Metatopia 2015 was a stew of wonderful, exhausting, humbling. One of the most creatively alive weekends I've felt all year.
New friends. This was by-far the highlight of the convention. It's exhilarating to find insta-kinship with such thoughtful and passionate people. I walked around all weekend with an inner conviction that I was right where I should be.
Games. This place was alive with creative energy and no where did I feel that more than in playing game prototypes. Stras Acimovic's Atlas Reckoning was my Neon Genesis Evangelion dreams in a tabletop. I especially loved the mechanics around synching minds and revealing inner secrets to pilot a mech. Another delight was Kristin Firth's Everyone's A Suspect, which showed me how entertaining it is to act suspicious! I really enjoyed our bizarre social-media-meets-classical-music setting. We'd love to run both of these games at our monthly RPG meet-up.
Panels. Metatopia panels were like glimpses of the RPG dojo of my dreams. J Li and Jason Morningstar's deep larp breakdown was a highlight, accompanied by a very useful handout that I've consulted multiple times since the con. Seriously, I coudn't get enough of the panels - there were many more discussions I wanted to attend than time allowed. I also participated with some great folks on a Your Game as a Product panel, the main result being yet another fun way to meet people!
Playtesting Dialect. +Hakan Seyalioglu and I ran 4 alpha playtests of Dialect over the weekend. We'd been working on the game in earnest for 2 months, so we knew we’d be going into the convention with an alpha stage design. We were very happy at the reception. The caliber of our playtesters was off-the-charts and we received lots of insightful feedback to mull on. Hearing people use the language hours after a game had finished to recall table play was magical. More work to do until this is in a publishable form, but it is very satisfying work.
Some Metatopia playtesting thoughts:
- A-ha moment. Watching other people enjoy your game is tremendous.
- A single mechanic can stifle a game. Our first playthrough on Friday was rough, but the remaining playtests shined after shedding a heavy, pervasive rule. The best tests saw people delighting in word play, bursting with new language. What a range!
- Simple social validation and story-building is a powerful incentive. Mechanics around incentivizing language use, at least how we had implemented them, were confusing and made the experience feel transactional. Less was more - though we'll need to watch how groups not seeded with professional level storytellers interact with the game.
- Emergent behavior is fascinating and provides a litmus test for the strength of a ruleset. A character died during one playtest (Tima was a real bless!), the first time it had happened in play. The consequences of the death felt clear and natural from the rules as defined, even though it hadn't been encountered before. However, we didn't have immediate solutions for other emergent behaviors. A few people wanted to define their own words instead of picking from a centralized dialect deck. Some tables were very collaborative, others were rigidly turn-based. We're still sorting out what behavior we're going to advocate for, but it's fascinating to see.
- Artifacts of play can serve many purposes. In Dialect, we build a diagram of concentric circles that tracks the progress of the community and language over time. Visually, it's a linguistic map. Mechanically, it helps pace the game and controls the speed at which language is added. Practically, it helped garner attention. People were curious about our table; many people took photos at the end of the game.
- Small differences in phrasing can lead to strikingly different outcomes. Are we doing an event, a scene, a dialogue or a conversation snippet? Something as simple as a choice of word can deeply affect how players react to the concept.
Looking forward to making Metatopia a yearly tradition!