Steam Trading Cards

I recently added Steam Trading Cards to your Ditty of Carmeana experience.

First of all, let me say I’m not exactly a huge fan of trading cards. It’s not really the cards themselves, it’s the fact that you cannot turn off notifications for them. And it’s super irritating to see a notification and it turns out to just be a trading card drop. So I was on the fence whether I even wanted to do them. But I did want to do some of the point store stuff and you kind of need to make trading cards for that. (It turns out a whole lot about this process is “kind of”. They do have some fixed rules, like no text on backgrounds, but mostly approval is based on guidelines that they are quite heavy-handed about.)

Lowly indie developers like me are not permitted to make so-called community items like trading cards and backgrounds until the game has met certain qualifications that Valve doesn’t reveal, but Googling most people think it means a certain number of sales. My experience agrees with this, as soon as my sales hit a certain numerical milestone, the ability for me to add community items was unlocked. Odd thing is, the number of sales was considerably lower than the number I saw on-line. I don’t know if Valve relaxed their criteria (last mention I saw of a specific number of sales was a few years ago), but I suspect the fact that I had made a native Linux version that ran on Steam Deck and had a decent number of Deck users might have put me into a lower tier. Or, maybe even the lack of mainstream hype meant that it was easier to determine that my sales were real and the game wasn’t just a cheap asset flip games whose sole purpose was to profit from distributing Trading Cards. (The developer gets a small commission when community items are traded on the Steam Marketplace.) Either way, when I saw that community items for Carmeana had been unexpectedly unlocked, I decided to go for it.

The Ditty of Carmeana is not an ordinary, typical game, and I wanted the Trading Cards to reflect that, but the Valve reviewers were not exactly on board with this. I wanted the community items to do whimsical, random things. The cards were all for characters in the game, but I wanted to make some weird choices for the characters for no reason at all. And I had some trouble communicating with the reviewers the cards I made were all characters in the game, and that the oddball selection actually does form a complete set in a way that makes sense for my game. (We won’t get much into whether they were overreaching and withholding approval for creative reasons rather than technical ones. They have some objective requirements like no text appearing in any of the items, which is fair, but whether something forms a complete set is getting close to a creative decision.) But I get it, in a way: they don’t want bad actors doing things to artificially drive up trading card market prices, and some of my cards definitely looked like they might be trying to do that.

Eventually, 9 of my 10 original card ideas were approved, though I made some edits to some of them to emphasize their characterness. The one sticking point was a card for Philomena, who is a character in The Ditty of Carmeana that probably only a tiny percentage of people are even aware of, though I’d suppose a decent number would have at least seen her in the passing. I thought it’d be amusing to have a trading card for that character. Thing is, the visual style for Philomena was rather different than the visual style for other characters, and the Valve reviewers did not like that.

Now, I believe they would have eventually allowed it if I’d pushed, but I decided maybe it’d be amusing (and bewildering, and ironic) if I changed the visual style to be more like the other cards, and thus avoid a fight. As a bonus, even fewer people would know who the hell she was. I tried using an AI to generate an image of her, but found that unsatisfactory (and, in a few cases, disturbing). I finally bit the bullet and made a new 3-D model of someone who doesn’t quite have the correct hair style or clothes but it does at least capture her attitude pretty well. And that, an image that never appeared in the game, but by golly it looked no different from the other cards, is the trading card that was approved. Which is funny.

But, it is what it is. Valve is perfectly within rights to decide what to distribute on their platform. And sometimes creative interference can lead to creative inspiration. So, thanks to the trading cards, Philomena (and the 3-D model I threw together) will have a much larger role in the full game.

The only real question is, who the hell is Philomena?

Here’s a look at the Trading Card and Point Shop items for The Ditty of Carmeana.

Here’s a look at one of the spiffy Ditty of Carmeana backgrounds on my Steam profile:

Updated: March 16, 2024 — 4:04 AM

Betchdel Test

The Ditty of Carmeana does not, in my opinion, pass the Betchdel Test.

In brief, passing the Betchdel test means that work of fiction has two female characters, with names given, who are having a conversation, and the conversation is not about a man. The comic strip artist Alison Betchdel came up with the test as a tongue-in-cheek observation of how unimportant female characters are in many mainstream works (as in, so unimportant that they never say anything unless it’s to or about a man).

