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Porpentine's Wonderful World of Slime

Intensely personal, erotic, bizarre, and unabashedly honest are just a few words that describe the work of Porpentine, one of gaming's most absorbing designers.

As game development becomes more accessible, it's becoming more personal. Not everyone wants to retell the hero's journey for the millionth time. There are other stories out there, stories people can intimately relate to. Designers like Porpentine are at the forefront of this movement.

No Caption Provided

Some of Porpentine's games are likely to make you uncomfortable. You cannot play a Porpentine game without getting to know a part of who she is, and your reaction will depend on your own life experiences. In most cases, though, it will be a lack thereof. Viewed through the lens of her games, Porpentine has not had an easy life, but her games provide players an empathetic, sharply humorous glimpse into her world.

And, yes, before we get any further, Porpentine is her real name.

"I love that Porpentine starts with a squishy sound and ends sharp," she said, "with an almost fragile 'tine'--it has all these dimensions and contradictions you can feel with your mouth. And it's good for making puns."

If only takes a moment on Porpentine's website to gain an immediate sense of her style--brash, loud, and full of slime. These principles are front-and-center throughout many of her games. But that's just the opening paragraph, and it buries the subtle lede that defines the complicated underbelly of her work. It's the megaphone that prompts you to pay attention to Porpentine. But it's misleading, as it can suggest a shallowness that's not present in the games themselves.

Porpentine came to my attention during the Game Developers Conference last year. When Cart Life won the Independent Games Festival's Seumas McNally Grand Prize, its designer ripped down his booth and let Porpentine show off her Twine-based Howling Dogs. I never got around to playing Howling Dogs, a game she's tried to move on from, hoping to escape being defined as a creator of text games.

Many of her new games, such as Armada, have graphics, though writing remains a key component.

When I spoke to Porpentine on Twitter, this anxiety seemed present. She really, really wanted to talk about her new games, one of which was, actually, the reason I wanted to talk to her: Ultra Business Tycoon III.

You have to play Ultra Business Tycoon III. I implore you. I beg you. It's remarkable. Ultra Business Tycoon III initially presents as a text adventure set within a world of trash, violence, and rampant death. It quickly becomes clear it's not only that but also an astonishingly accurate homage to games of the era (right down to an NFO file) and a darkly humorous window into a moment in Porpentine's youth. These moments come out of nowhere, and often strike a stark tonal contrast to everything else.

But once Ultra Business Tycoon III's dynamics are clear, it's hard to put down, a simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating experience that also has one of last year's best "a-ha" moments.

Ultra Business Tycoon III is decidedly retro, and Porpentine's put enormous thought into this idea.

"[Designers usually] reproduce them in a way that is not capturing why we care about them so much," she said. "They are separating it from our experiences as a child. A lot of my thinking on this subject has to do with Kat Lake writings on this subject. She wrote something called Phantom Games--it’s a little essay. Basically, the idea is that you can’t just reproduce the power of nostalgia just through a system. It’s what was going on in our lives when we were playing these games. When I was playing these games, I was growing up in an abusive household, and you’re not going to find that magic just by slavishly reproduces the graphical essence of it or the mechanics. That’s why it’s got these shareware-y things, but it’s also blended. I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t blended it with real-life."

You're going to spend lots of time looking at things that will kill you in Ultra Business Tycoon III.
You're going to spend lots of time looking at things that will kill you in Ultra Business Tycoon III.

One reason a Porpentine game can feel uncomfortable is precisely how nakedly honest she can be about her own life experiences. It's challenging to put yourself out there, and, in some ways, ask to be judged. Not everyone will be kind, and not everyone will understand. But Porpentine does this over and over in her work. There is purpose to it, though it seems awfully exhausting.

"I started out going to the gym and doing lots of emotional push-ups," she said. "There’s lots and lots of steroids involved, it’s totally illegal."

(I'll remember that the next time a sappy movie gets to me, or I listen to the LOST soundtrack.)

"I guess my question would be: why don’t more people put more things from their lives into things?" she said. "Are you not just putting things from other people’s lives into games, then? [...] It can be a form of catharsis once you actually get it out there. What was emotionally draining was having it actually happen to me. What was emotionally draining was having to be silent about it, like any kind of thing that’s hurt me. Once it turns into art, it becomes free in a way. It’s a way to show other people. When we share our experiences, I think it’s a very healing thing."

