Hills and Valleys
Hey everyone! Thanks for joining me for another letter.
1. Holding On
The Slow Knife is pretty much done in terms of my ‘active’ workload1 🥳
At the end of last year, I was ready to give up on this project. I had worked on the design on and off for a year, and all I had to show for it were:
Thirty-nine stream-of-consciousness notes, most written between 1 and 3am2.
A handful of patchy drafts with suffixes like
Beautiful illustrations that were starting to feel like a premature mistake.
Looking over it all, I still felt like I’d failed to capture the ‘social revenge’ experience that I was striving for. But slowly, out of the ashes of all those half-formed thoughts, the game began to coalesce—the fundamentals (board, cards, villains) started to feel locked in, even as the rest of the game continued to iterate.
As is often the case, I forced myself to get something playable together by setting a date with my friends. I wrote the cards and ordered some materials, and we sat down and played through the game. And, despite a few glaring points of friction, it worked!
Since then I’ve had the pleasure of running nine more playtests and hearing feedback from folks who’ve run the game themselves, as the iterations on the game have become smaller and smaller and we’ve moved towards the final design. I’m really glad I gave it one last shot, because I think it might be my favourite work yet. It’s certainly the one I’m most excited to play again, which is rare for anything I create.
The takeaway for me is not that I should never give up on my projects. I’ve got tonnes of ideas that have been consigned to the bin3. But if the core experience of a game remains alluring for me through a protracted development, I’ll feel more confident in future about sticking with it until it starts to make sense.
2. Letting Go
Hand in hand with my growing elation at completing a project comes the realisation that I’ve probably been overworking myself.
Between my day job, kids, house, partner and Mousehole stuff I’ve never been juggling so many plates. When I get a few hours of quiet time (including the evenings), it feels increasingly tough to do anything other than work away at my to-do lists—even when I know that a run or ten-minute meditation would do wonders for my brain.
So, I’m going to be more intentional for the next few weeks about valuing that ‘self care’4 as highly as other tasks. It’s hard work though, to resist the siren call of productivity…
The siren call of productivity! Honestly—teenage me, playing one-hundred hours of Civ 4 instead of revising, would be so disappointed to see how far I’ve fallen.
3. Good Stuff
This short article/episode by Emma Gannon on energy & creativity resonated with me, unsurprisingly given my overworked mindset.
When it comes to creativity and writing, this is something that gives me energy as opposed to draining it. […] If I spend a day writing in a café, or doing a podcast, I am topped all the way back up, like a car in a petrol station. Glug, glug, glug. But this also means I can be prone to overworking, because I just don’t know when to stop.
I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it before, so I thought I’d give a quick shout-out to Typewolf. They highlight interesting typography from across the web, as well as offering support on choosing fonts at various budgets. I used the site a lot to decide on fonts for The Slow Knife and the playsets, and it’s really inspiring. It also introduced me to Kilotype, who might be my new favourite foundry.
While we’re at it, another classic resource for layout is HUDS+GUIS, who look at the typography & design of fictional user interfaces. If you’re working on a sci-fi game, you should take a look!
Cheers for now!
design, writing, art direction, layout
literally, I don’t like keeping old notes so I bin everything that I’ve given up on. I just finished deleting all my notes for The Slow Knife.
this phrase always makes me feel like a goop sales rep