Category: Indie Gaming

140: A late review

140 is a synaesthetic rhythm puzzle platformer indie game released in 2013. I remember it getting favorable reviews, and bought it, but like so many people who buy games on Steam, I didn’t play it for a long time. I finally got around to it, and I’m glad I did.

So far I’ve completed the first four levels.

The design of this game is so, so good. Let me tell you that straight off. I’ve never played a game where the various design elements are do tightly and intricately interwoven. The graphics are abstract, shapes and colors. The background of the levels animate in sync with the music, which has a strong beat, I presume, of 140 beats per minute. The platforms and obstacles in the game move in synch with this beat as well, so if you are attuned to the music, it helps you time your jumps and when to move to avoid death and achieve success.

The title of the game symbolically represents the 3 states of your avatar. 1, represented as a rectangle, or square, is you when you are motionless. 4, represented as a triangle, represents you when you are airborne, jumping or falling. And 0, represented as a circle, is you when you are moving, rolling on the surface of the ground. Thus, the title serves as a subtle reinforcement of the basic play mechanics: wait, jump, run. It’s brilliant.

The game uses this subtle, abstract visual language pervasively throughout the game, communicating to the player without words what they are supposed to do. This lets you discover the game on your own terms, and you don’t feel like the game is ever holding your hand or hitting you over the head with tutorials. The early stages of the game are simple and very gently pull you in to learning how to read the visual cues, as if instinctively.

The result is that you get get really deeply immersed in the action. As you learn how you can move, at just the right time the game provides you with a new challenge, and it’s up to you to work out for yourself how you’re supposed to overcome it. There are pits to jump over, ledges to jump up to, moving platforms, disappearing and reappearing platforms, platforms that alternate between being safe and being deadly, ceilings that will crush you, platforms that have a trampoline effect that will bounce you with a super jump in rhythm to the background music. There are keys which you can pick up by jumping into them, and you can carry them to a circular “doorway” which the key will unlock, changing the level in some way, activating dormant platforms or introducing some new play mechanic or transform the level to up the challenge.

It’s a combination of hand-eye coordination, rhythm, and figuring out puzzles for how to get through the obstacles. At the end of each level, there is a special challenge, a kind of boss battle, where you have to quickly learn a new puzzle mechanic and master it, handling iterations of the obstacle repeatedly until you’ve succeeded in defeating the level.

The first four levels were a fairly quick play, I probably completed each one in about a half hour or so, dying a lot, and taking breaks here and there. It felt like after the fourth level I had won the game, but after watching what seemed like some kind of ending, I found myself back in the starting room, which serves as a level select, and discovered that there appears to be another four levels waiting to be unlocked and played.

I started the fifth level (or is this more of a “second quest”? and found that now instead of moving to the right, this level seems to be all about moving to the left, which for some reason feels less natural and therefore more difficult. I guess since English is read left-to-right, and most platformer games tend to follow the convention established by Super Mario Brothers, and treat scrolling to the right as “forward”. It makes the level seem more difficult than it really is. The obstacles are simple, but then I died and instead of starting over at a checkpoint the game kicked me all the way out back to the starting level select screen. So it’s super-hard, you have to beat the entire level on one life, no mistakes. Yeah, this definitely feels more like “second quest” level difficulty increase. Well, as much as I died in order to get through levels 3 and 4, I have no idea if I’ll be able to get through level 5 at all, so this might be as far as I get.

I really enjoyed the challenges of the game, and have a great deal of appreciation for the style and design of the game as a whole. Everything feels so purposeful and deliberative, like every single thing in the game was done just as it was after a good deal of thought had been put into it — its purpose in the game, how it relates to other elements of the game, and how to tie those elements together to make everything seem like a unified whole.

It does seem a bit brief, but if the difficulty continues to ramp up from levels 5-8 as it has from 1-5, you might well never get to see all the game has to offer.

Everyone should give this one a try. It’s timeless and will be just as good another 10 years from now as it was back when it was first released.


Amid the prelaunch talk about the Atari 2600+, Atari also recently released a teaser for a new modern game, QOMP 2.

Was there a QOMP 1? Yes, there was!

I have to admit, I must have missed the original QOMP, which was released in 2021.

The trailer shows what looks like a story-driven pong-breakout/platformer mashup.

Looks decent.