"I just really want people to be able to access it in every possible way. I’ll probably make things that cost money in the future, but it’s really important to me to have a lot of stuff be free and be a gift."

The act of sharing is critically important to Porpentine, as well. She wants everyone to have a chance to play most of her games, which is why they're given away for free on her website. It's no surprise to learn this philosophy is influenced by how she first started experiencing media.

"I grew up pirating everything," she said. "I grew up too poor to consume most media. The only way I was able to get it is if it was free or I pirated it."

Piracy is how I discovered music. I listened to music before piracy, but there was nothing like Spotify in early high school. But I did have Napster, which introduced me to Weezer, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, and other musicians that formed the foundation of my ascension into having real taste.

Giving away games for nothing, however, is obviously at odds with the idea of being able to support yourself for a living though game development.

"I just really want people to be able to access it in every possible way," she said. "I’ll probably make things that cost money in the future, but it’s really important to me to have a lot of stuff be free and be a gift. Part of how I’ve been supporting myself is that I have a Patreon account."

Patreon is an interesting, relatively new service stemming from the term "patron."

"a person who gives financial or other support to a person, organization, cause, or activity."

In Armada, explore a psychedelic world with a slime trail.
In Armada, explore a psychedelic world with a slime trail.

Through Patreon, you can support creators, even if you're not totally sure what you're paying for. Porpentine's patrons collectively pay her $650 per game. She's averaging one release per month, but it's not like being a Kickstarter backer. Porpentine is not required to provide "updates" on what's happening, though if she stopped producing games, people could theoretically pull their support. But that's not the case right now, and it's working out for her.

"It’s really good to have that confidence as an artist, and have this material support," she said. "You can’t support marginalized artists only through singular acts of recognition or through praise. You have to give them jobs, you have to reform their day-to-day systematic existence, you have to make it worthwhile and healthy to be them. Money is a concrete thing that is very helpful to marginalized artists. Rent and food and clothing--these are all concrete needs. I’m just really glad to have that support, and it allows me to make free games."

One cannot play a Porpetine game without being left with a distinct impression. The more you play, the more you begin to feel like you know her. That's not to say all of Porpentine's games are pseudo-biographical experiences, but few designers are as willing to put themselves into their work at the risk of being misunderstood. Wrapped around these games is an grungy, dirty aesthetic, a borderline obsession with grime, slime, and trash. Porpentine does not deny this. In fact, it's a defining characteristic.

"I think trash represents this kind of lowest of the lower, this sinking point," she said. "If you’re trash, there’s nowhere else to go, and you’re co-mingling with all these things around you. It’s a refuge. It represents finding value in something that so many other people find ugly and celebrating it, which is something that applies a lot to my life and my work."

Patrick Klepek on Google+

139 Comments

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granderojo

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I have tried these games you and I don't like any of them. Not because I don't seek out experiences that I can relate to or are melancholy. I actually seek out melancholy books, film and TV but for instance, Cart Life is just a poorly designed game. It's systems are haphazardly implemented, switching from all mouse control to all keyboard and to just general obtuseness.

This all said I'll give Armada a chance. I'm tired of poor design decisions being heralded as good game design. The most uncomfortable of movies that are good films are still have good cinematography, I don't see why game designers feel obtuse input methods are somehow adding to the experience of their games.

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Beb

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@getz said:

I don't get it. Is over-written cyber-punk with obtuse references to the author's personal life supposed to impress? This stuff just leaves me feeling cold and confused... to each his own I guess.

I have to admit... I don't get it either. I tried playing the Business Tycoon game and after about 45 minutes I realized I simply wasn't having fun. I was amused by some of the wordplay, but after a while I just felt a kind of nonresponse to it and felt like I was wasting my time.

I dunno, maybe if I had finished it (I got stuck and was unable to get any further) I would have had a big "aha" moment and liked it more. But I don't personally feel it was worth my time to have kept at it simply for that. It just felt kind of... I hate to say it, but it felt pretentious to me.

Which I guess is a very roundabout way of saying "I don't understand this or the appeal of it, but I'm OK with that."

Accidentally closed my browser while typing almost exactly this response. I will add that I tried Armada for about 5 minutes as well.

