Alumni Report: Durance

As part of the build-up to the launch of Game Chef 2012, we’re checking in with a number of recent Game Chef “alumni” to see what their post-contest experience has been like and how their games have continued to develop. First up is a conversation with Jason Morningstar about his Game Chef 2011 entry, Durance.

Tell us about your game.

Durance is a game about the inmates (on both sides of the law enforcement divide) in a penal colony on a distant planet. It’s a meditation on power and how it is exercised in extreme circumstances. It is a dark, intense game.

That’s not what it’s really about, is it?

No, you got me. It’s about the colonization of Australia. In fact, Port Jackson in 1788 is offered as an alternate setting in the book.

What state was your game in at the end of Game Chef, and where is it now?

It was mostly playable immediately after Game Chef but not entirely baked, obviously. The core concepts had come to me and have been persistent, but everything has been radically refined, if that makes sense. We’re putting finishing touches on it in layout, the art is done, it looks great and we’re angling for a Kickstarter in mid-April to fund production.

   

What have you learned over the course of the game’s development?

One funny thing I’ve learned is that what I want and what players expect will not always be congruent. I wanted Durance to be a game that ends naturally when it is supposed to, and wanted players to trust themselves to guide that process on their own terms. Universally, playtesters asked for an endgame condition. So Durance has both options.

What are your ultimate goals for the game, and how close are you to meeting those?

I’d like it to be an excellent game. It’s a little focused and may not have the universal appeal of, say, Fiasco, but my hope is that it is a solid arrow in a gamer’s quiver. Another less serious goal for me was to write a game that had a capital-S setting, which I’ve also accomplished. I love the universe of Durance. (I hate it, but I love it; you know what I mean).

What advice would you give to other Game Chef alumns who are thinking about developing their game further?

It’s pretty easy, so if you realize your goal is to get you game out there you should. Don’t do it for the wrong reasons, but if it is what you want, definitely go for it. Start small and be iterative. Use the tools and network that Game Chef provides.

What would you tell folks participating in Game Chef for the first or second time?

If you are considering doing it for the first time, I would really encourage you to give it a try. The stakes are very low and it can be both edifying and fun. You’ll learn a lot. If you are considering returning for your second year, you know that already. So set some higher stakes for yourself. Maybe plan on investing in some hardcore mutualism and playtest other people’s stuff, or offer in depth critiques, or choose to devote X number of hours to your project, or playtest it twice, or whatever works for you. Up the bar and see what happens, just don’t set “I will win” as a goal, because that is a dumb goal.

More information about Durance is available online here.

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