any evidence that I'm not one of them (I mean, I know I'm not, but I do have something of a bias on the subject so its not like they can take my word for it). In the end however, the fact of the matter is that time was wasted, either by me or the programmers, on trying to force a system that didn't meet our needs to work. It's an inefficiency that has lost a modest amount of time and energy, and it's a problem I know can be fixed. After all, I've done it quite a few times before.

Something important to point out here is that I'm not entirely ignorant of how programming works. In all of the aforementioned game jams I participated in, I was the lead programmer. Part of what helped us get so far in those jams was the simple fact that being both a designer and a programmer, I could future proof and structure my code in a way that made it easy to build on as time went on. I could define the scope from both the perspectives of what we needed to make a functional game and what I could program in the time we had. But in the context of a larger company, there are way more things you have to consider. There isn't only one programmer, or one system. Sometimes the code defines the structure, and all the designers supply is the stats for it to parse. Sometimes even when both of things are working together, there's an element from another department that throws a wrench in the mix. I'd love to give more concrete examples, but I fear doing so pushes the edges of what I can say with my contract, and the last thing I want to do is jeopardise that.

Naturally, it would be easier if I had the authority to simply say "do it like so" and have everyone follow my authority. But of course, that's not how things work, at least not here. All of the problems I mentioned are natural in a team environment. One can expect toes to be stepped on, and for communication to lapse here and there. But these downsides are worth it for the wealth of benefits that having a dynamic team grants. It allows individual parts of the whole to be self sufficient and solve their own problems, in a way that's much more creatively liberating and efficient than it would be with a single dictatorial entity. The difficulty I see is when the communication between these parts is limited, and one side can see a problem than another can't or won't, either because they have a blind spot from their perspective or there are other implications that the other side might not even be aware of. How do I broach that gap to point out issues so that they can be resolved without being dismissed? Is it simply a matter of seniority? Is it a question of how I approach the subject? Or perhaps it's about whom I approach it to? Maybe it's just power politics? These are matters I still need to work on.

In the remaining month (almost exactly. The 26th of December is when I'm slated to have my first day of vacation, not including Christmas day and the weekend prior), things are going to be very hectic for me. A major deadline is looming and though the issues I've pointed out have by and large been resolved, it doesn't stop the fact that I'll have my work cut out for me rearranging things in light of these new structures. Somewhere in between that, I'm going to have to try my best to seek out an answer for that challenge of mine. If I do figure out what the magic recipe is, I'll be sure to let you know. Until then, I'm open to suggestions.

P.S. It isn't lost on me that the subjects of my recent game jams and how I got the position might also be a compelling subjects to discuss. I certainly have a fair bit to say on them. But that's probably best saved for future posts.

20 Tips for Becoming a Better DM: Lessons Learned at the Table

Tabletop Roleplaying is something many people know about, but only a few have truly dived into. Today there are thousands of games like Dungeons and Dragons where players take on the roles of heroes and go forth on adventures with the help of dice and stat sheets, all the while being guided by the all-powerful DM, or Dungeon Master. And yet, only recently has this type of game started growing into the mainstream consciousness.

As of my writing this, I have been playing Pathfinder for a little under 3 years. It’s not my first experience with tabletop roleplaying (I played Dark Heresy in University), but it is my deepest one. Admittedly on a relative scale 3 years of gaming is not very long, but my formation has been dense and accelerated. I’ve played in many games and even finished a few of them. But most significantly, I’ve been running a campaign myself (Hell’s Rebels, a Paizo adventure path) since September of 2015.

Even before that campaign, I had wanted to try my hand at DMing. I am, after all, a game designer, and what’s a DM if not the embodiment of a live action game designer? Hell’s Rebels was the first pre-made campaign that really caught my eye, as it featured themes and mechanics that seemed very much in line with my own style. And so, with wide eyes full of excitement I invited a bunch of my friends to join and set forth on my first adventure in DMing.

With modesty, I consider myself to be a fairly decent game designer, though I will wholeheartedly admit I still have a great deal to learn. I am, to be sure, still a junior. But my game has proven to be an intense crash course. My trial by fire was rough to start with, and I made many blunders that looking back on I should have seen coming. I’ve now just concluded the third book (of 6 in the entire adventure) and I’m still learning things with each session. The experience has had its ups and downs, with plenty of fun and fights. But this time as a DM has helped me immensely in learning to become a better designer.

It is for this reason that I’m writing this, a compilation of the key lessons I’ve learned on my adventure. I find that writing gives me a chance to reflect and properly formulate my lessons. At the same time, it is my hope that anyone reading this might learn from my experience. So, without further ado, let’s get right into it.


Tip 1: Know your inner DM

Sun Tzu has some solid wisdom, so I'll paraphrase from him: in war (as in all things), there are three things you need to know to win every time: yourself, your enemy, and the battlefield. My first three tips correspond to these three things.

You as a DM are a crucial part of the game. You need to know what kind of DM you are and by extension what the players will be dealing with. Are you merciful or cruel? Are you by the book or off the cuff? Do you focus on theatrics or mechanics? What are you willing to put up with and what a no go? Take some time to soul search and answer these questions to define your DMing style. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses. It will help you figure out what your campaigns will look like. Telling your players how you're going to run things allows them to figure out if you're running the kind of game they want to play, and what mindset they should be approaching the game with. If the players know their DM, it means they can cooperate with them to make the game go smoothly.

I’ve done an inventory of my own DMing style. My strength is organisation. I'm really good at setting up documents and tools for my players. I like to focus on intrigue and narratives over combat. I like making NPCs that I voice act and give distinctive personalities. I like using music and other tools to set dramatic tones. I don't tend to kill players, but I'll definitely have consequences for poor choices. I prefer interesting but suboptimal characters to optimised stat blocks. I'm generous with items and flexible with game rules of it can make for a more interesting story. I use a lot of DM fudge (DM fudge just means rules improvisation or result altering; I really like the term), but will generally try to stay within a loose script. My theming usually bounces between comical or psychological horror/tragedy. I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

This advice isn’t just applicable in tabletop either. The Art of War has been used in business classes for decades, if not centuries. This quote in particular strikes me as the kind that is truly universal. There are very few times when it is not valuable to know yourself. In knowing your skills, limits, room for growth, and failing points, you can not only better navigate the various challenges, but you can also uncover ways to better yourself as you go. It doesn’t matter if you’re a DM, a game designer, or anything else.

Tip 2: Know your players

Not that your players are enemies (nor should you treat them like ones; I'll get back to that), but they are the ones you're challenging. Having a group of players that doesn't mesh well with you, your campaign, or each other will almost always break a game, or at least make it pretty lame. When you set up a game, make sure the players well be well suited to it. Or if you're making a campaign for an existing group, make the campaign fit them. Don't take on players that won't mesh with your DMing style. Make sure you know the optimal number of players for your game (in most cases it's 4-5, but there are exceptions), and stay within those bounds. Make sure you don't select players that won't get along. Avoid all these mistakes, and it will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

I made several of these mistakes with my first campaign. I invited people from my various social groups, and it's obvious not all of them get along. I also have 6 players, which means everything takes much longer. I've managed to mitigate these problems with time, but it's obvious that these choices have made for a much tougher campaign for me to run and rougher for the players. By comparison, I play in a small group with two others and we all work well together. Our synergy is incredible, and the game is much smoother as a result.

Considering user-experience is not unique to tabletop RPGs. Video Games and most product-based industries hail the almighty user, and with good reason. As the target audience of what you’re making, it is imperative that what you make is tailored to their needs and/or wants. This is imperative for designers. That said, it is true of any interaction. The more you know about who you’re communicating with, the better you can respond to them to come to a beneficial arrangement. This is fundamental logic in theory, but it is all too often forgotten in practice.

Tip 3: Know your game, and be passionate about it

The DM and the players are important, but equally important is the campaign itself. It is the third leg of the stool; without one, the other two fall apart. You as a DM are the supreme master of the game world, and you should have the knowledge to back that up. It's important that you have a deep understanding of both the mechanics and lore you'll be using. These are your tools, and without them it's the blind leading the blind, and that doesn't end well. Even if you’re really good at improvisation, if you don’t have a solid foundation you risk going all over the place. The moment a player steps off the beaten path, and trust me they will, you're going to have to tell them what they find, or at least provide a good reason for why that doesn't work. It will also help you determine how to best advise your players when it comes to making choices that complement the setting.

Related to this, if you're interested in running a campaign that is in the process of being written/released I also suggest waiting until it is fully released before doing so. This saves you the risk of accidental contradictions. I made the mistake of starting the campaign before all the books came out, and so I lacked knowledge about some world aspects that would have helped greatly. One specific example comes with my friend having picked a character race that played a role later in the campaign (and had a settlement nearby), but because the race and their settlement weren't outlined, I couldn't propose ways in which the player might integrate them into his own story. As a result, his character lacks in the way of tangible motivations that could have really helped with immersion. But it's a lesson I retain for the future.

Now, knowing the setting and mechanics is all fine and good, but that's not enough. You need to be passionate about it. After all if you don't care, why should your players? There are hundreds if not thousands of game systems, worlds, and campaigns out there, and if you're ambitious you can make your own. There's no excuse for you to run something you aren't fascinated by. And if the one you picked has bits you don't like, remember that you're the DM. You can change them. Replace or alter NPCs, places, rules… You are allowed to do all these things and more to make something you're as eager to have your players explore as they should be to explore it.

I specifically picked my campaign because I was very interested in its basic premise and setting. When I started my lore knowledge was okay but as we continued I did a lot of research. Now when it comes to the city of Kintargo and its surrounding areas I could tell you just about anything. I also threw in many new characters and flavour for existing ones to give it more life, and it meant players cared much more about them than they might have otherwise. It was important that the players feel invested in the world, so I made a point to invest in it myself. I think that is my one biggest success with my campaign.

Tip 4: Leave no rules ambiguous

It's a fairly common for rules to be debated during a game. Either someone doesn't like the way a certain thing works, or someone's actively abusing a linguistic loophole, or the rules are ambiguous or contradictory. As the DM it's your job to be the final word on these things. Whether you want to listen to a player's argument and bend the rules or decree that that is not how that thing works no matter how much the player might want to empty the ocean by putting it in their bag of holding, the choice is up to you. But you do need to make sure you set that rule and set it definitely so that players know what goes and what doesn't. Players squabbling over mechanics take precious time away from playing the actual game. Of course some of these only come up circumstantially and can't be predicted, but for those ones just use your absolute authority as DM to sort them out as they appear.

I've seen this quite a few times, both in my game and others, and no example is more prevalent as the alignment system. Would torturing a cultist to get crucial information about an imminent plot cause a good-aligned inquisitor to fall from grace? Is violent murder evil, neutral, or good if the ones getting murdered were tyrants and bigots? What do lawful, neutral, and chaotic even mean? This debate can get quite heated, and since my game in particular was oriented towards CG freedom fighters combating a tyrannical authority, I knew I had to plug that hole before it came up. After all, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist, and I didn’t want my group falling into the trap of thinking that any actions would be justified as “good” just because the villains were evil.

In my case, I laid out Good vs Evil as pertaining to the wellbeing of the local citizens, and Lawful vs Chaotic as being a focus on the written law (Lawful), the spirit of the law (Neutral), and the results (Chaotic) when defining Good and Evil. I also decreed that my judgements on any alignment shifts were allowed one appeal, but only one, and that my decisions were final. All things considered it has worked reasonably well. Admittedly my party does have plenty of moments of dubious morality (the quote “does all this blood count as difficult terrain” comes to mind), but I think through the NPCs and the party itself getting more comfortable with the setting, alignment in particular has gone from being a problem to a narrative factor. It was nonetheless a rough patch in my game that I’ll be more careful with in the future.

Tip 5: Set boundaries for your game

Where my last tip was about boundaries in the rules, here I’m referring to boundaries in the sense of scope of the setting. Too often it can be easy to think “I'll just give my players a rich world and let them find their adventure”. It's a nice thought, and if you're really prepared for it a sandbox can work fairly well. But most campaigns have a storyline or plot of some kind, and the moment there's a trail you need to make sure your players stay on it (with reasonable room for deviation, of course). A lot of this is done at the start of the campaign. Players need to know what type of game they're in, both in and out of the meta. Their characters should relate to the story, and the player should be in the right frame of mind. Otherwise you end up with absurdities where characters have no reason to follow your story's rules and suddenly you're left with all your key NPCs murdered by the “heroes” or players cracking jokes and refusing to take your horror scenario seriously. Certainly you don't want to railroad your players entirely, but they should be aware of what are and aren't good ways of approaching your game.

My players generally struggled with their roles in my campaign at first. I didn't have a full picture of the setting (I naively started once the first book of the adventure came out, not knowing what would come further down the line), and so understanding of the plot was somewhat rough. It meant that my players didn't go for the “fight for the good of the city” aspect the game narrative eventually tried to push, instead taking the “fight to kill the bad guy” approach. It meant the party of would be freedom fighters for justice and liberty were more akin to morally dubious assassins. The campaign assumed players would try using nonlethal tactics, but I hadn't given them much of a reason to even consider them.

I managed to pull this back a bit as time went on through NPC interactions and not so subtle hints that they might want to stop murdering everyone and start being a bit more “heroic” in temperament. Some of that did also involve me privately taking players aside to clear it up, which fortunately worked reasonably well. Next time though, I would definitely be very upfront about what your true objective and motivations are. For instance, the next game I'm planning is a horror game. As such, I'll definitely have to be adamant about not having the comical tangents common to the prior campaign.

Tip 6: Have a session zero

So much of what I've noted so far, and a lot of what will come for that matter, can be handled by simply having a session zero. A session zero is essentially a scheduled session in which the players build their characters together. It gives the players a chance to interact and come up with synergies and dynamics together. It's not called a “party” for nothing, after all. Even if they come from different backgrounds, the characters and players should be able to work with each other. It also gives you a chance to observe, clarify, and offer hints and suggestions at how to prepare for your game. Too many DMs will skip this step, and it's a pity. You can avoid so many major early pitfalls with it.

I had a session 0 for my game, but most of it was actually spent explaining basic rules of character creation to my players who didn't know the system well. Some players simply weren't there for it and I helped them with their characters separately. It meant that the rag tag bunch of freedom fighters were very rag tag. Character concepts clashed, and not in the good “this adds flavour to the party dynamic” sort of way. Characters had wildly different motivations that at times conflicted and lead to characters leaving the party to go on their own. A lot of the issues I had to work out over the course of the first dozen sessions or so could have probably been avoided had it been for a session 0.

Tip 7: Keep a rulebook handy

In the event that you don't know your game’s rules and mechanics by heart (and even if you do), it pays immensely to have an easy to pick up reference for yourself and your players. If you're in person, keep at least one copy (but preferably multiple) of the rulebook on hand. If online, keep a tab or window with them at the ready. This little thing can save you a lot of time. Players don't have to ask you for everything, you don't have to remember all those edge cases and special rules, and rule debates can be solved quickly.

