December Updates: Sprout, Fire Tag, Exploring Matter

I missed a month. There was no official November news roundup! Apologies. That’s not because there was no news. Rather, that’s because life was even busier than usual.

I finished the second draft of Exploring Matter, in Space. This was a major revision, backing away from overly-ambitious interactivity (budget constraints), and re-envisioning the book as something more like an enhanced picture book. I’m now awaiting feedback from other folks on this project. I expect we’ll need one more revision, this time for details of continuity and wording. Then, it ought to be finished!

Mindful Mammoth now has an storefront (here), where you can buy a print-and-play copy of Fire Tag for the cost of pay-what-you-want. It’s a nice thing in general, as well as being a useful step on the way towards publishing Sprout.

SunflowerSeeds_tweakSpeaking of – Sprout is almost ready, and we’re on track for a simultaneous release to Itch and Steam in just seventeen days, on 12/20! The game portion of the project is finished (test builds available here), and I’m now working on the publishing side of things. This means setting up accounts, and integrating Steamworks for achievements and leaderboards. Keep your fingers crossed. Seventeen days!

As always, this work has lots of social value, but tends to be materially underfunded (or unfunded). Which is where your help becomes critically important. Big thanks to all of our patrons.

As a special thanks to those who have supported us at the $10/month (and above) level during the last two months, we’re sending each of you small packet of sunflower seeds. With these, you can grow your own sunny sunflowers, and have botanical beauty both inside your digital tools (via Sprout) and outside (via these sprouts). Thank you.

– Tim

Sprout is ready! Playtesters needed!

VidThumbnailThis is RC1, which means it is fully playable with no obvious bugs. Now we need to find and catch the remaining rough patches and subtle bugs. Download the game, give it a whirl, then let me know what you find, and what you think.

Builds for Mac OSX and Windows are in the cloud here.

Sprout is a brilliantly creative, bite-sized, point-and-click puzzle adventure from Jeff Nusz. While he built the game for fun, the ecology of the game is grounded in fact, and the combination of fun and ecology makes this a remarkably effective learning tool – one that I’ve frequently used in classes and lesson plans.

The original version of the game was built in Flash, which was once a cool technology, but is now on the way out. Officially scheduled for retirement in 2020. Wanting to keep the game alive, I volunteered to rebuild it in Unity. Which brings us to today! RC1 of Sprout Resprouted is ready for play and playtesting. Please, give it a try. Then, let me know what you find and what you think.

– Tim

We’re on Itch


This is a good thing. is the most open and free of gaming storefronts. Any and all are welcome. This means that Itch hosts designers from the youngest of snowflakes to the most crotchety of veterans, and has games that run the gamut from art to advocacy to tabletop to VR.

IndieCade have partnered with Itch to create an IndieCade storefront on here – which is a major vote of confidence for Itch. Additionally, IndieCade has offered a space on this storefront to all selections and nominees from 2016 onwards. Given that Fire Tag is an Official Selection of IndieCade ’16, and now also on, the IndieCade storefront will soon expand include us as well.

If you’re on Itch, you can follow Mindful Mammoth from our profile page here. You can also download and review Fire Tag from the game page here. As always, social-type support is a huge help. By following Mindful Mammoth and Fire Tag on, you can help us to build a better world through play.

– Tim

The IndieCade Report

IndieCade happened! As usual, it was exhausting, wonderful, and varied. My talk went over well, as did the rest of the Game Design Microtalks session. I’d say we had a clean sweep of cool and interesting speakers (myself included :). All delightfully different. The session room was packed, the chairs were all full, and folks were standing along the walls. After it was over, I had a number of really thoughtful folks come and talk with me afterwards. Which is really the best part of IndieCade – the opportunity to talk shop with smart, diverse, and creative people.

On Saturday morning, The Puzzle of Life attracted a number of curious people who took time to sit and construct some possible worlds. My modding sample – a man eating tiger that poops, and whose poop was gathered by a cheerful dung beetle – was sadly underappreciated.

I had the opportunity to play a bunch of random games. Some were surprisingly bland, which is really unusual for IndieCade. However, others were rather amazing!

