The Incredibly Useful Hugo’s Amazing Tape

Clear rolls of Hugo's Amazing Tape with words Patent ApprovedWhile Hugo’s Amazing Tape bills itself as “the most VERSATILE, DURABLE and STRONGEST HOLDING tape in the WORLD!“, I have found that it at least lives up to its name and is really quite amazing and incredibly useful. Packaging for it shows the tape wrapped around a wrist “to help relieve arthritis pain”, keeping pipes held together, wrapped around luggage, and keeping a book opened to a specific page, but it is the tape’s organizational use (and not these “miraculous” uses) that has most impressed me. The patented secret to the tape is that it lacks adhesive and only adheres to itself.

The tape is amazing for any application where rubber bands (or string) might normally be used, namely keeping cards and game components together. Unlike string, yarn, ribbons, or rubber bands, Hugo’s Amazing Tape shouldn’t bite into your bundled material, because it has a larger surface area. In the case of rubber bands, which become brittle over time and are sensitive to the cold, the tape is again a winner. Hugo’s Amazing Tape is transparent and comes in Clear, Blue, and Purple varieties. It is sold in 2 inch, 1 inch, and 0.5 inch width rolls measuring 50 yards long, but for most gamer purposes I strongly suggest the moderate 1 inch roll. Getting the tape is a little tricky, because despite its many craft uses, I have not seen the tape sold locally at Joann’s or Wal-Mart. Instead, you can buy a roll directly from Hugo’s, or find it in stock at or at, of course.

A few pieces of advice for when you get your own: Do write on the tape with a Permanent Marker if you want to. Sometimes finding the end can be hard and a dot, arrow, or star can help you find it. The company advises that items should be wrapped “at least twice” in the tape, but for playing cards, 1.5 to 2 inches of excess tape snugly wraps most decks in my experience. When I dropped a 45-card Game of Thrones LCG Lannister deck from a height of over 25 feet, it didn’t split the deck open (or harm any Joffreys) with only two extra inches. For owners of Summoner Wars or Omen and for further insight into Hugo’s Amazing Tape from users, please read this warning about potential damage to cards from the tape. In my own limited experience with the tape, I have yet to see any hazards.

Card, Board, RPGs, and Miniature Games

Gamers caught between using rubber bands and dedicated card boxes to keep cards organized, should take a long look at Hugo’s Amazing Tape. Because the tape is broad and does not contract or constrict like elastic, it lacks the bite of a rubber band which can mar card edges. Thus the tape is useful for managing small and moderately-sized collections of cards. The choice for the CCG/LCG player then becomes whether to use Hugo’s Amazing Tape to keep a group of cards together or whether to store them in a cardboard or plastic deck box. Admittedly simply having cards taped together won’t protect them from a soda leak or other environmental hazards like a deck box might, but the tape has the advantage of not being confined to a set amount of cards, provided you were generous when you cut the tape the first time.

Board Gaming Uses

It’s this versatility of the tape that has seen it pressed into use by many board gamers who may only have sets of 5-10 cards to keep organized. Tired of your Guillotine decks getting mixed up? Do you hate how the Game of Thrones LCG Core Set has a tendency to spill the top cards of its four decks around? Hugo’s Amazing Tape is for you!

Almost invisible Hugo's Amazing Tape has been wrapped around Guillotine card deck to keep it organized. Colored arrow marks where tape ends

The Noble Deck and Action Deck for Guillotine Stay Separate with Hugo’s Amazing Tape

Games like Smash Up have dedicated card trays for their decks and Hugo’s Amazing Tape would be overkill on them, but even classics like Risk or Monopoly would benefit by having neat stacks of money, deeds, or army cards in the case of Risk. If you know any obsessive-compulsive types or anal-retentive neat freaks, you can probably get on their good side with a gift of the tape.

Stack of Game of Thrones LCG cards held together with Hugo's Amazing Tape

Game of Thrones LCG Cards Stay Neatly in Place Thanks to Hugo’s Amazing Tape

RPGs and Miniature Games

Of course, any other type of tabletop game that uses cards can benefit from the amazing tape. RPGs that use Fate decks like the TORG System or modern games like Pathfinder which has issued item decks can benefit from the use of Hugo’s Amazing Tape to keep cards organized. Likewise, you can keep your Warmachine and Hordes cards together and grouped into individual faction-specific bundles with the tape. While many prefer nine-card plastic binder sleeves for storage and to review unit capabilities, making a travel “deck” using Hugo’s Tape may be the way to go, especially for older systems like Confrontation or AT-43 that actually use the cards to determine unit activation order. Lastly Hugo’s Amazing Tape is invaluable if you’re a gamer with a broad collection of miniatures which came with ability cards. Now Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures (and Chainmail), Star Wars Miniatures, Heroclix, and Pirates of the Spanish Main Crew and Ship cards can all be easily separated for storage.