If Atari’s strategy for their modern releases is to align with indies who are doing interesting things in the retro space, I’m here for it.

It’s too bad Atari didn’t have a slew of these lined up to launch as system exclusive 1st-party titles in 2017 when they were hyping the much-delayed, underwhelming AtariBox console. It would have been a much different story how that system was received.

Reacting to Homebrewer responses to AtariAge discontinuing ports

Recently, Atari Age announced that it would no longer sell IP-encumbered products in its store, and would be putting those titles that they planned to discontinue on sale through July 23 of this year.

The Zero Page Homebrew people recently put out a collection of statements by the various luminary developers in the Homebrew scene, and posted them on Facebook as well as covered the news on their video stream.

I have a lot of things to say about this stuff. So, in the spirit of copyright infringement for the common good, I’ve “stolen” the images of each developer’s statements, and offer my reaction to them below. I am nobody special, I just happen to care.

It’s good to see that Champ Games intends to continue developing original games and may pursue licensing rights for ports.

It’s unfortunately a bit naive of Champ Games to announce that they plan to continue to sell ROMs of their IP-encumbered ports. The ROM files are just as subject to IP infringement liability as a physical cartridge is.

I’m reading between the lines a bit, but it seems like Atari Age’s decision to discontinue these games is a pre-emptive effort on their part to limit their legal liability in the event they get sued, and not necessarily a result of any specific takedown effort on the part of the rights holders.

The thing about this is, Atari Age have been operating in this grey market area for many years, and ceasing operations doesn’t absolve them of liability for past transgressions. In principle, the rights holders could go after Atari Age and its affiliates, partners, etc. at any time.

In fact, Atari Age did have to take down Princess Rescue, an Atari 2600 de-make of Super Mario Bros, due to legal action from Nintendo, who are notoriously litigious and vigorous when it comes to protecting their IP.

Legal action can take many forms, from a simple “cease and desist” action to out-of-court settlements, to civil lawsuits to settle tort claims, to criminal charges that could result in fines, imprisonment, etc. There may be statutes of limitations, and a rights holder may or may not wish to take action to protect its IP. Without explicit permission, there’s always the risk that one day some IP holder will wake up and take notice, or decide that “now’s the time” and take action. This hangs like a sword of Damocles over the head of Atari Age and anyone else who chooses to ignore the legal risks of using IP without permission.

Atari Age have managed to operate for many years at a small scale, but the longer they continue to do so, the greater the chances of some IP owner taking notice and taking action. Given the potential liabilities, such action could very easily result in a complete shutdown of all operations, even for fully original works, simply because the IP owner could conceivably be awarded a judgement so large that the infinger is forced into bankruptcy, or due to a legal injunction.

This is true whether you sell or simply give away the works you’re infringing on.

So it does make sense for Atari Age to recognize these risks do exist, and rational for them to want to limit and minimize their exposure.

So the safest way forward would be to completely purge the all infringing material from the store and the website. Leaving IP infringing ROMs available for sale or free download still carries with it risk.

This is unfortunate, and it would seem desirable for the laws to change to somehow be more accommodating for public domain and free use/fair use involving abandoned or inactive IP. But changing the law takes a lot of effort, and we can’t expect that it will happen any time soon, if ever.

So the existing “proper channels” of seeking permission is really the only practical way forward. And even that is very difficult, making it practically out of the reach of many would-be developers, and if the IP owner says “no” there’s basically no recourse available.

Mogno’s statement alludes to the possibility of implementing the rules of a game (which are not copyrightable) to create a new/original work. In other words, a clone game. Conceivably, if you wanted to make a game exactly like Burger Time, you could make the same game but make it about something else, say making Tacos or Pizza, and give it a safe title that couldn’t be construed as diluting the Burger Time trademark or brand, something like Tacomania perhaps. This approach can work to a greater or lesser extent, but it almost never feels as satisfying as playing the “real thing”. That is to say, the trademarked name, characters, etc. all do have real value and contribute to the desirability of the game, and taking these elements out does take something away from the game.

