Michael Epstein

Frustrition – Final

Artist’s Statement

Frustrition features a simple enough mechanic, but expresses the ease with which people can frustrate those around them, and be frustrated as well. By allowing players to utilize “kingmaking” mechanics, and by typically penalizing players more for failing trivial tasks, the goal of Frustrition is to drive the players up the wall and to each others’ throats.

The game draws its title from an amalgam of the words Frustration (n: the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something), and Attrition (n: the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure). Combined, I think they express something that many people often feel: that the world around them is out to confound them, and there is nothing they can do about it.

While my original concept was to mimic this behavior with a resource management system, I found through testing that that wasn’t as clear in its execution, and didn’t convey the emotion of frustration with the game. In fact, that original concept was incredibly boring, and often resulted in unwinnable scenarios (which, while also frustrating, is not good design). However, I now believe that this game is not only playable, winnable, and quick (a must for such a casual game), but also fun. While players may feel frustration, I don’t think it is so much in direct response to the mechanics of the game not working now.


The links below are to the rules document and the game’s cards, which should be printed and cut out along the black lines. Other materials required are an 8-sided die, and possibly up to 36 small counters to mark Frustration that players have accumulated.

Frustrition Rules (PDF)
Frustrition Cards (PDF)

Iteration #1: Final – Too Many Mikes (title pending)

My game is a resource management card game, focusing on the social dynamics of a D&D group and their play. The mechanics focus on playing Event Cards (things such as “Critical Hit!” or “Unnecessarily Kill the Quest Giver!”) which alter the players’ Engagement, Joy, and Calmness–expressed as stress tracks–to help them gain victory points. Forming Bonds of friendship or… foeship (?) with other players lets your actions impact them, for good or ill, and help advance the game; and yes, “frienemies” are a thing.

The resource tracker is posted below, as well as guidelines for creating cards. I’ll be making a total of 45 cards, and the game will accommodate 3-5 players. While it may seem cooperative due to the Bonds, the game is still competitive.

The title comes from my old D&D 3.5 group, which inspired this game’s interactions through a very negative experience two years ago. There were 3 Michael’s in the group, so Tiki used to joke that there were, “Too many Mike’s, not enough MC’s!” (from “too many MC’s, not enough mics.”

Tiki’s cool. One of the other Mikes? Not so much.


Game Idea-Too Many Mikes

The Dinglehopper Poster Experience

Artist Statement:

As described in my proposal, I wanted to leverage the name and assets of my last card game, Dinglehopper, in a physical space as an intervention. As Dinglehopper relied on an interesting environment to begin with in its initial format, I felt it would be an interesting thing to use a physical medium to call people to action in redefining the objects around campus. It also could be used to possibly stir interest in the card game, which I was very pleased with, and would like to pursue further.

The core of the experience in designing this intervention was the call for players to act in a way that they may normally not consider: redefining objects they see every day. While we as creatively thinking beings often will look at an unknown item and ponder its purpose, rarely do we consciously look at something familiar in the same light as a new object. We bring our preconceived notions to bear in almost every interaction we have with the items around us, and that can lead to mental stagnation. Dinglehopper exists to shake things up, and to get us as creatives looking at objects as if they were brand new to us.

Documentation and Results:

Dinglehopper, while a fun card game with a lot of potential, apparently does not elicit a great response in the physical space.

I probably underestimated how little time people actually spend reading posters, and even the ones who did stop to read it apparently did not interact with it. Even the friends who I begged to use the hashtag to seed the Twitter account apparently did not; proof of this is that the hashtag #DinglehopperNU remains unused after 6 days of existence, and dinglehoppergame.tumblr.com remains with only myself as a follower. To remedy this in the future, I think rather than using a hashtag, I would link them directly to the Twitter page to follow and Tweet at. Perhaps I would also remove the Tumblr from the equation entirely, as fewer people Tumbl than Tweet, and having it on the poster might have confused players.

I think one of the other major issues that arose in this experiment was poster removal. Several of the posters I had put up in Ryder Hall were not there on Thursday when I checked on them, likely taken down by facilities between Tuesday and Thursday. Perhaps with more time I would have been able to get more approval for pasting them up in public places and not have them taken down, but we’ll likely never know.

I have updated the poster for future game endeavors to direct people to Tweet to @DinglehopGame rather than use the hashtag, and while I don’t have time to post it at Northeastern before this assignment comes to a close, I will see if I can get any feedback from other universities in the future. In any case, photo documentation by me does exist that the original posters were there (not all are pictured here; click images to view full-sized). The Tumblr and the Twitter also will remain up, just in case I decide to start a marketing campaign for the card game in the future.

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New Intervention Proposal

Thinking about the last assignment (the Appropriation), which I really enjoyed the final product of, I decided to extend the theme of that into the next project and make the Appropriation into an Intervention as well.

