052: Sailor Moon Sabrina Culyba • Ludoliminal

Our heroes encounter Sabrina Culyba, a seasoned game designer and founder of the studio Ludoliminal. Culyba shares her journey from designing digital games to creating board games, emphasizing her passion for experience design. She speaks about her first published game, Diatoms, and imparts a crucial lesson: the importance of crafting memorable experiences, whether digital or analog. Culyba’s narrative includes nostalgic moments of her early gaming influences, such as Sailor Moon and the societal fears surrounding D&D, underlining the diverse paths and inspirations that shape a game designer’s career.

In this episode:

  • 00:00 – Introduction to Sabrina Solba
  • 00:15 – Starting Ludoliminal
  • 00:37 – Collaborations and Team
  • 00:57 – Passion for UX and Playtesting
  • 01:35 – Early Gaming Memories
  • 02:32 – Journey into Game Design
  • 03:10 – Influence of Sailor Moon
  • 03:40 – Learning Programming and Web Development
  • 03:59 – Choosing a University
  • 04:49 – Reflecting on Dungeons and Dragons
  • 05:23 – Sailor Moon Reboot
  • 06:51 – The Role of UX in Game Design
  • 21:35 – Current Status and Future Plans for Diatoms
  • 31:01 – Plug
  • 32:01 – Deep Dive: Game Design and Storytelling
  • 33:19 – RPG Choices: Paragon or Renegade
  • 34:31 – Fantasy Preferences: High vs Low
  • 34:39 – Favorite Game Characters: Heroes and Villains
  • 36:27 – Overrated and Underrated Games
  • 37:54 – Cheat Codes and Fun Questions
  • 38:59 – Gaming Preferences and Personal Insights
  • 42:47 – Nostalgic Gaming Memories

Sabrina: Sure. I’m Sabrina Culyba, and I am a long-time game designer coming primarily from video games for over a decade. I worked at a studio here in Pittsburgh for over a decade and did a lot of really different, digital games.

Note: the following is an automatic transcript from the episode, but as such it contains verbal gaffes and some mistranscriptions. Thanks for being cool about it.

Starting Ludoliminal

Sabrina: And now I’m doing primarily board games, and I have started a little design studio.

It’s called Ludoliminal. My first game that I’m publishing is Diatoms, which is a cool sci art Victorian themed game about making algae mosaics.

Tim: So it’s just you then. Is it you, the lone shark, or is there a staff?

Sabrina: There’s no staff.

Collaborations and Team

Sabrina: It’s just me, my partner who is actually a professor at Carnegie Mellon and does game development stuff there at the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center. he’s my main collaborator, in terms of in-house. And then I actually do a lot of the design UX stuff as well, although I also do work with, partners for that.

Passion for UX and Playtesting

Tim: I love that you have a background in UX because we actually have a whole set of UX questions that we can opt in or opt out of based on people’s experience with, play testing, user testing, UX, UI.

Sabrina: I love playtesting. and when I think about it. What I enjoy doing. I often, prefer to use experience design because it’s not just about game mechanics or game engine. It’s really fundamentally what happens up here in the brain. And that’s what I’m excited about delivering a great product for. so whether that’s digital or analog or not a game, it’s that experience design that I really enjoy.

Early Gaming Memories

Tim: Going back to a very young, Sabrina, child Sabrina, what was your interaction with UX or games as a child? Do you have what’s like your early gaming kind of memory?

Sabrina: My tabletop experience, was very, I’d say like baseline target now, the basics. Uno Monopoly life. That was what board games were in my world. my parents, my mom was very anti-D&D. So I never played any tabletop games.

That’s because there were some unfortunate, publicized events that happened like in the 80s that got wrapped up with D& D. Even though I was a major fantasy reader and would go to Walden Books, if anybody remembers Walden Books, and pour over the shelves and there was always this end cap or a shelf area completely dedicated to D& D with all these books about D& D.

With dragons on the covers and magic, it looked really interesting and it was forbidden.

Journey into Game Design

Sabrina: I played a lot of digital games, video games, mostly Nintendo and then transitioning to PlayStation, so I did a lot of digital games and that’s how I got, That’s the main thread games-wise that brought me into my career in game design and game development.

Tim: how did you know you wanted to go into video games?

Sabrina: I knew I wanted to do something with computers. and now in retrospect, you can see the pattern of interesting, experiences that I had with the game and it all feels like, Oh, maybe inevitable, but really, when I talk about why I am where I’m at, it’s Sailor Moon.

Influence of Sailor Moon

Sabrina: Are you familiar with Sailor Moon?

