The following is an interview conducted via email with Fred Hicks.
CUE THE ROBOT!
TEO: Fred, before I start asking serious brow furrowing questions I’d like to thank you for volunteering time out of your day to do this. On that note, It has been rumored that you have an ancient Mayan device hidden in the bowels of your home that manufactures time from nothing, but pocket lint, and liniment oil. This goes a long way towards explaining how you find the time to do all the things you do. How true are these rumors, and if true, could I persuade you to sell the device to me?
FRED: Oh, the rumors are absolutely true. Every word of them. The thing about the jello and the goat cannon? Also the gods’ honest truth. But to be frank, I’ll be using the device at the end of this interview to create a bit of a time-loop that traps away any knowledge you have of its existence, so a sale is entirely out of the question.
TEO: In lieu of that would you be willing to give a cursory overview of how you look at time, and the ways in which this helps you manage it?
FRED: It’s sort of a timey-wimey, wibbley-wobbley thing, isn’t it? I think I heard that somewhere, on good authority.
I have no idea how it works.
TEO: Very coy sir. A secret it is then. Well, part of what you have been doing with your time is not so secret! The BBLG team has unearthed a plot wherein you, and an elite team of mercenaries have micronized the wholesome goodness of Spirit of the Century, and crammed it into a single box (Frankly, it wasn’t too hard to find out about, because of the Kickstarter page, and it actually sounds pretty cool). Could you tell us all about the machinations of this secret plan, code named Race to Adventure, and then cackle madly like a Bond villain when you’re through?
FRED: Race to Adventure is a family-friendly “race to the finish line” game set in the Spirit of the Century universe. Players are Centurions running around the globe on a pulp-themed scavenger hunt to get their passports stamped and return to the Century Club headquarters first to declare victory. Along the way they run into villainous complications, of course — it’s pulp. For folks deep into board game speak, it’s an intro-level role selection game with a modular play-board.
Uhm… ha? Haha? Hahahaha? Heh?
TEO: I guess the company isn’t called Evil Laugh for a reason : )
FRED: Yes, you’ve found your way to the heart of the matter right there.
TEO: I watched the video, and I’m specifically intrigued by how reconfiguring the cards can affect play. I’m also excited to see that I’ll finally be able to play a gorilla in a biplane.
FRED: You’ve always been able to play a gorilla in a biplane in Spirit of the Century! But, yes, one of the Centurions you can play is a talking ape type, Professor Khan, who folks got a chance to meet first in the Dinocalypse Now novel Chuck Wendig wrote in the Spirit of the Century universe.
So, Race to Adventure’s board is actually a set of 12 tiles that can be rearranged. Three are put together to form the Empire State Building that makes the home base, and the other nine represent various locations around the globe that are a part of the race’s objectives. It differs from location to location as far as what it takes to complete the mission and get your passport stamp — you might need the map and a few clues at one, but want the lightning gun at another, and in one you can only complete the mission with the use of a well-fueled jet pack.
Some locations have unusual challenges. In Egypt you’ll get cursed by the Mummy King which prevents you from completing other missions until you get back to the medical facility at HQ; in Atlantis, you use the lightning gun to rescue a prisoner, but you need to escort them back to HQ before the clock runs out if you want your stamp.
It’s in those two locations that rearranging the board from game to game is most strongly felt — sometimes you’ll have an easy run back home with the prisoner, other times not so much, and a mummy’s curse hitting you on the far side of the board might mean you need to save that mission for last, and so on. But the arrangement of other locations will have a less obvious but still palpable effect on the tempo and shape of play. This is really a game about planning ahead at least a couple turns, and hoping you’ll have the right item at hand when you need it — cutting an efficient path through the locations gives you a real leg up, but what the efficient path is changes each time you play.
Instructional video below
TEO: Just to be clear, Race to Adventure has nearly nothing in common with Spirit of the Century from a mechanical stand point if I’m not mistaken.
FRED: That’s correct.
TEO: Was there ever a point where FATE was considered as the platform for the game, and if so what changed your mind?