The closest The Ditty of Carmeana comes to passing is when Tabitha exchanges a couple pleasantries with her fellow fairy Solena, and later where Tab exchanges a couple lines with Lady Samiltish Stone. But those do not come close to being a conversation; they are only a couple words in a larger conversation where men are present.

Personally, I don’t consider the Betchdel Test a barometer of the feminist-correctness of any particular work; there is a lot more that factors into it than a simple three-point criteria can decide. The test’s main insight is as a high-level observation about works collectively. So the mere fact that The Ditty of Carmeana fails the test doesn’t concern me.

Nevertheless, because of the existence of that test, I made a conscious decision to reevaluate whether certain characters might be more interesting, funnier, or even just more varied if they were female characters, and also to start being deliberate about it and not just default to making characters male out of laziness.

Lady Maral is the most notable example; that character was originally Lord Maral. I decided it was a perfect character to change gender of: a competent character, of some importance (as far as cut-scene NPCs go), not too written in that changing gender would be a whole rewrite, and absolutely no reason at all it had to be a man. (I also had an idea to throw in a few cheap Hillary Clinton jokes. I think only one made it into the game though.)

Another notable one was Jocelyn, the very rude shopkeeper who sells Lance the Maps app, who in fairness only existed for about an hour as a male before I thought it’d be funny if that was a woman.

I won’t list them all, but I believe around 6-8 characters were either originally male, or would have been male with lazy writing, who ended up female in the game.

I am definitely not claiming that The Ditty of Carmeana is a paragon of feminism, but thanks to the Betchdel Test, and even though I wasn’t really trying to pass it, I hope it helped in a small way to move the needle and at least avoid lazy writing resulting in just defaulting to male characters. Based on things I’ve read Alison Betchdel say, I would guess she’d agree that’s more important than actually passing the test.

Side story time.

The flashback cut scene were Lady Maral appears is actually the very first scene I wrote that made it into the game. Long before I ever conceived of the game, I had an idea of a comedy sketch where a page rushes into the King’s court to breathlessly report, “Your Majesty, Your Majesty, the princess is gone!”, and the king is just like, “Yeah whatever, I’ve got important things to worry about”, as a way to parody all these movies and games where the whole mindless plot comes down to, “Oh no, we’ve got to rescue the princess!” (This was a little bit before a lady named Xena made the idea of a warrior princess trendy.)

I wrote a few lines for that scene in a notebook in high school. The proto-versions of Lady Maral and Lord Staconphy were in that scene, one (Maral) was hyper-competent and aghast (and male), the other (Staconphy) would just agree with whatever the king said to kiss up. That was a parody of how the evil vizier always seems to be the competent one and the good, lower-ranking advisor is an inefficient pushover.

I lost or threw out the notebook, but remembered that scene when I started down writing ideas for The Ditty of Carmeana. I grafted it onto a couple other ideas I had, also predating the game. One was an idea I had for a video game intro where a proto-Lord-Tapton appears and asks the player if they want to A. send a single hero to defeat the enemy, or B. deploy the army. If you select B, you instantly beat the game because any enemy that could feasibly be defeated by a single hero would be easily overwhelmed by a whole army. Another idea I had (in a very different context) was a king who did nothing but spend every waking hour of his day managing the kingdom while his supposed advisors did nothing; this was inspired by that SNL sketch where Ronald Reagan was projecting senility in public but turned into a mastermind wheeler-dealer behind closed doors.

The drama over the Ricohedron, the King’s obsession with the polls, and nailing the Queen are the only major notes of that cut-scene that I wrote specifically for The Ditty of Carmeana.

Updated: July 4, 2023 — 11:51 PM

A lesson in letting go

One of the popular gags in The Ditty of Carmeana is the three tests you have to pass to prove that you are a graduate of the University of Chingaim. This post is a little bit about how the game design for the tests came about.

It was my original intention to have about ten majors, and all of them would be extremely difficult tests except for one super easy one. Part of the puzzle would be to figure out which one was the easy major. And in order to discourage trial-and-error, the difficulty of convincing the Registrar to let you take the final for a different major would ramp up: you’d need more and more money for each new major you declared, or something like that. Then, I was going to put in a bunch of clues all over campus about what each major entails to help the player deduce the easy one. In fact, you can see a little remnant of that idea still in the game: there’s a little stand in the room with the Registrar and Bursar with a pamphlet on a choosing a major.

