Bik Review on Hardcore Droid


My new review is up, over on Hardcore Droid:

Bik is a point-and-click (er, tap) adventure, offering all the best of the point-and-click genre: There are piles of bizarre items to be picked up and then used in unusual ways, loveable loser characters in the tradition of Guybrush Threepwood and Roger Wilco, snarky flavortext, bizarre ways to get yourself killed, and a twisted, dramatic adventure plot.

Like the old Sierra games, it’s quite easy to experiment and get yourself killed in Bik, but the game keeps from being too punishing by autosaving right before performing an action that might lead to certain death. As I played, I grew quite frightened of seeing the autosave screen…

Knowing that Bik will autosave before character death does encourage players to try ridiculous actions, as well as to try firing Ammet’s blaster at random objects. Some scenes still needed to be repeated, either due to bad luck (avoiding the random approach of an alien sensor, for example) or because it took me several times to figure out my objective. Repeating scenes doesn’t feel like punishment or filler, but it doesn’t feel like great game design, either.

Via Bik—A Space Adventure Review | Hardcore Droid.

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Zyrobotics’ Turtle Invaders

turtle invaders screenshot

Zyrobotics’ Turtle Invaders is a simple, undersea action game for young children, available for both iOs and Android mobile devices. The developers’ goal is to help young children and children with special needs to improve their motor skills with an engaging game, and to allow children to access a colorful action game regardless of skill level.

In Turtle Invaders, players take on the role of an ink-squirting Octoremus, who’s defending their undersea home from invading turtles. Hitting a turtle with ink gives players points, but the game is very clear that the turtles aren’t hurt, just magically teleported back to their own turf. Which is exactly how all enemies should be vanquished in children’s games!

turtle invaders level cleared

Turtle Invaders asks young children to look at the turtles’ path and the Octoremus’ path, and decide when to shoot ink. They’ll need to predict where the turtle targets will be, by the time the ink projective will be. It’s a fairly standard shooter mechanic, in a cute, undersea, non-violent setting. It’s optimized to play with little ones because players can adjust pretty much everything, so you can customize it just right for the child. Slow down the enemies to make it easier for young ones who might be struggling with hand-eye coordination, and keep young players from feeling frustrated. Or add faster and more interesting paths to challenge an older or more skilled player. Although I’m saying “older” and “younger”, because I’m most familiar with adapting games to different ages, developer Zyrobotics has designed Turtle Invaders to be accessible to children with special needs. (Including autism-spectrum children — there are several ways to reduce the amount of sensory stimulation in this game to keep players from getting overwhelmed.)

Zyrobotics’ other work includes apps and toys designed to be accessible and inclusive for different player capabilities, and Access4Kids, accessibility hardware to help users who have difficulties with motor skills use a tablet or other touchscreen.

Turtle Invaders is now available for iOs and Droid, and in keeping with the developers’ accessibility goals, the game is free to download and doesn’t offer any in-app purchases.


This post is in conjunction with Zyrobotics. I’m really pleased to be writing about a company developing cute and accessible games for children with different ability levels.  Getting a pitch on an experimental, edu game means my blog is pretty much where I want it to be.

Other Bloggers on Zyrobotics’ Work:

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Thanks, Team

thanks team

Another photo from my office.

After working on projects where any office notes were passive-aggressive, and after struggling to produce good work with rapidly changing priorities, multiple rounds of “I’ll know it when I see it” approvals, and conflicting deadlines, I am especially grateful for my current workplace.

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Godzilla is the Focal Point of Our Library

Harold has started writing about toys for Action Figure Fury, writing a toy collecting column for people who know the proper names for his monster dolls, or Barbie’s army boyfriend, or little Star Trek men. This recent post talks “finding the fun” (UGH) in game development meetings, playing with little action figure men, and our home:

Godzilla is the focal point of our library, drawing the attention of child and adult visitors alike. We recently had some old friends over and their 4-year old daughter fixated on Godzilla immediately, though she would persist in calling him “Bigfoot.”

via Finding the Fun Factor in Action Figure Collecting | Action Figure Fury.

