On the Shoulders of Giants: Game Maker’s Toolkit

A few months back I wrote this blog post about one of my biggest influences, Egoraptor. And since I’m currently drowning in finals, now feels like a good time for another short shout-out post. This time I wanted to share Mark Brown’s Game Maker’s Toolkit. I’ve mentioned his work a few times before in my rant about Mindtrap and in my blog post on genres, but given how much of an influence his work has been on me I wanted to take the time to give him the attention he deserves.

Game Maker’s Toolkit (GMTK) is a YouTube channel that focuses on game design. Their videos cover a wide range of topics including level design, difficulty, narrative structure, and game mechanics. I’ve watched every video they’ve made, and I find myself revisiting their older videos from time to time. I appreciate how clear and accessible Mark’s videos are, and how you can jump into any of them even if you don’t know anything about the topic he’s discussing. They are all well researched, engaging, and easy to follow. I’ve learned a lot from GMTK and incorporated many of their lessons into my own games. I even cited one of their videos in a paper I wrote for Games in Society last semester (this one if you’re curious). If you’re at all interested in learning more about making games, I highly recommend giving them a try.

This one is the first in a series about designing for disability. It really opened my eyes to how implementing some small adjustments can make your game more fun and accessible for everyone.

This one is part of GMTK’s Boss Keys series, in which Mark breaks down the level design in the Legend of Zelda. He’s also since branched out and started looking at the level design in other franchises, such as Metroid and Castlevania.

And finally, this one is about Roguelikes and progression. While I don’t personally agree with everything he says, the video still offers a really interesting perspective on the genre.

Thanks for reading! After you’re done checking out GMTK make sure to sign up for our newsletter. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Stay lofty!


Life Tip: Reflect on Odds, Not Results

(Disclaimer: this is not a 'simple trick’. It takes time and effort to actively apply this approach, and the difficulty of doing this depends on your own life experiences. Everyone has different goals, too.)

If you want to grow as a person, you need to self-reflect on your behaviour. However, there’s a lot of ways that self-reflection can actually make you drive out of alignment with your goals instead of towards them. Here’s one way to improve your self-analysis skills below - courtesy of JoINrbs, Slay the Spire and online poker.


I often watch JoINrbs play Slay the Spire on YouTube. He comes from a background of online poker, so his approach to the game is very cool. I assume he’s not the first person to focus on odds more than results, but his cross-application of mindset into Slay the Spire inspired me to apply the mindset from there into to real life. I pasted the snappy version above, but here’s a slightly elaborated version of the life tip below:

"When you self-reflect, ponder if you had made the best decision with the info you had -- not whether or not your decision ended up being successful."

How did we get here? Let's start by talking about games, since this is obviously good game advice too.

What builds suspense in pretty much every element in life is when you care about something but are missing crucial information relating to it. And hey - it turns out every challenging game has unknown outcomes everywhere! You don't know if you’re fast enough to hit the ball. You don't know if your enemy has a trap card. You don't know if you’re going to roll something amazing or awful. You don’t know if your teammate is going to pull through or fail.

The problem is that you usually need to make decisions without being 100% sure what the outcome will be. Let’s use a scenario to exemplify this.

- You’re in a room with a fountain.
- You only have 1 health left.
- The only door leads to a room with a difficult boss fight.
- Drinking from the fountain will either:
> heal you to full health (60% chance).
> deal 1 damgae to you (40% chance).
Do you drink?

Let's say you drink from the fountain… and die. The immediate player reaction may be "Jeez, I shouldn't have drank from that fountain."

But... nope, you had still made the right decision! There's no way you could have killed the final boss with only 1 health. Fate/luck didn't go your way this time, but if you found yourself in that situation a second time, it’d still be correct to make that decision again if your goal was to actually slay the boss instead of just making it to the boss room.

Joinrbs frequently explains this concept in Slay the Spire, when he takes what look like "risky" plays such as fighting difficult Elite enemies early on. As he explains it: while fighting hard enemies now increases damage taken in the next fight (therefore looking riskier), it's actually way better odds for beating the game than taking the 'safe' path.

To oversimplify it, you can think about paths A and B.
Path A: 60% chance of surviving this fight, then a 60% chance of beating the game.
Path B: 90% chance of surviving this fight, then a 20% chance of beating the game.
New players, due to lack of experience, can’t exactly predict what the second percentage chance will be for winning, so they naturally gravitate towards the strategy of dealing with the most immediate threats only. To improve, though, you’ll eventually have to shift towards being okay with taking short-term risks.