Tim: I love Sailor Moon.

Sabrina: So Sailor Moon came to American television when I was in middle school and high school, and I would get up at 5:30 in the morning to watch the new episodes before school. My parents let me do that.

And so I became very interested in learning more about seeing more of shows like this and with their narrative, their interesting narrative structure, and then learning about Japan. I became interested in Japan and that led to making webpages.

Learning Programming and Web Development

Sabrina: Basically I’ve made I ran Sailor Moon fan galleries for years and I learned how to program and, code up HTML pages and that got me really interested in programming.

my high school had the barest bones of programming, but I ended up going into Computer science and I chose my university.

Choosing a University

Sabrina: I got accepted to a couple of places and I went to one. where in the conversation with the Dean, he was like, yeah, we have graduates that go to Pixar or Disney. And I was like, I’m coming here.

This is where I’m coming. I want to do something. I didn’t even, I wasn’t thinking video games or board games. I just knew I wanted to make experiences. I love that you could program a web page on your computer. And then people all over the world could see it. That was like a fundamentally crazy idea when I was in high school that you could, I could code up something.

at night and then put it up on the web and then I could see visitors from Japan and China and Europe and people would sign the guest book and write messages. People I didn’t know would read the page and look at the content and that really excited me.

Tim: It’s amazing.

Reflecting on Dungeons and Dragons

Tim: I also in elementary school fell victim to I think it was mazes and monsters was that movie that came out in the 80s that scared all of America about Dungeons and Dragons. And that was the entire it had Tom Hanks in it. And we have a whole episode actually, talking about it literally was funded by these kind of very, anti Dungeons and Dragons kind of groups and that’s put the scare in people.

And I remember that being a huge topic when I was in public ed, also Sailor Moon is I’m so glad you said that because I,

Sailor Moon Reboot

Tim: I feel Sailor Moon needs a reboot. They can reboot like He Man 40 times over and over on Netflix, but it’s like, why not Sailor Moon?

Part two

Tim: When did you decide, video games to board games? Did that just happen over years or?

Sabrina: so it was a kind of a culmination of a couple of things. I’d been at this studio for over a decade and it’s a place where lots of really different projects. So it wasn’t ever boring, but I was feeling like, am I going to do this for the next 10 years? What’s my next move?

And then I also had kids and, I had a four year old. we designed a board game for family members with them and then we signed it with Peaceable Kingdom and they released it and that was, an introduction into publishing board games.

And also I was. investing in adult friendships of people, my colleagues, like Mike, we mentioned Sean Patton from surprisingly fun games. And so my partner and I were good friends with a couple different, other colleagues, friends, families, and we were investing in time with them. we’re going to have a Saturday.

We’re going to eat food and play games. And we weren’t playing video games. We all worked in video games. We were playing board games. And so I was doing a lot more board game playing. and I just became interested in, playing the game around the table, especially thinking about bringing younger players into playing with older players, and, Decided I wanted to do some of that.

The Role of UX in Game Design

Tim: then you mentioned UX. Is it something just in your career that you’ve exposed to it or study it? Or obviously the principles of play testing and user testing are similar, but it’s, I’m wondering, To my knowledge, UCD or, UX principles, is that taught in computer science?

Cause I didn’t even have a name for my career until I was probably in my thirties. And they’re like, no, this is called UX now. And it’s oh, I was piecemelling it all together.

Sabrina: In mainline computer science, it wasn’t very common, but it was and so my university, they had a program and I took some courses in there. I took like interface design courses and I took some like Photoshop digital. tool courses. So I’ve always been interested in that stuff. And like I said, I came to computer science from designing webpages.

I was literally designing very interface, heavy interaction points. they weren’t super interactive, but they were pretty interesting. I’m dealing with, like, how do I lay this out? How do I do information and structure the journey through this? But I had no vocabulary for it. I did take classes as undergrad and then working in video games.

It’s a very interdisciplinary field. And we routinely had people on our team dedicated to UI and UX. I had many conversations about the nuanced difference between someone who’s working on UI and someone who’s working on UX and, how those roles, intersect, but are not the same thing.

games are all about. how do you guide and yet give freedom to people, which is just a tremendous UX, problem to solve in any experience that you design. Human centered design has been part of growing into my role as a game designer.

Tim: That’s amazing. I don’t know if. Mike said, we both work in software. And so of course, like the software development engineers or programmers or whatever you call them, the devs, there is a very distinct wall of just Ooh, I don’t touch non programmatic languages. That’s CSS. I don’t do, no, I don’t care.