Many of the homebrew port projects have chosen to “soft clone” a game, by making a game that looks and plays as close to the original as possible, but has a title which “parodies” the original, or is a “take-off” of the original title: eg, Qyx is a clone of Qix; RubyQ is a clone of Q*Bert; Galagon is a clone of Galaga; Robot War: 2684 is a clone of Robotron: 2084; etc. How much this actually affords any legal sanctuary for the clone developers is rather dubious, and would need to be tested in courts. Even if the defendants were to win in court, the costs of defending yourself in court is best avoided. Homebrew developers don’t have the legal resources to stand up to corporate legal teams with deep pockets.

Whether you call these games clones, ports, remakes, or de-makes, homebrew games that use unauthorized IP without seeking license are labors of love crafted by hobbyists and shared with the world in homage to a product that could not feasibly be brought to market as a traditional business venture. Many games adapted by homebrewers were never ported to the Atari 2600 at all, or if a port did get an official release back in the day, the homebrew scene can often produce a version of considerably higher quality.

Over time, these homage projects by hobbyists grew in scope and ambition, to the point where people were producing physical cartridges at a level of quality and presentation that rivaled the best professional efforts of real businesses.

This unfortunately blurs the lines between what might be considered “fan” projects and what would more appropriately concern a legal department of some rights holder of some dormant IP that they might feel needs to be protected lest they lose it.

The internet likewise removes many barriers, making it possible for communities to develop who have a common interest in sharing works, for these operations to scale, and to become easy to find — both by other developers and fans as well as IP owners and their lawyers — and easier to scale.

But rather than calling these games “ports” or “clones” or “ripoffs”, I’d like to advocate for calling them “covers”. Much like one musician will “cover” a song written by another artist, creating a new version of the song that has its own distinct merit as a work of art, we can have multiple game developers “covering” the classics, creating their own unique spin in their own signature style. This is something I would very much like to see embraced and encouraged in the video game world. The founders of Activision, the first third party game developer, thought of themselves as “rock stars” who wanted their names to become as famous as their games. Given that real rock stars often cover each others’ songs, I think it’s a great metaphor to extend to the video game industry.

Let developers cover other developers. Let developers remix and sample old games. Let artists do art with video games. Intellectual Property law needs to evolve to recognize the legitimacy of these long-standing and established traditions, and provide for their protection as part of “fair use”.

Games and art existed long before intellectual property law. There are many games which exist in the public domain today. Classic games like Chess, checkers, card games, etc. all can be made by anyone.

Anyone can paint a painting of a subject, interpreting it in their unique way and putting their unique spin or style to it. In many ways, the re-creation of a videogame, especially porting it to a different hardware platform, is an act of creation analogous to an artist painting their own version of some subject.

It is only human to wish to have the freedom to create such artwork. An idea for a game can be created in any number of unique ways, interpreted differently by different creators. And just as some subjects have been painted countless times by thousands of artists, software developers often have the same creative urge to express themselves by creating their own version of some video game. The difference is that video games tend to be commercial properties that are owned by corporations who want to protect their limited monopoly right granted to them by copyright and trademark laws. This stifles and stymies a would-be developer from creating their version of Pac Man or Tetris or Mario in a way that an artist is never restricted from creating their version of a bowl of fruit or Christ on the cross. But a game programmer yearns for the same freedom as the artist.

It would be nice if somehow we could have it, and exercise it without injury to some business that would be able to respond seeking legal remedy. Sadly there is very little to no such safe space for this sort of art to exist.

Squatters rights is a legal concept which says, in essence, that abandoned property can be claimed by someone who takes it.

We could really use something akin to this concept for video games.

There’s a movement to recognize abandonware rights, an idea that if a piece of software is released and sold for a time, and then is discontinued and no longer sold, that the public still has an interest in obtaining and using a copy of the software, indefinitely. This happens much sooner than the expiration of copyright, though, leaving “abandoned” products in a gray area where they cannot be legally obtained by a market that has interest in them, other than to obtain an existing (ie used) copy that was produced when the product was actively being brought to market by its owner.

Abandonware would cover the public’s interest to move video game works into the public domain once they exit the “First Market” (eg, when they are discontinued, perhaps after a certain period during which the original owner has declined to bring them back to the market) so that the public can continue to produce copies of the work in order to meet demand beyond what the “Secondary Market” (eg, used game stores, flea markets) is capable of satisfying.

But we also should lobby for legal protection for developers who would like to make their own version of their favorite game, or to create a version of that game for a system it was never officially released on, or to create variants on a theme introduced by a game, or to “remix”, or to tinker in other ways, such as bug fixes, “cheats”, and other “hacks”.