FRED: Not really. Fate isn’t a board game. I mean, yeah, we have some support in there for zones and physical and notional spaces that the characters can move around in, but I’m not sure if you stripped away all the roleplaying from those that what you’d be left with would be a particularly exciting set of actions from a board game perspective. The story is what animates it all.
TEO: What games might’ve inspired how Race to Adventure plays?
FRED: You’d have to ask the designers — Eric Lytle, Evan Denbaum, and Chris Ruggiero — what their direct influences were, but any game with a kind of role selection mechanic in it could apply — Citadels, Puerto Rico, and so on. The guys wanted to take that basic idea, of players selecting each turn what “role” they’d play and ability that would give them, and really make it as accessible as possible, something that had depth and subtlety in play but which also worked as a first introduction to that mechanical genre. Race to Adventure works for players age 8 and up — we’ve tested it — so it really looks like they hit that mark.
TEO: I’m a big fan of cooperative games. That is probably why I’m so into RPGs, but board game designers like Matt Leacock (Pandemic, Forbidden Island) have managed to fit that idea nicely into the box that normally houses family board games. I know you have expansions planned for Race to Adventure that will include changes/additions to the rules. Have you, or your team considered adding a more collaborative element either in part, or as a full substitution for the original rule set?(I’m imaging a scenario where they all have to cooperate, or the whole game falls apart, but after they manage to defeat the BIG problem together they can then try to out compete each other.)
FRED: Yeah, we’ve considered it. Cooperative is a tricky design problem. The Kickstarter didn’t quite reach the funding goal where we would’ve committed to doing a cooperative play variant for sure, but I’m sure the guys have been noodling on the problem. That’s any designer’s chronic condition. Tinkering.
TEO: Boing! Okay, must calm down. Dang. I was so certain the answer would be a flat no, that I started trying to figure out how I would do it. I was considering that like Forbidden Island, Race to Adventure has tiles. I might involve some kid of Doomsday device that was destroying each tile one at a time, make the target number of Pass Port stamps lower than the ones available in play, and that eventually if all the players didn’t attack the Doomsday device with a concerted effort (on par with the final confrontation in Arkham Asylum) it would erode the available stamps to less than what anyone could win with. There could be other problems like a zombie plague, or fire, and brimstone rain, or whatever…
I said I was going to calm down, and I haven’t have I?
FRED: That is correct.
TEO: Anyway, thank you for that news. I know it’s still vaporware, but it’s nice to know there has been some talk about it at least. Let me poorly segue to another game you’ve published. I have been curious about Daniel Solis’ game Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, as I used to live in ancient China, coincidentally on Pilgrims of the Flying Temple Cir.
FRED: Wait, you — what?
TEO: The more research I do the more it resembles the life I know from my past life regression therapy.
TEO: Since they are so similar, and I have been banned from ever returning to my hypnotist would you mind telling me a bit more about what happened to me, I mean about the game? I know it uses stones instead of dice, but things get a little fuzzy after that.
FRED: Uh, right! Okay. So, Do.
It’s a cooperative story-building came — think of it as a version of Avatar: The Last Airbender where the PCs are Momo and the Cabbage Guy, mashed up with the Little Prince. Players are young pilgrims flying through an open sky full of tiny planets, trying to solve problems they learned about in letters sent to their temple in the center of the sky. But along the way they have a tendency to create as much trouble as they solve. You determine outcomes by drawing black and white stones from a bag — the mix tells you what sort of success (or complication) you encounter. It all ends up working as a kind of coming-of-age story, where you learn to be an adult (graduating from the temple) by going out into the world and finding out how no solution is ever as simple as you’d think.
TEO: Okay. That sounds a lot less like my past life in China, and more like the one in Egypt. You ever notice that with past life regression everyone was always a prince, or empress? Nobody is ever the girl who emptied the chamber pots, or the guy that cleaned the stables. Just lucky I guess.