Which brings us to the return of Dinglehopper.

I have designed a poster that I can hang up on various items around the Northeastern campus, stating that the object it is attached to is “not used for _______”. I will fill in the item’s actual purpose in that blank, and then leave it with the instructions for readers to take a picture and Tweet the result using a specific hashtag (#dinglehopperNU). I have set up a Twitter account and Tumblr to track the Tweets, and will post what I think is the “best of the day” each day next week on the Tumblr. I am hoping this will add a little more imagination to students’ days, and maybe drum up some interest in the original card game as well, eventually. I still plan on pursuing that one independently this summer, so more awareness is always good.

I am thinking of a list of places to put the posters right now; interesting places may include dining halls, janitorial closets, random classrooms, and more. For documentation, I will have the Twitter record of #dinglehopperNU, as well as the Tumblr account. I may try to run some analysis to see if the game grows more popular each day, and may even try getting other schools involved (#dinglehopperBU, for example, could be fun).

Current poster design is Here.
The Tumblr page is Here.
The Twitter page is Here.

IGF Finalist Show and Tell – “Lumino City”

Lumino City is a point and click puzzle adventure game. Released December 3rd, 2014, this game features some very intriguing little puzzles with fun gadgets, and the absolute BEST art style. While I’d found out about this game several months ago, I had not been aware it was out. It is the sequel to the puzzle game Lume, (available on iOS)

The story is very simple: your (Lumi’s) grandfather, the Handyman, has been abducted, and you must go to Lumino City to try and figure out what has happened and where he is. The city is having troubles with power and whatnot, though, and it’s up to you to fix things to progress.

About this city: Remember that art style I mentioned before? The BEST one? It really is. Think a cross between 50’s kitsch and Little Big Planet. As a fan of papercraft projects, this game made me gape the first time I saw a trailer for it. Lumino City is an actual miniature cardboard city. State of Play Games created a full environment out of cardboard, paper, and hand-wired electronics, then photographed and videoed everything to bring it into the game environment. The effect is astounding; I am going to link images here, here, and here, but you really have to see it in action to believe it. I was seriously impressed at how meticulous they were at building the set, and every detail just adds more and more depth to the experience.

The gameplay itself is a point-and-click adventure game with puzzles. Through drag-and-drop mechanics mostly, you can build circuits, place gears, and collect items to use in your journey through Lumino City. The puzzles are joyful in their solutions, the feedback is clear, and they’re just challenging enough to make your brain work at it while not being frustratingly impossible. Further, while I didn’t look through it, according to the Steam Community, the “Handyman’s Guidebook” your grandfather leaves you before he’s abducted contains tips for every puzzle in the game, though there’s also a lot of other stuff in there to decode.

All in all, for an indie point-and-click puzzler, this is top-notch. I definitely believe it deserves to be in the finalists for Excellence in Visual Art, and honestly, I could see it spawning a whole new generation of papercraft game assets.

If you’re interested in playing through this adorable game for yourself, it is 30% off until March 15th on Steam.

#YitzLives – Proposal and Call for Comments/Suggestions

Inspired by Celia’s “Tiamat Media” pervasive game experience at DragonCon, I would like to do something similar regarding the Shillman Cat (who, I found out, is modeled after a [now-deceased] stray cat from Haifa named Yitz). Hopefully this will include a Tumblr blog with regularly scheduled updates, an ad or two taken out in the Huntington Times to build interest over time (perhaps even with a fake letter to the editor or column), and perhaps a Twitter account as well (though @shillmancat already exists; a conundrum, to be sure). All  this to convince people that the cat has a sinister purpose, ulterior motive, or some other dark secret, and only with the combined belief of the student body can it be stopped and Yitz laid to rest once and for all.

I am currently researching not only the cat and Robert Shillman (the man next to the cat statue on that stone slab), but also various social media platforms to use with this. Tumblr, Twitter and the school newspaper seem like the easiest to access in a short period of time, but I feel like doing a scavenger hunt as well would be fun for adding more “game-y” aspects to the quest to stop Yitz. If I could get Mr. Shillman on board with this as well, that would be absolutely amazing.

For this particular post, I am seeking comments relating to possible sinister plots, ideas on how to spread the message further, (as well as activities students can do to get more engaged in the game), methods of tracking and logging the adventure, opinions on the validity of this project for the assignment, and any other advice that you feel may add to this experience. Please comment below, or message me privately via social media or email with your suggestions.

Thank you in advance!


Dinglehopper is a game of forms and functions, though not necessarily the actual combinations thereof. Inspired initially by both the dictionary definition of “appropriation” and Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” Dinglehopper is an homage to all those who ever looked at a tool and said, “Wouldn’t that actually be useful for…?”

