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Welcome to the archives page for the Heart of the OHR. In case you’re unfamiliar, the Heart of the OHR is a contest I hosted biannually from 2010–2020 for users of the OHRRPGCE (or Official Hamster Republic R.P.G. Construction Engine), a 2D game design tool that specializes in role playing games but can be used to build almost anything resembling games from the Nintendo or Super Nintendo eras, or I guess Atari if you want to be all-inclusive. It’s an engine I’ve been using since May 2000, and all of my games as of 2021 are made with it.

Background Information

The Heart of the OHR is a contest I started on a whim in 2010. You can see the full explanation of why I launched it by clicking on the pop-up buttons below, but the first iteration was so popular with the community that I decided to bring it back. However, unlike other popular contests of the era, I didn’t want to bring it back annually because that would’ve contributed to contest saturation, and I didn’t want to burn myself or the OHR community out with it year after year, especially given how long the contest window lasted. So, I settled on every even-numbered year. It was a good system for a while.

HOTOHR Origin Story

Note: The following text adapts the original story I shared with the community in mid-2010. The names are usernames of people in the community.

___________

First Community Announcement

It seems that as times change, interests start moving in new directions, and the things that first captured our hearts and attention about indie-RPG design had since faded into obscurity.

 

Toward the end of the ‘90s and the early part of this decade [2000s], RPGs were king and incidentally the only thing the OHR was capable of making. And then, as the decade continued, RPGs became less common, less desired, and soon the rate of releases made on the engine went from a sprint to a crawl.

 

Then, in about 2006 or 2007, the limits of the OHR began to change, and new life formed. Side-scrollers were now not only possible, but easier to make. Puzzle games, menu-based games, and even street fighting games were beginning to surface in droves throughout the course of three years. And during this time, the course of the OHR RPG began to fall. RPGs were released on occasion, but the presence of one became rare, and almost surprising. And even then, the likelihood of it being a joke game was high. No, the integrity of the epic vacation gave way to a cheap day-trip, and by 2009, the nature of the RPG had become nearly absent.

 

[In June 2010], Surlaw and I were discussing the disappointment of creating huge games, which translates to many, many hours of development time (read: three years or more for some games), that people refuse to play because it requires them to fight random battles (that aren’t titillating 100% of the time), or read text (of any length), or spend more than a few hours of game time in order to finish it. Authors who put the level of time and attention that goes into a quality game, just to have it go unplayed because of an unwillingness to read (for example), are highly disheartened, and certain OHR gems have gone unfinished because the author experiences “What’s the Point?” Syndrome.

 

This, of course, has contributed to the huge decline of RPGs—and especially in the quality RPGs—in our opinion, and that should be shocking when one considers we’re a community focused on an RPG making engine.

 

Even James Paige [the OHR’s creator] once expressed a slight disappointment in the gradual reduction of games that actually use the default features to, you know, make an RPG.

 

That’s what the OHRRPGCE was made for.

 

Now, this isn’t to knock the surge in alternative gaming styles. I loved Slimes. The games released for the 2009 8-Bit Contest were brilliant. But look at how many good RPGs came out in 2009. Okédoké, and, um….

 

It’s hard to say whether the modern RPG is dying or just in a slump, but we’d like to see this giant of yesteryear make at least one more stand in the community. So, I am proposing the “Heart of the OHR Contest,” which is a contest, quite simply, about making the best RPGs we can make with the engine that brought us here in the first place.

—Originally Posted at Slime Salad and Castle Paradox (June 3, 2010)

 

HOTOHR Origin Story

The Untold Story

The Real Story Behind the Heart of the OHR’s Beginnings

I’d actually forgotten the details surrounding the origin of Heart of the OHR until I went back to my email archives to revisit the conversation that sparked it. The idea for Heart of the OHR actually sprouted from a conversation I had with Surlaw about my frustration with the community’s disinterest in making or playing long-form RPGs anymore, or in dealing with anything that required reading.

This conversation began because I wanted to quit writing articles for HamsterSpeak. Over the previous two years, I’d seen not only a decline in interest for what I had to write, in some cases publicly outed disinterest, but I’d actually had complaints from some readers about the length of the articles. This one-two punch of criticizing my focus (including my design philosophy, which was a series article at the time and part of the magazine’s rotation of features) and my dedication to quality content led me down a dark path of believing I no longer had anything to offer the OHR community that would “satisfy” their interests. I couldn’t understand the negativity. I’d thought the articles I’d written were valuable. But the consistent complaints over the previous two years had boiled to the point that I was ready to walk away. I felt like I was wasting my time writing for their interest. So, I was messaging Surlaw letting him know not to expect any more articles from me.

That discussion continued into an observation that the community had a general impatience with anything that took more than a few minutes to sit through. This lack of interest in reading long-form content spilled not only into magazine articles but into RPGs themselves, and that impatience was compounded by the community’s disinterest in other RPG staples like turn-based battles and slow-paced progression. The majority of games getting produced anymore were short tech demos or joke games that took five minutes to finish and forget about. It was a far cry from the community involvement from years earlier when every long game was welcomed because it actually had content.

The motivation for Heart of the OHR came from wanting to see the community revive that interest in the long-form RPG format that had attracted us all to the OHR in the first place. It was a cynical hope. I wasn’t sure it would be successful. I’d thought it might even prove my concern that the RPG as we knew it was dead. But I had to test it. I had to make sure. I designed the contest in the only way I could think of to revive interest. I needed good prizes. If it didn’t work, then I was done.

