El Problema es el Capitalismo: the Game


1. Start from a random Wikipedia article

2. Click on the link that might take you closer to the “Capitalism” page

3. Repeat 2 until you get to “Capitalism”

Each click = 1 point. The player with the lowest score wins.

Variants / house rules:
*A page mentioning capitalism counts even without the link.
*Avoid the United States of America page (too easy).
*Speedrun: keep track of time instead of links/points.
*Single player: get to capitalism in less than 5 links.

Rules & Roberts – release notes

Rules & Roberts is a print-and-play educational roleplaying game to learn Robert’s Rule of Order.

Even if it’s a spoof of Dungeons & Dragons, R&R is more of a storytelling game: it’s light on mechanics, there are no dice rolls or complex stats, and the Dungeon Master doesn’t have to prepare any material nor read lengthy manuals.

The players act as a group of adventures determined to bring justice, peace and freedom in a high fantasy universe. Being a radically democratic group, all of their actions are methodically debated and agreed upon. The starter campaigns have not-so-subtle social justice allegories and the whole ruleset is meant to temper some of the most regressive aspects of fantasy settings.

The main gameplay feature is related to decision making. Instead of individualistically declaring their actions, or planning the next move informally, each player proposes motions that are discussed, amended, and approved by the whole group following the Robert’s Rules of Order process. Unlike traditional tabletop roleplaying games, Rules & Roberts can be effectively played by any number of people.
Here’s a gameplay sample:

Dungeon Master (DM): After traversing the Swamp of Sadness you arrive, still teary eyed, to the entrance of a dungeon. It’s located amidst overgrown ruins. Riotous cries come from deep inside, a stench of neglect wafts to the surface. Down the road to the west you see the smoking chimneys of a small village.
Jason: Does the village look human?
DM: It’s certainly human-made architecture.
Kate: Does my character, being an academic wizard, know anything about the dungeon?
DM: You recall reading about this place. It used to be a magnificent castle, but after an economic downturn it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Only the underground dungeons are still used as prisons. The crisis likely increased crime and incarceration.
Michael (playing as Aroris): I want to explore the dungeon!
DM: That would be an action to be introduced as a motion.
Michael (playing as Aroris): I move to enter the dungeon.
Laura (playing as Xyrra): Second.
DM: It is moved that the party enters the dungeon. Aroris, you can start the debate.
Michael (playing as Aroris): First, I don’t like prisons and I want to make sure nobody is unjustly incarcerated here. Second, dungeons often contain treasures and exciting adventures.
Jason (playing as Jasonir): I agree but I’d rather stop by the village first. We will check with the local community and maybe find some proper equipment.
Laura (playing as Xyrra): The cries and the lack of guards make me think there is some trouble happening now.
Kate (playing as Kelfir): I move to amend the motion. We enter the dungeon and only look for a guard or a prisoner to talk to.
Laura (playing as Xyrra): Second.
DM: Are there any objections to the amendment? …The amendment carries. The motion is now to enter the dungeon with the sole intention of talking to its inhabitants. We are back to the discussion.
Jason (playing as Jasonir): We all know that once we enter it, we’ll run into troubles. It’s problematic to parachute into a community, trying to bring justice without having any clue.
DM: If there aren’t any more contributions we can close the debate. The question is on the adoption of the motion to enter the dungeon and talk with somebody.
Those in favor of the motion, raise hands. Three.
Those opposed, raise hands. One.
You may score your Experience Points.
The dungeon is an unlit tunnel of about ten by ten feet. Nobody is around and the turmoil is getting louder. Your eyes are still adjusting to the dark when you hear a rattling noise followed by a loud thump. A heavy metal portcullis has been shut behind you.
Jason (playing as Jasonir): I told you.
Laura (playing as Xyrra): What’s a portcullis?

