I have just returned from Metatopia 2012, the amazing convention run by Double Exposure over in New Jersey each November. This was my first experience at Metatopia, but it has absolutely stolen my heart. Not only was Vinny amazing as usual in organizing the event despite the minor inconvenience of a Hurricane, we even managed to get the critical mass of game designers necessary to have 2 parallel game design seminar tracks going and a vast number of playtest sessions.
Critical mass is absolutely the correct description of Metatopia. The brain trust in those rooms was phenomenal, and it’s evident when listening to the recordings (say, GM’less play) that the discussions were at a high level of sophistication.
Whereas I have found many GenCon panels are by necessity, collage, or undergraduate level in complexity, I found Metatopia panels were closer to Masters or Doctorate level. Perhaps less useful for the budding designer, but absolutely priceless to those of us with a enough of a foundation to participate. Pity there wasn’t enough time to participate in all of it, or spend some time gaming with more of these fine ladies and gentlemen.
On the topic of panels, I recorded a large number of these and have coordinated with others (including Fred Hicks and Jason Morningstar) to get more coverage. I will be starting up a podcast feed shortly, specifically for the purpose of distributing RPG Game Design seminar recordings. My current working title on that is “The RPG Design Panelcast”, and I expect to have at least one episode drop within a week or two. You should be able to find them here on my site, or on Itunes.
The underlying reason why I was attending Metatopia was to determine if Spark is ready to go forward. The first of the playtest sessions was full of experienced Jeepform and Nordic Larp pros who tested the hardcore version of the game, diving into play while dealing with highly-sensitive subjects and beliefs that were personally meaningful to the players. The feedback was that the mechanics of the game pulled out of immersion enough that there was little *Bleed*. The described the game as being an interesting intellectual exercise, but not one that is inherently transmitting emotion to the player. This feedback gave me an incredible amount of comfort, as it meant that my game was less emotionally risky to any potential players, and that it encourages the kind of philosophical introspection I was looking for.
The second playtest was originally intended to be targeting experienced Burning Wheel players, but strangely enough, I didn’t get a large group of those fans. Instead, I got a lovely playtest session with two masters of the system: Jeff and Emily. These two were kind enough to playtest Spark _twice_ at Dreamation, then joined me once more for my Metatopia test. With their assistance, I tested how a 2-player game worked and cleaned up the Influence economy. They even helped me test out a proposed change to my scene framing rules, which I wound up rejecting due to their excellent feedback.
The fundamental thing that came out of both sessions was a sense of confidence. This was one of the first times that I tested the game and the experience of play felt natural. I feel that I am ready to finalize the text, to get a final editing pass done, and to start planning for my kickstarter.
Thank you all.