After running the idea by James Paige and getting a commitment out of letting contestants request bugfix bounties and anticipated features from him, I decided to make the contest a reality. On June 3, 2010, I announced it to the community, uncertain how the people would take it.

As it turned out, they ate it up. Ten years and six contests later, it’s become one of the community’s most beloved and protected contests.

It certainly did the job of keeping me around a little longer. But more importantly, it proved that the community still cared about the traditional RPG, and that it was ready to start making them again.

The Contest

Heart of the OHR First Announcement on Slime Salad, June 3, 2010

Each season I hosted it, the contest evolved from its original form. But it all began with a set of zero rules:

 

  • It must have at least 30 minutes of game time.
  • It must be an RPG.
  • The 30 minutes should contain actual gameplay and story elements, not just 30 minutes of “Spacebar mashing.”

The 2010 contest had other rules, which I’ll introduce on its respective contest page, but as I attempted to innovate it every season, as well as to address some of the participants’ concerns from the previous seasons, many of these original rules began to smooth out with each new iteration. By the time we got to the end of 2020, the contest had evolved so much that the original Heart of the OHR was nowhere to be found.

Of course, this was another reason why it was time to retire it. What’s the point of calling it “Heart of the OHR” if the contest had become the very thing it was created to defeat?

Heart of the OHR First Announcement on Slime Salad, June 3, 2010

Each season I hosted it, the contest evolved from its original form. But it all began with a set of zero rules:

 

  • It must have at least 30 minutes of game time.
  • It must be an RPG.
  • The 30 minutes should contain actual gameplay and story elements, not just 30 minutes of “Spacebar mashing.”

 

The 2010 contest had other rules, which I’ll introduce on its respective contest page, but as I attempted to innovate it every season, as well as to address some of the participants’ concerns from the previous seasons, many of these original rules began to smooth out with each new iteration. By the time we got to the end of 2020, the contest had evolved so much that the original Heart of the OHR was nowhere to be found.

Of course, this was another reason why it was time to retire it. What’s the point of calling it “Heart of the OHR” if the contest had become the very thing it was created to defeat?

The Prizes

Prizes for any occasion

​The concept for the contest was not the only appealing thing offered for that inaugural season. Prior to the original Heart of the OHR, the typical OHR contest had a handful of participants, three or four submissions (after half the entrants dropped out due to bad time management or overcompensation), and lame prizes like “recognition,” or “fan art,” or “slime bucks,” or anything that failed to provide any additional incentive. In those days, the reward was knowing you won the contest, or at least ranked higher than others. You certainly didn’t expect to take anything home for your efforts (unless you actually wanted slime bucks).

Heart of the OHR aimed to correct that. Before I even launched the first contest, I solicited a few bigger names in the community for some door prizes. James Paige, the engine’s creator, offered to post bug bounties and fulfill feature requests for anyone who submitted a game during the contest window, offering ten bucks, or a related fair value depending on the complexity of the request, to the bugfix claimant if he couldn’t deliver by the end of the contest. Inferior Minion, the owner and operator of Castle Paradox, which was the community’s dominant message board before Slime Salad, offered to make and send every participant a custom T-shirt with Heart of the OHR advertising, using artwork that the community’s favorite artist, Fenrir-Lunaris, provided (see image below). And, of course, the winner(s) would get the best prizes like free games, money, and special honors among the community’s various publications, as well as some unusual but awesome gifts like a pizza delivered to the owner’s house. But prize holders (those who agreed to issue a prize) didn’t always limit their prizes to first place, or even third. One year, there was a prize awarded to last place. And, to keep things from becoming too awesome, slime bucks were still a thing.

Spoonweaver showing off his shirt

Contest participant Spoonweaver showing off his Heat of the OHR T-shirt (2010 photo, treated, Photo Credit: Spoonweaver).

Of course, in the spirit and tradition of an OHR contest, many of these prizes went unfulfilled once the contest ended. In most cases, the prize holder disappeared from the community. But sometimes the prize was just too big for that prize holder to fill. Regardless, even with many prizes in the pot, no one ever participated strictly for the prizes. Most participants knew that collecting a prize was a prize in of itself. They participated for the sake of participating, most of the time. It was fun.

Click to See the HeartBug Bounties

Developers James Paige and TMC have maintained the bug bounty wiki since 2010.

Prizes for any occasion

The concept for the contest was not the only appealing thing offered for that inaugural season. Prior to the original Heart of the OHR, the typical OHR contest had a handful of participants, three or four submissions (after half the entrants dropped out due to bad time management or overcompensation), and lame prizes like “recognition,” or “fan art,” or “slime bucks,” or anything that failed to provide any additional incentive. In those days, the reward was knowing you won the contest, or at least ranked higher than others. You certainly didn’t expect to take anything home for your efforts (unless you actually wanted slime bucks).

