Alumni Report: The Dance and the Dawn

In the aftermath of Game Chef 2012, we’re continuing to check in with a number of Game Chef “alumni” to see what their post-contest experiences have been like and how their games have continued to develop. Today we spotlight Dev Purkayastha and his Game Chef 2004 entry, The Dance and the Dawn.

Tell us about your game.

The Dance and the Dawn tells a fable of the Ladies of Ash who come to the Island of Ice and dance with several Lords, trying to find their true love hidden among them. It’s a published tabletop game, and it’s also been spun off as a rather successful larp. I’ve seen it described, accurately, as “gothic chess speed dating.”

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

After Game Chef, I remember that the pieces surprisingly fit together, and it was mostly playtest-ready; I was happy with that. That said, the first playtests quickly showed me things to fix: currencies that never came into play, turns taking too much or too little time, and gaps in the gameplay where I simply wanted more from the player experience. I kept an open mind, and in the long run, many mechanics that I thought were precious and vital were ultimately replaced by smaller mechanics as the game’s focus iterated and evolved.

I’m really glad I did playtest continuously, because those iterations gave me useful feedback and a constant reality check about where the game was going. You can sketch out new ideas forever, but it’s important to stay grounded in the real experiences of players. Playtesting also helped by showing my the enthusiasm and energy of the players, and that’s something that kept me motivated throughout the process.

It turns out that the design process was a bit slow and leisurely, but I’m fine with that; I alternated between finishing the project and working on other things. When it was an active concern, it was an iterative cycle: adjust the text, try a playtest, take copious notes during and after the playtest, and then brainstorm new ideas to test out. I finally decided around 2008 to get it out there with the help of my friend Nathan Paoletta. I put the finishing touches on the text in January 2009, and we had a small-press run at Gen Con 2009.

I’m proud of where the game is! There’s plenty of people who’ve read and played my game that I’ve never met, and that’s a really fun feeling, knowing that your work has taken a life of its own.

How did the larp project come about? How has it felt to watch someone else take your game in new directions?

My second playtest of the game was in 2006 with my friend Warren. After the game, he told me that the core story of the game was really compelling, and he suggested that it could be the basis for a fun larp. I said: “Go for it.” He sent out an email that evening, promising a game mixing gothic mystery, melodrama, and real ballroom dancing; in retrospect, it should be no surprise that he filled every spot in the larp within an hour.

So, the larp really took off, and it has been run several times and spawned multiple sequels. I’ve seen the costumes, I’ve heard the stories people tell years after the gameplay — it’s been amazing. I was initially part of the development of the larp, but bowed out due to time concerns, and Warren took the core story of The Dance And The Dawn in an interesting direction — one in some ways different from my own.

I’ll admit that, in part, this was difficult: it is hard to see something you love in the hands of someone else, transformed into something new and different. And yet, doing so enabled an awesome evolution of the game, and created a series of larps that has touched hundreds of people. I’m proud of the larp, and I’m looking forward to seeing it reach the next level post-Kickstarter. I think there’s a lesson here: trust your work and let it go. It’s not just about your vision, but the way your vision inspires other players and designers.

What advice would you give folks thinking about participating in Game Chef for the first or second time?

Do it, absolutely! The creative constraints and time limits are a great way to get practice and unlock ideas you never knew you had. Keep an eye on the deadline, and clear up some time to get the writing done. Do a bit of brainstorm and work each day. Putting together a short-form game can take less writing and less rules than you may think, so just dive in and get something — anything! — playable and done.

More information about The Dance and the Dawn is available online here. More information about the larp version can be found on its Kickstarter page.


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