I don’t, that’s not me. And then, but it’s very rare to find people like, no, I love design. And I want to know how the person’s using what I’m making. And so I feel like, Probably I have no experience, industry experience in video games. And so I’m just wondering, is there anything that you can say?

I don’t know, it’s Oh, I worked on X or I was part of doing this game or with video games

Sabrina: the studio I worked at is called shell games. and they do a lot of different things. I’ve worked on some theme park attractions that had video game elements to it that you surely know the name of, but technically I shouldn’t mention because they were made by engineers.

I’ve worked on the Disney fairies, MMO and Toontown. we were the main team for fairies, pixie hollow, when that product was out, and we did additional work on Toontown when it was still live. a lot of the early work of the company was through Disney because, Jesse shell, the CEO of the company came from Disney to Pittsburgh to work at Carnegie Mellon and then started his own studio and did a lot of work with the Walt Disney Studio on digital games.

and now it’s grown and if you’ve heard shell games, you’ve probably heard the name in relationship to, virtual reality. So they made, the, I expect you. To die series in VR and also did the VR adaptation of among us just to name a couple of the games that they’re probably more well known for.

a lot of the other stuff I did was education oriented or what I would call transformational games. So have some kind of other aspect to them. Those are a lot smaller were made for specific communities.

And so probably not things that listeners would have heard of, but really interesting projects and design challenges.

Tim: At what point did you decide to, and maybe you haven’t quit your job and started the design studio or you’re juggling a job. So when did you decide design studio or like board game studio?

Sabrina: it’s a complicated question. I wanted to do something different I’d been at the studio for 13 years, like I mentioned, I was just feeling the itch to do something new and to maybe do more of what, that was a lot of client work typically.

I was thinking like, what can I make? That’s from me to offer the world. I left that job, not because it was bad in any way, just because I needed to leave it for me. Without really a plan. I did a little bit of consulting with, applying game design to a couple of different places doing play testing.

I was thinking about doing board games or maybe doing, digital apps for kids. I was debating and I like everything in life, it was a series of serendipitous encounters. That were extremely meaningful, but I didn’t understand the meaning of the time. I did a video presentation as part of the games for change conference in 2020

When it was 21 when they were virtual, during the pandemic. And it was, Sims four with a kindergartner is a video essay about playing Sims four and reflecting deeply on it with my six year old. and it became very personal about her journey as a player and as a person and a narrative treatise on our family in the context of the pandemic, and it just so happens that, some individual solid who are part of a foundation.

Who are looking to fund game makers because they believed games was a really important strategy to, growing the next generation of math thinkers, bringing kids into STEM careers. So like part of their long term strategy for that is how do we get more thinking games and get more engagement with games?

And they, we started chatting. I pitched some ideas of things I was thinking of doing, and they really liked the idea of a family board game. So I ended up getting funded from them for a year. Basically they, in some sense, were a patron for my work and I worked on. A number of different prototypes. 1 of those was Fraxagon, which became diatom.

So the game that I’m really saying that’s being manufactured right now. Came from that grant, but it all came because they happened to attend a video essay presentation that I did at a conference. it was an unlooked for opportunity. But because they offered me that grant, I decided, okay, I’m definitely going to incorporate.

I’m going to officially form my studio. And I’m going to spend the year focusing on this and start to understand what it would mean to design board games. And then I was thinking maybe I would like to publish because I was very interested in the product design cycle of physical games and not just designing and pitching, but designing and taking it through to when it’s on the table.

and that’s what I’m doing. And so far I really enjoy it. So I think I’m going to do more of it, but I’m trying to maintain a, this is all about growing and learning and seeing what’s next for me.

Tim: It sounds like a lot of this just happened like during or post pandemic. So this is, I’m wondering about the name, where does the name Ludo liminal like in its origin come from? when did you actually tie that to the game design studio?

Sabrina: I was, I believe incorporated in 2021 in the fall and, Ludo’s play and liminal is, you know, in the, in between spaces and I’ve always really it’s tied to how I think of myself as an experience designer. It’s not really about the game. It’s about the intangible elements in between it.

And I felt like if I’m going to pick a name for that, I’m going to put on my website and my business card. I want it to be inspiring for me. And so playing in the space between for me is what the name means. And that is where it came from and why I decided to go with it.

Tim: So then diatoms is the first game of Ludo liminal.

Sabrina: The first game that I’m publishing, as Little Liminal, yes.

Tim: Can you speak to, what you’re comfortable speaking to, about, the process or the history or how, diatoms came to be?