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Chirba Chat

Meg: Today I received the greatest news
in all the time I have lived in North Carolina
so amazing
I am not just trying to be happy about this
I am legitimately thrilled about this news
this would even make me happy in Brooklyn
the best news ever
so awesome
Harold: What was that?
Meg: The dumpling truck is coming to my work!
Next Monday!
Bringing me jiao zi!
Harold: Haha
I’m glad you are happy
Meg: Stefan just sent me a schedule of the food trucks near our new studio
also some other food
and other days
actually trucks every day
Bringing us food that is almost, but not as good as dumplings.

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No Pineapple Left Behind

no pineapple left behindSeth Alter, from Subaltern Games, has a released a trailer for upcoming indie No Pineapple Left Behind, a single-player PC game around education reform. (Seth’s the  developer of serious strategy game Neocolonialism and was also kind enough to do an interview for my students about indie development!)

In No Pineapple Left Behind, players take on the role of school administrator at a school where a wizard has turned all the students into pineapples. Don’t worry, thought, it turns out that pineapples are preferable to students because pineapples take tests and get grades (they are enchanted pineapples, obvs) without asking annoying questions, getting bored and restless, or all those other pesky things that children do. The school’s goal is to pass exams, and no one really looks too hard into whether a child or a pineapple took the exam, as long as they get a good grade. So when pineapples do well on their exams, the school and therefore the player, will get more money. The game’s success is measured in the school’s funding, naturally.

no pineapplesUnfortunately, the pineapple cure is not foolproof, and sometimes an unattended pineapple can turn back into a child. Ugh. This is an undesirable outcome, because children need things besides exams and children do things besides take tests.

Some of the player’s goals in No Pineapple Left Behind will include leveling up teachers and then firing them when they burn out, or identifying and expelling problem children before they affect the pineapples’ exam averages. You’ll also be able to cut those frivolous art classes to save money.

The game will have scenarios to play through, as well as a sandbox mode for free play. Of course, we recommend against anything as open-ended and free as sandbox play, and suggest you study for your exams instead.

Check out the trailer here.

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wishart spqr

I got an Arthur Clark novel, too, because if you are determined to simplify and to own fewer books, you’ll find yourself taking out library books to re-read.

After reading Finished Business, I wanted some more ancient Rome, so I picked up Parthian Shot from the library. In actual hardcover, because the Chapel Hill library doesn’t quite have the ebook collection that NYPL has.

Across from MYS WIS, where I found David Wishart’s Marcus Corvinus mysteries, was MYS ROB, where I stumbled across some more of John Maddox Roberts’ SPQR series. I picked up the next on in the series, SPQR XII: Oracle of The Dead, which is amazing, and well-researched, and thoroughly roman, and I would totally recommend it. Only maybe don’t read both series at the same time, because two contemporaneous Roman heroes bumping into the same historical figures as they solve their mysteries can be a bit confusing.

I tucked the checkout slip into the back pocket of SPQR XII, and discovered that the person who’d taken it out last had also done that. That reader had picked up a string of Roman historical fiction, all completely unknown to me and all listed on the checkout slip.

There are so many ways to find new books. Recommendations from friends, book reviews on NPR, GoodReads authers, or Amazon similar-to recommendations. Also,  a slip left behind by previous library patron and fellow Roman enthusiast.

Libraries and Rome

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NatGeo Collection

natgeo compilationAlways exciting to see games I’ve worked on. Never gets old!

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#BBlogger Review: Whiplash Eyelash Curler

I recently received a Whiplash Eyelash Curler to try and review. At first, I thought this was a bit silly, because I’m hardly the target demo for people who want to get up earlier and put things near their eyes. But I was assured that this wouldn’t make me nervous because it doesn’t actually come close to the eyes, and that an eyelash curler is perfect for my extreme morning laziness because it’s quick and effective.

So, I tried it. I’ve often seen girls with perfect Disney princess eyelashes, and just assumed it was genetic. Turns out the secret is actually eyelash curling. It magically makes your eyelashes more noticeable and feminine, especially if you have long eyelashes (I do) and wear thick glasses (I do).