Heart of the OHR aimed to correct that. Before I even launched the first contest, I solicited a few bigger names in the community for some door prizes. James Paige, the engine’s creator, offered to post bug bounties and fulfill feature requests for anyone who submitted a game during the contest window, offering ten bucks, or a related fair value depending on the complexity of the request, to the bugfix claimant if he couldn’t deliver by the end of the contest. Inferior Minion, the owner and operator of Castle Paradox, which was the community’s dominant message board before Slime Salad, offered to make and send every participant a custom T-shirt with Heart of the OHR advertising, using artwork that the community’s favorite artist, Fenrir-Lunaris, provided (see image below). And, of course, the winner(s) would get the best prizes like free games, money, and special honors among the community’s various publications, as well as some unusual but awesome gifts like a pizza delivered to the owner’s house. But prize holders (those who agreed to issue a prize) didn’t always limit their prizes to first place, or even third. One year, there was a prize awarded to last place. And, to keep things from becoming too awesome, slime bucks were still a thing.

Spoonweaver showing off his shirt

Contest participant Spoonweaver showing off his Heat of the OHR T-shirt (2010 photo, treated, Photo Credit: Spoonweaver).

Of course, in the spirit and tradition of an OHR contest, many of these prizes went unfulfilled once the contest ended. In most cases, the prize holder disappeared from the community. But sometimes the prize was just too big for that prize holder to fill. Regardless, even with many prizes in the pot, no one ever participated strictly for the prizes. Most participants knew that collecting a prize was a prize in of itself. They participated for the sake of participating, most of the time. It was fun.

Click to See the HeartBug Bounties

Developers James Paige and TMC have maintained the bug bounty wiki since 2010.

The Window

When Heart of the OHR began, it recognized and addressed a common problem with contests of the day: they all required starting new games on the day of the contest.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this model. Most contests of any artistic type (or athletic, or whatever) operate on this principle. “Show us your best in the shortest amount of time it takes to make it,” is a demonstrably valid way to weigh one’s skills and talents against his or her competitors. Contests like the 48-hour contest of the early 2000s depended on this model for success. How can you make a game in 48 hours if you’ve already started it beforehand? The theme contests were also limited to this model. The Halloween contest, for example, made sense only if the game was started and finished in October (and was about something related to Halloween).

These limitations were often necessary, but they didn’t have to apply to every contest. In May 2006, Mogri (formerly Moogle1) came up with an ingenious idea for a contest called Gameathon. The idea was to release a game during the month of May (and parts of June) and get judged on it. It didn’t matter what it was or how long it had been in production. It just needed to get released during that window (May 10–June 10, inclusive). I don’t know how big of a success it was, but he brought it back in January 2009 for a February 1–March 15 window. Same rules. Same idea. It had given me the motivation to get off my butt and update my demo of Tightfloss Maiden, which had been stagnating for seven years.

Likewise, James Paige, the creator of the OHRRPGCE, had an idea in June 2009 called the “Finish Your Dang Game” contest, likely born from the idea that his own game, Wandering Hamster, was over ten years old and had made hardly any progress since its first demo in the late ’90s. The purpose of this contest was in the title: Finish Your Dang Game. Not Start Your Dang Game. Anything online or offline but in-progress was eligible to enter. Contestants had two months to finish their “dang game” if they wanted to participate. I’d entered this contest with Entrepreneur: The Beginning but failed to deliver. I doubt I was alone.

These two contests worked, in my opinion, because they were flexible. When I’d conceived of the idea for Heart of the OHR, I wanted to adopt the same window system that they had. In other words, like all contests, Heart of the OHR would have a start date and end date. The difference was that the start date represented when a game could be entered, not started. This meant that any game fitting the base RPG rules could enter, even if it had been around since the late ’90s.

Open Window - Photo Credit: Jack Gittoes, Pexels

Open Window – Photo Credit: Jack Gittoes, Pexels

Regarding the choice of window size, I wanted a contest that cast a wide net. Because time management was a real concern, I wanted to ensure that every contestant had the time to release something worth playing. So, I went beyond the traditional month-long window of most contests and extended it to half a year. Regardless when I opened the window, I’d give contestants anywhere from five to seven months to release a base version and at least two weeks to release a “bugfix version” to address any player feedback (with 2012 lasting only one week). Of course, like all things, having two releases for each contest came with obvious flaws, like players playing only the buggy version of a game while ignoring the fixed versions. By 2018, I’d end up rolling them into one hard deadline.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about player interaction, though, it’s that it operates the same way as it does for any art: hook ‘em now, or hook ‘em never. The contest got better results when I’d dropped it down to one deadline.

The Release Categories

Having an open release window meant the possibility of getting not only plenty of new releases to enjoy but new and updated content from older releases. Because Heart of the OHR was designed to accommodate all states of a developer’s progress, I felt it was important to distinguish the difference between old and new by assigning categories to each game type. In 2010, the categories didn’t matter for ranking purposes, but they did matter for voting. For original content, everything was brand new and open for judgment. But with rereleased content, the expectation was that judges had to play the new content before judging, as the old content was released at a different time and not an official part of the contest. That meant players would either have to spend a lot longer with a rerelease than with a new release, or they would need quick access to the new content, as supplied by the developer, usually in the form of save file. Most voters ignored the rule and just voted on the first 30 minutes of game time, even if they’d already played it in 2005. One 2010 game, Vikings of Midgard, received only five votes because no one knew how to vote for it. But because the people who did vote rated it highly, it did very well in the contest, even though it was questionable whether those voters actually played the game into its new content. Clearly this idea needed more thought.