That said, sometimes the rules can be a little much, and in those events I wholeheartedly support making your rules up on the fly. Personally, I like to balance both quite precariously. Since my game is conducted online, I always have a link open to the online Pathfinder guide so that I can quickly look up rules and details when I need it. However I keep an unwritten rule in mind: if looking up the rule is taking long enough that the pace starts feeling like it will be broken, then I’ll give up on looking it up and make up something that makes reasonable sense. Usually my biggest hint regarding the pace is that player’s will start talking about subjects outside of what is currently going on in the game. One other thing that can help is to have certain pertinent rule pages bookmarked or open already when they become relevant. I like to keep links to them attached to relevant tokens or notes so that I can quickly access them as needed.

Tip 8: Keep notes for yourself

If the rulebook covers you for mechanics, your notes should cover the roleplay. Even if the campaign comes from a premade book, it's always good write things out yourself. Your notes should be naturally easier for you to read, and you can include details the source might not have. I keep dialogue scripts, scene descriptions, instructions on what songs and actions to do certain moments, and other details in here, and I have to say since I started using them I've found it immensely helpful. It’s very similar to a design document for a game or a screenplay for a film: these will allow you to prepare scenes in advance so that you can play them out faster and easier while in the game.

Needless to say these ones are just for you, so no player peeking. But of course you can always provide a codex of sorts for their benefit that you fill with info as they go. I started making these after a game where I played as the knowledge bot and had trouble remembering all the NPC names. Fortunately once my DM added a journal it made my life (and the DM's) much easier.

Tip 9: Use secret modifiers

Often times, there are situations where the dice just don't what you want them to do, and it messes up the game. Say you keep getting critical hits on one party member, and end up killing them early on without giving them a chance to fight back. Say the party keeps failing the check to open a door that's necessary to continue to the next area, with no real alternative path. Here's the thing, you're the DM. You hold absolute power, and therefore bend the dice to your whims. Don't show your players your dice, and it you must, wait until after you've decided they have a result you deem acceptable. Consider adding modifiers based on the situation, even if the rules don't strictly call for it. If someone contests you, remind them that you have the right invoke DM fudge (or fiat, or whatever term you want to use for making stuff up; you're the DM after all).

I am a big supporter of DM fudge, in case it wasn't obvious. I use it often. Not so often that I completely take away the chance of the game, but particularly for situations where one result is significantly more interesting than the other. If the players are trying to get past a door and simply can't get a decent role, I decrease the difficulty so that they do. If an enemy can't for the life of them pose any threat to the players because of poor roles, I change them. If a player really should be able to pass a certain check but the mechanical likelihood of it working is minute, I give them a bonus that accounts for their background.

In many tabletop systems fudge is the simplest way to balance a situation. No system is perfect, and DM fudge is what allows the DM to carry out their job of converting the theoretical rules of the game into practical enjoyment for the players. If that means twisting the rules to suit your needs, so be it. In fact this sort of emergent design is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of tabletop RPGs compared to other types of games, because these things can be done both easily and discretely. In truth I don't always tell them that this is what I'm doing, but in many cases they don't need to know.

Tip 10: Give your scenes flavour

This one is perhaps a bit more subjective, since it applies more to narrative focused games, but nonetheless the application of narrative flavour can do wonders for a game's tone and feel. A well placed voice accent, dramatic reveal, or impromptu description of a scene will help to immerse your players in a way that raw dice rolls never will. You don't have to be an actor either; there are loads of ways to do it. Get some background music, use different tokens, make physical letters or objects as handouts, and encourage your players to get certain mechanical boons for roleplaying. Some systems have the last part baked in already.

Personally, I use several of these techniques. Bosses get special boss music, and I try to decorate my scenes when I can. Anytime a critical roll or particularly special event occurs, I try to narrate it (usually to comical effect). I write session summaries that include pertinent gifs and quips. I give every NPC a unique voice and accent. I write scripts for much of my dialogue. The last one is a bit tricky since players rarely follow your dialogue expectations perfectly, but I solve that but keeping it vague and including branching responses. I can tell you from experience that these things make my campaigns so much better. My players have come to know these characters and will even joke about them outside of the game. Some group favorites are Neddus, THE MOST HEROIC, BRAVE, AND LOUD PALADIN IN ALL THE LAND, AND ALSO NOT THE SMARTEST, Setrona, the sassiest and crudest little Irish tavern owner you ever did see, and the stern Octavio, who in Setrona's words “has that polearm o’ his shoved so far up his arse I figure his sharp tongue's just the blade stickin’ out his mouth”. I was pretty proud of myself for that line.

Tip 11: Have a plan, and be prepared for it to derail

One of the big advantages tabletop RPGs have that other games often don't is the flexibility to alter the game on the fly based on how the players interact with the world. A DM is a person, and this means they can be more interactive than any other game system. That said, foolish is the DM that thinks they can improvise the whole thing and actually produce a decent story and progression. I'm not saying it can't be done, but let's be honest: it's never going to be as good as a well-planned scenario.

However, the only thing as certain as the value of a plan of that your players are going to break it. That's just a reality of design: users will always find ways to subvert your expectations. So, don't make a plan with the assumption that your players will follow every little step you give them. They'll jump to conclusions, they'll try things you didn't account for, and they’ll ignore hints. Sometimes it's not even the players, but the dice or some other factor you didn't prepare for. Say your players just really can't hit one particular enemy or don't have a key item they were supposed to get. At one point or another, it will happen, and in those moments, you need to be able to handle it. There are a couple ways to do that, and realistically you should use both of them.

The first is to make sure your plan has contingencies. When I'm writing my session plans, I always include little notes for “what if” situations. I try to include simple details like how the buildings are constructed, basic personality traits for minor NPCs, and the like. I also have standardised values for dice roll difficulties. For example, players must pass 15 on their check to do a basic thing, 20 for a challenging thing, 30 for a very difficult thing (these should be adjusted to match what your players can get on average). Conventions like that are useful for when I quickly need to come up with a check, which leads me to my second solution.

Improvisation skills are your friend. When the plan and backup fail, you need to know how to respond. Knowing your lore is a big part of that (see Tip 3), but some of it is purely on you. I tend to practice a lot on my own scenarios. I'll think about how NPCs would respond to an event and kind of blather it to myself. I’ll consider their comments of shock and confusion, how they'd give advice, and other considerations. I use the same technique on the mechanics side. I think of the feasibility of more outlandish ways to act, and how I'd run them. Some of is intuitive, but thinking on your feet is a skill that can be learned. Take up improv if you can. Or barring that play in games and practice your logic from the other side (how would you deal with your party). And if you don't know whether to let something slide or not, you can always use your dice. Sometimes when a player asks me if something would work and I'm not entirely sure, I'll to a dice or flip a coin to see if I'll allow it. This works pretty decently more often than not.

Tip 12: Check up on your players (and their sheets)

As a DM, checking up on your players is crucial for two reasons. The first is for feedback, the second is to make sure your players are actually up to speed.

There's a general lack of appreciation for feedback in the design world. That's a mistake you as a DM must not make. Talk to your players regularly. Observe them constantly. Find out what they like and don't like about your game. What would they like to see? What are their goals with their character? Do they understand what you're trying to do with the campaign? Get as much feedback as you can, and use it to make your game better. And a quick note: don't just go by the stuff your players tell you either. Actions can tell a great deal more. You need to be observant. Notice when players repeatedly make the same mistakes or regularly avoid or pursue certain aspects of your game. These behaviours can be telltale signs of how to adjust your game to make it more enjoyable.

Then there's the matter of sheet checking. While players should be keeping their sheets up to date, I can tell you from experience they often won't, or they will but not give them to you. While in some cases it's fine to leave it be, in doing so you leave yourself open to some problems. Sad as it is, some players will exploit your lack of oversight to do things which can ultimately be a detriment to the game and their fellow players. Other times they'll make mistakes or forget things. I had one player give themselves a powerful ability they shouldn't have for another four levels because they didn't notice the prerequisite, while another hadn't given himself feats or skill points for the last three levels because he was still learning the system and didn't know what to add on his sheet. It's these kinds of things that can easily be fixed by having your players give you regular sheet updates.

I make sure to demand sheets before any major encounters. Not only does it let me check for these sorts of issues, but it also gives me data on their strengths and weaknesses that I can use to enhance encounters. One rule I plan on using in the future to ensure compliance for games where these details are important is this: “As far as I'm concerned, the last sheet you gave me is the one you have. If you have an item or ability but it's not on that sheet, you don't have it.”

Tip 13: A DM’s words are powerful; use them wisely

There is a reason you are called the Dungeon MASTER. You hold the keys to the game. You know everything there is to know about the game (or have the power to make it up). You are effectively the god of this realm. Don't let that get to your head, but appreciate it. Like they say, with great power comes great responsibility.

Your words can make or break a situation, so you need to act like it. Be prepared to offer advice of a player needs it, and to stay quiet if they need a lesson. The players should care about what you have to say, but at the same time they cannot rely on it alone. Definitely don't tell them what to do (except for very special situations), but instead give them choices (“you could do X or Y”, “do you want to do this thing”, etc.), and occasionally mention likely consequences (“you could do X, but NPC might not be happy”). In drastic situations where a “total party kill” action is about to be undertaken, you also have access to perhaps the most powerful phrase a DM can utter: “Are you sure you want to do that?” Use that one carefully, because it should bring a party to an immediate halt.

It can be pretty intimidating too, I understand, to hold all that influence. There's a trick I use for that. Often times, I'll give NPCs a great deal of wisdom. They'll have plenty of advice on how to deal with various situations. But they will only offer this advice if the players ask for it, or are evidently stuck. As such, I can restrict my advice to “you have people you can ask”. It takes some of the pressure off of me and means I can even toss in the occasional misdirection (after all, an NPC might not know what the DM knows). NPCs are almost universally better guides than the DM, but the DM’s voice is a tool like any other, to be used when you want your players to take what you say as an absolute.

Tip 14: Player agency is an essential thing; handle with caution

By player agency, I mean a player’s ability to control the actions and choices of their character. In any game, agency is critical, but especially so in an RPG. Those characters represent the players. They are yours to manipulate, attack, support, influence… But not control. The moment you take away the player’s control, they aren't playing the game. At best they're listening to your story. There are few things less fun in a tabletop RPG than not being able to do anything in a given situation, be it because you took over or they are in a situation where none of their actions work.

That said, taking away agency from the player isn't completely “verboten”. In fact, it can be an excellent way to instill fear or very threatening situations. Players naturally won't want to lose agency, and when it happens it can be devastating. I think the tensest situation I've ever been in involved one of our party members getting hit with a magic jar spell and getting possessed by a powerful creature. It was scary as hell, but quite fun.

And there's more ways to take advantage of agency as well beyond simply taking it away. Making it work in ways they don't expect (think of how you might adapt something like the Psycho Mantis fight from Metal Gear Solid into tabletop format), mismatching what the player knows and what is happening (a cursed item that does the opposite of what the player thinks it should, for example), giving players different information, messing with basic mechanics… There are some creative things you can do by playing with player agency. To toss an example in, I have one encounter that involves an enemy disguising itself as another player to cause confusion. In Roll20, I do this by making a second character token for that person. The player in question doesn't know which one of the tokens is actually his, and I don't tell the other players either. In fact I don't even tell them the impostor's there. That's for them to notice, hopefully before it's too late.

Tip 15: Give meaning to character deaths

Some systems, campaigns, and even DMs boast about being player killers. I am of the opinion that that is generally dumb, at least in the context of a roleplaying game. Systems that work around the concept of frequent death can work (the game Paranoia uses this to good effect), but what's important to recognise in most RPGs is that players will usually put a fair bit of personal investment in creating and developing their characters. There are exceptions of course, but I'm talking about in general. Death in a system like D&D or Pathfinder doesn't come with an easy respawn until fairly high levels. You need to come up with a new character idea, build that character from the ground up, and even then they might lack the investment of the previous character. It can also be a pretty huge bummer for some people who have long term plans for their character.

Now, having said all that, I'm not against PC deaths outright. What I'm saying is that it's a big deal. It can be an extremely potent narrative tool if you want it to be. But in order for you to make it so, you have to make the death significant, both in cause and effect. There are few things I hate in a game as much as a “save or die”. For those that aren’t familiar, this is the concept of a situation where the player must roll a dice and the life of their character is decided almost entirely on the outcome, with very little the player can do about it. Make sure your players stand a fighting chance, and that if they're dying, it's because of their own poor tactical choices or dangerous risks. You may be the cause of death, but the player must first enable you to do it.

And furthermore, when a PC death does happen, be sure to give them a suitably dramatic send-off. Tip 10 is particularly relevant in these sorts of situations. Let the player have their character go out a blaze of glory. Make it like one of those scenes where a main character gets offed in spectacular fashion. Make a show of it. The more weight you as a DM put on the death, the more importance you are placing on the character's life. It's a good way to further your player's investment in the game universe. The party should feel like they just lost a comrade in arms in a fierce battle, not like Jimmy rolled a 1 so now he has to make a new sheet.

Tip 16: Know what your players are comfortable dealing with

You know what I said about knowing your players? I know it was 14 tips ago, but hopefully the lesson stuck. That lesson goes doubly so for sensitive subjects. Players play games to have fun and enjoy themselves. Things that pull them out of the game by making them uncomfortable just aren't cool. Take note of phobias, touchy subjects, and the like. As abused as they might be in some cases, there's nothing wrong with content warnings either.

Really, this rule just boils down to “don't be an inconsiderate jerk”. If one of your players recently put down their dog and is feeling depressed about it, maybe don't send a pack of zombie dogs after them. If your party isn't into ultra-dark humour, try keeping it to a minimum (or better yet don’t have it at all). Like most things that tread along the edges of depravity, consent, be it explicitly stated or implicit, is important. When it comes to questionable content, some people won't mind if you shove it down their throats, and that's great. But don't do it without getting permission first. Really, not shoving things down people’s throats without their consent is just good practice in general.

Tip 17: Yes it's their story, but you're still the one telling it

At times, the job of a DM might seem selfless, but if that's the case then you probably aren't doing it right. The DM, while they aren't a player character, is still a player in the grand scheme of things. To borrow a term from business, they're a stakeholder, just like the ones “playing” the game. As such, it's critical that the DM also enjoys themselves while running the game.

Well known game writer and DM Matthew Colville once said that the way to determine whether or not a DM has fun depends on whether or not their players have fun. I'd go a bit further than that. Yes, a DM’s enjoyment of the game should be predicated on the enjoyment of their players, but likewise the players’ enjoyment will rely heavily on the enjoyment of the DM. That might sound convoluted so I'll try to simplify: player and DM enjoyment are and should be a symbiotic relationship. One cannot exist without the other, and if either is missing then the game will inevitably fall apart. This is why while many guides about being a good DM talk about improving the experience for players, it's important not to neglect the DM's experience.