It’s not to say that the original creator or rights holder should stop having all rights afforded them under IP law, but that the balance currently favors them too much, and for far too long.

When I was in school, I learned that in the pre-industrialized world there was a system of apprentice and masters, of guilds, and so forth, and that was how knowledge of the trades and useful arts was handed down through generations. An apprentice artist would often be required to create an exact copy of a masterpiece painting, whether as part of their training, or to create duplicates of important works so that they could be enjoyed more widely. This was in a time before photography, before telecommunications, so the only way to copy a painting was by hand, and to do it required great skill to match the technique used in creating the original to a faithful degree so fine that it took an expert to know the difference between the original work and the copy.

I think a lot of programmers, game designers, and developers have an instinct to want to do something similar with video games, to be able not to copy them in the trivial way afforded by binary data systems supporting digital file copying, but to look at the original and learn the techniques of the master and attempt to replicate them faithfully to the best of their ability.

We like to do this as much as we like to work on our own ideas. Howard Scott Warshaw’s point that creating is very different from copying is of course valid, but both are legitimate pursuits for a creator. Some of us are very good at ports, while lacking the design skills to create new original works. But we should not devalue porting because of that, and we should not prohibit all ports that are not explicitly authorized by some “rightful owner”. For a time, certainly, the rights of the creator should prevail. But after some time, a limited time, the works should enter into the public domain. The current length of copyright for software, particularly video games, was adapted from print media, when it should have been modified to better suit the different nature of digital platforms.

To the extent that some in the homebrew scene will continue, with renewed focus on more new original works, that’s of course welcome and great.

But I would think that most people working on a new idea will want to explore it on a newer platform. There are homebrew projects to create original works for obsolete systems, and there always have been.

But if you were going to create something new and original, unless you wanted to take on the challenge of the additional constraints imposed by developing for outdated hardware with severely limited resources, you’d probably target modern platforms. So a lot of new/original development energy tends to be pointed at modern platforms.

Yet there’s an undeniable appeal to creating games for older systems — particularly taking some favorite, old game, that was developed contemporary to some old system, but never for that system, and “fill in the gap” by putting out a version ported to that system that had never existed previously, like Galaga or Robotron 2084, or were very poorly done, such as Pac Man, or a sequel to a great game like Pitfall or Adventure.

Another fun challenge for a developer is be to take a Sega Genesis game (such as Sonic the Hedgehog) and see if you can capture its essence and replicate it on a game console that predated it by something like a dozen years. Whether you have permission to use Sonic or not, that’s a fantastic challenge, and to develop such a game for private enjoyment, while not getting to share it with the world is a bit like running in the Boston Marathon without any spectators being allowed to partake in the excitement of the day.

Could Chris Spry have developed Zippy the Porcupine (the Sonic the Hedgehog Atari2600 de-make) privately and allowed the obscurity and anonymity shield him from Sega lawyers? Certainly. But wasn’t the public nature of the product something that enriched everyone who learned of its existence, or got to play it?

No marathon runner who runs today is the original messenger from Greek antiquity who ran to the city of Marathon with important news… But we don’t hold that against them, do we? And we who stand streetside observing the spectacle of this event are enriched by it, even though the first Marathon runner is long dead and doesn’t get any royalties from it.

I’ve already touched on these points, above. The “last chance” sale is a kindness to the fans who have kept obsolete video gaming platforms alive for decades after they exited the market. But it’s not free of legal liability, and could in fact expose Atari Age to greater risk due to the attention the sale is getting, the increased awareness of the topic of the homebrew scene and of its intersection with IP law.

It’s a bit arbitrary where the line is to be drawn with respect to what’s a liability that needs to go, and what isn’t. Why isn’t Medieval Mayhem and Space Rocks a part of the sale? Medieval Mayhem was an Atari coin-op game for the arcade, back in the 80s. How is an unauthorized remake of it on the 2600 it not IP-encumbered? Space Rocks is just a really well done port of Asteroids, surely it assumes some non-zero amount of risk as well.

