David Ethan Kennerly - San Francisco, California, United States


    Hotel vs Gozilla (October 6, 2011)
    Hotel vs Gozilla is an animated adaptation of the ancient Chinese game of Go. I teach casual videogamers the rules and tactics of my favorite boardgame. This my personal experiment with several new game mechanics and UI:

    • Bonuses for combo moves.
    • Animations of risk and reward.
    • Animated groups and fights.
    • Single-player levels 1 to 30.
    • Multiplayer from 5x5 to 9x9.
    You are free to copy and modify my Python server and ActionScript client code. You may not be free to copy files that are authored by others (the included, GnuGo,, PyAMF,,, unless their licenses say you can. Download (4 MB).

    Runesinger 3D Toolkit (October 4, 2011)
    University of Southern California
    Runesinger is a free 3D graphics toolkit. Conveniently create Python-Ogre 1.1 prototypes and explore them at runtime. You're free to use this code or modify it. Download (4 MB).

    Portfolio (October 1, 2010)
    I started teaching game design at Hogeschool van Amsterdam. My role on various teams has been a system designer, mission designer, scripter, or game director. Portfolio.

    Head of State (Heroes fan fiction) (August 4, 2010)
    As a teenager, I enjoyed the "What if" Marvel extrapolations to alternate futures of superheroes. So, my favorite episode of Heroes is season 1, episode 20, called "5 years gone." In it, someone special (wink wink) has become president. A lot happened in those five years into the future. In a screenwriting class, called Writing the One Hour drama, a room of talented writers helped me tell a tale of what happened during those five years. Here is a fan fiction teleplay from the first season of Heroes, called: "Head of State"

    Scoring Quality of Life in Civilization IV (August 1, 2010)
    Here is a chapter that introduces the Python code and a new scoring system of Civilization IV to compute the welfare of a toy society. This chapter gives an example of modifying a videogame for the serious use of exploring problems in population ethics, with a fictive example of a fan's scenario of the Iraq War. Download Scoring Quality of Life in Civilization IV in MS Word or PDF. After reading, you may also find the code itself and play with it. If you have comments or your own modifications, I'd be glad to acknowledge them.

    Runesinger Postmortem (May 6, 2010)
    Game Career Guide
    With a year of hindsight, I explained what I believe went right and what went wrong in my 2009 thesis game to speak Korean, Runesinger. For example, Andrea Chang's jingles had some players singing Korean! This postmortem on Game Career Guide summarizes my best (and worst) practices in production. It does not discuss design or theory, which I prattled about in my thesis. (Everyone who worked with me at USC, thank you again, especially Andrea, Charlie Silver, Joe Spradley, Dooyul Park, and Chris Swain.) Although I am in Amsterdam now, I wish I could be at USC in person to see the 2010 thesis show opening Saturday!

    Find the Fun (February 15-19, 2010)
    Hogeschool van Amsterdam
    This week at Hogeschool van Amsterdam I hosted a workshop to make a game in four days. I have been evolving a (serious) boardgame that supplements the workshop: Find the Fun. Here is the synopsis:

    "Play your idea today! Using parts of board games, observe your user and find what makes your player frown. Then try out your ideas to make your player smile and laugh. Everyday your player will play your idea, and share her feelings. Everyday you will make your demo more fun."

    I thoroughly enjoyed hosting the workshop, and have decided I would like to evolve this further. So here is: syllabus, help, script, examples, boardgame, and the lecture slides: prototyping gameplay.

    Scoring Quality of Life in Iraq (February 3, 2010)
    Thanks to the Iraq War map by Userr, there is a quick scenario to challenge new and seasoned players for Civilization IV: Quality of Life. Iraq starts at war with England, United States, and Kuwait. Iraq has less than 100 years remaining. Can you improve Iraq's quality of life from last place to first place? To find out, install my mod and play Userr's scenario. The ethical calculus has been expanded to account for fatalities, life expectancy, diminishing marginal value, and the moral values tuned. Examples and explanation of the ethical calculus is exposed in the mod's Python source code.