I suspect this article, these games, and this creator are way too hip for me.

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LikeaSsur

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Edited By LikeaSsur

@beb said:

@mercury45 said:
@getz said:

I don't get it. Is over-written cyber-punk with obtuse references to the author's personal life supposed to impress? This stuff just leaves me feeling cold and confused... to each his own I guess.

I have to admit... I don't get it either. I tried playing the Business Tycoon game and after about 45 minutes I realized I simply wasn't having fun. I was amused by some of the wordplay, but after a while I just felt a kind of nonresponse to it and felt like I was wasting my time.

I dunno, maybe if I had finished it (I got stuck and was unable to get any further) I would have had a big "aha" moment and liked it more. But I don't personally feel it was worth my time to have kept at it simply for that. It just felt kind of... I hate to say it, but it felt pretentious to me.

Which I guess is a very roundabout way of saying "I don't understand this or the appeal of it, but I'm OK with that."

Accidentally closed my browser while typing almost exactly this response. I will add that I tried Armada for about 5 minutes as well.

I suspect this article, these games, and this creator are way too hip for me.

That's the one problem that all indie games face: They make games that are too personal. Patrick harps on the "hero's story," but the reason it's so popular is because it's easily relatable, even if it is comparatively shallow. She's going to have to find a way to balance telling her story and having fun if she wants any kind of success, because no matter how deep your story is, if it's not fun, people won't like it. At least not in video game format.

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chemystery

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If you can create this sort of emotion or response they have to be doing something right. I never heard of these games before but now I'm curious.

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mrfluke

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im normally not one to care about the indie developers.

but i can respect a creator that can create what they want and not give a fuck about "criticism"

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Murdoc_

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I got about as far as the over indulgent description of her name... I mean really? Ugh.

Anyway, I read further, realized I tried a few of her games, never really liked them, but I guess there's a market for it, so that's cool.

The rockstarification of these indie devs is starting to be mildly irritating. I can enjoy their games, I can even want to hear an interview about them, but I don't want to hear why their name sounds amazing or that they really put a lot of thought in blasting their personality through a website in just the right ways.

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hunterob

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Edited By hunterob

I've never really checked out Twine. The thought of creating my own games through just text sounds exciting, but playing text only games isn't. Might check out that Ultra Business Tycoon if anything, though. (If that is a Twine game?)

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Gold_Skulltulla

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Edited By Gold_Skulltulla

Porpentine is also an editor over at the incredibly cool freeindiegam.es. My only question is, does this post come with the Official PORP Seal of Approval?

Also, would have loved to see this conversation go in deeper on some of these topics, particularly "trash aesthetics," which seem really important to Porpentine's work.

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Conciliator

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i can't much get into interactive fiction games but i would love to see more indie dev 'profiles' like this.

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mrfluke

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@murdoc_ said:

I got about as far as the over indulgent description of her name... I mean really? Ugh.

Anyway, I read further, realized I tried a few of her games, never really liked them, but I guess there's a market for it, so that's cool.

The rockstarification of these indie devs is starting to be mildly irritating. I can enjoy their games, I can even want to hear an interview about them, but I don't want to hear why their name sounds amazing or that they really put a lot of thought in blasting their personality through a website in just the right ways.

oh i think this sort of stuff is fine, as these guys who generally get no press are getting a spotlight on a big site.

whats irritating is when indie devs go and slam the work that the big AAA studios do, that gets on my nerves and pushes me away from this scene

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Mirado

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@mrfluke: I agree. Beat them through your work, not your words. Games like The Banner Saga show what a handcrafted, personal touch can do to make a game stand out, and something like The Stanley Parable couldn't be achieved with a publisher (hell, it would never made it past the pitch phase).

Don't tear a developer's work down. Make something better.

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MormonWarrior

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I don't think anybody would be interested in a game based on my upbringing in a religious, happy and stable family surrounded by support and love. My personal window wouldn't make for biting or poignant game or story design. Honestly, there might not be a place for spirituality in games, other than perhaps in the themes of the story or something. That's something I don't see tackled much. As much as people like Porpentine and Zoe Quinn are pointed to as being a breath of fresh air, they strike me as rather standard and typical for the game industry. Sarcasm, anger, abuse, sexuality, and violence are all extremely common themes in video games, though maybe not to the same laser-focused level.

