Author Archives: Tim

On The Pod: Talaterra

Mindful Mammoth and Talaterra LogosTwo weeks ago, Tania Marien interviewed me for Talaterra – her podcast about freelance educators working in natural resource fields and environmental education. That episode is now live, and you can find it on her website, on iTunes, on Google Play Music, and several other places around the ‘net.

I met Tania at last year’s statewide meeting of the Association of Environmental and Outdoor Educators (AEOE), where she was running a session on what it was like to be a freelance environmental educator. As one of said freelance educator folks, she has taken it upon herself to examine the freelance educator condition in order to 1) promote the value of freelance educators 2) help build a network of freelance educators and 3) help build support for the work that we do so that we may continue to make a positive impact upon the world. Which is all idealistic, wonderful, and practical as well. As one aspect of that work, she has begun producing a regular podcast – Talaterra, on which I am the latest guest. A real honor 🙂

If you’re interested in a short summary of goings on at Mindful Mammoth, and some musings on what it is to be a freelance/indie creator, you should dial into the podcast and give it a listen. You can find the episode here.

– Tim

January News: Sad, Tantalizing, and Interesting

Across these past two months, multiple metaphorical yarn balls have wound, unwound, knotted, knitted, and a whole bunch of other verbs as well.

The Very Sad News

You may recall that the NSTA published our book project, Exploring Matter, with several egregious errors. After multiple conversations, the NSTA and I finally managed to agree on a set of changes to fix the problems. My NSTA contacts agreed to put those changes into the update queue, and told me that the update would likely be out by the end of calendar 2018.

December 31st came around, I decided to check on the book, and I found that there was indeed an update! Hopeful and scared, I downloaded the update, and flipped to the problematic chapter. There, I found an incomplete implementation of our agreed upon changes. Of the items on our update list, some were done, and some were inexplicably left undone. It felt like a kick in the gut. I have rarely been so disappointed.

With this partial update, the concluding chapter of the book is better than it was, but still deeply flawed. I am currently working on writing an evidence-based breakup letter to the NSTA. I had thought that this book might be the start of a fruitful, multi-book partnership. I suppose that may still happen someday, in the way that all things are possible. Right now, just I’m too sad and angry.

I’ll share the letter on the $2+ Patreon channel in a few days, when it’s finished. It’s worth sharing carefully.

The Tantalizing News

Sprout is really, really, almost, almost, almost ready for a mobile release. A year after we released it on Mac and PC, it’s doing just great on Steam. As of this exact moment (5:28 PM PT), exactly 39,579 people have played Sprout on Steam. Of those 39,579 people, precisely 782 have written reviews, 95% of which are positive!

In that same time, since our Steam release, I’ve been squeaking out small advances on Sprout. This means updating the build to maximize performance on mobile devices, and learning how to deal with the two main mobile sales platforms: Google Play and Apple’s App Store. I believe Sprout is all ready to go, and I’m just waiting for a final thumbs-up from Jeff. He’s already found one bug, so there may be others still hiding, but I’m pretty sure I’ve now got them all. If not yet, then very, very soon.

So, stay tuned for final news about Sprout on mobile! Any day now.

The Interesting Career News

As of today, I am officially an instructor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. It’s kind of a big deal. In two weeks, I will begin teaching game production in their newly born Game Design program. So far, I feel quite good about this. All the people that I have met have been competent, kind, and excited to do the difficult work of making beautiful things. Which is amazing!

The next fourteen weeks will be nuts. I will be a full time teacher: science and math at OSA, and game production at ArtCenter. I will post occasional updates here, but there will be no noticeable motion on any Mindful Mammoth projects.

And yet! One of the major obstacles in all of our science/game projects has been money. Several worthy projects have simply ground to a halt because we could not take time away from paid projects. With the funds from this new job, I will have the freedom to use this summer to take some risks, and (fingers crossed) make big strides in at least one of these long-postponed projects.

The punchline is that the next fourteen weeks will be rather quiet here, but the three months of summer should bring at least one amazing advance. In short, I’m excited about this new job both for the job itself, but also for the creative opportunities that it will enable.

Thank you

Twenty eighteen was a complicated year with small triumphs, medium triumphs, and significant sadnesses. With Sprout and Exploring Matter soon to come to an official close, I look forward to taking some of my favorite ideas out of the storage closet, and bringing them into the world with quality and class.