Thought Box (Photo Credit: SHVETS Production, Pexels)

Thought Box (Photo Credit: SHVETS Production, Pexels)

In 2012, I’d attempted to make rereleases its own voting category. In other words, original games would get one list; rereleases would get another. I figured this was a better strategy for ensuring the new games had a competitive edge. And they certainly did, but something about the segregation of games felt off to me, as it did to the community. I decided that would be the only year I’d do that.

Adding to the complication was the introduction of a third category in 2012 called “OHR Legends.” This category started as a non-voting category designed for prestige, not for votes, and its purpose was to reward dedication to its development. To become an OHR Legend, a game had to enter Heart of the OHR as a rerelease for the second time, where it would gain “Level 1” status. But if that same game made yet another appearance in a future Heart of the OHR, then it would gain “Level 2” status. Although no game would ever reach Level 3, the idea was to retire any Level 3 game as an OHR champion. Of course, that also implied a game might remain in perpetual development, which could be its own problem. But entering a game as an OHR Legend was designed for prestige, not votes. That was, until 2014 when the community had convinced me to permit voting and ranking for Legend titles.

Note: OHR Legends were supposed to earn a trophy graphic that they could display on their game list entries, but in the eight years between the category’s introduction in 2012 and the contest’s (tentative) retirement in 2020, no one with the gift of art had designed these graphic trophies, so that “prize” remains unfulfilled.

This release category list of “Original,” “Rerelease,” and “OHR Legend” remained fixed until 2020 when The Wobbler (formerly Surlaw) released a game that I didn’t know how to categorize. It wasn’t new because it was based on a game the community had already played and loved in the early 2000s. And it wasn’t a rerelease because it used new assets and a new take on the storyline, giving it no physical ties to the original release. And it wasn’t a Legend because it had never made a Heart of the OHR appearance.

As I pondered what I was looking at, it occurred to me that I needed to add a new category to the contest. So, I created the “Remake” category. Of course, now that the contest is (tentatively…) retired, that game, Walthros Renewal, may be the only one in the entire contest to own that category. But at least it works, and at least there’s no question what kind of game it is.

A Fish Release (Photo Credit: Thirdman, Pexels)

A Fish Release (Photo Credit: Thirdman, Pexels)

The Votes

For a contest to work, entries must receive a value score. Without it, “everyone’s a winner!”

Right?

Er, no. It’s a contest, and in a contest where people compete, there is just one winner. Heart of the OHR would be no different.

However, the way it approached the winning entry would be different than most.

Traditionally, OHR contests would use a ranking system to determine winners, where first choices would earn the most points, second choices the second most, third choice the third most, etc.

Even though I’d accepted the ranking system for other contests, I never liked the idea of using it for this contest because it unfairly punishes games that get less attention from voters, and I wanted every game in Heart of the OHR to have a fair chance at winning as a result of its quality, not quantity of voters. So, I implemented a scoring system based on averages.

Every year, that system was challenged, but in the end, I thought it was the only way this contest could work. So I kept it. But in 2014, I modified it. As much as I liked the original system of averages, it wasn’t flawless. To modify it, I implemented an extra parameter to buffer games that received fewer than average votes, as a way to keep them in play without giving them an unfair advantage or disadvantage over the others from having fewer voters dividing the averages. That extra parameter, the two-thirds rule, sometimes gypped a high-ranking game from maintaining its spot, but at least it considered the game’s popularity factor alongside its value score. The most-suggested alternative voting type, Condorcet Voting, also supposedly encouraged both popularity and quality, but I always found it convoluted and painful to use, so I stuck with the averages.

Note: I’ll explain the two-thirds rule in greater detail in the section devoted to the 2014 contest, when it first originated. In the meantime, you can check out the community conversation about Condorcet voting by clicking on the button below.

Although not terribly common, questions about how to rate a game also came up from time to time. By 2018, when it became clear that five seasons wouldn’t answer that question by experience, I decided to address the voting guidelines once and for all. To read those guidelines for yourself, click the yellow button. To visit the thread where I drew the line in the sand, click the red one.

HOTOHR Origin Story

The following text adapts the voting guidelines I shared with the community during the 2018 season.

___________

How to Score a Game the Ethical Way

-Use whole numbers rated 1–10.

-Play at least 30 minutes of game time before voting.

-For rereleased games, play at least 30 minutes of the new content.

-Play as many games as possible to ensure a balanced score.

It may be tempting to score a game based strictly on subjectivity, but try not to rule out objectivity when you score. We’re players of differing tastes, and not all games can be everything to everyone. The question of on which you should be basing your score is not just “Did I like it?”, even though enjoyment should factor into part of your score, but also “Does it work for its intended audience?” If you’re not sure if it works, then go with your gut. The idea is to give some credit to the authors who made their game competently and effectively, even if it’s not exactly “your kind of game.” For example, I have no particular affection for the Call of Duty franchise, but I know which ones are the “good ones” in the franchise (Modern Warfare 1 and 2), so I would rate those entries higher than the not-as-good ones, even if I could spend a day not playing any of them and still feel like I’ve had a good day. Try to consider what the game actually accomplishes on top of how you feel about it before giving your score. We don’t want to punish outliers for being outliers, only for making ugly, broken games.

 

Score Chart:

 

Below is a representation of what each score value should mean.

 

10 – This game is basically perfect. While it may contain a few subjective nitpicks, there isn’t really anything in the presentation that can be improved upon, and any attempt to improve it at this point will ultimately make it worse. (Game does not have to be complete to earn this score; it can earn it based on the merit of what’s currently in the game.)