The problem with that original concept is, if I did that, I would have had to come up with, and write, ten tests.

In the end I came up with about seven test concepts, and fleshed out three or four of them.

  • The Aerospace Engineering exam was obvious: A. it was what I majored in, and B. it is an archaetypal example of a very difficult field. (“It’s not rocket science!”) I thought it’d be funny to just play that one straight: you say you majored in Aerospace Engineering, you get an actual, senior-level Aerospace Engineering test. Though I did throw in a few passing jokes about how airplanes and satellites haven’t been invented yet.
  • The Bowtudgel History test was a pretty obvious as well since my nature is to write long backstories. Now, for most writers, the clever and sophisticated way to work in a backstory is to reveal it with a stream of little clues. But I thought it’d be mildly amusing to just infodump the backstory right into the game in a few places. And once that happened, there was enough fodder in the game to make a test about the lore. Hence the Bowtudgel History exam. This test wasn’t something I was planning to make funny; I wanted it to be something that might be an interesting challenge for players who enjoy lore.
  • The (Ac)counting test. I don’t remember exactly when or how I came up with it (I don’t appear to have written it down in my notebooks). The joke was that this would be a major popular with student-athletes: that was one way you’d know it was the easy one.
  • I had an idea for a final exam in Medicine; it would be a real medical exam but with a twist I thought was pretty funny. (I won’t reveal the twist here because I might actually still do this at some point.)

At this point I was running out of ideas. I came with a few more concepts I didn’t flesh out: actual questions from the SAT (which wouldn’t have been legal, incidentally, they are copyrighted), a physics test where the correct answers are “game physics”, and I remember a few other ideas.

Wanting to release the game in my lifetime, I decided that three majors would suffice, and the puzzle about figuring out which was the easy major would no longer be a part of it. (I mean, there’s not a whole lot of ways to discourage trial-and-error when there are only three options.)

That’s a lesson is letting go, but it’s not actually the main lesson.

Those who have read other blog posts I’ve written are aware that sometimes I do things in the game just to mess with people. Well, at some point toward the back end of development, after I had already settled on the three majors and was working out the logic with the registrar, I had an idea of how to tweak achievement bros.

I had already been planning to randomize the Aerospace Engineering questions, but my reasoning was so that you couldn’t list the answers in a guide. The idea was to preserve the difficulty of the test. And I did realize that it would bother people who have to get every achievement.

But then I thought of a better way.

Originally I was not going to have the Registrar issue corrected results, but as I was play-testing I decided that it might seem suspicious, so I added a mechanic to do that. (This it turned out to be trickier than it looked, by the way. In fact, I botched it and released the game with a bug that prevented achievements.) And when I did that, I realized that this would really mess with achievement bros. They’d be thinking they beat the system, that they could just cheat on the Aerospace Engineering test by applying corrected results, and get their achievement, only to realize they can’t. The idea that people expecting to be able to cheat would see the randomized test and yell, “Oh no they changed!”, was too hilarious to pass up.

And I definitely did want to pass it up. The other thing offering corrected results did was to undermine the Bowtudgel History test. Remember that I had wanted that test to be a challenge for players interested in lore to dig up facts. Well, that doesn’t happen if you put in a way to cheat, because people will just cheat. And couldn’t simply disallow corrections for the Bowtudgel History test only. I needed to have an example of a test where cheating actually does work and actually is helpful: that makes the burn far worse when your cheating it thwarted.

That is the true lesson on letting go. I wanted that Bowtudgel History test to a real challenge, but the joke was more important, and I had to let go.

In order to get some measure of the original challenge back, I have added an achievement where you have to dig up the facts in the Bowtudgel History exam. In the course of a single game, you have to visit the places and/or do the things where these facts are revealed, and then pass the test, without viewing the corrected results at any point.

It’s not really the same, but it is a small measure of what I originally intended that test for.

Updated: March 4, 2023 — 3:06 PM

The Game Room

In this post I explain a little bit about the Game Room of the Chateau, the room with all the animal heads: how it all came about, decisions I made, and so on.

