• Narrative and the MDA Framework
    I often identify as a mechanics-focused designer. Most of my previous games have been abstract, and my relationship with narrative is usually a bit awkward, which I’ve written plenty of blog posts about already .
    For all my talk, however, Darknet has been shaped around its narrative theme from the very beginning. I didn’t design the gameplay and then pick a story to wrap around it. Instead, I picked the theme of cyberpunk hacking first, based in part on...
  • Hiding Secrets
    “The purpose of gameplay is to hide secrets.” 
    I started hearing that phrase thrown around last year, after it was posted on the  Arcane Kids manifesto . It seemed like an overstatement at first, but it grew on me once I started to interpret the idea of "secrets" more broadly. Figuring out a winning strategy feels, to me, like discovering hidden knowledge. Viewed that way, rich gameplay is just a big pile of secrets, and uncovering them is a...
  • Darknet, Unity, and the Asset Store
    Darknet is built in Unity, like everything else nowadays. Unity seems to be the dominant engine among indies by an enormous margin. Frankly, I can understand why. It’s relatively easy to use, it deploys just about everywhere, and it offers a great set of features. Unity’s popularity, in turn, encourages other companies and platforms (like Oculus) to support it, and the engine’s huge development community is another big plus. I’ve heard plenty of complaints too, and I understand that...
  • Puzzle Generation
    The most important element in Darknet’s gameplay is the hacking puzzle. The puzzles aren’t the only things you have to think about (there’s a lot of strategy on the “ network layer ” of gameplay as well), but every time the player hacks a network, they’ll have to complete at least a couple of puzzles to win. That’s why it’s so important to make every puzzle unique and challenging. To this end, every puzzle in Darknet is procedurally generated...
  • Grinding and the Burden of Optimal Play
    Just before I announced Darknet, I sent an early preview build to Ben Kuchera, a writer at Polygon. The resulting article was generally positive, but there was one negative point that came up right away:
    “It sounds grindy”
    This was a bad sign. (For those who don’t recognize the term, “ grinding ” refers to mindless repetition in games.) I hate grinding. I’m fundamentally opposed to it, and I’ve always made an effort to keep it out of...
  • Productivity Strategy Guide
    Welcome to the strategy guide to “Productivity”, The Game of Getting Shit Done! In Productivity, you play as E McNeill, an indie game designer struggling to finish his “first big game”, Darknet. Can you complete the project before the final deadline?
    This strategy guide explains some of the basic gameplay systems of Productivity. Read carefully! New players often find these systems to be confusing, illogical, or contradictory, but understanding them is critical to achieving your objectives. Good...
  • Unknown Answers
    In college, I regularly played D&D with my closest friends. As you’d expect of a nascent game designer, some of my favorite sessions were the ones that I ran as the Dungeon Master. I created the world, guided the story, and acted out all the NPC characters, and it was a blast.
    In my early DM sessions, I would put the players in carefully-bound scenarios where I could anticipate and react to all of their potential choices. If they...
  • Music: DN-B102
    Part of an ongoing series about Darknet's music, direct from the composer.
    //begin DN-B102 This post will focus specifically on the non-videogame-related influences that have helped me shape the sound of Darknet’s music. I grew up loving any and all cheesy cyberpunk movies I came across (Johnny Mnemonic is my personal favorite) and their impact on my music is inevitable. However, I wanted to talk about some specific influences that I consciously try to work into the soundtrack to...
  • Network-Layer Strategy
    I’ve written a lot about the core hacking gameplay in Darknet, i.e. the puzzles that represent the bottom layer of gameplay. Occasionally, I’ve mentioned that there’s a whole other layer of strategy above all that, but I’ve neglected to give any detail. Time to fix that!
    Here’s an overview of the “network layer” mechanics in Darknet:
    First, the absolute basics: There are a bunch of nodes , and you want to capture them in order to get money....
  • Music: DN-B101
    Part of an ongoing series about Darknet's music, direct from the composer.
    //begin DN-B101 On last week’s blog , I got all the formalities out of the way. This week, I’d like to share how my personal journey with Darknet began. On January 13th of this year, I found myself on my way home from an urgent care clinic. As my wife drove us home, I pawed lethargically at my phone. I was woozy from a broken elbow and a wound...
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