Justice Post-Mortem

Justice is a game. Barely. It is as little of a game as it is possible to make while still technically being a game. I made it in around 20 hours in Unity for Ludum Dare 26. It contains seven sprites and one sound. It has received a vast array of responses, from frustration to deep engagement.

Justice screen0

Objective and reasoning:

The idea (inspired by several of the possible themes) was to make a game i which the player had to make a decision about whether or not to sentence somebody to death in the American justice system. This has to relationships to minimalism. Firstly, the justice system theoretically wants to minimize its invasiveness, so the discussion of whether or not ending a criminal’s life is one of deciding how much punishment is “the smallest effective amount”. Secondly, if we accept capital punishment as a theory we also need to decide when we have enough information to justify an execution. Since we cannot possibly know everything, me must decide what is “the least fair amount of information that is relevant”.

The Game:

There is some fairly ridiculous setup that puts the player in a situation where they have limited time to ask questions before making the final decision about putting a woman named Fadiyah to death. They cannot possibly ask all of the available questions in that time, and they have a piece of evidence that changes the answers which they may introduce at any time. After the questioning period they have a small amount of time to think and then they are asked to make a decision.

Success of the Mechanics:

The biggest problem that users mentioned was pacing. Some people enjoyed it , but most people were frustrated by the amount of time it took for new text to come up. This is something that I was concerned about, and it’s not as easy to solve as one might think. The pacing serves two purposes: it makes questions take longer which runs down the timer (you cannot “listen faster ” as my dad once wrote on his office wall), and it provides valuable information about the tension in the room when somebody says something. If somebody has to wait 5 seconds to say something, they are probably (but not always) hiding something. I clearly need to do something about this, but I don’t have a solution yet. The answer might lie in giving the player some minor distraction to keep them from getting bored after they have finished reading the content of a sentence.

Some players also did not realize that Fadiyah’s answers changed after the player introduced the previously mentioned piece of evidence. I tried to make this clear in the writing, but that obviously didn’t work for everyone. I think the answer here is a better method for displaying the question list: I didn’t make it clear enough that questions the player had previously asked were re-added to the list.

The overall structure and theme seems to have been successful with all of the players, the majro issue was pacing.

Success of the Writing:

Most users applauded the writing as a high point. I was originally positive about it, but ultimately feel that it was a bit too utilitarian (this is good for the game mechanically, but makes it feel a bit less reactive).

More interesting is the question of how sympathetic to make Fadiyah. I tried to write her so that, knowing the answers to all of the questions, I was unable to make a decision. While I don’t fall hard either way, I am generally anti-capital punishment and so probably made her a little bit too easy to dislike. One user accused me of writing her as an Arab stereotype, and it didn’t occur to me until after I responded that he may have been referring to her fairly violent reaction to external pressure. The two aspects of her were created separately: She needed to be fairly cold for the crime to play out as I wanted, and I made her an Arab primarily because it’s something different and provides some reason for her to be sympathetic: cultural differences and racism make for a difficult living situation, particularly for expatriate Arabs in the United States.

In the end, people didn’t seem to sympathize with Fadiyah much. It’s hard to judge this since few people directly commented on it, but that was the impression I got. The fact that people only got the information that they felt was important enough to ask about probably influenced this as well, since the most obvious question (how the crime was committed) has an answer that is difficult to forgive.

Looking Forward:

I don’t want to redo this exact game, because I think that I explored the death penalty as well as I can with this particular toolset and this moment in time. This may not be the last you see of Ben McCoy though. OF course, I might give him a less copyright infringing name next time >_>

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Spare Change Jousting-Checkers

1 bank card
1 table
An equal number of pennies and dimes
2 nickels or quarters
One player takes all of the pennies, the other takes all of the dimes. Each player places their coins, heads up, on the table in as near to a perfect straight line as possible. Each player then takes one of the nickels or quarters and places it heads up within one bank card’s length of any coin in their line. Flip a coin to determine who goes first.
During your turn, the opposing player MUST place the bank card such that it meets the following criteria: It touches the edge of at least one of your coins such that the contact point is within visual range of the face printed on the coin.
Once the card is placed, you must move at least one of the coins contacting the bank card. You may place it anywhere along the outer edge of the bank card so long as it does not overlap with another one of your coins, its own previous position, or the previous position of another of your coins moved that turn. You may rotate the coin in any way that you like.
If your coin overlaps or contacts an opposing player’s coin, remove the opposing player’s coin.
The winner is the first player to either eliminate all of the opponent’s coins, or to eliminate the opposing player’s nickel/quarter. The loser has to take all of the change to a store and use at least half of it to buy something for the winner.