This ties in quite heavily with Tip 3. After all, if you aren't passionate about the game, crafting the story within it will seem tedious, and that will rub off on your players. Quite simply put, you won't be a good DM if you aren't enjoying the story you're telling.

Fortunately as of yet I haven't found a situation in my game where I've lost interest in the story. I'd like to think that's a big reason for why my game has continued successfully for as long as it has. However I've certainly seen it with others. There are many times that I've seen a DM lose sight of their campaign's vision, and as a result the game rapidly withered and died. Playing in games where the DM seems to view it as a core just isn't fun, and as a player I wouldn't want to stay in such a game.

Tip 18: Steal good ideas from others

To steal an often misattributed quote, “Good artists copy; great artists steal”. It's an idea that any artist or designer should keep close to heart. After all, it is also said that everything has already been done. So, by extension, anything new is just a really cleverly crafted combination of previously had ideas melded together.

This is particularly true for storytellers. The human experience only has so many divergent paths, including in fantasy. After all even if it is fantasy it should be relatable to your real life human players. There is a great deal of material in the human database, and many great ideas that haven't been fully exploited. Taking these good ideas and making them your own is just being efficient.

That being said, note the wording of my last sentence. “Making them your own” is important. This is the difference between “borrowing” and “stealing” (and by extension the difference between a good artist and a great one, if you follow the opening quote). While taking something cool from somewhere else and transposing it into your adventure is fine, it's even better if you can identify what about that thing made it cool, and rebuild it as a part of your game.

Allow me to offer an example. Though be advised, this is the part where I spoil a rather significant part of the Hell's Rebels adventure path, so if your intention is to play in it I strongly recommend skipping the rest of this section.

Recently, my players attended a masquerade ball being hosted by the villain of the campaign. The players knew this event would be a trap, but didn't know what sort of trap it would be. The trap in question, as laid out in the book, is that at the end of the night the villain locks the doors and has his minions slaughter everyone in attendance while disguised as good-aligned creatures so that he can blame it on the heroes.

However, this plan has some plot holes. If the villain doesn't intend to have anyone survive, why bother with the disguises? If that's a fallback in case anyone survives, then why would he make a long winded speech to the crowd just before the massacre begins calling them “necessary sacrifices”? His attempt at plausible deniability is notably flawed in this regard. Additionally, the villain was supposed to have a bodyguard who would appear only if the party didn't kill them earlier. My party did, so the villain was down a minion, and my group is strong enough that losing that powerful foe would make the fight much too easy.

Fortunately, while going through a forum for DMs of this adventure, I came across a few ideas. For the minion, someone had proposed an alternative that I ultimately used in my game. By this point, the players had thwarted the villain multiple times. The idea was that his bodyguard at the masquerade was his former bodyguard that had failed him in the first book, and was subsequently tortured and upgraded to be threatening to the now much stronger players. Since that one was dead in my game she could not reappear. However, this other DM had pointed out that there was nothing stopping the villain from doing the same thing to any of his other minions that had failed him, and it just so happened there was a foe my players had deceived, rather than fought. For her failure she was turned into the new tortured bodyguard, and served the role very well.

The events leading to the massacre was another proposed alternative I took from that forum. Since the players had done so well to thwart the villain before, it was unlikely that he could kill all 300 people at the masquerade without anyone escaping. Since the villain was in fact a clever strategist, this other DM suggested that the villain conduct a final ceremony that would get interrupted by someone disguised as a player or ally character, so that the lure of the players being the ones responsible seemed more plausible.

I took this idea, but I also fashioned it to suit my group even better. Up until this point, my players had developed a reputation for foiling the villain, but also for using fairly violent means to do so. Many of the villain's subordinates were killed quite brutally. One character in particular, a former slave turned assassin, was known for his violence against those that had wronged him. And so my solution was this: during the final ceremony, certain members of the audience would be brought on stage as winners of the masquerade’s “best mask competition”. Among them was the leader of the noble house most loyal to the villain, who incidentally was the former owner of the slave character, and someone disguised as that same character. During the ceremony, the one disguised as a player leapt at and killed the noble, and was subsequently put down by the villain, but not before claiming his kill in the name of the player characters’ organisation. This served as the panicked pretext under which the massacre began.

The beauty of this solution was twofold. On the one hand, it used the party's own reputation against them. Because they were known for brutally assassinating those loyal to the villain, it seemed perfectly plausible that such an attack would take place, so even if people did escape the massacre (which was likely given the sheer numbers), they might still believe the players to be responsible. On the other hand, because the players were not all together at the time of the ceremony, some of them also believed, briefly at least, that their ally and fellow player had just committed the act, leading to confusion among the party that rendered the whole event that much more chaotic (I made sure with the player beforehand of course that he would be okay with the temporary ire until things were cleared up). The end result was that a scene that otherwise would have made the villain seem foolish now appeared as a much more devious plan that played to the party's faults to give them a greater challenge and a more visceral experience.

Tip 19: Play in games

Technically speaking, there is no rule that a DM has to have ever been a player of the game they’re running. All they really need is a decent understanding of the rules and a campaign to run. That said, it should come as no surprise that playing in games can be immensely useful for any DM. It is by playing in other games that you can see how the game feels from the player’s perspective, but also how other DMs run their games. These offer excellent opportunities to learn by observing others. Countless times I’ve taken good ideas from other DMs I’ve played under, or learned from mistakes they’ve made in their games. By seeing experiences I as a player enjoyed, it gave me a better idea of what to offer my own players. Being on the other side of the DM wall can offer a great deal of perspective, which leads me to my last piece of advice…

Tip 20: Have a life

Tabletop games are immensely fun, and offer a massive array of experiences and opportunities to learn and engage with others. That said, it is only one of many mediums through which you can experience the world. Vast as it might be, it can become possible to get too wrapped up in it, and for it to suffocate your creativity. To refer a little to Tip 18, many of the greatest artists, particularly in the realms of fantasy and science fiction, drew inspiration from other mediums. Isaac Asimov uses his knowledge as a scientist to enhance his stories. Frank Herbert drew heavily from Arabic culture and religion in Dune. George R.R. Martin has an affinity for the history of the European Middle Ages. There’s an entire Wikipedia page covering J. R. R. Tolkien’s influences.

What’s important to recognise is that all of these renowned writers that so often have influenced the domain of tabletop RPGs took inspiration from other sources. To be a good DM, you must be a good storyteller. To be a good storyteller, you must know good stories. And to know good stories, you must look to the world and all it has to offer. Better yet is to live out stories of your own. Go outside, meet different people, and see interesting things. By cultivating experiences first hand, you can draw from them something much more personal than anything you could conceive through pure imagination alone. In fact, I would dare to say that raw imagination is unusable. It can morph and bend things into wonderful shapes, but it needs raw materials to work. These materials come from the outside world.

It would be all too easy for me to shut myself in my room and spend my entire time doing tabletop games. Perhaps if I had, I would have much more experience under my belt than just one game. But I know with absolute certainty that if I were to have sacrificed my life to make and run games, they would be nowhere near as good as what I can produce now. Taking experience from all over the place is what allows me to craft the best work I can, and continuing to have experiences that push my boundaries will only make me a better DM and designer with time. That, quite possibly, is the single most important piece of advice I can offer.


And with that, I’ve reached the end of my lessons so far. As you might have noticed, some are much more practical, others more abstract. But one thing I hope you’ve observed is that all of them, in one way or another, apply not only to tabletop roleplaying games. In truth, any piece of advice I’ve offered here can be just as valid in just about any other domain, be it video games, business, relationships, or anything else. You may need to tweak the terminology a bit of course, but it’s all there. That is something I’ve taken great pleasure in observing in my life: that everything is connected. There are through-lines, universal truths. Systems will often remain consistent from one place to another, and there are a great many transferrable skills that aren’t always known by the same names. To truly recognise this fact, I think, is a key step in being a more complete individual. I won’t be so grandiose as to say it’s the path to enlightenment or anything like that, but I wouldn’t discount the notion.

In conclusion, allow me to offer one final piece of parting wisdom from someone who no doubt has a great deal yet to learn: to be a great DM is to truly understand people. A great DM can touch the hearts and minds of their players and open them to a world of experiences they could only dream of. There is great potential in this role, far more than what might be recognised. I think anyone who has truly been a DM can recognise that. I ask that you hold onto that, and cherish it. Being able to touch others in such a way is an incredible thing, and I really do believe it can bring us together and better us as people. I know that might seem rather lofty for a game, but sometimes the greatest things do come in the strangest of packages. This is, after all, why I chose to pursue the path of a game designer.


Fall Life Update

I'm well aware that I haven't done much in the way of updating this site for some time now. I've been keeping fairly busy, but a big part of that is simply that I didn't feel all that motivated to write a new entry, despite having several drafts sitting around to finish up. But now that September has hit and a few major events have transpired, it seems like as good a time as any to pick things up again, and cover some of the ideas I've been working on during the hiatus.

Job Hunt

I more or less stopped looking for a job after confirming my entry into the University of Montreal's Game Design program. That isn't to say I haven't been looking at all; I'm still keeping tabs on new postings and the like. But I more or less became convinced that my current method wasn't working. I either need to get more connections or improve my portfolio before I can really get my foot in the door. Most likely both. I'm confident that I have what it takes to make it, but without a good outlet to enable and motivate me in both of these aspects I wasn't making much progress. Instead, I took the time waiting for school to start to enjoy my free time a little. I played some games, experimented with some ideas, and worked on some projects. I have also been keeping up with the testing work. It's helping to make sure I keep productive in a work context as well (and paying for the groceries), so I wasn't about to drop it. But in terms of finding a full-time job in game design, I've essentially put it on hold until April.


Is name Vladimir Yevgeny Borishof. Is live in Irrisen with Babushka from Old Country.  Babushka come Golarion for get potato (is not knowing how), but niet many potato in Irrisen. Is very malnourish. Babushka say is like Old Country.  Vladimir grow big strong like ox, but hungry and is not have vodka for pass time. Is go to Taldor to get bread and potato so not malnourish and make vodka for happy Babushka.

Is name Vladimir Yevgeny Borishof.
Is live in Irrisen with Babushka from Old Country.

Babushka come Golarion for get potato (is not knowing how), but niet many potato in Irrisen. Is very malnourish. Babushka say is like Old Country.

Vladimir grow big strong like ox, but hungry and is not have vodka for pass time. Is go to Taldor to get bread and potato so not malnourish and make vodka for happy Babushka.

One thing I've been more active with than anything else is tabletop RPG stuff. After the Mummy's Mask game, the same group started a Reign of Winter campaign on Fridays, which has easily become the most hilarious campaign I've been in. I play a crazy Russian alchemist (as in an actual Russian who's babushka ended up in Golarion somehow) named Vladimir Yevgeny Borishof who is searching for potatoes in order to make food and vodka. He's accompanied by his younger brother Ivan and a jadwigan frost oracle with perpetual frostbite. Already the fact that we're decked to the nines in anti-cold chicanery has rendered a lot of the challenges in the campaign null and void, and our persistent insanity (which I refer to as "Chaotic Russian"), paranoia (Vladimir refers to everything as traps, and he's usually right), and moral dubiousness (we caught a pixie who was trying to ambush us and stuck it in a tanglefoot bag; that bag eventually became our go-to pixie prison, and now it's become an intelligent item that hungers for the souls of pixies) has made it feel a bit like Guardians of the Galaxy, in that we're completely refusing to take anything about the campaign seriously.

Aside from that one, the Wrath Campaign marches on (Astrea has finally reached a stage where her Dispelling magic is rendering her a little overpowered). On Wednesdays I now play a 5e game with some friends in person. That one is only just starting up, but the GM's style is interesting in that it's focused a lot more on puzzles and brain teasers than your average campaign. It's actually quite interesting to compare his GMing technique to my own, which is much more narrative focused. I might write about that as a retrospective once we get further into the game.

And speaking of my GMing style, Hell's Rebels continues. As a matter of fact now that we've gone through one of my most anticipated missions (the Vyre dinner of book 3), I came to find a new project. You see, I reworked a lot of how that mission progresses. I used a fusion of combat and social encounter mechanics to gamify the dinner beyond a few simple skill checks. Given all my modifications, it occurred to me that there are a few instances where I modified sections of the book, and I think what I'm going to do is write out more formalised versions of these reworks as well as my analysis from a game design perspective. Considering I fully intend to run Hell's Rebels again in the future, it will be a useful resource for myself, but also a potential tool that others might have an interest in. What's more, I can certainly think of some other games that I would have minor revisions for. I'll likely format all these thoughts in a separate blog within its own project section dedicated to "Game Mechanic Reworks" or something like that.


I've been working on FateWeaver (my adaptation of the Fate tabletop RPG system) for quite a while now, adding a new section or revising one here and there every so often. The core rulebook is nearly done, as is my primer on the lore of the setting of Infernia. I planned out several other primers that cover things like equipment, psychic powers, skills, stunts, etc. but most of those are still in the early stages. Nonetheless, I'm rapidly approaching the stage where the written version of version 1.0 is about ready. I'm hoping to have it done and up on this site before the end of school. I'm also really looking forward to testing it out.

Video Games & Art Projects

I did mention I've been playing some games. By that, really I mean Overwatch. I've been playing a fair bit of Overwatch. It's a solid game that has filled my long unsated need for a god team-based FPS. I haven't really played one since Call of Duty Black Ops, which when I think about it is fairly surprising. In any case, I've been enjoying it greatly, both as a diversion and as a study in asymmetrical competitive play. I was at one point working on a blog post about it, and doing a little study in the game's mechanics and balance, but I happened to start writing it around the time of one of the major patches, and so several of the character critiques I presented had been invalidated by buffs and nerfs. Do feel free to ask me about why I think Mei seriously needs a debuff though. I have some fairly strong opinions about that.

Aside from Overwatch, I have still kept Warframe on the back-burner. I don't play it nearly as much as I used to, but every once in a while I still show up. That game has seen a lot of changes in the last few months, and I'm enjoying them a fair bit. It's another topic I've wanted to broach, along with the notion of perpetual evolution of games through content patches being part of the new landscape of games, but it's another subject that I felt I needed to consider and structure my thoughts on more effectively before making a post about it. The short answer is that my opinions are mixed. I like that it allows for games to improve over time through feedback without having to go through the costly iterative process of new titles, but it also worries me in a sense that it might lead to some developers spending more time focusing on old games rather than coming up with new IPs and innovations. I know the perfectionist in me could easily work in perpetuity on a title I didn't think I had gotten just right. I had to learn to let go sometimes and start something new. As such, this new paradigm seems like an easy way to regress back to that sort of behaviour. It's a bit more complicated than that, and I certainly can't evoke all my thoughts in a single paragraph, so moving on.

