Roadmap: 2019

Now that Recap: 2018, part one of this little duology, is done, so is 2018 itself in my book! Definitely won't forget about it, but I won't let it get in my way either; it already happened!

Keeping my eyes forward, not up or down (remember, don't want to drive off a cliff), I've taken a look into my possible future and written its achieved goals down for your perusal. I'll be working to transform that hypothetical timeline into this timeline as the year proceeds.

If only I actually could see the future...well here's Roadmap: 2019. Onward and upward!

Release the Tennis RPG's vertical slice

Of all the projects I want to complete in 2019, of all the goals, this one is at the top. I really don't know how feasible this is, at all...but *I aim to have a fully complete, released vertical slice for a large-scale project by year's end: the Tennis RPG. * By its completion it will have a name, its own page on the upcoming EnMod Games website...I have plans for this one.

I won't talk about plot or concept here, except for this: imagine adventure mode in Mario Tennis on the Game Boy Color/Advance, but in a much larger scope and accompanied by a plot that goes beyond "I wanna be the best!". I know I can't be the only one dissatisfied with the original games' adventure mode scopes, so this game's for anyone of a similar mind.

It's also for a 17-years-younger me, who wished he knew how to make his own game and carry out this vision himself. Little did he know current me might actually have a shot at it!

If you want to join me on this, our inbox is always open at To quote a certain egg-shaped villain, "You know what they say: the more the merrier!"

Realize my domain's original vision

Best-laid plans

Way back in 2015 I envisioned a version of my portfolio/landing site with div transitions for each page, a row of labeled icons as a nav (that would stay a row of buttons on mobile and not collapse into a burger), and bold, stark contrast. A few attempts to achieve this vision properly would dominate much of my free time that year, the following year being the same when I had time to devote to it. Check out the source for this vision here, and a live demo here.

Eventually, I scrapped those failed attempts in favor of a solution that was much more practical, albeit not really what I had in my head. It was mobile-first, single-page scroll, proper contrast...very much a by-the-book landing page with my information presented. I've kept it since then and modified its color scheme for this blog, because of the newsprint-like readability I get from it...but it still has me wanting more.

Proper execution

With the development of my new, true-to-self identity design and more tools and knowledge under my belt, I'm now confident that I can finally, properly implement my original vision for my landing page and all of its sibling pages. I'll be doing this with a dramatic shift in design to match my new identity design, in both UX and aesthetic, through a personal design system. More details on that later!

As you might expect, upending my entire domain to replace it with a new one won't be trivial. To assist with this I'll be using Gatsby.js (a React-oriented static site generator) along with my site's existing DatoCMS backend thanks to Gatsby's data source plugin, as well as trying my hand at styled-components.

The key here is Gatsby's facilitation of rapid React development through its opinionated workflows and patterns, much like Nuxt or Next, but focused on static generation. While I could use the amazing static site generator Spike and PostCSS, proven tools my body of work owes a lot to, Gatsby and styled-components are the practical choices for this project considering my intent to focus heavily on developing my React skills in 2019.

Publish more portfolio projects

To stay on top of evolving landscapes in software development and advance one's career, portfolio projects are paramount. This is the next most important item for 2019 for that reason: Without a sufficiently large roster of polished projects under my belt I'm not competing at a level that would foster progression. Like the muscle in your heart, if it's not being pushed it's not getting stronger. These projects are how I'll push.

Game jam submissions

If I want the larger projects like the Tennis RPG done, I need my skills at a level I can be confident in relying on for large projects. Ideally I'll be working with a team of devs who all excel in their craft, and that will lessen my cognitive and creative load. Until then I have myself and those who support me.

Thankfully, what I can do to sharpen those skills is release small, focused games from beginning to end. This year I want to tackle the following seven jams, releasing for at least one occurrence of each to grow the repertoire I described in Recap: 2018. Links are to either the jam's homepage, or the current/most recent jam page on

  • Godot Wild Jam: There's mutiple chances for entry throughout the year, I'll likely have this one done first.
  • Godot Game Jam: Been meaning to submit to this since last year! There's going to be four in 2019 if I recall correctly.
  • GitHub GameOff: Every time I think of submitting to this one something always comes up. We'll see this time.
  • Ludum Dare: Almost like a rite of passage, this jam. Hoping to pull it off at least twice.
  • Weekly Game Jam: If any of these are unavailable and I'm itching to jam, the Weekly Game Jam can serve as a nice stopgap.
  • Twine Games Jam - This one's mainly for writing and narrative progression practice, but also to defend my title
  • 48 Secret Jam: Always liked the topics of this one, they seemed to be a good challenge.

This should keep release cadence steady as well as generate some buzz for the team (assuming they go well). To get these projects out I can't let my circumstances dictate when they'll be made, I'll be making the time for them. Progress in other areas will allow some time to be allocated here in the long run.

Tech-specific web development ideas

I can definitely apply the title "generalist" to my skillset in almost every endeavor I've embarked on. Web development, unfortunately, has been one of those endeavors, although it's a field (especially with web applications) where being a skilled generalist is lauded, almost encouraged! We call it "full-stack", a title often used to refer to those who are adept at both front end (browser-side) and back end (server-side) development.

I say this is unfortunate, because it's misleading. While "full-stack" seems generalist, I'd say it's really dual-specialist; you need to be on top of your game on both "sides" of a project to develop a truly strong full-stack solution. Skimping on the front end makes user experience suffer (among other things), and developing a lackluster back end means the solution doesn't work as expected to begin with.

How does one gain the skills they need to compete on both the front and back end? More importantly, how does one improve at using both together? Practice, practice, practice!

  • EnMod Games landing page: Given all of the great things I've heard about Gatsby it can't hurt to try a few projects with it. I've also wanted to use Contentful's GraphQL API in a project just to see it in action, so this one will be both together.
  • Deliveroo clone: The idea is to follow this exact guide, but using Next instead of Nuxt! Having already rebuilt my SO's site in Nuxt I think it's time to try the React equivalent, this time with a real-world eCommerce-esque use case. Additionally, Strapi has looked very appealing as a concept and I've been eyeing it for a while. Time to tackle it!
  • React Native application: I have no idea what I want this one to be, but I've been fascinated with the idea of sharing a codebase across various platforms. What better time to give it a go than the present?
  • Sortedvania: This is a Castlevania-themed project I first attempted with Ractive.js years ago. Now I want to actually finish the idea using React, for practice.

These are just a few of the projects I've had sitting on the backburner, simmering...more will be added to my "queue" as I either finish these or come up with more projects. The goal is to not let anything simmer so long that it burns.

Complete and open-source my personal design system

In development since reinventing my identity design has been my personal design system, the "Noel Quiles framework," if you will. For too long I haven't had a design "voice" one could point out and identify as mine. I needed self-expression in my personal web/visual work, a fact I didn't realize until I designed my new logo. I thought I found the voice I had been looking for.

With the identity design changes in mind, I went forward with developing my personal design system. Followed CodyHouse's series on the subject as a loose guide, even made a repo for it...then spare time was cut short.

This year, the spare time will be made and the system implemented, then open-sourced for everyone to use! That means a solid CSS foundation, iconography, a suite of components in both React and Vue, the works! It's the library of resources I wish I had, and the one my future self will thank me for making. There will probably be a series of posts on this coming, or they'll just be series-less. But they'll come.

Improve my overall health

Honestly this goal should be a higher priority this year, but the idea is to have this being worked on between all the other goals, be it at rest, between work sessions, at meals. If it's weaved in and becomes second nature, my health will take care of itself.

To achieve this in any reasonable, efficient fashion, I need to train my body and mind together, and really take control of the latter. Much of my 2018 stress came from brain fog, burnout, forgetting major mind was a mess, and my body wasn't being cleared of the stress my mind brought on. Here's my plan for preventing those issues in 2019.

Achieve level two of taijiquan

Taking up a martial art is a method of wresting command of one's mind and body from oneself, of bringing mind and body into union and under conscious control. Furthermore, the internal martial arts demand a transfer of conscious control to the subconscious and eventually, the unconscious. Offloading my various mental dilemmas and problems from my conscious mind is already done through sleep (as various studies have shown), but there's just too much there for sleep and my free workout time to handle. That's where being proactive about it through practicing an internal martial art comes in.

In researching the philosophies and ideas behind many internal martial arts, those of taijiquan resonated most with me. The ideas of operating from stillness, from balance, from the twining of action and inaction were very close to how my mind has processed, well, life up to this point. That kind of balance, an ebb and flow of movement under one's control is at the core of taijiquan, to my understanding.

Taijiquan has five levels of mastery according to Chen family grandmaster Chen Xiaowang. The first two are where the foundations are laid: form and posture, followed by honing chi flow. While I don't believe in chi as a physical or chemical "life force", it makes total sense to me as a concept of movement and action flow, as well as mental control and energy in the scientific sense, the type measured in Joules that does work. Therefore, level two is the one I should aim to achieve this year at minimum, training in level one along the way. To train to that level is to apply the proper control to my emotions, my thoughts, my self in its entirety. I didn't do nearly enough training last year, so 2019 is when it has to happen.

Get my mind and body in gear

Supplemental to practicing taijiquan (and really, peace of mind) is maintenance and improvement of mental and physical health. The former took a major beating last year due to both external and internal stressors, lack of rest, lack of meditation, despite warnings given by others (sorry!). The latter improved dramatically over various years and especially in 2018, but still leaves a lot to be desired, especially as of late.

Of course, taijiquan itself does wonders for the needs of meditation, physical exercise, and relief of built up stress that comes from those two aspects of the training. What training can't do wonders for are external forces, especially those inflicted consciously on myself like bad behavioral habits or lackluster nutrition.

It will take my own specific variant of cognitive behavioral therapy to bring those habits in line, habits like bad time management outside of work or getting little sleep...definitely the latter more than anything. As for nutrition, while it hasn't affected my health that severely up to now, I know that if it ever gets out of hand I can consider my weight loss and cholesterol improvements to have been for naught. Without getting too personal I know these are some issues I can (and will) prevent.

Mark my words!