Thank you all for your company and your help. None of this would have been possible without you. As an extra special thanks to those of you who supported us at the $10/month level and above, I’ll be sending you a cheesy bumper sticker from ArtCenter. It’s out of keeping with the usual style of swag, but highly relevant. This new job is a big deal that could lead to significant positive impacts to our science gaming projects. Fingers crossed!

Thank you all. Keep in touch!

– Tim

November News: GLL Con, and Exploring Matter notes

Let’s see. Since last we talked, Game Level Learn Con ’18 happened. GLL is a small but growing community of folks interested in the intersection of games and education. Folks like us! This first-ever GLL Con brought together 25 quality people to share, play, and converse around our shared interest in learning and games.

At the Con, I ran two workshops. The first, Designing Effective Learning Games, was a friendly workshop where I presented some examples and best practices, then helped attendees to begin thinking about how to go about creating the games that they wanted to create. In second workshop, Systems and Ecosystems, I introduced teachers to the Puzzle of Life -based curriculum (here) that I developed. This curriculum helps students to learn about nature and to practice systems thinking. The above picture shows me (background) working with teachers and game designers at the Systems and Ecosystems  workshop. You can find the slide decks for both talks here.

In other news, I am continuing to talk with the NSTA folks about patching our e-book, Exploring Matter In Space. They have agreed that something ought to be done, but we are still working out the details. We have a conversation planned for later today where we aim to finalize our plans for a patch, so that those plans can then be put into action.

I continue to be grateful to have the company of friends and patrons in this quest to help build a better world through play. As an extra special thanks to those of you who supported us at the $10/month level and above, I’ll be sending you a random sampling of cards from one of the very first versions of Fire and Flora. Why? Last month, my former supervisor at SAMO (and good friend) was cleaning out her office, found some artifacts from early prototypes of the game, and mailed them to me. I thought it was a cool blast from the past, and so I wanted to share.

Thank you all. Keep in touch!

– Tim

Inspiring Games from IndieCade ‘18

Once again, IndieCade has come and gone. Once again, it was amazing and exhausting – though in a very different way from previous years.

As a start, I want to call out some of my favorite games. All of these games are seriously indie. They are made by people with amazing skill and heart, and worth your time and your support. You know how you’re always wondering what you can do to make a difference in this ever-crazier world? You can give these games and creators as much support as you can: money on Itch, likes on Facebook, wishlists or buys on Steam, and kind words anywhere you can.

  • Exposure: A really elegant, challenging, and original action/puzzle game. At first glance, it looks a bit like an artsy knockoff of Ikaruga. Don’t be fooled! The Exposure team started with a similar color-change mechanic, but then took the game in a wonderfully different direction. Can’t wait till it’s out on Steam.
  • Our Good Leader: An open-world, point-and-click, adventure-mystery that is most definitely not set in North Korea. Still in early stages, it seems to have interesting characters, compelling story, and usefully troubling themes.
  • Blindfold: My maybe favorite game of IndieCade. It’s a light, tactical, party game that uses everyday pencil and paper in a truly brilliantly manner. It is a good game on its own merits, and an especially good game for me. I’d thought I was a highly creative person, but playing this game made me realize that I’ve been stuck in a sort of creative tunnel vision, and reminded me that games can be so much more than we realize. Thanks, Blindfold.
  • Unicornelia: My other maybe favorite game of IndieCade. It’s oddly not that much fun to play, but brilliant for the premise and the props and the way they fit together seamlessly. I played it twice, walked away, recruited a friend, then went back and had him take photos while I played it a third time.
  • Shrug Island: The beautiful brainchild of a single person (though built by a team). The gameplay is a little confusing, but the art, animation, sound, and themes are genius.

Try ‘em out!

– Tim

October News: Book, Book, and IndieCade

What books, you ask? Well, there’s the third volume of the Learning, Education, and Games series (a.k.a. LEG3). This one will be titled, 100 Games for the Classroom, and one of those games will be Fire Tag. Each game gets a 1000 word chapter that outlines the game: rules, goals, and how to use it in a classroom setting. I’ve put more time into these thousand words than into any thousand other words I’ve ever written. In September, I submitted the third (and likely final) major revision of those words. The editor is now in the process of reading all the hundred thousand words, in preparation for publishing sometime next year.

