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A Call for Player Testimonials

Have you played a demo of our game in the last two years? Can you help us cross our funding goal with a personal testimony of how the game impacted you? Send us a video or text message to info (at), and we’ll include it in our testimonial update next week.  Thank you for your support! We’re 76% of the way there!



We've launched a Kickstarter, and we're coming to OUYA, PC & Mac via Steam Simultaneously!


Hi Friends,

The game has come a long way in the past year.  We have just a few scenes left to build before we can work on fixing bugs and polishing the game for release and we’ve taken a hard look at our budget and decided that we need to raise more funds to finish game in the way we believe it should to be finished. This also means that we will be delaying the release until mid-late 2015.

The most important way in which the design has changed in the last year is how we’ve incorporated and encoded interaction with Joel into the experience.  We did not start out the design of our game with much animation. In the demo scene we showed last year, we didn’t represent Joel visually at all.

That has changed drastically.  We have Joel dancing, and clapping, laughing, and playing in the park or playing catch with a dog.  Our newest member of the team, Ryan Cousins, who has been working with us since January, has brought the expertise we needed to be able to do this and we find the interactions we get to create in the game very rewarding.

That’s just one example of how the game has grown since we started. We also have a few more scenes than we planned, but we believe they are necessary because they tell a more complete story, the story that needs to be told more than the one we set out to tell.  We started this project while Joel was still with us.  Joel’s death this year made us realize that the details of what happened to Joel do not matter as much as just being with Joel mattered, and we desire to reflect that truth in every scene of the game.

Our Kickstarter is live right now, along with this campaign and with help from OUYAIndie Fund and a private investor loan, we feel that we will be able to finish this game well.

We’ve been given this amazing platform to tell Joel’s story and we want to tell yours too, so we’ve made space for you in the game through our backer rewards. We want to enable you to really participate in the creation of That Dragon, Cancer.

We need about 3,000 backers who will contribute $30 to our campaign in order to be fully funded.  Will you be one of them?

We’re Launching on OUYA, Windows, and Mac Simultaneously!

Also, we are very happy to announce that, in association with OUYA, we will be releasing the game for PC and MAC download through Steam on the same day we release on OUYA.  OUYA has been really great about working with us and our desire to bring this game to as many people as possible as soon as possible and were willing to change our exclusivity terms to do that.  I’m not sure how many companies would be open to that so late in a project, but I believe we’ve found a special partner in OUYA.  They believe in games, they believe in indies, and they believe in us.

So please, share the kickstarter page on your social networks and with your friends and family, and be a day one backer. We need your help to make this happen. Thank you.





"The Day I Faced That Dragon:" A call for visual stories.

The bustle of PAX Prime is upon us.  It is hard to believe it has been a year already.  I am grateful that in the Indie MEGABOOTH this year, we were assigned the same booth location.  There is a small storage area in that corner of the floor.  

I will use it again to hide.  

It will be my refuge when my throat gets too tight.  For when I have to explain yet again that Joel is no longer with us.  For when I tire of the latest overheard and flippant joke of “what’s dragon cancer?” and the sea of faces and funny hats becomes too stormy to remain afloat in the life raft of hugs and tears that surround our booth.

I am grateful.

To have a space to memorialize Joel.  We get to tell our story.  I get to tell the world why MY son mattered.  Why should I get to do that?  Why me and not someone else.  Because he was MY son.  And he mattered to ME.  And I miss him.

I am not alone.

And I know that there is a deluge of tears shed every day for the soul that inhabited that room; that car seat; that pair of pants; that bit of air that was filled with his laughter or her voice.

So we want to make space for your story.

“The Day I Faced That Dragon.”

What do you miss the most? How did it change you? Where do you find hope? What do you do with your anger? Maybe guilt? Where is joy to be found?

Bottle it up, pour it into a cup.  Make something beautiful.  Make Art. We’ll serve it at PAX on your behalf.  This year we’re raising money.  This time with Extra Life.  They love games, you love games.  They love kids, they raise money for children’s hospitals.