    Runesinger honorably mentioned (January 18, 2010)
    Independent Games Festival
    Thanks, no doubt, early work by Charlie Silver, the crew in USC Advanced Games Project, and to the delightful music by Andrea Chang. More importantly, have a look at the games that are going to be on the GDC floor.

    Prototyping Gameplay (October 8, 2009)
    Korea Game Conference
    For a videogame, innovating a rule or user interface is risky. Before production, prevent an expensive change, by doing a pilot study. Duct tape together tricks from educational assessment, animation storyboarding, and test-first development to design by example. Take engineering and animation shortcuts to fake a new rule or interface. Play your idea, today.

    Civilization IV: Quality of Life exhibit in Arcadia (October 2 - December 7, 2009)
    Mediateca Expandida Arcadia, LABoral - Gijon, Spain
    An exhibit of artistic and political games includes this mod of Civilization IV, which scores the history of an empire based on making the citizens healthy and happy. See information about other works in the exhibition, or this mod, Quality of Life.

    Runesinger: gameplay = language (August 26, 2009)
    Game Innovation Conference, ISAGA, INTETAIN, TCETC
    Runesinger is a PC prototype of a serious game to practice speaking and spelling Korean. What's particularly innovative, is that the rules of the game embody the rules of language. Likewise, the animation and Andrea Chang's delightful music maps the Korean phonics. This demo has been on tour to conferences around the world: New York, Amsterdam, Singapore, and the final stop at the end of this month, in London. These conferences hosted this educational game: TCETC, INTETAIN, ISAGA, and IEEE-GIC. In September, check back to download the demo.

    Computing Quality of Life in Civilization IV (May 27 and July 12, 2009)
    Games for Change and Logic and the Simulation of Interaction and Reasoning
    The original Civilization IV rewards imperialism through scoring the glory of the empire. I reprogrammed the game to score the health and happiness of the citizens. By adapting John Broome's extended quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), and responding to Derek Parfit's repugnant conclusions, I designed an ethical calculus that rewards restraint, diplomacy and art in Civilization IV. See the presentation and play the mod.

    Runesinger (May 9-13, 2009)
    University of Southern California
    In the Interactive Media thesis show, Runesinger, a PC prototype of a serious game to practice speaking and spelling Korean appears. This will be at the USC School of Cinematic Arts from May 9 to 13. I'd be happy to show and tell (and listen!). This is my MFA thesis, as a test case to answer the question: How can a designer help you learn a useful skill while playing a videogame? Details coming soon.

    The MDA Framework (March 24, 2009)
    Game Developers Conference
    Robin Hunicke, Malcolm Ryan, and Ben Smith are hosting a design workshop. In it, Marc LeBlanc's mechanics-dynamics-aesthetic's (MDA) framework is applied to a practical (and fun) design challenge. Essentially, MDA relates rules to play, and play to feelings. Being keen on this framework, I'm assisting the workshop, and we would be happy to help you there: GDC, Tuesday at 10 in Room 2002, West hall. See details.

    Audio podcast of "Better Game Design through Data Mining" (November 25, 2008)
    Industry Broadcast

    In the last two weeks, while listening to a lecture by Jeffrey Kaplan and another by Ethan Levy, I realized that analyzing how players use your game will remain relevant for years to come. Ryan Wiancko reads aloud an article on analyzing gameplay metrics from an online game. This spoken article and other designers' are free to download at Industry Broadcast.

    Audio podcast of "Fun is Fine" (November 13, 2008)
    Industry Broadcast
    Ryan Wiancko reads aloud my second published article, "Fun is Fine: Toward a Philosophy of Game Design", which was the original inspiration for this site, and my current research into serious games. Ryan's voice is particularly appropriate for the tone of this topic in armchair philosophy, which is all the more relevant today: some games are important cultural experiences that portray the human condition and elevate the minds of their players. The author's introduction causes me to chuckle, because I also wrote it in 2003, before World of Warcraft and many newer MMOs. You may find this spoken article and other lucid designers, free to download at Industry Broadcast. The article grew out of a dialogue on MUD-Dev, so I'd be happy to hear your opinion on the topic.