Robert’s Rules of Order is a manual establishing parliamentary procedures for large assemblies. It’s used by nonprofit associations, political groups, academic bodies, church groups, and trade unions, primarily in the United States.
In my experience, it works reasonably well as a system to speak in turns and structure discussions in large meetings; but being originally conceived in the late 19th century, it may appear formulaic and inaccessible to the uninitiated. People with less experience with the procedures may feel inhibited to participate; malicious individuals may use their knowledge to stall a process; less engaged members may see the whole deal as unnecessarily bureaucratic.

Rules & Roberts (the game) embraces the messiness of democratic decision making and allows mischievous lawyering, or accidental self-sabotage. It provides rather flexible rules to determine when a motion has to be proposed, and how precise it’s supposed to be. A process may spiral into recursive Kafkian amendments about the most insignificant details, or consensus may be reached swiftly for fear of lengthy discussions. Ultimately, the game is about negotiating the overhead of any democratic process, and getting acquainted to people’s different attitudes toward rule systems.

R&R started as a joke during a particularly convoluted DSA meeting, and it’s meant to be a bit of a cursed artifact to both behold, dread, and never EVER play. But it is a functioning educational game: players do get better at following Robert’s Rules of Order. I don’t know if games can actually teach anything about the world, but by playing games you certainly learn their rules. So if the rules happen to be the educational content, there you go!

Rules & Roberts is available on itch.io as name your own price

TweeVee / Interactive Movies

TweeVee is an engine for interactive videos built in javascript. You can create a branching movie in the style of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch starting from Twee files exported from the popular hypertext editor Twine.

TweeVee source on GitHub

TweeVee was created for a LIKELIKE livestream showcasing four interactive movies, from the pioneering Kinoautomat to the wild YouTube game The Immoral Ms. Conduct.
It was a good excuse to restore the first (American) interactive movie I’m Your Man in all of its branching splendor, and make a new piece remixing very pixelated footage from an old CD-ROM.

I’m Your Man

I’m Your Man is a 1992 short film created to showcase Loews Theatres’ interactive cinema technology. Audiences used seat-mounted joysticks to vote between three options at various point of the movie.

Although the format ultimately failed due to lack of marketing and poor audience reception, I’m Your Man was released on DVD in 1998 as part of a second attempt at interactive video.

The use of unconventional menus makes the DVD almost impossible to experience on modern computers.


Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Choices

In 1996, Knowledge Adventure and Dreamworks published Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair, an ambitious game simulating the process of moviemaking. The centerpiece of the title was a short film with an all star cast directed by Steven Spielberg himself.
Since the player could take some crucial decisions in the pre-production phase, the film was shot with different plot points and tonal variants.

We salvaged the game’s raw footage and reorganized it as a real time interactive movie experience. Be prepared to choose your own path through this obscure bit of film and video game history…


Two Hundred Fifty Things a Game Designer Should Know

In 2018, architecture critic Michael Sorkin wrote “Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know”. The items on the listicle are poetic, thought provoking, introspective, practical, and sometimes even canonical. They all connect architecture with broader social issues.

In July 2020, four months after Sorkin’s death due to COVID-19, I challenged my Twitter friends and aquaintances to come up with a similar list for the discipline of game design.  Primarily I hoped to compile a little icebreaker for game design students, but I realized it’s also a kind of snapshot of contemporary critical issues in games that are deeply felt but not common sense yet: player-centered design, accessibility, work-life balance, need for more diversity etc.


Twitch Plays Bees / Twitch Plays Everything / Twitch Plays MIDI

This Fall, due to COVID-19, I’m teaching a class about online multiplayer games. It’s a great excuse to learn new skills and run some little experiments in these long, socially distanced days. As class material, I put together two Processing templates to facilitate Twitch-powered multiplayer experiences. Every Twitch channel comes with an IRC chat and it has been used, most notably by Twitch Plays Pokemon, to create interactive live streams.