With the path set, the road mapped, the list laid out, and the goals for 2019 written down, I know I have a boatload of work to do. Looking back though, it doesn't seem as bad as it did when I first had the idea for this post. No...this list actually seems...doable.

Just have to remember to keep the fire fed, and it'll keep burning.

Recap: 2018

Let me start by saying I have no clue where the year went! One day I'm making additions to my portfolio, another I'm driving to a production assistant gig, then another I'm developing a game! Then another still I'm deep into a development course. Next thing I knew my birthday was coming up and my car windows were freezing over again. I haven't had the chance to just look back at the year and reflect on it, until now...what happened?

What you'll see first is an attempt to answer that question: a recap of the previous year's major accomplishments as best as I can condense it into something digestible. I won't lie and say the year didn't have its share of missteps, failures, missed oppotunities, but in the spirit of moving forward I'm focusing on the triumphs, successes, achievements. If you're in the driver's seat not looking forward you'll drive off a cliff, yeah?

In a follow-up post is how I'll be paving a new road with those experiences, constructing a roadmap to the future I'm striving for and setting what I hope is the tone for 2019.

This is part one, Recap: 2018! Let's jump in!

Made an effort to establish EnMod Games

EnMod Games is an indie game development team currently comprised of one dev: me! While this means I have complete control over the team's output, it also means that to get it off the ground I end up doing much of the work myself. Last year I pushed hard to establish some sort of foothold for EnMod Games to stand on, doing what I could to make it known.

A solid repertoire

One of the most important aspects of a gamedev team is a solid repertoire, an area I have been lacking in. While Neci's Nightmare and School Years have been out for some time, I needed to make something else! A roster of only two games is more than a large percentage of devs manage to do, but I still felt that EnMod Games should have more titles under its umbrella.

To remedy that, and practice Godot Engine more as I felt I was lagging behind, at the beginning of the year I finally released The Labyrinthine Night! It's a survival-horror title I meant to put out during Halloween in 2017 but needed to polish it to a shine. Even though it was a bit buggy on launch, multiple people played it throughout the year and even made some videos (shoutouts to GameWG and Xandre Retro PC on YouTube)!!! Given my lack of marketing the fact that word of mouth was spreading the game around like that was a pleasant surprise.

After that, I was on a roll! As much as I like the concept of The Labyrinthine Night and considered expanding it, I went on to develop The Sieve and the Siphon: my first on-time entry for a game jam 🎉 This was for the Twine Games Jam 2018, where it won first place!!! Again, I couldn't believe it was happening, especially with some stiff competition.

For a long time after that I had less and less room for gamedev, but thought if I can't get a full project out at a time, I'll chip away at a bigger one. The Big ARPG project still needs a bigger team, so I thought I'd tackle something on that scale I could more or less handle. My choice was an adventurous sports RPG! Still not sure if I can tackle it myself, but I'm going for a vertical slice of it first! Wrote the script for that this year too. This information intentionally left vague, more to come 😉 (also more on EnMod Games' many accounts!)

Got the word out

Establishing a proper presence for anything these days is a Herculean effort. If you're not paying for ads, you're not reaching anyone generally, unless you're building your audience as organically as possible and working every day on it. In sharing updates on the work throughout the year I've been pushing forward on organically building, but of course social media and writing a postmortem for School Years doesn't quite cut it.

At my SO's suggestion, we set up the first ever EnMod Games convention booth at A Video Game Con! We had a significant turnout at the booth, with players of all ages giving School Years, The Labyrinthine Night, and The Sieve and the Siphon a try, with many going for multiple runs on the first two. Looking forward to more booths in the coming year!

Stepped up my webdev game

By night and weekend I make games (when possible), but by day I sling divs and push code as a web developer. HTML and CSS were very much in my wheelhouse for years, but anything more than basic JavaScript eluded me. I'd either rely too heavily on jQuery or have to constantly look up basic functions like filter() or map()...the easy-to-grasp Simple Steps JavaScript really helped me nail down the basics two years ago and that helped. However, the expert level was always just out of reach! Last year I put my foot down and said enough is enough.

Finished some Wes Bos courses

If anyone's seen Wes Bos's tutorials they know he has a very unique method of presentation and explanation. It's that method that seemed to be the thing I've been looking for to help me over the hurdles in my way; it's approachable, laidback, without being uninformative or vague. Those hurdles in particular were Flexbox, making more JS projects, and understanding advanced JS. Wouldn't you know it; Wes had three courses that tackle those exact topics!

What the Flexbox?! covered everything about Flexbox I needed to know, from axis orientation to flex-basis to nesting Flexbox for advanced usage. #JavaScript30 was thirty straight days (with gaps in my case) of miniature JS projects, in which I felt I could spread my wings a bit more than if I was implementing small additions at work. Last of the three courses was ES6 For Everyone, covering everything advanced JS from the ES6 spec onward. There was a whole new set of concepts there on top of some I really should have had a handle on up to this point.

Learned two major JS frameworks

To advance your career in the current webdev landscape it's helpful to have a modern JS framework or two under your belt, be it frontend or backend. I focus on the frontend, so if I were to work elsewhere or work on a side project with another dev my framework of choice would come down to Vue, React, or Angular 2+. Given their popularity and growing communities, I decided it would be best to learn both Vue and React.

After taking the course VueJS 2: The Complete Guide, I was more than ready to work on some projects with Vue! I first set about refactoring an MCCC site in Nuxt, a server-side rendering framework utilizing Vue. The result using dummy data was...lacking, but it got me practicing Vue so I didn't really mind. The real achievement was rebuilding my SO's landing page with Nuxt; I really feel that I outdid myself with that site compared to the work I did while learning.

Vue is a joy to use and to build with, so I wasn't really keen on learning React...but I came to accept that what's fun isn't necessarily what's practical. The practical choice when it comes to learning JS frameworks, based on the job market and sheer developer market share, is React. So shortly before the year's end I bit the bullet and finally learned it, through React 16.6: The Complete Guide.

Learning React helped me vastly improve my vanilla JS skills due to how it leverages vanilla JS features and patterns in its own patterns and workflows; that's something I can't say happened while learning and using Vue. Not to say Vue is bad (it's still a fun time), but for me, I've found it isn't as practical to stick with at the moment. I'll likely be putting React at the top of my "To Use" list for web projects going forward.

P.S.: shoutouts to Maximilian Schwarzmüller at Academind for creating the React and Vue courses! They're incredibly comprehensive; I'd recommend them highly to anyone who wants to learn either framework.

Reinvented my identity design

My identity design and -- to a lesser extent -- my logo have been in a state of stagnation for more than five 2018 I decided it was finally time to dig deep and bring myself into the design.

The beginnings of a new look

Long weeks of introspection and reviewing what resonated with me most culminated in a new logo, informed by themes of simplicity, practicality, and minimalism:

Author's new logo

The classical elements of many traditions were a huge inspiration as well as the Lower Dantian, as far as it is considered in the practice of taijiquan (a.k.a. Tai Chi). From the logo, I derived a design system adhering to the same principles governing the color choice and placement in the logo, redesigning avatars across my social media presence to match:

  • General avatar, basically the logo above
  • Avatar for EnMod Games
  • Avatar for Modified Waves, the moniker under which I create audio

Ideally, I'll be able to finish and open-source that design system at some point in 2019. Not as much of a priority as others on my roadmap, but more on that in Roadmap: 2019! More explanation on both the logo and design system will come in a separate post, covering the choices made in both design and implementation.

Landing page revisions

My landing page's design had languished about as much as my identity design, and it too was in dire need of an upgrade.

First I wanted to revamp the backend, because managing site content through local HTML seemed...dated. In the interest of simplicity I wanted a headless CMS that was intuitive to use and published JSON that was easy to parse. Hosting also needed to be free for cost and headache reduction (at that point I was done managing a DO server), while being versatile to use for other needs in the future. For me, using a combination of DatoCMS and the already-wonderful Netlify to power my landing page was the first step in the upgrade, due to the former's simplicity, the latter's features, and the combination's cost of $free.99 per month for my usage.

The second step was giving the frontend a facelift. One particularly helpful site (if a bit crass) that got me thinking about new designs was, featuring a "lean 7 fucking lines" of CSS on the body tag to transform an unstyled layout into something very readable. The explanations for each choice in the CSS were sound, and by applying similar ideas alongside learnings from other materials about font choice, I was able to bring my landing page to a place I was more satisfied with. I wouldn't say I'm happy with it at present, but it's a large step in the right direction.

Shifted my eating habits

I've never been the most fit person, but in 2018 I (and with more concern, my SO) thought that needed a change too. So, a few visits to my doctor later I found that my cholesterol was moving in the right direction, but weight needed to go back under 200 pounds for sure. Not having much time for working out or coming up with a plan, I asked the helpful folks at DevLifts to do that for me, formulating a diet and workout plan that would fit my needs and schedule.

What was most effective was their diet plan! With it I lost over 20 pounds to bring me down to 184 for the first time in almost six years. Key to that loss was greatly minimizing bread, sugar, and general carb intake, while doing something active on a regular basis. Didn't really stick to that workout plan though...but I wager that my standing desk helped somewhat with the activity.

Got REALLY organized with Notion

This was a late addition to my list of things done in 2018, but WOW. NOTION IS...WONDERFUL. If you know me, you know I say "this is the tool I'm sticking with for XYZ, and I'm not switching" at least once a month. However, there are certain tools I have not moved from since finding them, and fit so naturally into my processes and preferences that I really can't see moving from them. For game development that was Godot, for UI/UX/graphic design work that was Figma, and for project planning and organization it's definitely Notion.

Moved from strict kanban boards and nested tasks

I've used Trello and other kanban tools for years, but couldn't shape them into other views if I wanted to visualize the data in a different way. Trello's extra features were also too gated by their business model for my budget's liking; either the feature I wanted was in their $9.99/mo. Trello Gold, or was a combination of 2 or more Power-Ups, which would require Gold.

I had tried using Todoist and TickTick as well to organize all project related tasks as nested to-dos, and that was actually preferred, but something was missing there...I still couldn't change views/sorts on the fly into something I found useful, nor could I work with project structure and organization outside of the apps' constraints. Not to mention the pain of import/export that each software (Trello included) unfortunately requires users to contend with for moving data in or out of them. Well, painful for my picky data import/export preferences anyway.