    Explicit Knowledge Programming for Computer Games (October 23, 2008)
    An article by Andreas Witzel, Jonathan Zvesper, and myself on social reasoning, in which agents model the beliefs of other agents to enhance the user's enjoyment through exploiting these models. I hypothetically enhanced a common scenario in Assassin's Creed by pseudocode of a guard's social reasoning, for the player to exploit.

    Wii media in $5 and 15 minutes (June 3, 2008)
    After reading, hopefully you have enough examples to start experimenting.

    Open Problems in Simulation and Story Analysis (April 4, 2008)
    AISB 2008
    Abstract: The game designer is charged with an aesthetic imperative. The design is partitioned into four channels: simulation, user interface, story, and look and feel. Of these, the simulation and story channels are considered. In a game, the aesthetics of a simulation and of a dramatic story are suspected to be deeply coupled in conflict, choice, and change. Using the mechanics-dynamics-aesthetics framework, the simulation and story channels are isolated to survey practical problems encountered when designing a game, including dramatic elements of the player's choice, conflict, and change.

    HeroCard: Nightmare for Halloween (October 19, 2007)
    Tablestar Games
    Just in time for Halloween, a copy of HeroCard: Nightmare arrived at my door. Along with the others at TableStar Games, we designed this horror-themed board game. The gothic horror town combines the deduction of Clue with the bluffing of Poker. You start the dream knowing where you will die and who will kill you. Your only chance of waking up is to conceal your fate, and reveal each other's. Boardgamegeek reviewers say "Creepy fun for the whole family" and "Clever bluffing and deduction game". Nightmare is available in stores and online at Funagain and Thought Hammer.

    World of Warcraft content design Lecture (October 10, 2007)
    Jeffrey Kaplan, the lead game designer of content on World of Warcraft spoke at Anthony Borquez's Videogame Production class (ITP 280) at USC. Albeit unpolished, the talk, focusing on massively multiplayer games, contained design gems. Read my notes.

    Warhawk (August 28, 2007)
    Incognito / Sony
    The Playstation 3 game, Warhawk receives favorable reviews (84 on metacritic). Last summer, I scripted a few missions and cutscenes, and collaborated on the design of infantry AI and ambient warfare. Check out this multimodal online tactical game at IGN or Gamespot.

    Free Ranger (July 22, 2007)

    You are Rex Rooster and you are saving your sisters from Kenutky Factory farm. A better life awaits for chickens, here.

    Chickens lives' may be ethically significant and free range farming can be ethically preferable to veganism, if you grok Comparative Ethical Calculus.

    Euphonics (May 29, 2007)

    When I was a kid, my mom sent me to the store to buy her a Mr Pibb, almost every day for a while. For my effort, she gave me a quarter. As it happened, the back of that Wolfpack convenient store had one arcade machine; it was Gyruss for a while. Each day I paid one quarter, and each day I learned one lesson. With brief but persistent practice I discovered that learning happens. And I learned to love Gyruss. Twenty years later, I found myself revisiting that arcade cult classic. Read more, or play now.

    Better Violence through Videogames (October 18, 2006)
    While playing Indigo Prophecy, a videogame about a possessed murderer's search for his controlling killer, the in-game representation of the Internet had a story about children gunning down their classmates. The title of the story alluded Videogames claims Children, blaming videogames for real world violence. Quantic Dreams' succinct satire article reminded me of my own longer piece from last year. As a game designer and veteran, I am compelled to raise the concerns for our children: What are the facts of videogames and violence? And, intimately related to this, what are government videogames doing to our children? Read the full article.

    HeroCard for the Holidays (December 6, 2006)
    TableStar Games
    I was elated to see some boardgames that I helped with available online. In the HeroCard suite, these are: Galaxy, Champions of New Olympia, Rise of the Shogun, and my baby, Cyberspace. I ordered each as a gift for myself; I was pleased to find them all available, and on sale, at Funagain, Paizo, and Thoughthammer.

