We’ll Be Fine: Early Stories and Lessons from our Post-Critical Hit Adventures

The day after this year’s Critical Hit showcase, one of my teammates asked, “Now what?”

After spending almost three months of intense creative work, this was probably the most common and expected reaction. During those ten weeks, we spent almost every day building up towards the final showcase — a grand finale strutting out our most polished works.

With the showcase now in the books, we were left wondering what’s next.

For our own game (“We Are Fine, We’ll Be Fine”), the showcase was the day when the game was at its most polished. While we did have two previous play-tests leading up to the finale, it was always difficult to gauge the real reaction to our game when we were still building/changing it concurrently. The showcase was our first real opportunity to see how people interacted with it when it was finally “complete”.

Since we received a lot of feedback during the showcase, our whole team taught it best to continue the tradition of holding a postmortem team meeting as had been the case during the incubator (where we had postmortems at the end of each jam cycle). I always found them to be useful because we were able to deconstruct what worked, what didn’t and how we could improve our games further. In our case, it would also give us a chance to talk about our future plans.

Post-Critical Hit Meeting with Team Sagittarius (August 27, 2015)

Thinking about why we made the game and who we made it for, we concluded that perhaps our game had more potential as a project existing outside the confines of gaming circles (i.e. sharing it not just with the usual gaming crowd but also with everyone else outside of it).

We hit on an idea allowing us to do this but we pushed off any major plans until the new year because Raoul is away doing his M.U.M. residency until then.

While our major plans may be on hold until January, we still wanted to show our game around the city whenever opportunities arose (as both Hope and I still live in Montreal). Last Wednesday, we had that chance when our post-Critical Hit adventures kicked off with Mount Royal Gaming Society’s September Craft Meetup (sharing the night with the awesome Squinky!). A few days later, we were once again in the same area as we headed to JustHack (a hackathon for social change) to talk about and demo our game.

(Top) MRGS Craft Meetup (Bottom) JustHack

One of the great things about art is letting other people enter and experience the worlds you have created. For us, this is the next challenge for our team: finding good ways and good environments where we can share the world of “We Are Fine, We’ll Be Fine”.

While we’re still early in our post-Critical Hit adventures and still figuring out a few things, here’s a few lessons we’ve learned so far:

Think about transportability BEFORE you start making your final game.

Even before we started thinking about our final game, we decided that we wanted to go small. This was done partly because of the nature of our game (acting more like an intimate audio documentary) but also because of the transportation horror stories we heard from the Mouffe team (one of the games created during Critical Hit’s 2014 incubator).

While it was scary to go small (because there was less room for error), I’m so grateful we did because it has made our lives easier now to transport and set up our game in any environment. All we do is show up with the board, a laptop, the stamps and four headphones and we’re good to go — no additional requirements for our hosts or needing to lug or rent any heavy equipment.

JustHack Hackathon (September 19, 2015)

You will not always have the most optimal environment.

Yes, we were warned about this but I didn’t realize how true it was until this past week. Gina was completely right in saying the showcase is probably the most optimal environment you will ever have — since you have almost complete control over the environment and the equipment you can bring.

Because our game is primarily audio-based, our most optimal environment is one where people can have an intimate and relatively quiet space to listen to the stories. However, you can’t always control or create this kind of setting and we learned this quickly enough during our MRGS appearance. It wasn’t a surprise given the nature of the environment (a cafe hosting a social event) and you can only do so much to lower the noise (big thanks though to our MRGS hosts for trying!).

For next time, it’s probably a good idea to scope out our environment before our presentation — just as we had done during the showcase. If we can pre-plan where we’re going to set up the board (perhaps finding the quietest corner or space in the environment), that can improve the experience for our players. Another option is upgrading our equipment (i.e. buying noise-cancelling headphones) which could considerably reduce outside noise.

Each appearance is another play-test. Learn from them.

One of the core aspects of our game is simply listening — listening to the stories of the voiceless. In daily life, these voices are easy to ignore. You can easily opt out, look away or tune out. For our game though, we wanted to create an experience where opting out would have a cost.

We designed our game in such a way that the cost of opting out would be far greater than just sitting and listening until the game ends. While players are always free to stop playing at any time, we designed features that would make them (and the other players) be overtly aware of any decision to leave. Some of these include the hand-holding mechanic (if you stop holding hands, the audio story would stop too), the co-operative nature of the game (requiring all three players to start and end the game), the social pressure (if one player leaves, the game cannot continue — as such, exiting the game means leaving two players in the lurch) to the commitment each player made to the game (whether in the time they waited in line, physically entering a closed off space or even just the act of wearing the headphones themselves).

These added costs may be one of the reasons why we never had a single player leave the game mid-session during the showcase. This week though, with changes in the environments (and inability to implement some of the features above), we finally had our first incomplete play-through. While it’s no surprise that one day it would happen, I think one of the reasons it happened in this instance was our decision to lessen the cost of opting out (in order to accommodate having an audience, we took away the headphones and also did not have a closed off space like in the showcase).

Our team has had numerous discussions on this and we’ll talk about these design decisions in a future post. In the mean time, I think from our experiences with these two appearances, it’s clearer to us now how important it is to maintain the intimate aspect of the game as well as the importance of having all of these added costs for opting out.

Critical Hit Showcase (August 20, 2015)

When the showcase arrived, we thought we had our most “complete” game. We’re finding out though as we go through these appearances that each showing is another play-test opportunity — an opportunity to really learn why players are reacting the way that they do and which aspects of our game are the most important.

Listen to the co-directors and previous alumni. They’ve been there.

All of the these lessons I’ve listed above are things I distinctly remember the co-directors and previous alumni mentioning before. It’s only now though (when we are dealing with these same issues) that I’m realizing how right they really were. I suppose that’s no surprise considering they have gone through these same things. Sometimes though, we have to experience it ourselves before we really start to believe it.

These are just a few of the things we’ve learned along the way. While we may not know exactly what the future holds for “We Are Fine, We’ll Be Fine”, our recent adventures have taught us that the finale showcase was not the end but just the beginning of our story.

So…what really happens after Critical Hit?

“Now what?”
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