DeCrezenzo is a titan of the homebrew scene, and if he is indeed leaving due to this, it is truly a sad thing. If there was a Hall of Fame for homebrew developers, he’d be a charter member. He’s had a long “career” in the scene, with many, many contributions, so even if he simply retired, he’ll have at least left behind a monumental legacy… of games which sadly will no longer be made due to the legal realities that encumber this hobby.

If there’s a positive thing to be taken away from this, it’s that there are developers who will continue to remain in the scene, and will shift their focus to developing new game ideas. This is exiting.

As much as we like the familiar games we know, that never existed on a home console, or were never done justice in their official home port, there’s still tremendous potential in the system — even 45 years after its release, and 30 years on from its official exit from the primary marketplace.

That’s nothing short of remarkable, and if the new original games that we’re sure to see in the coming years stack up as well as the remakes and ports that we were fortunate to get to experience, the future is as bright as ever for fans, enthusiasts, and collectors of classic gaming consoles.

Long live the Atari 2600. And long live Atari Age!

Atari Age announces final sale of homebrew arcade ports

Copyright, Trademark, abandoned properties, lawyers.

Who knows what the details are? Not me, that’s for sure.

Games that were popular in the arcades in the early 1980s were often ported to home consoles of the day, but often did not receive the best treatment at the time.

For many reasons.

Primarily hardware limitations. Home systems of the day could not be as powerful as more expensive, dedicated hardware developed to play a specific arcade game.

But also budget and time constraints. Games were a business and development costs were constrained by expected returns. It would have made no sense to spend more money making a game than it could have been expected to bring in. Games were made to deadline, and often had to cut corners to meet them.

If they were too late to market, their popularity in the arcade could have waned, resulting in poor sales, missed opportunities.

Partly, to avoid cannibalizing arcade revenue (the logic being if the home game was just as good as the arcade, players would buy the home game and stop going to arcades.

The homebrew scene which has kept old systems alive long past the date at which official support ended has no such constraints. Game development is a passion project, a hobby, and an art before it is a business. Developers take as long as they need to perfect a game, and no reason to fear undercutting arcade revenue.

And system limitations can be overcome with additional hardware inside the cartridge, and advanced programming techniques that have been discovered in the decades since the system first became available.

So homebrew ports of arcade games did something that couldn’t be done commercially, often for games that had been abandoned by their intellectual property owners.

The success of this long tail aftermarket scene has rekindled interest in classic gaming, though, and nostalgic re-boots of old brands have brought about a change in the market. These games, once small enough to fly under the radar and escape the notice of rights holders legal departments, have become legally risky ventures.

I can only presume, but this seems to be the reason why Atari Age has announced that they are going to remove many titles from their store. The last chance sale on remaining inventory will end on July 23, after which these games will no longer be available through Atari Age, likely forever.

Atari Age proprietor Albert Yarusso has stated that he will be focusing on publishing original games and games for which licensing can be procured. “It’s possible some of these can come back, but it will take some time to do the legwork. I wholeheartedly encourage developers to create new games that aren’t encumbered, or to ask me in advance regarding projects that might be derived from others’ work.”

This would seemingly put an end to my hopes for a cartridge release of the beyond amazing Pac-Man 8k project, which I’ve been watching for about a decade, and was apparently very nearly ready to publish. Beyond that, there were many other work-in-progress projects that looked amazing but will probably now only be developed as ROM files, with no cartridge release, if development continues with them at all: Xevious, 1942, Lunar Lander, Elevator Action, and others.

This is a very sad thing indeed. But lawyers gonna lawyer. Copyrights don’t expire fast enough, and Trademarks can be lost if not enforced, and that’s what happens. Hobbywork homages be damned.

I love to see the original works that homebrew developers make, maybe even more than revivals of old arcade games that never got a proper treatment on the home systems. But seeing a modern homebrew remake compared to an official release of an original game from 40 years ago, being able to see how much progress had been made in the art of programming in those intervening years, was always such a treat, and a true thrill.

My Perfect Console podcast interviews Phil Fish (Fez)

Becoming successful as an unknown indie game developer is insanely difficult. It is nearly impossible. The amount of dedication and sacrifice required to even have a chance at getting established in the world of game design, and having a financially successful game, is so great that it can break a young, healthy person’s mental and physical health.

I have some inkling of this from my own experiences with attempting to create games. It’s certainly possible for just about anyone who wants to to create small, simple games as a hobby, and if this is what you aspire to, it can be rewarding. But the degree of effort required, and difficulty between doing game development at this level, and becoming a successful professional indie developer is probably more than you could imagine.