The Holy Grails

Then, late in the year, I found Quire. Finally, an app that I could use to visualize tasks in both nested todo form and kanban! It even had an intuitive organization/project system to keep lists in check. That was great and all, but why could I only group my tasks by status in the kanban view? That didn't make sense for some views that required more of a "character type" grouping or for general information storage. No...I came to find that Quire excels at task management, becoming my personal favorite tool for that purpose, but doesn't necessarily excel in project management.

After all seemed lost, along came Notion. Where do I even about a list:

  • You like nesting? How about to-do lists within typical page-style blocks? Or toggle-lists a la Workflowy or Dynalist? Notion has you covered!
  • Need to make your Notion pages public? That's just two clicks away; links are shareable by default but require permissions to be set, a great model.
  • Lists of data can be organized as a detailed version of the same...
    • or in spreadsheet-style tables!
    • or in kanban boards!
    • or in a calendar view!
    • OR even as a gallery!
    • All on the fly, with sorting and filtering, at the click or tap of a button!

I could go on for a while, but...let's just say I've moved every project plan or backlog I've had in every other tool into Notion. The organization features, flexibility, wealth of import/export options, Markdown inline generation and copy/paste...all of it for less than $50 a year??? I'll be using Notion for a long, long time. Quote me on that. ...Oh, and Quire too.

Contributed to film works

With that tome of text up there you'd think coding is all I do in my works; think again!

When there's time or opportunity my SO and I help out on film sets for productions of all types! Usually I'm sound or a production assistant, but often I get something hands-on to do. This year was no exception to our long track record of film gigs, with some promising projects in the works.

2018 was also the year my SO's short film paralysis began its film festival run, making it into such major fests as Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival, Golden Door International Film Festival, Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival, AxWound Film Festival, and over 10 others! The film was also hailed with accolades, ranging from Best Horror nominations to a Best Editing win from Chicago Horror Film Festival, and even a perfect 6 out of 6 reels from A Slice of Fright! Couldn't be more proud of her 🎊

While I feel that my focus should be on my coding work for both web and play, I wouldn't mind picking up some more advanced skills on set either. I've found that helping create other visual media has given me a better sense of design and storytelling patterns I can apply to my own work. I've put this into practice somewhat when making posters for some of the productions we've been on including, of course, paralysis.

To be continued!

Wow! I didn't quite expect to write soooo much about 2018; on first thought it didn't seem like I got done much of what I was planning to. On the contrary, I had material for what I think is the longest post on this blog so far 😅 Thanks for reading all of that, and don't forget to check out part two: Roadmap: 2019! (...when it's done!)

Risen From Its Grave: School Years

Part postmortem, part retrospective, in Risen From Its Grave I take an in-depth look at my games to determine Triumphs and Missteps in the development process. I also look at what's "risen from the grave" of the game proper -- that is, what's stuck with me and proceeded to trounce future development challenges.

The unprolific dev has returned!

Been a while, eh? I haven't written a dev post or created a full game since Neci's Nightmare in posts and projects have been well-overdue. Come along as we dive into the processes, trials, headaches, and successes of making a game in Godot Engine! I wrote this long after the fact so things are going to look more "complete" than they should.

Back to school: Vacation's over and the work begins!

First day jitters

School Years came out of a sudden urge to make a new game after a year, and make more in the time that followed. I had been perusing various game jams to find one that really stood out, one with a theme I could feasibly complete in a short amount of time. Eventually I came upon CFN Game Jam and its "growing up" theme, sparking a flood of ideas I just knew would be a good fit! However...I became overwhelmed at the sheer amount of work to do to plan the thing out in the three weeks there was until the jam.

There were a few ways I could start the process:

  • Properly plan out what to do with my ideas before doing anything
  • Just jump into GameMaker: Studio and pick up on changes to the software since I made Neci's Nightmare
  • Pick up an engine (one I do more research on) and learn it, top to bottom

Now, the smart answer for developing a game properly is the first, because it shouldn't even matter what engine you pick as long as you have an actual game to make, right? An answer almost as smart for this jam would be the second, because if you do insist on nose-diving into a project it should be with familiar tools. So, which answer did I pick?

Naturally, I chose the most difficult one for me at first: learn Godot Engine from top to bottom. Here's how I got to that choice.

Entirely new subjects

Before I had even considered developing another game, before even thinking about CFN Game Jam, I was following along with tutorials for creating games in Unreal Engine 4 in an attempt to further my gamedev knowledge.

UE4 was very nice-looking, but had way too much for me to understand off-the-bat for simple creation, and an editor UI that made me anxious just looking through my options. Sooo many buttons and configs and tabs...I was overwhelmed quickly despite all the potential at my disposal:

I mean...look at thisssss

I mean...look at that! The file browser's on the bottom of the main viewport, don't know what is going on at the left, then there's the need of some config hack to get the editor to stop flickering its mesh outlines...

I needed something a bit more familiar, so around two weeks before the jam I considered Unity and Godot. Due to a stronger familiarity with Unity after using the engine in a college project from a few years back, I jumped into a Unity series on ARPGs by Naman Jain. I figured that would be a great way to see if I actually liked Unity back then or if I just tolerated it. After about two days I realized I just tolerated it; it seemed just as foreign to me as UE4 did even after having used it with little to no significant UI changes since college.

Soon after that I jumped right into Godot Engine with the Gamefromscratch series on Godot, and I fell head-over-heels for it. The node-based architecture, signals, scripting language, all of it was so much easier for me to grasp, and I went through the tutorial series with a half day to spare before the jam!

This leads me to the first of what I did right with School Years, one of its...


Swift familiarity

It took me until this jam to really think about what I want to use to make games. Why jump on the Unity train if it didn't excite or entice me? Why dive into Unreal if I didn't actually like it all that much? No, I decided this time to forego even thinking about going back to GameMaker: Studio due to similar misgivings, and went all-in on Godot.

The engine has everything I want in just the way I prefer it! Nodes and scenes work with each other in ways very similar to Web Components work in web development: you can declare and lay out nodes of a scene (like HTML elements of a component) as well as include scenes in other scenes (again, component-like), with all the properties of each individual scene scoped to it implicitly. It makes scene structures very easy for me to visualize and implement, usually the two largest hurdles I overcome before jumping in. Here's a glimpse of the main scene in which minigames "spawn":

Godot SceneTree

Note the uh...influence from WarioWare. The game's events, as I had originally named them, are called at least three things in the code in different places (events, Microgames, minigames...). Not the most efficient or best-practices methodology for sure, but it goes to show you how quickly I felt right at home in the editor, hacking away at the game slowly but surely.

Pulling off the right "feel"

I've been fortunate enough to receive a significant amount of feedback for School Years, and a lot of the positive variety centered around how the game felt for players.

Some comments went into detail about how players felt they could relate to the scenarios presented during the game. They remember how it felt to have all the school-time interactions with bullies and naysayers, their outlooks changing as time went on. The way I experienced those interactions was with a sense of bewilderment and a perceived lack of knowledge on how to proceed. I say that with clarity now because hindsight is perfect, but in the moment I was very reactive.

Expressing the jam's "growing up" theme as a minigame marathon was such an easy choice for me due to how I felt back then, making snap decisions and feeling overwhelmed by life. A constant pressure to excel in academia was not helping, something I thought would be evident with a visible, short timer on everything from talking to teachers and students to choosing a school to attend. It does seem that design decision did what I had intended, so definitely a triumph!

Proper workflow

Learning a new engine is always a daunting task, but the real tests come in the form of deadlines. With the jam deadline set in stone and no way to get an extension I had to constantly ask myself, just how efficiently am I working? Am I completing what I wanted to complete according to my originally set goals for this project? The questions surfaced at even greater frequency during the CFN Game Jam, with only seven days to produce a reasonably thought-out game I could feel the pressure.

That pressure led to a very quick need to optimize my workflow, according to both Godot dev best practices and the fastest routes from point A to point B.

My first and most time-consuming optimization was a good layout to put the right files in the right places. I ended up grouping the "events" (or minigames, or microgames...etc.) in folders according to which time period they were a part of. In each folder went the .tscn file, assets sorted by type, scripts in top-level; it all seemed very straightforward. This worked for good bit of time and got me acclimated to the Godot way of project organization, but this was only a half-victory...more on layout in Missteps.

The second optimization was a natural, gradual one: slowly getting used to the architecture and tools in an unguided, self-started environment. As I worked through the game, designing each event and adjusting them for each time frame, I ran into more and more of Godot's idiosyncrasies. Specifically, I came to both love and hate the AnimationPlayer node for its quirks, with its behavior spanning multiple scenes due to its classification as a resource. Eventually though, I was able to bend it to my advantage by using a single animation resource as a store for many:

This is DEFINITELY not a best practice

This is definitely not a best practice, I'm sure, but it worked well to centralize the animations I needed to splash in different text for different events. These are what drive the very short instructions before each event, and due to how I was copy-pasting ad infinitum, Godot kept copy-pasting the reference to the created .tres file that housed the animations. While there are likely good use cases for that, it wasn't an ideal phenomenon. However, the centralization it allowed was an unexpected boon.

Speaking of phenomena that aren't ideal, let's go over some...


Swift alienation

The theme of the jam was one I strictly adhered to during development, down to the design of the game's controls for PC. My PC keyboard mapping of choice for games was always meant to mimic a classic controller layout, specifically the 6 button Saturn pad:

  • WASD for the directional pad
  • I/J/K/L for the face buttons
  • F/H for "select" and "start"

It just made sense in my head to lay things out this way, and I thought that, with the theme clearly explained in my readme, others would think the same. Right...?

Nope. Some of the first comments regarding gameplay were how peculiar the button mappings were. Keyboard-using players wondered why the action button was a very unfamiliar "L", and why it couldn't have been the spacebar or similar.

In addition to the controls, the gameplay itself was something players had some difficulty acclimating to, reasonably so. Not many players had experience with WarioWare, at least according to the reports of confusion I was seeing from some of them. Thus, the rapid-fire instructions barely appearing on-screen for more than a second didn't seem to go over too well; they were confusing to those not familiar with the inspiration.