    To explain quickly, the HeroCard system is like Magic plus a boardgame. Tactical duels are dealt with by card play, which enable strategic maneuvers on the board. To oversimplify, Galaxy is somewhat like Magic meets Rummy; Champion is sort of Magic meets HeroClix; Shogun is like Magic meets Shogun; and Cyberspace is kind of Magic meets Carcassonne. Moreover, each of the decks is portable between games, like a streamlined card version of GURPS. For details, read a review by Shannon Appelcline.

    The Devil's Game Design Tips (November 15, 2006)
    69 ways to become a better game designer

    While the Devil must be given his due, he cannot take all the credit for all the insightful methods by which an aspiring game designer may enrich his or her knowledge, creativity, and--most importantly--career. No, the Devil did not directly concoct the majority of the following tips that are well-proven, indeed, timeless techniques for boosting any professional designer. The credit for the bulk of these tips goes out to the designers who have already put them into practice and gained their due fortune and name recognition. Behind the great names of game design, lie techniques and tactics that got them where they are today. Read the 69 ways to become a better game designer, today!

    The Platform Game (August 4, 2006)
    Daniel Boutros
    The game journalist/designer, Daniel Boutros, surveys a handful of the best-selling platform games, noting their common features and distinctions. Dare I say he does for platform games what Joseph Campbell did for myths; he finds a common thread that all the greats share. A true investigator, he dives into the details and reports on the mechanics and aesthetics that distinguish some of the best platform games. Every would-be writer on game studies should strive to this level of quality. Read the article at

    MFA in Interactive Media at USC (August 18, 2006)
    University of Southern California
    This fall I am starting the Master of Fine Arts program in Interactive Media within the School of Cinema-Television at USC. For the next three years, I will be honing my skills as a graduate student and exploring some of my interests in screenwriting, game design software, along with a lot of experimentation in game design.

    HeroCard at KublaCon (May 28, 2006)
    TableStar Games
    TableStar Games is hosting a cash-prize tournament of the first two games in the HeroCard line. HeroCard Galaxy was featured in the $1500 tournament. Here are details on all the HeroCard events at KublaCon: HeroCard at KublaCon.

    Warhawk at E3 (May 10, 2006)
    Incognito / Sony
    Warhawk for the PS3 is making a splash at E3, with demonstration of motion-sensitive controller, next-gen graphics, and playable demos in single-player and multiplayer mode. As a designer/scripter for Warhawk, this is a refreshing milestone. Details are aggregated at IGN:

    ConQuest (September 3-5, 2005)
    TableStar Games
    We'll be testing new prototypes for board games at this upcoming convention. If you're in the Bay Area, stop by.

    One Button Games (June 11, 2005)
    Berbank Green's instructive introduction to the button in games is now linked to the online resources for user interface design.

    Boardgames in Berkeley (June 2, 2005)
    TableStar Games
    Since February, I have been designing an undisclosed game for TableStar Games. They've just opened their website to recruit playtesters. Last weekend, we had a good series of sessions at Kublacon, and now we are testing in downtown Berkeley. We'd be happy to have you come in and play. You can contact us through the website TableStar Games.

    Graph Theory for Designers (March 1, 2005)
    Charles River Media, Massively Multiplayer Game Development 2
    Online appendix for a pair of articles in the book Massively Multiplayer Game Development 2 published by Charles River Media. The articles, titled "Games within Games" and "Worlds within Worlds" discuss the application of graph theory to the design of game, economic, and community systems in MMPs. This appendix includes a model of MMPs, glossary of terms, and links to further reading. Read the appendix.

    Randomness without Replacement (February 18, 2005)
    This article dissects the randomization mechanism common to role-playing games and offers insight into alternative mechanisms to reduce player frustration. The analysis of this game mechanism is given with applications to single-player RPGs and MMORPGs. Furthermore, the probability theory employed is relevant to any game with chance, whether played on a computer or on a board. Read the article at

    Royal College of Art added (February 17, 2005)
    Royal College of Art postgraduate studies in Interaction Design added to the Game Education Guide.