Notable mentions:

  • Mendel – A gently beautiful scientific sandbox about plants, exploration, and genetics. Even if I wasn’t a botanist, I’d still love this game.
  • Crescent Loom – Which was not on exhibit at IndieCade. Rather, the creator caught up with me after my talk, and we got to chatting about our shared interest in science, games, and biology. It’s a KSP-like where you construct squiggly critters that run on hand-crafted neural networks. Like with actual neurons that you draw. It has a steep learning curve, but it’s really really interesting. Early Access on io now. Highly recommended!
  • Visitor in Blackwood Grove: From the folks at Tiltfactor and Resonym, ViBG was designed to help players learn to use inductive reasoning. Super interesting premise. I had a fairly long conversation with the designer. They are very much into games for good, but using a fairly different design strategy, one that I would do well to incorporate into my own work.
  • Quench: Currently in late beta. It’s a story-driven, nature/physics puzzler. While it wasn’t intended as a learning game, the beautiful design, interesting puzzles, and thoughtfully simulated world all fit together into a fun and interesting combo. A combo with lots of possibilities for teaching, learning, and inspiration.

– Tim

October Updates: Book, Sloth, and INDIECADE!

Slothapottomous Rex. In a tree. Unable to sleep for all the human hullaballoo. Dreaming of a post-apocalyptic peace, when all the humans are dead.There have been several major things going on this month. And in all that goings on, there is both good news and bad news.

Regarding the interactive book project. The official production estimate came it. Turns out that the projected cost of this book is over ten times the production budget. So. Even more than expected. Sux. In consultation with the editor, I’ve cut out 90% of the proposed interactions: all the dialog trees, the culminating mini-game, and various odds and ends. That was incredibly painful, but the good news is that we now have a workable plan. The book will be finished and published, and it will be smaller than I’d hoped, but it will *be*.

The school year is now in full swing, so I’m working hard on teaching classes and designing classes at One Spark Academy. One of our new offerings this year is Popsicle Engineering – and I’m very proud of it. From the official class description:

What would you do with a thousand holey popsicle sticks, a thousand bolts, a thousand nuts (the threaded steel kind), and a team of friends? Build something awesome, of course! Following in the spirit of the venerable Scrapheap Challenge and the inestimable Junkyard Wars, we will split students into teams, and challenge these teams to engineer solutions to terrifying tasks.

The gamer in me demanded an overarching narrative structure for the class, in vague LARP-style. Thus was born Slothapottomous Rex, the ancient and fuzzy god of laziness. Tired of being kept awake by centuries of human hullabaloo – wars and wonders and rock music and airplanes and reality television and more – SPR (as he is known to his friends) has begun the construction of a Doomsday Device. With this Device, SPR plans to wipe the planet clean of life, leaving him finally free to get some uninterrupted sleep (attached photo). Brave engineers from the kingdom of Zalazoo – can you stop him in time? So far, my students have been really into it.

Last but not least, IndieCade will be here in less than a week. I love IndieCade very much because it always feels like my people. It’s a scant three days in which to share knowledge, experience, games, and fun with friends, colleagues, and the world! On Friday, I’ll share some of my experience with educational game design in the afternoon Game Design Microtalks session. On Saturday, I’ll bring out The Puzzle of Life for the Game Tasting event. And the rest of the time – I’ll enjoy talks, games, colleagues, and friends. All good stuff!

All these tasks are full of joy and hard work. Very hard work. Work that is only possible with your support and company. Thank you.

As a special thanks to Patrons who have supported us at the $10/month (and above) level during October, we’re sending each of you a one-of-a-kind letter, straight from the claws of Slothapottomous Rex. Enjoy! And again, thank you.

– Tim


September Updates: Systems and Ecosystems, Sprout, and IndieCade

What’s been going on? As usual, a huge variety of challenging and interesting stuffs.

The school year has launched, and I’ve begun teaching several STEAM classes at One Spark Academy. Among those classes is an updated version of Systems and Ecosystems, this time with a unit on ecological footprints. By tracing flows of matter and energy backwards through the pieces in The Puzzle of Life, players can get a rough estimate of the ecological footprint of various plants, animals, and humans. From this, players can learn why tree-huggers tend to be vegetarian, why there will always be many more rabbits than bobcats, and more!

In other news, I’ve made big progress with Sprout. The end of production is in sight. After that comes publishing – first to Steam and Itch, and (fortune willing) to Android devices via the Google Play store. This will be our first published digital product, expanding breadth of our portfolio, and the scope of our consulting opportunities.

Last but not least, IndieCade comes! On Friday afternoon, I will be one of the speakers at the Game Design Microtalks. Then on Saturday, I will share The Puzzle of Life at IndieCade’s Game Tasting event.

Really! IndieCade is just about the best thing ever. If you make a point to come, I promise you won’t regret it!

– Tim

August Updates: Words, words, and more words

WordsVsTimeOnce again, the major project has been our intereactive e-book, Exploring Matter … In SPACE! On this front, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that I finished a full first draft. The design document – which details narrative, dialog, and workings of interactive elements – weighs in at just over 23K words. Being a numbers person, I tracked both hours and words, and discovered that I’ve produced a remarkably consistent 270 draft-words per hour (see image). While this draft is rather lumpy – hanging narrative threads, some excessive wordiness, etc – I’m really proud of all the concepts.