Project layout

There were many ways I considered approaching the game's files and folders, and the layout I chose very quickly collapsed into chaos the more I dove into learning Godot.

First, I thought why not just sort out files as I usually do? Haphazardly with arbitrary structure? Sure! Minigames go in a top-level events folder, non-main-game scripts and Godot's .tscn files go in the top level outside of that--but WAIT! What about utility scripts? Fonts? HUD? Other UI? Umm...whoops. Let's throw all of them into a utils folder! And even keep the primary game script in the top level!

...I'm sure it's as confusing to look at as that was to read. However, that's what the layout morphed into as I attempted to reconcile Godot 2.1's best practices with my own lackluster game project organization habits. Eventually I did settle into a good balance as the deadline loomed, forcing me to move on every time I had the urge to refactor it all.

However, that final layout and file sorting scheme left a lot to be desired. Work would constantly pause for seconds at a time while I looked for a given script or asset. Editing graphics took precious time sifting through my pile of folders and files to find the right images to edit. Frankly, it was an inefficient mess.

School Years: What's Risen From Its Grave?


If your controls/design are out of the ordinary, it's good to carefully make those potentially alienating differences clear to the player. There's little sense in thrusting the player into an unfamiliar environment completely unprepared, if that isn't your intent. They need something to go on so they aren't flailing their arms to and fro, looking for the right buttons to push or the right pressure plate to stumble over. Bonus points if you can work that something into the UI or initial gameplay in a way that makes sense (Mega Man enemies, Zelda dungeons, Dark Souls' intro come to mind).

Also, presenting a game's theme through the gameplay is very effective! No cutscene or FMV, no matter how flashy or cinematic, conveys thematic elements in a game quite like the gameplay itself. Sure, you can elicit profound sadness or joy through beautiful expanses (like the stunning sunset sliding portion of Journey) and tragic scenarios (such as the ending of Transistor), but at least in my experience a player doesn't truly feel it without an interactive component. I'm sure School Years would have felt very different with longer minigame times!


Always, always, always have a project layout plan in order before work begins! With so much that could go wrong later on, such as misplaced assets and too-close deadlines, the project's architecture itself should not be anywhere near the top of the list of crunch time responsibilities. I've found since making School Years that it pays to have as little on your plate near the end of projected dev time as possible, and getting the project's file/folder layout handled early on does well to help.

Finally, to stay very productive as development marches on, thoroughly reading the docs of your tools is paramount. Achieving a good workflow in game development is usually a matter of figuring out what works with respect to building one's desired features, but oftentimes that workflow is only really possible after a deep dive into the docs to really understand what's going on under the hood. I recommend either always having a tab of the docs pinned in your favorite browser, or having your engine's in-editor documentation always at the ready.

Thanks for reading!

Glad you made it this far (or just skipped to the end I suppose?)! I hope this tome of a postmortem gave you some good insight into the School Years development process, as well as perhaps a few insights into game development as a whole.

Want to talk about it? Let's chat on Twitter, the game's Itch page, Facebook, or even E-mail if that's your thing. I'd love to hear your feedback!


The world outside turns, churns, burns.

My frustrations mount as I realize my craft has languished, a husk of his former self shambling about the corridors using the walls to prop himself up, stumbling over cracks through the dark toward nothing in particular. My ambition knocks on every door ahead of him, frustrated at its lack of success when it finds that no one will let him in without my craft, who just fell once again. Unamused, my ambition races on, not stopping to help my craft along the corridor. I look back at the both of them in guilt and disappointment.

Right behind my craft, a warrior clad in green sprints past my counterparts; he beckons me me to his side as he passes. He does this with a motivating, confident bellow and a spirited gesture, heading into a door not far in front of me.

Soon after, from far ahead, I'm accosted by light. Bursting from a door dozens of feet away is an angel whose radiance forces me to shield my eyes; my beloved, having just completed her work on the project on the other side of the door, heads my way. Her brilliance lights the corridors behind me, my ambition and craft looking on in awe, finally able to see the way again.

My ambition waits a bit for my craft to reach him, then hoists him on his shoulder. The two exchange reassured looks. A renewed vigor fills me at this sight, the corridors lit even while my beloved has already moved forward and out of sight, certain that I'm not far behind.

I go back to my ambition and craft, standing between them, putting them both on my back.

Guided by her inspiring presence, we stride confidently forward, the labyrinth looking more navigable than it ever has.

Designing Responsive Websites: The Game!

This is a game design for the course I mentioned in my piece on Magical Drop III, made as the final project. The goal was to implement what was discussed in a designed-from-scratch gamified learning activity. The course is only a week long (actually more of a workshop) so the design didn't have to actually be implemented, just drafted. This design is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, for those curious about using the design to make something.

The Goal

"You're a worker in a website factory that ships sites in any size the user orders! To get sites to ship they must be designed so they have all the parts they come with and don't have any overlapping elements, while fitting snugly in your reference boxes. Ship your given sites in all your reference box sizes to end your shift, completing the game!"

The main idea for the activity is to learn responsive web design best practices in an environment with explicit visual feedback, guidelines for those practices, and an easy-to-grasp metaphor to better visualize what designing for screens of varying sizes feels like (putting square peg into square hole).

Game Flow

  1. Students will be given a sample site to start with, along with their five reference boxes, each analogous to a typical screen-width breakpoint. The biggest box will be used first for shipment. They will also be given a set of user-ordered restrictions (only use this CSS property, have this many elements in the page, etc.).

  2. Knowing this information, the student submits the site for approval, visually shown as a paper document (their site) being conveyored through a scanner then lowered into their first box.

  3. If it passes the scan and fits the box, the box closes and is stamped "READY!" and goes down the conveyor belt. If it doesn't pass either one, a "foreman" (me) gives a tip to the student about why it didn't work, be it site content overflowing over the boundaries, site content overlapping on the page, whatever the problem might be. After some editing of the site code, the student can try again.

  4. When a box successfully ships, their CSS is cleared before coding for the next box. Once the student ships all five boxes, they are given their next site, with new site content and new user-ordered restrictions, more advanced to implement than the first site.

  5. Their shift (and game) ends after three sites are shipped. The time taken to completely ship each box (and afterward, each site) is recorded for replayability, in case the student wants to go for a faster time. This can also help reinforce the practices learned through prepping the site for shipment.

  6. Once all three sites are shipped the foreman will congratulate them on a job well done, and the game ends.

"Overtime" can be chosen for extra credit, in which the student will be able to work on two additional sites, both more challenging than the first three.


When the user begins to ship each box, an animation shows their document going through a scanner (to check for correct site content behind the scenes), then slowly lowering into the box (to check for size). It will stop with red alarm lights for a second or two if the site fails the scanner or is too wide, or it will proceed with green lights if it succeeds. Simple two-color code for "correct" and "needs revision".

If a shipment needs revision, a foreman will come out to point out what the scanner or box wasn't accepting. The foreman will be careful not to give away the solution, but to point students in the right direction so they can apply what they learned during the course for solving responsive web design problems.


Correct shipments are rewarded with "Great job!" messages and a green light accompanied by a "Correct!" ding. Correct shipments also show the student that the technique they applied was the right one to go with to solve the problem in front of them.

No need for points as the gameplay and what's learned are supposed to be their own reward, as described in this excellent post on game dynamics by Philip Trippenbach.


  • The student can't move on to the next box until they ship the one they are on.
  • No copy-pasting from outside sources! As soon as the game gains or loses focus it will clear the clipboard.
  • No elements in ship-ready sites can overlap, unless specified by the user-ordered restrictions.
  • All user-ordered restrictions must be met before the document can go through the scanner without error.
  • Additionally, all site content must be contained within the bounds of each box, otherwise it will be rejected and require further tweaking.

What's the win-state?

Once all three sites are shipped completely, the game is won. The foreman will appear and congratulate the player, showing them the times they got for each one. The play will then be presented with the option to go into Overtime, start again, or quit the game.


There's of course a ton more that could be added (specifics of media queries, flexbox, Grid, JS solutions) but I wanted to keep things basic, such that the student can learn and not be overwhelmed.

What would you add? Would there be specifics of web design you feel should be focused on more in a game like this? If you have any thoughts/critiques/praise, feel free to let me know on Twitter! I always appreciate feedback and chances to improve.

Magical Drop III: Achieving Flow in the Arcade

This was my post for a discussion forum in an online course I'm taking, titled: Designing Gamified Learning Environments. The prompt for this discussion was: describe the engaging gameplay elements, experience, and other engaging factors of any game of our choice. Edited a little bit to correct some errors in structure, and separate the ideas a bit better.

What is Magical Drop III?

Magical Drop III is an arcade puzzle video game for the Neo-Geo platform, a proprietary platform created by Neo-Geo for shipping multiple games in one cabinet. Magical Drop III was one of two I played religiously as a child in the local laundromat, the other being a horizontal "bullet hell" called Blazing Star. What always drew me to Magical Drop III over Blazing Star was the intense flow I would achieve while playing, such that I willingly lost many, many quarters to its difficulty.

The core gameplay is as follows:

  • Move left or right
  • Grab orbs of a like color from an ever-lowering ceiling
  • Throw them back upwards such that the orbs form vertical lines of at least three

These matches clear orbs from the board, and any touching orbs of the same color at the time are also removed. Player movement is not automatic when the joystick is held, requiring the player to push the stick in the desired direction each time they want to move one column over. The same principle applies to grabs and throws; each grab takes all orbs of a like color, meaning that in order to grab more orbs the held orbs must be thrown or the player must move.

Of the three modes in the game, my favorite was the Adventure mode, in which the player would advance through a game board space by space to reach a goal. Each time the player lands they must survive 60 seconds of gameplay with varying conditions, and depending on how many fire drops they get they can advance farther on the board. Here's a video of it in action (video by Luna PrincessNinjato):

Magical Flow

Recently at the local NJ GamerCon, I came across the game in their free-to-play arcade! This time the flow was unreal, unbroken by the need to put in more money to continue, or the trip to my mother to borrow some more quarters. What I began to notice as I conversed with my fiancee, who looked on in curiosity as I played, was that I lost the conversation until the stage was over and my brain could pick it back up again...completely (sorry)!