Also, it’s fast. Because of my extreme laziness and lack of caring, I am wearing a  ponytail and a flannel in 99% of my photos. Fortunately for me, eyelash curling literally takes 1 minute. The package says 10 to 20 seconds, but that number doesn’t account for time spent lining up the eyelash curler so it really doesn’t come anywhere near the eyes. So, a minute. Plus another minute to put on mascara (see previous re: time spent making sure cosmetics don’t actually come anywhere near my eyes), and it’s film-star eyelashes.

Final verdict: I got my new glasses about a week before getting this eyelash curler, and naturally no one noticed that I had slightly different black plastic frames.  Then I used this Whiplash eyelash curler, and more than one person at work told me I looked nice and asked me if I’d gotten new glasses.

If you would like to have Disney princess eyelashes too, you can get the 25% off the Whiplash Eyelash Curler with this coupon code 6W64Z25Z.

I received this product for review. All opinions and Disney princess lashes are my own

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Idyllic Hearts

I learned to play Hearts from Scep’s mom, who is a magical card-playing wizard. This is because when she lived abroad in Tanganyika, her expat circle involved many, many evenings of card parties. When I lived abroad in Yantai, my expat circle involved many many evenings of drinking and so I am extremely skilled at — well, anyway, she is an amazing Hearts player.

I spent some summers in high school and college at their island in Canada, playing a lot of Hearts by kerosene lamp. (Scep’s mom, after her expat adventures, considered electricity in the summer house to be a cute luxury item.) Scep and his whole family are pretty serious card sharks, actually. You play a perfectly good move, and someone giggles, and sure enough, you’re getting stuck with the queen next hand. Sometimes the entire table goes silent as everyone does the math to see if the player with 21 points is an unlucky idiot or a genius about to run.

Sounds like an idyllic way to spend summers, now that I am describing it. There was also that night when a bat flew in the window (screens are cute luxury items, too) and we all silently conspired to keep it secret from one guest who was desperately afraid of bats. Hearts is a pretty good game if you want to learn to read faces, is what I’m saying.

This is the beach that you have to drive to, but my Dad likes it better than the one you can walk to.

This is the beach that you have to drive to, but my dad likes it better than the ones you can walk to.

When I was visiting my parents last weekend, we had a game after dinner. The parsonage has a small breakfast nook, under a window like a triptych, which Google tells me is called a bay window. My mom challenged everyone to a game of Hearts, and then proceeded to ask repeatedly how many points the queen is worth, so I am a little suspicious that she just wanted us all to use her new tavern chairs and look out the cool window. I’m just saying.

I’m alright at Hearts. I can’t count cards so I mostly play by watching what suits other players have finished, while trying to eliminate a suit from my hand. And I throw myself on my sword by picking up a trick if I’m pretty sure someone’s going to run, but then I’m afraid that it looks like a mistake so I have to announce that I am doing this intentionally.  But since my family all use the ol’ discard-hearts-as-fast-as-possible strategy (… and usually by discarding highest-to-lowest, by suit, making it super easy to tell what they’ve finished!), I pulled into the lead.

My family didn’t change up their strategies to beat me , but they did discover that they could hand me three bizarre card choices at the beginning of each round to make me wonder what kind of crazy strategy they were using… when of course they were really just messing with me.

Hearts is a good game, is what I’m saying.

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An Incomplete List Of Things I Do Not Like At The Optometrist

  1. Pictures of eyes.
  2. What do you mean, look at the hot air balloon? This image is just some blurry colors.
  3. The color blindness test where you’re supposed to say you see red and green, even though it’s really more blood orange and evergreen.
  4. “Just fill out these papers while I take some measurements on your current lenses.” Um… I can’t possibly see paperwork without my glasses.
  5. I don’t see flashes, have trouble with night vision, have difficulty focusing, but after filling out pages of potential eye problems, now I’m thinking about all the dreadful things that could go wrong with eyes. Ugh.
  6. More pictures of eyes.
  7. Creepy 3D model of a giant eye.
  8. Yes, I really have worn glasses for 31 years.  Not a typo. Not a joke.
  9. Yes, that means I got glasses when I was 2, and that I look freakishly young. I GET IT. It’s amazing! Maybe it’s genetics! Maybe I bathe in the blood of virgin sacrifices every night! Can we get on with the scary eye touching now?
  10. Scary eye touching.
  11. Optometrist letting me know that I shouldn’t expect to get to 20/20 vision.
  12. No, I really don’t want to try contacts. Yes, in the thirty-one years I’ve worn glasses, it has indeed occurred to me that supermodels, leading ladies and love-interest hotties never wear glasses, and that I, too, might be more attractive without glasses. It’s just that adding contacts to my morning routine is just too time consuming, what with all the blood of virgins I have to bathe in every day.
  13. More pictures of eyes.
  14. There are only a limited number of frames that will work with my lenses. These are not the cheap or the cute ones.
  15. Of course my lenses will take extra time. I wasn’t actually expecting that one-hour thing to apply to me, I mean, this isn’t my first time getting glasses.
  16. This entire experience cost me about a week’s salary.
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Book Review: Finished Business

