Horizon: sticking to long-term projects

This year, I plan to release Horizon, a new tabletop role-playing game where players create a community, its members, and play any combination of them as they go on adventures, changing themselves and the community in the process. This is part of an ongoing series of blogposts about its development and the ideas behind it.

So, anyone following the Horizon blogposts may have noticed they went a little quiet for a couple of months – mainly because I was suddenly working full-time on other projects (with other part-time work on top of that, because I don’t know what work-life balance looks like) and barely had the spare brain space to cook for myself, let alone continue to develop an original card-based tabletop role-playing system.

But I’m not back to my usual scattering of part-time jobs. Getting back into writing, developing, and prepping for the Kickstarting/release of Horizon is a bit strange after so much time where I couldn’t engage much with it, but that means this seems like the perfect point to share what’s helping me stay motivated and committed with one of the biggest projects I’ve made so far, with the longest development time to boot…

Make a manifesto

‘Manifesto’ might sound pretty grand, but fundamentally it’s this: a list of the concrete facts about a project, and the things about it that you find exciting and distinctive. So, for Horizon, it includes things like ‘the game uses hands of cards to track character traits, rather than sheets’ and ‘casting magic must involve sacrificing something about yourself’.

Basically, it’s a document that cuts through all the noise: that acts to remind you what excited you about the project in the first place, and helps to bring things back to a clear image of what you’re making if you’re finding yourself lost in the weeds.

Have someone to check in with

Horizon wouldn’t be in the position it is right now if it wasn’t for my awesome mentor (@dragonturtle), who I was linked with via the Tabletop Mentorship Programme. Most of the actual mentorship time we had carved out (TMP connects people for 6 fortnightly meetings) ended up being more about how I could better take care of myself and only commit to a manageable level of work, since the mentorship coincided with a generally rough time for me. But we kept going with fortnightly calls and they’ve made all the difference.

It’s not just my mentor’s ability to sincerely check in on what the project needs right now (which half the time is a matter of what I need to effectively work on the project), but the consistency of contact to focus on this specific game makes a huge difference. It also helps to give a more concrete sense of growth and progression, since I can see what’s been done fortnight to fortnight.

Make time to ‘talk’ about it

The other week, my mentor sent me a google form which was a sign-up sheet for creators to talk about their games on a podcast. Just filling out that sheet (with questions like ‘tell us about your game – what’s a cool element of it?’) made me get freshly excited about Horizon – something I didn’t expect, especially given there was no one providing immediate feedback going ‘yeah, that does sound cool!’.

Normally I’d just advocate for talking about your game when you can – having your ideas come into contact with other people can make a big difference to how motivated you’re feeling, and it makes the game feel more real. But, after the google form, I’d advocate simply for ‘talking’ about your game – writing about it, talking to a person about it, making a video or a stream about it. The bonus is you get better at communicating what the game is and finessing ideas around it, but the core reward is that – because you need to figure out what about it will be interesting to whoever you’re communicating with – you’ll remember what’s so interesting about it yourself.

Vary what work looks like

Writing a game can be a lot of *writing*. Sure, there’s playtesting and collaborating with artists and discussions with sensitivity consultants and suchlike – but there’s also a lot of writing. One of the things that’s helping me stay motivated is managing to find work that feels texturally (for want of a less pretentious word!) different – like making playlists that, for me, express the tone of the game’s world, and that I can later share when I’m deeper into promoting the game. Or spending some time learning more about visual design principles for when it comes to doing the layout. Just peppering in little flashes of this work (that, admittedly, makes me feel closer to the final, actual game) helps me not to just get lost in writing.

There’s a few of the things helping me stay motivated right now. Of course, there’s plenty of wider-world things that make it difficult, and I think it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s never going to be a case of being 100% motivated 100% of the time – but trying to articulate things like the above at least reminds me of what to do when I am finding things harder.

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