TwitchPlaysEverything (github source) is a generalized template that turns chat commands into system inputs (mouse and keyboard). I used it quite successfully to let users play the cult AI drama Façade, the game doesn’t rely on quick reactions and it’s based on natural language input. Unfortunately but predictably, the random Twitch users simply ended up trolling and flirting with the AI characters, which is not the most interesting way to play the game.

TwitchToMIDI (github source) lets Twitch users control a MIDI channel on your computer. The setup is a bit complex and it requires some kind of DAW but I can see it potentially used to spice up live DJ set or live-coding performances online.
The code was used for two Twitch Plays Bees streams (video documentation above), in which users made drone music from the sound of my beehive in real time. They controlled the knobs of two filters through chat commands like “mix 100 10” (turn the controller labeled “mix” to 100% over 10 seconds). In the second stream the hive was quite noise since it’s was being attacked by robber bees from another colony. It made for a more interesting sound texture and a more exciting live stream.

MUDlike / The end of the WORD as we know it

The third iteration of LIKELIKE Online is a text-only multiuser environment for the exhibition The End of the WORD as we know it. In this Twine-meets-chatroom, you can catch language viruses from other uses. The viruses affect your way of speaking making you siiiiing, SCREAM, or adding other funny affectations. The six curated games are hidden/integrated in the text environment and playable online. The exhibition opening turned out to be quite chaotic and not as easy to navigate as the visual counterpart due to the inherent conflict between real time interaction and linear texts.
The engine is quite sophisticated: it parses a Twine file and uses it as the main hypertext. A series of custom macros can be added to manifest the current state of the various players. It’s not very pleasant to write for it but it can potentially be used to create multi-user text environments, escape the rooms, or parser-less MUDs so I cleaned it up a little and made it open source:

Source on GitHub

Remixable Project on Glitch


LIKELIKE, the little game space I run with some friends in Pittsburgh, suspended all programming due to COVID-19. The pandemic is going to have long lasting impacts on the world economy; millions of Americans are suddenly unemployed and entire industries came to a standstill. It’s not a great time for event organizers, but in gaming and art+tech communities we are relatively lucky due to our familiarity with remote practices. While normies scramble to set up Zoom accounts, many of us have been involved with streaming culture or online games for a long time, and embraced extremely online, borderline hikikomori lifestyles even before the quarantine. So it’s not surprising to see game people already experimenting with social distanced formats in education and art events.

I fundamentally loathe the now pervasive wecam aesthetic, so I decided to create a low-res multiplayer environment that attempts to capture some of the social component of LIKELIKE events. LIKELIKE Online is the most literal MMORPG ever: you dress up, check some games, and chat with friends and strangers in a small space. The opening night was loud and crowded, on weekdays it’s more chill and gallery-like. There is really not much to do and the conversations, mostly small talk, have an early-internet chatroom quality.

All the exhibited games are made in bitsy, and more or less obliquely deal with the theme of crisis. Bitsy games tend to be quiet and intimate, and can be challenging to play at noisy events, so this was a good chance to show something that wouldn’t quite fit in the physical space.

Two weeks after the opening, LIKELIKE Online “gentrified” and opened a new wing: the online Museum of Multiplayer Art. The oMoMa is made of nine playful environments that, quoting the press release “interrogate our notions of mediated sociality and digital embodiment. The virtual installations, operating at the intersection of art and technology, draw from the tradition of experimental chats, net.art, conceptual language games, and online roleplaying worlds.”.

The oMoMA is a both a tongue-in-cheek response to the forced virtualization of the art world under COVID-19, and a contribution to the genre of virtual museums. Virtual museums generally transpose all the signifiers of modern art institutions (white walls, architectural extravagance, overwrought curatorial statements, monumental installations…) into 3D game engines. Whether solo efforts or collaborative endeavor, they tend to be made of mostly static, non-interactive environments – the implication being that art is something to look at, or to walk through.
With the oMoMA I wanted to create playful spaces that reproduce the social dynamics of exhibition spaces while leveraging the peculiarity of mediated spaces. There is not much to see at the oMoMA: all the installations require having conversations with other users. Some “pieces” go entirely unnoticed by lonely or shy visitors.
Most of the rooms encourage subversive play and revolve around client-server power relations. Whereas traditional multiplayer games attempt to distribute an “objective” reality to all players, the oMoMA plays tricks on its visitors, manipulating what they say or how they look.