Sabrina: Yeah, the first, I feel like the theme I’ve learned in life is you just don’t know where things are going to go. the first prototype of diatoms, if you look at photos of it, there are aspects of that first prototype that look a lot like this final game that I’ve produced, but it had diatoms as a theme, like microscopic algae was nowhere in my brain.

I was looking for design spaces that intersected with parts of math that people struggled with like, when I spoke to adults, they still had this feeling of. PTSD from this topic of math. And one of those was fractions. and from my prior work, in educational games, I also knew that spatial reasoning, visual spatial reasoning, and the ability to visualize transformations in your head, those are all predictors for success in math.

And so I was thinking about a. Spatial reasoning game that had you make and play with fractions over and over again. And that was the basis and I kept envisioning these hex tiles and my first prototype hand drawn hex tiles had, very similar makeup to the current tile hex tiles in, in diatoms.

and then that game existed as Fraxagon. So the fractions were very close to the surface in that game. You were placing the hexagon tiles and collecting fractions and completing basically a bingo board. And it, it was compelling when you were playing it. But it didn’t have any appeal.

It didn’t have any narrative. It didn’t have any experience that would draw people in. And the fractions were very visible. And even though I felt like the gameplay and the thinkiness of the game had a lot of promise and it play tested well when players finished it, I didn’t feel like it would come off the shelf, no theme, no hook, like why do I want to take this game down and play it if I haven’t already played it? Once you’ve played it and you like that kind of a thinky gameplay, The game can speak for itself, but, you need to invite, I think you need to invite players into an experience and it didn’t have any of that.

It just had the internal engine. and I was looking for how to make the game. successful for players as an experience and therefore have a better chance of being a market success. And, it languished for about a year. I took a version to Unpub in 2022, that actually was this very experimental, legacy style.

It’s just a deck of cards. And you’re playing through this iterative geometric experiment. learning about this alien species that’s comprised of these crystals that propagate in certain patterns and they’re actually communicating. So it’s this very off the wall idea to try to get a theme for the game.

So I was at Unpubbed play testing that, which went terribly. It’s a very interesting idea. I still have the prototype. I still think about it constantly, but it was the first, it was like the first time I was play testing publicly that version. And of course it was. It was terrible and fraught with a lot of problems, even though it was interesting.

At UnPub, I went to the Baltimore Aquarium with my family and I saw a sign on a dolphin tank and it said, we’re growing beneficial algae. And it had a close up microscopic image of diatoms with these beautiful geometric shapes, some of which were triangles and diatoms had, Fraxagon had these textiles and I was thinking about theming and I looked at that and I was like, maybe I could theme the game algae and do a science.

And now when I went back to the hotel for unpub and I was Googling diatoms and I saw images of diatoms mosaics from Klaus Kemp, who’s a, who was a modern day practitioner and JD Mueller, who is a Victorian era practitioner. And I just was like, what is this? And I completely fell down a rabbit hole

My thought was you could be making a mosaic. What if you’re not doing a bingo board? Like the bingo board is the mosaic and you’re collecting the textiles are this algae pond and you’re harvesting these shapes, which represent fractions. And within a few weeks after on pub, I had a version of the game that even aesthetically looks a lot like the final version, like it just, the game found

I became enamored with sharing the crazy story of diatom mosaics as part of what the game is about, and I love that.

I love that people get not only a cool, thinky game, but also this amazing piece of scientific history and art. history that is so spectacularly emblematic of how human curiosity and human art for art’s sake is this beautiful thing.

Tim: Thank you, Baltimore aquarium. I think that’s it’s a beautiful,

Sabrina: sign’s no longer there.

Unfortunately, I was there last year and the sign is no longer there, but I have a photo. I’m so glad my past self took a photo of it. yeah, it was just serendipity.

Tim: I love that aquarium too. And then for prime to like, visit because I love the descending shark tank where you’re actually going down and you’re just being swung around by sharks.

Sabrina: also love that. Now I’m going every year as I’m going to UNPUB, we’re going to the Baltimore Aquarium, we became members.

Tim: Oh, nice. That’s great. That’s phenomenal. that’s a great story. I feel like there’s a lot of people who we had, another UX or, Laura from Dice Invasion on here and she actually invented a game with her child with, Dice and basically it was like, this is amazing. It’s love, but could not find a theme.

