Level Zero Games

During my time at Columbia I was getting students together for projects under the banner of Level Zero Games. Now, Level Zero Games LLC continues that tradition as a project-based company, collecting people for specific projects and using the shared resources of LZG to help them bring innovative and original concepts to life!

Level Zero Games has worked with over 20+ people on a variety of projects; video games, a world-wide selling card game, Intro to Coding Children's Summer Programs, introductory Minecraft Modding/Java tutorials for ID Tech Camps, and more!

Net Gain: Corporate Espionage
Welcome to the year 2043. Information drives the new economy. Secrets can create and destroy empires. Corporate Brokers lead the shadow war, manipulating secrets to grow their own power while devastating their enemies… they’ll do whatever it takes to come out ahead.

In Net Gain, the player take on the role of a corporate broker, hired by a powerful conglomerate to sabotage their competitors by any means. You’re in charge of investigating targets, planning missions, assembling teams, and leading the operation to success. All in a world that’s rapidly changing every day…

Node is a card game in which players take the role of hackers uncovering and tagging a corporate server. Each turn players place cards to build up the game board by overlapping squares of like color. Each card has a grid of 2×3 squares with two of the five colors represented. If a player expands an area of color to be the largest number of squares on the board (of that color) they then claim it with a control marker. Whoever controls the most colors when the last card is played wins, or you can lock out your opponent and immediately win the game by capturing all 5 colors at once!

The game is very quick to learn and takes less than a minute to grasp, but the tactical subtleties are very rich.

I worked on the design of the game, wrote the rules, and did all the art (card, box, marketing). I also did the business of getting it printed: finding the best printer, confirming art proofs, selling, marketing, getting distributors, etc.

Creators: Joe Locastro, Jordan Booth, John Gosling
Artist: John Gosling
Net Gain: Stories

Net Gain: Stories is a game for Android phones and on the web about Interactive Fiction Near-Future Corporate Conspiracy!

This story engine features interactive fiction, art, and music from the dangerous world of Net Gain, bringing players into the setting, and enriching their experience of the world.

The first story featured is “Open Hand”, about a young broker who smells blood, and strikes! The opportunity is fleeting, but if he can take it, he’ll move up from freelance to being a true Company Man…

Net Gain: Stories
Producer/Designer/Artist: John Gosling
Music: Ross Matsuda

Open Hand
Interactive Design: John Gosling, Joe Locastro
Artist: John Gosling
Writer: Joe Locastro
Music: Ross Matsuda

Level Zero Games @ Columbia!
These projects were created with my peers while I was a student at Columbia College Chicago. At this point LZG was just a way for me to make it easier for all of the teams working on our projects to collaborate and pool resources, and was a fantastic experience as I learned to manage the company servers, websites, repos, and other services, while maintaining communication within the groups, sharing useful tools, and creating my own contributions.
Columbia Manifest! 2010

Manifest! is a end-of-the-year festival in downtown Chicago put on by Columbia College, where seniors and alumni submit works of all types to show.

For the first time ever, Level Zero Games got it’s own section of the “Interface: Interactive Arts and Media Exhibition” gallery in the Hokin building To set up our own arcade. We included Sir Tet, The Sunset, Grave Robber, and Depths on the machines, a table with Forces, and piles of the paper games Whistlechain and LOCKS to be taken freely.

Sir Tet’s Recycling Plant
Sir Tet is a puzzle game “remix” of an old classic. In Sir Tet, the grid is filling up with blocks pushed up from the bottom of the screen, and the player is given a random tetronimo shape to cut blocks out. The overall goal is to keep the shapes from overflowing the grid by severing them from each other, making them fall. If all the blocks in a shape you cut are the same color, they charge a power-up of that color: Red blows up “dead” blocks, blue freezes the grid in place for a few seconds, and green turns the blocks around your next cut into “gold” blocks. Dead blocks cannot be cut out, and must either be dropped so they shatter, or painted gold with the Green powerup. Gold blocks act as any color, making it easier to get power-ups, and a cut with all gold blocks charges all the powers at once!

