Reviewing My 2014

I know, I know, all the cool kids were writing these last week. But I had other stuff to catch up on! And it’s the first Monday in 2015, so that doesn’t seem too far behind.

How much can I accomplish in a year? There have been years in my life that felt like they passed in a dream… years where I looked back and couldn’t think of anything that I’d accomplished.

This was not one of them.

Revolution 60

I spent the first half of this year working on Revolution 60 with Brianna Wu, Amanda Warner, Maria Enderton, and Frank Wu at Giant Spacekat. With such a small team, we all wore a dozen hats (mine included everything from playtest to cinematic scripting to sound design), but my primary focus was balancing the Revolution 60 combat system, which had to be accessible to non-gamers on Easy, yet challenging enough at higher difficulties to keep hardcore players engaged.

My personal guideline for the hardest mode (Girlfriend Mode) was to build something I still found exciting after thousands of repetitions through the game. I got a kick out of seeing how many reviewers liked it best.

Screenshot from Revolution 60: a green-uniformed woman (labelled Holiday) attacks an enemy (labelled Bruiser). There is a circular game graphic on screen.

The Chessboard Lethologica

How do Chessboard nanites work? Why would an American special ops team need to steal a spaceship from the Chinese? And why is Minuete so touchy about her dad?

Frank and I wrote The Chessboard Lethologica together, edited by Brianna, with illustrations by Frank and Amanda. The Lethologica is the companion worldbuilding book to Revolution 60. Written from the perspective of a Chessboard initiation manual, it gives an insider’s perspective of the black ops organization Chessboard and sheds light on many mysteries hinted at in the game.

Image: three women standing side by side, one orange-haired, one blond, and one red-haired. Text along the left says The Chessboard Lethologica. Text along the bottom says Written By Carolyn VanEseltine and Frank Wu. Illustrated By Frank Wu and Amanda Warner. Executive Editor: Brianna Wu.

Monkey and Bear

This spring, Sam Kabo Ashwell (aka maga) ran the interactive fiction event ShuffleComp. It was like an IF mix tape – participants sent in songs, maga mixed them up and distributed them, and recipients selected one or more songs as inspiration for an interactive fiction game.

I wrote Monkey and Bear based on the song of the same name by Joanna Newsom. The game strongly resembles the song, except for the parts where it really doesn’t.

Image: a pony grazes in the background while a cap-wearing monkey hauls a bear out of a starscape. Text at the bottom reads: Monkey and Bear

Sibyl Moon launch

In September, I launched my blog and solo work collection at (in all likelihood, the site you’re reading right now!) So far, I’ve published 41 posts, mostly on a Monday/Thursday update schedule.

logo tight cropApart from the Inform 7 tutorial series, the most popular posts have been:

The ‘good name’ of GamerGate
Twine as a Prototyping Tool
Scoping for Game Jams
Google Analytics: Who cares about GamerGate?
Ideas Are Cheap

I didn’t realize how much enthusiasm there would be for my blog, and I’ve been rather overwhelmed (and deeply touched) by the strong positive response. Thank you to everyone who’s written, tweeted, and commented. It means a lot to me.


I wanted to create an event that would specifically celebrate parser-based interactive fiction, something that would give more people opportunities to write and play games in the spirit of classics old and new.

Consequently, I organized and launched ParserComp, a ranked, long-form game for parser games. The theme is “sunrise”, and the first-draft writing window will close February 1, 2015.

Parsercomp logo: white text on a purple background reading PARSERCOMP >EXAMINE COMPETITION

Welcome to Adventure: A Quick-Start Guide to Inform 7

Inform 7 guide with fishIn November, I helped out at the MIT IF game jam, which made me realize that most Inform 7 resources are focused on providing deep, comprehensive documentation. That’s excellent under most circumstances – but it doesn’t work very well at game jams.

Shortly after, I started the Inform 7 Welcome to Adventure tutorial series, which aims to provide users with a basic IF tool set as quickly as possible, using examples from Colossal Cave Adventure. So far, I’ve published seven lessons in a projected series of nine.

I started writing Welcome to Adventure on Work For Charity Day 2014. People who benefit from the guide are encouraged to donate to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which funds childhood cancer research.


Homecoming was one of the two IF games that I released for the official launch of Sibyl Moon. It’s a short, twisted comedy in which you play a recently awakened AI.