Next, there is Exploring Matter In Space. It’s a thing! Published last Friday! And buggy. Dog. There is a whole, long, fraught story behind the development of this book – gigantic dreams cut small by budgetary realities. You know … good deeds … they just don’t pay like they used to. Even the NSTA, big as they are, with all the money that they have, is stretched thing by the ludicrously large task of advancing science education in the muddle of modern-day America. Hence, the smallish production budget for this book. This is the most expensive e-book they’ve ever made, and yet it contains barely a tenth of the interactive bits that we had hoped for. If it’s successful, maybe we can do another, bigger one. We shall see. Fingers crossed.

Editorializing aside, the end result is an interactive e-book that has a lot to love, and one major bug. As we speak, I’m working with the publisher to try and find the simplest reasonable solution. If we can get that fixed, then I’ll upgrade my status from concerned to content, and toot the book around more loudly.

IndieCade! Next weekend, IndieCade will happen. It is possibly my favorite event of the year, Halloween included. It just feels like my people. It’s a rare treat to spend time with even a few of these folks, and a once-a-year-wonder to be able to hang around with the whole kaboodle.

This year, IndieCade invited me to be their first-ever, field-trips coordinator (volunteer job). They’ve had limited field trips in each of the last two years, and wanted to take it up a notch this year. Much as I hate being an administrator, bringing kids to IndieCade is a wonderful good, so I agreed. We now have 300+ students from across SoCal coming to IndieCade to play games, make games, meet developers, and grow their understanding of what games can be and do. It’s been a highly stressful job, at least for me. But I’ve done what I can, and I think we’ve got good odds of being successful. Fingers crossed here too.

Thank you all for working with me to make this happen. All these projects – book, book, and IndieCade – are wonderful social goods with rather poor pay. To make these things possible takes a lot of time, effort, skill, and significant help from friends. Thank you.

As an extra special thanks to those of you who supported us at the $10/month level and above, I’ll be sending you two things: a signed copy of the LEG chapter, and an individual login for NSTA Press that will give you access to both Exploring Matter and the accompanying Exploring Matter Teacher’s Guide.

Again, thank you all for your support. Hope to see you at IndieCade. It’s just about the best thing ever.

– Tim

August News: Events of The Long Quiet

Yes, it’s been two months. I mustache you to forgive me for the delay. Was it necessary? Was there really no time to blog? Not even a little bit? Pretty much.

During the last seven weeks, I worked as the videogame design instructor for Six Points Sci-Tech West. Rarely have I worked so hard or had so much fun in such a short time.

When I accepted the job, I expected that I would have time to work on my own projects in the evenings. On occasion, I did indeed have time to do that, but for the most part I did not. What with creating and reworking lesson plans, hanging out with kids, supporting various events, and being backup for counselors, it was intense. Rewarding, but intense.

During these seven weeks, I was a design and programming coach. I offered kids three development tools – Twine, Scratch, and GameMaker – then helped guide them through the process of game development. We did some pie-in-the-sky brainstorming, built several paper prototypes, jumped into digital development, did a little semi-formal playtesting, and then we showcased their projects at the end-of-camp Sci Fest.

For their games, the two core requirements were: fun AND good. That is, the games should be fun and AND somehow help to make the world a better place. For sure, fun is a worthwhile goal and a real goodness on its own, but why stop there when there is so much more that you could do?


All that said, I did have time for little bits of Mindful Mammothy stuff. I continued my volunteer work as an IndieCade judge, reviewing several more games. In slightly bigger news, IndieCade invited me to be the (volunteer) field trip coordinator for the upcoming 2018 games festival.

What does that mean? Well, for the past two years, IndieCade has invited kids from local schools (particularly those with game design programs) to attend. This year, they want to be a little more formal and organized, and it’ll be my job to help make that happen.

In totally different news, I bought a new laptop. One of these. I’d call it an upper-middle-class working laptop. Which is kind of a big deal. I try hard to use things for as long as they’re usable. This saves money and helps me to be the humble citizen of the Earth that I want to be. Thing is, my current/former laptop was getting a little funky – the headphone jack was fiddly, the web camera was broken, and about once a week it would either power down for no reason or fail to boot. So I figured it was time to get a new one.