Original concept was by Brendan Gilbert, I gathered a team and got this thing made, and made significant changes to the gameplay throughout the process to flesh things out and make it a fully playable, balanced, and fun game. I also created the original placeholder art, and acted as a “Technical artist”, converting the Artist created images into actual game assets our programmer could use.

It’s first showing was in “Art of Play 3″, at Columbia College Chicago.

It’s second showing was at our debut Manifest! showing, in the Hokin Gallery, at Columbia College Chicago.

Sir Tet
Producer: John Gosling
Designers: Brendan Gilbert, John Gosling
Programmer: Mike MacDermaid
Artist: Anthony Sixto
Sound/Composer: Gary Kupczak


One day Kasia told me she wanted to make art for a game about deep sea fish. So I started one.

The concept is simple; as a deep sea Angler fish, you must hunt down smaller prey in the darkness to brighten your light, making it easier to see other prey and keep an eye out for the larger predators. If your light is bright enough, you attract a male that attaches to you (and dims your light again). Attract five males, and you win, spawning a new generation of Angler fish. The game’s soundtrack is a haunting piano, which also punctuates damage, feeding, and victory.

I originally made a design so that I could do all the programming/sound/etc while Kasia did the art, but we got the very talented Marty on board so I improved the design of the game to something more significant and fitting his talents, but still a small-scale project. We also got my room mate Ross Matsuda to create the haunting piano soundtrack for the game, and the piano-based sound effects!

I was the designer/producer, and  helped Kasia with making the art into assets (properly sized, sprite sheets, etc.), and trained her to do these things herself.  We also got a young artist to contribute background elements, like terrain and flora features.

The game was shown at our debut Manifest! showing in the Hokin Gallery, at Columbia College Chicago.

Depths (PC/XBLIG)
Producer/Designer: John Gosling
Programmer: Marty Trzpit
Artist: Kasia Blasik
Additional Art: Colleen Griffin
Music: Ross Matsuda

Some robots can run

Grave Robber is a simple “Catch” game. The player controls the Mad Doctor at the height of the Black Death, who – like a kid in a candy store – is gathering up bodies for his experiments. Catch dirt in the cart to cushion the bodies, and up to 5 bodies per cartload. If you catch a body without enough dirt, or get the Doctor hit directly, you’ll be stunned, taking precious time away! Collect as much as you can each night, for the more bodies you bring back the more experiments you unlock in the Mad Doctor’s castle!

When I founded the Game Production Club, I started Grave Robber as a flagship project to show others in the group the sort of scope and style of projects they should pursue. After it had served it’s purpose, it was put on hold while Mike and I pursued larger projects, but we came back to finish the game for Manifest!

I did the initial concept, design, art, animations, sound, tasks, etc. Pretty much everything but code, which is Mike’s department. When we restarted the project for Manifest, we picked up Chris Stockbridge to replace some of my placeholder artwork, and Dan Levin to get us a few sound effects and make a new cut of the Danse Macabre. My art is still used for the Game Wrapper, the castle’s base, and all of the doctors animations.

The game was shown at our debut Manifest! showing in the Hokin Gallery, at Columbia College Chicago.

Grave Robber
Producer/Designer/Artist: John Gosling
Programmer: Mike MacDermaid
Artist: Chris Stockbridge
Sound: Dan Levin

Forces is a tactical combat game, made to be easy to get into and introduce players to tabletop wargames. The board is made up of landscape hex pieces with different terrain, that the players assemble into a battlefield. Depending on the gametype (Annihilation, King of the Kill, or Defend the Castle), different tiles and stating locations are used. Then they each select one captain who is the “face” of their army and is quite strong, and has a powerful special ability. They then select 3 lieutenants, each of which come with a minor power of their own, and 2-3 basic troops (cavalry, infantry, and archers). Then players take turns moving or attacking, until the goal is met.
Joe and I were hanging out, as we often are, and watching Berserk. We started talking about making a tactical board game like that. What evolved out of that conversation is Forces, a tactical board game that focuses on creating a fairly simple rules structure so that people who are new to the tabletop/ strategy/ tactical game genre would have something they could try and not be overwhelmed by right from the start. At the same time, the rules still allow for significant tactical planning and maneuvering.

