Game Design

real video games for readers of tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow by gabrielle zevin

Gabrielle Zevin’s novel Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows three young game designers as they start a video game company.  The book refers to several real-world games, in particular retro favourites like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong, which a young Sadie and Sam (Mazer) bond over at the start of their friendship.  It also goes on to describe fictional games developed by Sadie, Sam and Marx’s company Unfair Games.

Because these games don’t actually exist and therefore can’t be played, I’ve compiled a list of real-world video game recommendations based on their descriptions.  If you’ve been intrigued by the concept of a particular game in Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, I’ve done my best to provide some commentary and a similar real game that you can play.


Whether you’re a reader who’s looking to get their feet wet or learn more about games, or a seasoned gamer looking to try a different sort of game, take a look below if any of the games in Zevin’s novel have spoken to you.

Spoilers for the book Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin abound below.

Jump to Game:

  1. Dead Sea
  2. EmilyBlaster
  3. Solution
  4. Ichigo: A Child of the Sea
  5. Both Sides
  6. Love Dopplegängers / Counterpart High
  7. The Mapleworld Experience
  8. Our Infinite Days
  9. Pioneers

Dead Sea

Created by Sadie’s university professor and boyfriend Dov, Dead Sea is an underwater zombie-fighting adventure game.  It’s easiest to split recommendations for fans of Dead Sea two ways: zombie games, and underwater games.


If you’re interested in the zombie-fighting aspect of Dead Sea, consider the popular zombie game The Last of Us.  For a stronger focus on the horror-survival aspect, players might enjoy Dead Space or any of the Resident Evil series.

Subnautica. Image from: Unknown Worlds Entertainment via Steam

Because underwater physics and graphics are really complicated to do well, there aren’t too many games that are set entirely in the ocean.  Best in class here is Subnautica, which has a lighter tone than Dead Sea, focusing more on exploration with some combat, with the top graphics and physics that Dov’s engine boasts.


For a more experienced gamer, first-person shooter Bioshock, which is set in an underwater city called Rapture, may scratch the Dead Sea itch.

Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (I: Sick Kids, Chapter 3)


Sadie develops a poetry-based shooter for class, called EmilyBlaster.  This one’s an easy recommendation, as Gabrielle Zevin has a version of EmilyBlaster on her website.  It’s far more polished than Sadie would have been able to do for a class project!

Out of desperation and with almost no time left, Sadie made a game about the poetry of Emily Dickinson.  She titled it EmilyBlaster.  Poetic fragments fell from the top of the screen and, using a quill that shot ink as it tracked along the bottom of the screen, the player had to shoot the fragments that added up to one of Emily Dickinson’s poems.  And then once the player had successfully cleared the level by shooting several of Emily’s verses, you earned points to decorate a room in Emily’s Amherst house.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (I: Sick Kids, Chapter 3)


Dov also calls out Space Invaders as a comparative title, so I think arcade games are a good route for anyone who’s interested in the mechanics of EmilyBlaster.

“It’s a rip-off of Space Invaders, but with a pen instead of a gun.  At the very least, I can say I haven’t played this exact rip-off before, Sadie Green.”

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (I: Sick Kids, Chapter 3)

As for poetry, while there aren’t many that use famous poems like Sadie’s, there are a few indie games that let you create poetry, like Wayfinder and Elegy for a Dead World.

Elegy for a Dead World. Image from: Dejobaan Games, LLC via Steam



Sadie’s game about the Third Reich factory is an example of a transformational game or serious game, a type of game that seeks to effect real-world change upon its players.  A good resource for these sorts of games is the Games for Change Festival.

There’s a broad spectrum of serious games in subjects and mechanics.  One example is the protein-folding game that has made scientific discoveries, FoldIt.  There’s also Kind Words, where you send and receive messages of encouragement with no real in-game objective.  For something more political, PeaceMaker seeks to simulate the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in which you play as a government leader on either side.

PeaceMaker. Image from: Impact Games LLC

For factory action without the social and moral implications of Solution, try Factorio, which is bound to keep you occupied with ways to optimise your factory.

The idea of Solution was that if you asked questions and didn’t keep mindlessly building widgets, your score would be lower, but you would find out you were working in a factory that supplied machine parts to the Third Reich.  Once you had this information, you could potentially slow your output.  You could make the bare number of parts required not to be detected by the Reich, or you could stop producing parts entirely.  The player who did not ask questions, the Good German, would blithely get the highest score possible, but in the end, they’d find out what their factory was doing.  Fraktur-style scrip blazed across the screen: Congratulations, Nazi!  You have helped lead the Third Reich to Victory!  You are a true Master of Efficiency.  Cue MIDI Wagner.  The idea of Solution was that if you won the game on points, you lost it morally.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (I: Sick Kids, Chapter 3)


Ichigo: A Child of the Sea

The plot of Ichigo is similar to many “hero’s journey”-style video games, where you play as a singular character fated to save the world or fulfill their grand destiny.  Any game in The Legend of Zelda series, which often has the identical premise of waking up in an unknown spot with limited tools, immediately comes to mind.

Stylistically, Ichigo might also be similar to games like ICO and RiME, which focus on single-player gameplay of puzzle-solving and exploration on a similar epic journey.

RiME. Image from: Tequila Works via Steam

When we first meet Ichigo in a cutscene at the beginning of Ichigo: A Child of the Sea, they—for Sadie and Sam conceived of Ichigo as having no gender—are a small child who knows few words and cannot read.  Ichigo is sitting on the beach, by their parents’ modest seaside house, in what looks like a remote fishing village.  They have a shiny black bowl haircut of the kind that an Asian child of any gender might have, and they are wearing only their favorite sports jersey (number 15), which goes to their knees like a dress, and wooden flip-flops.  Ichigo is playing with a small bucket and a shovel when the tsunami hits.