    Game Interface Design (January 24, 2005)
    ITT Tech
    Online resources for the upper division course on user interface design for videogames. This supplements the instructor's manual for the course. It includes the following:


    • Glossary
    • Books
    • Links


    • Is Space Deep?
    • Level of Play
    • Occam's Interface
    • Escaping Realism
    • UI in MMP (Massively Multiplayer) Games
    • Case Study: World of Warcraft
    • Fitts' Golf

    View this game interface guide.

    Persistent World Design (January 14, 2005)
    IGDA Persistent Worlds White Paper
    The Persistent Worlds White Paper by the International Game Developers Association is now online. Gordon Walton and I wrote the design section, which discusses these topics:

    • Design objectives
      Application of (worst and best) case analysis to achieve these objectives: fault tolerance, fairness, replayability, reversibility, and asset appreciation.
    • Social, political, and economic systems
      Introduction to communication, groups, organizations, rituals, and events. Discussion of economic implications of fashion, utilities, and faucets and drains.
    • Design to minimize griefing
      A classification of systems along two axes: finite/infinite and independent/interdependent. The four resulting categories enable a designer to predict community implications of the system, including grief-potential.
    • Player-created content
      From text MUDs to Second Life, the social and legal implications of intellectual property rights are introduced.
    • Designing for the masses and designing for the few
      Introduction to feature and content considerations for niche and mass markets.

    If one of these topics interests you, then have a look at the 2004 PW white paper.

    Second Life Lab (September 8, 2004)
    This is a three-hour laboratory using Second Life to demonstrate team collaboration in three-dimensional modeling in a real-time environment. This laboratory was written for the course Design of Virtual Worlds at San Francisco State University. Read the lab.

    Script and Storyboard Templates (September 5, 2004)
    Westwood College textbook
    Game script and storyboard templates updated in preparation for a chapter in a forthcoming textbook. In this chapter, I explain game scripts, storyboards, control mapping, and contract negotiation.

    Elements of the Psyche (September 4, 2004
    Does Myers-Briggs trump Bartle? Overview of occult history of the Myers-Briggs personality type, through playing cards and its extension to Bartle types.

    Asian MM0 Cultural Design (August 21, 2004)
    Korea and China share a cultural heritage that emphasizes the public self. Both Asian cultures emphasize perseverance, hierarchy, social status, long-term relationships, gift giving and esprit de corps. Albeit in caricature, these cultural values coincide with common game mechanics and social design of MMORPGs. Thus, Korean and Chinese cultures especially value ... Read article at IGN

    Game Script and Storyboard Creation (July 4, 2004)
    ITT textbook
    Here are supplemental resources for the final chapter I wrote in the ITT textbook, Creative Writing and Storyboarding for Games, for use in their upper-division course. This chapter teaches how to write a spec game script (using screenplay format) and draw a storyboard for game preproduction. The resources include: game script template, storyboard template, additional resources, and links. Free online resources.

    The Little Princess and the Bookworm (May 26, 2004)
    With a lot of help from Sheila and Sherry, I was able to take a small step toward one of my life long goals: to create a fairy tale that not only enchanted, but also educated. Here is what we were able to do in our spare time in three weeks: An original children's fairy tale in four languages. Open the book.

    Game Design Education Guide Updated (May 1, 2004)
    Education Guide updated with classes at SJSU, University of Michigan, a workshop at Stanford, additional links including to a game design query of over 3000 schools.

    Listed at (April 30, 2004)
    Site listed in the Game Studies directory.

    The Entreaty (May 29, 2004)
    An ancient call, a modern war
    Taurlos writes: "The war between the Goblins and the Grimlocks have gone on for countless Deochs, both races often asking Aisling's to help them collect the maddening rocks from within the cave. Many have perished in this terrible war, and with no end in sight, so shall many more."

    I'll be running "The Entreaty" at KublaCon this year on Sunday at 6 p.m. The adventure is a D&D 3.5 adaptation of the first epic event in the MMORPG Dark Ages. In it I will also playtest a hybrid form card-RPG. The goal of the cards is to shift mental energy away from database references and computations, and toward streamlined roleplaying, storytelling, and action.