While the core judging mechanic is very similar to other judged term-matching gamesDinglehopper differs on two main points. First, it uses verbs instead of nouns and adjectives. As such, it allows for a more active approach to judging; you can not only think about whether a magnifying glass can be used for paddling (whether a boat or a bottom is up to the judge), but you can actually test it out! Second, Dinglehopper uses found items from in the play environment. Thus, it becomes more fun the more interesting places you play it in. Recommended locations include restaurants, on airplanes, and science museums, as each provides exciting new objects to ponder the uses of. Due to the game’s relative simplicity in components and rules, I could even see it being a great game for keeping small children occupied as well while on-the-go.

Future plans for Dinglehopper include coming up with small expansion lists (possibly themed around certain genres or for different age groups) and attempting to get it up on The GameCrafter as a print-on-demand game, possibly using “mini” or “micro” cards, to fit in with the travel-based nature of the game. Based on feedback during initial playtests, I will be modifying the verb list slightly to make them more applicable to multiple items, as well as simplifying the rules to fit on a single card. As well, if I publish it, I will likely include a deck of “object cards” that players can use to play the game even if they’re stuck in an otherwise empty room, as not everyone has as neat an apartment as my friends in the playtest video do. While that takes away a bit from the appropriation aspect of the game, it does increase the portability and ease of use. That said, in the rules I will encourage the use of objects around the play area for the game.

This, of course, assuming that Disney doesn’t come after me for using the word “Dinglehopper” in a game title. Wouldn’t put it past The Mouse, honestly.

Link to Rules Document
Link to Card Document (print double-sided on cardstock and cut along black lines)
Link to Playtest Video

Thanks to Wendy Epstein for her graphic design advice and Adobe Illustrator tips. Also for listening to me talk about this game non-stop while I was working on it.

IndieCade Game Selection – Cat On Yer Head

I downloaded the crowd-based game “Cat On Yer Head Storybook” from Playniac in London (submitted to IndieCade 2014). I technically opted for the 24-page sample book (rather than paying for the full version), but this abbreviated version of the game still has the basic mechanic in place, and I can see it being a really fun game to experience at (rather nerdy) gatherings.

In effect, it’s a literal cat-and-mouse chase game. One player starts with an imaginary cat on their head, another starts with an imaginary mouse. If the cat player taps the mouse on the shoulder within 30 seconds of starting, the mouse loses. If they evade the cat, the mouse wins! The cat and mouse can be passed to other players by tapping them on the shoulder; to know who’s who, the cat player must loudly say “Cat. Cat. Cat.” over and over again, while the mouse does the same.

It’s fun to imagine someone messing with the gamers by pretending to be a mouse player, but being a decoy instead. In fact, Playniac supports user-submitted rules and modifications to the game, even including an official submission form for mailing in. The full version of the play book includes variant rules and options for play such as mouseholes and cheese for the mouse player to interact with. I might pick it up eventually, but sadly I am rarely at events with 15+ people (rules state you need between 15 and 1000 people; I’d LOVE to see this happen at a concert or sporting event, but alas, getting the rules to that many players could be problematic). I’ll try to run a mini game of COYH (we’re short a few people, but it could still work) in class this Friday, but we’ll see what happens.

Brownie Battles: Appropriation + Mechanics = Microgame

The following is a link to a Google Doc of Brownie Battles, a dice and roleplaying-based microgame relying on giving “stats” to everyday household objects.

Brownie Battles


Artist’s Statement

In creating this microgame, I wanted to think not only about mechanics, but about what it means to “appropriate” something. A dictionary definition reads as, “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” The important part here is that one is taking something for their own use, in this case, play.

When thinking about how to make a game out of appropriated objects, I considered the intrinsic meaning of those objects to be a key design piece. We all give meaning to small items around us, whether this is simply “like” or “dislike,” or something as large as, “the most cherished item I have from my relative.” When appropriating something, you’re stripping it of that meaning, and so that left me with a question: what is the meaning now?

To answer this question, I decided to make a game about giving new meaning (through mechanics) to an appropriated item. Brownie Battles derives combat statistics and abilities from these appropriated items, thus giving players a new way to look at items they may have around. No longer is a small cup just a useful tool to have around the house; now it’s the purview of a smart, aloof house sprite wielding a sword and shield. This addition of meaning to appropriated items drives Brownie Battles, and I hope you enjoy playing it.

Arthur Ganson Video Links

Arthur Ganson’s machines are on special display at the MIT Museum in Cambridge (in their “Gestural Engineering” exhibit). He hand-makes the machine aspects of these kinetic sculptures (even the gears are hand-made with welded wire), and they’re fascinating to watch in motion. Brilliant pieces of engineering as art.

Below are a few of my favorites that utilize found objects and create whimsical scenarios with common materials. There are many more, and I highly recommend going to see them at the museum in person.

Machine with Wishbone

Machine with Oil

Machine with Roller Chain