I got a little bit of validation about that from listening to this interview with Phil Fish, creator of Fez and one of the featured “stars” of Indie Game: The Movie.

Fish is remembered for creating the incredibly well-received Fez, and then canceling the planned sequel in dramatic fashion, and deleting his social media accounts, and exiting from the public eye. In the My Perfect Console interview, he talks about what he went through and what led him to make that decision, how he feels about that looking back, and what he’s been up to since then.

When I watched Indie Game: The Movie, the impression I had of Fish was that he was under tremendous stress, high strung, and prone to letting his emotions get the better of him, and also very intelligent and highly skilled.

In this interview, he talks about how what he went through to create Fez isn’t repeatable, and not something he would recommend to other aspiring game designers.

I could see that, watching the film 10 years ago, it didn’t surprise me to hear Fish confirm that my reading at the time of what was going on was essentially correct, but it felt good. It’s also good to hear Fish in the interview, sounding more relaxed, less intense, wiser for his experience, and opening up about what the experience was like, with the benefit of hindsight. Fish was pretty tight-lipped when it came to details on what he’s been up to, so it remains to be seen whether he’ll be working on any new games. But whatever he’s doing with himself, it’s good to know that he’s in a better place mentally and emotionally these days.

Playing REDDER (Anna Anthropy) in 2020

Usually we hate to forget things. But one of the best things about being able to forget is that you can have a cherished experienced again as though for the first time.

REDDER was a game by indie game developer Anna Anthropy and first released on the web in 2010. I played it for the first time not long after, and it remains to this day one of my favorite puzzle platform games. Few games have made me want to design my own games as much as REDDER, and that’s perhaps the highest compliment I can think of to give it.

I’ve re-played it multiple times since then, and always enjoy it so much.

This year is the first year that Adobe has ended support for Flash, the technology that REDDER was originally built on. I have written previously on the impending death of Flash, and what that means for tens of thousands of video games that were built with it during its 25+ year history.

I feared that this would result in a vast, rich cultural legacy becoming more and more inaccessible. I still fear that. Adobe didn’t just drop support for Flash, didn’t just cease continuing development of it. They pulled the plug. Browsers stopped supporting it, so now in order to run Flash objects in a browser, one needs to keep an outdated browser. This of course has its own problems, and very few people will continue do do it. Moreover, as the userbase moves into a post-flash browser-scape, web hosts will over time have less and less incentive to continue hosting legacy Flash experiences, and in time perhaps the only ones that will persist will be deliberate historical preservation efforts.

That’s a damn shame, because REDDER belongs in the Smithsonian, or the Library of Congress, or both.

Fortunately, Anna Anthropy has re-packaged Redder, in a desktop OS format that wraps a Flash player into stand-alone application, and allows it to be enjoyed on Windows and Mac OS X. It is available for $5 on, and is worth every penny.

What a beautiful thing it is that I can forget this game just enough to be able to come back to it and experience it again, re-discovering the solutions to the maze and helping my little space explorer friend in their quest to collect all the diamonds to replenish his stranded spaceship.

The platforming is basic. You move, you jump, that’s it. There’s no wall jumps, no edge hanging, no coyote time, it’s pure basic simple. There’s no shooting, no destroying enemies. Your only tools are your brain, to figure out how to get past obstacles and get to where you need to go, and your agility, to accomplish the task. There are save points, to make the deadly obstacles a lot less annoying. There are switches to flip, which toggle special colored platforms into and out of existence, which serve as doors and platforms that block your way or create bridges to access deeper reaches of the world or traverse deadly obstacles to add an element of risk to the challenges you’ll face. When one type is on, the other type is off. And together they serve as the building block of the platform puzzles you’ll need to solve to win the game.

As you progress through the game, the graphics and music begin to glitch. It’s subtle at first, a tile here and there, and it adds an element of mystery to the game. As you continue to collect diamonds, the glitching increases, until, near the end the entire game is out of control with random tile animations. When the final diamond is collected, the entire facade is stripped bare, and everything turns into raw collision boxes, color coded — a clean, pure visual language.

At the end of the game, visuals stripped bare, at last we can behold the simple beauty of REDDER.

