One of the craziest twists of PAX Prime this year was finding myself in the green room of the Chainsawsuit live show with Bobak Ferdowsi (aka NASA Mohawk Guy). I wasn’t sure if he would be interested in talking to some random civilian about space stuff, but within a few minutes we had struck up a conversation about the Curiosity rover and her new autonomous navigation software.

Bobak and I emailed a bit when we got back; I sent him some of the spec work I’ve done for NASA over the years, and he invited me to visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory when I was in town for IndieCade.

Sure enough, I passed NASA’s security clearance, and Bobak came in on his day off to show me around. JPL is a place that’s fascinated me since I was very young, and the visit felt like kind of a pilgrimage. I got to see ATHLETE, my favorite space robot, and walk through the Mars Yard, JPL’s simulated martian terrain. I saw Voyager’s golden record and took a photo with Bobak in the EDL mission control room from the Seven Minutes of Terror video.

In some senses JPL to was surprisingly, disappointingly normal; JPL employees are not all assembled in mission control like in Apollo 11, wiping sweat from their brows and issuing orders, they do not write with space pens, and they do not eat astronaut food. But every time I began to see JPL as an ordinary office, we’d walk by something extraordinary like a NASA police SUV or U.S. Government trash cans.

The most extraordinary thing I saw was in the Dark Room control center, where Bobak walked us through the data from the Deep Space Network coming through on the big monitors. While we were there, we watched a 45,000 sq ft antenna in Madrid receive a transmission from the Voyager 1 probe, the only object that our species has ever managed to send beyond our own solar system. Ten hours earlier, about 9.5 billion miles out from our sun, Voyager pointed it’s tiny 23-watt transmitter back at Earth and sent some of the first instrument data from beyond our solar system, and there it was, coming in live, packet by packet.

On the way home, I remembered this conversation Brandon Boyer had with Voyager’s Twitter account. He asked, “Do you feel lonely? Do get scared? Does Twitter help?” Voyager responded, “I’m usually too busy to be lonely, but when I lose contact, I have a ‘panic’ routine to refind Earth. Someday this will fail, on your part.”

In the world of design, gaming, and tech, we strive for things like profitability, independence, convenience, or fun. Those things are important to be sure, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that we are still capable of making instruments of discovery that will outlast our species.


Hey do you guys have this problem where it’s become difficult and confusing to send and receive instant messages?

Back in the good old days, almost every instant messaging client used this open standard called XMPP, Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol. Today there’s a lot of difficulty because the big players in chat (Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook) are dropping support for XMPP or supporting it differently, and it’s only going to get worse - Google has announced that they’re dropping XMPP in November.

My needs for a great chat program are pretty simple:

  • A single application that runs on my Mac
  • It shows me a list of all my friends who are online
  • I can click on their name and chat with them

Here’s all of the things I have tried to get instant messages to work and what’s wrong with them:

  • - This is the obvious solution for Mac users, the default OSX message app. Messages used to be a great, minimalist IM client back in the iChat salad days, but now I get confused using it. Stuff is constantly moving around and it freaks me out when I get an “iMessage” in my IM client, every device I own goes haywire and I feel like I’m getting woofed. Another huge problem is the inability to “close” a conversation. When I’m talking with someone, I like leaving the chat window open to remind me to pay attention. When I’m not talking to them, I like to clean up after myself and close it. Finally, in, I never understand if I’m IMing someone or sending them a text message. Sometimes I accidentally bombard someone with a bunch of messages and they have to tell me to chill out because they’re on their phone.
  • Gchat/Google Hangouts in Gmail - Gchat, which has now been rebranded as “Google hangouts” are the only useful network for instant messaging because nearly everyone is on it. The problem is that the interface in the gmail sidebar mixes online and offline contacts with no differentiation which makes it impossible to see who’s actually online, and I never notice when I get new messages in a window in Chrome.
  • Gchat/Google Hangouts in Adium Adium is this free, open source IM client and you can make it look and behave however you want. For a while this was working perfectly for me, but when Google switched “gchat” to “hangouts,” I lost the ability to filter which contacts appeared in Adium and which didn’t - my buddy list suddenly started showing everyone I’ve ever sent an email to, making it nearly impossible to find someone in the list. Of course Adium has a “remove” feature, and I would periodically go through and remove unwanted contacts, but then after I restarted it there they’d be again.
  • Facebook - I don’t have a Facebook.
  • HipChat/Campfire/etc. - We use HipChat for Cards Against Humanity, but you can only be logged in to one “company” at a time, which makes it useless as a general communication tool. Campfire doesn’t have this restriction but almost nobody leaves it on in the background, which defeats the purpose of an instant message.
  • Skype - The Mac Skype client is a bunch of bullshit.