And then I think similarly, was that a con? And then someone basically, I think it was a publisher. It says, lady, this is a great game, but you need to see, you can’t just have dice colored dice out. and so then the whole like, Oh, it’s spaceships and they’re capturing dice and then it’s it just just clicked and it’s funny how that click just happens,

Sabrina: I do think getting out of your routine, going places, meeting new people, seeing new things, I have found that is You often can’t think your way out of like with the game when the game gets stuck in a rudder is like pause and I, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I had moments of despair with Braxagon where I thought maybe this game will never go anywhere.

I’ll never find what this game is supposed to be. and then once I did find it, it was only. going out of my routine where it actually encountered something that, that brought that to the game.

Current Status and Future Plans for Diatoms

Tim: And so where, what is diatoms right now?

Sabrina: right now we are finalizing the proofs for the second, factory sample. I have a factory sample that my manufacturer sent. It’s very close to final. There are a couple of things that need to be changed, and we’re doing some iteration to make those things happen. once we’re satisfied that this is probably as close to final as we’re going to get, they’ll make a sample.

They’ll send it to me. If it all looks good, I’ll approve it. And then they’ll start the manufacturing run, and then that will take about 2 months most of those games will go on a boat for about 2 months and arrive. Hopefully, safely in port in the U S, and about 500 of those games will be, sent to backers, outside of North America.

Tim: Have people missed out if they did not jump on the Kickstarter.

Sabrina: Oh not at all. Okay. So first of all, we’re still open for late pledges. So you can go to diatoms, the game. com and click the link there and you can late pledge for the game, and then you will receive your game this fall with all the backers on then next year. I don’t know exactly when, but end of Q1, Q2, sometime in that range, the game will come out, for retail and will be available to some extent.

I am printing additional copies of the game and I have a partnership with, 25th Century Games to release the game under their label so that it will go into distribution with them.

Tim: What else is out there for Ludo liminal? Are there other games in the, what can you speak to comfortably? Other ideas, other themes, other things in the work.

Sabrina: There are and have been other games. Diatoms was not intended to be the first game. Diatoms is nobody’s first game. It’s not the game you would advise anybody to make. It’s got dual layer boards and different types of complicated tiles. And, yeah it’s a lot of pieces. The first game you should make should be cards.

Tim: Yeah. Very pretty.

Sabrina: it’s been a pleasure to work on. I’m quite. Happy with how things are going. I think the game will be as beautiful as it has the potential to be, and I’m excited about that, but it’s a complicated game and I intended to do a different game as the first release, a game that was just cards and dice, that game didn’t find itself, didn’t come together.

I’m still working on that game, actually, that game and three other games that I’m working on are my next. They’re a set of family co op games for kids and adults to play together. 2 of the games are for youngest of kids. 4 and up 5 and up to play with adults

Interesting, for the adults or the older players as well as the kids and then the other 2 games are 1 of which is this 1 of this game. I thought I would release 1st that’s for 7 and up and 8 and up. And so my plan is to do those. Maybe in pairs, like 2 at once. I’m thinking about that.

That’s. Not written in stone, but that, these four games and doing us, us having a small catalog of family co op games is something that I’ve really wanted to do with the liminal and that is what I believe is going to come next.

Tim: I love family of co op games. That is, I love cooperative games. not that I’m opposed to competitive games, but, and then there’s this weird hybrid where it’s like competitive until not when you’re trying to get off the island or trying to get out of the sinking, whatever, but, yeah.

Playtesting and Community Engagement

Tim: I love cooperative games and I love that, you have a set, do you share like about your process?

I’m wondering do you share anything of your process in the, Hey, we’re playtesting, we’re doing this, or here’s a new one we’re working on, or do you or maybe you don’t know yet? Or do you like, Oh we want to sit on it until, X point. Or do you have any, what’s your MO there philosophy on that?

Sabrina: Oh, I definitely share. I’m not a huge I don’t write blog entries, like doing deep dive analysis of, Process, et cetera. I’ve done a little bit of sharing. I did a couple posts on BDG for diatoms. I mostly like to share like in the day of like on Instagram, that’s my preferred social platform because I like the pairing of a visual or a video with a brief amount of text.

I feel like that’s at a level that. You get a little peek behind the curtain. And then of course I do play testing to three of the games. All of the games that I’ve, these four games, they’ve all gone to playtesting locally here in Pittsburgh, including blind playtesting with. Rules that are nowhere close to final at all.

But that’s how I tend, that’s my primary playtesting mechanism for family games is, and even I did that also with Diatoms and Fraxagon. I have local families, I put out a call, families sign up, I drop off the game, or I mail them the game, they have a period to play it without me there, and then they give their feedback.