I suppose almost anyone who played the game and and is familiar with early 3D games realized that the Chateau was my parody of Resident Evil (the early ones, specifically, the ones where the emphasis was on the survival parts of the survival-horror, and which contained lots of puzzles). In fact, I even had Lance play a piano excerpt from the very same work that you have to play in the original Resident Evil: Beethoven’s Sonata #14. I wonder if anyone realized that. Beethoven’s Sonata #14 is more famously known as Moonlight Sonata, which is the tune you must play on the piano Resident Evil. The only thing is, the excerpt Lance plays The Ditty of Carmeana is from the less-well-known allegro movement. But it’s the same work.

Obviously the chateau needed more fleshing out than a piano room, and furthermore, I needed a way to force Lance to visit most the rooms in the Chateau, and some puzzles to solve. At some point it occured to me that the room I had been calling the Game Room, and where I was planning to put a possibly functional billards table, and maybe other games like skiball or even arcade games, could instead be a different kind of game room: a room where you mounted all the game you killed. And then, the fetch quest could be to find items that those animals need, and they would give you keys as a reward. That was how the general concept came about, and it seemed to me to be a good Resident-Evil-style puzzle, but a little sillier, as does befit a parody game.

But that’s just a concept. I still needed to flesh it out. I needed to figure out what the animals were, what items they would need, what their personalities were, and so on. For some reason, I found myself highly reluctant to do this. I suppose it was because once I came up with this idea, it was no longer a tight parody any more: it wasn’t based on a particular scene or level that I could draw ideas from. I would actually have to invent these characters, and their quests, from scratch. I actually remember searching the web several times to see if there was some other game with a similar concept that I could parodize. So I dragged my feet on it for a long time, and tried to think of alternatives, but couldn’t come up with any other ideas that I liked.

It took a trip to the DMV to get me moving. Thanks to the election of a certain groups of Highly Paranoid People to the United States Congress in the early years of the millenium, it was decided that if we wanted to use our driver’s license as identification to board an airplane, it would have to be a Real Identification, and Real ID meant that you had to show up to the issuing office in person to prove that you existed, and could not just renew your driver’s license on-line. Of course, I waited till the last minute to do this. The day before my 41st birthday in 2018, I stood in line at the DMV in Los Angeles. It was a Saturday, and the line stretched out into the street, easily an hour’s wait, and I couldn’t come back another time because my license would expire the next day. So I stood in line, and in the next 40 minutes I got more writing done on the game that I had in probably the previous four months.

At first I brainstormed on what the animals were and what their problems were. What I came up with seems kind of obvious in retrospect.

Any respectable hunter will have a deer mounted in their game room, the more points on the antlers, the better, so a deer had to be one of the animals. What is the deer’s problem? I thought about an odd piece of trivia I knew, that reindeer are the only species where female reindeer have antlers, and thought I could base a quest on that. Originally my idea was that the deer was a male deer who dressed as a female (as an entertainer or something) but no longer was able to because his antlers didn’t fall off in undeath, so Lance would have to find him a book or something that explained that female reindeer had antlers so the deer could dress up as a female reindeer.

A lion was obvious as well, another animal head every trophy hunter wants. I came up with the idea that the lion was resentful of the deer’s central position in the room despite the lion being king of the jungle, so Lance would have to switch them around. (Seriously, do an image search of a hall that has animal heads mounted. A deer or moose with lots of antlers will almost always be mounted most prominently.) Then, because it would be hilarious in light of the fact that the lion’s resentment was based on being an apex predator, I decided the lion would be a vegan.

I had an idea to use a rubber duck as one of the animals because I actually own a rubber duck that I take with me to certain social events (long story). I thought it would be funny if one of the animals was a rubber duck who wanted to take a swim, plus it would give me something to do with the bathrooms.

Then I came up with a wolf that was depressed, and Lance would have to find antidepressants. I have no idea where that idea came from, or why it was a wolf. (I have a vague feeling it might have been that the wolf was upset about always being characterized as a villain, but I didn’t write down the reason in my notes.)