Spools of thread with Hugo's Amazing Tape wrapped around them keeping threads confined

Thread is Neatly Wrapped Under a Layer of Hugo’s Amazing Tape

The most advertised use of Hugo’s Amazing Tape, as the back of the packing says, is “to prevent raveling and to keep dust and dirt off of” spools of embroidery thread. While I’ve not had too much experience with dirt and dust in my own brief attempts at stitching and sewing, I have had many spools unwind and get caught in or on something, which is always annoying, but never quite as bad as old audio cassettes. With this amazing tape however, I can easily put an end to any runaway threads. The tape could also be of use when assembling and gluing foam weapons to get an accurate dry fit without the possible tears to the foam from trying to temporarily use duct tape or any other adhesive tape. However for dry fitting weapons, I would probably just use rubber bands.

Most LARPs wouldn’t be complete without food and Hugo’s Amazing Tape could have a few culinary applications. I tested the claim that the tape is “Heat and Cold Resistant” by putting Guillotine cards wrapped in the tape in the freezer and several hours later the tape still functioned normally. To test its heat capacities, I wrapped some spaghetti in the tape and boiled it. Failing my Wisdom check, I ate a few bites of the spaghetti which came out perfectly. It was undercooked though closer to the center, where the stands had been forced together by the tape. Despite initially having a whitish residue from the whole wheat pasta, the tape retained its self-adhering properties and regained most of its clarity.

Leftmost picture of spaghetti with Hugo's Amazing Tape wrapped around, next picture raw spaghetti where tape was used, then Game of Thrones cards held together by the tape

The Tape Survived Boiling and Is Still Usable But Left Covered Areas of Spaghetti Raw

Modeling Uses

Hugo’s Amazing Tape may also be of minor use for some miniature modeling purposes. If a project requires extreme delicacy, involves broad surfaces, and the need for keeping multiple parts pressed together while glue or epoxy sets, Hugo’s Amazing Tape may be the perfect solution. For certain soft modeling materials like balsa wood, bass wood, or foam, Hugo’s Amazing Tape could be used to prevent telltale rubber band impressions.

Summary of Hugo’s Amazing Tape for Gamers

Obviously I have become a huge fan of this amazing product. To recap, Hugo’s Amazing Tape is reusable, non-adhesive, and offers great utility and has a strong grip with little to no bite. While I would always prefer a lower cost, 50 yards for around $11.99 won’t break any banks. Now to test some of those bolder packaging claims!

Prepainted AT-43 Bunker

Back in 2007 when AT-43 was an up-and-coming game system with many new releases and still sold at full retail, Rackham released a plastic prepainted AT-43 Bunker. Fortunately I snatched one up from a friendly local game store, because an AT-43 Bunker is now incredibly hard to find. Mixed up in the legacy of the bunker and its accessory walls is perhaps a clue to the demise of Rackham as a company. When a product is incredibly popular and sells out, God forbid you should produce more. Perhaps even raise the price because demand is so high? Sacrebleu, non! So along with the AT-43 plastic shipping containers that so many 28-30mm war gamers covet, Rackham has provided another wondrous plastic relic for shoppers to quest after.

Prepainted AT-43 Bunker with Karman Apes Attacking and Red Blok Defenders

The AT-43 Bunker Was Ahead of Its Time for Value and Makes a Great Objective to Fight Over

The AT-43 Plastic Bunker Itself

What a steal! While I slightly remember a price closer to $29.95, the lists an MSRP of only $25 in 2007 for a prepainted building with a removable roof and fully painted interior. The mottled grey bunker stands about 6 centimeters (2.75 inches) tall with its gunnery slits starting at 3 centimeters up from the outside base. The interior floor is only a millimeter or two thick, so it does not dramatically affect line of sight to and from models on either side. Because it is trapezoidal in design, the bunker has an odd footprint, but it is roughly 14cm x 16cm. The bunker’s double-edged sword is its integrated wall sections for attaching AT-43 walls. They’re perfect for gamers who already have AT-43 walls and wish to use them, but a little unsightly should you wish to use the bunker sans walls.