david wishart finished business

Last summer, I posted about reading David Wishart’s latest Marcus Corvinus mystery, Solid Citizens. This summer, I received the newest one, Finished Business, which means more Roman mystery. YEAH!

Marcus Corvinus is aging a bit now, and becomes a grandfather when his adopted daughter and her husband have their first child. But he doesn’t quite have time to be the doting grandpa with all the mysteries, murder, and kidnapping going on around him.

Finished Business is  another really great Marcus Corvinus mystery, set at the end of Caligula’s reign. The story’s on a larger Roman scale, a bit like Germanicus, because Marcus Corvinus stumbles upon a conspiracy against Caligula. This time period will be familiar to fans of Robert Graves and Suetonius.  (Oh! Did I tell you that I tried to watch I, Claudius with Harold? He said he liked it, but then he wandered into the kitchen for a soda during “don’t touch the figs”, so I’m thinking he was just pretending to follow it.) Without revealing too much, Marcus Corvinus has to decide just how loyal he is to a notably unstable emperor.

The author’s note explains a couple minor deviations from history (although I expect the details around an assassinated emperor have been fudged many times before), but it’s still close enough for a Roman historian reading a novel. Wishart also explains that Messalina must have had a previous husband since she’s an aged spinster of at least 21 at the time of her marriage to Claudius. (I just remembered my 30th birthday, drinking margaritas and toasting my impending spinsterhood, with Tryon, Kate, and Roy. Which is preferable to a Roman woman of that age sacrificing to, I don’t know, Juno Lucina, probably, in thanks for not dying in childbirth in her twenties.) I really only get cranky about historical inaccuracy when it’s glaring, like when someone gets a message from Gaul that was written yesterday.

Overall, more adventures in ancient Rome, with plenty of household snark, and the ending makes it pretty clear that there will be another Marcus Corvinus tale under Claudius’ rule.

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher for review.  Opinions are my own, as always.

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Block, Block, and Block

depression questI tweeted my link to my Depression Quest review the other day, and accidentally walked into the Zoe Quinn Twitter battle. I try to tweet my games journalism multiple times, because I’m a narcissistic attention whore, or working freelance writer, tick where applicable, but this is the first time I’ve had to immediately block Twitter burners saying awful things to me about it.

Game designer Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend has written a pretty scathing tell-all blog post, with dates and names and screenshots of chatlogs, accusing her of sleeping with several guys in the games industry. This would just be weird gossip about people I don’t really know, except for the disturbing number of people (gamers, male) who decide that a post from an angry ex is 100% true beyond all doubt, and proves that the female designer slept with reviewers for positive reviews of a clearly awful game. For large numbers of angry gamers, an ex’s blog post completely legitimatized the shadowy spectre of the talentless and immoral woman, sleeping her way to success, and so the angry hordes took to the internet to vilify Zoe Quinn, in the particularly terrible ways gamers are constantly awful to women on the internet, usually involving Photoshop and porn, or rape threats on burner accounts.

Info from an angry ex is often unreliable (source: Existing on earth), and social media screenshots can also “prove” that Aeneas was on Facebook. Not that I’m saying the ex made it up — I don’t actually know either of them, so for all I know, she cheated even more, with more guys in the industry, and he never found out. For all I know, his manifesto is the tiny tip of the cheating iceberg!  She could have banged every man in the state while her boyfriend wasn’t looking! That doesn’t really have any bearing on the quality of her game design work, though.