The main elements that pulled me into intense flow during stages were the controls interacting with the conditions and feedback coming from each stage. The sequence of pushing the stick a certain amount of times, quickly pressing "grab", pushing again, then quickly pressing "throw" to organize the pieces was punctuated by the distinctive noise of the cabinet's plastic, creating auditory feedback in sync with the visual feedback of making matches and causing chain reactions. The time limits added an extra element of urgency that pushed my constant checking of the game UI even further, which informed my movements with the controls, resulting in a feedback loop that locked me in and didn't let go until the stage was over.

Aside from the visual cues, the sound effect playing every time one second passed, and the physically involving controls, a major drive in my engagement was the final goal: the space at the end of the board. Even when some stages were tough, even when it seemed impossible to proceed, knowing there was a clear goal to achieve ensured I stayed engaged with the experience, to the point where it was late and I didn't want to leave until the goal was reached. Adding to that was the space counter at the top of the screen between stages, telling you how close you were to the end. I couldn't leave till it hit "0"!

Go find this game!!!

Seriously; if anyone ever gets a chance to play Magical Drop III in an arcade, I HIGHLY recommend it. The game in that form is a truly engaging experience for something so cutesy and seemingly laidback in appearance. Not many games I've played outside of that one (and believe you me, I've played my share) have given me such a feeling of audiovisual-physical engagement...except maybe Child of Eden with camera-tracked motion control. DEFINITELY going to write something on that one.

Risen From Its Grave: Neci's Nightmare

Part postmortem, part retrospective, in *Risen From Its Grave I take an in-depth look at my games to determine Triumphs and Missteps in the development process. I also look at what’s “risen from the grave” of the game proper – that is, what’s stuck with me and proceeded to trounce future development challenges.*

It's been about three years since I made anything that wasn't work-for-hire. You'd think someone who's as adamantly supportive of indie dev as I am would have something to show for his interest, passion, solidarity? Some small thing or open project he completed in all that time?


The Soul Still (Kinda) Burns

In college I sought to inject game design into any area it could fit. Introduction to Programming using Processing? Music-themed board game with pixel art. Introduction to [Something] Projects? An Ingress-style Android app getting students familiar with the campus, while also encouraging the student body to interact with each other through a social behavior visualizer. Hell, Technical Writing? A post-game guide for Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

My thesis? A study on game interaction through peripherals, (badly) mimicking current VR trends around the time the Leap Motion was a shiny new prototype. At the same time as a senior game development project I took the role of designing, voice acting, composing, and modeling for. Hot on the heels of what that project was supposed to be, before scheduling conflicts dissolved the original team and forced the project onto the backburner. More nearly-all-nighters than I can remember. This was about the time I said my brain and body need breaks from all that output.

A smoldering ember remained as I sought employment through freelance web development, 3D modeling, whatever I could. Other projects were started, and some are still in progress, but the ember never consumed me in a blaze of motivation like that old backburnered project from college. I'd say it was an acre or two each and not my entire world.

Eventually, after landing more stable employment I thought to myself: What happened? Where'd the spark go? You made that one thing as a job but what about the games you reeeally want to make? My SO concurred, having already started her own passion-fueled project utilizing her wealth of skills. Considering the amount of time/energy a brand new game would take to bring to fruition myself, I thought the backburnered project needed to come out of retirement. That way I'd have a head start on giving that smoldering ember some oxygen, bringing it to a full flame.

Marching Over Coals

Digging out the old GDD I kept all this time I got right to work, converting the massive body of text into an organized wiki. I went through every area of it, correcting grammar/spelling, spicing up ideas, eliminating placeholder fluff we never intended to keep. I came up with more mechanics to change up our rather basic formula. I revised the script I wrote for it to tie the narrative and gameplay closer together, laying out some areas for expansion. And yet, this was all prep work for a larger project. It wasn't a complete project yet. Once again I sought to stoke the flame, this time with something that was done from beginning to end, for nothing else but my own training.

Along came GBJam 5, showing up in my inbox.

I reviewed the theme and the details; I was ready to dive into it. The timing was too good, I couldn't let the opportunity slide on making something in a style reminiscent of my first game console of any kind. To boot, I could use the protagonist/enemies from the backburnered project since I already know how I'd create the art for them! Now that I had decided, what would I use to make this happen?

I had the bright idea of using GameMaker: Studio, which I had just bought in a recent Humble Bundle. Before that decision, I had never touched GameMaker in any capacity in my life. But hey, this whole thing is meant to be a learning experience right? So away I went.

Gamedev adages I learned while proceeding through development of Neci's Nightmare, as it came to be called:

  • Don't spend 80% of the allotted time making assets. I did and it cost me the deadline. Sure, the whole thing has its own original flavor, but when you've got a 9-to-5 and limited downtime you must spend it well. Focus on the implementation of mechanics, make art/music a second priority. Reign in your scope, and target trouble areas first so any remaining time is yours to crunch as you require.

  • Use Git or some other source control from start to finish. Even if you use an engine that stores its own copies of your assets when you import them, you still want to be sure that your vital files are checked into source control regardless. I use an encrypted folder via Cryptomator for syncing to the cloud, and it didn't update many of the small changes I was making to assets. If you're paranoid like me please don't make the same mistake; check your work into a private Git repo to ensure no annoying issues like that one. (P.S.: Cryptomator's pretty good outside this use case, recommended.)

  • Get used to the engine/methodology you'll be using well in advance of the project in question. The reason I went over the deadline by two days was unfamiliarity with the engine and the time it took to remedy that. I had to look up how to do basically anything through very informative tutorials that showed me just how much I was in over my head.

  • Don't miss the damn deadline. Don't. Do you want your game to have a chance to be featured by the host at all? Do you want it to be otherwise acknowledged by anyone outside some of your friends (maybe)? If so, complete the whole thing on time, submitting it for consideration before submissions are up. You'll be glad you got the chance to receive very valuable feedback. Without punctuality you'll get views on late topics, but no replies because there's no reason to rate or consider a late submission.

After the game was complete I finally felt the same fire I used to have three years ago. The smoldering embers were lit ablaze with renewed vigor! I was driven to complete the Jam even after the deadline; if I was to truly learn from the experience the game needed to be complete in some way shape or form. I submitted it for approval on the Jam's discussion board and gave it its own page, finally satisfied and brimming with confidence in myself. I'd finally completed a project under my full control for the first time since college. Sure it's no Crashlands, but it's mine and it's done. Couldn't ask for more.

Motivation Breeds Motivation

Immediately following GBJam I needed another fix. I needed to challenge myself and hone my skills once more, I had to stoke the fires consuming my thinking and vision. What else was coming up soon? Itch pointed me to the Twine/NaNoWriMo jam starting with the first day of the latter. You couldn't measure how fast I clicked "Join".

Downloaded Twine the day of, started diving into documentation/research the next day, began writing a test story shortly after to learn the engine. Today I was working on getting this blog set up, but believe you me the quest continues tomorrow as it has this week.

When you feel like you've lost your touch, your spark, your burning passion for your art, just jump in and make something. Anything! It doesn't have to be good, it just has to get done. Once it is done, you'll have learned something, and have completed the implementation of a planned idea. You'll feel like you can do it again, but not right now. Make it right now! Plan your next project and sleep on it, then start tackling it at the earliest opportunity tomorrow!

Remember, flames need fuel to keep burning strong.

Mighty No. 9: It’s Not That Much “Better Than Nothing”

Even after the infamous trailers, the doom and gloom surrounding release, all of it…I wanted so bad for Mighty No. 9 to be an overall good game. So bad.

But as it turned out, anyone with any experience actually designing Mega Man gameplay didn’t work on the same for Mighty No. 9, even Inafune just…wrote it/conceptualized it?! …This is what I get for not following the process. And if any “veteran game creators” they claim to have had working on it actually worked on any gameplay akin to well-thought-out Mega Man, I sure as hell couldn’t tell.

With only the final boss to defeat (an utter chore at this point since I’ve memorized her patterns), I can finally give my thoughts on this thorough disappointment. Each of the pros below has an associated con, in order, along with bonus cons to cover more of the unsavory bits. ALSO SOME MINOR SPOILERS, FOR THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT THE STORY.


  • ReXelection, the take-weapons-from-bosses system, is a grand idea, a pretty cool take on Axl’s powers from Mega Man X7. Love the ability to switch styles on demand, with a bunch of the powers being classic stolen weapons. Harkens back to Battle Network-esque styles where certain abilities are unique and cost nothing, fun.

  • I for one dig “shoot n dash” as an alternative to just “jump n shoot”; it keeps things really fast paced and allows for some fun aerial movement while contributing to the scoring system.

  • Level pacing was pretty decent for the most part. Things slowed down for some encounters naturally, with frantic speedups in other parts that gave a good thrill as I progressed. Notable is Seismic’s stage and its tunnel sequences, as well as Dyna’s stage with well-timed arenas (even though, narrative-wise, they made little sense).

  • Boss fights were fun exercises of the mechanics that actually required some critical thinking…to a point.

  • Bosses “cleansed” of their corrupted Xel show up in other stages you attempt to remove some of the hazards for you, which I thought was a nice touch.

  • The art style is vibrant, vivid, works well overall in giving the game a cohesive look and feel.


  • A lot of the extra combat abilities in each ReXelection are functionally useless, as they either don’t have enough utility or don’t deal enough damage to encourage using them over spamming normal shots. I guess you could say that some ReXelections are specifically for utility while others are focused on attacking, but the Battalion and Brandish ReXelections ended up trivializing around 80% of the combat, to the point where bosses became laughable. Even Brandish’s underwhelming spin-attack was semi-useful in a few encounters.

I suppose this isn’t that much of an issue because you can just use the core weapons like Mega Man games of old, but that begs the question: why have all the extras to begin with then? “Options, Noel!” Objectively inferior options, but sure.

