🕹️🎨 What Are Paper Computer Games?

A drawing of a retro sci-fi computer screen with a cheery clown on a stick displayed. The clown's spikey hair is green, and is a robot.

When I was a kid I came up with something called Paper Computer Games, which are role-playing, puzzle solving games drawn on paper that emulated point-and-click adventure games. They are meant to be played with a single other person, and were usually tailor made for that player.

Paper Computer Games, or PCGs for short, also established a rich in-game universe that friends freely added to in their games. Over the years @Xaq kept PCGs alive, and fostered a supportive international community on Youtube, which continues to this day.

A colorful drawing of space, a glowing green planet taking up most of the frame. A purple space ship with kind of looks a bit like the Batman symbol streaks towards the planet.

The games encourage creativity, intellectual collectivism, improvisation, and a certain giddy embrace of sloppiness to get it done and played by your friends. Many games are created in five minutes before they’re played!

It’s a small, weird niche, and it’s a lot of fun.

I recently finished a game I had been working on and playing with Xaq for 3 years. I drew all these “screens” (pages) on an iPad, instead of paper, and most sessions were held online instead of in person, but otherwise the concept is the same.

Every PCG maker’s style is different, both in art and story. Here’s a taste of my visual style, taken from some of my favorite images I made for this last game.

There's a lot going on here. Let's start with that it's a drawing of a bedroom. Over the bed a scared looking head is suspended in a green liquid, which in turn hangs from a chain. On the other side of the room, a scowling skeleton smokes a pipe. A window shows a suburban neighborhood, with someone lounging on a deck chair under an umbella across the street. A green ooze creeps across the room towards the skeleton and the bed. A colorful drawing of an anthropomorphic pizza slice and a alien mosquito-looking thing. The word 'v.s.' hangs in the air between the two. A macadam street, that starts out normal, then twists and swirls impossibly. Speeding down the 'normal' section towards the swirls are two cars, one beeing driven by a scared-looking white man with shaggy black hair, and the other being driven by a happy dog. A two-headed scaly blue alien with big teeth and laser guns meneces from a small flying-saucer in front of the two cars. Further in the background, twisted in the road swirls, is a mad scientist using a machine to crank out henchmen. A drawing of a disembodied blue head with a long purple beard and a swirling hat and a mean expression. This is The Wizard Sluiceface, and he is zapping a white man (Xaq) with his nose. Xaq's shaggy black hair stands on end, his teeth bared. A comic-style diagram shows that Xaq is being turned into a snail. A drawing in a spattered, watercolor style. Xaq, a white man with shaggy black hair, is planted flat on a round green surface, sky all around him. He looks worriedly at a grinning pink man with blue hair and two laser guns and jet boots who flies in the air ahead. Antennas bristle with electrical energy beyond both Xaq and the man with jet boots. A drawing of earth from orbit, the planet taking up the lower frame. A robot made up of one large square for the body, and smaller squares for each limb, gasps with terror into camera.

Don’t Get Pantsed!, my comedic, yet surprisingly human, interactive fiction is back online. It’s short, you can play it in the browser, and I’m still proud of it. 🕹️

I spent several hours at Cidercade in Houston yesterday. Lots of fun playing The Simpsons, Time Crisis 2, and Mario Kart DX, among others.

IMG 4674

🕹️ I just beat the original Kirby’s Dream Land for the original Gameboy. Took me an hour and a half. It’s short and relatively easy, but a real fun time. The last boss has a long annoying pattern though.

In game screenshot of Maria facing Death on top of a pirate ship. Death is almost dead.
Screenshot taken from the web, not my gameplay

🕹️ Last night, I beat Death in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. So difficult, even with Maria, the easier character! After that, I beat the Shaft boss gauntlet. Now, on to the final level and Dracula. It is hard.

🕹️ 🍸 My swear-y attempt at playing Castlevania: Rondo of Blood while drinking a Bloody Mary.

As I’m reading 50 Years of Text Games, I’m naturally getting back into IF. Man it’s good. Just played 9:05, a ten minute game, and had a blast.

Video game testers approve the first union at Microsoft. I’ve long been out of the video game industry, but from my brief experience a union was sorely needed. Congratulations to the team! More like this.

