All in the Cards

All in the Cards
Steve Jackson: The Escapist Interview

Russ Pitts | 3 Oct 2006 12:01
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TE: Talking about buying UltraCorps raises an interesting question. At this point, your company is pretty well-established. Are you to the point now where you can take those risks and not have to worry so much about the commercialization, or are you still operating more or less as an "indie" developer, living hand-to-mouth?

SJ: It's not totally hand-to-mouth, but we certainly can't go around taking risks randomly. Part of the UltraCorps thing is it's a controlled risk. We don't know if we will make a bunch of money on it, but we're pretty sure that we won't lose a bunch of money on it. And we will learn a lot that will position us to do other things later, or make us a better partner for other online publishers who want to take a license.

We have so many properties out there that could be turned into computer games. If I were fully-funded now for everything I want to do, there wouldn't be time to do them all for the next five to 10 years.

TE: Which of your games would you most like to see turned into a videogame?

SJ: If I could just wave my hand and make it happen now? Munchkin.

TE: Munchkin?

SJ: Yeah. With Car Wars in second place. And the only reason Car Wars is in second place is that Car Wars had its greatest popularity 10 years ago, and Munchkin's greatest popularity was last month and has been last month for more than a year. It just keeps going up! So Munchkin is the hot property right now. Car Wars would make a wonderful, wonderful game, and so would Munchkin, but they'd just be different games. And so would Illuminati and so would Ogre and so would yadda yadda yadda I can't do them all at once.

TE: What would a Munchkin videogame look like?

SJ: It would look a lot like John Kovalic drew it. I would absolutely want to keep the Kovalic art style.

TE: You were at TIGC recently and you spoke about independent game development. Is there anybody out there that you think "gets" it?

SJ: Daniel James "gets" it. Daniel James gets it so much. He's the creator of Puzzle Pirates. He's proven that he gets it by doing something that's both original and commercially successful. He runs gamegardens.com, which is basically a public sandbox for people to use his tools and do game development. He speaks at conferences and is very forthcoming about what he's doing. He even gives numbers. He'll stand up and tell you how many subscribers he has, how much money he's making and what models are working best. He not only gets it, but he's willing to share, and I think that [being] willing to share is part of "getting it." He does a blog called The Flogging Will Continue that's very good reading.

TE: Do you think that ties in to the "hacker ethic"? Do you think that sharing of information is really key?

SJ: I would reject strongly the term "hacker ethic" because different hackers have different ethics. But yeah, sharing information, sharing ideas - brainstorming. And the internet lets you brainstorm with people that you have never met and will never meet. And he gets that, too.

TE: Let's talk about design in terms of putting together a game. Which do you see as the more important aspect, the system of a game or the setting of a game?

SJ: Depends on the game. You have some brilliant work out there that's almost all setting and you have things out there that are pure system. SPI's Strategy 1 was nothing but system. There are some maps of territories that never happened and here are a whole lot of counters in God knows how many colors for generic military units. And there are some brief rules on how to use this to represent medieval and here some brief rules for Age of Steam and there are some more brief rules for WWII technology ... and now run along and play! No setting at all.

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