There are only three types of hazard in the game: patrolling robots, which traverse horizontally and are deadly to touch but never react to your presence in any other way; “drip guns”, which shoot deadly pellets that you must duck, jump, or otherwise avoid with good timing, and electrical fields which don’t move and must be avoided.

For all its simplicity, the game provides an engaging challenge to find your way through the complex, maze-like alien world, and collect all 27 diamonds.

One thing I love about REDDER is that there are no locks. You start out with all your powers, and apart from the switch platforms that are the only real puzzles blocking your progress, there’s nothing preventing you from doing anything, going anywhere that you can go in the game, from start to finish.

What I love about this is that this forces the design to challenge you in ways other than “oh if you get the item, you can get past this”. This comes down to understanding the map — the twisting, interconnected pathways connecting the grid of screens that comprise the world of REDDER, how platforms and switches relate to one another, flipping switches in the correct order to allow passage, and having a modest desgree of skill to master the timing and agility needed to make the jumps and avoid the dangers.

It’s a casual play — I would call the vibe relaxing. The music is soothing and evokes a spirit of exploration and puzzle solving. The game provides a fun challenge without relying on fear, anxiety, or frustration. Toward the end of the game, as the graphics and background music become increasingly glitch-ified, the game does start to produce a bit of anxiety. If you’re playing the game late at night, it can almost feel like your lack of sleep is to blame for the game’s breaking down. I really like this. To me it is the “something extra” that gives the game a memorable mystery, a question left unanswered, which both frees and empowers the player to come up with their own explanation, should they choose to.

Additionally there are three secret hidden rooms off-map. These serve no purpose other than to delight you for finding them, and perhaps provide a clue or an auteur’s signature.


It seems there have been a few changes from the original in this version. I don’t remember these secret rooms having these messages — a web search reveals that the original REDDER had secret rooms with the words “ANNA” “TRAP” and “PART”. TRAP and PART are of course pairs that make a palindrome, and ANNA is a palindrome, and REDDER is a palindrome. There’s something up with palindromes in this game.

But I don’t know what ROB? OWOR and BORR mean. It makes me wonder what else may have changed, and why the changes were made.

Zac Pierce is destined for greatness

I’ve known Zac Pierce casually for a few years now, and I gotta say, I really like the guy. I can’t say we’re friends, because we don’t hang out and do things together, and I don’t really know him all that well. But I do have an impression of him that’s been forming over the past several years since I met him, and it’s been consistent and continually reinforced every step of the way.

We first met at a meetup of the Cleveland Game Developers, and I remember him demoing an early version of his game Bombfest, now released. Even several years ahead of its eventual release, the game was really fun, and showed a ton of promise. The animation and motion were smooth and felt very, very good. The gameplay was a lot of fun, and the graphics were splendid and cute.

The game was like playing with action figures and toys that had come to life and had the ability to hurl bombs at one another. It was something like Bomberman meets Dodgeball, with realistic physics, destructible terrain, and these sweet little digital models of toy building blocks and figurines, the sort you might have played with when you were maybe 4 or 5 years old. The goal to be the last man made it an outstanding multiplayer game, and I could tell that this game would be great at parties.

Zac delivered a talk at GDEX 2019 entitled Failing to Succeed, which was a look back at four years of developing Bombfest, which he had come to regard a failure.

I’ve never enjoyed a talk so well that I disagreed with so much. Zac is a great storyteller, and he shared his story, turning it into a masochistic confessional where he beat himself up for all the things that went wrong over the course of four years that he spent pouring his heart and soul into bringing Bombfest into the world. It was entertaining, funny, and full of valuable insights. But damn if it wasn’t hard to watch a young guy who I’ve come to admire shit-talk his accomplishments so thoroughly, just because the sales performance was underwhelming.

For certain, Zac didn’t do everything perfectly. And if a few things had been different, maybe he’d have been rewarded for his hard work more like what he deserved. But I don’t think of his story as one of failure. The Making of Bombfest story had far more success in it than failure, and far more than he gave himself credit for.

Bottom line, the game didn’t end up the hit that it deserved to be, and didn’t make him all the money he hoped it would, or needed it to. And bottom line realities are important, and they are harsh. But, despite commercial success eluding him so far, Bombfest was and is a great game, and the fact is that Zac Pierce is destined for greatness.