The city of Degwoch, in its current state of drawing progress.

There is one other game I tried to play, and that's the new Doom. Sadly, I discovered that my computer can't seem to handle it. At all. Like I was getting a perpetual 5 fps when I tried to run it, even on low settings. I'm not sure why the game was so demanding, but needless to say I can't exactly play it in that state, so I'm just going to have to wait until I get a new system or replace the graphics card on my other PC so that it can run games without crashing. Oh, and there's also Deus Ex Mankind Divided. I haven't bought that one yet. I was thinking of asking for it for my birthday, but it occurs to me that I likely won't be playing it for a while and by the time I get around to it I'd be better off getting the Game of the Year edition whenever that comes out. I am very eager to try it though, since I've heard very good things.

Sir Neddus, a true follower of the glorious light of Iomedae, and lacker of an inside voice.

I did say video games AND art, didn't I? Well, on the art side I haven't stopped doodling. I do it much less frequently, partly because I preoccupy myself with other things but also because the humidity here has been absolutely oppressive and it positively ruins my drawing paper. I have done two pieces worthy of mention. One is a new city sketch that is still a work in progress, and the other is one of my tabletop characters: the gallant Sir Neddus Arterius Adfer. I'm pleased that my sketching skills haven't completely left me, even if I know I'm not quite where I want to be with them.

Videos, Shows, and Books

I've also been doing a fair bit of show watching. The new seasons of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Shokugeki No Soma, Steven Universe, My Little Pony (I swear the animators are going crazy this season), and Star vs the Forces of Evil have all remained on my radar. As well as that, No Country for Old Men, Starship Troopers, Sicario, Imperium, Noragami, Erased, Your Lie In April, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (I know it's about time I watched that one), Mirai Nikki, The Devil is a Part Timer, The Irregular In Magic High School, and Stranger Things have been added to my "watched" pile, while a few other notable shows have gone into my "watching" one. That and while I've been trying desperately to shrink my Youtube Watch Later list, it seems to be perpetually stuck in the 300s. Ah well, eventually I'll figure that one out (probably when I realise I don't actually need to watch every little thing). On the book front, I finished Plato's The Republic, Tales of Cu Chulaind, and started Steve Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. I won't go into too much detail on all these things (and I've certainly forgotten a few), and instead just say that they've almost universally been interesting (or at least informative), and it's helping to broaden my media appreciation.

Trips & Conventions

As I recall, my last blog post was shortly before my trip to Toronto. Well I did that, and met with my friend Andrew. We had a good time, watched some movies, explored Toronto (which I hadn't done in a very long time), and even met Denis Dyack (he gave me some useful pointers and also some book recommendations; Gardens of the Moon was one of them). All in all it was a pretty great experience that probably merits more talking about than this little mention, but for now I'll leave it at that because I can tell this is already going on longer than it should.

What was that noise? Oh, it's just a box.

After that, the next most notable events were Comiccon and Otakuthon. The former I only spent a day on, and mostly wandered around admiring the cosplays and sights. I did sit in on a panel with the Deus Ex voice actors, and got a few autographs. I did also buy a bunch of Jojo books (in case it wasn't clear, I really like Jojo). Otakuthon meanwhile I was much more involved in. After just missing it last year (since it was literally the same weekend as my move into the Montreal condo), I wanted to go in full force. And so I brought back the old Snake/Big Boss cosplay.

The actual costume under the box.

I was more careful about not ruining my legs with all the crouch walking this time. The box is still absolute hell to sit in for extended periods of time (it becomes a literal hot box, and I was already hot in my costume), but the reactions I was getting made it very much worth it. I never did find any pictures of myself online though, which admittedly is a little disappointing. Call me a narcissist, but I was hoping for a tiny bit of internet recognition. Ah well. Really it's just about being entertaining, and that I most certainly was.

The last major trip was this past labour day weekend. Given that classes were supposed to start on the 1st (according to my initial schedule that is; this changed about a week before), I wouldn't be able to go home for my birthday. Instead the folks came over and we celebrated with dinner at the Bremner, then I went back with them to the cottage (which is now officially their place of residence. Feels weird knowing that the old house is sold) and later to my grandmother's house to spend time with my aunt and uncle. There was also a ceremony at the gurdwara in honour of 11 months since my grandmother's passing, which my uncle and I are hoping will allow my aunt to start moving on (she's been taking it quite hard). It's all very strange and certainly punctuates the fact that this is a time of transition. I've already written what I had to say about my grandmother, so I won't repeat myself, but I'll just say that I do miss her dearly. It was good to see many of the family friends again though.

Anyway, with that finished I came back to Montreal on Monday, and classes started right back up the day after, so that's what I'll talk about next.

Back To School

So yes, school has started up again. As I think I've mentioned before, it wasn't my first choice to return, but I can't deny that this represents probably my best chance to make connections and build my portfolio in a way that might secure me the position in game design I moved here to find in the first place. So far, the program is an interesting one. The group is small (12 people, 18 with those that took the intro course as an elective) and entirely male (which is funny given that last year was apparently a 50% split). Half of my classmates are from France, and about a third have backgrounds in history. Honestly I couldn't say if the demographics are what I expected. The main part being that only a small handful of us actually come from a design background. But, everyone seems like decent fellows and they appear to at least know the basics, so I think that should work out fine.

Some of us at a pub after the first day. Apparently I just happened to be looking at my phone the moment they snapped this (I swear I was socialising the grand majority of the time).

All our classes are in a single lab only slightly larger than my condo. It's a little cramped, but honestly I kind of like it. It feels cozy. That, and there's plenty of equipment around: computers, game systems, a bookshelf full of video games, board games, and books on game design. It's got everything one might need to do some serious game design work, and I for one am pretty eager to give that bookshelf a good and proper inspection.

Our professors definitely seem to know their stuff. They all seem to have relevant backgrounds, and the lessons I've listened to have been quite informative. Part of me was worried that there would be a lot of rehashing of stuff I learned in BIT. There certainly is a fair bit of repetition in some ways, but there's also a lot more insight that relates to the industry, specifically Quebec's industry, that one would only get from someone who knows that industry well. What's more, one of our classes will feature speakers from various companies and backgrounds to tell us about their experiences as game designers in various domains. I'm particularly looking forward to that, since I love hearing people's stories and the insight they've gained.

And the networking... I have to admit yesterday I made more headway networking-wise than I have in a very long time. And unlike many of the connections I've made in the past, I feel like I'm actually getting into an active community in which my presence might be noticed more readily. It's a position from which I think I'll get to be a lot more comfortable building connections that might actually bring fruit.

There is one challenge to all this though, and that's the language barrier. In case I haven't mentioned it, the "DESS en design de jeux" is entirely in French, and as far as I can tell, I'm most likely the best English speaker in the room (if not the only one on some occasions). I am a native French speaker mind you, but that French is distinctly Ontarian. My writing is solid, but fairly formal, and my speech is peppered liberally with bad grammar (that's more a fault of me occasionally tripping over my words in conversation rather than any actual failure of understanding French grammar; I do it in English as well) and English words (there are a lot of words I just don't know in French). Mind you, Quebec French has plenty of English words too, but they're not always the same ones. And the France French speakers are in a whole other category. My comprehension fortunately is still excellent, so listening is still quite easy, but I'm going to really have to work to improve the speaking portion. Fortunately, I've been steadily improving through practice by going out and communicating with people (I'd say I'm about at the same level I was when I graduated high school, which is good considering I nearly lost it during my first year at Carleton). I've never been a particularly strong French orator, but I've never been too bad either, so I think I can work myself up to par easily enough with some practice.

Conclusion (Finally)

So, all that is to say, life has been keeping me busy, even if I haven't been posting much on my social media venues. Now that school has started, I'm going to be busy in a different way, but at the same time, I'm going to make an effort to put some of what goes on in the program up here as well: projects, thoughts, etc.

And to start that off, as soon as I finish this post, I'm going to be working on my first assignment. It's a little 2-5 page introspection on my past, present, and future as a game designer. What I'll do is I'll post it here once it's done and submitted. It will be in French, of course, but really I should probably start showing off my bilingualism more sooner or later (I've had a blog post about my relationship with the French language sitting in my drafts for over a year now...) So, until next time!

A Little Life Update

The past few weeks have been pretty crazy for me, as shall next couple I'm certain. As of a few minutes ago however, today probably marks the most significant day in this period of chicanery. I'll save the news for the end of this post, where I'll just list a few of the things that have and will be going on.

Or8Weaver's Conversion

My previous post was on the subject of Homestuck, and the new direction I am taking Or8 in the hopes of evolving it into its own thing. Since then I've worked a fair bit on adapting the rules of Fate to my setting and altering Or8 as well. I've made a good bit of progress on both fronts, though admittedly between all the revisions and things left to address it feels akin to unraveling a particularly tangled ball of wires. It's a slight bit overwhelming, but bit by bit I'm beginning to see the underpinnings of the final product. Now it's mostly a matter of bringing in the old material into the new, and rigorously editing it until all the kinks are worked out. I imagine I'll still be working on it for some time before I really have anything worthy of showing here, but I'm confident that some day I'll have made something I can be proud of with this.

A somewhat rough sketch of my Lvl 17 Oracle/Paladin/Holy Vindicator Anen the Peace Giver, hero of Osirion and slayer of undead pharaohs across the ages

A somewhat rough sketch of my Lvl 17 Oracle/Paladin/Holy Vindicator Anen the Peace Giver, hero of Osirion and slayer of undead pharaohs across the ages


I've mentioned Pathfinder quite a bit in my recent posts, since it's recently been very significant to my development as a game designer. That said, my latest milestone is as a player. As of last Saturday, I completed my first adventure campaign, having aided in striking a final blow to the undead pharaoh Hakotep of Mummy's Mask. Granted because of the sheer power of our party, the outcome was never really in doubt, but it was deeply satisfying nonetheless. Mummy's Mask is notable in that it was the first adventure path I ever played (and with the same GM), though the first time our campaign ended with the final boss of the second book. I joined this new party at the start of the third book, so it was effectively both my first game and my first completed game start-to-finish (and first completed game overall). It may not mean much practically speaking, but it holds a fair bit of significance for me personally. I'm quite pleased; it was a fun ride and I'm glad to have seen it to the end.


Though I still haven't succeeded in finding a full time job in the industry, I've been working fairly consistently thanks to the Crowdsourced Testing Company. As of last week, I received my first payment from them. Though it may not be full time work in the traditional sense, it's kept my hands busy, my mind sharp, and my pantry full, and it's doing so in a way that allows me to retain the convenience of my unemployed schedule. I dare say I wouldn't be able to take advantage of all the summer activities otherwise, so in a sense it makes for a good way to take a "year off" without being too draining on my finances. And there is a certain gratification in being frequently told that I am apparently quite good at my job as well. Even if they are just platitudes, they've been giving me enough work and attention that I get the impression there is some truth to them. If nothing else, it tells me that I am indeed still a competent individual, despite the challenge I've had getting into the workforce proper. But given the final subject of this blog entry, those challenges may soon be alleviated...


I've attended the Ottawa International Game Conference since its conception, and wasn't about to break my streak with this one. Despite saying on multiple occasions that I have trouble seeing Ottawa as having a real games industry, I do still hope that it might one day develop one. I know from experience that the potential and the talent are there for it. And that aside, Ottawa is an excellent meeting ground between Toronto and Montreal.

That said, this year felt rather underwhelming by comparison. There was a distinct lack of major industry presence (especially when you consider that the year prior featured major figures from Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa). It was still very enjoyable, and certainly there was value to be had. Nonetheless I can't help but feel like there was a lot of industry pull that was lost. Admittedly I have a good bit of knowledge as to why that is, seeing as I'm well acquainted with a few of the major organisers of both this and previous year's OIGCs, but I won't get into that. In any case, it was much more akin to a social meetup than a conference.

I simply could not manage to get this camera to take a decent image. This is the best I got.

I simply could not manage to get this camera to take a decent image. This is the best I got.

The most noteworthy thing to come from the conference was that I had the opportunity to meet with Liana Kerzner, a feminist advocate and games consultant whom I have a great deal of respect for (I've followed her YouTube Channel for quite some time). I managed to have a few fairly interesting conversations with her and some other attendees at the conference, and learned quite a few things about the games and TV industries from seasoned veterans. To be perfectly honest, the chats over drinks were much more intellectually and personally engaging to me than any lecture could be. Really, that's why I go to these events. Well, that and the networking.

There was one particular conversation I wanted to broach but didn't get the chance to at the conference, which had to do with the interpretation of the D&D alignment system. It's something that Liana has recently assured me she will tackle, and I hope to eventually post my thoughts in a bit of a more organised manner once I hear her response.

I did also get called a "shitty person" by a bartender for not tipping him (while being in the process of procuring a bill from my pocket to do just that), which did kind of sour the last night a bit for me, but that's another story for another time perhaps. Moral of that story is don't name call your customers, even if they are shitty people. That's just bad business.

My Old Home

On another note, this visit to Ottawa marked another fairly major milestone in my life. My mother has for a good while now been planning to sell the house in Ottawa that had been my home since birth (and which only stopped being my home last year). The process had been ongoing since before that, but now we really are reaching the final stages, to the point that my visit this past week might very well have been my final one ever. If things go as planned, it will be sold at some point this summer.

While I know that from a logical standpoint it makes sense (I don't live there and my parents rarely stay there, preferring either the cottage or Florida), I can't help but feel a little sentimentality over saying goodbye to it. Yesterday they even gave away my old piano! Not that I played it much in recent years... I only ever played one song around Christmas time, just as a sort of personal tradition.

It occurred to me that I never even put up the image collection I had made of the house (it was a pseudo-time lapse with a shot at the start of each month for a year). I might still put it up, since it's already done, though at the same time I wonder if I should, considering very soon it won't be my house any longer. I'll have to think about that.


With the past taken care of, there's the subject of what's to come. Toronto is my next big event. To be exact, I'm visiting my dear friend and university partner in crime Andrew Richardson in Oshawa for a week, which will include a visit to Toronto both for TCAF and just to visit the city. It's been a long time since I visited Toronto properly, and that was back when I was too young to properly appreciate it, so it will be interesting to compare it to Montreal and the various other large cities I've been to.

There is also the chance that I'll get a little look into Andrew's job. He's doing some interesting stuff with a motion capture and general media studio, including the Quantum Tunnel YouTube channel with Denis Dyack (yes, THAT Denis Dyack). They've also done some work with game companies, including ones in Montreal, so who knows, it might provide a chance for some more networking. Even if that doesn't turn out to be the case, It's been quite some time since Andrew and I have hung out together, so I am really looking forward to that regardless.

Now then, speaking of university and networking (I know it's a terrible segue. I can smell my pizza getting ready in the oven and it's distracting me from thinking of a better one)...