For the record, I reviewed Depression Quest positively for Indie Game Mag, over a year ago, before any of this happened, and I chose to reshare the post during a wave of conversations about suicide and depression following Robin Williams’ suicide. Also, no one offered me sex or cash or kickbacks for it. Also if there really is a lot of money and prestige in reviewing indie games, I am definitely doing it all wrong.

Shaun at Discover Games has a really good take on it:

The difference in this case is that the developer is a woman, and the game she’s selling (as pay-what-you-want, I think it should be noted) is the exact kind of nontraditional game that makes myopic hateful nerdbros apoplectic with unrestrained rage. So, instead of people either ignoring it or reviewing the journalists’ writing and questioning their ethics as we do with every other case, all those angry nerdbros have turned this into the Scandal of the Century, and it’s all about the deceitful woman using her sexuality and feminine wiles to extract positive press for her terrible game that could not have gotten good press by any means other than her prostituting herself.

Ultimately, of the many accusations flying around, I have no idea which are true and which are not. And I mostly don’t care. I find it difficult to believe someone would sleep with people they didn’t want to sleep with just to get a few positive nods for a game they’re basically giving away for free. But even if it’s all true, I’m more interested in the way the story is being framed, and the way in which it is different from the numerous other instances of similar situations.

Anyway, Depression Quest is a good, thoughtful game, I hope you play it and I hope you get something out of it. Encountering angry dudebros on the internet is neither good or thoughtful, and I’m embarrassed that this kind of harassment and attack is (still, frequently) happening in my industry.

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Visiting my parents in their new town.

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‘Rich Kids of Instagram': Satyricon and the City

rkoiRich Kids of Instagram is a Tumblr of, well, rich kids posing with their expensive stuff. Whether it’s yachts, sports cars, resorts or dropping $10,000 on cosmetics , the Tumblr recalls late-Roman excesses. It’s hard to tear my eyes away, and while I scrolled, I learned that some rich kids prefer humblebrag captions over their private jets and shopping sprees, while other prefer the more blatant #hatersgonnahate and middle fingers. Also, I learned that pools come in more styles than in-ground or above-ground. Who knew?

The upcoming novel Rich Kids of Instagram is written by the anonymous creator of the RKOI Tumblr and by Mara Sloan. Her previous novel is High Before Homeroom, just in case you’re wondering how curating a submission-based Tumblr will translate into writing a novel.

Rich Kids of Instagram is half Candace Bushnell’s Trading Up, half Petronius’ Dinner With Trimalchio. The characters are mostly unabashed social climbers, with a few old-money heirs and a tech wunderkind for frothy good measure. Their high-stakes, high-budget conflicts lead to a guilty-pleasure page-turner, with plenty of backstabbing, sex, and general excess.

All the characters are tropes, sure, but delightful ones. A tortured royal just wants to design his unique jewelry before heading home to his arranged marriage and more respectable hobbies. A sweet Southern belle deserves to get her way because she’s a good Christian girl — and definitely not because she backstabs her way to the top. Oh and a poor little rich girl wants Daddy’s attention, of course.

I once heard a certain style of New York City or Los Angeles dramatic fiction (Disclosure: I read the hell out of these novels.) as “lifestyle porn”, a tag that fits the almost loving descriptions of purchases and fashions in Rich Kids Of Instagram. One character has a particular strain of affluenza that requires her to touch and price luxury items to calm herself. It’s this unlikable excess that makes the novel impossible to put down.

Rich Kids of Instagram takes some wild turns and telenovela-style reverses of fortune, with loads of dark secrets. It’s difficult to find a relatable or likable character in the book, but that’s almost the point. Dinner With Trimalchio highlights excess, by pairing aspirational riches with classless freedmen, and goes on to describe truly pointless, hilarious waste. And RKOI takes a similar path by beginning with jealousy-inducing luxuries like champagne and jewelry, and then leading readers into a bizarre, over-the-top world of hostess kitty bars and Biblically themed launch parties.

Rich Kids of Instagram is a delightful romp through luxury brands, conspicuous consumption, and blatant social climbing.

I received an eARC of this book from the publisher to review. All opinions and references to chicklit and Roman history are, naturally, my own.


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