AT-43 miniatures posed next to prepainted grey bunker which has a nub where the wall attaches

Without Walls the AT-43 Bunker May Be Unsightly to Some Due to the Nublike Wall Connector

Interior Dimensions and Removable Door

Closeup of prepainted AT-43 bunker with 22 Warhammer 40K figures crammed into it

22 Warhammer 40K Figures Take Shelter in the Spacious Bunker

Because the bunker’s walls are so realistically thick (9mm), the rusted metal interior floor space is a bit smaller, but still fully painted and textured. The floor is divided into 3.5 centimeter squares, while the walls are the same mottled grey, dark concrete color as the exteriors. Standing room is spacious with the bunker able to hold an astonishing 22 figures on round 25mm bases! As for AT-43 models themselves, the bunker can take 14 infantry figures on the 30mm bases and 7 of the larger 40mm bases used by Karmans and Kolossus units (or 8, if you don’t mind a tiny amount of base-overlapping).

Close up view of AT-43 Bunker's Rusted Steel Interior

An Interior View of the AT-43 Bunker Without Too Many Miniatures Blocking the View: Roomy

While the door doesn’t retract into the roof or slide into a wall, it can be removed, which is a great touch, though it does require lifting the roof off. It has the same design front and back. Most gamers will probably keep the door off for convenience, but its inclusion is useful for any game that simulates breaching charges or the need to hack into the door’s control panel, which features a green button on its black console. Another green button and a red one below the console might represent whether the door’s locking mechanism is engaged, though with this little detail the painting is a tad overenthusiastic as the orangish red has splashed over onto the door’s steel brackets on my bunker.

Rust wash is visible on steel bunker door as well as paint splash below control panel

Painting is Just a Little Sloppy on the Bunker’s Control Panel, But Detailed Wash on Rivets

The Bunker Roof

Models wishing to take position on the roof will lack protective cover on the roughly 4″ x 5″ relatively flat surface. Enterprising players could solve this with the addition of some sand bag sections. The roof is broken up by what would appear to be three round drain or ventilation covers in the corners as well as a central metal panel with textured bolts affixing it to the top of the bunker. The panel is further detailed by three concentric circles which diminish the building’s otherwise grim demeanor with their curves, instead softening the piece. While the purpose of the concentric rings is puzzling, they have received a nice rust wash along the bottoms which is a magnificent level of detail on a prepainted piece of terrain. The three round drains or vents are similarly lightly rusted and seem to be removable. This poses the same hazard as many of the AT-43 vehicles though, in that while a Strider may have a hatch that can be opened or removed, doing so will often break the brittle piece of plastic.

Concentric circles are visible along with drain or ventilation spouts on top of AT-43 Bunker

The Bunker As Seen from Above With Concentric Circles and Rust Wash

Accessories and Final Thoughts

The AT-43 Bunker also came with two High Defensive walls. Twice as tall as the normal walls, they measure in at 5 centimeters tall and were not included in any of the other later AT-43 sets. On each side of the bottom of the tall barriers black and yellow warning stripes have been painted. These high barriers block Line of Sight to infantry as well as Kolossus models and Karmans. Meanwhile Striders in AT-43 or most vehicles in Warhammer 40K will be able to claim partial cover if hiding behind the walls. The high walls are a nice touch and a welcome addition to the set, but entirely unnecessary for the original $25 price tag.

Plastic AT-43 bunker reveals figures inside while others are hidden behind tall wall sections

At 5 cm. Tall, the Tall Walls Conceal Infantry and Provide Vehicles Protection and Cover

Indeed, very few products offer as much value as the AT-43 Bunker, so if you find one for sale, you should probably add it to your collection. That or contact Craven Games, because I would love to get a second and a third myself.

A Renaissance for Vegas Game Day – August 17

Gamers try Fantasy Flight Games Ingenious Board Game at Vegas Game Day

Spontaneous Board Gaming at Vegas Game Day: Ingenious from FFG

Several months had passed since I last attended a Vegas Game Day at the Emergency Arts Building here in Las Vegas. On the whole, compared to my first time at a Vegas Game Day, attendance in the early half of 2013 has been down, but on August 17, I saw promising signs of a Vegas Game Day Renaissance. While the morning session had four of the /usr/tech/lib’s six tables reserved for games, there were so many new faces that impromptu board game action spread over to one of the remaining tables.