What do you guys use for instant messaging? Is there a solution that I’m missing? Do you have a way to make hangouts or work for you?


Around the time that I started working on Humans vs. Zombies, I made a decision to be transparent with my personal information on the internet (i.e. I post my email,, all over the place). Ever since then, I’ve gotten a huge volume of email… at least a few hundred messages a day. People email me about all kinds of things, but mostly they ask for advice like, “how do you make a board game?” or “how to you make a good Kickstarter project?” I’ve started a few projects in response to those questions (like Tabletop Deathmatch and Kickstarter Office Hours), but there’s this one question which is much more difficult: "How do you get good at design?"

I don’t have an easy answer to that question. Design is this complicated set of skills ranging typography to like hardcore psychology, and plus I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing; I’ve never taken a design class in my life.

I think people usually expect me to say that they should learn special software or buy expensive fonts or something (in fact, people often phrase this question as, “how do you get good at Photoshop?” which I would compare to asking how mastering Microsoft Word can make you a great writer) but the real answer is so much more complex.

This is all by way of bringing up the thing I want to tell you about, which is this short book about design called Cadence & Slang. See, when people send me the design question, my answer has become just a link to this book.

From the author:

Cadence & Slang is a very small book about interaction design. It contains a set of evergreen principles that pertain to any kind of work in technology, from websites to iOS apps to native software. There are many great texts about user experience, but people have repeatedly returned to this one for its clarity and its succinct statement of purpose.

This is a bit of a soft sell - for me, Cadence & Slang is the textbook on design and design principles; more than anything else, this book taught me best practices for design, but also how to think about design and solve problems.

It’s full of technical information like what kinds of buttons to use in what situations, but it’s also a beautiful little meditation on empathy and language and the nature of information. It’s the answer that I wish I could give people when they ask me what design is about.

Cadence & Slang has been out of print for years, and the book’s author Nick Disabato has posted a Kickstarter campaign to print an updated second edition. The physical book is $50 (worth every penny, it is a beautiful design object that will last a lifetime) and trust me when I tell you that when these things are gone they will be gone; I’ve been begging Nick for a copy for years and I still don’t have one.

There’s only a short window to get this book and I couldn’t recommend it more strongly. Once you read it I think you’ll start doing what I do and sending it to everyone who asks how you became a competent designer.


Hey friends, there’s only about 3 days left on my Werewolf project, and I’m posting some cool updates:

One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make about moderating a game of Werewolf is what to do about sounds during the night. Some people ask players to tap on their knees or clap to block out any noise; other players like the mind game of analyzing all of the accidental rustling during the night.

I prefer another option - playing some creepy, atmospheric music to block most (but not all) noise and help set the mood. I commissioned my friend Robin Arnott (Deep Sea, Antichamber, SoundSelf) to make a ten minute piece of music for the night portion of Werewolf, and he made something really incredible. Today we’ve released it for you to use in your games under a BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license.

You can download “Night” by Robin Arnott, Brian Frank and Eduardo Ortiz here.

There’s more information about Werewolf here, or you can check out my Kickstarter here.


Hey friends, I’m making a version of my favorite game, Werewolf. You can back it on Kickstarter for $10 or download the whole game for free.