Anyway, Do seems like it has application outside of what Daniel Solis may have intended. Like another game you published that I actually own, A Penny for My Thoughts, it actually sounds like it’d be kind of a cool way to generate background for characters in more typical RPGs that don’t have much in the way of support for PC back story, or even ones that do.
FRED: Could be! I’m always a fan of folks grabbing ideas from one game to drop into another.
I’d also say it’s a good game for training players to believe that failure can be fun. Drama is what happens when things fall apart.
TEO: I know that one game you’re working on that will hopefully have robust support for character back story is Atomic-Robo. How is that shaping up, are there any details that will be added to FATE Core to make it more Atomic-Roboesque, and do you have a rough idea of when people can get their grubby little palms on it?
FRED: We’re aiming for Atomic Robo to land in Spring of next year, timed to coincide with certain events in the storyline of the graphic novels. It’s shaping up well! Mike Olson, the primary developer on the Atomic Robo RPG, is gearing up to get some playtests run at GenCon this year, as well as a couple other places. You may find out more over on his Spirit of the Blank blog.
Fate Core is being shaped to be an update of the, well, core engine of Fate. We’re changing a few bits of behavior and language from what you’ve seen before in order to produce a highly coherent, flexible engine that we and others can use in 2013 and beyond to create a new set of games in the Fate family. I’m hoping we’ll be able to say more about Core later this year.
TEO: Oh, and Rob, from the podcast, demands that I ask if you have any plans to get the license for Robocop. Before you answer, would knowing that he chipped on on a statue of Robocop intended to be placed in downtown Detroit as a monument, and would probably do the same for a FATE version of Robocop help the answer become yes?
FRED: We don’t have plans to get the license for Robocop. But you know, I– I– I– I– Robocop is a registered trademark of Omni Consumer Products. You are legally required to stop answering questions about Robocop.
You have ten seconds to comply.
TEO: I know Atomic Robo is about a robot that is atomically powered, and fights Nazi’s or something. Could you elaborate a little on that for those of us that haven’t read the comic? Also, I’m curious how it’ll compare/contrast to Spirit of the Century, because there seems like a lot of opportunity for cool overlapping between the two.
FRED: It’s big pulpy what-if — what if Doc Savage was a robot built by Nikola Tesla? And he spent the whole 20th Century adventuring? It’s a timeline-hopping, fist-swinging, dinosaur-punching, quip-slinging thrill ride. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the best of what’s in comics today.
There’s definitely opportunity for overlap between the two — and I think the Atomic Robo RPG will do a better job of fulfilling the Spirit of the Century promise to work as a “pick-up roleplaying game”. We’re orienting on super, super fast character creation and getting right into the action ASAP with Robo.
TEO: I’d like to jump in the way back machine now (another device I hear is in your basement). I was an avid FUDGE player, but always recognized there was something not quite together about the game. I mean, that is kind of the point I suppose. It was the first real attempt to provide an open set of tools that anyone could use to build a game to their liking. Can you recall the details surrounding the inception of Aspects? I’m just curious how that was conceived, and birthed. I’m also more than a little grateful.
FRED: It started with my attempts to run the Amber setting (I’m a longstanding Amber Diceless fan) in Fudge. The first game I ran was mostly straight Fudge; for the whole “Strength out of Legend” thing, I encouraged players to buy that sort of thing as a Gift, focused on any one thing they wanted. “Bard of his Generation”, “Warrior of his Generation”, etc. Those Gifts are what eventually became Aspects after Rob Donoghue got a chance to noodle on the design problem I was trying to solve there — after that game had wrapped and we both moved to California, there was a long drive back to the bay area from Lake Tahoe where Rob and I pretty much hashed them out as an offshoot of some of the interesting backgrounds in 7th Sea and what I’d been doing with the Generation Gifts in my first Fudge Amber game. Their first incarnation manifested in the next one, and it was clear we had something hot there.
