Magister Ludi is alive and Forward Slash Story lives again!

I am very excited to announce that our latest game, Magister Ludi, is now launched at Experimenta and available online. It puts a twist on the escape-the-room genre, highlighting our role in needing to escape. The game was commissioned by Jonathan Parsons for Experimenta’s 2015 Biennial of Media Art: Recharge, which means it will be touring Australia for the next year. Magister Ludi was also Official Selection for the 2014 Freeplay Independent Games Festival’s Parallels event at ACMI. I was inspired by the growing phenomenon of real world escape-the-room games and our attraction to them, and couple this with personal epiphanies I have come to regarding crucial psychological processes that must be attended to truly leave behind traumatic events and circumstances. Like all my projects about serious topics, I deliver everything through the lens of comedy. The title is an allusion to Herman Hesse’s Nobel-prize-winning novel “The Glass Bead Game,” and Magister Ludi plays with the idea of the conceptual game depicted in the novel.

early screenshot

I had a great team working with me to make it happen. Marigold Bartlett (Goldie) is the artist who does a wonderful job in creating room illustrations with beautiful and meaningful tones, detail and lighting. Goldie has worked with me before on my DIY SPY School card game (it is coming next year!). Trevor Dikes of Soundplay Interactive created the sound design and compositions for the game. He creates these wonderful mood moments with layers of fascinating samples coming through. Trevor worked with me before on our web audio adventure AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS. Cameron Owen of Attract Mode Games is the programmer on the game, creating all the assets in Unity. Cameron is both a designer and has UX skills himself, and so the process progressed quite quickly and smoothly. Cameron has just released his own game too (with James Bowling): Tail Drift.

photo 3 (1)


I am also very excited to let you know that applications for the 2015 Forward Slash Story Lab are now open. Lance Weiler and myself ran the first one this year just out of NYC and it was amazing. We had such a great group of participants from around the world championing this opportunity with us. It is an event, an idea, that Lance and I have had for a long time and we’re super keen to develop it. Indeed, we’re very lucky to be a part of this.

FORWARD/STORY (Forward Slash Story) is an invite-only 4 day residential lab taking place in Costa Rica, May 15, 16, 17 & 18th, 2015. It is a special lab for writers and designers who work in uncharted territories to share their journey, techniques, socialize, collaborate, and solve problems. Five core challenges that storytellers face will be explored in a collaborative environment. On-site expenses are covered for those who attend.

We had a huge influx of applications for the first lab and so choosing the final participants was just about finding the right mix. Once again, we are putting our call out as far and wide as we can to encourage fascinating creatives from around the world to apply. It is a safe and welcoming community of inspired creatives. We love people who are trailblazers, who are continuously progressing their craft and art for themselves and others, who are drawn to interactivity and understanding ourselves. Writers, designers, directors, artists, critics, theatre makers, filmmakers, game makers, and whatever great thing you do are welcome. The deadline for submissions is December 31st! Let me know if you have any questions at all, and share the news if you think someone in your network may be interested in F/S or even Magister Ludi! :)

Forward Slash Story

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Writing with Bones

One thing I have noticed about my process (so far), is that I have about 3 stages of approach to my dialogue. My first dialogue draft is always functional. I include everything I need to say regarding communicating relationships (between PCs and NPCs, and between NPCs), plot points, and if applicable goal or gameplay information. The second approach (which may be multiple drafts) is to try and apply a speech and character-world-view style that I think is needed or optimal. This is about trying out something new, something that is meant to make the writing better. My final stage then is about me integrating everything that has come before with my own personal style. It is about remembering how the only way I can do interesting things, or at least get satisfaction from what I’m doing is to go back to my own voice. I then mix together what is needed (making the functional implicit), what I learned by experimenting, and then drive it all with what I know and love.

What is difficult about these stages is that prototyping occurs during the first two stages. This means potential players are first exposed to my writing when it is at (what I call) the ‘bones’ stage — the flesh hasn’t been added yet. At first this was really hard to deal with. The last thing I wanted was people to see my bones. I wanted to yell over their shoulder: “that isn’t what the world will be like! that isn’t what I’m intending! That isn’t what I’m capable of!”. Some understand that it is just a prototype, but most have no idea that writers don’t spurt out finished words first go. I remember listening to a great podcast with Amy Hennig and Ken Levine talking about being Creative Directors and writers on games. I loved hearing that they are sometimes changing things up to the last day, and that they have teams that trust them to do that. They know they will come through.

Indeed, on most of my recent projects my programmers have come up with ways they can easily update the dialogue (even up to the last build). It is so important that element isn’t locked off as I am busy project managing first, then addressing design, and then making all the internal changes needed to get the dialogue right. Dialogue is such a personal thing for me and so as my world-view changes so does my dialogue.

I think I will like the opportunity to tweak these elements until the end (if the text is automatically generated, not images). But I am looking forward to seeing if my process will change. It has already in the sense I know what my favourite *voice* is. But I still seem to take all these steps. I guess the space is needed…

“Ry Cooder’s cover of James Carr’s “At the Dark End of the Street” ~ via Darren Tofts

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Madrid and Working on Magister Ludi


I had a great time in Madrid at the Transmedia Living Lab. I really enjoyed catching up with David Varela, Simon Staffans and Robert Pratten. I also enjoyed having a mini-holiday in the afternoon and evenings in Madrid: wandering the streets looking for the best Gin Mojito, shopping, sitting in the park, seafood paella dinners at 9pm. There were a lot of students, researchers, and practitioners at the event, and there was plenty of opportunity for lengthy Q&As — so that made it a more satisfying experience.


While I was in the air flying back from Madrid, a sneak peek of my forthcoming game Magister Ludi was shown at a private Experimenta event. Magister Ludi was also selected as part of the Freeplay Independent Games Festival event Parallels. I recorded a video to describe the work and Goldie (the artist) helped out with doing a bit of a walkthrough. Very excited.

Indeed, production of Magister Ludi has continued since I have returned. Along with the Art, Sound, and Programming, this week has involved finishing the installation part of the work. I bought an original 1950s school desk and had Greg Quincey do the carpentry to install an iPad. The carpentry ensures the iPad is secured along with the cords, but at the same time makes it easy for the exhibition staff to open the panel and make any adjustments. I have tested downloading the build through TestFlight with a special account I created for the iPad, so we can update the game easily while it is on the road if necessary. We have to make sure the installation can tour easily as the Experimenta Recharge event tours Australia for a year.

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Along with the equipment is of course the game elements. Cameron has set up special Google spreadsheets so I can update the dialogue any time there, and then he just downloads and imports it to Unity (as opposed to him copy and pasting from a spreadsheet). This works much better and frees me up to keep making tweaks. The Art for most of the rooms is done, and so is the Sound. Goldie and Trevor have done a great job (and Cameron), and so I’m really looking forward to seeing the entire build together (and then tweaking). The game will be available online as well, so anyone not in Australia or not able to go to the exhibition can experience it as well. More news soon!

magister ludi screenshot

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