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Button Kin Blog

Predictable Setbacks and Unexpected Successes

Mar 15, 2024

Imagine how boring life would be if our growth was linear? It's tempting to think we want to put in x amount of effort to always get y amount of progress determined by some fixed ratio of x:y. But I don't think we're designed for that. I think we'd quickly lose interest in that slow, smooth ascension to the peak of our potential. No sudden breakthroughs. No setbacks. What kind of story would that be? Not a very good one, and I'm assuming we're all here for stories.

To be clear I'm talking about personal progress here. Not societal. In the latter case I'd take any sort of progress at this point, linear or not. No, this is just me consoling myself after a month where my own progress has been slow and hard won. Maybe next month I'll get hit on an unexpected streak of success? Or maybe it'll be more of the same. Either way I appreciate the regular prompt this newsletter gives me look back on my trials and tribulations, and reflect on how my momentum at least is still in a forward direction.

Little Wins

Bumbling! Speaking of unexpected successes, a game I wrote in a single afternoon for a jam - the second game I had ever, in fact, written - continues to surprise. This month I've had a raft of new reviews through my itch listing, one commenter getting me all teary by describing how the game helped them through some tough times. Meanwhile over on his Dorklord Canada twitch channel, Brent Jans played the game live. You can catch that VOD here. Thanks, Brent!

Tabletop Industry Networking (TIN)! Since I started this whole Button Kin endeavour a few years back I've been craving community, but I wasn't really sure how to go about building one. Fortunately someone else did it for me. TIN are a UK-based organisation dedicated to connecting tabletop creators of all experience levels across the country. They have a Discord where we can chat, give and receive advice, organise play tests, and suggest and attend excellent talks on a variety of useful game development-themed topics. I'm a regular attendee at their monthly Manchester-based meet ups, which have been lovely. They also run stalls at conventions across the UK and will stock your zines if you ask nicely (especially if you support their Patreon). If you're a tabletop creator interested in joining the fold give them a shout. If you want to chat to someone in person I believe we'll have a stall at Conpulsion in Edinburgh at the end of this month.

Development Diary: Jude's World, Part 7

At last my solo, tarot-based TTRPG about a plucky preteen protagonist struggling to reunite their warring parents is in the hands of play testers. I've been resisting doing any active development until I've received more feedback, but let's talk about what I've been hearing so far.

Feedback #1: Tone

Test readers said they liked the game but found the tone "sombre". This was cause for concern.

I'm not sure why I assumed that my little game about divorce would be a giggle? But I did. While the genre of the game is not comedy, it is inspired by 90s kids shows that I loved, which always sprinkled sassy one-liners and hijinks in even throughout more serious plots. They wanted their main characters to be likeable and aspirational, and they needed to balance the tone of the heavier drama for kids. Why didn't more of that source inspiration come through in my initial draft? Well.

Firstly I wanted to make the rule text clear. This means balancing detail with conciseness - I don't want to leave unnecessary ambiguity, but I also don't want to exhaust my reader with minutiae. It's easy to forget when writing game texts that it's okay to sacrifice a little of each of these for the sake of flavour. The field of optimisation is a triangle, not a line.

Secondly I have a lot to say about society's attitudes towards divorce. Maybe the introduction to a game text, which is intended to entice and invite the reader, isn't the place to explore those concepts fully. Was I wrong when I wrote that divorce is a women's rights issue and a hard won privilege, access to which should be expanded in a free and progressive society, or that an virulently anti-divorce tone of parent-trap-style stories is deeply problematic? No. Is that potentially a downer to read about when you're trying to get into a playful headspace? Maybe. (Yes.)

I may write up some of these more intense thoughts in a separate blog post or essay and refer to that in my text rather than including them there. That way those who are interested can read up while everyone else can have some peace. Credit for this idea goes to Laurie O'Connell who mentioned using a similar strategy in one of his games while being interviewed on the excellent What Am I Rolling? podcast.

Feedback #2: Organisation

I should have seen this one coming. It's telling that I've overhauled the structure of the text 5 times now. The feedback is that it's still not flowing quite right.

From experience this is something I'll continue to tinker with until near the end of the development process. Although I have hit upon an idea I want to try in the next version: I want to try writing my game like an academic paper.

I studied Psychology at uni. I didn't really like it because my tutors expected me to, like, go to the library and read a lot of academic papers, which clashed with my pre-existing plans to chain-smoke in the pub all day. In the intervening years I've both quit smoking and somehow retained some knowledge of the structure of an academic paper: abstract, content, then conclusion, with all the same information in those three sections using different emphasis and levels of detail.

When I first learned about this format I thought it was insane. Why all that repetition? Then I actually did a spot of teaching and realised: that's just how we learn. You cannot say something once and expect a listener (or reader) to retain it. No matter how simple the message seems to you.

So I'm going to try that for the next version of my game. Simplified rules, followed by a rules deep dive, followed by a glossary/diagrams/play examples to enrich what we've covered before using different presentation styles. I'm excited about this idea. Let's see how it goes!

If you're interested in play testing the game I'm more than happy to provide subscribers with a copy of my current draft. You can email me at [email protected].

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