And then I’m also, as you mentioned, I’ve started up in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon Center for transformational play a Pittsburgh play test. Event that’s happening, monthly, and I’ve now started bringing those games to those playtest events for diatoms.

I ended up doing a lot of online playtesting towards the end of development. I got cooked into some discord communities and I implemented the game into screen top and TTS and I did a lot of playtesting that way for the family co op games. I have some of them in digital form factor, but.

It’s not really as representative of an experience. so I’ll probably, I’m mostly going to be doing physical in person playtesting for those games.

Tim: That’s a great opportunity that you’re extending. I’ve wanted to attend, but life of course. and so then we always okay, we’ll just have to go to Discord communities or table topia or tabletop sim in order to get to the play testing. And unfortunately that is convenient, but.

There is something about no, you actually physically have to make something in space and, but then it’s oh, how does it feel? What’s the weight? I definitely think that’s an amazing thing. how do people find out more about, that playtesting opportunity.

Sabrina: I wish I could give you the URL, but it’s not directing properly. hopefully by the time this airs, you can go to Pittsburgh playtest. com.

right now you can go to Luda liminal. com slash Pittsburgh play test slash, and it’ll take you to the landing page. That we just put together before we were operating under a link tree, and like a Google doc that we published, but we’re starting to believe that this will be something we continue to do.

We’ve been putting together a little landing page with some more permanent information and, ready to promote it a little bit more and bring in more folks.

We are welcoming to all ages. You can bring kids as long as they have a guardian with them. masks are welcome and encouraged for anybody who has health concerns. I’d love to see more, families and other folks from the Pittsburgh area who like playing games come out and play the games from not just little liminal, but other local designers.

if there are local designers in the Pittsburgh area, listening, if you’re working on a game. This is a space to bring your game, get it play tested and meet other game makers it doesn’t have to be that you are incorporated as a company or professional or you’re planning on even publishing it.

It can just be that you are making something and you don’t know where it’s going to go. the hope is to strengthen some of those ties because it turns out there are a lot of people who make, analog and digital games in Pittsburgh and

There’s not really a space for us to.

Tim: Has participation been great? Is it growing? Are more people finding out about it?

Sabrina: typically have, 5 or 6 designers or games running. And then we typically have 20 to 30 people who are attending. So I think there’s definitely a lot more room to grow. I personally want to see more families because I’m interested bringing more families into the play testing process.

And I think it’s harder to find. families, as a designer working, to get playtests that it is to find, other people in your adult demographic.

Tim: Yeah, it is hard. And I had one family of the entire time at pub prime, and I have a family game that is, it’s nightmare of the golden horseshoe and it is super fun. And it was nice to see a mom and a dad and three boys just like playing the game together,

Sabrina: yeah, exactly. And I actually, it’s funny because I’ve heard a couple other people, other designers specifically mentioned, especially on Sunday, that they had kids and families play their game and how different it is to see that demographic and how powerful it was for their thinking about their game.

And so I was very inspired by my experience at Unpub in 2022, which was my first experience at Unpub to as part of why I wanted to start Pittsburgh Playtest.

Tim: You’re doing the good work for game designers. and I think, you are correct. It is very different when you have advanced gamers or other game designers playing your game. And so some of the phenomenal input, phenomenal insight, and, the feedback that you get is really.

Connecting with Sabrina

Tim: What’s the best way for people to connect with you or to follow Ludo liminal or find out what’s going on.

Sabrina: So I have a mailing list for a little liminal where I post. and there is actually a new mailing list for Pittsburgh Play Test for people to get emailed invitations. so at little liminal. com, you can sign up for the mailing list and I send quarterly ish updates on things that are happening. I am most consistently posting on Instagram as little liminal.

I try to, post pretty pictures behind the scenes. I also have a little liminal Tik TOK account, which I post very little on, but occasionally. So if you’re on TikTok, you can follow a little liminal there. Ludoliminal is also on Blue Sky where I don’t really post at all, but I’m also on Blue Sky as Sabrina C that’s me personally, and that’s where I sometimes post thoughts about the experience of making games or being a parent or existing in the world.

my main channels are Instagram for a little liminal and my newsletter

Deep Dive: Game Design and Storytelling

Michael: Can you identify a common thread that ties together all the games that you really love,

Sabrina: I really appreciate the feeling that everything’s there for a purpose, that it’s all been fitted together, that there’s a really strong editing eye on a game, not only what’s in the game, but what’s not in the game. in terms of appreciating the craft of different game experiences, that for me really, makes the game stand out.

Oh actually the game I was thinking about was Gris. It’s a video game. Have you, are you familiar with it?