On another note, personal trauma, anger and depression often make for the best art.

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patrickklepek

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I don't think anybody would be interested in a game based on my upbringing in a religious, happy and stable family surrounded by support and love. My personal window wouldn't make for biting or poignant game or story design. Honestly, there might not be a place for spirituality in games, other than perhaps in the themes of the story or something. That's something I don't see tackled much. As much as people like Porpentine and Zoe Quinn are pointed to as being a breath of fresh air, they strike me as rather standard and typical for the game industry. Sarcasm, anger, abuse, sexuality, and violence are all extremely common themes in video games, though maybe not to the same laser-focused level.

On another note, personal trauma, anger and depression often make for the best art.

I'd love to play a game about a religious upbringing. I didn't have that at all.

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MormonWarrior

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@mormonwarrior said:

I don't think anybody would be interested in a game based on my upbringing in a religious, happy and stable family surrounded by support and love. My personal window wouldn't make for biting or poignant game or story design. Honestly, there might not be a place for spirituality in games, other than perhaps in the themes of the story or something. That's something I don't see tackled much. As much as people like Porpentine and Zoe Quinn are pointed to as being a breath of fresh air, they strike me as rather standard and typical for the game industry. Sarcasm, anger, abuse, sexuality, and violence are all extremely common themes in video games, though maybe not to the same laser-focused level.

On another note, personal trauma, anger and depression often make for the best art.

I'd love to play a game about a religious upbringing. I didn't have that at all.

I stand corrected. Also I'm kinda rambly because I'm at work. I love hearing about the process these indie devs use, though I feel like my demographic is one that is (perhaps the most) severely underrepresented in game design and journalism. Lots of religious people play games. I should know. So maybe I'll figure out Twine or GameMaker at some point...maybe.

By the way, I enjoy the articles and the guests on the AM show. Keep up the good work!

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joshwent

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@beb said:

@mercury45 said:
@getz said:

I don't get it. Is over-written cyber-punk with obtuse references to the author's personal life supposed to impress? This stuff just leaves me feeling cold and confused... to each his own I guess.

I have to admit... I don't get it either. I tried playing the Business Tycoon game and after about 45 minutes I realized I simply wasn't having fun. I was amused by some of the wordplay, but after a while I just felt a kind of nonresponse to it and felt like I was wasting my time.

I dunno, maybe if I had finished it (I got stuck and was unable to get any further) I would have had a big "aha" moment and liked it more. But I don't personally feel it was worth my time to have kept at it simply for that. It just felt kind of... I hate to say it, but it felt pretentious to me.

Which I guess is a very roundabout way of saying "I don't understand this or the appeal of it, but I'm OK with that."

Accidentally closed my browser while typing almost exactly this response. I will add that I tried Armada for about 5 minutes as well.

I suspect this article, these games, and this creator are way too hip for me.

Totally agree with these sentiments (and to be clear, with no stupid hostility to Porp herself) I just don't see it. Tried to play through UBT III twice, after hearing people raving about the personal stuff and interesting structure, and it just felt like a slog through a not that funny DOS game.

I guess part of it is that interactive novels have never really appealed to me, so those games just aren't my bag in the first place. But I have a problem in general with games that keep their "A-ha moment" hidden behind a bunch of other filler, and it seems like a trend that's growing in these kind of indies. I often hear, "Oh you have to play that more, just wait until...". but I can't be bothered to wait until whatever when all that comes before something awesome is decidedly, not.

To use a bad comparison, it kind of feels like if Braid was just a dull platformer for a few worlds before the reverse time mechanic kicked in.

Anyway, I'm sure these kind of revelations need the narrative time to be built up effectively, and I probably just feel left out because having not enjoyed what leads up to it, I'll never get to the real meat. But it's great that these kind of games are being made. I just hope that the future trash can be a little more polished? Maybe? ;)

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Chop

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I...don't get any of this

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planetfunksquad

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@mormonwarrior: Id totally play a game about a well adjusted family just doing family shit. It'd have to be really well written. Maybe "whimsical" would be a good approach for some thing like that.

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audioBusting

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Edited By audioBusting

Porp is rad videogamesperson, and I'm glad to see her becoming more well known. More articles like this, please!