He’s questioning it right now, and it’s only natural, when you work as hard as he did at something for as long as he did, and it doesn’t accomplish what you hoped it would, of course you question it.

But I’m certain. While I listened to Zac tear himself down for 45 minutes, I heard him rattle off success after success, and immediately dismiss each one.

  1. He succeeded at educating and training himself in the skills and tools of game creation.
  2. He succeeded at coming up with a really fun game prototype with excellent core mechanics and a very polished visual style.
  3. He succeeded at raising funds to continue development through Kickstarter.
  4. He succeeded at completing the project and released the game.
  5. He made a lot of mistakes along the way… and he learned from all of them.
  6. He succeeded not in just releasing the game, but getting it published and ported to the Nintendo Switch.
  7. He did all of this during a period the industry has come to call Indiepocalypse, when even established independent game development studios struggled and went out of business and even bigger studios had a hard time staying afloat. And he did it with his first real project.

Zac Pierce put a game on the Nintendo Switch in his first at bat. Who else can say that, but Zac Fucking Pierce?

Zac, each morning when you wake up, you ought to go to the bathroom, splash some cold water on your face, look at yourself in the mirror, and loudly proclaim:

“I’m Zac Fucking Pierce, and God DAMN if I didn’t make one HELL of a videogame.”

Daily affirmation

The bad news, sales were disappointing.

OK, so there’s that. So despite all the litany of success, that makes Bombfest a failure? I don’t think so.

The sales didn’t meet expectations. But the game is good. Of course sales do matter. You can’t put your life into something for four years and not have it pay off, and feel great about it.

But that’s a shame, because there’s so much about the Bombfest story that Zac deserves to feel great about.

Whether he finds success and fortune in game development or in some other area, he has a bright future, thanks to his talents as a programmer, designer, and artist, his vision, and his energy.

The fact is, the biz is brutal. Indies have it harder than anyone. And there’s a glut of product. You can do everything, or nearly everything, right, and still not end up with a hit game. For his first time out, Zac Pierce did way better with his project than a lot of people do. Maybe he didn’t succeed at the biz side of bringing Bombfest to market, but he absolutely nailed the design and development of the game, and demonstrated dedication to a project that went on for four years.

Bombfest has made Zac about $30,000 so far. It needed to be more. $60,000… $100,000… $300,000… what level of revenue would be enough to tell you that you’ve made it? Enough to be on par with an entry level salary in some “real world” job that you could have taken instead of choosing to challenge yourself? Enough to put you on firm footing to produce your next project the way you want it to be without having to worry about whether it’s a hit or not? Enough to never need to work again unless you want to?

Really, people have strange ideas of what success is, what it means, and what looks like. We think of success as someone standing in a spotlight in a packed arena playing a guitar solo and then going home to a mansion and swimming in money. We think of success as something that happens suddenly, overnight, with little apparent effort, because “when you’re good, it just comes naturally.” We think that way because we don’t see successful people being successful until their success has been at work for so long that it has made them famous enough for us to be unable to fail to notice them.

But success looks a lot different from the inside. What it looks like, most of the time, is a lot like Zac Pierce’s talk on Failing to Succeed: a long story, with hard work, struggle, mistakes, goals met, challenges overcome, and a continuing battle with crippling self doubt and anxiety.

There’s two ways to read that title, as Zac pointed out himself: One, “failing to succeed” meaning literally that success was something did not happen. The other, “failing [in order to] succeed” — the things one must do on the path to success, in order to figure it out and get there. It’s pretty clear that Zac’s story is true in both senses. But in the long run, the second meaning will eclipse the first.

Diatris by Rob van Saaze

Diatris is a Tetris-like falling stack game by Rob van Saaze. Released earlier this year and developed in GameMaker Studio.

I had the good fortune of catching a work-in-progress screenshot tweet, and messaged Rob, and ended up being a playtester for his game.

I like the interesting twist he put on the classic Tetris. This game is really different from its inspiration. The shapes are different, the falling pieces slide down the slopes of the stack, and the angle factor really changes the way the game feels. It’s quite challenging, and fun.

The graphical style is clean and polished, but juicy, and it looks as great as it plays. Rob has a great eye for graphical design, and it shows in his work. The attention to detail in animation and motion is

Best of all, it’s completely free.