  • “Shoot n dash” would be REALLY amazing if defeated-and-not-yet-absorbed enemies didn’t still damage you on non-dash contact. The way the enemy placement is set up is so counter-productive to the core idea of defeating-then-dashing-forward…there’s pits placed behind enemies at the end of your dash distance, enemies spawning on other enemies you defeat in arena sequences, such that you have to wait to attack the new ones for fear of being damaged…which destroys your combo if you absorb the defeated one before it regenerates since you “took too long to absorb it”…I could go on. Level design contributes to this also, but more on that later.

Asinine enemy/obstacle placement undermines the fullest potential of “shoot n dash”.

  • Level pacing was generally good, but level design got really annoying, really fast. Countershade was the worst offender.

Imagine, if you will, an objective to “Search for the boss!” Cool, all I have to do is find the boss right? Simple. Well, not really. In reality, you have to find him in a looping hallway…with no checkpoints. None. You also have to not just “Search for” him, but actually attack him once you find him, which isn’t evident unless you experiment and hit him enough times to trigger the boss fight; That finally gives you a checkpoint. Yes, that means if you make one false move and hit the death lines that he leaves you on the 1.5-2nd loop through the level, you start from the beginning.

The large amount of enemies you have to contend with as you constantly dodge Countershade’s sniper fire through the vertically cramped hallway, along with the chaos of having to “shoot n dash” through that mess, constantly losing health due to misplaced enemies, makes for a terrible experience. No Inafune, peppering the level with health pickups was not the solution to this level’s design; our health wasn’t the core problem. Making us do the hide and seek was the core problem.

“But Noel! He’s a boss, why didn’t you just attack him on instinct as much as you could?” Well, I did do that but I didn’t think it did anything, because the miniboss meter doesn’t show up when you find him, as it does other mini-boss encounters where you need to damage to progress. I thought it was a matter of finding him, with any “hits” I scored not actually counting, similar countless other games with “find him before you actually fight him” levels. It was only when I FINALLY triggered the boss encounter that I realized I should have been spamming as hard as possible every single time I caught up with him. To be fair, you could call that my folly for relying on an assumption. However, the point stands; the path to progression was obtuse.

Countershade’s blunder aside, the other stages had some good spots in terms of “oh this is cool, good test of the mechanics here” but a lot of it was:

  • “Are you really going to put an enemy here that, if I dash through it, will put me directly in danger of falling to my death?”

Level design was less a matter of “git gud”, and much more a matter of “git gud at designing levels.”

  • The boss fights promoted some clever tactics to finding their weaknesses and best approaches, but once you figured it out and got a good shot spam/Brandish spam/Battalion spam rhythm going they fell like Dominoes.
    Even the appropriate “weaknesses” we all know and abuse from the Mega Man games didn’t do nearly as well as they could have. Truly disappointing balance issue there, since I had to intentionally use normal Beck for the sort of thrilling fight I’ve come to expect in Mega Man-esque boss battles. It’s like Metal Blade all over again.

  • I was expecting a hell of a lot once I saw old, cleansed bosses come back to help in other levels.
    I was hype for more when they appeared until I saw them help with about 5 seconds worth of gameplay before saying “Welp I’m out, good luck Beck!” I was almost expecting something akin to the friend help sections in Kirby 64, where Dedede and others appear to help and change up the gameplay a bit (well, moreso in Dedede’s case). More of a personal con than an objective one I suppose.

However, what makes this “feature” even more pointless is the fact that, if you approach an obstacle that would have a cleansed boss appear without the boss having been defeated yet, that area builds up to nothing. Nothing. The “threats” they “helped” were never actually a threat at all, just placeholders for eye candy. Very sloppy.

  • Really liked the art style and art direction, really didn’t like the lack of polish.
    I have some choice screenshots (as does the internet) of instances of reeeeally amateur modeling and texturing…which I wouldn’t expect from a game directed by the art designer of Mega Man. Or from a game with a $3,845,170 Kickstarter fund. Going to include the tragically mediocre voiceovers here as well, since for that kind of money they REALLY could have done better. Then again, might be the script that made me think the VO was as bad as it seemed. Speaking of…

  • The writing/story…why have it?
    The script read like a below-average Saturday morning cartoon, riddled with cliches and dripping with lame, overused idioms (“Don’t count your atoms before they’re smashed!”). The antagonist’s motives for activating the eventual final boss were vague at best, and the personalities of everyone were archetypal, if not bland (Dyna replaces all her “s”s with “z”s…Get it? Because she’s an electricity themed bot with a bee pattern?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA aaaaand that’s her only defining trait). Yawn. Really enjoyed Avi’s puns for Beck though, he seemed to be the best-characterized out of all of them. But really, look at mainline, non-Sonic Boom writing for the Sonic games, starting with Sonic Colors. It’s fun, has the Saturday-morning feel, and doesn’t rely completely on cliches and overused writing tropes to get the point of the narrative and humor across.

Really could have done with less banter during the levels too, didn’t add anything to the feel of the game aside from some of the corrupted bosses’ lines. Everything else started grating after a while.

Team Mighty No. 9, if your target audience was people nostalgic for Mega Man, raise the depth/maturity of the writing juuuust a bit. The theme near the end of robots evolving past death machines was pretty good to me, a theme I think was also tackled in Mega Man Zero. But man, they did not pull it off here. Hell, add conversations with each of the Numbers about their experiences as Xel-possessed agents of Trinity’s will after each fight. Replace most of the banter during the level with that talk at the end and I’d be somewhat happier with the story, and would feel that it has some sort of overarching narrative, given its sudden increase in narrative weight near the end. Instead, there’s this strange sack of ideas we have to wade through.

  • The music I heard was forgettable, I really don’t remember any of the tracks in the game. As someone who listens to game soundtracks on the regular, that’s a bad sign. Probably was the rest of the disappointment in the game that kept me from even listening to the music that intently in the first place.

In Conclusion

Mighty No. 9 was a total nightmare. Its few shining moments of good design or good aspects of presentation were buried in an avalanche of bad decisions and terrible writing. As the Kickstarter project that opened the floodgates for comeback projects (I mean, seemed that way with all the others coming out of the woodwork afterward), Mighty No. 9 isn’t setting a great precedent for the platform. Let’s hope Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove, Yooka-Laylee, and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night live up to the hype.

Entry Level

Spend dozens of thousands, get your degree.
Blanket the world in apps, calmly kick back.
Refresh your tabs nervously. Don’t let up.
Opportunity is always knocking.

Then, stop. Resist your urge to bombard them.
Reach to the sides, the past. Reach, find patrons.
You know them; you meet them, ev’ry day, too.
Opportunity is always knocking.

Then…realize your true predicament.
There’s much to see, much to write, much to make.
Recall how long your world takes to spin once.
Opportunity is always knocking.

Then – only then – reek the Entry Levels.
Festering, putrid, welcoming and fresh.
In colossal numbers they request your skill.
Opportunity is always knocking.

You can fight them. You can stun them, maim them.
But when you’re spent you must still humor them.
Alas, they reject you, others close behind.
Opportunity is always knocking.

Then you reach out for them, patrons be damned,
Be it fear, panic, or will guiding you.
You miss one? You pursue the next with haste.
Opportunity is always knocking.

A Little Something

Some piece I put together to describe a character that would serve as a nexus for other novellas I had floating around. When the idea to tie those stories together was scrapped, so was this.

Tap tap tap went Cro’s fingers on the window sill, the sounds ringing in its ears. Its infinite space was a prison. It felt like hell to even breathe its home’s lack of air. What was it even doing here, anyway? It could break out in a moment’s notice…it could surely escape. It could roam the space between everywhere else to its heart’s content, not a hindrance in sight. Then what was Cro still doing here? Testing the sill’s integrity? Or still gazing at what lied outside its little slice of heaven?

Not much to see out the window, really; just a mess of realities all going about their business as it was. So Cro always argued: Why leave? Why should I go out there when I have everything I need right here? No use.

That was it, though. Cro didn’t have everything. It was missing a connection to this bubble or, for that matter, any other. It was just some debris who’d become sentient, much like all the other little things out there. All having fun in their cells. That was what Cro came to find lacking…all the LIFE there was in the existence around it.

It’s not that Cro was bored, on the contrary. It had gone on for these last epochs alone and in its space, and so would it continue, for that kept it sane. Kept it from reliving its first outing. But now? It almost yearned to string together all the other bubbles of existence in its own personal daisy chain. A far cry from the sheer terror that sent it to its space in the first place.

Cro knew that a good experience out there was asking too much, yet that didn’t stop the thought. After all, it had nothing to lose once it tried.


While his circuits are built tough, his motherboard screams.
Another Joule added would ensure he explodes.
His CPU, overclocked. Fan, maximum speed,
Heatsink spilling temperature on all his nodes.

His processes and services hang, beeps blaring,
Letting him know how much his parts are in tatters.
His capacitors empty, his power draw zeroes.
He wanted more time, but now that hardly matters.

In the last milliseconds before his dying spark,
He tries a gambit; a long-deprecated setting.
It is dangerous, a pure enthusiast’s tool,
Whose misuse can cause a virtual bloodletting.

He cranks it high, fighting for his dwindling life.
This ultimate act completes his remaining task:
A calculation of the war’s final outcome.
In fulfillment and due rest he can now bask.

The signal, sent. Every bomb, halted. Every city, spared.
A deceased, metal statistician lay, spent.
The first and last actions of the world’s only AI,
Remain etched in the minds at his U.S. Army tent.

An Invitation

How to compare, to our universe of grandeur?
Is there hope for our eternal home to stack up?


It needs first reach your lustrous beauty; it can not.
Its wonder should then surpass your own? It does not.
It must surely intrigue to a finer degree? Nay,
Its sheer seniority should give it top value?

No, in this mortal coil exists not one body,
Not one object that can claim itself superior.

Gravitational collapse, systemic reboot,
Those are all the vast cosmos can do to compete.

Quite lesser it may be, far and wide it may stretch,
Our grand universe is worth sharing only with you.

Let’s traverse as much as we can from this planet,
Touring the depths with our minds, hearts, and quintessence.


