RPGamer Feature - Jordan Weisman Interview 2

Jordan Weisman is a gaming industry veteran and founder of six game design companies: FASA, FASA Interactive, WizKids, 42 Entertainment, Smith & Tinker, and Harebrained Schemes. He is the CEO and Creative Director of Harebrained Schemes, which is responsible for Shadowrun Returns and Golem Arcana, as well as the recently released Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut. In another life, he created Shadowrun, MechWarrior, Battletech, and Crimson Skies. I explained this all this a few weeks ago, and it's still true.

Before this interview, I had the pleasure to play a game of Golem Arcana and follow up with a few quick questions. Golem Arcana is a prepainted miniatures game. Unlike the rest of the offerings in the field, play is split between a physical board with miniatures and a smart phone or tablet. Golem Arcana is part of the current trend blending traditional tabletop experiences with apps.

Zach: What's the most exciting part of a Golem Arcana match? What are the stories that players will tell after the figures are back on the shelf and the stylus is packed up?
Jordan Weisman: There are two answers to this question, one for combat and one for encounters. The core of Golem Arcana combat is the creation of an army, which combines Golems, Knights, Ancient Ones, and Relics to create tactical combinations during game play. So the combat stories will likely come from when those plans execute in satiating ways. Here's an example from the Epic game we ran with Kickstarter backers at Gen Con: the Gudanna team had been successfully harassing the Duranís giant Jagara Colossus by having their smaller Warsprite Golems engaging it with constant melee attacks. Right before the mighty Colossus fell it stomped on an attacking Horned Blight Golem and then picked it up and pitched it to an allied Winged Preserver Golem, who swung its huge scythe to slice the small Golem in half--destroying it in one beautiful combination attack.

The encounter stories will come from when, in the middle of a battle, a player moves a Golem into a region (square) he or she may encounter a character. For instance in one of the Gen Con scenarios when a player entered a specific lake region a beautiful water spirit appeared on screen and asked the player to accept a quest. If the player accepted the quest and fulfilled it he or she earned extra victory points, but if the player accepted the quest and then betrays the spirit--they got a very nasty surprise from a very vengeful spirit. These kinds of moral choices within the context of a competitive board game are going to generate not only stories told over beers (or sodas) but also have direct impact on the story of the Golem Arcana universe.

Z: Golem Arcana was the result of a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Did the campaign influence the end design of the game?
JW: In general we learned that some of the ideas were too complex or hard to communicate so we needed to trim back a little.

Z: Golem Arcana occupies a relatively unexplored space for games: it's a hybrid between tabletop games and apps. What sort of challenges were there getting the two platforms to play nice?
JW: This is a very complex product to create because we had to develop custom electronics hardware, embedded software, the app for mobile devices, the backend server software, and of course the figures, map tiles, cards, etc. Getting all that done in 10 months is a testament to the teamís dedication and a lot of long weeks/nights.

Z: Was there ever the danger of automating too many of the game's mechanics? Why not just create a tabletop game or a tablet game?
JW: The design goal of Golem Arcana was to combine the social magic of friends around a table, the tactile and visual splendor of a table covered with cool terrain and beautiful figures, and the accessibility and ease of play of a computer game. So when designing the game we tried to be careful about balancing how much happened on the screen and on the tabletop. We wanted to make sure that the primary planning took place on the board and that people would be looking at the screen about as much as they look at the scoreboard during a baseball game. You glance up for statistics and then back to the field for the players. When people first play they look at the screen a fair amount, just as when you first play a normal game your head is buried in the rulebook, but over time the player's attention stays focused on the board and the friends around the table.

Z: The world of Golem Arcana has a unique look about it that draws on Mongolian, Babylonian, and Indian traditions, among others. What inspired this direction?
JW: The wonderful art direction of Golem Arcana was established by the game's Creative Director, Chris Rogers, who drew inspiration from the story outline and historical references that I had written. Chris really wanted to find a unique look for the game and thus, as you mentioned, drew from a diverse set of cultural influences to find the right look.

Z: What were your other influences on the plot and world design?
JW: The core of the story is based upon the Mongols and specifically the story of Ghengis Khan and his sons' interactions with the Empire of China.

Z: Earlier, [Harebrained Schemes co-founder] Mitch Gitelman mentioned the possibilities of different scenarios and scenario design. How do scenarios fit into the world of Golem Arcana?
JW: Harebrained Schemes will release new scenarios very often and later this year an update to the app will include the ability for players to create their own maps designs, select starting locations, select capture locations (if any), and set the victory conditions to create their own scenarios.

Z: How does the Living World feature work? Will they influence future game mechanics, or is the effect limited to story input?
JW: Every month Harebrained Schemes will release new Storyline Scenarios, which contain character encounters and interesting choices for the players to make during the games. For each game, every player selects a faction and a leader they are fighting. The data from each participating players' game is sent to our servers for analysis, which then determines what happens in the canon story of the world and in turn influences next monthís scenarios. It is often the choices made while playing the games, not exclusively the victories, which may have a large impact on the upcoming stories.

We would like to thank Jordan Weisman once again for taking time away from inventing the future to share his thoughts with us. Thanks!

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