The oMoMA was also an excuse to add a series of modding features to the original codebase. It is now possible to add room-specific behaviors on both server and client side without touching the engine.

LIKELIKE Online is open source and easily remixable on the Glitch platform. You can create your own little spaces or use it as a template for online games and multi-user environments.
Source on github
Project on Glitch

Democratic Socialism Simulator – Release Notes

Democratic Socialism Simulator was released yesterday for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. The Android version is still under review. It’s a casual, single player game in which you play as the first socialist president of the United States. You have to evaluate an endless stream of policy proposals, balance the budget, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, gain the support of different voters and build people’s power.

The title Democratic Socialism Simulator is a bit of a misnomer since the game doesn’t portray a democratic socialist society but rather the first years of a hypothetical post-capitalist transition via social democracy. I have made a few prototypes that modeled a democratic socialist economy but, at least as single player experiences, they didn’t differ too much from traditional resource management games. I thought the very beginning of such a transformation would make for a more interesting and timely subject.
In other words, DSS is an attempt to prefigure a Sanders (or a Sanders-like) presidency by focusing on the issues not fanboyism. Most of the proposals are lifted straight from Bernie Sanders’ platform so you can see it as an interactive flyer of some sort. 

DSS borrows its gameplay from the game Reigns (which in turn, borrows its interface from the dating app Tinder). It’s a simple but infinitely expandable structure that can touch upon a lot of topics with very little audiovisual content. Aside from being particularly satisfying on touch screens, the swiping mechanic is a clever way to present a lot of variables and effects to the player. Dragging a proposal left and right visualizes its most immediate effects without cluttering the interface.

In Reigns you play as king or queen, going through a series of grievances from your subjects. Your goal is to stay in power as long as possible by not alienating (or favoring too much) the Church, the people, the army, and the treasury. This kind of agency is appropriate for a feudal setting but it doesn’t work in a game set in a liberal democracy, and in which the goal is to change the status quo. 

In DSS your actions are attributed to the coalition supporting the president. The congress counter represents not only the seats held by the Democratic party but also the forces that actually support you across institutions and in the civil society. Some radical reforms require a minimum of support to be enacted. Your presidency is obviously limited to two terms with the possibility of losing the reelection. 

The voters’ approval depends on their top two issues, and this is a crucial feature. In a time of polarization and tribalism, it’s easy to forget that the ideological alignment of most Americans is more complex, contradictory, and multidimensional than what the media portrays. We are tempted to conceptualize voters as standing on an axis going from “very liberal” to “very conservative”, a gradient of blue and red. That’s a simplification that favors a centrist view: since the left and right wings are assumed to be already politically engaged, the only way to expand support is to appeal to the moderate center. In reality there is evidence showing that swing voters can hold very progressive and very conservative positions at the same time, and that non-voters are all across the ideological spectrum. I believe this multidimensional model of affiliation is fundamental to create working class coalitions in the USA and abroad. Moreover, in DSS the electorate’s composition and top priorities can change as a result of your reforms.

But DSS is not just a power fantasy for leftists. The game speculates about the challenges to radical reforms that could come from the ruling class, Wall Street, mainstream media, deep state, and corporate Democrats. While the polls show that proposals like the Green New Deal or Medicare For All are extremely popular, the general public may not be prepared to even conceptualize the opposition that they would inevitably encounter. 