Here’s what we’re asking for: 

  • Create a work of art that can be printed.
  • Email us about the day you faced “that dragon” in what ever form it came it does not have to be cancer.  Any “dragon” will suffice.
  • Attach your art, send it via email to
  • Do this by Monday, August 25th, 2014 9am pacific time.
  • We’ll curate the work and get posters and postcards printed at our expense.
  • All submissions will be posted on-line with your story.

These posters and postcards will be given out for free as thank you’s for folks who donate directly to Extra Life at PAX Prime, we don’t take the money, folks who donate will just show us the receipt.

We’ll provide a donation “kiosk” at our booth.

That’s it.  Tell us your story, we’ll tell it to others and raise money for hospitals that save children’s lives.  

Because the ones we loved matter to us.


Here is my submission:


“The sun still rose in spite of my strong recommendation it not.” - Ryan Green - August 19, 2014

Written March 13, 2014 -

Amy and I did not get much sleep last night. As the hours flew by faster than I could catch them, we prayed, we grieved, I cuddled my sweet son as tightly as I dared, examining his face and hands and toes and belly button, taking pictures of us that I will never show anyone else, and sweeping the hair across his forehead over and over again.

Joel fell asleep at home. Surrounded by his family and friends, only hours after we had filled our home with songs of worship to our God and prayers for mercy and healing for Joel and for ourselves from the voices of our church and friends and family.

As I awoke this morning after an hour of sleep, I lingered in the early morning light of our room, his body cradled, as always, in the crook of my arm. Except instead of the sweet sighs of comfort and the warmth of his little body against mine, the moors of death had tightened, leaving Joel’s earthly tent, cold and breathless.

And so now we mourn, and we weep, we rage and we argue with the God who knows how the story will end. And we laugh with our family and friends, and sob in the quiet moments, and wrap ourselves in his blankets and wrap ourselves in His peace. The kind that passes all understanding as we make the decisions that will lay Joel to rest.


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On Sound Design and Goodwill

Jon Hillman, That Dragon, Cancer sound designer, composer, programmer.
Jon Hillman, That Dragon, Cancer sound designer, composer, programmer.

While working on an upcoming scene, we discovered a need for a classic ‘Spin n’ Say’ toy to be created, with which the player will interact. It’s been a while since I played with this kind of toy, and after a brief search around the house I remembered how few of my sons’ toys make noise (you gotta do what you can to stay sane). A few seconds on the internet later, I was well-reminded of how this toy works: pull a lever, a dial spins, and delightful low-fi narration and animal noises ensue. In our toy’s case, there’s also some buttons and an extra lever.

Some of these sounds are simple to make, basically put a microphone in front of something and press record. A few edits and minimal processing, and there you have it. So, I figured I’d head to the thrift store and see what they had. At first I saw nothing like what I needed - almost everything was digital with very few mechanics (no buttons, no moving lever, etc). I was about to leave when I threw some toys to the side in frustration, and the perfect toy was revealed. Lever…check. Spinning dial…check. Unbelievably annoying sounds coming from a tiny speaker inside a cheap plastic case with a happy farmer on it…CHECK.

Recording Sound with Spin and Say toy.
Recording Sound with Spin and Say toy.

Once back at the studio, my first priority was to get the batteries out of this thing. I’d need to be able to pull the lever and isolate the mechanical sounds I wanted. A few minutes of recording and editing later, and that work was done. I then wondered how to approach making our own narration and animal sounds, and most importantly how to make them sound like the toy. I have lots of tricks up my sleeves (ie; effect plug-ins and hardware), but was concerned with the time it might take to mimic the toy via processing,  and my declining mental health over that course of time.