Finally I figured at least one animal would not be happy to be stuck with the other animals and would want earmuffs or something to get peace and quiet. I did not assign that behavior to a particular animal, but I did write down possibilities for the last animal, one of which was a polar bear. I didn’t make it any further because, to my surprise, I made it through the DMV line in only 40 minutes.

That was how I came up with what the animals would be, and what their quests were. (It would evolve, of course. I decided to go with a donkey instead of a wolf because, quite simply, I could not find a usable stock model for a wolf. And, of course, the male crossdressing deer turned into a trans female deer.) But that still left an important aspect left to do: their personalities.

At least for me, that was much easier because personality often emerges as I write. In fact, I pretty much had only one guiding principle for what the animals’ personalities would be. Think about it. You have five different animals from different ecological niches, who were killed and resurrected, and now are living together in the same house.

Yep, the animals’ personalities are based on reality television.

I didn’t allude to that in the game at all. I don’t watch reality TV so I didn’t feel like I would be able to do it justice to make a parody of it, instead I just used it as an inspiration. One doesn’t have to watch much reality TV to know that it’s about as far from reality as possible, and that the personalities are carefully curated to cause as much drama and conflict as possible. And that’s the principle I used when writing the animals.

So of course you have the one person who’s so completely full of themselves they think they’re a friend to everyone even though no one likee them. You have the token nice guy (in this case, nice girl) who actually does like and is liked by everyone. You have the person who wants everyone to leave them alone. You have the complete jerk that is just a thoroughly dispicable, rotten person, who people often get the wrong idea about because they’re outwardly cute. I guess I’m not sure if depression makes much of an appearance in reality TV, at least not the kind of depression Ass exhibits. And there are certainly reality TV personalities I didn’t get to, like the stuck-up diva. But again, this is not reality TV, that was just the inspiration.

So there you have it: the animals in the game room are based on the cast of a reality TV show, whose stories I came up with while standing in the line at the DMV. I’d have to say they were definitely my favorite characters to write.

One other fun fact: the animals at one point had names. I got rid of the names when I realized it would be way funnier to just say “Ass” all the time.

Updated: September 16, 2022 — 10:46 PM

Some words on Game Design

I have seen many people wondering whether some unusual, annoying, funny, or just weird aspect of the game was deliberately designed that way or not, because you just never know for a game like this. It turns out, the answer is usually, “It’s deliberate”.

In the very long post linked below, I share some details about the design decisions I made for The Ditty of Carmeana, and how it’s reflected in the game.

WARNING: THIS POST IS SUPER SPOILER HEAVY. Do not read if you are still having fun exploring the game, it *will* reveal some pretty.

Updated: May 29, 2022 — 6:30 PM


I admit to having casually watched a few of the recent Twitch streams of The Ditty of Carmeana. Watching video game videos is not something I ever really do, unless I am watching my own game so as to exploit streamers for free play-testing, or if I want to see a particular scene from a video game. A good number of the things I see in streams baffle me, and I will write a post about that later.

But there’s one thing more baffling than just about anything I’ve ever seen. I saw three streams where the streamer got lost and just wandered around aimlessly for awhile, until they stumbled into the correct location, or someone in the chat told them to pull up the Maps App. (Also one streamer who never managed to get the Maps App. Oh well that’s what you get for not listening to Tabitha.)

You’re a twitch streamer. You play video games regularly. The ones who I watched steam video games at least on a weekly basis. A big chunk of your life is wrapped up in video games, be it as a free time hobby, a legitimate side gig, or a full time job.

How on Earth can you be one of these people, and when when you get lost, your first instinct is not to pull up a map?

Updated: April 24, 2022 — 11:25 AM


It took a few more days than I expected, but at last, on April 16, 2022, I have released the Ditty of Carmeana and can throw off the shackles of guilt forever.

It’s about two weeks later than I originally promised, but honestly I’d have to say the wait is worth it. The hold-up was voiceover: I had got started way late, had pretty lofty aims (we recorded about an hour’s worth of dialogue), and it just turned out to be too much to get done before April 1.

I took advantage of the wait to add a few bonus features that I wanted but didn’t consider a priority.