 

9 – Near perfect, but maybe contains a couple of unimportant bugs that should be fixed sometime.

 

8 – Great game with a noticeable flaw. That flaw may be average or poor graphics, bad use of sound effects, or maybe contains a scene or sequence that is ultimately unnecessary for the story, but a flaw that doesn’t really take away from the experience; it just keeps it from being perfect.

 

7 – Good game with a few noticeable flaws. Ultimately, it’s fun and worth playing, but it still has a few issues that need addressing before it’s considered complete.

 

6 – Above average game that works, but ultimately doesn’t stand out from anything. You’ve basically played this game a thousand times before, in the same order, in the same places, fighting the same enemies, but maybe with a slightly different skin (maybe this one’s in the future, and your hero is actually a janitor). If it did anything bold or interesting, you’d score it higher, but it plays too safe, too formulaic, too Disney to warrant that extra point or two. It should’ve taken more risks.

 

5 – Average game that’s decent for what it is, but is ultimately forgettable. It manages some systems or aesthetics competently, but likely drops the ball elsewhere, and not in a charming kind of way. Maybe a stage is incomplete, or the item you need to advance the story is missing, but the rest of the game is pretty good and worth playing if not for that one catastrophic flaw. It can also be a working game with too many ugly features or confusing ideas to make it ultimately enjoyable, if not at least admirable for its intent.

 

4 – Below average game that really should’ve been released in 2020, not 2018. It has good ideas in the making, and it should be finished at some point, but it’s out of the cooker too soon, and the experience shows. Likely it contains missing areas or broken systems that prevent you from reaching the end of the demo, or has a few glitches that complicate the experience more than it should. Okay game for now, but it needs repair, and maybe some additional planning.

 

3 – A bad game in the making that ultimately doesn’t work. It may have some areas of competency (like decent graphics or interesting atmosphere), but on the whole it fails to work as a good game. Maybe the story is incoherent, or the gameplay is too tedious even for players who love the grind, or the graphics are so bad that it’s impossible to tell who’s who or what’s what. Conceptually, it needs redesigning before it could be considered a good game. It may have potential, but not before returning to the drawing board for at least one key area.

 

2 – A terrible game that is well before its prime. Maybe there’s something about it that can work eventually with lots of revision behind it, but for now, there’s nothing worth seeing here. It has at least one thing about it that does work, or is pleasant, or ultimately worth keeping, but that one thing doesn’t make the game ready for prime time. Fix or change the ingredients and put it back in the oven.

 

1 – Utterly abysmal game that does nothing right and won’t get better with revision. Needs a day one rewrite. Conceptually, it’s bad. Practically, it’s bad. Even if it were complete, why would anyone think it’s fun? It contains nothing salvageable. Should be scrapped and rebuilt with new ideas and a better plan. This is the kind of game that gets banned at torture camps for being too cruel. The author will spend his days better working on something else.

 

Okay, so hopefully that should inform you on how to score. Please don’t give 10’s or 1’s unless the game truly deserves it. Loving a game or hating it doesn’t mean it’s perfect or abysmal. Be objective in those cases before you score. You can always post a review with your score to explain why it earned what it earned [recommended].

—Originally Posted at Slime Salad (December 23, 2018)

 

For the most part, the voting procedure went smoothly each time. The only consistent challenge I had season after season was getting people to commit to voting, especially for rereleased games, and especially before the deadline. Most years required at least one deadline extension, but once I got my minimum of ten voters, I was able close the votes at the next deadline. The contest rarely had more voters than it did participants. In most cases, it had about the same or less. And with the exception of the final year, each season saw on average just one game get a vote from every voter, with two being generous.

Obviously, I’d hoped for more. But the OHR community often works that way. It’s one of the drawbacks of hosting a contest for a tiny niche of game designers. But we’re all used to it by now, so we plan for it. It’s another reason why I think the average vote is more effective than the rank vote.

Your Vote Counts (Photo Credit: Cottonbro, Pexels)

Your Vote Counts (Photo Credit: Cottonbro, Pexels)

The Participants

Even though participants could come from any sector of the Internet (including YouTube, as was the case for one of 2020’s participants), Heart of the OHR’s contestants were mostly members of the existing community on the Slime Salad or Castle Paradox message boards. Every season would introduce a new player or two, but the regulars were the most common participants, with some releasing multiple games in the same window. These contestants would often volunteer their games by announcing them on the official messaging thread and posting them there on release. But sometimes a developer would release a game without making any announcement, so whenever the window closed, I’d often scour both game lists (Slime Salad and Castle Paradox) for whichever titles were released since the window’s opening, and contact the developer for information about the game and whether they’d like to include it. For a couple of seasons, I’d also include “unofficial” entries until the developer either contacted me back and confirmed, or contacted me back and asked that I not include it. But sometimes further investigation of a title would convince me that the title shouldn’t be included in the main vote, especially if it looked like it sat on the developer’s hard drive for ten years before getting released. Unofficial entries with suspicious origins, therefore, were unranked in votes but still recognized as “of that time,” even if they were clearly of a different time. In most cases, the unofficial game would get the developer’s stamp of approval. One of those post-official games would end up scoring very well.

The Debate and the Rejected

As the Heart of the OHR grew in popularity, more community members wanted to participate, and that often led to an ongoing question that would end up stirring a debate: “Is my game eligible for entry?”

