Legend of Mark

YAY! If you have a Facebook account, you can try it here.

This is a project I’ve been messing around with for a while now, but the premise is pretty simple: login with Facebook, then move around the island (arrow keys) and talk to the NPCs (spacebar). The NPCs will grab your public Facebook data (posts, statuses, comments, etc) and generate markov chains out of them for their dialog. Do you recognize what you’ve said? ;D

I got the idea (and initial algorithm) from an app called What Would I Say. Turns out the basic premise for text-based markov chains is pretty simple: for every word in a set of data, generate the list of words that word and record how often they follow it. Then, choose randomly from the list of starting words and continue to choose a following word at random  (with the frequency weights) until you hit a terminal word. This results in semi-coherent phrases with some minor grammar mishaps. If you’ve ever encountered spam that was almost human-readable it probably follows a similar algorithm!

I thought it would be neat to see a game where NPCs talked to you in those same semi-coherent, semi-recognizable strings, to see your own personality reflected in the game. And thus Legend of Mark was born!

Legend of Mark

The game was an experiment in using the Facebook API, browser-to-Unity communications, and pixel art. For tileable pixels, I got a lot of mileage out of this tutorial. I also wrote a Tiled map importer for Unity (more on that coming soon!)

All in all, while the game is a prototype that got slightly out of hand, I’m really excited for the learning I got out of it and some of the tooling that I can use in the future. In the meantime: enjoy the silliness!

One More TurnHave you heard of the One More Turn Podcast? If not, no worries, here’s a quick intro:

One More Turn’s a weekly production about video games run by two guys, Kevin King and Jim Stoholski. Episodes on the show come in one of 3 formats:

  1. Overview of a ‘classic’ game along with general discussion around the game’s main components (I really enjoyed this recent one about Metal Gear Solid and stealth)
  2. “Show and Tell,” where Jim and Kevin each pick a game they’ve been playing, usually something more obscure or on the indie side of things, and talk about it!
  3. “5 Questions,” where Kevin throws some really in-depth questions at indie devs and the games they make.

All three formats are really great in their own right! Having checked out a bunch of them, I recommend it if you’re like me and like to have a light podcast going in the background sometimes. I usually do while I’m working on art.

So Kevin actually found me through our own Indie Game House podcast (podcastopia up in here!) and used my feedback form to get in touch. He was looking for a game about motherhood with mother’s day coming up, and pretty much stumbled across my game. Cool stuff!

Growing was highlighted on their latest Show and Tell episode, Mamacritic, where Kevin breaks down the game in a really cool way (never thought of Growing as a “god game” before), and talks about the lack of games about motherhood or even parenting space. After all, the one other game I know to star a mother (Offspring Fling) came out of the same jam I did ;D

Kevin also interviewed me for their other segment: 5 Questions With Corey Nolan

In the video, we talk about Growing and what inspired me to make a game about mothers, the inspiration for the art style, and we also discuss Skinnier, a game I worked on with my friends Renee and Will and Global Game Jam 2014 and I still owe you guys a blog post about. ;D Also in typical Corey fashion I say way too many ‘ums’ and mix up my words a whole bunch. Worth listening to just for the embarrassment factor.

Anyway, these guys put on some great shows and if you’re a podcast fan I highly recommend tuning in. I know I will!

Phoenix Dodgeball (pic courtesy Tina Aramburu)

With Growing complete, I’ve started prototyping an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while. It’s a fusion of one of my favorite genres (turn-based strategy) and my favorite sports (dodgeball). (If you haven’t seen dodgeball since your elementary school days, you should get reacquainted with the competitive scene; it’s awesome! Here’s a video from my league that demonstrates some high-level play.)

The Concept

Starting Line (pic courtesy of Matthew Wegner) One thing that makes competitive dodgeball so interesting is the concept of “the burden.” Put simply, the burden is an algorithm to determine which side has a responsibility to give up balls in the next play. (The punishment for noncompliance usually involves the burdened team losing all their balls to the other side, which can be fatal against a veteran team.)