TEO: Wholly crap Fred! I was going to jokingly slip in a reference to Amber Diceless, but I decided to spare you. It’s a running joke in way, because one of the podcast members, Ripper, I mean Sal, loves Zelazny, and speaks of him often. Anyway, FATE seems like a perfect fit for Amber. Making declarations about what is occurring could be easier in one’s own shadow, and more difficult in that of another. So, let me ask this then, how does one get to designing one of the foremost Pulp Action games from one of the most mind melting, and as Brad Murray nailed it, psychedelic fantasy settings out here?
FRED: Man, pulp is an easy jump from there. At the end of the day both our Amber game back in the day and our published pulp game, Spirit of the Century, are about pursuing action motivated by story logic and malleable reality. Fate doesn’t model physics; it models fiction.
TEO: Thanks for the easy transition to my next question. I’ve been called a simulationist by some people, because I tend to talk about things seeming “realistic” in games. I used to be heavily into GURPS, Rolemaster, and dabbled in HERO a bit. I rediscovered FUDGE though, because despite my desire for “realism” it seemed to me that pursuing it through mechanics never quite hit the mark. No matter how the dice are rolled “reality” doesn’t work like that. The shape of the die, the number of faces, or the symbols on them don’t ever equate directly to physics. FATE seems more “realistic” to me, because it models possibilities. Many systems limit possibilities to create their own sort of reality, and as both a GM, and a player that limits what I can do.
FRED: The whole “realism” conversation in gaming runs into constant trouble because nobody means the same thing when they use that word, and frequently it’s not even the word they should be using for what they’re actually after — not “realism”, but “authenticity”. It’s about expectations and how well the system produces results that are consistent with those expectations. The feeling you get when something like that happens is, “yeah, that felt like it was supposed to” — that’s authenticity.
TEO: Fair enough. Where I’m going with this is that there appears to be a huge rift between self described “story gamers”, and people that tend to describe themselves as having resource management bent, or a more tactical view of gaming. I recall many authors, most notably Robin Laws, have created categories to roughly describe player tendencies, but from banter on the net, and chatter in game stores it seems to me that the mutliverse of player preference is almost cut in two now. People who see story as the reason to play, and people who almost see story as a nuisance.What’s your take on division of play styles, and do you have any ideas about how to create common ground for different sorts of players? Do you have any words of wisdom that might quell the pious furies that inhabit forums where gamers discuss different systems?
FRED: Y’know, to be frank about all that, I don’t really care if people find common ground. There’s a lot of breadth in the gaming field — it’s as varied as anything out there, sports, music, what have you. People are going to have different tastes, and finding common ground among those tastes in a large population isn’t going to happen. I think folks should structure their play-groups around the places they do overlap, yeah, and if they find they don’t have any, maybe find the courage to call that a reason to hang out doing things that aren’t gaming. It can be done!
What frosts me in all the forum fury is the stark lack of respect shown for people who don’t share the same tastes as each other. It’s a big planet and a varied hobby, guys. Get over yourselves. What you like and don’t like is not really significant in the grand scheme. Find somewhere to hang out that doesn’t get up your ass so much.
TEO: Now seems like a good time to ask, do you have any good recipes for chicken that you’d like to share? I’ve got house guests, and I’m running out of ideas.
FRED: Sure. Make Chicken Lazone. It’ll rock your socks.
TEO: That sounds delicious. The chicken I mean. It’s amazing how much the images look like unchopped Chicken Makhani. You know, earlier today a guy on G+ was kind enough to ask everyone if they minded food porn. I kind of hate it, but recipes I love for some reason. I guess it’s because showing me the delicious thing you get to eat while I sup on stale ramen isn’t quite as generous as telling me how to make that delicious thing for myself.So, the tangent is slowly releasing it’s grasp on me. Let me return to gamer fractiousness. The thing I have noticed is that game designers tend to be far less biased towards systems, and far more objective almost to the point of being dispassionate at times when compared to the end users (players, and GMs). Any insights as to why that might be?
FRED: Oh, sure. I think it’s two forces in effect.
