A check-in on progress with Hinterlands, and other projects. by Nathan Harrison

It's that time again! I haven't shared what's been happening on the games front in a while, but happening they are. First up, here's a handful of design elements I mentioned in my last post that have been moved into the done column for Hinterlands:

  • Finished remaining content for last 4 playbooks (of 13 total)
  • Generated more entries in the GM's namelists, about double what I had before
  • Outlined and drafted initial moves for the Seasonal Moves sheet

("Done," here meaning a polished first draft I don't hate.)

The last bullet point is where I find myself a bit stuck right now. I have an overall rhythm for the year that I like almost enough to start testing in play — save one piece out of eight: the mandatory move for the summer season. As I envision it now, each season has one mandatory move that's triggered regardless of circumstances, and one optional move that represents something seasonal the village would like to see happen but that isn't guaranteed.

I keep waffling on what the solution to this blocker might be. Should these seasonal moves use different stats? (The minimalist side of me wants to avoid that.) Do I just need to read more history and fiction for inspiration to draw from? (Always interesting to do, but tough to decide if it's the best use of time set aside for progress on the game.) Am I focusing in the wrong place, and clarifying other systems first might open the path?

And so on in that vein. Probably, the real answer is that I need to dash off something that will work good enough, run it, and let the experience dictate how I move forward.

That's only one piece of what I've been up to since the last time I updated here, though. I was invited to contribute a year-end top 10 list for a friend's gaming site, Silicon Sasquatch. You can read my list here! It's a mix of both video games and analog/tabletop stuff, since trying to shake off the effects of being an omnivore for games would be hopeless.

Playing through 2016's highlights to write that list restored video games as a big part of my diet, no question about it. I've dabbled in streaming gameplay, and you can find my Twitch page here, and I upload my complete playthroughs on YouTube for posterity. So far, I only take to streaming things as the mood strikes, but even when it's just me talking to myself, I get something unique out of it. Life is ever-changing, and scheduling in-person meetups for games only gets harder year-by-year, but the form of interaction that streaming provides fills an interesting middle space between playing alone & together.

Most recently, I submitted an entry to the 200-Word RPG Challenge for 2017. It's called Studio Retrospective; describing it as a longform improv game might be most accurate. (I've participated in the same challenge each of the last two years as well, submitting The Caravan and Epitaph.)

Designing in that direction was partly fueled by what I've been playing a lot of lately; turning Studio Retrospective into a full-on party game would be pretty easy. Each of my 200-word games submitted so far have incorporated prompts in one form or another: it's the best way I can think of to expand the possible experiences wider than what 200 words might allow. And not for nothing, I just plain love games driven by prompts. Stitching outside inputs together into something cohesive is a type of puzzle that stretches my brain in ways I enjoy.

Separate from all those other things, there's Hinterlands hovering around it all, still getting a share of what available work-time & brainpower I have for personal projects. It's not been getting the majority of my available work-time & brainpower, though, which is what I'd like to fix.

This last six month stretch has seen me move into a new place for the first time in 7 years, and part of the search hinged on finding someplace I could afford with room for a dedicated workspace. I made that happen, and I want to keep making things happen. I want to keep aligning the habits and things in my environment to support the one big game I've ever felt driven to not just "put out there," but test & polish & even push on people. So that folks who'll never meet me will know this game exists, and I'll know for certain that it's worth their attention and time.

There's been a wave of PbtA projects surfacing on Kickstarter, too (see here and here and here and here...). I'd be lying if I said seeing them come up hasn't helped reinvigorate my desire to reach the end of the road with Hinterlands. I'm a long way from knowing if crowdfunding is what that will even mean, but that's still the hope, and I'm far from abandoning that goal.