What’s fascinating though, is that the burden creates an implicit resolution of play into “turns,” and most high-level strategy gets encapsulated in a turn-based framework. These pseudo-turns consist of 3 main parts:

1. Positioning.
Both teams take control of balls on their respective sides of the court. The defending team typically spreads their balls to the far ends of the court to counter the attacking team.
2. Recalculation of the burden.
(See the pseudocode below for details.)
3. Attack.
The team with the burden forms and executes a plan, which must include putting N balls over the line within a 10-second countdown (where N is determined by the burden calculated in step 2).

Largely this results in match-up formats where the burden is shifted back and forth between the two teams, resulting in… you guessed it! A turn-based strategy game.

When games start to be played in this back-and-forth manner, the key strategic elements become targeting, ball control and defensive readiness. It’s this interplay between the offensive and defensive elements that I’m focusing on, because that’s where I think the truly interesting gameplay decisions are.

The Code

Here is pseudocode for the burden calculation algorithm. The definition of burden I used can be found in Section 9.5 of the Phoenix Dodgeball Competitive League Detailed Rules. (Burden calculation may vary between leagues and rulesets.) (more…)

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Growing was a success before I even posted it.

I sent the final build of the “gift version” to my Mom early Monday morning. I went to work, planning to post the public builds and link them on the social networks during my lunch break. By lunchtime, my Mom had already played through it and responded. The response was just…


“Oooohhhh my goodness….that is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and it was for me, and it was from you, and it took you gazillions of amount of time, and almost lost! I am so not worthy!!!”

My family (in real life)Now that last sentence is pretty silly cause let me tell you some things ’bout my mom:

  • She and my dad raised 6 kids, and by ‘raised’ I mean she did ALL of the cooking and cleaning (seriously, I didn’t learn how to do laundry til college), and now works two part-time jobs on top of it.
  • She’s tirelessly searched for the diagnosis of my mysterious severe autoimmune disease. I’ve been suffering from it since I was 15. She’s been adamant about finding the answer even during the times I get frustrated and give up. She just never gives up.
  • When I decided to go into games, she not only supported the decision, she was straight up proud of me. She actively believes in gaming’s ability to change people for the better.


“I wish all [traditional] Catholic mothers could see this and then speak negatively about video games.”

I was SO HAPPY my mom said this. We don’t agree on religion anymore. She raised us all not just Catholic, but VERY Catholic… and I found myself kinda simultaneously pushed and pulled away from religion as I got older. One thing that became clear was my career didn’t stand well with a community who thought games were evil, violent and manipulative. I know my mom has to deal with backlash from said communities when she defends my decision to make games.

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YEAH, I’ve released my game! Here’s a link to the landing page. You can also get to it via the Games section of my blog.

That’s what’s UP! Many of you who know me well know this is a pretty big deal for me. The rest of you probably know little to nothing about the game, or even that Growing is a game. That’s my fault! I’m going to be more open about future game projects.

I started Growing at a game jam in May 2011. The theme was “Motherhood,” and the idea was that I would give this game as a present to my mom when I completed it. By the end of the jam, I had a working prototype that I refined over the next few months.

I threw myself into the work in my off-time. By October, I had an almost completed game that I felt pretty good about. But all that changed in an afternoon, when my backpack get stolen with my laptop, wacom tablet, and all my game’s design notes inside. I hadn’t bothered to keep my project up to date in source control (a decision whose stupidity is only really considered in hindsight) and as a result the only remaining copy of the project I could find was from the beginning of the summer, not long after the game jam.

To say I was devastated would have been an understatement. I couldn’t stop crying. I’m really lucky I had Kyle around because I had some pretty violent and irrational reactions. Growing had become a part of my identity, a bright spot while I was going through some major life troubles. The worst was knowing I had brought it all on myself with the lack of source control.

When I calmed down, the most difficult decision was whether to quit the project forever or keep going. The thought of continuing work on it was so fatiguing.

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