However back in 2012, Vegas Game Day would typically have all of its available tables booked with a variety of role-playing and board games. At the time Vegas Game Day was also serving as a meeting place for volunteers for the now-defunct Las Vegas gaming convention Neoncon. For VGD organizer Perry Snow, ensuring the right coverage of scheduled games is just one of many challenges in providing gamers a great place to play and meet other like-minded gamers. He also creates and updates the day’s schedule on Warhorn, besides designing and updating the brochure each month which describes the day’s offerings. Snow also spends time monitoring the group’s Meetup page, welcoming newcomers, answering questions, and steering gamers towards others with similar interests. Helping others is a major part of Snow’s regular workday as a programmer analyst, which sees the fan of the Citadels Card Game and the Cortex Plus (Drama) RPG system troubleshooting user problems with computer applications. As someone who has spent most of his life in front of a computer screen, it is the social aspect which Snow enjoys most about Vegas Game Day, meeting and sharing with other gamers in real time.

As Snow tells it, in the past a Vegas Game Day might even be followed by pick-up games at an organizer’s house. If a newcomer gelled with his or her table or party, he or she might be welcomed to come play later or in a home campaign. While there is still that possibility now, Snow is unable to provide it himself, having become married and the father of two. As for the right number of games offered at the tables, Snow admits it can be difficult. In the past he had a dedicated board gamer who could be counted on to bring his own games or play in games scheduled by others. However after three months of little to no turnout for the board game sessions, the player lost interest. For RPGs and would-be GMs, it can be even more draining. The GM can spend hour upon hour prepping an adventure only to not get enough players to play.

Such was the case on August 17 when the morning session of Shadowrun was scrapped due to low player turnout. In part this seems due to Vegas Game Day coinciding with Gen Con, but it’s not the first time that Shadowrun’s been cancelled recently. For now the steady sessions and mainstays seem to be Savage Worlds and Pathfinder Society, but the influx of new players may see some changes to future Vegas Game Day offerings.

Savage Worlds: The Land of Ugh!

Savage Worlds uber-fan Jerrod “Savage Daddy” Gunning has done it again! Taking inspiration from Wingnut Games’ Land of Og RPG, Gunning ran a caveman-themed Savage Worlds session with delightful results. Most significantly our characters’ vocabularies were very limited. At the beginning of the session we made a Smarts roll to determine our vocabularies and took turns drawing words out of a hat. I rolled a 3 and had “No”, “You”, and “Cave” for the rest of the game. We also knew our character’s own names; mine was Frock. True to form, rather than just using poker chips or some other token as Bennies, Gunning provided us with rocks to use to get re-rolls and as rewards for good role-playing.

Five real rocks used as Bennies on top of Savage Worlds Ugh Caveman character sheet

Real Rocks for Bennies Only Add to the Immersion in Savage Worlds: Land of Ugh!

The actual adventure was simple and straightforward. Our caveman chieftain commanded us to go out and gather food and to also look for a rival tribe in the area. Unfortunately for us, to understand this required successful Smarts rolls and a decent amount of role-playing. After knocking a little sense into the less intelligent we set out and came upon some velociraptors. An excellent opportunity to use the Finger-Counting skill! Success! I counted out the number of raptors as three on my thick fingers as my main rival, Urr, moved in to attack. Other players had failed their Notice rolls and blundered about. I may have tried to encourage my fellow cavemen, using my words: “You cave! You cave!” I certainly attacked and brained one, “Frock cave you!” Urr claimed another and our pea-brained ally Grog found some fermented mangos and tossed one down another’s throat. I began to eat the brains of one of the raptors, hoping it would allow me to gain some smarts and received a Benny for my efforts.

“You’re not afraid of the mango.”

Grog handed out fermented mangos, which the rest of us promptly began to eat and successfully passed our Vigor rolls to avoid intoxication, even as we failed to understand Grog’s animated warnings. Around this point, I also used my Pictogram skill to draw a lewd depiction of a velociraptor … riding Urr (which would be far too obscene to show here). To even look at the drawing, Urr’s player had to make a successful Smarts roll, which he did. “You cave! You cave!” I suggestively taunted Urr. Among his responses to me was “Idiosyncratic.” Gunning had peppered the commonplace words like “You”, “Me”, “Rock”, and “Bang” with “Idiosyncratic” and “Perspicacious”. Yes, Savage Worlds of Ugh! was both funny and fun.