Because the “zero rule” of Heart of the OHR was to make an RPG, the acceptance or denial of a game would regurgitate the usual question of what qualifies a game as an RPG. Traditionally, the rule was to create a game that had 30 minutes of gameplay, used a turn-based battle system, invited exploration, and implemented a level-up system. It was a straightforward requirement that discriminated against any game, regardless of its quality, if it didn’t adhere to those ideas.

In 2010, when Heart of the OHR was still in its infancy, community member TwirlySocrates had a brilliant adventure game ready for demoing called Saminaster and Sorcery. It used a sprawling map system full of scenery and obstacles that the character had to jump over to advance anywhere, and it reminded me of some of the great NES and SNES top-down adventure games like Rygar or Illusion of Gaia. It should’ve been not only a perfect fit for Heart of the OHR, but a top contender. The problem, however, was that it failed to implement the expected conventions of an RPG like stat-building or random battles that Heart of the OHR required, so I couldn’t accept it into the contest, as much as I’d wanted to. It just didn’t meet the checklist of rules I’d created. In a way, it was like the type of game Heart of the OHR was designed to combat. TwirlySocrates was disappointed, but he understood the situation.

I’d honestly felt bad about not letting it in. It was a great game in the making. But the rules were established. Saminaster and Sorcery would sit this one out.

If only it had waited a few years, when I’d implemented a new rule called “In the Spirit of 1999.” Then it could’ve entered and possibly done quite well. But that wasn’t the state of the contest in 2010.

Rejection and a Broken Heart (Photo Credit: Burak Kostak, Pexels)

Rejection and a Broken Heart (Photo Credit: Burak Kostak, Pexels)

Heart of the OHR has always been like that, though: adaptive to the idea of what makes a game an RPG or acceptable to the contest. Even though the rules were strict in 2010 (I’d denied an actual RPG entry because its “new content” was cosmetic—read more about that on the 2010 contest page), I gradually allowed for exceptions for games that bent rules without breaking them. Even 2010’s Aphophenia broke a core rule that I ultimately ignored because it substituted that rule with a sound alternative rule, deferring the time requirement for a fair ending. If the game needed to break a rule to make use of an alternative, then I was generally okay with giving it a pass.

But I’d never permit a questionable game entry without invoking a lot of controversy. Perhaps most notorious was in 2016 when I allowed Surfasaurus into the contest for its use of stat-gaining, character ability progression, and base-building, and it ended up winning the contest. A few users felt that the game betrayed the “heart” of the OHR and hated that it was a part of it. My contention was that it was exactly the kind of game that kept me using the OHR. And, you know, it had stats!

But at some point, I had to agree that the contest was slipping away from its original intention, especially as I started allowing room for side-scrollers, puzzle games, and pretty much anything that had at least 30 minutes of game time. In fact, by 2020, the only games I was rejecting were those that had less than 30 minutes of game time and clearly went nowhere. It was another reason why I had to rethink where the contest was going, and whether it had run its course.

Fortunately, the community was understanding with my decisions. Even when they had their opinions, they never boycotted the contest or tried to uproot it. They continued to participate, respecting my choices for what I permitted and what I rejected. But I’d never make a concrete decision one way or the other until I could get an audience consensus about whether a game deserved a spot on the playlist.

In the end, my contention has always been, “Heart of the OHR is the community’s contest, not mine. I’m just the host.”

It’s the same reason why I feel comfortable putting it in someone else’s hands should it continue into 2022 and beyond, just as I feel comfortable retiring it and letting a new contest IP take its place, if that’s what the community decides. Longtime Heart of the OHR participant Spoonweaver has always been my choice to take over in the event that I retire, and he’s already come up with a few good ideas for a spiritual successor. Time will tell what he does with it, if anything. But I’m sure it’ll be the right decision.

All of this is assuming I don’t host a four-month encore season in 2022, of course.

The Timeline

Finally, for those interested in history, here’s a quick timeline of historical checkpoints during Heart of the OHR’s lifespan. To save space, I’m listing only the significant dates related to contest windows, voting periods, results announcements, and promotional debuts. I will not chronicle when games went live or when I made a rule change.

Most cards have an offsite link attached to the original source if you want more information about the topic.

June 1, 2010

An Idea Is Formed

After a discussion with Surlaw about the state of RPGs in the OHR community, I come up with the idea for Heart of the OHR. I begin the solicitation for prize help immediately.

June 2, 2010

Resources Are Gathered

James is onboard with the bug bounty prize offering. This is the linchpin for ensuring the contest is attractive to would-be participants.

June 3, 2010
I

2010 Season Kicks Off

Heart of the OHR Contest formally announced to the community on Slime Salad and Castle Paradox. This is the official kickoff for the 2010 season.

June 4, 2010

T-shirts Are Offered

Inferior Minion loves the idea for the contest and offers to provide T-shirts to anyone who enters. Fenrir-Lunaris offers to provide the T-shirt’s art design.

July 1, 2010

2010 Contest Window Opens

Heart of the OHR 2010 officially begins. Any game meeting content guidelines released between now and November 30 is eligible for entry.

November 30, 2010

2010 Contest Window Closes, Transitions to Bugfixing

Heart of the OHR 2010 release window closes. Bugfixing grace period begins. Players start playing the games and providing feedback to authors.