Flowers bloom, seasons pass. The world’s changes.
Sunlight crumbles, night visits. Shifting days.
Their contiguous presence keeps things brief,
Entropy quickening to a brisk stride.

Morning air warms at a peregrine’s pace.
Evening skies glimmer swiftly with stars.
While they share space, time leaves them far behind.
And apart they rush past it, speed fivefold.

Never are they truly on the mark, instead
Time remains always in flux around them.
All they can do is comment and observe it,
While they enjoy what bounties time leaves them.

Industrial Epidemic

Zombies! Steampunk! Guns! A short idea I once wanted to develop into a full novel or companion piece, that might see some use in the future.

He cranked away at the valve, the squeaking never ceasing to echo, the steam condensing up and down his arms, the wrench in his hands nearly slipping out with each pull. Only minutes until they’d be breathing down his neck…he shook off those thoughts as he shook the sweat that built up in his unkempt hair. Another lurch, another blast of steam, and another step closer to the exit…but suddenly something blocked the light coming from the hallway! He looked over his shoulder…

Shambling, rotted effigies of humanity were hobbling toward him at a pace that sent chills down his entire body. His synapses shook with fear; he had expected this valve to agree with him just this once but it didn’t budge. “Come on!” he cried, giving it one last burst of torque–KKRRRRSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!!! Columns of steam shot out from all directions in the hallway. The horrors stumbled and collapsed from the gaseous heat bombarding them. He smirked, satisfied with this small victory, and dashed eagerly to the exit.

He splashed through pools of condensation, crashed through double doors, and dashed around the wreckage of the factory. Glancing upward he noticed the intricate machinations of the facility were breaking down. Some gears stopped turning while others turned much too fast, causing other machinery to malfunction and plummet to the ground. He adapted quickly and moved efficiently, his suspenders digging into his shoulders like the claws he so desperately sought to evade. The exit was but thirty feet away. His eyes lit up for the first time in months as sunlight graced his battered, drenched skin. Once again, however, those creatures had other plans. The intelligent ones shut the door in front of him, that light fading as quickly as his hope. A few small groups caught up, and the lot of them surrounded him. He clenched his fist around his wrench, chuckled, and bellowed, “Well? Who’s first?!”

They all lunged at him at once, as if in response. He evaded them and broke from the crowd, much to his surprise, but–

“GAAHH, dammit! Shit shit shit…” – the group behind the first got close enough to graze his arm with their teeth. He used his portable vacuum to remove the infected bodily fluids from the wound, causing him to stumble and hit the floor rolling. As he looked up at the next group of three just inches from his face, he took a mighty swing of his wrench, downing two and giving him room to shift around the last. Now he was less than a yard away from the door, all he needed to do was jump–

His outstretched hand landed on something soft, human. Luckily this was a firmer patch of skin, it couldn’t be the rotting flesh of his pursuers. “Watch out!” she shouted, alerting a nearby, feeding pack.

He had grabbed the shoulder of a mysterious woman who was worse for wear. She was of similar build to him, but much better equipped for this hellish scene. The woman threw his arm to the side and bid him follow her out the door, and he naturally complied. With cover fire raining down from the woman’s bayoneted rifle the duo made it out, closing the doors of the building behind them. They turned their backs on the collapsing facility, leaving the shuffling masses to their fate.

The sunlight bathed his skin in long lost rays, the fresh air stinging his tired lungs. He and the woman didn’t stop to take in all the sights, setting course for the city in the distance. She called back to him, “So how long has it been?”

“Since what?”

“Since you started fighting them! It looked as if you’ve been at this for weeks!”

“Well…” he trailed. He debated whether to respond with the truth, that he just got off of a half-year shift of work and today happened upon the horde, or that he’s had much experience and would be a valuable asset.

“I’ve been in there for quite a while, I couldn’t really say–”

She nodded, but quickly pressed her bayonet against his throat. Her eyes darted between his face and his shoulder as she demanded, “Tell me what that is!! Were you bitten?!”

“Yes, but–WAIT I’M CLEAR I’M CLEAR!!!”

“How the hell are you clear?! Look at yourself!”

“I have this!” He cried, producing his portable vacuum. She continued to heft her weapon single-handedly as she grabbed the vacuum.

“Wait is this one of those…are you a mechanic?” she queried, her weapon not budging.

“Yes yes, I’ve been working on the pipes most of my life! Dammit could you get that thing out of my face?!”

She hesitated before lowering her weapon, her eyes still locked on his. He was still shaken, but appeared less so every second she moved her weapon away. He let out a sigh and asked her what he had been meaning to since his rescue. “Before we get going, could you at least tell me your name?”

“Well if you must know,” —she stopped and turned to face him— “It’s Victoria.”

“Huh. Well I’m–”

“Save it. I don’t want to hear it till you at least survive the night, no point otherwise.”

He was immediately struck with anxiety. Was this going to get worse during the night? How likely was he to see daylight again? Victoria read his face quickly. “Look, just don’t go wandering off. Stick close to where I’m at, I’ll do the same for you and we just might make it.”

He looked away, surveying the field in front of them. “Wait, make it where?”

“To tomorrow morning.” She said, glancing in his direction before beginning to clean her rifle

He took a seat and looked at the stars. They seemed much clearer tonight than they’ve ever been, even more so than when he’d go to the roof on those night shift breaks. Then it hit him. “Victoria?”


“How wide has it spread?”

“Pretty far, I’d say half the country.”

Silence was all he could muster as he nodded in response. He had been extremely lucky that day, for the factory is a rural one, detached from civilization. He meditated on his isolation briefly, but what became more important was the clarity of the sky. He appeared pale as he finally asked, “You look like you’ve been around, what’s the city looking like?”

Victoria overshot the tip of her rifle with her cleaning rag. “…I don’t think you want to know.”

“Look, I can already guess what happened to the city…I need to know how bad it is.”

She closed her eyes, drawing a long breath as she turned to face him. “The city’s been taken. All of it. There were no survivors.”

He put his hand to his mouth, his eyes wide open, staring at the ground. “How are you sur–”

“I’m part of the evacuation team! We scoured the whole city and found no one, me and my partner were the only ones who made it out! I had heard from dispatch that there might be someone still alive in the boonies, so I went to investigate. That’s how you and I met up.”

He couldn’t believe it. His entire family, dead? No, they’re a hardy bunch, there’s no way they’d let a few shambling husks take them down. He looked up and then at Victoria. “Where are we headed in the morning?”

“To Valeton, why?”

“That’s it! Should’ve known…”

“What are you driving at?” Victoria quipped.

“My family’s hiding out there, we have a panic bunker set up in the middle of town. We’ll just need to make it there and we can hide out, resupply–”

“Well tell me more tomorrow. Good night.”

“…Good night, Victoria.”

He lay awake, counting the stars as he would on those lonely nights when he had the roof of the factory to himself.


I love writing in the tone of film noir, and for this I wanted to mix that tone with more modernized elements. Definitely doing something with this, although it needs a lot of editing to make it more coherent.

I straightened my tie, expecting that dame to waltz on in unannounced, as per the usual. She’d always show after a case like she was tracking me. She was part of why I hadn’t gone insane over that past few weeks; she gave me a break from the macabre that dropped on my desk every morning. Still, my logical side figured there’s more to her visits than just wanting company.

The seconds crawled by, then the minutes, then the hours. I spent them half in my case files, half awaiting the coming break in the day’s routine. Then in came Nelson. “Hey, boss. Got your photos here.”

Nelson was a reliable guy, kept out of trouble, did what he was told. What he didn’t do was keep his mouth shut. “Thanks…you didn’t report these to the commissioner this time?”

He started sweating like a pig. Poor guy can’t lie to save his life. “No sir, went straight here after getting ‘em from the darkroom, honest.”

“Well good then, I’ll put ‘em in the review pile.” I said, making Nelson hear every syllable. “Now to make a quick call to Murphy…” Commissioner Murphy and I go way back, all the way to the Ryder Massacre of ‘88. To each other we’re the most open books around.

“Uh hold on, boss…” Nelson stammered, collapsing like an old bridge.


“I…sorta ran ‘em by him…”

I buried my face in my hands. I wasn’t going to call Murphy, he’s in a meeting for the next two hours. This was a test, and Nelson failed.

So I scolded him. “You just can’t do that with every photo we get! Some of those aren’t too…work-friendly.”

“But boss, you and the commish are like brothers right? He wouldn’t mind what you brought him, they’re ju–”

Oh yes he would. “Wouldn’t mind? Wouldn’t mind, Nelson?! What if Carmen died and you saw nothin but dead broads for hours every day?! Wouldn’t that drive you crazy?! Wouldn’t you want to throttle the asshole who made you look at those photos?!”

Stone-cold silence came over the office, my blood pumping and Nelson’s face sinking. “Uh boss…did something happen to the commissioner’s wife…?”

Class A blunder, that outburst. I gave away the precinct’s best kept secret, a twenty-year case that just went cold. Murphy and I would get a ticket to the chair if anyone knew. To this day I couldn’t tell you what made me let it out. I begged Nelson, “You tell no one what I said. Not a DAMN SOUL.”

“Oh of course not, boss, never!” he told me, audibly unsure he was keeping a secret. I didn’t give him any details of course, those would flow out of his mouth like spilled champagne, smoothly and pitifully. Nah, I knew that when the time came all he had was his own rumor. And no one believed Nelson’s rumors.

“Well alright then. Go take a break Nelson, you look like hell. Be back in an hour though, I need your help on the Deborah case.”

“Sure thing, boss!” He waltzed out the door, that pre-break spring in his step. And who else but that oh-so-friendly dame squeezed by him and into my office.

“He seemed happy, you give him a raise?”

Saucy. Like homemade pasta. “Gave him a break. Poor sap overworks himself every day, he needs it. What is it today, huh?”

She moved forward, shutting the door. This time it was important. “Well it’s about the Deborah case.”

I sank in my seat. No one outside of the department knew about that case, just me, Nelson and Murphy. My office is soundproof, she couldn’t have heard it standing outside. I gave her a once over to check for any signs she was lying. She came up negative. “Who told you? Who do you work for?”