The T-Rex Battle

Gamers play Savage Worlds Caveman adventure at Vegas Game Day

Savage Worlds Indeed! Players get Primitive at Vegas Game Day

The climax of our adventure soon arrived in the form of a “big hairy” battling some other primitive cave people. Apparently their vocabularies were as horrible as ours because the beast turned out to be a Tyranosaurus Rex. Supposedly they were a more advanced tribe as well, using spears with sharp rocks attached. Frock had the Arrogant hindrance and paid little heed as those who made their Smarts rolls realized and tried to explain the better weaponry. It was all in vain anyways because Frock rushed off to show the T-Rex who was boss, racing against Urr to make it there. That left Urr’s brother Gurr to try to use the new technology, while Grog began pulling back a tree to use as a catapult to launch mangos (or maybe even rocks) at the terrible lizard.

“Frock you!” I cried as I struck at the T-Rex with my Trademark Club doing 1d6 + 1d10 + 2 points of damage, which actually did no damage because of the T-Rex’s 22 toughness. At some point I wised up and made a successful Cavewise roll to notice that the others attacking the dinosaur weren’t of our tribe. “You no Frock cave!” I bellowed as I brained one after another. Two significant things happened in the meantime, the first being Urr climbing up the T-Rex and Grappling it around the neck. How he wrestled the great beast! Grog abandoned his catapult attacks and made his own contribution, grabbing palm fronds and waving them around. Grog only had “Big” and “No” in his vocabulary and it wasn’t quite clear who he was cheering on, but we did get a bonus for his cheerleading. The attack bonus later turned into a Spirit check when Grog upped the ante and did a cartwheel and the splits revealing bruised, overripe mangos he had stashed down into his loincloth. Gagging at the sight, we managed to fight on and I would love to report here that Frock did the dino in. Being quite Arrogant, Frock thinks he did. It’s possible, though unlikely, that Urr actually managed to choke out a T-Rex.

crude pictogram of dinosaur with blurred crotch held by stick figure cavemen

Another Pictogram (Blurred for Decency)

Having dispatched the dinosaur (and the rival tribe), we needed to communicate the need to return to our cave which resulted in another round of Pictograms. This time most of the group seemed to understand the message and we returned home triumphantly, bearing the full T-Rex (after some successful skill checks). Another highlight of the game was hearing Jerrod Gunning instruct another player, who was trying to get somewhere, “Give me a die up there by Pace. It’s probably a d4 since you’re Obese.” Fun times indeed.

Pathfinder Society Scenario 04-18: The Veteran’s Vault

Pathfinder Miniatures on Flipmat in Pathfinder Adventure The Veteran's Vault

The Veteran’s Vault Holds Many Dangers and Affords Much Combat

When a Level 3 Fighter named Asir Al-Nimr adventures with three first-level characters deep into PSS 04-18 The Veteran’s Vault, the greatest challenge, it turns out, is maneuvering around in the sewers in Full Plate +1. However while I wouldn’t say the challenge was welcome, all of the combats would have been over quickly if I didn’t have to manouever the slow-moving Asir into position first. As my ninth Pathfinder Society Scenario completed, I can say that The Veteran’s Vault is a little atypical in its lack of dedicated skill challenges, instead being a pretty straightforward combat-heavy dungeon (or sewer) crawl. As such, it lacked the compelling narrative of A Silent Tide or the exploration and mystery of Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment, but it should please combat-oriented groups. I was definitely pleased to survive the sewers and dispense Abadar’s justice to enemies left and right with very few scratches on my armor to show. Asir did trigger a trap that did 12 points of damage, which would have felled any of the first-level characters, but the party’s Oracle quickly healed him back to full.

Hero Lab

Earlier in the morning I downloaded Hero Lab from Lone Wolf Development, clicked around in it for 10 minutes, and then purchased a license for $29.99. Offering support from systems ranging from Savage Worlds to World of Darkness to Shadowrun, Hero Lab more importantly has extensive Pathfinder character generation files. Several months ago I had tried to create a new Level 1 Cleric on the fly by hand 10 minutes before an adventure was to begin, but found it too challenging. While Hero Lab has been a little quirky in the two hours or so that I’ve used it, it has worked charmingly well. I inputted Asir Al-Nimr and was pleased to see almost all of my character validate in Hero Lab. Even more pleasing for me was that Hero Lab caught a few of my skills that I had listed as higher than they were and took into account my Armor Check penalty for my magical Full Plate.