The first force has to do with being the guy or gal making the sausage. It’s real easy to get sick of the stuff you’ve made yourself. I’ve certainly gone through periods of hating every game I’ve worked on. (I recover from them, thankfully, but it happens all the same.) I think that creates a hunger for looking outside your own material, broadly.
The second force is in the perspective that comes with designing and designing well. Every system out there is trying to do some specific things (not always by conscious design, but in action the effort is still there, so to speak). Once you suss those out, and I think designers tend to, you can start to evaluate how well the game is performing at doing the things that it’s setting out to do. You do that because you’re looking for ideas to steal or tweak in your own designs. So it’s one of those cases where you start to see how nearly every game out there has something of value in it — even the nominally “bad” ones. Contrast this with the player or GM experience, where I think folks tend to come to the game with an idea of what it should do well, rather than to discover what it does do well. It’s simply a different set of criteria — equally valid at that. Because the GM and player are looking for the right tool for the job, while the designer is simply delighting in discovering a new tool and contemplating the ways it might best be used.
TEO: I came to FATE from a very GURPS/FUDGE centric mindset, so I wanted there to be attributes, disadvantages, hit locations, passive defense, and the like. Once I sat down, got a little more Zen about it, and let the entirety of FATE sink in without my prejudices constantly challenging it I realized it already does all of those things in its own way. One of my observations about FATE, and the many iterations of it is that a lot of designers seem to have similar issues with preconceptions about what it doesn’t do, and the sort of reinvent the wheel in my opinion. They’ll add subsystems that, to me, are superfluous, and sometimes run counter to the core fractal concept.
FRED: Yeah, I hear where you’re coming from. I’ll come right out and say that I don’t think every third party Fate implementation out there really “gets it”, but I don’t know that that’s a problem. The system is (necessarily, given its ancestry) in the OGL, and that means it can and should be open to other publishers taking it in other directions that suit their needs. So when I’m talking about “gets it”, I’m talking about getting it in the sense of building something consistent with the ways we might do so at Evil Hat.
TEO: Are there any tack on subsystems that stand out to you as improvements, or that simply mesh well with FATE Core?
FRED: There’ve been two that have really reached out and grabbed me by the face, though I’m sure that there are more out there.
I liked Diaspora so much that I offered to help the original publisher, VSCA, find a broader home in the RPG market for the game. The thing’s chock full of portable concepts. Aspect scopes are a subtle but strong addition to the toolkit, and they do a fantastic job of showing how to model social conflicts with maps. There’s just a ton of smartness in there.
I’m also a big fan of Galileo Games’ Bulldogs! Fate adaptation. Rather than creating a bunch of new things, they looked to refine and expand on ideas previously established in Spirit of the Century. The result is probably the closest thing there is to a Spirit of the Century 2.0. There’s a lot of clever stuff there too, but I’ll zero in on two things. First off, the whole technology side of things works as an intelligent extension of the SOTC gadgetry rules. Second, the presentation for skills was so astoundingly on the money, we promptly stole it for Fate Core.
TEO: Fate Core… I’m really curious about how it’s going to look. Here I’ll admit that there are several things in DFRPG I do not use. Most prominently absent from my games is having one skill to set the number of stress boxes one has, and another to govern the actual strength of one’s physical, mental, or social fortitude. I totally get it, because I was a big fan of GURPS Psionic system, which had a power level, and an effective skill level to give a feel of being able to have refined, yet less potent effects, vs. Incredible Hulk like, “Oops. Sorry I just smashed your nose through your brain as I was trying to wipe an eyelash from your cheek.” effects. There are also certain skills absent from the DFRPG skill list that I always allow people to take, because even though they aren’t a focus in Jim Butcher’s world they never fall into irrelevance in the ones we create.I understand if it’s top secret stuff, but is there anything from Dresden Files RPG that isn’t going to make into the FATE Core book, or may not carry over to Atomic Robo (I imagine the magic may not be prominent in the latter, but I’m not familiar with the comic)?