This brings me to the most important issue: thanks. Being an idealistic indie remains a tough job – volunteering for IndieCade (and others), releasing free games (Sprout), and making sure kids have the kind of high-quality hands-on experiences that teacher salaries don’t really cover. Yet, with your help, I can juuuust squeak by and keep making good things happen. Thank you.

As a special thanks for those of you who supported us at the $10 / month level and above, I’ll be sending you a mustache. Why? Well, my current/former laptop has a mustache. For the sake of continuity, I feel that it’s important for my new laptop to have a mustache as well. And because we’re all in this together, I’d like to give you that option as well. Maybe we can make the mustache a symbol of the games for good movement. Or not. But it’s a worthy goal and worth the effort.


June News: Bits, pieces, books, and games

The last year has been busy. Too busy. So busy that I was starting to grump at students and friends, and losing my ability to find the fun in the things I love. So I decided to back off a bit, making May a relatively easy month.

Not easy in the absolute sense, but you know, relatively easy. I finished out my piece of the school year at my wonderfully oddball teaching job; put in a proposal to run several workshops at a conference this fall; made several more rounds of updates to the teacher’s guide of the Exploring Matter e-book; revised my chapter for the forthcoming third volume of Learning Education and Games (a.k.a LEG3); and did some work for IndieCade as a friendly, volunteer juror. Some of the tasks were hard, but most of them were also pretty short.

In the between times, I did a bunch of quieter things. I read This is Not a Werewolf Story, which I strongly recommend. I played a smattering of weird and interesting single player digital games, including Gorogoa (a wonderfully weird and beautiful puzzle game), Duelyst (my favorite digital CCG), and Cultist Simulator (grindy, creepy, and addictive). I also met up with some friends for our monthly game of Near and Far (loads of easygoing storyful fun). Last but not least, yesterday, I took a hike up a river with some friends. And by ‘up a river’, I mean we walked out to the middle of the river, made a right, and walked up it. Because we could. Which was great!

Most of June and July will be filled with teaching, as I develop and teach the videogame design thread for Six Points Sci-Tech West, a summer camp for nerdy kids. I imagine they are like I was at their age. In the between times, I may do a little Mammothish work. Perhaps finally port Sprout to iOS and Android. But I’m still feeling burned out, so I may push that back to August. August will likely be big-time passion project month (Sprout and DROMP and maybe others). We shall see.

Thank you all for your continued support. This wasn’t a swagful month, but it was a meaningful one, so I’ll do something slightly different. As a special thanks for those of you who supported us at the $10 / month level and above, I’ll be sending you a personal, hand-written thank-you letter.

Thank you,


May MM News: Electric Books and Outdoor Ed

The big happening was of course the annual statewide meeting of the Association for Environmental and Outdoors Education (AEOE). It’s a two-day weekend conference that opened with a group hug. Which was awesome. I then spent the rest of the day as a learner, sitting in on a lecture, exploring a series of population-oriented classroom activities, and taking part in a blindfolded drum stalk.

Come Sunday, I switched roles, and became a teacher. I opened by running a game of Fire Tag. We had a great time as everyone played out their role – chasing, fleeing, burning, and pouring. We used real water, which left us with a bunch of happily soggy players. Several said that they were excited to use the game with their own students. (photo here)

Later in the day, I ran a Puzzle-based program for a group of classroom educators. I use the Puzzle of Life to tell the Yellowstone Story, then walked them through the (free) Systems and Ecosystems lesson plans, and gave them the opportunity to craft their own set of pieces based on their own interests. This was a smaller group, which is not surprising given that the AEOE leans towards outdoors and informal education. But again, several folks were really excited about the ideas in this program, and looking forward to adapting these ideas for the students and ecosystems in their home space.

Overall, the conference was a wonderful experience. Good times with good people, united in a desire to help build a stronger world with beauty, kindness, and an appreciation of nature.

In subtler news, progress continues on my e-book, Exploring Matter. I think we’ve settled the text and design for the book itself. Much production work remains to be done (revisions to illustrations, and programming of interactions). We also need to do at least one more round of revisions to the teacher’s guide, to keep it in sync with the book. But we’re close! And the late-draft illustrations are really exciting.