Been playing donkey Kong country tropical freeze and am so proud I’ve beaten to the second world.

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Introducing PCG: Or, How I''m Spending the Pandemic

A lot has changed in the world since I last posted.

I have been extremely lucky during this pandemic. I am still employed, I can work from home, and I have my wife to shelter with. I do not take these things for granted.

And yet.

While my work life has not changed as drastically, my personal life has. Most of the things I did outside work before the pandemic were in person. Can’t do that right now. So, it gave me some time to work on home-bound projects that I pushed back on the shelf.

To that end, I’m very excited to introduce PCG, or Point and Click Game engine, an adventure game creation utility for the open web.

I did a talk about it three years ago (ouch), so this project has certainly been a long time coming.

PCG is very much in active development, but I think I’ve made encouraging progress, which I’ll explore in detail later.

But first, what am I talking about?

What is an adventure game?

If this is old hat to you, skip ahead to the next section.

For those not familiar, a point and click adventure game is a style of narrative, story-based games where progress is made primarily through puzzle solving, rather than violence or reflexes, something I appreciate more and more as I age.

Day of the Tentacle screenshot
Day of the Tentacle, a classic comedic point and click adventure game.

While their popularity peaked in the early 90s for mainstream gaming cultural, they have thrived in the indie space over the past decade or so.

Mechanically, many games in the genre use a system of verbs to interact with the world. You click a verb from a menu, for example “push”, and then the person or object in the game you want to apply it to, such as “crate”. Perhaps there would be a trap door below the crate, and a new area is unlocked.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis screenshot
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is a game that used a list of verbs.

Another method some games employ is to do away with the specific list of verbs, having pre-determined actions when interacting, or relying on the levers that must be switched in the right order.

Myst screenshot
Myst did away with set verbs, and instead utilized bespoke mini-puzzles to progress.

Almost all have you collecting various esoteric items, having the player apply those items to people or objects in the game, or combining them with each other.

A relatively simple system, from a game mechanics perspective, but one that hides a lot of depth, story-telling potential, and that particular player satisfaction from figuring out a puzzle.

Why a web-based adventure engine?

Most innovation in the web game space is around the <canvas> element and Web Assembly, which allows developers to “start from scratch” and create entirely custom rendering divorced from any of the preconceptions of the web.

Angry bots screenshot
AngryBots is an example of a web game rendered via web assembly and the canvas tag.

This works well for action games or games with pixel-pushing graphics. However, the goal here is always to emulate a native application, and since games written for the browser cannot by definition ever be native, the best they can be is a close approximation.

While close might be good enough, this always felt like a missed opportunity to me. We spend all these resources trying to get the web to be more like native applications, but hardly any on what new and interesting experiences we can create that are unique to the web. As Marshal McLuhan wrote, an author I’m proud to say I got a few pages into, the medium is the message.

I started thinking about what kind of games would work well inside the traditional web context - aka, HTML, CSS and JavaScript (and SVG) rendered into a DOM tree.

After some thought, I settled on point-and-click adventure games.

My reasons being:

  1. They are not real-time games—Having game play that relies on any kind of precise timing are going to need a more controllable rendering model than the traditional web.
  2. They rely on text/audio—Text is a first class citizen of the web, and new web audio APIs make that aspect possible.
  3. They are narrative-driven—The web is a powerful method of communication, and I’m excited by new methods of leveraging that.
  4. I like them :smile:—This is important, because without it I wouldn’t be able to finish a big project like this.

In short, I thought I could re-create many of the different point and click adventure paradigms on the web, while taking full advantage of the things that make the web the web.

Some of the unique things that are attractive about the web are:

  1. It’s universal—Many more people have access to a web browser than those with access to a machine that can play a triple A game.
  2. It’s accessible by default (with a rich API for extensions)—This enables access by those with visual, auditory, motor, or other disabilities. Accessibility is sadly an afterthought in a lot of digital design, and seems entirely absent in the gaming space. Treating accessibility as a first class citizen makes the experience better for everyone.
  3. It’s sharable—An oft taken for granted killer feature of the web is URLs. The power of sharing a permanent link that will work in every browser and can be posted to any platform is one I cannot understate.