The latest issue of Jacobin is entirely devoted to democratic socialist horror stories. The capitalists may be irrelevant in numeric terms, but they have an enormous leverage over “the economy” and the state apparatuses. They can collectively withdraw investments and use their media to frame the subsequent crisis as a political failure. They can outright buy politicians’ support. They can exercise their clout over liberal elites. The left in the United States has been marginal for so long that any conversation about what can possibly happen once in power has become irrelevant. The neoliberal/technocratic vision of politics still dominates the Democratic base, and the idea of a continuous mobilization and pressure campaign after winning the elections is unheard of.
As the perspective of a democratic socialist turn becomes more concrete, we need to create culture that both expands the realm of the possible, and prepares us for the struggles ahead. Change may be scary, but no change at all is much scarier.

DSS has not been designed to mount a precise linear argument. It has different endings and a specific starting point (you have a mandate) but it doesn’t prescribe a “correct” path to socialism. Instead it’s more like a collection of semi-random choices, conditions, and cause-and-effect relations that interact with each other in a messy way, creating a multitude of possible paths. Players can define their own idea of success: they can play as cautious moderates, or even enact some markedly right-wing policies (deportations, privatizations, austerity, militarism). 

Games that try to embed their politics deep into their gameplay are still relatively rare. In my experience, many players expect a clearly delivered “message” and try to extract it from a single play-through. DSS has a significant element of randomness and a number of implicit mechanics that the player can only guess, so I wouldn’t be surprised if different people come up with widely divergent interpretations. Without getting too much into semiotics, what the game “says” about socialism is a network of micro arguments explorable in a variety of directions. The *ideological engine* of the game is basically a series of spreadsheets that I share here for the most curious and nerdy users. There is even a column with notes and links related to the specific proposal and event.


Notes: The data should be rather self explanatory. The “equality” variable is the “people’s power” red bar. The command “chain” stacks a card right after the current one. The command “delay” postpones an event after a random number of cards within certain intervals. 


Democratic Socialist Simulator is not free. After 17 years of Molleindustria, it is the first proper commercial release. I’m already getting some comments like “iF iTs SoCiaLIsT wHy IsNT iT fREe??”. There are a couple of reasons: 

1) Pretty much nobody cares about free games today. Websites don’t review them, stores have no interest in featuring them. There are hundreds of indie games coming out every day. Many of these releases are student projects, prototypes, half finished jam games, joke games, zine games, sketchy asset flips. It’s wonderful to see such a democratization of the form, but I’m afraid not putting a price on a game is increasingly seen as not attributing any value to it.

2) During the Flash era, free online games could reach a potentially huge audience. Some Molleindustria games racked up millions of plays. It meant connecting with people outside my filter bubble and challenging them with naughty anticapitalist games. To some extent, Democratic Socialist Simulator is meant to preach to the choir (although it’s a rapidly growing choir); it’s less “Wake up sheeple!” and more “What is to be done?” so I’m fine if the price tag pre-selects the audience.

3) Free games cannot be used for fundraising purposes. In recent years we’ve seen a multitude of game bundles put together to support good causes. Since all my games were free I had nothing to contribute, and that bothered me a lot.

Of course if you are a broke comrade, feel free to contact me, and I’ll send you a download code.

Molleindustria’s Highlights from 2019

After a couple of Indiepocalyptic years, in 2019 we finally reached the Sindielarity: the moment in which indie releases outpaced the capacity of both primary audiences and tastemakers to process them. The sheer number of high profile games is unprecedented. Multi-year projects by well respected developers merely break through the noise, hidden gems (presumably) remain hidden.
It is possible that large audiences aren’t even necessary in this particular conjuncture since commercial developers are increasingly funded by exclusive deals with distribution platforms. In the war to become the Netflix of Videogames, indies are instrumental to the capture of lifetime users. They are the cheapest way for the digital rentiers to say “join us, we have lots and lots of content you can’t find anywhere else”. Like TV after Netflix, the positive side effect may be a deluge of edgy products that would otherwise be financially risky.
Do Best-of-the-Year lists even make sense in these post-discoverability times?
I suspect I’ll keep finding great games I missed in 2019 for a while. With this disclaimer, here’s the ones I played and liked. Briefer comments than usual because the games are many.
In no particular order:

Continue reading “Molleindustria’s Highlights from 2019”

Every bee videogame reviewed by accuracy

Bees, particularly honeybees, are often incorrectly characterized in videogames – as well as in other media. Sometimes that’s due to their similarity with with the more aggressive wasps (which make for better enemies), sometimes that is due to the alien-like complexity of their social behavior, sometimes the creators are interested in bees only beecause they allow a multitude of puns around on the letter B. Hilarious.

The threat of Colony Collapse Disorder and the alarming decline of wild bee species has brought an unprecedented mainstream interest around the fuzzy pollinators, which in turn spurred a wave of bee-themed indie games. As an amateur beekeeper, semi-professional game designer, and generally pedantic person, I decided to play all the games I could find on the subject and rate them according to their “realism”. The rating goes from one (⬢⬡⬡⬡⬡) to five (⬢⬢⬢⬢⬢) honeycomb cells.
I intentionally avoided all the games in which bees are completely anthropomorphized or function like a spaceship, and games in which bees play a secondary role. I did include short and semi-abstract games when they referenced the bees actual behavior. Realism is not a matter of visual definition or sheer procedural complexity. In my view, even a tiny game can capture something compelling about this fascinating insect.

Continue reading “Every bee videogame reviewed by accuracy”

Site Update

This website just went through a major update! Some notable changes:

  • The Flash embeds, which are now automatically blocked in most browsers, have been replaced with short gameplay videos. The games are still playable via browser following a link and the downloadable buttons are more prominent.
  • The English translations in some old games have been improved along with some non-standard control layouts.
  • All the games have been updated to 64bit and the Mac versions have been notarized , so they should survive the mass extinction that MacOS Catalina will inevitably trigger
  • Most pages have responsive templates and should now look decent on mobile.
  • The main site has an SSL certificate, whatever that means.
  • Some recent projects and selected talks have been added to the homepage so you don’t have to dig in the blog to find them.

Let me know if you encounter any issues.

Notarizing your Flash/AIR applications for macOS

This guide is meant to help you notarize Adobe Flash and AIR executables for distribution outside of the App Store. Distributing within the App Store requires a few extra steps such as packing icons and setting up specific provisioning profiles as well.
Some of the following steps are likely to apply to software developed with other non-Xcode tools. Some popular tools like Unity will presumably integrate most of this workflow in their IDEs, but even in that case developers may not be in the position of rebuilding some projects using the most updated environments.
This guide was written on September 13, 2019 and it’s likely to become obsolete as soon as Apple comes up with some new bullshit.
Update: Apple temporarily relaxed the notarization requirements.

Continue reading “Notarizing your Flash/AIR applications for macOS”

Guilty Smells

“The Government has taken a major step in opposing foreign influence in our way of life. Starting today, the possession of UnAmerican food is illegal. You are a sniffing dog for the Department for the Enforcement of the American Diet. Approach the suspects, sniff them, and bark if you detect foreign food smell. We’ll take care of the rest.”

One of the best things about running LIKELIKE is that it provides plenty of excuses and deadlines to make small, experimental side projects that go beyond the digital form.
Guilty Smells was made for Analog Pleasures, an ambitious show of games employing unusual hardware. It’s a collaboration with my CMU colleague and LIKELIKE conspirator Heather Kelley, who has been producing smell-based and multi-sensorial experiences for several years.

Guilty Smells (re)uses a custom made, 8 channel scent diffuser created by a team of Concordia University students for a different project.
The software was put together in a mere week thanks to Fernando Ramallo’s animation tool Doodlestudio 95, which allows to draw and animate sprites directly in Unity, simplifying the workflow in a major way.