Screenshot of Hero Lab Application showing Pathfinder Society character

Validation is a Breeze with Hero Lab – A Screenshot of the Program Showing Asir Al-Nimr in All His Glory

Having earned 9 Experience Points, Asir leveled at the end of The Veteran’s Vault and is now a Level 4 Fighter. I eagerly entered Hero Lab and spent my new Skill Points and chose Desperate Battler from the list of Feats. The Feat provides a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls provided no ally is within 10 feet, which tends to describe the first few rounds of any of Asir’s battles. By the third or fourth round so far, Asir might be moving over to help any comrades who are engaged, having already dispatched his own foe(s). While I could add this new Feat into Hero Lab, I haven’t been able to add Furious Focus in yet. The feat, which offsets the penalty to hit from my extra-damage dealing Power Attack, comes from the Advanced Player’s Guide, which is not included in Hero Lab’s core Pathfinder files. At this point, I can live with the missing feat compared to the $9.99 cost of downloading the Advanced Player’s Guide.

Once I finished tinkering with Asir, I set out to create that Level 1 Pathfinder Society Cleric that had eluded me thus far and ended up making two! Now that Asir Al-Nimr is 4th Level he will be tackling adventures for 4th-5th level characters, which frees me up to also adventure at the lowest levels with my new PCs. I think that the $29.99 for Hero Lab is a true testament to how much I have enjoyed Paizo’s Pathfinder Society organized play, as well as a commitment to further adventures in the world of Golarion. And while I have GM’d a Pathfinder Society Scenario for my home group of players, I have only ever played the game at Vegas Game Days, so I look forward to many more of those as well.

Interview with Mike Prinke on Heavy Gear Assault

Heavy Gear Assault Blue Hunter Advertising on KickstarterOn May 13 I spoke with Technical Designer Mike Prinke for quite a while about the Heavy Gear Assault video game from Stompy Bot Productions. Based on Dream Pod 9’s Heavy Gear Arena, Heavy Gear Assault is currently on Kickstarter seeking to raise $800,000 by June 29. Mike Prinke is with MekTek Studios, the actual development studio coding and designing the game. We discuss most of the game particulars early on, though we do discuss the possibility of a single player campaign and expanded areas of play near the end of the interview. We also talked about his intriguing Super Smash Quest RPG that helped inspire him to pursue video game design, his education in digital game design, and his theories about choice-driven narratives.

MekTek Game Development

CG: First off, what does a technical designer do?
MP: Depending on the studio, the title can vary in meaning, but in the context of this team, basically I do a respectable portion of the gameplay programming for the game. Generally I help direct the team’s efforts in such a way that it’s consistent with the design team’s vision for the game mechanics. Basically I serve as a little bit of a middle man between programmers and designers in order to make sure that the game’s vision stays on track and the programmers don’t go off and just do their own thing. If they need more details on how something works I get it for them and I put it in terms that make sense to programmers, that make sense in terms of implementing the gameplay. So basically to put in layman’s terms, I’m the guy who figures out how to make the game work.

CG: What’s MekTek’s role in this versus what Stompy Bot is doing?
MP: MekTek is the developer of the game. It was originally started as a modding group that developed a set of mods for Mechwarrior IV called The Mech Packs, which expanded the game’s number of mechs by about 136, I think. And they also supported it after Microsoft stopped hosting servers. Eventually they wanted to go legit and become a real game developer. Now they’re developing Heavy Gear Assault. Stompy Bot is a publisher that was started up as a sister company to act as the publishing umbrella for Heavy Gear Assault and is looking to expand to encompass other independent productions as well.
CG: Now Gear Up 6 has an interview about Heavy Gear Assault with, is it Jack Mamais? [French production.]
MP: Jack Mamais [Muh-my-is].
CG: So you’re working under him?
MP: That is more or less correct. Jack is the fellow who introduced me to this bunch. He got me into the production. I’d been working with him on another project for a couple of months before getting involved with Heavy Gear Assault. And yeah, he introduced me to Vince, and that’s how I got started on the team. He is the Creative Director of Heavy Gear Assault, but Vince McMullin is actually my direct boss. He’s the actual head of MekTek. Jack is the Creative Director of the project though.