She shook her head, wearing that sly smirk she had when she was hiding something. “Need-to-know basis, hon. The details are mighty sensitive, gotta treat them with care.”

I couldn’t read her with a polygraph if I wanted. “…Tell me what it is you’re here for already.”

“You’re not going to like this…”

“Just say it.”

“Well alright…we need you to call off the investigation.”

“‘We’? ‘We’ who?”

“My employer and I.”

The nerve! Who’d she think she was, top brass?! “Of all the…what kinda guy is this employer that he thinks I’ll just stop working at his command?!”

That smirk again. It taunted me like a bully taunts his victims. “Need-to-know, Clive, need-to-know.”

This time her teasing was too much. The smirk faded; a pained, repressed look of shock took its place. “Look, I don’t care how you know it, but if you’ll be using my name now at least tell me yours.”

Not once, not ONCE in the time we’ve known each other did we tell each other our names. That was the unwritten rule we agreed on…she’d never forget that. She sighed heavily, closing her eyes and letting her shock take over. Soon I would know why. “It’s…i-it’s Celeste-”

“Celeste? Did you say-” She was out the door before I got out another word. Celeste was the commissioner’s wife. Was. She’d been dead for a month. The woman I’ve associated with for the longest time, it was her all along and I couldn’t tell! At least, not until she said her name. Then it all came back. Her walk, her slight accent, her mannerisms…this new Celeste hid it all damn well. I was floored. Murphy couldn’t know, Nelson couldn’t know, this was between me, her, and her employer. What did this all mean? Right then and there I couldn’t say, but for the moment it looked like I owed the records office a visit.

Friday night. The detectives and custodians were the only ones dedicated (or lonely) enough to still be here. That’s why I banked on Hershel still tending to the records. “Hello?” I called after knocking, “You there, Hershey?” I saw a silhouette on the other side dart over to the next room faster than I could run. Hershel was 72.

I rammed the door hard, but the damn thing wouldn’t budge. Again and again, nothing. Must have been barred from the other side. Breaking the window was my best bet, until I heard something outside. I ran up to a window, someone just got in a car and was driving down 47th with a lead foot. I left a note on my desk, bolted out the door, hopped in my car and put Nelson on the horn. “Follow me down 47th, we’re chasing a Royce!”

“Boss I just got in the car! How did you–”

“Hit the gas already, Nelson!”

We raced down 47th, tailing our little thief all the way to the Rogers Bus Depot, a good 10 miles. All the buses were gone. Looks like someone knew we were coming. Nelson and I parked and followed the thief through the front gate. We both knew this was a trap, but hell, we didn’t come all this way to quit.

“Boss!” Nelson whispered, like a kid playing Spy. “Let’s stay back here, see where the guy’s going!”

“Got a feeling that isn’t a guy, Nelson.” I muttered. We pressed on, sweating bullets that soaked our clothes, the humidity lending a hand. Inching down the asphalt we kept a close eye on our thief as she headed toward the central office building. She’d lead us to either her employer or some answers. Both roads would lead to trouble.

I turned back to Nelson, “Better have your sidekick ready.” Good old Lady Luck kept Death at bay more times than Nelson could count, he didn’t leave home without it. Too bad he tended to leave home without her guts.

“Boss I’m out of ammo…you have any?”

“Do I look like a store? Besides, no one but you carries a damn magnum as a sidearm.”

“Carmen gave it to me on our anniversary, come on–”


We were yards from the thief. All she had to do was open the door to the office, then we’d have her! And who but Nelson stepped on a piece of glass on his way up. We made like paper, hitting the ground hard. She took a walk over to our position, I made sure to welcome her. Pointed my pistol in the thief’s face and she returned the gesture, but had another fixed on Nelson. Looked like he was meeting Celeste again after all, even if only I could tell it was her.

“Don’t wave that thing at me! I-I’ll blow you away!”

“You’re empty.” Celeste cocked her pistol with a voice colder than Christmas morning. Needless to say, Nelson got the picture. She did it while keeping her eyes locked on me, she was mad I caught her.

“So Clive…what brings you here?” That voice of hers stayed icy.

“I could ask you the same.” Our eyes didn’t budge, didn’t blink.

“I’m making a delivery.”

“That ‘delivery’ has your name on it. Looks more like you’re making a disposal, but then again, why come all the way here to do it?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Like I said, it’s a delivery. Look, if you two insist on following me you’ll both end up dead. This is bigger than my husband or his precinct. Turn around, walk away. You’ll be better off.”

Celeste was nice enough to warn us, I’ll give her that. She was a hard read, though. All this secrecy, then the threats, then offering a chance to escape? Her old self was coming through again, she couldn’t kill us even if this new Celeste wanted to. I knew that…Nelson didn’t.

“I-I’m heading back to the precinct, I’ll catch you there, boss!”

Eyes still trained on Celeste, I yelled to him, “You better be back soon, and dammit remember to bring your guts this time!”

“…S-sure th-th-thing, boss.” He dashed back to his car with the speed of Jesse Owens, Celeste’s arm following him. I lowered my weapon, she didn’t. Hers were the eyes of a British guard.

“Come on, put it away.” She was frozen in place. “We both know you won’t do it–”

BANG. The edge of my ear was seared like good steak. Smelled like it too. “Leave.” She uttered.

“Celeste, expla–”

BANG, grazed my cheek. She meant business. I went for her pistol and grabbed hold, prompting her to shove the other one in my gut. Luckily I felt it in time and fastened my free hand around her wrist, pulling it away before she pulled the trigger. We stood there, staring each other down. “Dammit, explain yourself! The hell are you even doing here?! The three of us saw your damn face get rearranged, not to mention all the blood…you couldn’t have survived that!”

“Where do you get off, interrogating?! You let me die! All of you just sat back and let him have his way with me!”

Celeste worked her right hand out of my grip, bringing it up for a quick whip. I stopped it dead and folded her arms across her own chest; no more interruptions.

“We were bound and gagged! Just because we were in the same room didn’t mean we had our hands free! But you couldn’t see that, could you! You still believed every word he had to say, even to your dying breath!” I sighed, breathing out that rage I kept in since then. Taking it out on her wouldn’t get me anywhere. I wanted answers, not another victim. “It’s been too long, you’ve gotta fill me in.”

Celeste glanced left, craned her neck a little. I followed her eyes and noticed the office door was cracked, this was it! She looked back at me before I had a chance to move, locked me down with those eyes and told me, “No, I don’t. Not yet.” Her left hand pulled the trigger, she knew how good my hearing was. I recoiled enough that she could break from my hold. She bolted for that door at a cheetah’s pace. I thought about shooting her foot or leg to slow her down, but I knew better than that. Once I brought her to her senses I’d need her in top form. The door shut and locked, from the sound of it I wasn’t getting in without heavy firepower…which just showed up in its car.

“Hey boss!” his call echoed. You’d swear he was trying to wake up the block. I motioned to Nelson to simmer down, his feet competing with his voice box.

“Shhh! Get down!” I said, crouching behind the car along with him. I thought we’d be dropped on the spot, but there we were. I threw my hat behind me, toward the door and BAM BAM BAM BAM! A swarm of high-caliber bullets shredded it. I could hear the sniper rifles cocking back again, they were dying for an excuse. Just one reason to make us Grade-A Swiss, and going back would be it. I wanted her to tell me everything…but we’d have to wait.

“Nelson, get in the car.”

“But boss–”

“Now! You saw my hat, you want it to be your head instead?!”

Nelson shut his trap, shook his head and stumbled into his seat. We still kept our heads down, just in case, but I was sure they only wanted us off the property. When we started leaving, I looked back. I heard them all, breathing easily and packing their weapons away. I got back out and decided to take a little stroll.


I stopped. Seemed like their hearing was as good as mine. I signaled to Nelson, telling him to stay quiet and keep the engine running. They were still antsy, wherever they were. I decided the best course of action was to get outta Dodge and back to the precinct. If we were going to crack this nut we’d need a plan.

We rode with the top down for a while, the crisp, rotten city breeze hitting us hard. Through the wind I heard familiar parts clicking together, the same ones from the depot. They were set up on every street in town. Just what the hell did Celeste get herself into? Her employer would lock the city down for what he, or she, was after…this was big. But I still had to keep Murphy in the dark. He’d run our resources dry if he knew she was still alive.

Nelson slinked out with his feet dragging. His face was sunken, tilted down, eyes wide. A machine like her never had the opportunity to put a barrel in his face. Nelson took this new Celeste’s cold soul head-on, and it threw him off, made him feel weak. He was shaken, but he’d get over it. He’d seen worse. He’d seen her die. But today he thought it was our partner Rose, the former precinct superstar, come back after all these years. The coroner reported her dead the same month Celeste was reported missing. Somehow Murphy didn’t suspect a thing back then, that is, until I told him Celeste was Rose.

If only he knew what was coming.

Lost It All

A man runs to the side of a dying queen…a man who needs her pardon. Would’ve been a game with Dishonored’s aesthetic, but they beat me to it. Book maybe? Or maybe I change the aesthetic...decisions decisions.

He pumped his legs harder than any man his age ever should. No one was getting there before him - no one. Not the queen’s suitors, not her subjects, not her fucking butler. He was going to burst through those double doors and demand his life back.

“MOVE!” he bellowed at a gathering of concerned guards crowding the entrance. He tossed them aside in his haste, their contemptuous roars ringing in his ears. He had enough, he could care less what petty sentence he got for that (which was his third strike, coincidentally). With a mighty kick the doors flew open and he charged through–


And there she was…the queen, bleeding from her hip. His chances drained like that precious life from her body: quickly and beyond recovery. He rushed over to her side, not even Death himself was getting to her first. He could hear the guards calling for backup and some of them follow him in.

She eked out, “Closer, Norm…” and he leaned in. The queen noticed the guards and halted them with a movement. “I know…you’re innocent. You’re–” She coughed up blood as she struggled to speak. “You’re the only…one I trust with this…” She placed a small chain in Norm’s hand, closing it over with hers. “Keep it safe…I need you to kee–”

A slow slip into unconsciousness, a serene smile, and a blank, sincere stare. Those are what the queen left her kingdom.