The final bit of news relates to that application I made to the University of Montreal's "D.E.S.S. en design de jeux" (which translates to Advanced Studies Diploma in Game Design). I'm pleased to announce that as of today, I've been accepted into it for this upcoming fall term!

Needless to say, given the amount of hope I'm putting in this being my foot in the door to the game industry, I'm quite excited with this news. Though I was fairly confident that I would get in (modesty aside, I am a pretty good student), the three month wait did have me feeling a little nervous. With this confirmation however, I know that my biggest and best chance to get into the industry is secured. Obviously it's just a step, and it's by no means a guarantee that I'll get anywhere, but I know that I have the capability and the drive to prove myself with such an outlet, and I'm definitely prepared to put the work in to reach my goal.

In the meantime, I'll probably stick with the testing job for the summer and focus on getting some of my various personal affairs in order. I have enough things that need to be sorted out that I'm hardly going to run out of them before the realities of school and work further limit my free time. At the very least, I can put my energy towards reducing that shock. But for this particular moment, I'm just going to enjoy my little success.

Homestuck's Conclusion and Or8Weaver's Evolution

On the 13th of April of this year, Homestuck concluded after 7 long years of being one of the longest and most popular webcomics out there. It's easy enough to look up this monolith of an internet cultural icon, so I won't go into detail about it. Instead, this is about my relationship with it.

I was a fan of MSPaintAdventures and Andrew Hussie's works since quite a long time back. Before even the Problem Sleuth days. However, it's with Homestuck that I actually started getting into the fandom. In fact it could be argued that Homestuck is what brought me into the world of fandoms to begin with (I wouldn't really count my time in the Playstation or Ratchet and Clank forums as such). It started with the old Skaianet Imageboard, then I began roleplaying with Trollmegle. Later I moved over to DeviantArt and the Pesterchum application for art and roleplay respectively. I had a lot of fun with the Homestuck fandom. I learned a great deal about internet culture, the very concept of roleplaying (which in turn helped me with my writing and character design skills), and it pushed me to draw and create various things. It's also what prompted my exploration into the concept of crossovers, which until then I didn't really know to be a thing. And the fact that all of these stemmed from one fundamental source was awe inspiring to me. That something so mundane as a cleverly written comic could fuel such a microcosm was baffling.

Then of course, there were all the friends I made from it. Between friends I made through RPs and art collaborations, I actually amassed a fairly high number of online pals. I still keep in touch with some of them, though most I've since lost contact with. However one person in particular I still keep close with, as our interests shifted over to include video games and other hobbies. But alongside those other hobbies, there was always our collaborative RP project: Or8Weaver.

Now, Or8Weaver has been going on for over four years (since the 16th of December 2011), and is still going strong. In fact I'm literally writing it in another window as I type this. Or8 has served as a testing ground for a lot of concepts for me, both in terms of mechanics and narratives. However, despite how much it's deviated from the original source, the fact that Or8 is a derivative fanwork has always loomed over it. Evidently, there's not a whole lot I can do with it in any practical sense that wouldn't breach copyright. This is something that up until recently I was never particularly bothered by. After all, Or8 itself is more of a personal thing. But then there was FateWeaver, the game I had been converting the setting to be used in. And as I've gotten deeper into my plans for that game, this particular issue has come to the forefront of my thoughts.

Just a few days before the end of Homestuck, I had one of those thoughts one gets as they're laying in bed trying to sleep. It was an idea about how to convert the hemospectrum aspect of troll society into its own unique system using the seven deadly sins as bases (admittedly, I might have an anime I watched recently to thank for seeding that particular thought). Over the following few days, I fiddled a bit more with the concept, and though it's still a good ways from completion, I get the feeling that I can very feasibly proceed with converting the entirety of the Or8 setting to remove any references to Homestuck. Most of the content was already of my own creation, with only some nomenclature and core elements coming from the original material, so in truth it's actually not all that much work for me.

All that to say, though it won't change anything for now, I've begun an alteration to Or8Weaver that will allow me to convert a fan project into something of its own. Really it already was at this point. I just needed that little extra push to change the label. In time, as I continue to make the modifications to the Fate system and the Or8 setting, my hope is that some time in the future, I might soon have a full tabletop setting of my very own. It's a project I'm very much looking forward to developing further. And while I have Homestuck to thank for being the catalyst that brought about its conception, there's a sense of great accomplishment in knowing that with Homestuck's conclusion, Or8 will be reborn and live on.

I've gotten a bit rambly, so I'll leave you with this sketch I doodled recently. It's a rendition of my Pathfinder version of Astrea Maryam (who is an important character in Or8). Not much else to be said there, other than playing a spellcaster has proven much more fun that I thought it would be, and that I've thoroughly enjoyed playing her in all her renditions.

DMing A Tabletop Game: First Book Post-Mortem

As of the time I'm writing this, I fairly recently completed running "In Hell's Bright Shadow", the first book of the "Hell's Rebels" campaign for the Pathfidner Roleplaying system. This is a retrospective on my involvement with tabletop, my views on the game itself, and how it's helped me better understand game design.


My experience with tabletop RPGs is fairly limited. I started with Warhammer 40K's Dark Heresy back in University back when some of my friends were in a small group. It took some getting used to (it didn't help that I knew next to nothing about the 40K universe at the time), but the experience itself was great and I got some fantastic stories out of it (the butter story, the sacred oil tale, and the self-destroying boss are some of my personal favourites).

Come August 2014, I tried getting back in touch with an old friend of mine from high school, and got invited into a Pathfinder game (Mummy's Mask) that he was running through a site called Roll20. We got to the end of the 2nd book before our party was wiped out, but it definitely made firm my interest in the game. After that, I researched and dabbled with some other systems (5e and Fate primarily), though most of my gaming has been with Pathfinder. According to Roll20, I've clocked just over 700 hours of time in-game. I've played in about 10 games (though only 6 of them got past the first couple sessions).


The System

As I mentioned, Pathfinder has been my primary game system. I had the good fortune of having friends that knew the rules fairly well, because I can safely say that many of the rules for that game are rather opaque. It's generally said that between Pathfinder and D&D 5e, Pathfinder has significantly more content, but also a great deal more bloat in numbers and systems.

Overall, Pathfinder is a great system, and if you have someone willing to guide you, it's a fantastic way to start playing tabletop. It's built on the D&D core, so a lot of its ideas are very classic fantasy and therefore easy to recognise. I've used Hero Lab (another great tool) to make the character creation process easier to deal with. And gradually I've been stepping out of my comfort zone to explore more technically challenging aspects of the game. Notably, I recently started playing my first prepared caster (an arcanist), which is a big leap considering I don't usually play magic users (rogues are more my style).

All that said, as I've played more of the game, some of its flaws are becoming more readily apparent. Combat manoeuvres are something that bother me, since they are implemented in a way that makes them generally much less advantageous compared to just using a standard attack. They require a great number of feats to be usable, and even then they use an additional set of rules that mean the table more often than not has to stop and pull out the rulebook when they occur. Grappling is apparently better than it was in 3.5e, but still requires a flowchart to understand. I remember the first session I ran, one player tried to play a weapon sundering-based character, but the system made this very obtuse and generally less effective than just hitting the guy instead. Considering how cool these sorts of actions are, it strikes me as sad that performing them is so much more difficult.

Another gripe is the feat taxes in general. I played a rogue my first time, and because I invested a lot of time in my character, I really didn't want to let her die. Ranged fighting therefore seemed like the way to go. But it took ages just to make that bow useful. Same with weapon finesse. There are many other "feat taxes" that have been brought to my attention since. Fortunately, most of my DMs have simply used this solution, and it's worked out. Many of my other gripes, such as the limitations on actions, alignment, and the lack of balance for certain classes (notably the rogue and summoner) have been addressed in the Unchained rulebook. Nonetheless, it's a topic I could easily spend an entire day rambling about, so I'll move on.

The Setting

As for Pahfinder's setting, after the first couple games I made a concerted effort to explore the wikis and learn the lore. I was very pleased to find that there was an impressive database of information. There is a lot of good work that has been put into Golarion. The setting is rich and interesting, even if some of the parallels are a bit obvious (Vudra, you mean Fantasy India; Kelesh =Arabia, Osirion = Egypt, and so on). The writers have done a good job of providing ample setting information with which to run the adventure paths, while still having a system that is general enough to not rely on the setting entirely. Plenty of the games I've played are homebrews that do a good job of replacing the setting.

One aspect in particular I've taken an interest in is religion. Pathfinder has an established pantheon with major deities, minor ones, demigods, and everything in between. Lately I've been having a lot of fun reading about them and seeing how the story accounts for the existence of actual gods. In fact, one of my latest projects has been to go through the major pantheon and create "iconic worshiper" characters that represent their assigned core deity's aspects. It's proven to be an excellent character development exercise, and it's led me to produce some rather interesting personalities that also serve as functional characters. Incidentally, expect those to appear on this site some time in the near future.

Hell's Rebels

Hell's Rebels is Pathfinder's first "Chaotic Good" aligned game. It sets players as revolutionaries in the cultural city of Kintargo against the oppressive devil-worshiping Thrune government, that due to an ongoing invasion is getting all the more vicious and totalitarian. I like to simplify it for my players as "you are the French resistance in occupied Paris". The campaign starts off primarily as an intrigue and base building game, then eventually escalates to a full on rebellion and combat. However it's easily the least combat-oriented campaign that I know of.

Prior to this Hell's Rebels being released, I had wondered about DMing a game. However at the time there were no campaigns that really struck me as ones I'd particularly want to run. My greatest interests were political intrigue and an emphasis on tactics and strategy that would not necessarily be combat-oriented. I had actually started developing my own campaign using the Fate system and my Or8Weaver setting with those ideas in mind. However, when I learned of Hell's Rebels, needless to say I jumped on it.

Having now run the first book and read the others, I can say it is definitely my favourite campaign by far out of those I've seen. However it does still have plenty of flaws. There are some instances where the game outright states that there is a right way to go about certain things, and sometimes it conflicts with itself in terms of whether it wants players to be non-combative or not. The game clearly has the idea of allowing for different tactical decisions, but at times it feels as though the system itself doesn't make it particularly viable.

The Game

The Rules

Now, I started my game with a lot of preparation, and with story heavily in mind. I looked into and implemented several variant rules and extras with the intention of making combat smoother and easier (variant action economy and the feat tax fix being the main ones). I gave everyone a custom item that would level up with them as they progressed, the idea being that they would act as a kind of indicator of story progress (I also didn't use XP, for reasons that will be apparent soon). I also tried very hard to ensure that everyone's character fit the campaign and the setting. Because at least two of the people who planned on joining were completely new to Pathfinder, I wrote documents to simplify many rules and aspects of the game, like classes and religions.

All in all, I spent a great deal of time on that prep, but I was careful not to overdo it. I know the rule that players will inevitably mess with your expectations, after all. Most of what I did after that was emergent: I added characters based on quips or funny events that occurred. Eventually, I started writing scripts for dialogue and streamlined the information in the book (because sometimes I had to spend a solid few minutes flipping through pages to find out a small piece of information for a particular room).

The Players

I was prudent about people I didn't know mucking up the game for the others (since I had certainly seen it in the past), so I stuck to people I knew. Most were people I played with previously and people I knew outside of the game. A couple were friends I had who were interested in trying the game for the first time. I was fortunate in that three (later four) of my players knew the rules well, much better than me in fact, so I could rely on them to explain how something worked when need be.

Admittedly, the party did not mesh particularly well initially. Some of them had very different play philosophies, and it resulted in characters and players clashing. Fortunately that has since calmed down for the most part, and as they've gotten used to each other and I've discussed things with them personally it's been largely smoothed over. However it is always a concern.

There was one last factor to mention that I think in hindsight was a mistake on my part: I recruited six players. I learned a bit too late that four players is what Hell's Rebels was built for, and I now understand why some DMs don't allow for more than that. Juggling encounter difficulties to reflect that has been a constant challenge.

Most of the party came in from the upper side of the map and used nonlethal attacks. Hagger took the other route and asked if pools of blood could be considered difficult terrain.

My Experience

Technically speaking, Hell's Rebels is the second game I've been the DM for. Last summer, I briefly ran my Or8 game with a couple friends to test it out and see how I enjoyed DMing in general. It turns out I absolutely loved it, and now that I've gone through a whole book, I can safely say that I genuinely enjoy DMing even more than playing. I suppose that is as good a testament as any for why I want to become a game designer.

I should probably preface that as far as DMs go, I'm extremely lenient. My philosophy is that, at least for this particular game, the characters were more important as figures within a story than as statblocks with which to solve problems. Some dungeon runner games seemed to put more of an emphasis on making optimised characters largely for the purpose of surviving. I didn't want that to be what happened, so I was much more willing to let players twist the rules a bit in order to make adjustments that fit the characters. As a result, I allowed for some rather broken characters (I let someone play a Synthesist Summoner; that should more than explain how lenient I was to anyone familiar with Pathfinder).

As a result of giving the players several boons and allowing for six of them, I found that encounters were rather trivial at first. It led to the first few sessions having a lot of back and forth as I adjusted the difficulty of enemies to account for the team. It's something I still haven't mastered, though I've definitely gotten better at regulating encounters to match the players.

As for how the players have been addressing the game, I'd say it's been bumpy. From the start, players have on a few occasions clashed. I've had players nearly sabotage the efforts of other team members, or kill characters the rest of the group planned on sparing. The term "murder hobos" has come up. However, initially a lot of this had to do with the fact that I did not make the consequences of these actions very clear. It occurred to me that while the book does state that in most cases killing enemies is a bad thing, Pathfinder does conform to the standard game rules of "enemies are things you kill for XP". And even then, some characters, bosses in particular, are stated to fight to the death, and have no details about how to deal with them if they are simply knocked out or captured instead. It's a lack of internal consistency (or at the very least a loophole) within the narrative of the books that I've had to navigate.

One thing this had led to is a lot of improvisation on my part. I've gotten into the habit of claiming to "invoke DM-fudge" in order to simplify rules. Given the way I run my game (which involves actively encouraging less traditional means of dealing with problems and using tactics and the environment), I fudge a great deal. Often times when discussing the game with my players, I'll mention some aspects that I've altered, and they find themselves agreeing that they preferred this method for the most part (usually because it's in they're favour, if I'm to be fair).

What I've Learned

The main takeaway that I have from this game is just the extent to which players subvert expectations. Not only in terms of the players versus the game itself, but also relative to each other. Team dynamics are often complex and illogical, and when they are presented with a loose set of rules, it can often lead to chaos.

I find myself bouncing between giving players more agency and less. In the first book of this campaign, there are a multitude of missions that can be completed in any order. However, I found myself having to limit this, since I couldn't fully craft each encounter for them to all be ready from the start. Were I to redo this game, perhaps I could, but given my player's feedback, it seemed like something more linear would have been preferred. In fact, since I've started scripting scenes and sequences, players seem much more willing to go along with my story and at least attempt to follow what they believe to be the ideal path. I think it largely had to do with the fact that no one wants to "lead" the party and make decisions about how to proceed for all of them.

