A web toy that generates word search puzzles for you to solve at your leisure.

It started out as a quick bit of coding practice (reimpementing one of my twitter bots in Javascript). But as 2017 got off to a rocky start in every possible way, Wordfindatron became less of a technical exercise and more of an exercise in self-care. There are times when you don’t want to play an intense game or solve a difficult puzzle, you just want to step out of yourself and stare at a grid of letters – or create grids of letters for other people who need a chance to relax.

Bartender's Choice (Redux)

A party game in which you choose mixers to form ridiculous cocktails.

The game was originally designed a few years ago for a Come Out & Play party, but someone reminded me of it and asked for the rules, which led me to realize that I’d never written them up. I seem to do this a lot!

Universal Silver Platter

An art experience for two people in which one participant wishes for anything they want, and another grants them their wish in the form of a doodle. The types of wishes made throughout the day are tracked and visualized.

This was a collaborative work, and very much an old-fashioned Bay Area “there’s a festival coming up, let’s do something” type of project. As such, it was a loose but fun collision of ideas: social commentary, processual art, and creative intervention. The latter was my focus, with a deck of prompts that I made to help people come up with odd spins on the wishes they were fulfilling.


A library for querying of census data and TIGER map data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Handy for use in Jupyter notebooks.

Over the summer, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole with mapping and geo data. Nothing serious came out of it (half-started projects included procedural choropleths and other dead-end dataviz experiments), but I did learn to parse census data and built a library for making that process more convenient.

Mini Bus Madness

A street game in which you drive an egg carton bus delivering plastic egg passengers to their stops.

I connected with local transit advocacy group SF Transit Riders at Market Street Prototyping last year, and volunteered to run a game during this year’s Transit Week. I designed MBM to be a thinky simulation of bunching and crowding on bus routes, but when I ran it, most players saw a simple color matching game and played accordingly. The simpler and less-overdesigned version was way more fun, of course.

(Also, I somehow ended up with 2 gross of plastic eggs, so expect more egg-based games in the future.)

Secret Histories

A game in which players go on a historical walking tour of a real neighborhood, but they take turns being the tour guide and make up all the history as they go.

This game grew out of a previous parlor game, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Like that earlier game, it’s about geographical reimagining through collaborative storytelling, but now the players are immersed in the place itself as they develop their stories, letting the actual architecture, traffic, etc. spark their imaginations. The act of walking together also adds to the feeling of connectedness between players and the story they build.

In addition to running the game with multiple groups around San Francisco (this was the true purpose of the game – a way to force friends to go for walks with me in random parts of town), I got to show the game at IndieCade in LA and BigBadCon in the East Bay, making this my one “major” project for 2017.


For the past five years, Floor Is Lava has been about two things: independently made games and contract design+development services. While the last couple of years have been good for the former, the paying part of the concern has been spotty. Freelancing is always a feast-or-famine proposition, and lately, the fallow periods have been getting longer while the haymaking seasons get shorter.

So this year I decided to wind down the consulting side of Floor Is Lava and find a full-time job. After various false starts, near misses, and wildly mismatched recruitments (job hunting is just like freelance hustling, but scarier and with higher stakes!), I was referred via a mutual friend to a company hiring for a hush-hush project, and suddenly found myself gainfully employed. Thus ends Floor Is Lava as a consulting firm.

Hello 2018

Having a day job doesn’t mean the end of Floor Is Lava! What is means that I’m now free to focus the studio on independently creating embodied play experiences, without having to worry about whether they’re generating client leads or bringing in revenue.

I’m feeling more clear than ever on what I want to do with Floor Is Lava and the kind of experiences I want to build. Managing time and energy between a day job and independent projects is always tricky, but there will be more Secret Histories in 2018 – and other new games, stories, and experiences as well. Stay tuned.

Do you have thoughts on things we made in 2017? Want to hear more about what’s in store for 2018, or want to collaborate on something? Sign up for the Floor Is Lava newsletter, or contact me at josh@floor.is.

-jl, Jan 07 2018