Three Sided Football Arcade

August 2020 update: Three Sided Football Arcade is now available on itch.io for free 

Wonderville is a new bar, arcade, and event space in Brooklyn. Nostalgia-driven arcade bars are making a comeback all around the States but what makes Wonderville special is its selection of contemporary indie games and handcrafted cabinets. As a director of LIKELIKE, I was asked to contribute to their (successful) Kickstarter campaign, which included a game bundle among the rewards. I thought it was a good excuse to make a little arcade game that has been sitting in my todo list for years.

Three Sided Football Arcade is the first videogame adaptation of the namesake sport. It’s a local competitive game for three human players – the AIs control the two teammates but there’s no one or two player mode. The team that concedes the least goals wins, the goal scored are accounted only in case of a tie.

Jorn and his hideous paintings

The original soccer variant was conceived by Danish Situationist Asger Jorn in 1964. 3SF was meant to explain his concept of Triolectics, a detournement of the Hegelo-Marxist dialectics. Jorn’s Triolectical Materialism was presented in a pamphlet titled “De la méthode triolectique dans ses applications en situlogie générale” and published by the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism. The booklet has never been translated in English, and the few pages available on the internet are perplexing to say the least.

uhmmm ok

And yet, the idea of an anarchist football played by three opposing teams in an elegant hexagonal pitch survived the oblivion and was occasionally put into practice by artists and neo-situationists in the ’90s. Today there are a few clubs and tournaments dedicated to 3SF, and even FIFA took notice.

Regardless of what Jorn originally intended to argue, I can see the value of an abstract model of interpretation based on a ternary system. Way too often complex issues are reduced to a binary opposition: us vs them, ingroup vs outgroup, Democrats vs Republicans, Capitalism vs Communism (at least during the Cold War). Sports continuously dramatize binary conflicts and often provide language and metaphors that are applied to other fields. Claiming that all conflicts involve three adversaries is obviously preposterous, but it’s only with the introduction of a third player that phenomena like tactical alliances and betrayals can occur. It’s the minimum conceptual model you have to use in order to make sense of Putin’s complex relationship with the Trump administration, or of the DNC’s moves against Bernie Sanders.

Triolectique / Triolectics from Pied La Biche on Vimeo.

Three Sided Football Arcade might be a bit too fast and frantic to generate the complex social dynamics of a board game like Risk, but it’s still fun to see how the most popular sport in the world is transformed by the addition of fluid alliances, opportunism, and the occasional kingmaking.

Three Sided Football Arcade is a Wonderville bundle exclusive for the time being, but it will be presented at LIKELIKE in August and perhaps at a couple of game festivals and events.

Phone Story 2019 Donation Update

Phone Story at the V&A exhibition Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt

Phone Story, our short game about the dark side of electronics manufacturing, came out 8 years ago. It was immediately banned from the App Store but it has been exhibited in countless of venues around the world, including at a landmark exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London last year.
The exhibitions don’t generate any revenues for Molleindustria, but the $1 app is still available* on Google Play and makes a tiny amount of money every month.

We pledged to donate all the project’s proceedings to organizations working to address the various problems outlined in the game. The first donation went directly to one of the affected Foxconn workers, the second installment went to China Labor Watch and the Electronics Take Back Coalition.
Since then, the app made a net total of $2,552 which we are splitting evenly between two other great organizations:

The Repair Association advocates for the consumer’s right to unlock, repair, and resell the technological products they purchased. This is a crucial aspect of the fight against planned obsolescence and electronic consumerism.

China Labour Bulletin supports the emergent workers’ movement in China. While not specifically focused on electronics, it seeks to introduce workplace democracy and collective bargaining across industries.

Online transactions don’t generate official looking receipt and this endeavor doesn’t move enough money to be officially chartered as some kind of no profit but you can download all the payments and donation reports here.