Now, I don't know if I could say it's convinced me that linear narratives are better. I am still more inclined towards giving players choice when I can, and hard railroading still strikes me as bad practice. However some of these factors may be circumstantial to this campaign (after all, the game itself seems to suggest a correct or ideal path), so I've tried to consider what my experience means in context. What I've determined is that while choice is generally beneficial for players since it gives them agency, it has to be very clearly outlined, and the consequences have to be evident from the very beginning. Moreover, this is rendered even more important than usual the more players you have working together.

Those statements are of course self-evident when stated out loud, but it's amazing how often their forgotten or not fully appreciated. I'm guilty of that myself. But with this game, I'm getting better at learning how to recognise good and bad game gameplay decisions of that kind.

Another important lesson is the importance of balancing challenges for the player. Between balancing the player's equipment and levels, as well as the enemies they face, I've created many instances of "enemy AI" that I built to challenge the players without being unfair. I got into the habit of rolling enemy dice manually rather than in roll20, so that I can decide when to adjust the numbers (mainly to avoid the enemy getting a nat20 on a character and killing them off on a fluke). It's made me appreciate the significance of randomisation in games.

I play Warframe at a high tier so I'm acutely familiar with farming and "RNG". There's obviously a balance between giving players moments of gratification at achieving an unlikely success and presenting frustrating lack of success due to consequences they can't control. Evidently giving players perfect odds of success can lack engagement, but make it too hard and it's just annoying. So I've taken to putting much more of an emphasis on "circumstantial modifiers" as a way of balancing that out. Things like small bonuses for using an environmental factor, or planning ahead, or even simply based on how well the party is doing. I could easily see that as translating to "enemies do less damage when a player loses most of their health in a single attack" in some games. Honestly, it's a concept I think many games would benefit from.

Evidently, all of that is part of a game designer's normal job. It's a balance that needs to be found and struck, and it's unique to every game (and never quite perfect). What Pathfinder so far has been teaching me is how to do it on the spot. It's sharpening my instincts and in the process showing me the kind of designer I am. I understand my biases, my habits, where I need to reinforce my skills and where my desires as a designer can conflict with a player. For those reasons, I consider this experience invaluable (and very fun, for that matter), and look forward to continuing on with it as part of my journey to become as great a designer as I can be.

A Note On Fate

I mentioned it briefly, but I feel like I should mention it a bit more. Fate is quite simply my favourite tabletop system I've ever encountered. It's significantly more free-form than many other games, and allows for the sort of gameplay experiences you simply don't find in a more rigid system like Pathfinder. It does so by stripping down a lot of the numerical complexity and putting an emphasis on player and DM generated content.

Evidently its greatest drawback is that it requires a lot of creativity on the part of the DM and the players. The rules are vague, so people have to resort to just saying what they want to do, and the DM determining what sort of roll that translates to. It's also heavily skewed against players who want a more structured system. That said, for a designer like me, It's ideal, because it's pretty much all fudge. The core is so basic that from there, anything can be crafted by the DM, and the sorts of dynamic adjustments I was mentioning before are a matter of course. I think that in the one instance that I tested out DMing a Fate game, it taught me a great deal about how players act when given very little guidance. It results in something that's a lot more organic and fluid, and by observing those trends, it becomes much easier to build more sophisticated mechanics, rather than constructing a whole lot to begin with and watching it crumble when players break expectations with what they want to do.

Honestly, I would strongly recommend trying many different types of systems out. Each has their own unique traits that make them a very different experience. It's easy to think of all tabletop RPGs as being fundamentally the same, and to a degree it's somewhat true. But the slightest nuances in how each system is approached makes a huge difference, and understanding the implications of these decisions is a very compelling thing for any designer.

MIGS15 And Future Plans


I spent the last three days at MIGS, the Montreal International Games Summit. It was my first time at the conference, though from my four times at OIGC (the much newer Ottawa equivalent), the whole thing felt fairly familiar.

Admittedly, MIGS was not nearly as impressive as I expected it to be. Perhaps that was simply an effect of my expectations being that it would be proportionally larger than OIGC based on their respective industry presence (with Ottawa being minuscule compared to the juggernaut that is Montreal in the game industry). It might have also had to do with the fact that I attended at the lowest tier, and therefore didn't have access to the master classes. I think a lot of my impression simply had to do with the fact that so little of the event was geared towards design. There were plenty of talks about business, audio, and mobile development, but I didn't see all that much that really prompted me to think about video game design itself. I had also been told by some friends that had attended previous years that it felt more sparse and less organised this time around (and also more expensive; I won't deny that was a big hit to my funds, especially without a steady income as of yet), but I have no direct experience to gauge that myself.

That said however, it was still a very worthwhile experience. I did learn a few things from some of the talks, and others were just interesting to attend. The recruitment zone was also very useful to me, seeing as I'm still looking for a job. Several notable companies were there and I did manage to make some connections. I've been spending the last couple days following up, so hopefully it will result in something. As much as I've loved all this time for myself, I would really like to actually get into the workforce. I feel like a bit of routine and direction could go a long way towards motivating me, not to mention I've been eager for a very long time to get real industry experience.

Besides the job search, MIGS also turned out to be a great socialising event. I ran into several people I knew, including friends I had made at OIGC and other events. I even ran into some folks from the old Ottawa gaming scene as well as some old classmates. Later on during the after party I got to catch up with some of them which was nice. Additionally I got to see a fairly prominent figure in gaming slap his drinking buddy (who was also a significant figure in gaming) for fun. I get the impression that witnessing that taught me something profound about our industry, but I'm not sure what that is as of yet...

There was one last thing I found very worthwhile about this whole thing, and that can be encompassed in this photograph:

That right there is me awkwardly standing in between Amy Hennig and Warren Spector. Their names are easy enough to look up, but Hennig is of Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, and Last of Us fame, while Spector is known for the original Deus Ex. They are respectively icons of the cinematic and choice schools of games. They are also two of my personal idols as a game designer. It is my dream to some day achieve their caliber. My own ideas and aspirations for what I would like to make draw heavily from them. In fact, my ideal game would build off of the work both of them have done. Later on in the day, I was able to speak to Mr. Spector briefly and bounce one of my ideas off of him, and he gave me some brief but compelling advice. That alone made this entire thing worth it in my opinion...

What Now?

MIGS is done, and I must get back to my "work". In the last few months, things have been pretty crazy for me. The move, reorienting myself in a new city, my grandmother's passing, and the frequent visits to Ottawa that resulted in have all eaten away at my time. I haven't had all that much of a chance to build up from where I left off with my studies. My backlogs of to do lists swelled pretty intensely, and they're only now starting to get back down to modest levels.

Making Games

Aside from actively applying to jobs, the first and most important thing for me to do (at least according to the various professionals I've spoken to) is to start making games. Admittedly while I do have the skills to make games on my own, and with enough work I know I could make things that are superior to what I have in my portfolio right now, the truth is I prefer not doing everything on my own. Honestly it just feels incredibly lonely doing so. That, and it takes time to make games. It could be a while before I really have something polished to show off.

However, one thing I know I can do well is documentation. I'll be doing a lot of writing. Concepts, design documents, design experiments... I'll be writing all of them and putting them on this site. I have at least one game concept I'm prepared to create on my own, and a design doc will be the place to start with it anyway. Who knows, if my ideas are particularly compelling I might be able to attract someone to come and collaborate with me on a project. Time will tell, I suppose.

Playing Games

I've got a lot of games on my (mostly digital) shelf that have yet to be touched. I recently beat Undertale, but Dragon Age 2 and Metal Gear Solid 5 have been sitting in my "In Progress" section for quite some time, not to mention the scores of other games still waiting. I consider each game I play to be both for fun and education, so I tend to take my time on them, but now that I have a stretch of uninterrupted time, I think I'll be able to actually make some progress there. It would be nice to be up to speed with current gaming culture.

Aside from video games, I've also recently starting running a Pathfinder tabletop game over the internet with some friends of mine. I've been playing a lot of tabletop in the past year and I've really taken a liking to it. Running this game (Hell's Rebels is the campaign) is something I've wanted to do for quite some time now, and it strikes me as an excellent practice in game design (especially when I've been making my own campaign separately). Already my little party of murder-hobos have subverted expectations laid out by the book, and I've had to find ways to adapt it to them, which is proving to be really challenging, but also really fun. I'll likely do a post mortem of my experience on this blog eventually.


So, in short, MIGS was fun and I got to meet a lot of really swell people, and now I'll be spending the next several weeks working on building up my portfolio and playing some games. I'm eager to get started!

My Design Strengths and Weaknesses

Since I was in high school, I've always been told it's important to be able to answer the questions "what are your strengths and weaknesses" during an interview. While that certainly is true, I'd go one step further and say that it is always worthwhile to know where your abilities lie and don't lie, as well as those of your team. To paraphrase Sun Tzu. knowing yourself is one half of the key to victory, and it's the one that's easiest to do on your own.

I like to think I know myself pretty well, and considering this is the one place dedicated to me speaking about myself, it seems natural to talk about my strengths and weaknesses as a designer (and in general). If anyone reading is a potential employer, then this is a chance to save you the trouble of asking these questions. Now then, without further ado:



This is perhaps the one that is the most commonly known about me. I am an extremely organised individual, or at least I aspire to be. Sorting things into systems and structures comes naturally to me. I like to build things up in an orderly manner. Schedules and documentation are things that I actually enjoy doing (ask anyone that knows me about my reputation with documentation), because they give me consistent systems to work within. One of my favourite pastimes is finding ways to make systems more efficient, and information more accessible.

This does have an influence on my design preferences as well. I tend towards clean ordered systems, more akin to sleek science fiction rather than grunge and the like. Cleanliness and precision definitely do more for me than chaos or the grotesque. That's not to say I'm incapable of dealing with disorder, but in my mind even the most chaotic thing has an underlying structure to it, even if it isn't readily apparent. I hold this view because of my next strength...


I spend a lot of time observing. Not just in the literal looking at things definition, but in the sense of considering a subject and its various connections. I had a great deal of alone time during my younger years, and I spent a lot of it thinking about something, then trying to figure out the underlying components of that thing. Physics is my favourite science simply because it involves the most fundamental building blocks of the universe, ergo it is the base upon which all connections are built. Mechanics are incredibly cool to me because it gives us a glimpse at how a set of parts can create something greater than its sum through their interactions.

As a designer, seeing how art, code, and interaction can come together into a fully crafted experience is something I really like to contemplate. It's a large part of why design appealed so much to me in the first place. It's also part of why I find code quite easy to read, as it is simply a network of cause and effect systems. It particularly helps when it's well structured and transparent code for that matter, because then my organisation skills can further supplement that ability.

More recently, I've taken a particular liking in applying my perspective to social spheres of inquiry. Why do people behave a certain way in certain contexts? Why do social structures form so consistently across history and geography? What are the cause and effect mechanisms that drive society? Contrary to what a lot of people say, I like to think that society has a lot of inherent order within it, through its most fundamental building blocks. Figuring out the nature of those building blocks is something I actively pursue.

As should be evident by now, the implications of how things are interconnected is something I love pondering about. Those ideas are something I would like to play around with more in my games. As a designer, I really want to place people in situations that force them to reevaluate their assumptions of a game and/or make them consider the underlying structures that form the world. If I can get just one person to think about the inter-connectivity of the universe as I have, I will have achieved my dream.

Working Within Boundaries

Part of that inter-connectivity I just mentioned is understanding limitations, and how despite the presence of a boundary, there are immense possibilities for creativity within it. I actually quite like working within boundaries. Perhaps that's my orderly nature speaking, but they strike me as an excellent way to push towards getting the most out of what you have. Depth will always trump breadth in my opinion when it comes to the subject of making something good. I'll almost always choose quality over quantity.

Something that may have become apparent through my artwork is that I do a lot of crossovers. In fact, I adore taking things from one context, and finding ways to adapt it to another. Figuring out what "X subject would look like in Y context" is something I do for fun. So when I'm tasked with adapting something to fit new different boundaries, I can honestly say that I consider it an enjoyable challenge.

Likewise, this strength applies to most real world work contexts. After all, in an industry like games, even the highest ranking designer has limits being imposed on their vision, be it from above or below. Fortunately, that's something I'm prepared to deal with. I've proven in the past that if I'm given a task but with some limits imposed, such as figuring out how to make a game while keeping to a subject or buzz word (game jams being a perfect example), I have very little trouble coming up with ideas. In fact, the more restricted I am, the better I am at fleshing something out of it (the flip side of this will come up again in the weaknesses section). Part of my ability to work through limits comes from this next strength...


Though I specialise in video game design (namely character and system/mechanics design), I was trained as a generalist, and I consider myself competent enough to do well in art (concept, graphics, sound effects, 3D modelling, animation), programming, testing, and just about every other task involved in a game. Heck, I can even do some half decent voice acting if I really try. I do have all the skills to make an entire game on my own.

I know the tendency of a lot of large companies is to shun generalists, and to a degree that does make sense to me. After all in a big company, people aren't jumping between different positions. Better to have someone in a dedicated position that focuses specifically on the tasks they will actually be performing. But when it comes to designers my logic is this: a designer, by virtue of their position as the one that must bring together all the individual elements of a game into a holistic experience, should have a good understanding of every aspect involved in making a game. They may not be as deeply entrenched in these other tasks, but I think it's important that they be able to understand them well enough to know the technical boundaries they can push towards through their design. Otherwise you end up pissing people off by building unrealistic designs (and trust me, I know a thing or two about non-technical individuals attempting to drive design).

Though I may not excel at many of these secondary tasks, I'm not a slouch either. Part of why I did so well in my program is that I was fairly quick to adapt to wildly different contexts. With a couple exceptions, my grades were almost universally in the 80%+ range, and that's across wildly different subjects (and even if you don't believe in grades, it's hard to argue that someone who gets such results on a consistent basis isn't doing something right). What's more, I'm perfectly comfortable making those jumps. In my senior project, I would switch hats multiple times everyday without blinking. I had to, and thankfully I was good at it, or we never would have gotten as far as we did (I'm speaking with complete humility here).


Speaking of speaking, communication is another thing I consider myself to be particularly good at. Part of wearing many different hats is that it forces you to see things from different perspectives (I guess the hats all have goggles? Steampunk hats, perhaps?). During different times, I've had to communicate to teammates, friends, enemies, professionals, laymen, developers, artists, testers, clients... You name it.