Glancing down at the toy, which was face down with its guts hanging out the back, I realized I could probably add an audio input without much fuss. Then, mimicking the toy would be as easy as pressing play and putting a microphone in front of it. Thanks to the general state of things in my studio, my soldering iron/hacking tools were already out and ready to go. About 10-15 minutes later, I sent out a recording of a team-favorite track made through the toy. After a few very silly late-night voiceover sessions with Mike, we had our toy fully-realized in the game.

Guts of a toy
Guts of a toy

With all the fancy tools we have these days, I often forget about more organic, natural approaches. I’d probably still be tweaking some knob on an EQ, or auditioning impulse responses, if I hadn’t have just hacked that toy. Now I have a new tool on the shelf for whenever I need that ‘awesome’ sound again, and the world can rejoice in having one less Farmer whatever-his-name-is toys in circulation.

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Thank You For Playing

We haven’t talked about it publicly, but back in June of 2013, we were contacted by a documentary film director who had seen a one-liner mention of our game on killscreen, and was interested in finding out if we’d be open to letting them come out and visit our family in order that he and his partner might produce a documentary about the making of the game.

Thus began the production of the film “Thank You For Playing.”

You wouldn’t think it so, since our family has been so public and in the news about sharing the game, and we’ve been part of a web-based documentary before, but letting a film crew in to our personal, creative and professional lives was a little scary.  We are not the producers of this film.  It is independent of us.  Before this project, we did not know David and Malika, but we decided It was important that people see the parts of our lives in-between the scenes of the game.  Life happens in the middle and so does death.  David and Malika were with our family the three days leading up to Joel’s passing.

They recently posted a teaser trailer announcing the film, and have set up a facebook and web site to promote their project.  We hope you’ll support them.



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On Work, Joy and Love.

In the midst of all of the struggle and pain in this last year, our family experienced a lot of joy.  I think that would likely be one of the most surprising aspects of our family life to one outside looking in.  

Joel’s illness often tethered us to our home for long stretches of time.  While I went to work, Amy would often spend many consecutive days driving more than an hour each way to Denver and back from Children’s Hospital; spending most of each day with Joel and one or more of our children in a tiny treatment room while Joel received chemo or waited for tests.

So when we received good news or had breaks in treatment, we loved to take long road trips as a family. 

One of the longer trips we took lasted two weeks and took us from Colorado to Washington, down the Coast of California to San Diego and back through Arizona.  I will always treasure our road trips, eating pizza in swim trunks at the local hotel; all six of us sleeping in a room with narrow; hard beds; driving for hours at a time through redwood forests and snowy mountain roads in van that smelled of 4 very messy boys, their toys and fast food wrappers, and dance parties.

One of the other blessings that has been mixed into my life is the ability to support my family and the cost of treatment through work on “That Dragon Cancer” as a full time job.  When I started this project with Josh, I had plenty of code experience, but very limited 3d artistic ability.

As you see from this picture, the uncanny valley is very real, and I was slipping from the ledge.  Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of throwing myself fully into work as an artist for the first time.  Working with Josh and Nat and Ryan, and learning and experimenting,  writing and drawing and sharing our story with the world has been tremendously fulfilling.

 And I’m grateful, that even though my skill does not yet match my taste, that we have the opportunity to honor Joel through this project, as well as the time and resources to create something beautiful and that gets more beautiful the longer we work on it.  This is especially vital to me now as we grieve; having the chance to throw all of my ability, and love, into work that matters to me has never been more important to my health and the health of my family.

I hope that this post encourages you, first that choosing work that matters too much to let yourself fail and choosing to go after it even when your skill doesn’t match your taste, is work worth completing.

This isn’t just my art, this is our art, and I think that is an important distinction.

It’s built on the experiences we choose to share together, and the beauty we choose to make together.

Create with each other, Learn from each other, Love one another.  It’s worth it.

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That Scapegoat, [insert people group here.]

I don’t want to talk about our game today.  

I want to talk about the way we treat each other.  I want to talk about the ways in which we’re able to stamp others with labels so that we can dismiss them.  I want to talk about bruises, and pride, and unforgiveness, and bitterness, and distrust, and the unfathomable abuse that occurs in this world to cause it.  I want to talk about the unimaginable priceless value of a soul.