December 16, 2010

2010 Final Uploads Counted, Voting Begins

Heart of the OHR 2010 bugfixing grace period ends. No new content accepted. Voting period begins.

January 1, 2011

2010 Voting Ends

Voting period for Heart of the OHR 2010 ends. I compile the scores using a system of averages. Then I send the results off for publishing.

January 2, 2011

2010 Contest Results Posted in HamsterSpeak Magazine

Contest results featuring an extended layout with “fuzzy description,” “audience consensus,” and achievements, along with scoring and statistics go live in HamsterSpeak #45.

January 21, 2011

2012 Planning Begins

Preproduction thread for Heart of the OHR 2012 begins. Discussion about the future of Heart of the OHR ensues. This officially seals Heart of the OHR as a repeat contest.

March 3, 2012
I

2012 Season Kicks Off

“Three Months to Go” hype thread begins. Potential contestants start talking about the games they want to make and release this year. This is the official kickoff for the 2012 season.

May 21, 2012

2012 Hype Train Rolls On

“Listen to the Sound of That Rhythmic Beating” hype thread begins. Much shorter than the previous hype thread but nevertheless motivating.

June 1, 2012

2012 Contest Window Opens

Heart of the OHR 2012 officially begins. Any game meeting content guidelines released between now and November 30 is eligible for entry.

November 30, 2012

2012 Contest Window Closes, Transitions to Bugfixing

Heart of the OHR 2012 release window closes. Bugfixing grace period begins. Players start playing the games and providing feedback to authors.

December 7, 2012

2012 Bugfixing Stage Completes

Heart of the OHR 2012 bugfixing grace period ends after no one requests an extension (even though I offer one, as I can see a week is too short to get feedback and a fix). No new content accepted unless specifically requested.

December 16, 2012

2012 Voting Begins

Voting period for Heart of the OHR 2012 begins. Scheduled to last two weeks. Extensions planned if minimum voter threshold of 10 unique voters isn’t met by deadline.

January 16, 2013

2012 Voting Ends

After extending the original deadline (from December 31, 2012), the voting period for Heart of the OHR 2012 ends (though voters are allowed to sneak in straggler votes until the results go live). I spend the next few days scouring votes and compiling the results for the closeout report due to go live the following weekend.

January 22, 2013

2012 Contest Results Posted at The Hamster Burrow

Contest results featuring the extended layout from the previous contest goes live at The Hamster Burrow. Heart of the OHR 2012 officially ends.

February 6, 2014
I

2014 Season Kicks Off

Preproduction thread for Heart of the OHR 2014 begins. Potential contestants start talking about the games they want to make and release this year. This is the official kickoff for the 2014 season.

April 21, 2014

2014 Prize Pool Request Made

Prize Pool discussion for Heart of the OHR 2014 begins. This is where the community can volunteer to contribute various prizes to the winner(s).

June 1, 2014

2014 Contest Window Opens

Heart of the OHR 2014 officially begins. Any game meeting content guidelines released between now and November 30 is eligible for entry.

November 30, 2014

2014 Contest Window Closes, Transitions to Bugfixing

Heart of the OHR 2014 release window closes. Bugfixing grace period begins. Players start playing the games and providing feedback to authors.

December 15, 2014

2014 Bugfixing Stage Completes

Heart of the OHR 2014 bugfixing grace period ends. No new content accepted.

December 16, 2014

2014 Voting Begins

Voting period for Heart of the OHR 2014 begins. Scheduled to last two weeks. Extensions planned if minimum voter threshold of 10 unique voters isn’t met by deadline.

February 2, 2015

2014 Voting Ends

After two extensions (from December 31, 2014, and January 15, 2015, respectively), the voting period for Heart of the OHR 2014 ends. I begin compiling the results for the closeout report.

February 4, 2015

2014 Contest Results Posted at Super Walrus Land

Contest results featuring the usual layout goes live at Super Walrus Land. Heart of the OHR 2014 officially ends.

February 10, 2016
I

2016 Season Kicks Off, Prize Pool Request Made

Prize Pool discussion for Heart of the OHR 2016 begins, giving community members a chance to contribute prizes to the winner(s). This is the official kickoff for the 2016 season.

March 1, 2016

2016 Contest Window Opens

Heart of the OHR 2016 officially begins. Any game meeting content guidelines released between now and July 31 is eligible for entry.

July 31, 2016

2016 Contest Window Closes, Transitions to Bugfixing

Heart of the OHR 2016 release window closes. Bugfixing grace period begins. Players start playing the games and providing feedback to authors.

August 15, 2016

2016 Bugfixing Stage Completes

Heart of the OHR 2016 bugfixing grace period ends. No new content accepted.

August 16, 2016

2016 Voting Begins

Voting period for Heart of the OHR 2016 begins. Scheduled to last six weeks. Extensions planned if minimum voter threshold of 10 unique voters isn’t met by deadline.

October 9, 2016

2016 Voting Ends

Voting period for Heart of the OHR 2016 officially closes (after being delayed from the original deadline of September 30, 2016). I begin compiling the results for the closeout report.

October 11, 2016

2016 Contest Results Posted at Super Walrus Land

Contest results featuring the usual layout goes live at Super Walrus Land. Heart of the OHR 2016 officially ends.