The game was shown at our debut Manifest! showing in the Hokin Gallery, at Columbia College Chicago.


Creators: John Gosling, Joe Locastro

Whistlechain & LOCKS

LOCKS  is a very simple game that can be played with any bit of scratch paper and a writing utensil. You play by taking turns finding a 5 letter word that fits in the grid, and writing in ONE letter from that word. You keep going until someone can’t make a move. As you play, you’ll start to see many different strategies, attacks, and maneuvers begin to reveal themselves!

Originally created on a train ride home, the game is meant to be played in any spare time you have with someone else, like a better tic-tac-toe. I hoped to make something that would be simple and fun, and could be played anywhere, by anyone, without needing a deck or phone or gaming device.

The game was shown at our debut Manifest! showing in the Hokin Gallery, at Columbia College Chicago.

Player Turn:
(Not on First Turn) Call “Bluff” on your other player if you believe they don’t have words to match their letter.
If the other player was bluffing, they have to erase their bluff, and write in a letter, telling you what their word is.
If they weren’t bluffing, the other player writes their word NEXT to the line their word was on, and initials it. You can no longer place letters in that line, that spell out that word. You can use the word elsewhere on the grid.
Find two words that fit with any letters already on the grid. They can go up or down, left or right.
The words must be “Scrabble-official”, no pronouns or slang.
Pick one of the letters that fit in a blank square, and write it in.
Hand off the sheet to the other player.
If a player admits they cannot find a move, they lose. For a complete triumph, the victor takes one last turn.


Whistlechain is a design for a game you play by just by whistling. You whistle one stanza from a song, and then a stanza from a different song. At first it sounds simple, but quickly thinking of new songs before the stanza is over gets harder the longer you go!

It was my attempt to make a unique game that was just like one of the ‘games’ everyone plays in their spare time, just an idle activity – formalized it into a game.

We “marketed” the game as huge monumental release by the company, advertising it as a bold new cross-platform game playable on…just about anything that takes voice input.

We gave away copies of the rules at our debut Manifest! showing in the Hokin Gallery, at Columbia College Chicago.

Older Personal Projects
A few old projects that I'm still fond of.
Ronin is a choose your own adventure story, where your choices would change  (or rather, reflect) your personality, which would in turn change text in the story to match your character's perspective. For example, a brash and proud duelist may see the peasants as lowly trash to be abused, while the noble artist may feel a whimsy for their simple lives. The steadfast samurai may not notice them at all...
Each choice presented three different options, plus different "styles" for each personality, each of which could have a specific effect and change on the story or your character.
Burj Dubai
(now Burj Khalifa)

Burj Dubai was created as a final for a Human Rights class. The goal of the project was to show what sort of actions the construction companies were taking to build the Burj Dubai (renamed the Burj Khalifa after completion), and many of the other construction sites in Dubai.

The player takes on the rule of managing the construction site, and goes through the actions of suppressing the workers and cutting expenses, trying to maintain budget while keeping construction milestones. At the end, the progress and completion is measured, and all the human rights violations they committed are accounted and displayed.

Condottieri is a mercenary management simulation. At the onset of the Italian renaissance, take on the role of a Condottieri (the mercenary captain), leading a compagnie di ventura (the mercenary company). Hire, equip, train, and fight mercenaries from all over the world! Pick up defensive contracts, battle other companies, and raid cities to pay for maintaining and expanding your company, as well as amassing your own fortune.