Q: What does this have to do with the idea of thinking about odds instead of results?
A: It’s easy to self-reflect on a good decision that went wrong, and erroneously think you had made the wrong choice. Usually when this happens, it’s because you had taken an earlier risk that technically had a better overall chance of meeting your goal, but it didn’t pan out this time.

The focus of your self-improvement should be making good decisions under present variables rather than making decisions that would have worked for last time’s variables. The latter informs the former, but they’re not the same.

Anyway, time for real life.
In real life you'll also have to make difficult decisions without a clear outcome. And sometimes… things will really not work out for you. I’m sorry.

“Do I look like a 0-damage boss to you?”

“Do I look like a 0-damage boss to you?”

But what's been useful to me, and hopefully to you too, is to consider all of the information you have at the moment of a decision, and knowing that with the options in front of you, you may have still done the right thing. What matters in self-improvement is optimizing your ability to make judgement calls.

The actual outcome of your choice (ie succeeding or failing) is most useful as a suggestion as to whether or not your original calculation of odds was correct. For example, if the risk you took in your essay or proposal was shot down for a reason you hadn't thought of - it doesn't necessarily mean the risk wasn't worth taking, but rather you had miscalculated the risk in the first place. You can re-calibrate your ability to assess odds, and your ability to execute a strategy. Similarly, if things went great because someone misinterpreted something in your favour, try to have the humility to recognize that you had technically made a sub-optimal choice but lucked out this time.

And, in general, it’s good to know there's always tons and tons of unknowns. You'll kind of always be hit with random stuff that can be accounted for but never circumvented or alleviated. The best you can really do is play the odds, and get better at reading them. Over time, if you're great at self-reflection, you may find that things will start looking just a little more in your favour.

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(PS: One important thing to remember is that different goals will change your decisions. For example, the goal of “maximizing your chance of seeing the boss” is different from “maximizing your chance of killing the boss”. Your goal may be to optimize consistency instead of optimizing maximum gain, and that’s just as valid.)

Captain's Log: Rosalind

"We should make a healer."
- Mitchell, at some point in development

The reason Rosalind entered the game was that simple. But she’s gone through a few iterations between her time as Henry V and today, and we’ll walk through the interesting ones.


Original: “You win if everyone is alive by round 8.”

Current: “You win if everyone else is alive when the game ends or on round 8. If another captain would die, instead Reveal and match their health to yours.”

So yes, she plays as a healer. You spend your rounds pacifying violence, stalling for time, forming alliances and protecting everyone else. Because Rosalind wants people to survive for 8 rounds, and Captain’s Gambit ends upon victory, we get into an interesting side effect: the threat of Rosalind winning before you can finish the game encourages captains to start killing each other as soon as possible. This stops players from spending the first half of the game doing nothing but overcharge - in other words, adding this healer to the captain pool increases average aggression, even if she’s not in the current game.


The additional bonus of having a healing-based win condition is that aggressive players an easy excuse to start smacking. One of the earlier problems of the game was that the first player to attack another had an immediate target painted on their head - but now, because of the threat of Rosalind, you have a lot more persuasive freedom to come across as a helpful leader.

Interestingly, the most difficult part of Rosalind’s development wasn’t really finding balanced mechanics as much as finding mechanics that could actually fit on the space of the card. When working with physical games it turns out there’s a very real logistics problem of figuring out how to cram as many words as possible into a small text box while keeping things both clear and brief… that’s been the true challenge.


Rosalind Big.png

Our first draft of Rosalind was named Henry V - I liked how his character did his best and then died anyway, and I thought of him as a kinda squid-ish person.

A bit later we noticed that there was only like one woman in Captain's Gambit, and since Richard III was already here, we decided to trade off the mirror aspect of "Henry vs Richard; save vs kill everyone" to get another theatrical production (As You Like It) and another woman in the game. Mitchell suggested Rosalind, so here we are!

Rosalind is my favourite visual design in CG - I love the colours and the feeling of someone who keeps everyone else alive in order to actually just win herself later on.

Obviously every captain has a different origin story, but you may have also noticed that some captains started as a necessity for a character while others started with a mechanic idea that later had an identity attached to them. How it is, I guess.


The final infusion of lore, that makes Rosalind feel most like Rosalind, is allowing her to win from the victory of others. Because Rosalind in this play is a highly social person, regardless of her current gender she is doing something in service of companionship; thus, having the player seek a potential suitor and ask to work alongside them for victory is quite fitting of her abilities. It also makes her more balanced.

And that’s Rosalind!

“If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me and breaths that I defied not: and, I am sure, as many as have good beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.”

  • Rosalind, As You Like It, Act V Scene 4

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