It’s just, that game is a beautiful metaphor for mental illness.

It’s what I took away from it. and everything about it is telling that story without telling that story. And it escalates in a really beautiful way. I, I really appreciated that game, and I think 1 of the reasons it popped into my head is because it’s 1 of the 1st games I played with my kiddo.

I think was 7 or 8 where it was metaphorical and we talked about the craft of the game and some of the design decisions and How they made it a compelling experience, but also it had a point and a continuity to it.

That wasn’t explained to you as the player, but you could feel it while playing. Anyway, that 1 popped in my head as you were asking that question.

RPG Choices: Paragon or Renegade

Michael: when you’re playing like an RPG , do you take the Paragon path or the Renegade path?

Sabrina: I’m definitely playing the hero and I don’t like making, bad choices. I think I’ve only done it occasionally in an exploratory way. .

Michael: apparently playing particularly evil in Baldur’s Gate, I’ve seen like clips where you get entirely different storylines, entirely different dialogue.

Sabrina: That,

game is one of the games that came to mind because I recently finished the game. to give you a sense of the kind of player I am, my character had, an oath, and I broke it multiple times over the course of the game, not realizing it, sometimes feeling like that wasn’t fair that it broke, but I always fixed it, I always paid the price to fix it, to not be the oath breaker and turn down the special powers, then I did make a branch save to explore the evil, storyline of, a key character moment in one of the characters, aserion, who’s the vampire playable character.

And there’s a moment, towards the end of their arc that you can go super evil or get them to go super evil. I did end up exploring that ’cause it did seem interesting, but I couldn’t leave it there, it just didn’t sit with me as a player, so I had to back out of it.

Fantasy Preferences: High vs Low

Michael: So what is your go to genre? fantasy, cyberpunk.

Sabrina: typically fantasy..

Favorite Game Characters: Heroes and Villains

Michael: Who is your favorite game villain?

Sabrina: Favorite game villain? What are some good villains? I can’t think of an example off the top of my head

Michael: we can rotate back because literally the next question I rolled, was a three and it’s favorite game hero,

Sabrina: Oh, both sides of it.

Michael: the dyad of hard choices.

Sabrina: I’ve really enjoyed the Horizon, series, Horizon Zero Dawn series, and the journey that character took and, the slow unraveling of, okay, what is this world?

And where does this character even come from? I don’t know if you’ve played that series, but, it’s an interesting contrast to Baldur’s Gate because they’re Both really fabulous games in their own right, but also take very different tacks on how to tell a really narrative story., I think Aloy is the main character’s name if I remember correctly.

I really enjoyed going on that journey as that character and getting all the lore of the world and I’m not like a super lore person. and I don’t need to read every scrap of paper, but that game really did a great job of pacing out the lore and of the individual character story and the world story.

Back to the villain.

Probably the last major game that had a big villain was, Oh. Legend, Zelda,

Michael: Oh yeah.

Sabrina: , not to the kingdom, the other one. My brain is not firing.

Michael: No, that’s the whole point of re 12.

Sabrina: what was the one before Tears of the Kingdom? That’s all, that’s what’s being played right now, Breath of the Wild.

Ganon’s an interesting character in the Breath of the Wild series in terms of the ongoing escalation of him as a boogeyman enemy villain character.

Not a very deep villain, but it was a fun game to play through.

Overrated and Underrated Games

Michael: So what is, a popular, but overrated game?

Sabrina: Oh my gosh. I’m gonna, don’t hate me, but I’m going to put Baldur’s Gate out there. And I really enjoy Baldur’s Gate and I beat it. I finished it. However, I played it on the PS5, so I’ll give that caveat. I had so many issues with usability and tedium in that game, that in contrast, Horizon Zero Dawn, gorgeous game, everything fits.

Like it all comes back to editing. For me The horizon games are super well, edited into everything’s there. It belongs there and works. At least that was how I felt as a player. And then in Baldur’s Gate, there were often things who are like, oh, gosh, why is inventory management so hard and such a huge part of this game and why is these act 3.

I just had this amazing act two and now I’m doing like three or four hours of fetch quest minimum to like progress. Then it’s, yeah, I just had some, it had some things that really bothered me that were more about editing than about the games overall potential and the amount of amazing work in that game.

It is an amazing game, but there was a lot of rough edges too. I felt and I heard a lot of people talking, the 1 game of the year in so many different ways. a lot of people really love the game and I did too, but I did wonder about, so much of the, yeah, usability frustrations and rough edges in various places.