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Elwoodan

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Edited By Elwoodan

I really like Crystal Warrior Ke$ha.

Porpentine is pretty all right in my book.

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Knopper7

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Text adventure websites are not ART.

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mrfluke

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@mirado said:

@mrfluke: I agree. Beat them through your work, not your words. Games like The Banner Saga show what a handcrafted, personal touch can do to make a game stand out, and something like The Stanley Parable couldn't be achieved with a publisher (hell, it would never made it past the pitch phase).

Don't tear a developer's work down. Make something better.

totally agree, let the game speak for the creator than having the creator make childish "criticism" towards the big 100 man teams that work on the big games.

there's a place for personal experimental games and a place for AAA games, both should be able to coexist and compliment each other fine with no backhand criticism.

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fram

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@patrickklepek just wanted to thank you for how generous you've been with your time of late. Twice weekly shows with Alex and interesting guests, Spelunky runs, streaming HOURS of Dark Souls (on your day off) and features like this, as well as worth reading/playing, AND interacting with duders on the site and twitter.

You are a one-man content machine, and I for one am happy to have my thoughts and opinions both coddled and challenged. Cheers.

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Edited By LazyEkans

I'm really glad to see this. Great write-up, Patrick. Porpy is pretty amazing.

By the way,

"Wrapped around these games is an grungy"

that "an" should be an "a".

Here's a link which probably doesn't matter 'cause that was most likely an accident.

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/591/01/

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MEATBALL

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Edited By MEATBALL

Patrick's dominance of this site and the stuff he has become interested in is causing me to really lose interest in the majority of its content. I say this as someone who has enjoyed Patrick going back to his time at G4. Highlighting stuff like this is okay, but maybe some balance would be good? Do we really have to delve full-on into indie hipsterdom?

I need to stop using the word hipster, it's stupid. I feel like a jerk for making this comment, probably because I'm a jerk.

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Luchen

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I'm not a huge of fan of how games are adopting all the things that i don't like about art but eh. To each his own i guess.

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abendlaender

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Tried some of the games, they seemed alright. Nothing especially great or memorable in my opionion (to be fair, I didn't give them a lot of time)

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development

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@lazyekans: Jesus Christ, man. That's probably the most unintentionally passive-aggressive comment I've ever read. Hahah, god damn.

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@milkman said:

I don't get people posting links showing how "weird" she is, like there's something inherently wrong with being weird.

Very well said. People too often are willing to go with society's tendencies to shun those who are seen as not "normal" when we're all pretty strange to someone. There are as many views on life as there are people in the world.

Great article, @patrickklepek. A very fascinating individual in a world that is usually too concerned with being PC and non-offensive. I've only "played" (still not convinced Twine things are games, but that argument can be saved for another day) Cyberqueen, but it was one of the most horrifying, yet strangely erotic things I've ever read. I don't think a better realization of the evil, "female" AI exists anywhere else.

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AMyggen

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Edited By AMyggen

@meatball: I don't really get that POV. Why not just ignore that kind of content, and keep consuming the other guys' content? I don't get how this kind of content could turn anyone off the site as a whole as long as they still enjoy the other parts.

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yyninja

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Edited By yyninja

The game's kind of incomplete? I don't think it's possible to finish the game unless you know the code for Oasis Zone. I had to open the web inspector to figure out that the shareware code for Oasis Zone is 3497282.

While I applaud Porpentine's effort to put her own personal issues in a game but I don't think it delivers its' message well since all of it is hidden until you're able to finish the game (by obtaining 1 millllllllliiiiioon dollars).

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MooseyMcMan

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Edited By MooseyMcMan

Interesting article. I should try checking out some of her games.

Some of the things she said in this article spoke to me in a way that...Well, I'll just keep it to myself.

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Wrenchfarm

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Edited By Wrenchfarm

I really enjoyed UBT3. Personally, I like it when creatives use the shared language and experience of video games to talk about their lives.

If you also enjoyed UBT3, you might want to check out a book called You by Austin Grossman (the author of Soon I Will Be Invincible, also a must read). It's about a bunch of developers in the late 90's trying to complete their latest fantasy RPG while ferreting out a bug that seems to plague their entire line of products and is getting suspiciously worse. But that doesn't matter - what is cool about You is how Grossman uses videogames to talk about himself and other people through a lens that we can all identify with.