CG: Do you telecommute basically? Do you work from your home or do you work in the design studio?
MP: I am working from home. I am working from my home in Chicago, Illinois as a matter of fact. Basically the whole team is remote at the moment, simply because we’re just putting together the funding to make this game, let alone actually get a studio that everybody could go to work at each day. Everybody’s working from their own computers from home or – very occasionally – from an office somewhere. I know that there’s a couple of guys in Savannah from SCAD [Savannah College of Art Design].
CG: SCAD being the Savannah College of Art and Design, which you’re an alumnus of yourself?
MP: Yes, that is correct. But basically what we do is we host daily scrum meetings. Scrum is a development technique that’s used for organizing a software production. More specifically it’s called Agile actually. Scrum is a part, an aspect of Agile.
CG: Ok, I thought you were using rugby terms on me. So what’s a scrum for you guys? What’s Agile?
MP: Agile is the development method that we use to develop this game. It’s basically the process of organizing a group of developers into a series of what they call sprints. Or what they also refer to as scrums. So there’s the programming team, the art team, the marketing team, and the design team, right?

Wildcat Razor Artwork for Heavy Gear Arena

The Heavy Gear Arena Wildcat Razor LOOKS Agile

Each one of them is running their own scrum and it’s a two-week spring we call it (…usually a two-week sprint). Basically we just collect together what our goals are for those two weeks and say what feature do we want to have online and running by the end of these couple weeks. And we break it down into a list of tasks that goes on our sprint board and people just try and take whatever task they think they can do within the next day or so. They each have a time estimate allocated to them. And each day we have what’s called a sprint meeting and in the sprint meeting we just go around. In the group, there’s a person designated as the scrum master who is hosting the meeting and kind of keeping it organized and on track and you go, “Alright, so, Dan, what’d you do today?” And he’ll explain what he got done in the past day since the last meeting. You just go around in a group like that until everybody’s settled. It takes usually about ten minutes or so and then if anybody’s got any big issues, then they voice what’s going on, what they need help with or what feature has to get done before they can continue and after that’s finished, everybody just gets back to work.

Basically these daily meetings are what’s responsible for making sure that our team can – despite basically being all over the globe, and I’m not kidding about that. When we say that we have one of the most remote teams out there, there’s me in Chicago, a couple of guys down in Savannah, Georgia, there’s Vince reporting out of Canada and that’s where Stompy Bot’s headquarters is, there’s James Taylor in California, there’s Dan Lopez in Spain. We’ve got another fellow named Alexander in Serbia; just loads and loads of people just all over the globe reporting in for this, but because we keep to these daily meetings the team’s energy stays up and we keep motivated.

Heavy Gear Assault Hunter Gear with battle damage and shining red laser light

Heavy Gear Assault’s Scorched and Damaged “Race Car” Northern Hunter Model

Heavy Gear Assault’s Development and Gameplay Specifics

CG: Great. So where is Heavy Gear Assault at in terms of development?
MP: Very, very early development. I would call it pre-alpha. We had a pre-alpha build that was playable for GDC (Game Developers’ Conference). It was not as much as what you would call an alpha build of the game as a multiplayer damage test, where we were just trying to make sure we had basic multiplayer working and trying to make sure that we had the basic damage system working before we moved on to the real deal of integrating all of our features and smoothing it out and making sure it plays very smooth.
CG: So what gears did you have available for that?
MP: Just the Hunter.
CG: Ok, so it was Hunter versus Hunter.
MP: It was pretty much Hunter versus Hunter. We would have loved to have gotten another gear in there, but at the moment we’re still trying to raise the funds to pay people to work on this.
CG: Ok, ok. So that is pretty early on then in terms of video game development?
MP: It’s very early on, yeah.

Heavy Gear Assault’s Showmanship

CG: So when you showcased this, well, would you even call it showcasing it?
MP: I certainly would, yeah.
CG: Did you have any of the showmanship aspects of Heavy Gear Assault in play?
MP: A very small portion of it, like ten percent of what we would like to have was actually present in that we did have some of Epic’s newer particle systems ready. We did have at least playable animated gears and whatnot. We had what I would consider to be the bare minimum for the presentation for this game and at present time we’re working on some much, much more ambitious features. In fact, I’m actually taking time off from a very exciting destruction demo that we’re going to be showing off soon.
CG: Oh yeah? Well, thank you for your time for that.
MP: No problem.
CG: Will the showmanship then be similar to wrestling games for console systems that had a popularity meter? Will it be something like that?
MP: We would very much like to have mechanics like that in there. That’s actually one of the more exciting aspects of working with Heavy Gear Arena as our base, that we can introduce another dimension of mechanics like that apart from just Gears fighting each other. So all of a sudden it’s not just can you blow up the other team, but there’s an element of how stylishly you can do it. There’s an element of how much you impress the crowd doing it. I think we’re actually looking to that as a potential counter-measure to camping. But yeah, that is something that we definitely want to do and we’re looking at embellishing on the movement system to kind of help supplement that.