  1. I added a certain way to create items that was only a minor side thing. I don’t know how much it helps but it adds a little dimension.
  2. Added a new app to Tabitha’s touchscreen that is an advanced version of an app that appeared in the Demo. I really, really wanted to do that app, it was one of the first ideas I had after deciding to create the full* game, but it was also so frivilous, and not exactly a simple to program. But I had time to get it in with the V/O delays.
  3. An obscure item that lets you easily get what’s otherwise a really hard achievement. It’s more of a meta item, as there’s no information about this item at all in the game.
  4. Some changes so that the game acted reasonably when you open Steam Overlay. (Especially, I made it reliably not hide the mouse pointer, which it would do sporadically.)
  5. Gamepad support. Yep you can play The Ditty of Carmeana with a gamepad. Even though I had gamepad ni the demo, and prefer gamepad to keyboard/mouse for this kind of game (third person action/adventure) I didn’t consider it a primary goal, as most PC users don’t bother. But with the extra time I got it back the game in and working. (If I’m being honest, Steam Deck is a big factor as well.) It’s called “Partial Gamepad Support” in Steam because there are a couple odd places where you have to type something in (and I did not want to add a popup keyboard), but for the most part, gamepad support is full and you can play it entirely with gamepad.
  6. Linux support. (Steam Deck was a factor there, too.) Distributing Linux games is a big time headache because of the brain-dead way Unix-like systems manage shared libraries. I didn’t really have a chance to test it on other Linuxes, and it’ll probably crash on any system that’s not a recent Debian/Ubuntu release, but it is in there.
  7. Fixed at least one thing that would have crashed the game that I probably wouldn’t have noticed, as well as a whole bunch of less serious issues.

Apart from fixing the crash, none of these are really super important from a big picture perspective, compared to things like making sure the game is robust, has a clean not-annoying interface, and runs smoothly in Windows. But they were things I wanted personally, andI feel they added to it.

So, in spite of the delay I think it was ultimately worth it.

Anyway, the game is finally released, so go buy it.

Updated: April 16, 2022 — 3:00 PM

Release pushed back a few days

Just an update: Was hoping for April 1 release of The Ditty of Carmeana, but it will be delayed a few days to get all the voiceover in.

Everything else is done, and I’m now taking advantage of the time to get in a few extras and do a little more testing.

Updated: March 31, 2022 — 2:57 AM

Release Date: April 1, 2022

I’m planning a relase on April 1, 2022.

The game is done, more or less. I have some art assets to still put in, a couple minor additions (such as putting in a few instances of one kind of shop), and finally auditing for any remaining issues. And more testing, of course.

And voiceover.

I wasn’t even sure I was going to do it until a week or so ago. Now I’m planning to, and it’s perhaps the main reason I pushed the release back three weeks.

Updated: March 5, 2022 — 2:58 AM

Provisional Release Date

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I’m about on mile 990.

Right now the date I’m aiming for is March 8. (Yes, 2022.) That is provisional and probably optimistic. The date could slip back a week or three, depending on how well testing and last-minute changes go. What’s not going to happen is for this to be something that keeps getting put off. Come hell or high water, I’m going to release this game within a few months from today.

(Well, let me amend slightly. There is one possible development that could delay the release by a few months, but this is a very low probability. On the order of 1% chance or less. If that happens I’ll let you know and you’ll see why.)

So where is the game at?

It’s pretty much done (except for some artwork that’s still in the pipe, and one final scene). I am at the stage of development I call the rolling-pin phase: I play through the game in detail and fix everything I see as soon as I see it. No more additions to to-do lists (ideally): this is the phase where I check stuff off the to-do list.

After the rolling-pin stage is done, I will enter the killing-my-children phase of revising dialogue: that’s where I go through the dialogue and delete anything unnecessary or unhelpful (or could get me canceled), so as to waste less of your time than I’d otherwise be wasting.

After that it’s lots and lots of play-testing. Once I’m satisfied the game is relatively unlikely to crash on a wide-scale, I’ll finalize the release date and continue play test until the release.

At the same time as play-testing there will be other things on the side: promotion, dealing with Steam issues, and (hopefully) doing a couple things of an optional nature I wanted to get in.

I will keep you all updated as I get through these milestones. Everyone who played or witnessed the old demo, I appreciate your patience, I hope it will be worth the wait.

Updated: January 21, 2022 — 9:20 PM
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