One of my first jobs was with QNX as a technical writer for the Blackberry 10 Native SDK. Something I learned quickly about technical writing is that you need to be able to simultaneously understand complex technical material and developer jargon as well as simplify it so that complete laymen could understand what you're talking about. This leads to two things: one is that technical writers are easily the best at working with the tools they write about (even better than the developers that write them, since they only have to understand the intricacies of their specific elements, without understanding how they relate to everything else; take that specialists), and two is that they will spend most of their day going back and forth between techno-babble and simple explanations (and the rest of the time digging into code documentation that hasn't actually been written, because they're the ones that have to write it). It's an extreme exercise in communication skills.

Thinking back on it, I'm very thankful to have had that job, because it taught me a lot about how different groups of people communicate. I remember one instance where a developer would never answer more than one question at a time, and would only ever answer in "yes" or "no". Generally speaking, I found that programmers are a lot more linear and direct in their communication. Contrast that with the subjective analysis artists require, the filtered diplomatically-minded talk of marketers, and the unabashed emotive speech of many gamers. Designers have to interact with pretty much all of them at one point or another. I like to think I'm pretty good at doing so, mostly because I can understand each of these groups, and see where they're coming from. After all, not only do I have my skills in perspective, but I've been right there with them in the past.

One last thing about my skills in communication that I think is worth noting is my patience. I consider myself an extremely patient person, and most people I know agree with me. I've also developed a reputation for being fairly easy to get along with (if nothing else, I don't make many enemies), as well as for being quite trustworthy. It's a set of personality traits I've often used to help others through tough times, but it's also helped me greatly when it comes to this last strength...


I work well under stress. In fact, I tend to excel while under stress. I like to joke that I'm always busy, but the truth is, I am because I set myself up to be. I'm at my best when I have a lot to do, because the rush of accomplishment I get from doing it fuels me ever further. I even set up my recreational activities as tasks, because it pushes me to relax more effectively (I realise that probably doesn't make sense to some people, but I challenge you to find anyone who doesn't feel more satisfied than they would normally be when they have a tangible checkbox they can cross at the end of a task, even if that task is just "watch a movie").

While I can't always sustain it indefinitely (especially if say, an unexpected event puts me well behind schedule), I can handle very heavy workloads without too much trouble and am able to sustain long hours for extended periods of time. I know my own stress limits very well, and I've organised my life in a way to be able to handle unforeseen circumstances without too much trouble. No matter how hectic my life gets, I'm usually able to make time for new things and still find ways to balance it out. Snapping under pressure isn't something I do. And given the field I'm going into, I think that alone is an extremely valuable asset.



And now I show the other side of the stress coin. While I do work well under stress, when the opposite is true, I tend to wilt. I energise myself through deadlines and clear tasks to accomplish, so a lack of those things is as detrimental to me as an engine without fuel. 

I call myself a "creature of momentum". So long as I'm going, it's very hard to stop me. However, when I am forced to stop (or never started in the first place), it can be hard to get me going. I can genuinely say that I'm at my worst when I have nothing to do. Without a clear task to motivate me, my energy levels decrease rapidly. I'm the kind of person that has no trouble getting up really early in the morning when there's a good reason to do so, but without one I'm just as likely to wake up in the mid-afternoon.

My solution for this over the years has been fairly simple: always keep busy. Even when I don't have a job and I've taken care of my chores, I keep a large list of things on my to-do list. My watch lists are huge, as are my reading, writing, drawing, and other lists. So long as I keep myself preoccupied in a way that seems meaningful, I can sustain my energy levels.

However, there are times when this isn't enough. If, say, I've been forced to do a task I see as completely useless (like say something that involves sitting around doing nothing for long periods of time) without having the means to do something in the meantime, I'll have a hard time motivating myself. Repetitive menial tasks can suffice, but not if they involve a lot of waiting (for example 3D modelling is fine, but rendering will get me restless if I don't have a book or something to do while I wait). Another great example is when I'm stuck waiting on someone else to deliver. I'll touch on this later, but few things annoy me as much as being completely gated by someone else and having nothing else to do.

Blank Slates

As I mentioned my strength when working within boundaries and building from existing premises, the reverse is also true to some degree. I am admittedly someone who doesn't like working from a completely blank slate. If you were to ask me to come up with something while providing no restrictions, I might have trouble dealing with overchoice. I'll usually come up with something eventually, but it will take me longer than it might for someone else. It will certainly take me much longer than if I were given a restriction at the beginning of the exercise.

I attribute this weakness mainly as a by-product of my perspective. In my mind, nothing stands completely independently; it's always connected to something. That, accompanied with my tendency towards order, predispose me against spontaneity or true randomness.

I have a few ways that I work around this particular weakness. The first is to use my view of connections to my advantage by creating simulated randomness. Thanks to that strength, I'm able to leap from one connection to the next fairly fast. It's almost like doing a Wikipedia run from one entry to a seemingly completely unrelated entry simply by clinking the links within the articles. I usually use this in conjunction with the context I'm working in to set up the restrictions from which I can build. For example, if I'm playing a game like Quiplash (where you are asked questions and prompted to give answers that other players will vote on), the first thing I will do is try to read the room: what sort of sense of humour would these people have, and what pop culture references are they likely to be familiar with? From the basic premise of these questions, I can filter my thoughts sufficiently to come up with an answer.

My other primary way of dealing with this weakness is to come up with answers ahead of time. Some questions come up often enough that I have default selections. That's not unusual. But in the cases of things that are more nebulous, what I do is keep track of a list of potential items, from which I filter. A good example of this is how I coordinate with my friends on the ever-challenging "what do you want to do" question. I have a list of video games, a list of collaborative writing projects, and a list of other activities. All of them I've mentally tagged with factors which might make them more appealing or less appealing depending on the circumstances. The person is inclined to write something and I'm not feeling too energetic? I'll check through my list and find a possible subject that requires minimal concentration (usually this is associated with the characters involved, which makes it easy for me to filter them). I have lists for basically everything, so it's not hard for me to come up with answers to many questions that would otherwise require random responses. I've done what I can to plan for as many contingencies as possible.

I will say though that this weakness does manifest in another way that is a little harder to avoid. When it comes to development, I have a notable dislike of setting up a new project. This is partially an issue of momentum and my general dislike of the somewhat esoteric project setup requirements in a lot of development software (Visual Studio comes to mind). Fortunately, this isn't something that comes up too often for me as a designer (it only really applies for programming tasks), but it is still an annoyance. My usual solution for that is generally to just take an already set-up project, adapt it for my needs, and build off that.


This is perhaps my biggest weakness, since it's the one that is most likely to actually come into play in actual work situations, and it's one of the ones that is a lot harder for me to find simple workarounds for. That is why I've left it at the end. That weakness? I have a hard time relying on others.

I consider myself to be extremely independent. It's a value I put a lot of emphasis on and it's something of a defining characteristic for me. I expect independence and high levels of competence from myself, and I wish to see it from the people I work with (and people in general). Seeing sloppy or ineffective work bothers me, especially if I am in a position to do it better. More often than not, if I'm not convinced the person working on the task can do a better job of it than me, I'll have a strong urge to correct it myself (I'd be lying if I said there weren't any projects on this site I want to go back and correct).

Now, in an ideal world this wouldn't be a problem, because everyone I would be working with would be competent. I would never receive a model with misaligned vertices, or files that were incorrectly formatted, or text that wasn't run through a spellcheck. In school this can be unavoidable: sometimes you're just stuck with the group you have. In a work environment, consistent incompetence will usually get you fired (unless you're in the public sector, zing! I kid... Mostly), but it's not something that can be banked on. In reality, there will always be situations like this.

As might be apparent, I've been burned several times in the past. I've often ended up in group projects with people who don't or cannot pull their weight. I definitely have a few horror stories. The worst situations are ones where the lead programmer would misreport (or not report at all) their progress and leave us without a working prototype by our presentation deadline. More often than not, I've found myself taking leadership and editorial roles for this reason. The moment it becomes clear that someone cannot deliver, I'll usually take it upon myself to redistribute tasks to other more reliable team members or sometimes to myself. I've made it a habit of requesting submissions well before the due date so that I can curb these situations.

Then again, they do still show up. Sometimes, despite all my requests for communication, I don't get a response. It's something that can genuinely frustrate me, and it can permanently sour my perception of someone's competence. In fact, I would go so far as to say that seriously gating me on a task without keeping me informed on the matter is one of the easiest ways to get on my bad side, because not only does it slow the project, it personally wastes my time (at least if I was given a forewarning I can find a way to solve or work around the delay). I do have a lot of patience, but this will drain it rapidly. This issue isn't exclusive to a few bad apples either. It's happened with people I previously considered to have excellent credentials.

As a result of these situations, it's become very difficult for me to simply entrust someone with an important task, especially if it is a key component of the work. Furthermore in some cases where I take the initiative to do the work myself, I have upset others. This is especially true if pride or "doing things by the book" are involved; these aren't usually things I prioritise over the bottom line. That said, I have gotten better at dealing with such sensitivities over time.

Fortunately, my trust hasn't completely eroded; I can still view people as innocent until proven guilty (or competent until proven otherwise, as it were). If someone has proven themselves to be dependable and consistently capable, I'll have little problem leaving it to them. Additionally, with time I have gotten better at dealing with many of the other scenarios I mentioned, particularly ones where the problem lies not in outright incompetence, but in a misalignment of skills.

One such example was in a fairly recent project: one team member who had previously been very reliable suddenly encountered a great deal of trouble with certain tasks. As it turns out, while he was a very fast worker when it came to simple executions, he was much more prone to giving up when he encountered technical challenges. My initial solution was to teach him to perform basic troubleshooting, but the problem persisted. Fortunately there was a large number of simple but tedious tasks that needed to be done, and he completed them in a much shorter time frame as a result of his talents.

In cases like that, where I might previously have simply left that team member to complete the initially assigned task and overwritten his work later, I've learned to become better at identifying alternate ways of optimising the project workflow. As I've learned to notice people's individual strengths and weaknesses, I have become more at ease with trusting people with tasks I've found them to be well suited to. It's a skill I fully intend to develop further, so that the frustrations I've encountered in the past won't come back to irk me. I'm not all the way there yet admittedly, but steady as she goes.


And so, there are my primary strengths and weaknesses, at least as I see them. With time they might change, but to tell the truth, I think they are in large part born of my core personality traits. I'd like to think that it's a good distribution, and it allows me to work well in my selected field. I've gotten myself this far, and I know that I've improved in many ways over time. Hopefully, with the right experience, that trend will continue.

To anyone who read this, I hope you found it interesting, and that it helps you understand me just a little bit better. Rest assured I'll be writing quite a bit more about myself here soon enough.

My Formative Video Game Collection

For all my claims of wanting to be a video game designer, and this being my professional site, I've spoken very little about video games in my blog so far. I think it's about time I fix that.

For this first entry on the topic, I'm going to present a list of games I consider to have been significant in my development as a gamer and as an aspiring professional game designer. Some are of a historical nature, while others just had elements to them that influenced my views on game design. I'll try to keep this chronological to when I played them as best I can, but it is a fairly long list. As for rambling, I make no promises. This is after all a big part of my personal life, and that is the subject I ramble about the most, especially when there's no one there to stop me (like right now). So without further ado, here we go:

Pokémon Pinball

I'm fairly certain this was the first game I ever played. When I was young, I would often visit my cousins, and they had a Game Boy colour (my mom at the time didn't let me have video games), and when I'd come over, I'd frequently play this game. I had already gotten into Pokémon pretty hard by then, and I loved this thing. It eventually led me to play a lot of other Pokémon spin-offs, like Puzzle Challenge, which in turn introduced me to puzzle games.

Pokémon Red

Another game I played that technically belonged to my cousins, though they lent this one to me for several years. It was my first real Pokémon game and the one that got me hooked on the idea of collection and team building. I still kind of wish I had Blue instead (because I like that colour better and Blastoise ftw), but I definitely owe a lot to this game.

Pokémon Silver

This is the last Pokémon game I promise! I got this game (along with Gold and Pinball) with my Game Boy Colour as either a birthday or Christmas present (probably the latter, given the release date). Technically speaking, that makes them my first owned games and console. My mom wasn't too happy at my aunt for that (to her credit, she eventually changed her mind about video games).

Silver has easily been my favourite game in the entire series. I played it for ages and actually did get a team up to lvl 100 and came damn close to having a complete Pokédex. The only reason I stopped playing it was because being a dumb kid I used the multiplication glitch to get one too many copies of my Feraligatr and ended up corrupting my save. Anyway, I learned a whole lot about game design for combat, collectibles, strategy, and world-building from that game. I wouldn't say it's the game that made me a gamer or a game designer, but it's definitely the one that got me to fall in love with the concept of video games.

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

This was the first game I ever played on console. It was a guy that was living with us that owned it and a PS1, though he'd often let me play it. I like to think of this as my other big entry into gaming, since it formed a lot of my gaming behaviour from then on. Platforming, checking for secret paths, silliness: all penchants I got through this game. It also holds up remarkably well, and I do still play it from time to time.

Roller Coaster Tycoon

I don't know that this was my first PC game, but it was the first that I really explored a great deal. It got me into the strategy genre, which for the longest time was pretty much the only genre I played on PC. It also got me into a lot of other Tycoon games, such as Zoo and School Tycoon. Now that I think of it, it's here where I developed my interest in building things in games, which extended into my love of world-building, collecting., and customisation.

Age of Mythology

Another game I got into for PC. I was really into Greek mythology as a kid, so this was my jam, and one of the ways I discovered that you can learn things through video games. The scenario editor also contributed to the whole world-building thing. It's funny now that I think of it: I usually consider character and mechanics design to be my stronger design domains, but with respect to games I started with levels...

Oh, and I did try online multiplayer with it once, which I think may have been the first time I tried online multiplayer. I only ever tried once though, because within the first few minutes I was promptly destroyed by some guy who was playing the Norse (pro tip: the Norse are OP in that game's multiplayer because their workers are also fighters).

SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals

Technically this was the first console game I ever owned. My step-dad bought me a PS2 for my 10th birthday along with this game (again, to my mom's displeasure, though I think that was mostly because he got me an M rated game). I never got all that far with it and I never played it online, but I remember adoring the idea of using stealth and tactics to outsmart the enemy and get around levels. It's something that struck me as a great gameplay style, which I suppose explains my love of the Metal Gear Solid franchise and why my favourite personal game concept is built on the idea of tactical team combat.

Ratchet and Clank

This was one of the first games I rented (back when Blockbuster was still a thing), and effectively the first game I "chose" from a large selection. Something about a cat dude holding a giant rocket launcher with a robot on his back and a whole bunch of cool weapon designs in the background was very appealing to me. The series ended up being one of my all-time favourites (I still consider Going Commando to be in my top 3 favourite games). It introduced me to mixing shooting and platforming (which in turn influenced my gameplay style in a lot of other games), as well as the idea of weapon variety and later weapon leveling. It was also one of the first games I played with a story I actively engaged in.

EDIT: Something I neglected to mention but touch on later is that this was also the first franchise I'd ever become a true fanboy of, and the first franchise whose online community I joined and actively engaged in. Those were good times...