FRED: There’s plenty that won’t go in. Lenny Balsera and the team have been reworking Fate from the ground up. We’re taking our lessons from Spirit of the Century and the Dresden Files RPG, but we’re also pushing the engine forward. Beyond that, it’s our first chance in a long time to present Fate as Fate, rather than as a specific implementation of Fate for specific purposes. We’re trimming a lot down, altering and refining the terminology, and finding new clarity in our message of how to play.
TEO: Fred, do you mind if I ask you about being a dad?
FRED: Nope, go ahead. Open book & all that.
TEO: I myself was scared to the point of excretion of having kids. I now have them, and it’s about half as scary as I thought, but infinitely more rewarding. What is your favorite part about being a father?
FRED: There’s a lot to love, but I probably get the most out of interacting with my kids’ creativity. Story-time with my 3-year-old is practically a roleplaying game — improv stories, lots of input from her side of things, all that stuff. And when she takes over the story entirely it’s usually way better than what I was going for. I can’t wait to see what their brains are coming up with in another 5 or 10 years.
TEO: Is there any part of it that terrifies you?
FRED: Sure. I mean, it’s parenting. If you’re not terrified, you’re not paying attention.
TEO: Is there a particular story that she has told that stands out in your mind for some reason, or can you describe a specific incident that made you realize, “You know what? This dad thing is kind of a horror show!” Perhaps these are one in the same? Maybe a time where one of her her stories took on a dimension that made you a little concerned?
FRED: The horror show stuff is all about things being out of your control in the worst way possible. Not as much of that now as earlier — though adding a second kid has certainly shown us how much we DID have things under control before, by contrast — but there’re still those “Oh, god, what did you do with your diaper THAT’S NOT PAINT” sorts of moments to haunt my dreams.
Her stories haven’t really ever concerned me — but I think coming from being a roll-with-it GM, I’m sort of expecting wild strangeness to fly at me at any moment. The other night she declared that we were witches, and there were mean monsters which we poked away with our swords, but then they came back and the goldilockses (they’re a tribe) ate them up, then threw them up to the moon and ate up the moon, and then threw them into the stars, and that’s how everything got happy again.
So, yeah. Perfectly normal.
TEO: That’s great! My own daughter inspired the question with a story about her two children having perished in a fire, to which I replied, “It’s just pretend right?” She the said, “No dad. This is not a story.” I realized at that point the only time I had really used the words “just pretend” were to dismiss some particularly distressing part of a book, show, or other story that someone else had created. We had a nice little discussion about the words pretend, and fiction after that.
Here’s the terrifying part: what if my kid IS clairvoyant? I don’t believe in such things typically, but I’m generally skeptically agnostic about them rather than an outright denier.
I’ve noticed that much of marketing directed at parents kind of appeals to that “What if?” factor, so “There’s nothing wrong with her bum now, but what if I don’t put this cream on, and it gets some moisture born disease that makes it fall off? This book says I should be doing X with my kid, but I don’t see a reason for that? I’m a new parent though. What if I’m just blind to the reasons?”. Books were our weakness, as we figured we might as well read as much as we can just in case. Most of what we read was either common sense disguised, as unconventional wisdom, or just benign ridiculousity, but a few priceless nuggets were mined by reading so much. Can you recall a time you regret (or maybe you just laugh at in retrospect) wherein you succumbed to that, and what is your weak parental marketing point?
FRED: Yeah, the whole book thing is a trap. Nearly everything out there for parents is the material for one or two blog posts crammed — crammed! — into a book as long as one or two hundred of them. So you end up with an incredible pile of… well, let’s just call it redundancy.
I’m an easy mark — I’m all “weak marketing point” if you will — so mainly I ask my wife to make the decisions about baby/child lit. But we both goofed when we bought a video that promised to train us to recognize certain basic baby sounds as representative of specific needs. I mean, yeah, it helped a little, but it was a lot of coin for what was essentially just a few minutes of video. Which is a lot like that two blog posts vs. a whole book thing.