Design goals

The ultimate goal of PCG is to foster a open, welcoming, and creative community around making point and click adventure games on the web.

In game engine terms, the goal is to create a flexible, modular, and pluggable system of components that can be combined to create most if not all the point and click varieties mentioned above (and many that were not), as well as opening up the possibility for new and unique games only possible in the web format.

After a lot more thought, writing, re-writing, trial and error, and leveraging embarrassingly earned career experience, I settled on some design principles for PCG.

The thought of even having design principles was something hard earned, but one I strongly believe in: a north star for how you go about making something out of nothing.

  1. Leverage core web tech (HTML/CSS/JS)—Rely on core web technologies and patterns over writing new systems. While new systems may offer benefits, building off existing ones usually means a more familiar, fast, and pleasant player experience.
  2. Player experience over developer experience—While developers are important, the end result that players consume takes precedence over the experience of the developers creating the game. These first two principles are why PCG is built without a framework in vanilla HTML/CSS/JS.
  3. Through documentation—A well documented system is an understood system, and an understood system is a powerful tool.
  4. Newbie friendly—As the web has professionalized, many exciting capabilities have opened up. It has also raised the barrier to entry. Creating something fun and expressive that can be used at a basic level to good results, while still offering a much larger world of possibility for those interested in learning, I think strikes the right balance.
  5. Open source—This is essential to creating a community, which is critical to the success of a tiny project like this. I also believe in it.

Next steps

This is a very high level introduction to the ideas surrounding the PCG project. I plan on writing posts going in-depth on each component of the system as they’re built and as updates are made. These posts will hopefully serve as a living progress report.

While I’ve spent a lot of time on PCG already, it is still in the beginning stages. It is very much a leap of faith.

I can’t predict what kind of community it will attract, if any, or what this project may or may not evolve into.

But I am excited to find out.

You can check out the Github repository or the documentation site for PCG, both very much in progress. If you have any feedback or would like to contribute, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

If you’d like to see what PCG is capable of currently (as much as I cringe to reveal the multitude of missing features) my friend made a tiny, rough demo game, and I made a little demo showcasing the text box component.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end, hope you and yours are safe and healthy, and I’ll catch you on the next adventure.

Syndicated to:

Web Based Game Text Box

Here’s a little web component I came up with to produce typewriter text, similar to old school SNES RPGs.


Tome of Deadly Pranks

I had written a roundly rejected magic item for a Pathfinder RPG contest some years back, and just stumbled across it again. For those of the game-nerding persuasion, have a look.

Tome of Deadly Pranks

Aura strong evocation; CL 17th
Slot - ; Weight 5 lbs.


This book looks exactly like a tome of understanding yet hides a powerful curse. Whenever the book is read, roll 1d10 on the following table to determine the result.

  1. Every time the reader speaks the word, “Help,” in any language, she slips and falls prone.

  2. The next item the reader touches shrinks as per the shrink item spell, except that the duration is permanent and the reader cannot expand the item.

  3. The next member of the opposite sex the reader speaks to explodes, as if that person had just read explosive runes.

  4. The reader can only verbally communicate in chicken clucks. He can still understand any languages he knows.

  5. The reader’s weight doubles, causing him to take a −2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity.

  6. The reader, along with all her gear, is instantly transported to the nearest occupied bedroom.

  7. The reader is polymorphed into a sheep.

  8. Whenever the reader draws a weapon, that weapon shouts an embarrassing fact about that character’s childhood.

  9. A army of goblins declares war on the reader. This army is always within 20 miles of the party, and consists of any combination of gobliniods that add up to the party’s ECL +2. The army tracks the party consistently and aggressively, yet non-magically.

  10. Roll twice and keep both results.

All effects are permanent unless removed with a successful remove curse spell. Although Tomes of Deadly Pranks are created by error, many more are created by insidious Arcane Tricksters.

D&D 5th Edition First Impressions

I bought the new 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons players handbook. Having thought 4th edition was somewhat akin to the Jar-Jar Binks of D&D, I was excited to be excited by the game again.

I haven’t played it yet, but from my impressions reading the book, I already very much like what I see.