Cheat Codes and Fun Questions

Michael: What is the best cheat code that you’ve ever used?

Sabrina: I’ll say the best cheat codes to use are in the Sims. Just give yourself unlimited money because it’s just fun to build in that game and you’re so throttled if you don’t do that and you have to play. Sims is a game where it’s more of a building experience when I engage in it. So cheat codes in the Sims.

Michael: Imagine that you are an anthropomorphized first person shooter. who are you? What world are you in? And what comes out of your gun?

Sabrina: I’m an anthropomorphized first person shooter. Oh, man, I’m just going to go with what I think would be, like, fun and so I do rainbow bubbles shooting out rainbow bubbles and making things levitate or crazy stuff happen. And I’m not a huge first person shooter. gun violence person typically in my gameplay, but I do enjoy like frenetic, zany, action at times, so I’ll go with crazy rainbow bubbles.

Gaming Preferences and Personal Insights

Michael: What type of gamer are if you had to prioritize it, board gamer, card gamer, TTRPG player, video gamer, geocacher.

Sabrina: Geocaching. I went through a period of, playing a lot of geocaching.

Yeah. the things I probably play the most of right now is board games followed closely by video games I haven’t done a ton of TTRBGs. I’ve actually in a three year D& D campaign, but it’s my first time really getting RPG.

Michael: If you were a color mode? RGB Hexa Decimal Pantone. What color mode are you?

Sabrina: I’m going to go with CMYK.

I think I like the breakdown of the colors, the default look of the CMYK color model is more my, like straight hardcore red, green, blue is not like those primary colors is not my typical color model. It’s a better palette. It’s not like my ideal palette, but I think it’s a better palette. So that’s why it feels more me.

Michael: What is an underrated game, that you think deserves, More limelight.

Sabrina: Underrated game that deserves more limelights.

I don’t think it’s that obscure, but it’s quite old. Loom. Do you play

Michael: Yes. Tell people about

Sabrina: captured my imagination as a kid. And I really didn’t have access to a lot of games like that.

I don’t even know how we got Loom. I really, I think maybe it came, there was a period of time where you could go to a Staples or something and buy a CD of like just a hundred, it was like when you could buy like Commander Keen or a whole bunch of like crazy games all on one CD, they were all bundled together.

Has like a music mechanic, it’s got some beautiful, gorgeous, pixel y art in it, I just really, it’s not even that long of a game. and then I had never played the secret of monkey island games until I met my partner and then we just played them all together to devour them. But there’s a Easter egg in that game where a character. It’s wearing it asked me about loom pin in which I was just like, I played Loom, but I never got to the Secret of Monkey Island games. So when I played that later as an adult with him, it was this very charming collision of my childhood and his childhood.

Michael: That is a good story. Secret of the Monkey Island. I don’t think I ever got outside of I remember very early, it must be like level one or whatever you end up in basically, a tavern or something. And you have to, bring the frying pan to the cook.

You have to do all of these super obscure, things just to get out of there. And I never got out of there. And I spent. Hours walking around,

Sabrina: Yeah, it is.

Michael: And there’s like a bird that lands on you.

Sabrina: The tavern is where this Easter egg is.

Michael: Oh, is that where it is?

Sabrina: You talk to one of the pirates and the game is like very low res, 8 bit graphics and then, a full screen, like highly detailed. Pixel art screen comes up of this pirate’s face and we’re wearing a pin that says, ask me about loom and he’ll do a sales pitch for loom.

And then when we got married, we made pins. We made a game for our wedding. It’s called Sabrina and Day’s Adventure SATA, and then we made pins for everybody that asked me about SATA and it has the same like white bordered oval with blue background.

Michael: Wow.

Sabrina: you go, I think you can play it. I think there’s emulators out there. You can

Michael: Loom Titanic adventure out of time. Gabriel Knight to the beast with it. All the kids will like, love this. I just rolled the die, but this is actually our ultimate question. what is your.

Nostalgic Gaming Memories

Michael: Earliest palpably positive gaming memory.

Sabrina: Palpably positive. I don’t know, earliest real moment that I realized the power of games, particularly video games as, I think, which, I think it was, One of the Zelda games. And it was a link to the past. Maybe I think that was what it I was visiting. my parents were visiting friends and we were playing a game on their system.

And I’d never really, I think I hadn’t played many long form story RPG games at that point in my childhood and the game just really captivated me. They let us take it home to play it. And that was the start of me playing, RPGs as a kid.

And just like how amazing the story was. this idea that you play the same game for hours and go through this amazing narrative art really opened me up to what games could be.

Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!