TEO: I’ve been skeptical about that video claiming to teach kids how to read at extremely early ages, because to me it’s mostly a matter of comprehension not recognition. Some other animals can be taught to recognize certain symbols, and patterns, but you can only really see intelligence manifest when these bits of knowledge are puzzled out to solve a problem, such as feral dogs in Russia learning to obey traffic signals with no human aid, or crows learning that a cross walk is a great place to crack nuts, because cars will run them over, then give them plenty of time when the light changes to get at the fleshy parts.
That said, my skepticism was off with regard to sign. Baby signing has proven very useful for both of my kids. As you say though, it’s not really a subject that requires an entire book. The most useful signs for us were eat, thirsty, sleep, hurt and toilet (for potty). Both our kids grasped those core signs that pretty much address anything a baby would normally use a cry to communicate, and therefore it seems like we heard a lot less crying. Good for me, because I am wired in such a way that crying (at least that of my own offspring) is as a prison shank to my kidneys.
FRED: Sign language with babies is crazy useful technology. I don’t begrudge anyone selling useful advice on that!
TEO: Let’s saunter back to gaming a bit, but drag the children with us. Evil Hat seems like it is out to address kids, and gaming. There’s Happy Birthday Robot, Do, and you mentioned the Race to Adventure is designed to be family oriented as well. I’ve played FUDGE with my niece, and nephew, and they loved it. They have been after me to play FATE with them, because I mentioned that it is a tightened up version of FUDGE. Have you considered putting out a version that is specifically for kids, and are there other games in the works that will be kid oriented, or at least kid safe?
FRED: Kid safe for sure — I suspect Fate Core will be kid safe, at the least — but I am pretty interested in what can be made to happen in a young adult orientation. The fiction market has shown that there’s a lot of “heat” to be found in YA lit, and I suspect the same may be true for YA-focused gaming. But do we have specific plans? Not as such — yet.
TEO: Speaking of young adult appropriate literature, you had mentioned that Chuck Wendig wrote a book for Evil Hat. Could you tell us a bit about it, the other books in the series that are planned.
FRED: Yup, I sure could.
… oh, now? Okay!
So, yeah, Chuck wrote Dinocalypse Now, first book in a trilogy, set in the Spirit of the Century universe. It’s about six heroes from the Century Club — Jet Black, Sally Slick, Mack Silver, Amelia Stone, Benjamin Hu, and Professor Khan — who uncover a plot by psychic dinosaurs to invade our time and enslave humanity. Chuck took our wild and crazy kitchen sink of a pulp setting and made it sing. Over the course of the next year or so we’ll be following on with the sequels, Beyond Dinocalypse and Dinocalypse Forever, as the adventure continues across time.
Then there will be a quartet of stand-alone Spirit of the Century novels by different authors — Brian Clevinger’s The Pharaoh of Hong Kong (featuring Benjamin Hu), C.E. Murphy’s Stone’s Throe (featuring Amelia Stone), Stephen Blackmoore’s Khan of Mars, and Harry Connolly’s King Khan (both featuring Professor Khan). All of them are centered on characters new to the Spirit of the Century universe — debuting in Dinocalypse Now and Race to Adventure — and we’re excited to give fans old and new a chance to get to know them better.
TEO: Also, could you talk a bit about your experience with using Kickstarter to fund them, and the current issue with Kickstarter prohibiting bulk rewards? Has there been any progress there?
FRED: I edited in an update at the top of my post about the bulk rewards matter, linking to a blog post from Kickstarter that clarified the whole thing. Personally I think they answered it satisfactorily for my purposes. I’ll leave it to those posts to dig into that issue.
The whole fiction-line-funding thing we pulled off with Kickstarter was kind of breathtaking. Running a Kickstarter campaign is always something of an emotional roller-coaster, but this one really blasted out of the gate. We started with a goal to fund the second book of $5,000, and met that in 16 hours. By the 60 hour mark, we’d hit $10,000, funding the third of the trilogy and leaving us with a big pile of now-what. I had thought we had a chance at shooting for some past-$10k goals, but I had no expectation we’d hit it that fast, so we had to scramble. And that’s where the quartet of character focused novels came from — as we announced each new stretch goal I was already negotiating with the various authors for the next. A real Hollywood “let’s see if our hero can outrun the explosion” kind of experience, that one.