Midnight Club 3

Though I did have both Gran Turismo 3 and Moto GP2 a little prior and Need For Speed 2 a long time before (though to be honest while I really enjoyed NFS2, I forgot about it completely when I shifted over to console gaming), Midnight Club 3 was the first racing game I personally really got into. I think this almost entirely because I really REALLY liked customising my vehicles to make them look cool. I also just generally found racing through streets with obstacles, alternate paths, and special abilities way more interesting than classic driving. The whole "spending more time customising my aesthetics and making designs rather than actually playing the game" thing is something of a recurring theme with me. I guess that's proof of my prior inclination to become a game designer, if anything.

Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus

Comically, as far as FF games I've played, it's just this and X-2 (I didn't even play the original X; in my defense I was young and didn't know any better at the time). I know this is generally not considered to be that great of a game, but it was my introduction to the concept of a shooter with RPG elements. Besides Pokémon, I hadn't really tried RPGs yet, but a lot of the ideas behind it: leveling characters and gear, customising equipment, exploration, and a heavy plot, all of these really resonated with me. That alone earns this game its spot in my list.

Soul Calibur III

I was never a huge fighting game player, but I played a bit of 2 with friends that owned it, and turned out to be pretty good (mostly because I figured out how to throw and parry before anyone else). 3 was the first one I really played and engaged with on my own. I probably don't need to say it at this point, but I spent a great deal of time in character creation for this game. Despite not playing them nearly that often, I still quite enjoy fighting (especially sword-fighting) games as a result of the Soul Calibur series, and it helped me understand a bunch of game concepts later on down the road.

God Of War II

I credit this game as the one that killed my original PS2, alongside the original God Of War which I had rented when I got the sequel (the disc was in really bad shape). This was my intro to character action fighters. Fortunately a lot of the knowledge I got from SC3 translated well, as did my exploration and puzzle senses from platformers. Additionally, my love of Greek mythology helped me understand a lot of stuff as well. One thing I really loved about this series in particular was its creativity with respect to its amazing visuals. The designs of characters, the world, and even scenes (especially the brutal kills) were very appealing to me. It also showed me a cool alternative way of interpreting real world myths into games which was fairly novel to me at the time.

The Sims Complete Collection

I only ever touched the original Sims when the second game came out. I was conflicted between getting this or the sequel, but decided this was the better choice since it came with all the expansions (to this day I do not regret this decision, though it did lead to me being fairly shocked at how relatively little content there was when I eventually bought the Sims 3; not having access to teleporters out of the box was a real drag). The Sims is probably the most serious case of me barely actually playing the game and spending all my time in the character and house creation modes (Minecraft may have broken that record since, though). So many mansions. So much rosebud;!;!;...1.

Halo Combat Evolved

Strangely enough, this is perhaps one of the most significant games in my personal life story, but almost entirely because I didn't like it all that much. Looking back and having played it again I appreciate it as a significant game, but I'm still not huge on it despite it having a lot of things I should enjoy. I think it almost entirely comes down to the controls: the aiming felt too stiff and movement felt too floaty. Plus the Xbox controllers feel really awkward to me for some reason.

Anyway, it's significant because a lot of my friends at the time loved it, and it became the go-to party game. I wasn't big on it or the Xbox (a lot of my favourite games were PlayStation exclusives too), and that was in part used as a factor in splitting me apart from my small group of friends at the time (well, it was part of the premise under which I was bullied and subsequently ostracised by them; I'll probably write about that story here eventually). So, for a long while, I associated Halo with why I didn't have any friends through the majority of high school. That said, those years alone proved to have helped me out in a lot of ways, so I don't consider it all that much of a bad thing.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Before our split, I played this a lot with my friends. After that, it became my main gaming outlet for a good long while. In fact, it was the first game I played online for significant amounts of time. After this, MW2, and Black Ops, I became fairly good at the series and the FPS genre in general, if I might say so myself. By now I'm easily the best at CoD in my group of friends, and though I'm far from MLG tier, I was in the top 5 or so in online matches I played with fair consistency. That said I'm fairly rusty these days, but enough about that.

I developed a lot of ideas about playing games through this series, such as applying map exploitation and psychological concepts from other games to outsmart and flank enemies. I got really good at being an infiltrator and marksman. I'm still pretty proud of those talents, and it has helped me define the types of games and characters I play in a big way. Additionally, this game franchise was another instance of my real world interests (modern and 20th century political history) and video games blending in an interesting way. Truth be told, for all the critisism of its popularity, I think CoD earned its place in the bestsellers through overall solid execution, and I respect that, despite its flaws.


Civilization IV

My introduction to the 4X genre came fairly late, but hot damn do I love that genre now thanks to Civ. Not only did it feed my love of world history and culture and teach me how to install mods for games, but it also showed me the wonders of turn based strategy. One thing I've never really liked about RTS is that everything feels so rushed that you basically have to establish a gameplay formula for each time you play lest you end up way behind an enemy that optimised their process. I liked being able to look through a whole bunch of complicated systems and carefully choose among the myriad of different tactics to outwit my opponents over the course of a long campaign. More than that I really like it when combat isn't the be all and end all.

My favourite tactic was to use a combination of rapid expansion in unclaimed territory, culture, and diplomacy to establish peaceful relationships and make myself untouchable by virtue of being "the one guy everybody likes". All the while I would build up internally as an economic powerhouse. Then anytime someone gave me an excuse to attack them (or I felt the game was going on long enough), I'd use my massive funds to buy my army and effectively create a force bigger than everyone else combined within a few turns. There were a few elements I neglected to mention here, but this technique translated to my tactics in a lot of contexts, including social (though usually I never need to use the "build an army" part). There was something really enjoyable about that over the standard aggressive nature of so many other games.

Oh and one more thing: Baba Yetu is easily one of my favourite main menu songs ever.


This is kind of a weird one, but Bejeweled was easily one of my favourite games to play on the computer when there was nothing else to do and I didn't have the time or means to play my other games. Visual puzzles are something I like a lot, and this had them and strategy in spades, all the while not having the time component that made things like Tetris too stressful for my tastes. I think this game is the reason I ended up being so amenable to mobile gaming, particularly things like Candy Crush and Angry Birds, later on. The idea of a quick simple little puzzle game you can use to pass the time is something I can relate to. In fairness though, Minesweeper and Spider Solitaire share credit on that front.

Resistance 2

I was a huge Insomniac fanboy, so I played and really enjoyed the first Resistance before Modern Warfare. However, I only kind of got into the online multiplayer. After Modern Warfare though, the Resistance 2 became my FPS of choice, and I loved it. The mobility and possibilities for creative tactics with the weapons and perks fit well with my preferred play-style. I distinctly remember one moment when I was in a 2v2 match. I was using a Marksman rifle and my partner was using the minigun that can pop up a shield. The combined tactic of his suppressing fire and my skill at headshotting, as well as his ability to attract attention while I flanked with a cloak and took them out from behind... These were moments where my mind went "YES! This is how teamwork should be!" Furthermore the co-op was a great revelation to me. Class-based co-op is still something I really love, and it surprised me that it took as long as R2 to introduce me to it.

One other thing about this game is that it was the first one in which I joined an online clan (the Royal Marines). It wasn't big or especially skilled, but they were my friends and that along with the Insomniac forums were my big introductions to having a true online social life. Kind of a big deal when you don't have any real-life friends. I even learned to use the cloning tool in Photoshop to make my forum signature (this was before I knew anything about using Photoshop properly):

The Elder Scrolls Oblivion

Not counting my dips into games with RPG elements (and excluding Enchanted Arms and FFX-2 as JRPGs), Oblivion was my first attempt at playing a classic Western RPG, and my first major introduction to the genre in general, alongside the traditional fantasy setting. Admittedly while I do like the structure of these types of games, I didn't get all that into Fallout 3 or Skyrim (mostly because they felt too brown/grey and monotonous). Oblivion I played a good deal and got fairly far, but I think by then end I was bogged down too much by my obsession with collecting absolutely every item and having full sets of every armour/weapon in the game. That said, I did still put many hours into all three of the aforementioned games, and though I wouldn't consider them my personal favourites, they did plant the seeds of interest in Western RPGs.

Metal Gear Solid 4

Given how huge of a fan of MGS I am now, it's kind of baffling that I only started with 4. In fact, I played 4 with barely any prior knowledge of the previous games. As should be obvious by now, the gameplay style encouraged with Tactical Espionage Action was exactly my cup of tea. It was kind of like one of those moments when you already have something in your head as being your ideal thing, and then you discover that it already exists. Stealth, customisation, multiple ways to go through levels, Easter eggs galore. I was an instant MGS fan...

Most people assume I followed absolutely nothing of what was going on the first time around, but surprisingly I was able to piece it together fairly well, and after some research in the database and online, I became pretty well versed in the lore too. I later went back and finished all the previous games, and I'm currently playing MGS5 and am already loving it as expected.

Assassin's Creed 2

Though I did play and enjoy the first Assassin's Creed, I shared the common opinion that it felt like it lacked something. I subsequently shared the equally common opinion that 2 successfully brought everything I hoped for from the series. The solid parkour mechanics were well complemented by the beautiful and vibrant new setting (it helped that I had been to most of the places visited in the game) and multitude of places to explore, and the additional side tasks added meat to the franchise's bones.

There is one thing that makes this game special. I was already fairly down with the premise of the Animus as a means of exploring different settings, but what struck me the most about it came near the end of this game. I remember beating AC2 in between exam study sessions, and being completely shocked when Minerva turned to speak directly to Desmond/me. That was genuinely freaky, and I loved it. It was a small thing, but it stuck with me. The fact that the game could get me so invested in Ezio, then subsequently tear suspension of disbelief to remind me that I was playing a game within a game struck me as something so fundamentally unique to video games. Since then, I've seen many explorations of meta-narrative, but this was one of the first I experienced and that alone put Ubisoft (and eventually the entire Montreal games scene) on my radar.

Deus Ex Human Revolution

I had briefly touched the original Deus Ex, but never got into it. Later I watched a playthrough (this was during a time where I watched playthroughs of games I was unlikely to ever play, but thought might be culturally significant enough for me to know about them) and found out it was exactly the kind of game I'd like, since it touched on all the same stuff I like about MGS, but with the addition of RPG style choices that can affect the story, which I also loved. So, I asked for Human Revolution as soon as I heard about it.

In a strange twist, I had originally asked to get it on the PS3, but my mom made a mistake and got it for PC (cue "I didn't ask for this" joke here). I installed it anyway and that, quite simply, is how I converted from a console player to the PC master race. I never realised the PC could be such a good system for shooters (I didn't follow much about gaming culture outside of G4 and Playstation Magazine back then). It was a revelation, and I've been headshotting with my mouse ever since. This game also prompted me to look into Hitman and Eidos, and I've been a huge fan of those ever since as well.

Mass Effect

When I was in university, several of my friends got really hyped for Mass Effect 3. I didn't know anything about it or any Bioware games at the time (again, I was ignorant back then; but I was learning quickly). In part at their insistence, and my own desire to not have everything spoiled by waiting too long, I ran through the first two games and then the third. I came to realise Mass Effect was another one of those franchises that hit on a lot of my favourite things: class-based gameplay, choices, engaging story and characters, sci-fi... In fact, I noticed that a lot of Mass Effect's plot matched fairly well to the story I had conceived for my own game idea. As such, this series got me to become a big fan of Bioware, which led me to playing Dragon Age, which I played around the same time I was introduced to the Pathfinder Tabletop game, which in turn introduced me to a whole bunch of fundamental RPG concepts. The fact that it's only been a few years since I learned so many of these things still kind of astounds me, but I have Mass Effect to thank for fast tracking me through it.

Also, ME3's multiplayer. Loved it. Introduction to gauntlet-style team co-op and class synergy that wasn't restricted to just 3 classes. I incorporated a lot of those ideas into my own game design concepts.

Borderlands 2

This was one of those games where a friend who was really into the series insisted I play it with them. I did, and though I did eventually burn out on it in the higher levels for various reasons (the main one being that power scaling became completely unreasonable after lvl 60, especially if your partner played more than you and was a few levels higher so all the enemies were scaled to them therefore you couldn't do any damage... But enough rambling about that). It was another dip for me into the realm of online co-op on PC, but also to the idea of drop-in/drop-out co-op and having the co-op be a part of the main campaign. I had done this a bit before in split screen, but seeing it online through the PC felt very different. I suspect it was primarily because it wasn't all that linear as a game and it allowed both players to do as they wished (even if it meant going to completely different parts of the map), but still emphasised teamwork. It felt like a more liberated form of co-op. Oh also it helped that the game was really funny.

Spec Ops: The Line

Speaking of funny games... This isn't one. But it is a game that made me think. Some games had certainly challenged me to think about subjects, and definitely consider exploring game design through a meta lens... But this game really did a great job in challenging what gamers take for granted, and as someone who at this point had already decided he wanted to become a game designer, that really struck home. Those tough, thought provoking moments are something I want to see more of in games. And if at all possible, I'd like to in some way be responsible for some of them.

The Stanley Parable

Another though-provoking game. Not only did I love the commentary it presented on game design, it was just a joy to play and explore. Truth be told, a game that is as self-aware as this didn't initially strike me as something that could get made in this industry. But the fact that it did, and that it worked brilliantly and received critical acclaim for it really impressed upon me that video games are truly where I belong.


At this point, I think this is the game I have played the most in my entire gaming life. I'll admit, it's not my favourite game ever, nor is it the one I consider to be the most important, but I'll be damned if it doesn't do exactly what it says on the (metaphorical) box and does it very well. It has a lot of my gaming standards: mobility focus, creative weapons, character classes, teamwork, co-op. I've played this game with my friends on a fairly regular basis for a little over 2 years now. I've slowed down on it a lot now, but I've enjoyed my time with it. More importantly, I learned a great deal about game design by watching the devs talk about the game as they make it, and seeing the constantly updating feedback on it while playing myself. For all the system's potential flaws, that's one thing I really enjoy about open betas and free-to-play games: they serve as excellent study material for game design in action.

I'd be remiss to say that's my entire list. There are several other games I've neglected to mention that I felt pushed the boundaries of gameplay and narrative in unique ways while still being fun. There have been an equally large number of games I've simply enjoyed or found to be extremely well executed. Heavy Rain, Infamous, Uncharted, Telltale's The Walking Dead, Flower, Journey, Little Big Planet... Heck I just finished Undertale yesterday and that already strikes me as a game that deserves a spot on this list.

There are many, many more I could add here. Unfortunately, this list is incredibly long as it is, and that would inflate it enormously. And so I restricted the list as best I could to games that shaped me personally as a gamer and game designer. For now, this is its conclusion. But no doubt there will be more in the future, and perhaps then I will update this list...

...I probably won't. Not for a very long time, anyway.