But I’m not sure if it’d do any good, unless I see everyone as valuable.

I’d love to talk about rumor weeds.  The ones that feed on sub tweets, suspicion, speculation and very little first-hand information.

But I may grow one of my own in the process.

I’d like to talk about monolith organizations that eat people, print money and poop product.

But that’d be too easy a target.

I want to talk about easy targets.  And why we eagerly rip them to shreds on the Internet.

I’d like to talk about OUYA.  I’d like to talk about an industry full of souls with value. I’d like to talk about you and me.


This affects us too.

But first, I must disclose something.  I’m a father of four who decided to make a game about our family’s journey fighting terminal cancer in my 4 year old son, and took corporate money from OUYA (In a direct deal with OUYA, and NOT through the Free the Games Fund) so that I, and my 3 other teammates with a total of 3 spouses and 5 more children could continue to work full-time, pouring in our love, passions, faith, and tears into something we believe in. Oh, and our fifth member, with a spouse and three children, he donates his time because he loves us.

I recognize this might make me a corporate puppet, maybe a sellout, maybe entitled, certainly desperate, hopefully adequately “indie.”  I recognize that when I go to bat for the people of OUYA, that the conflict of interest is readily apparent.  We jumped in the boat with OUYA, we want OUYA to succeed, we want developers to jump in the boat with us.  There’s no hiding that.


Target practice with OUYA, GET SOME.

A popular target dummy in my circles on twitter over the past few months has been our friends over at @playouya. Unfortunately due to one poorly worded tweet, our game got to be the ammo:

@playouya: The Powerfully Moving That Dragon, Cancer Is Now A OUYA Exclusive  GET SOME.

What started as an exciting day for us, quickly devolved into mudslinging at our fine faceless corporate sponsors.  I mean obviously, on the day we announce that we’ll be able to finish the game thanks to a healthy investment in a project that they found worthy of existing, the soulless money grubbing corporation that cared nothing for me or you or anyone else, tweeted poorly.  See?!  SEEEEEE! I told you they’d change once they were legally incorporated and got some money…

Unfortunately, reality didn’t matter.  A person innocently tweeted GET SOME to promote us, in good faith. The Internet smelled blood, and pounced.  It didn’t matter what we thought about it, or that the community manager didn’t mean it that way.  It didn’t matter that the head of developer relations, who brought us to OUYA, immediately proved to us that our best interest was her first priority. It didn’t matter that a founder fought for our deal even when OUYA’s profitability wasn’t guaranteed, or that the head of OUYA thinks about charity and the value of developers before profit.

None of that mattered.  What mattered is that we, the nameless mob GOT SOME.


Let he without sin, throw the first stone.

The truth is, criticism is important. In order for it to be helpful though, it should be done the right way.  If we have an issue with each other, we live in a world where corporation or not, we can talk directly to people.  We can ask them why, we can offer ideas on how, but when we don’t talk to each other directly, things can fall apart.

And frankly, there’s really no way around it, OUYA PR has been a field of exploded mines. But that usually happens when you’re the first one through the minefield.  They’ve made mistakes, sometimes they haven’t fully owned up to them.  Sometimes they believed that they could spin the explosion away from them.  

  • OUYA units didn’t go to backers before retail.  Gigantic failure of confidence and trust.  Did they give up, take the money and run? It seems to me they doubled down in effort to try and make it right and still aim to make it right.  

  • The commercial didn’t work, it was tasteless and out of touch with the intended target audience, acknowledged, removed, apologized (poorly spun), back to the drawing board.

  • Developers exploited fund loopholes to get extra funding for their football game.  But they still would have had to deliver an actual product to get 75% of it.  I say “would have” because they voluntarily took themselves out of the fund.  Let’s see what they produce.  Maybe it will be rad.