Check it out at



At a PAX East panel today, Cards Against Humanity designer Max Temkin launched and funded a Kickstarter campaign for his version of a card game called Werewolf.

During the presentation, which included Kickstarter employees, Temkin took the audience on a trip through what it’s like to launch a Kickstarter project. He walked through the crowdfunding platform’s back end, which includes setting categories, uploading product images and videos, creating descriptions and more.

Temkin submitted the project onstage, and Kickstarter’s project specialist Luke Crane and head of community Cindy Au talked it over as if he weren’t there. Approval usually takes 24-48 hours, but they approved the project onstage.

Within minutes, it exceeded its $230 goal.

After the project launched, they took questions form the floor, which was filled with former, current and potential Kickstarter project runners.

"Everyone’s gotten help from people who’ve been there before," Temkin said.

He encouraged people who want to use Kickstarter to reach out to those who’ve been there before.


Hey friends, I would love your help on new project about my favorite game, Werewolf.

I’ve hired my friend Elaine Short (my first partner at Maxistentialism) and we’re reviewing every published and folk version of the game to make a giant, open source collection of rules, modifications, and history.

If you’re a fan of Werewolf, would you help us out by answering a few questions about the game?


We’re officially moved in to an office!

Cards Against Humanity rented this old pharmacy in Logan Square and turned it into a coworking space for ourselves and some really cool people here in Chicago.

We’ve had a busy four months of construction, redesigned the interior of the space, and even designed our own furniture with materials we salvaged from the original interior.

Our friend KC made these amazing custom window treatments for us, and me, Jana, and Brent painted and decorated the space.

There’s eight amazing people working here, mostly on projects they began on Kickstarter:

We’ve also opened up one desk as a kind of residency - every three months, we’ll invite a really cool person to come in and work on a new project with us, and we’ll cover their rent. We’re really happy to have Mike Boxleiter of Mikengreg here now, working on a new game. 

Me and Rob Loukotka have also rented an art studio next door (I’ll post pictures of the studio soon) - he’s working on his ACME prints and building out a wood shop and I’m working on a screen printing studio.

This whole space is one of the my favorite things that I’ve ever made, and it’s totally already worth it, because now I get to work with these incredible people every day.

There’s already some really cool things happening at the office (last night Shawnimals were here working with us on a secret new project; right now Ryan from The Men Who Wear Many Hats is here working on Organ Trail), and I’m looking forward to tons of game nights and talks and all kinds of amazing things in the future.


As part moving in to the new office, I decided to finally list my business on Google Maps so when people search for “Maxistentialism,” it pops up.

Unfortunately, when you try to register your business on Google, they require you to put in a phone number, and I didn’t want to do that for the following reasons:

This left me with only one option: I had to build my own robot that I could send forth to battle telemarketing robots when they called.

To build my own robot, I bought a number on Twilio ($1/mo), which I listed with Google. Now when that number gets called, my robot recites a twenty minute passage from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities before allowing you to leave a message, which it then transcribes and emails to me.

The number is (312) 756-0182 - give it a call.

Here’s how to make your own phonebot:


Back in the early 1900’s, my new office used to be a pharmacy, and during the renovation, we were lucky to salvage the original pharmacy shelving. I used the wood from the shelving to design our desks, being built now by the Haymaker Shop here in Chicago.


Hey guys, I got an office. Here’s a photo of the office taken in 1910. I’ll move in with a bunch of friends around February. Everyone there is working on stuff they started on Kickstarter. Me and Rob also got the building next door, which will become a wood shop and screen printing studio. We made a website for the office at

If you live in Chicago and want to come hang out, let me know.


New business cards, what do you think?


I redesigned my Tumblr. What do you think?


The year in tweets

I spent a lot of 2012 traveling, and Twitter helped me meet new people and stay in touch with my friends. Here’s some memories of my year on Twitter, and my favorite tweets of the year.

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Cards Against Humanity finally nailed down the legal paperwork with CBS to make our Giant Bomb expansion pack. Here’s how I sent it over, and here’s the video of the unboxing.