TEO: Every Kickstarter I bear witness to surprises me. I mean, for that much disposable income to be floating around in times that are supposedly so economically tough is pretty amazing. It seems like it places the ability to raise the sort of initial capital for big projects that were previously only possible for larger companies right in the palms of regular Joes. Has Kickstarter changed how you do business? If Kickstarter had been as well known when you started Evil Hat how would that have altered your flight path?
FRED: Kickstarter has certainly popularized a new paradigm, a new kind of market, for companies both big and small. I’ve called it — legitimately, I think — a game changer (that’s something of a game itself — look at those scores go up over the course of a project). It’s certainly acted as an accelerant for some of our plans, which is just great, but we’re also being careful not to let it change us too much. It’d be easy (well, easy in that way that is also hard) to jump in with both feet and do all of our future games and such as kickstarter campaigns, but that’s not always the right answer. We need to consider, on a case by case basis, whether or not the things that Kickstarter does — and the things that it demands — are appropriate and right for the project in question. Sometimes it won’t be.
Given how much I had yet to learn when I started out with Evil Hat, I’m pretty glad that Kickstarter wasn’t around. It’s a hell of a venue for making a very public and expensive mistake, just as much as it’s a hell of a venue for finding success and growth. I like the path we walked. Wouldn’t change it.
TEO: It does seem like there is potential room for error. If a particular drive raises an impressive number of dollars, but you know that you’ve already committed to rewarding people who’ve contributed at a certain level it seems like there could be some problems for those who don’t figure the math right. What kind of problems have you had to watch out for while using Kickstarter that contrast with typical issues a business would deal with?
FRED: There’s this thing I’ve blogged about before, which I called “worst-case success”. I think a failed kickstarter drive isn’t the worst-case scenario most of the time — it’s wild, spiraling success that incurs much greater costs than expected to deliver the kickstarted thing. Shipping is a bear, and is probably the number one gotcha. We had to do a lot of price projections to get a good sense of how much of our money would be going to things other than what we were getting made, and tried to structure our reward tiers and project goals to account for that. Between amazon’s cut, kickstarter’s, and shipping (mostly shipping), a good third of the money we raised on Race to Adventure was gonna be accounted for. If we’d aimed at — for example — $15,000 and had an expectation of walking away with $15,000 if the goal was hit, it’d be a pretty rude surprise to find we’re really only getting $10,000. Luckily we did the math in advance.
But really, I think people shouldn’t think about how a kickstarter contrasts with a business… they should think about how it is a business, and do all appropriate planning, just like you would for starting any biz. Figure out how you’re reaching your customers, how you’re going to communicate with them, what your exit strategy is, what your budget is for promotions, all that stuff. It’s necessary. Coming to Kickstarter with a plan of “Yay… Kickstarter!” and that’s it is just asking for trouble.
TEO: Well Fred, your thoughtful stewardship makes me think that one of my passions, I speak of FATE, has a long life ahead of it. That definitely contrasts with other game systems I’ve had flings with. I’m also very happy to see you taking your company into other areas, such as the publication of both fiction, and family board games.Your continued success makes me optimistic about the future of open content, really makes my heart smile to think back on that wacky little purple book I bought called FUDGE, and how it was so brilliant of Steffan O’Sullivan to think to make his ideas available in that way.I am immensely appreciative that you took the opportunity he presented, improving upon it monumentally, then demonstrated that sharing ideas can make some money if one isn’t deterred from working for it. I am also grateful that you have taken time to share so much of what you have learned in such an unsparing manner.
Go raibh maith agat,
and thank you.
Oh, and one last thing.
You made it clear that you won’t part with the Mayan time furnishing device, but how much for the goat cannon?
Edited: August 16th, 2012