This is hard, complicated, joyful, expensive work – and it wouldn’t be possible without your help. Thank you. As a special thanks for those of you who supported us at the $10 / month level and above, we’re sending you a set of three prints of late-draft illustrations from Exploring Matter. The printer cut the margins a little short (urg), but you’ll still get the picture. Har har 🙂

– Tim

Fire Tag with the AEOE

Last weFireTagWithAEOEekend, as planned, I joined the annual state-wide meeting of the California Association of Environmental and Outdoor Educators (AEOE). I played some games, learned some neat stuff, and shared a bit as well.

Among other things, I taught and played Fire Tag with around twenty fine folks, some of whom were kind enough to stick around afterwards for a group photo.

Good times were had by all, and several said they were excited to take the game home and try it out with their students!

– Tim

News: Geneva, Judging, Diamonds, Zebra, Matter, and more!


Hopefully, that was an interestingly obscure title. For sure, lots of interesting stuff has been going on.


The Geneva School (in Florida) reached out to ask if I would be willing to donate something for their annual fundraiser. They seem like good folks, so I sent them a copy of The Puzzle of Life. The auction took place just about a month ago, on March 10th. The day after, I went to check out their online auction site, and found that The Puzzle of Life was *not* listed in the after-sale. Which means someone must have found it intriguing enough to purchase during the auction proper. 🙂


Judging for this year’s Serious Play Awards continues. Having reviewed my share of the analog entries, I’ve now begun working through the digital entries. They’re all over the map – wonderful, terrible, hopeful … everything. I’d say more, but that would disturb the anonymity of the process. Shhhh…


I was invited to be a judge for the regional qualifiers of the Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs. This is a national program with over $100K in prizes orchestrated by the University of Delaware. In essence, it is Shark Tank for high school students. So, I was a shark in the Social Benefit category. It was interesting. There was lots of creative kindness. All the ideas were full of heart. Many were short on facts. In the end, the judging came down to who had the best handle on the situation, and most knew what they were talking about.

Exploring Matter

In more core-type Mindful Mammoth news, I’ve taken several further steps on my quest to complete my first interactive e-book – Exploring Matter In Space. My editor finished reviewing the first draft (15K words) of the Teacher’s Guide for the book, and sent me a set of comments. This past week, I’ve addressed those comments by adding several additional atom-related classroom activities (4K new words), and removing words related to two now-deleted interactive features (sad realities of tight budgets in the field of educational publishing). While this continues to be a rocky process, it does yet continue, and I think the final published product will be a worthwhile book that is head-above-the-rest.


In sad news, we have shelved Project Zebra. For now. This all started back in December with several meetings with a local entrepreneur. He was interested in using games to raise funds for transformative development technologies. These technologies are things that would, in developing areas, bring long-term and sustainable benefits all out of proportion to their initial cost. We talked over goals, I generated several broad-and-fuzzy concepts, and we then filtered them down to one core concept. I created a playable analog prototype for that concept, with the eventual goal of turning it into a working mobile/digital game. Sadly, this was a fraught process with a whole bunch of miscommunication on issues both small and severe, and we have decided to part ways. The core idea is solid (IMHO), and with some modest luck, I may someday be able to make it real. A short montage of the development process for Project Zebra ->

And more!

The next month will be full of a whole bunch of things:

  • The annual meeting of the AEOE, where I will run teach-the-teacher workshops on both Fire Tag and The Puzzle of Life
  • Taking steps towards porting Sprout to Android and iOS.
  • Various last-minute edits and improvements to the Exploring Matter e-book, and the accompanying Teacher’s Guide.


Thank you

In all this work, your financial and emotional support has been critically important. Invaluable even. Thank you. As a special thanks for those of you who supported us at the $10 / month level and above, we’re sending you a set of connected people from the playable analog prototype of Project Zebra. This is a game all about connections, and in the analog prototype, we used pushpins to represent people living on a foamboard world. When players created connections between people, we simply tied a ribbon onto each of the connected people. The color of the ribbon represents the type of connection: red for investment/health, yellow for commerce/trade, and white for war. For your safety, and for the comfort of the U.S. Postal Service, we’ve removed the sharp steel bit from the pushpins 🙂

Thank you,