The prophecy is true; Thorny Games persists. February was a month of steady progress through playtesting and collaborating. We wanted to give you a peek at recent happenings in getting this game into form. We'll do this every month of the journey.
Convening and Playtests
We attended Dreamation in New Jersey, a fantastic con with a big heart and an excellent contingent of players and designers alike. Being from the wondrous West, this gathering is quite a trek for us, but duty calls. In happy form, we ran a whopping 5 sessions Dialect, each fully booked. Much story and language was made and we learned a lot in the process. Here’s a few kind words from players:
“Really loved playing Dialect, a storytelling-world building game in which we explored how a language evolved in an isolated community -- an intense process that included collaborative language building as well as interactive character exploration and storytelling.”
And another …
“Saturday night, though, was when I discovered my new favorite game, Dialect... From the moment we sat down, and started creating the world, I was enjoying myself. In creating our world, it was clear that this game was truly a cooperative experience between the four players . We navigated how things made sense, and it didn't feel like any one of us HAD to do something on their own, and it was a wonderful amazing experience. I realized later that there was literally NOTHING random about it - though unexpected things certainly came up!”
We also learned a bunch from these runs. Playtesting is a core part of the game dev’s journey and we’ve been walking that line for quite. a. while. As a whole, Dialect’s structure is set and stable. But in making anything wholeheartedly, you find that you are always reaching to make it better. We’ll continue to do that until we can’t anymore. We’ve been very happy with our latest additions: introducing a few variations into Age 3 and the Epilogue by focusing on the story and perspective of the characters at the end of the game. It's satisfying to move from language creation to a set time for exploring the world that you've architected at the table. Right now we’re spending a few mental eggs on refining the age transformations and crafting some guided examples for language creation.
Playtesting is a dark art unto itself. Every time we play with external groups, we provide a feedback sheet with a list of questions that help us evaluate the status of the game. Human behavior is a tricky thing to bottle up and make actionable data from, but by golly, we do our damndest. Take a listen to this episode of the Backstory podcast where H soliloquizes on playtesting science.
A collective noun of Dialect feedback sheets!
We’re working with our collaborators to write their backdrops! Three of the 5 external playtest runs were for drafts of Backdrop content (The Sanctuary and Worcester School). It is a joy of joys to see other brilliant people transform your game in new ways.
As a peak, here’s a glimpse at some of the aspect generation questions for The Sanctuary:
Recall, the description:
“There were 186 of us on the island when it hit. All of Boston was dying, a sickness that killed fast and mean. Joseph Shea had taken the boat the three hour's row to Back Bay that bright September day to get supplies, and he'd seen the bodies in the street, lying beneath the quarantine sign. He turned around without even landing, so we did without the cigarettes and such as he'd been sent for. We figure the island wasn't named Sanctuary just for it's pretty little west-side harbor and seaweed-fed soil. It's 2018 now, and we still keep to the island, though there's closer to three hundred of us now.”
Light drives death away: How have we kept the lighthouse lit and operational for 100 years?
Softness breeds sickness: Without exposure to the weaknesses and medicines of the blighted mainland, what have we done to become strong and resilient on our island?
More for this backdrop and the rest in the coming months.
Up next: more playtesting and refining. More writing and collaborating with our backdrop writers. More art, with rumors of a language phoenix on the horizon.
Thorny Games and the mathy cats