If you live in Europe, next time you have to replace a smartphone, consider the Fairphone. As far as ethical consumption under capitalism goes, it’s a remarkable example of transparency and responsible sourcing across the supply chain.

*new Android phones might have troubles running it due to an Adobe AIR update.


Lichenia Release Notes

I published a new game earlier this week. It’s called Lichenia and it’s about creating human habitats amidst climate chaos. It involves reshaping the natural and built environment, reclaiming dead cities, and growing sustainable ones. It’s a sandbox game with some tiny secrets to unlock, and a few obscure mechanics to discover. The simulation is infused with dynamic story bits that may help you figure out what’s going on in the little glitchy world. It’s an utopia/dystopia inspired by Octavia Butler’s Parables, and by the notion of Anthropocene.

Lichenia is part of an ongoing series of alternative city building games – the other one so far is Nova Alea. I’ve been presenting this Playable Cities project as a series of magical realist alternatives to SimCity (or better magical Marxist, think Italo Calvino meets David Harvey). SimCity is not only the game that established the genre, but also a recurrent object lesson in topics such as ideology and electronic entertainment, neoliberal urbanism, reductionism in simulations, the ambiguity of interactive text, and so on, and so on.
I spoke at length about the many issues of city games in general, but I keep coming back to the subject precisely because what’s wrong in SimCity – its harrowing omissions, its irresponsible design choices, its unapologetic capitalist realism – is an endless source of inspiration. I could easily spend the rest of my life making semi-broken games that attempt to fix the damage made by Maxis/EA.

More specifically, Lichenia tries to complicate the element of tabula rasa, or blank slate. In all kinds of city and civilization building games, including board games and RTSs, you typically start from scratch, settling on an immaculate wilderness that’s just there for grabs. Such situations are very rare in history. Cities are usually built on top of existing settlements, both human and non-human, which the colonists simply don’t see or value. So in Lichenia you start from a polluted and messy map that you have to remediate. And you can easily add to the mess if the human growth (beige bar) outpaces the natural resources (green bar)

Occasionally you’ll be hit by floods, droughts, and wildfires, an homage to the disasters of the original SimCity. Apparently they were added because the publishers were skeptical of a pure sand box game and requested some kind of challenge. Today disaster preparedness is a crucial component of city planning and should feature more prominently in city games.

Another starting point for Lichenia was an old quote by SimCity’s original designer Will Wright. He claimed that “the actual process of playing SimCity is really closer to gardening” than to planning or governing a city. It’s about unpacking an ecology by trial and error, understanding a living system.
I’m a big fan of games that intentionally under-explain themselves. Much of the pleasure of playing Starseed Pilgrim, Cultist Simulator, or the Purpose of Water for example, comes from figuring out the rules that govern their systems.
Of course, this is a tremendously risky design philosophy: many players can feel frustrated by the lack of feedback, or feel dumb, or prematurely conclude that there is nothing more to see, and just quit. But I believe it’s a pattern worth experimenting with. It pushes against all the mainstream trends of usability, and requires/creates/prefigures a more critical kind of play.

Lichenia’s first prototype was made a couple of years ago, but I abandoned it because I couldn’t figure out an appropriate look and feel. I wanted the player to observe the dynamics and not interpret the visuals in the most immediate and normative way (e.g. a building that looks like a police station stops crimes, a certain type of brick building means low income residential, etc ).
Then, earlier this year my colleague and hero Everest Pipkin released Mushy, a set of tiles generated by a neural network trained on isometric pixel art. These noisy, ambiguous graphics seemed like a perfect match since the game is all about transcending the natural/artificial binary, and squinting hard while trying to recognize patterns.

Lichenia is built with p5.js, a open source library (and a wonderful community) for creative coding. It also uses p5.play, an add-on for making games that I initiated years ago and that’s currently being maintained by some amazing people.

You can play Lichenia on your browser here.