The bad news is that rough estimates put the production cost of this design at 5x the current production budget. Yes. Five times. 500%. We’re not in the ballpark. We’re somewhere out in the Arctic Circle. Best case is that we’ll have to cut over half the interactive content. This means losing all the playful/narrative interactions, and perhaps losing some of the science-focused interactions as well.

This bad news really knocked me on my keister. For all that the draft is flawed, I am truly proud of the concepts. It has bad puns, cow jokes, interactive thought experiments, and a culminating life-and-death mini-game where you have to use your knowledge of science to save your home.

Having had a couple weeks to reorient my expectations, I’m back upright, though still sad. I’ve made a rough prioritization of the various book features. When the official page-by-page cost estimates come in, I’m ready to do what needs to be done, cut what needs cutting, and make this the best it can be – within real world constraints.

The book will be much less than I’d hoped, but it will be solid, and better than average. We will not allow the ideal best to compromise the good that can come from a solid job.

This month, I’ve been particularly grateful for the support of friends, family and patrons. Hugs and positive words make a big difference when this sort of news hits.

– Tim

July Updates: Matter in Space, New Mexico, and more!


                   Thinking about easter eggs eggs in Exploring Matter.

The major project in June was Exploring Matter in Space! (tentative title). This has turned out to be a much bigger project than I expected. In large part, this is because I have big dreams. It’s both a superpower and a character flaw.

In this book, there is so much that could and should be said that it’s hard to winnow the wheat from the other wheat (yes, it’s all wheat here). Though some difficulty also comes from the fact that this is an honestly difficult project. It’s a book – so there ought to be a lot of telling. It’s also an interactive and illustrated book, so there ought to be a lot of showing and doing as well. Finding a good balance of these strategies has been tough, especially given the relatively small size of the book (40-70 pages) and short timeframe (2 months). I’ll post a half-draft on the semi-secret ($2+) part of this blog in a couple days, and solicit feedback.

‘In between bookwork, I’ve made some modest progress on Sprout. Not as much as expected, but some. I’ll post a new build sometime later this month, but with more realistic lenses, it’ll probably be several months before the game is finished. It’s a fun job, but it’s also the lowest-priority job.

And in the really-nice-surprise department, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science ordered three copies of the Puzzle of Life (prototype edition) to share with attendees at their summer science teacher training camp. Which is super-exciting! They don’t have specific plans for the puzzles. Rather, part of their goal is to simply introduce teachers to new ideas and new materials, and the Puzzles will be a part of this idea smorgasbord.

Last but not least, we published the full set of Math ALIVE! tutorials to the web here. These are working drafts. Flawed, but also kinda cool (if I do say so myself).

Lastly, as a special thanks to those who have supported us at the $10+/month level during June, we’re sending each of you two pages from the epilogue of Exploring Matter. These pages outline a small easter egg. Each of the first four chapters in the book end with a conversational challenge. If a reader completes this challenge with a perfect score, they are rewarded with a clue – a piece of an apartment number. At the end of the book, if they correctly enter the entire secret apartment number, they get a special (silly) ending. Otherwise, they just get the regular ‘ole ending.

Thank you again for your company and support in this quest. Keep your ears open – more good things to come.

– Tim

Living Solar System – Instructions Online!

Friends, Patrons, and the Naturally Curious,

This weekend, I finished the last (for now) tutorial for the Math Alive! class that I developed and taught for One Spark Academy. There may still be more of these tutorials someday. I dream of developing this into a big and colorful book. And I think it would be fun to do some stretch-and-squash with special relativity. But for now, this is it.

All the tutorials are now free on the web, right here. FREE! Check ‘em out, then give ‘em a whirl!

Note that this is not the whole class, this is just the Scratch-specific portion. In addition to the Scratchwork, we also did a fair number of practice calculations on worksheets, as well as some astronomical running-around in which students took on the role of various objects moving under the influence of gravity.

In the final tutorial, students add some UI features to the simulation – panning, zooming, and speed controls. It’s all done by keyboard, but these features let you focus on whatever you want to focus on. Which is nice.

Here, you can see my model solar system with a terrestrial planet, a rocket-cat, a saturn-like planet, and a comet. If you keep an eye on the two scale variables at the top left, you can see how I tweak the zoom and the speed to accommodate the comet. After the comet makes its first pass by the sun, it swings out on a big slow orbit – so I zoom out the view to keep the comet in sight, then speed up the simulation so that I can watch it orbit in reasonable time.

– Tim