January 8, 2018
I

2018 Season Kicks Off

Preview thread for Heart of the OHR is posted. Potential contestants start talking about the games they want to make and release this year. This is the official kickoff for the 2018 season.

April 16, 2018

2018 Prize Pool Request Made

Prize Pool discussion for Heart of the OHR 2018 begins (inside 2018 Preview thread). Community members volunteer to contribute prizes to the winner(s).

May 1, 2018

2018 Contest Window Opens

Heart of the OHR 2018 officially begins. Any game meeting content guidelines released between now and December 17 is eligible for entry.

December 17, 2018

2018 Contest Window Closes

Heart of the OHR 2018 release window closes. No new content accepted unless emergency situation dictates it.

December 23, 2018

2018 Voting Begins

Voting period for Heart of the OHR 2018 begins. Scheduled to last six weeks. Extensions planned if minimum voter threshold of 10 unique voters isn’t met by deadline.

January 21, 2019

Heart of the OHR Gets a Theme Song

OHR theme song is recorded. Kylekrack improves it. His version becomes the official song. “Well, it’s time to play a game / for the Heart of the OHR / [2018].” Note: Only the 2018 season includes the year in the song.

February 3, 2019

Excel Sheet Vote Tracking Implemented

After years of recording and compiling votes the hard way, I finally created a better system for vote management by using an Excel spreadsheet. This new method not only speeds up the process, but it gives me access to new types of data records on the fly. I’m tempted to run previous contest results through this new system as a way to better store and manage their data structures (and to see if I’d gotten anything wrong).

February 17, 2019

Heart of the OHR Gets a Video Intro Tag

Official intro tag footage for the 2018 video playthrough series is recorded.

February 20, 2019

2018 Voting Ends

After two weeks of the usual extensions, voting for Heart of the OHR 2018 is officially closed (but not really). Original deadline February 3, 2019. I continue compiling the results for the closeout report using the new custom Excel sheet designed for easier scoring and ranking, as well as prepare special content for the “Results Week” festivities.

March 7, 2019

2018 Results Week Begins

Video introduction to the “Results Week” festivities goes live.

March 10, 2019

2018 Contest Results Posted at MotherHamster.org

Contest results featuring the usual layout in a sexy new skin goes live at motherhamster.org.

March 11, 2019

2018 Contest Gameplay YouTube Series Begins

First set of gameplay videos goes live. This includes the first four games released in alphabetical order. Each day sees four more gameplay videos.

March 15, 2019

2018 Contest Gameplay YouTube Series Concludes

The final set of gameplay videos goes live. There are five videos this time.

March 16, 2019

2018 Results Week Ends

Results week closeout. Heart of the OHR 2018 officially ends.

March 2, 2020
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2020 Season Kicks Off, First 2020 Promotional Trailer Released

Official Teaser Trailer for Heart of the OHR 2020 goes live in “The Window Is Coming” thread. This is the official kickoff for the 2020 season.

April 23, 2020

2020 Prize Pool Request Made

Prize Pool discussion for Heart of the OHR 2020 begins. This is where the community can volunteer to contribute various prizes to the winner(s).

April 30, 2020

Second 2020 Promotional Trailer Released

Official Trailer for Heart of the OHR 2020 goes live. This is the final promotion before the contest begins.

May 1, 2020

2020 Contest Window Opens

Heart of the OHR 2020 officially begins. Any game meeting content guidelines released between now and December 31 is eligible for entry.

December 31, 2020

2020 Contest Window Closes

Heart of the OHR 2020 release window closes. No new content accepted.

January 9, 2021

2020 Voting Begins, Third and Final 2020 Promotional Trailer Released

Voting period for Heart of the OHR 2020 begins. Scheduled to last nine weeks. Extensions planned if minimum voter threshold of 10 unique voters isn’t met by deadline. Final promotional trailer is released. This trailer is focused on voting and presents a snapshot of the 2020 lineup.

March 7, 2021

2020 Voting Ends

Voting for Heart of the OHR 2020 ends. I begin compiling the results for the closeout report using the same Excel sheet from the previous season.

March 8, 2021

2020 Contest Results Partially Posted at Slime Salad

Contest end result rankings announced on Slime Salad. Full announcement with the usual scoring reports, fuzzy descriptions, etc. delayed until the official Heart of the OHR Contest Archives go live on this website. Heart of the OHR 2020 officially ends.

October 23, 2021

Construction on the Heart of the OHR Contest Archives Begins

After months of delays due to website development issues, I begin work on the Heart of the OHR Contest Archives. Once finished, this will become the official record and final destination for all things related to the Heart of the OHR Contest.

TBA

Heart of the OHR Contest Archives Launched

The official Heart of the OHR Contest Archives go live. It consists of an overview (presented on this page), six closeout reports (including the never before released 2020 report), and a statistics page showing how the contest has evolved over the years. Unless I launch an encore season for 2022 (still under consideration), this marks my final act as Heart of the OHR host and moderator.

The Tour

So that sums up Heart of the OHR as an overview. To learn more about each specific contest, be sure to take the contest tour. You can start by clicking on the button below for the 2010 list.

And don’t forget to listen to the theme song on your way in.

“It’s Time to Play a Game”

Official Theme Song for the Heart of the OHR (recorded for the 2018 season)

If you’re new to the OHR, then I hope you enjoy your visit. And if you’re a long-term user, then I hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane.

Heart of the OHR Contest Archives Official Banner