Thought Knots

The meandering musings of Joey Cato

Category: Games

Stranger Games

Posted on February 3, 2017  in Games, Projects

Re-imagining Stranger Things as an interactive 1983 video game collection

For my recent Netflix Hack Day project, I wanted to create something based on Stranger Things, an original TV show that debuted last year and quickly appealed to my interest in 80’s nostalgia. Having seen a few fan-based video games following its popular release, I felt equally inspired to make some kind of video game contribution as well. It also interested me to design something in the process that was more era-appropriate. Since our Stranger Things story begins in 1983, it seemed logical to aim for an Atari 2600 aesthetic. Even the show itself referenced Atari, so that was all the convincing I needed 🙂

In the end I decided to borrow game-play elements from Frogger and Pacman ( though the demon slugs were loosely inspired by the Brain enemy’s cruise missiles from Robotron ) Projecting the game screen onto the various TV sets was a bit of an afterthought ( I had recently noticed that the television set makes numerous appearances throughout the episodes, so I figured including them would improve the immersion. )

Just as I experienced with My80sTV, this project was an absolute joy to work on. And I’m very grateful for the recent attention it’s received.

Click here if you’d like to play Stranger Games.

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Category: Games

Space Hex! (HTML5 Game)

Posted on January 21, 2013  in Games, Projects


Space Hex! is another web game I created while playing around with HTML5 Canvas.

This one is puzzle-based (no lightning-fast reflexes required 🙂 ) It should run on most platforms (Only sound was missing when I tested on iPad / Android )

To clear each level, Gorch must collect all of the Orbs. Movement is automatic ( as triggered by any valid A* path that opens up between Gorch and an Orb. ) To create such a path, you’ll need to rotate the hexagon rooms. The game is designed to start out easy but becomes progressively more difficult (please don’t hate me when you get to Level 10 🙂 ) Good luck!



Category: Games

Space Cavern (HTML5 Game)

Posted on December 20, 2012  in Games, Projects

I wrote Space Cavern back in December of 2012, while I was spending some of my vacation time learning all I could about HTML5. In the process I spent a lot of time playing around with the Canvas API. This game is a result of that educational pursuit.

The premise of the game is simple. Basically it’s a retro-style 2D platformer where you must guide your rocket ship (using WASD or arrow keys) through the cavern and negotiate the various obstacles until you reach the end. I was inspired by Super Meat Boy’s difficulty, so I aimed to make this game similarly challenging.



Category: Games

Super Logic Grid! (Win32 Game)

Posted on June 17, 2006  in Games, Projects


I’ve always been a fan of logic grid puzzles, but I never came across a video game that emulated it well. This was my attempt to do so, but my additional aim was to also make it more fun and intuitive. You can click on the grid with left or right mouse button to add O’s or X’s. Each time you select a tile, the status will update to reflect its logical translation. To make it more entertaining, each level was designed as a chapter in the story of Commander Gorch and his space adventures.


Category: Games

Gorch Trading Game Engine (Win32)

Posted on July 4, 2003  in Games, Projects


Back in 2003, I had an idea for a strategy-based space-themed card game. I wanted to playtest it originally with a paper prototype, but due to the fact that Ron, one of my strategy buff friends lived out of state I had to resort to an alternate plan. So I developed a network-based card game engine we could use to play the experimental game against each other. It worked out very well for us. Unfortunately, during the playtest process I learned that the game wasn’t as fun as I’d imagined it be (basically the concept is to collect planets and build fortified shields around them before your opponent tries to attack.) As we played, I discovered it felt very imbalanced.

Anyway, the upshot was that the program worked very well and I didn’t need to waste any printer ink/paper. Also, because I designed the engine to be game-agnostic, I could use it to explore other new cardgame ideas, simply by modifying a directory of image and XML files.


Category: Games

Cube Slide Match (Win32 Demo)

Posted on July 10, 2001  in Games, Projects

This is just a small demo written as an experiment to see whether playing a 3D version of a sliding block puzzle would be fun.