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Zacagawea

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Edited By Zacagawea

Scoops where are the scoops

I miss the scoops

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Jazz_Lafayette

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Edited By Jazz_Lafayette

Yo, comment-folk, it's cool that not all people want every piece of media they consume to be a "thinker," but because this sort of work is culture's sometimes-food, we should be able to understand that that will never be the case. It's also cool that that sort of stuff exists for if (when?) you feel better equipped to explore it! More available avenues of expression can only allow you to better receive and communicate new modes of perception.

By God, I used that exact term to describe him during his first Dark Souls stream. Really a fantastic way to name Patrick's contributions to the site.

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AlmostSwedish

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I love her games, but have yet to try UBT. I'll make sure to do it this weekend.

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DrKunze

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Judging by the amount of "This message was deleted" i will refrain from posting an opinion that differs from total agreement.

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NEONBEAR

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@drkunze said:

Judging by the amount of "This message was deleted" i will refrain from posting an opinion that differs from total agreement.

i doubt disagreeing is what got those posts deleted.

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rmanthorp

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Edited By rmanthorp  Moderator

@neonbear said:

@drkunze said:

Judging by the amount of "This message was deleted" i will refrain from posting an opinion that differs from total agreement.

i doubt disagreeing is what got those posts deleted.

Correct. A lot of them are actually just spam.... However, disagreeing is totally fine as long as you don't break the rule "don't be a jerk,"-which a few people still can't comprehend... Just be cool people.

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@neonbear said:

@drkunze said:

Judging by the amount of "This message was deleted" i will refrain from posting an opinion that differs from total agreement.

i doubt disagreeing is what got those posts deleted.

Correct. A lot of them are actually just spam.... However, disagreeing is totally fine as long as you don't break the rule "don't be a jerk,"-which a few people still can't comprehend... Just be cool people.

Discussing her "personal" information that she posts on tumblr violates that rule I guess. Somehow, talking about the life of a developer who makes "deeply personal" games is not appropriate for this articles comment section.

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Edited By ajroo

There may be brilliance in her work but i havent seen it yet.

I will need to see more out of Porpentine before i decide if she is something other than an indie fad.

That said, the one thing i havent played yet is Ultra Business Tycoon III, maybe thats a game changer.

I do enjoy being exposed to game developers i otherwise would probably never know existed. For that, I thank you Patrick.

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forkboy

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@meatball said:

Patrick's dominance of this site and the stuff he has become interested in is causing me to really lose interest in the majority of its content. I say this as someone who has enjoyed Patrick going back to his time at G4. Highlighting stuff like this is okay, but maybe some balance would be good? Do we really have to delve full-on into indie hipsterdom?

I need to stop using the word hipster, it's stupid. I feel like a jerk for making this comment, probably because I'm a jerk.

If doing something makes you feel like a jerk then the best thing to do would be to not do it.

@drkunze said:

Judging by the amount of "This message was deleted" i will refrain from posting an opinion that differs from total agreement.

This is a lazy talking point. Because by making this post in your weasely way you have in fact shared that your opinion differs from total agreement, but without actually saying why you disagree. Comments get deleted when people are unable to refrain from personal insults, & the standard casual misogyny of the internet. If your opinion is reasonable rather than reactionary then it won't be deleted, just like the plenty of people who've said "I don't get it" & then elaborated.

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deactivated-5e49e9175da37

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"You can’t support marginalized artists only through singular acts of recognition or through praise. You have to give them jobs, you have to reform their day-to-day systematic existence, you have to make it worthwhile and healthy to be them. Money is a concrete thing that is very helpful to marginalized artists. Rent and food and clothing--these are all concrete needs. I’m just really glad to have that support, and it allows me to make free games."

Money is a concrete thing that is very helpful to everyone, not just whatever a marginalized artist is. Money comes from providing a population with goods or services, in exchange for your labour or effort. Like making games in exchange for money.

Also, everyone else is responsible for reforming the artist's day-to-day systematic existence? What does that even mean?

"I guess my question would be: why don’t more people put more things from their lives into things?" she said.

The reason most starving artists stay starving is because the audience they're making their art for is themselves and their art-scene friends. With their work as insular and self-referential as possible. What would you expect?