Multiplayer Variant
If playing with more than 2 players, remove all of a player’s coins from the table when their quarter/nickel is captured. The last player to be knocked out is considered the loser for the purposes of going to the store.

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Buisness Card Cover-up

I’m sitting in my hotel room with many business cards from GDC. If you are in a similar situation, try out this new game!

Setup: Each player selects 8 business cards from their collections and places them on the table. Each player also takes out one of their own cards and places it in the middle of the table, between the players.

Gameplay: Starting with the player whose email address (as listed on their card) comes first alphabetically, take turns placing business cards on top of the cards originally placed in the middle of the table. Cards must be placed so that they completely cover all the cards below them either horizontally or vertically (cards may be placed at 90 degree angles relative to the cards below). If you can no longer legally play, allow the other player to place as many cards as they can.

A legal pair of piles for BCC

Endgame: Sum the number of pieces of information on each of your remaining cards.

  • Do count: Superfluous text, repeated information, wordart, both sides of the card.
  • Do not count: Text written after printing, images without text in them.

Winning: The player who has the fewest pieces of information remaining wins!

If you play business card coverup and have feedback, please let me know!

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Postcards From Earthbound

Yesterday I finished playing Earthbound for the first time. I wanted to share a few of my most memorable moments in the game. I also included some text that you can read while you listen to them.

Jeff’s Journey

It’s not that running away from boarding school seems all that big of a deal. I mean, I know people who did. Sure, you don’t usually have to fight bears and cavemen, and you don’t usually ride a friendly sea monster, or meet a monkey that likes bubble gum. But those are incidental, and really exciting things.

But to come home to my father…to run away from school and make it all the way there…and have him not remember me. Where does Jeff find his pluck? Is his courage a reaction to his father’s indifference?

The Dungeon Man

Why did you have to climb all the way up this tower?

-To get the Dungeon Man!

Does the Dungeon Man fight stuff?

-Nah, he’s a Dungeon Man!

Does he move things?

-Nah, but he IS a Dungeon Man!

Why do you have to walk BACK up him again?


…Yeah, ok. Dungeon Man.

The Chicken

I was in the middle of a desert and I fought a snake. Just a regular old snake of a variety which I had smited 20 that day alone. But this one was special. This one was carrying a chick. That chick chirped happily in my inventory until, a few minutes later, it grew into a healthy chicken. This chicken (who I told all my friends about and who I name “My Earthbound Chicken”) came with me everywhere, through snow and city, the highest peak and the lowest depths, and then into the heart of evil itself, contributing nothing but the joy of its presence and an endearing cluck every half a minute or so.


From the pseudo-reality of Eagleland, we had plunged into the depths of mania. Giygas’ lair was stowed far away from any knowable place, and within Giygas lay a further foreign entity. Not so straightforward as a force of evil, Giygas was a dark and confused force, led to madness by the wicked little flea Pokey…or perhaps in the heart of evil and violence does lie simply madness. Regardless, we were stranded in this unknowable place assaulting the walls to no avail. In a last desperate attempt to save us Paula sat quietly and prayed as we protected her. She prayed to Jeff’s father, to Mr. Saturn, to the Runaway Five, to the boys at the boarding school…and they gave us strength but it was not enough. In a desperate attempt she called out to Mother.

And I could see clearly my mother, not knowing the danger that we were in, the insanity around us, the fact that she could lose her son at any moment. She froze suddenly, and something breached her. She could not hear Paula’s voice, but she knew. Knew that her son was in danger. That there was nothing that she could do but pray. And all I wanted was to let her know that I was safe, whether it was true or not.

The Museum

Somehow the memory that stays with me most of all is a quiet one. You can stand in the Fourside Museum and stare at the massive bones of a creature that will never live again. It is so vast that you cannot see most of it, and it fills the majority of the building. People mill about around you, but none will disturb you. As you lie there listening to the quiet noises that fill the hall, your mind wanders. And you begin to think not just of the dinosaurs, but of the space. This place will always be here. It is not under threat of Giygas, or Pokey, or terrorists, or businessmen, or drug dealers, or stupid kids with too much time on their hands, or global warming, or moronic voters, or the sun crashing into the earth, or even the crumbling effects of time’s feet crashing against it. This museum will always be here. Even when I flick the switch and turn off the system, erasing the immediate instance of that museum, it is still there. It is embedded in the silicon, and in anyone who takes the time to visit it. This museum will always be here.

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