D&D 5th Edition Player's Handbook Cover

I have been playing D&D for over a decade, starting with 2nd, moving through 3rd and 3.5, then, like many, getting on the Pathfinder train once the I got downwind of 4th (For anyone who likes 4th, I apologize; not for my jokes, but for playing 4th). I had read some of the playtests, and played a session or two of The Keep on the Boarderlands module, but had forgotten much of my experience by the time I picked up the new PHB.

Two things immediately struck me reading the book; one, the rules are streamlined - which was one of their design goals, so kudos - and two, that this game has the most roleplaying encouragement since 2nd.

Female Dwarf

The Rules

When you hear streamlined rules, you may think dumbed down. I want to assure you that that is happily not the case. The rules have been designed to keep focus at the table, not in the rules, and while I haven’t tested them yet, I can already tell that they will speed up play. 3rd/3.5/Pathfinder will see the biggest difference, since those systems can get very weighty from its rule-for-everything design, but even 4th players will see an improvement, I think.

The killer app for rules has got to be Advantage and Disadvantage. Instead of every ability giving an arbitrary, numerical bonus or penalty to your roll, you get an elegant, named rule. If you have Advantage, you roll 2d20 and take the higher. If you have Disadvantage, do the same and take the lower. Done! It’s powerful, it’s clean, and it saves so much time.


A close second in terms of big rules improvements is the proficiency system, which ties into Base Attack Bonus (now Proficiency Bonus). Instead of having a table-based bonus progression that’s different for each class, now you have one bonus progression for all classes, and it applies to more than just combat. You gain your Proficiency Bonus for anything you are proficient with. You can be proficient with anything from different types of weapons, to skills, to even tools. This keeps the flavor and customizability of each class, while maintaining an easy number to reference.

Speaking of numbers, 5th harkens back to 2nd and earlier in terms of number scale. Gone are the days of bonuses that dwarf your die roll potential (see above); number bloat is kept on a tight leash. For instance, for the afore mentioned Proficiency Bonuses, everyone stays at the starting +2 for 4 levels, maxing out at +6. Also, the ability scores max out at 20 for PCs, and 30 for monsters. I’m really into this, because PC power bloat isn’t fun for the DM or the players, and by god, I want monsters to monstrous again. That’s why they’re monsters!

The Roleplaying

I was pleasantly struck by how deeply ingrained roleplaying was to this edition, which is not an easy feat to pull off, since getting hit is usually painful. There is plenty of fluff regarding the mythos of the world, which most editions have provided (when I say most, I am not looking at you, 4th). Here, however, they go the extra mile, by, for the first time in my memory, explicitly naming and integrating campaign settings in the core book.

Fantasy Battle Scene

To describe things, where appropriate, they will explain it in terms of several settings. For instance, in describing a race, they might say how that race fits into the various settings. The campaign settings mentioned are, to my memory, The Forgotton Realms, Greyhawk, Ebberon, Dragonlance, and a hint at Planescape. No mention of Dark Sun, which is too bad, because it’s a fun setting, but I guess they want to let 4th’s stink wash off first. I’m sorry, to all you 4th lovers, you must be mad. Yet, and I say this with love, I don’t care.


To wrap up, 5th edition is very good, and if you’ve played D&D in the past, you owe it to yourself to pick it up. If you haven’t played D&D, I really don’t know why you read this whole article. I count 4th players among that last category; you aren’t playing D&D.

I’ll be writing more on this topic soon, digging deeper into what the game has to offer, and continuing to make fun of the few 4th stragglers out there. Kick ’em while they’re down, I say!

New game: Super Garlic Bros. It follows the adventures of Mario and Luigi’s breath. #nintendo #mariobros #videogames

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I’ve been playing Shadowrun: Returns. Instead of ‘Hell yeah’, they say, ‘Whiz yeah’, as if in the future, hell is replaced by peeing.

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sweet game by #playmatics #breakingbad www.amctv.com/shows/bre…

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My Adventure Burner shipped! Yay! #bwhq

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yay #adventure burner! can’t wait.

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I am really digging Pathfinder and www.paizo.com. The community over there is great, and the store is a nerdgasmity

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Played #Borderlands until 2am with Pierre last night. That game is so fun, and very addictive.

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