The difference between the folks at OUYA and most everybody else, is that they got to live through their failures in public, while we got to lob stones. Imagine for a moment, how that would feel.  And suddenly you’re not lobbing rocks to knock out the funny-named faceless corporation, you’re lobbing rocks and hitting people.

You’re hitting Julie, and Bob, and Kellee and every person in that 30-odd member OUYA “cooperation” (See what I did there?) who wants to see a dream come true. Who wants to help the industry. Who wants to succeed.  Who had the guts to step out on the field.

I hope that Julie’s latest display of deference, humility, and grace in revising the FTG fund again and soliciting feed back from the developer community (including reaching out to our team this last week) as a gesture to a community she loves will grant OUYA one day of reprieve and hopefully some trust can be earned back.

The game industry is a community that needs each other.  We have families, We have bills, We have dreams, and skills that don’t yet match our taste.  We’re trying and we’re doing. All of us; you and me; we’re making games and writing about games, and playing games and pouring everything we have into it because it’s a language we understand, it’s one that speaks to our heart.

Maybe that’s why we have a problem trusting.  We’ve become an industry that will as quickly elevate someone for disrupting the status quo as we’ll fight over the scraps of what’s left of them when the mob is through.  We’re an industry of individuals that are starting to speak with our own voices, and not those of the corporation. And so we’re exposed; and we’ve been abused; and we shouldn’t have to tolerate such unnecessary suffering, but we’re told it’s the price of admission; “get a thicker skin.” This is because the cost of the opposite, the cost of being fair, of seeing others as valuable, of trading in assumptions that make us feel safe, is in a currency of intimacy.  

I’m choosing to trade in intimacy.  Not the kind that exploits, not the kind that takes advantage of, not the kind that abuses, but the kind that invites you to share in my suffering, and share in my comfort.  The kind that gives life.

And so I’m asking you, before you sling another arrow over the twitter wall after hearing that OUYA is exploiting a poor dying child, ask his father why a picture of he and his son sits next to a box of tissues on the show floor of a booth we decided to create, paid for with the funds we control, that came from OUYA.  And you might hear that I actually placed it there and you would hear how much I adore him, and that we didn’t start with tissues, they were given to us, because people needed them. And if you still take issue with what I’m doing, then you can tell me so and we can talk about it.  

Like Lana, who despite picking up a stone, dropped it and listened and apologized for spreading something that wasn’t true.  I really admire what she did. Because what started out as well meaning outrage directed at someone she thought took advantage of us, may have turned into respect for someone who was supporting us.

If we’ll pause, and talk to each other, we’ll find beauty in each one of us.  And a soul that’s worth treasuring.  





Why we're making "That Dragon, Cancer"

If you’ve arrived here from reading Jenn Frank’s piece on our game on Unwinnable or Kotaku, welcome! If you haven’t had a chance to read her incredibly personal and touching review of our game, you can find it here:

He’s Still Alive 

What was not entirely clear in the review was that we gave Jenn an early demo of the game.  The scene she played was  one of the hardest nights I personally experienced in this entire journey fighting the cancer in Joel.

My family has been in the palliative stages of treatment with Joel for over 2 years.  This means that our doctors do not believe they can cure him, but he does still receive treatment, intended to ease his landing when the time comes.  The thing is, the time hasn’t come yet.  And Joel is still alive, over 2 years past our reasoned expectations.

We’re still fighting with Joel, and even though we’re on our 8th tumor, we’ve had a beautiful 3 years in the midst of such trials. That Dragon, Cancer will have moments of despair, but I will never leave the player there. Our journey has been characterized by hope and many small miracles, a community of faith and a set of amazing physicians. And even in the event we lose him, our desire is that our hope remains.

Of course, we’re just in the middle of it. We don’t know the ending and so we don’t come claiming to have all the answers.  Just moments, that we hope to share with you of sadness, joy, hope and overcoming the fear of death in the shadow of that great dragon.

With Love,



Joel and Daddy - April 2013