Ichigo is swept out to sea, and that is where the game begins.  With a limited vocabulary, their only tools that bucket and shovel, Ichigo must find their way home.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (II: Influences, Chapter 2)


Both Sides

Like, in one world, you’re the ordinary person living an ordinary life, and in the other world, you’re the hero.  And the game lets you play both sides.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (III: Unfair Games, Chapter 4)

For anyone intrigued by the concept of playing two different sides in a game like Both Sides, I recommend Broken Age.  The point-and-click puzzle adventure has two separate tracks that intersect and eventually form a single, cohesive story, and is easily accessible to newer gamers.  Broken Age masterfully executes on the idea of Both Sides, and is a great tool for understanding what I think Sam and Sadie are trying to create in Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.

Broken Age. Image from: Double Fine

They named the main character Alice Ma, and her idyllic, suburban American city, Mapletown.  Once they knew Alice Ma had cancer, the fantasy world was brought into relief.  Myre Landing became a medieval-looking, northern European village in which a plague had descended.  No one can breathe; the skies are coated in a grayish green fog and seem to be growing darker by the day; the sea is murky with a viscous yellow phlegm, chunks of which keep washing up on the beach; everything is dying—the old first and then the young; animals, nature.  It is up to Alice Ma’s alter ego, Rose the Mighty, to figure out what (or who) is causing the plague and how to save Myre Landing.  If Rose the Mighty can save her village, then maybe Alice Ma can save herself from cancer.  The two stories are linked but proceed along separate tracks.  You can only advance in one by advancing in the other.  The gameplay was incredibly intricate, and ultimately, Sadie informed Sam that the most efficient way for them to build the game was to work on each side separately.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (IV: Both Sides, Chapter 2B)


Love Dopplegängers / Counterpart High

The real-world game inspiration for Simon and Ant’s Counterpart High is called out in the novel as Persona.  For readers, the closest would be the most recent addition to the franchise, Persona 5 (or enhanced version Persona 5 Royal).

Another comparable title would be the Fire Emblem tactical JRPG series, which has over a dozen titles.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Image from: Nintendo

The first team he’d brought on was Simon Freeman and Antonio Ruiz, who were both juniors at CalArts.  The boys—as Marx called them—were making a Japanese-style RPG, inspired by their favorite game, Persona.  The game took place in a high school, and each character could summon alternate versions of themselves through a complicated system of wormholes.  Love Doppelgängers, its tentative title, was part romance and part science fiction.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (IV: Both Sides, Chapter 5A)


The Mapleworld Experience

Mapleworld’s MMORPG development would have likely been far too complex for the team at Unfair Studios.  Its toned-down, chill MMO vibes are more in line with games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, rather than the more involved MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.

Stardew Valley. Image from: ConcernedApe

Give Mapletown away for free, and monetize its maintenance (servers, new quests and levels) through additional purchases—upgrades for the characters, the furnishings, the residences and expansions.  If people liked it, the game could be a cash cow.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (V: Pivots, Chapter 2)


The cute side-scrolling MMORPG, MapleStory, which is similar in name, would have possibly been an influence.  Zevin’s list (below) of inspirations for Pioneeers is applicable for Mapleworld, too.

Unfair called the reboot of Both Sides: The Mapleworld Experience, or Mapleworld for short.  Although they had been able to employ many of the graphics, environments, sounds, and character designs of Mapletown, the work to transform it into an MMORPG had been more extensive than Sadie had thought.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (V: Pivots, Chapter 3)

Our Infinite Days

The partnership between a young child and an older parental figure against a great violence in Our Infinite Days is similar to Ellie and Joel’s relationship in zombie game The Last of Us.  For a more story-focused approach to zombie-fighting as Our Infinite Days seems to imply, check out Telltale’s The Walking Dead game.

The Last of Us. Image from: PlayStation

Our Infinite Days is an adventure shooter about the end of the world.  A woman and her young daughter travel through a desert apocalypse, fending of people and a gauntlet of what the Worths were calling “desert vampires”—a cross between a vampire and a zombie.  The woman has amnesia and the young daughter, who is only six years old, must act as her memory.  The daughter believes her brothers and fathers are on the West Coast, but can you trust the memory of a six-year-old?

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (VII: The NPC)


DAEDALUS84: Find you?  I built this place for you.  Pioneers is a period extension of Mapleworld.  I made it look like Oregon Trail because I knew you would like it.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (IX: Pioneers)


Gabrielle Zevin cites various inspirations for Pioneers in the “Notes and Acknowlegments” section at the end of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, so I’ll let her list below do the heavy lifting here.

I would also like to acknowledge the many games that inspired Pioneers, including The Oregon Trail, developed by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger; Stardew Valley, designed by Eric Barone; Animal Crossing, designed by Katsuya Eguchi, Hisashi Nogami, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Takashi Tesuka; Harvest Moon, designed by Yasuhiro Wada; The Sims, created by Will Wright; and EverQuest, designed by Brad McQuaid, John Smedley, Bill Trost, and Steve Clover.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Notes and Acknowledgments)

The Oregon Trail is certainly a favourite that is referenced throughout the book, and even has a board game inspired by the original video game.

The Oregon Trail.

After reading Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, I hope this list of related real-world video games inspires you to play one, or even venture into making your own.