A planet displays a cartoon yellow frowny-face at a blue fractal nebula.


Wildflowers was the other IF game that I released for the Sibyl Moon launch. The characters are fictional, but the emotions aren’t, and I’m not sure it’s a game, even though it’s interactive. It could be called a diary game, but I think of it as a game poem.

A silhouetted figure wearing glasses on the right looks at a yellow flower on the left. Text reads: Wildflowers - a game poem

This Is A Real Thing That Happened

In September, Caelyn Sandel ran a two-week-long game jam event called RuinJam – “a game jam celebrating the nonexistent demise of video games”, “open to anyone and everyone who has been, is being, or plans to be accused of ruining the games industry.”

This Is A Real Thing That Happened was my submission, and it’s been my most popular solo release of 2014. It’s browser-based and can be played in about five minutes.

This game also marks the first time that anyone donated to support my solo work. I’d received prize money at prior IFComps, but never donations out of the blue, so I was completely floored when I got the alert – I knew the page would offer a support link, but I hadn’t really expected anyone to use it. (Thank you again, kind donators!)

White text reading "This is a Real Thing That Happened" over a dark, low-contrast background of six-sided and ten-sided dice.

What Are Little Girls Made Of? (Twine edition)

I wrote the Inform version of “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” in three hours for Ectocomp 2012 (a Halloween-themed speed IF event.) At the time, everyone asked me why I used a parser format instead of a choice-based system. Since I didn’t have a good answer, I rebuilt it this year in Twine.

White text reading "what are little girls made of?" over a wooden roller coaster against a red background.


Caelyn Sandel and I teamed up for Ectocomp 2014. After three hours, we produced Candlesmoke, a Twine game about a police officer responding to a fairly unusual missing persons case.


Does Canned Rice Dream of a Napkin Heap?

In November of 2014, Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz put out a call for game pitches. This was the first iteration of the #antholojam project, a curated collection of short games on a theme – in this case, the Golden Age of Science Fiction. I teamed up with Caelyn Sandel, Dani Church, and Jamie Sandel to create “Does Canned Rice Dream of a Napkin Heap?”, an interactive storytelling game from a rather unusual angle.

Canned Rice will be coming out as part of the #antholojam pay-what-you-want bundle early this year. I’m really excited to see what people think!

Canned Rice intro screen

Speaking engagements

I spoke on panels at Arisia and Boskone on various aspects of game development, and gave a talk at Women in Games Boston about how to find and make opportunities in the games industry. There’s a summary of the WIG Boston talk here, and slides and audio are up on YouTube, though the audio is not ideal.


Some of my games won awards! This is always very exciting to me.

Revolution 60 – Best Mobile/Tablet Game at PAX East (VGW), iOS Action Game of the Year (iMore)
Ollie Ollie Oxen Free (released in 2013) – XYZZY award for Best NPCs
Candlesmoke – First place in Ectocomp
Monkey and Bear – Commended Shufflecomp entry

Incomplete stuff

I don’t get credit for stuff that never saw daylight. It’s in the rules. But I still know about the entries to SpringComp and IFComp that didn’t come together, and the alternate ShuffleComp game based on Wolfmother’s “Colossal”, and two different solo entries to Ectocomp that ran longer than three hours, and the Aztec/AI thing from the MIT IF jam, and the throwaway Unity project where the dog kept knocking pine trees off the screen (so that’s how physics works!), and the dozens of single-page, handwritten game pitches littering my notebook.

I don’t get credit for stuff that never saw daylight. But maybe I’ll pick some of them back up in 2015. Or maybe I won’t, because I’ll be so wrapped up in Greetings, Survivors and Project Sunflower that I just don’t have the time.

Or maybe I’ll get derailed completely, because a can’t-pass-up opportunity will come along. I don’t know yet! But there are so many possibilities. It’s a brand new year, and brand new years are big.

I can accomplish a lot in a year.

And as 2015 begins…

Thank you. Thank you for your enthusiasm, your support, and your encouragement. Thank you for the times you’ve played my games, or shared my work around, or sent questions or comments, or just dropped by when a post cropped up in your feed.

I wouldn’t be doing this if no one were listening. But you are, and it means a lot to me.

~Carolyn VanEseltine

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