Category: Games

Paper Rock Scissors 2000 (Win32 Game)

Posted on July 15, 2000  in Games, Projects

I had a lot of fun making this game. The idea for Paper Rock Scissors 2000 came to me one day while I was trying to imagine a strategy game that would be incredibly simple for anyone to learn and play. My experience with playing strategy games up until this point had been largely filled with frustration  (i.e. BattleTech and its complex rule-systems, tedious table look-ups and hexagon math) The first thing that came to mind was the classic childhood game Paper, Rock, Scissors we all discovered whether on a playground or on some parentally-supervised road trip. I thought it would be a nifty well-balanced game mechanic to exploit. However, I had to overcome the hurdle of randomization, since that didn’t lend itself well to strategy (although today some would beg to differ. ) I solved this concern by establishing a deck of pre-ordered game pieces which players would draw from.

In essence PRS 2000 is a tile-based strategy game where each turn a player is presented with a random game piece (paper, rock or scissors) that they must drop onto the playing field. When a piece is dropped, the canonical rules of Paper, Rock, Scissors are applied against adjacent tiles, resulting in a zero-sum victory for the player or opponent. To accomplish this, defense is preemptively handled first. For example, if a blue player drops a rock on the board next to a red player’s scissors and paper, then the red player will score the victory flag (since their red paper would initially defeat the blue rock.) Each turn a player drops their piece and as gameplay progresses, the board eventually fills up, making players think more carefully about where to drop their remaining pieces. The winner is the player with the most victory flags at the very end (after no more open tiles are left.)

I coded the original prototype of this game as 2-player DOS application, but later I rewrote it as a Win32 application. Eventually, I added single-player mode (CPU follows a weighted-sum strategy) as well as two-player networking mode over TCP/IP. To make the game more attractive for long-time strategy enthusiasts, I added optional game pieces (dynamite, nukes, land mines, and treasure chests)

For the graphics I modeled the pieces in 3D with Amorphium then touched them up with a pixel editor.

Special Thanks to my good friend Will McWhorter who composed the theme music. He even made a version with vocals!


Category: Games

Gorch’s Quest (Win32 Game)

Posted on June 9, 2000  in Games, Projects

Gorch’s Quest is a tile-based space adventure game inspired by Legend of Zelda.

You are the young hero, Gorch, who must save his planet from the attack of an alien empire that indulges in galactic domination. To do so, you must navigate the catacombs of the Planetary Defense System that has been sabotaged. Find and return the five crystals to the main control room so that the defense system can be reactivated. Good Luck!

I learned a great deal while making this game. For example, I found that by creating the level editor as the very first step, it made it much easier to scope out and visualize the game world. This led me to quickly reconsider the game objects I had initially planned. Had I waited until later, it would have taken me much longer to complete the game. Also, I learned what not to do. By this, I’m referring to MFC/GDI which I used exclusively for the graphics and animations ( with the exception of OpenGL for the 3D rendered-walls ) I was able to mitigate some its performance issues by employing sprite-sheets, but things would have been much smoother in the long run with hardware-accelerated graphics.

Outside Credits: Thanks to Will McWhorter for composing the background music!




Category: Games

Galactic Gorch II (DOS Game)

Posted on May 1, 1995  in Games, Projects

Your home planet Zardoff has been invaded by the evil overlord Vexx and your citizens depend on you to protect them. To win the game, you must survive 9 waves of enemy strikes.

This was my first shoot-em-up game. I had written it as a Galaga/Space Invaders clone. Each enemy ship has a very unique style of movement. To make the game-play challenging, the player would have to contend with multiple enemies at a time, requiring careful maneuvering of the ship.

Written in C, it originally evolved from MVPPaint’s sample source code (bitmap rendering example) Incidentally, I also used MVPPaint to design all of the game art.

Some trivia: Technically there was no Galatic Gorch prequel. Rather, it was just a simple prototype of a triangle moving on-screen. I thought it would be funny to name this like a sequel, following Larry Ellison’s act of titling the first version of his database software as ORACLE 2.



Category: Games

Jurassic Park: Text Adventure (BBS Game)

Posted on August 1, 1993  in Games, Projects

After reading Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel, I felt inspired to try and capture the experience with my own game. To give you a bit of context, this was back in the early 1990’s, when BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) ruled. JP:TA (Jurassic Park: Text Adventure) was written as a BBS door application in C which I had been learning around that time. There weren’t any graphics other than the ANSI title screen.

JP:TA was designed as a combat-centric RPG-lite game. The main goal was to explore the island as one of the book’s characters and use your limited weapon arsenal to wipe out the remaining dinosaurs. It required a fairly simple strategy of  pursuing the weaker dinosaurs first, gradually building up your experience until you were ready to take on the final powerful T-Rex.