    Web Games Product Overview (April 1, 2004)
    IGDA Web Games White Paper, presented at GDC 2004
    A survey of web and downloadable games including gameplay characteristics. The scope of this white paper is limited to games under 15 megabytes, which excludes most massively multiplayer games. This article is published in IGDA Web and Downloadable Games White Paper, presented at Game Developers Conference 2004. And now free for download.

    Game Design Education Guide (March 25, 2004)
    Want to become a game designer? If you have the disposition, here's some helpful advice to learn the skills. This guide includes information on designing your own major, accredited degrees, and links to further advice.

    MUD Developers Conference (March 27-28, 2004)
    I'm helping organize this year's MUD Developers Conference again. Mostly managing speaker and author relations.

    Better Game Design through Data Mining (August 15, 2003) Cover Feature
    Players spend millions of man-hours selecting optimum strategies in a massive multiplayer (MMP) game. They are getting the best return on investment (ROI) on your MMP game. Are you? Learn when, what, how, and why to optimize player performance from a MMP game designer who analyzed millions of player-hours during several years. Read more at, or my archive.

    Fun is Fine: Toward a Philosophy of Game Design (June 19, 2003)

    "[Do not] mistake yourself for an 'artist.' Our goal is to create newer and more fun games. Art is not our goal." Tetsuya Nomura, Final Fantasy character designer

    The Entertainment versus Art debate flares perennially. These participants may be having fun, but the dichotomy is uniquely inappropriate to games. By the end of this article, we may disentangle the faulty dichotomy. After reconsidering what we think we know about a game, fun, and art we may come to discover that Nomura and Costikyan are correct:

    "If you were to write a Seven Lively Arts for the 21st century, the form you'd have to mention first is clearly games." Greg Costikyan

    Read full article here or at Joystick101

    Reiner Knizia (May 29, 2003)
    Hearing Reiner Knizia speak at KublaCon reminded me why I design games.

    Better Game Design through Data Mining (March 8, 2003)
    MUD Developers Conference
    Players spend millions of man-hours selecting optimum strategies in a massive multiplayer (MMP) game. They are getting the best return on investment (ROI) from your MMP game. Are you?

    In this presentation, learn how to:

      Balance the economy.

    1. Catch cheaters.
    2. Cut production costs.
    3. Increase customer renewal.
    Learn when, what, how, and why to optimize player performance from a MMP game designer who analyzed millions of player-hours during several years.

    I presented this at the MUD Developers Conference.

    Dark Ages Politics in Theory and Practice (September 2000)
    Cited in Designing Virtual Worlds
    Imaginary Realities
    Player-driven political system that I designed and scripted in an MMORPG named Dark Ages in 1999. Since then I evolved the political system each year, so the current has different proportions and expanded structure.

    Tree of Life (May 26, 2003)
    Can you find her lost lover and banish the demons from the enchanted forest before the first day of Spring?

    Tree of Life, a D&D (d20) adventure and expansion, debuted at KublaCon.

    MMORPG Events and Quests (1998-2000)
    Designing and scripting epic events and quests with a continuing storyline that players impact is my favorite task in MMP game design. Here are the epic events and quests I most enjoyed creating.

    To Be: The Magic of Role-playing (March 20, 2003)
    Originally published as a foreword for a guide on role-playing in Dark Ages.

    The Role of Religion in Dark Ages: Online Roleplaying (May 6, 2003)
    Cited in Rhetoric of Religion, Spring 2003

    In 1999, I designed and scripted a polytheistic, player-driven religion system. It included miracles, faith, mass worship, ceremonies, quests, alliances and enemies, and social structure. Recently a sociology student ask me why. Indeed, why?

    Meta-game: Real/Game Transfers (January 2001)
    This post discusses some implications of the transfer of items, value, and skills between a game and the real world.

    Preface to The Design of a Fine Game (June 14, 2003)
    This paraphrase of Oscar Wilde's preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray playfully presents my aesthetic of game design.

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