Computer Generated Artwork Showing Dueling Gears in Heavy Gear Assault with Cheering Fans

Showmanship Will Be an Important Gameplay Aspect in Heavy Gear Assault

Weaponry in Heavy Gear Assault

CG: I personally tend to be a camper, but as I know, it’s boring for people to watch, when someone’s camping, right? [He laughs] Is it too early to even distinguish between Vibro Katanas, Vibro Axes, things like that? Or is there already a difference in gameplay, in terms of look and feel? Does a Vibro Axe have a different animation and occupies a different amount of space on the screen than a Vibro Rapier or something else?
MP: Right, right. It’s a little bit too early for me to talk about the specifics of that. We are working on differentiating them, but at the moment most of the differentiation we’ve got is between one-handed weapons and two-handed weapons.
CG: What would some of the two-handed weapons be?
MP: Polearms?
CG: Like a Vibro Halberd, ok.
MP: Yeah, the Vibro Halberd. There’s a lot of people on the project who would really, really love to bring in the two-handed chainblade. There’s a couple of two-handed weapons. Let me actually bring up a list really quick that I’ve got, that I can maybe drop one or two of them for you, that we want to have in the game. We have a whole animation list here that we’ve been going through. At the moment, we only really have the one-handed weapons and the shields ready for anything. Polearms… are a big thing. And then, yeah, there’s a sort of distinction of two-handed melee where we’re assuming a two-handed axe or a two-handed sword of some sort.

Cool Heavy Gear Arena Black Mamba Gear with Sword and Gun

In Both Heavy Gear Arena and Heavy Gear Assault a Mixture of Melee and Ranged Weapons is Preferred

CG: Ok. So what’s the coolest weapon so far, I know it’s so early in terms of where the game’s at, but for right now what’s the coolest weapon for you?
MP: Rocket Pod.
CG: The Rocket Pod? So do you distinguish between a Light Rocket Pod and Medium Rocket Pod?
MP: We do. And right now it’s the Light Rocket Pod (LRP), to be very specific. We’ve sort of got this model where we start with ground-level and work our way up.
CG: And can you fire a volley or do you fire one at a time?
MP: It’s a volley.
CG: So it’s an LRP, what number is it?
MP: It’s the… let me double-check on that… it’s the LRP 32. It’s a 32-set Rocket Pod.
CG: And how many does it fire at the same time?
MP: It fires one at a time in a sequence.

Heavy Gear Assault Combo Chains and Macros

CG: Cool. So these combo chains, they set Heavy Gear Arena apart from Heavy Gear Blitz, but to me the concept seems native to video games. Am I correct? Are we going to have those fighting game combos in this game?
MP: Yes, in fact! That is one of the core features that I’ve been working. I’ve got more or less some of the implementation for it ready. It’s just that we need to fill it in with a few more art assets before it’s really worth looking at and testing. You know, it’s all well and good for me to be doing my derpy programmer art Gear swing with a programmer art polygon nail bat, but in order to actually test it out, we really need some much more strongly differentiated animations of weapons to make sure that it works properly. But yeah, that’s a system that I’ve been working on. We’re referring to it in our game as the Macro System, in terms of the in-universe terminology that we want to use to describe it, but the combos as they are set out in Heavy Gear Arena are the core inspiration for how that system works.
CG: What are you calling it? Macro?
MP: Macro moves.
CG: Like a computer macro?
MP: Yeah, that’s exactly the idea. In the universe lore, Macro Moves are basically what they sound like. It’s a control macro that you can bind preset Gear movements that would be normally too complex for a human being to manipulate a Gear into being able to do, but you make it so that you can just press a button on your controls and it instantly does it. And it’s like wow, that is perfect, that fits the concept of developing melee combat and combos and special attacks and whatnot. That fits it so well and it’s such an easy concept to implement. In terms of chaining them together, that’s something that I’m still working on a little bit internally, but yeah, we are planning on having a system where they chain together like in Heavy Gear Arena.

An Arena for Heavy Gear Assault Work in Progress Shot

Concept Art of the Khayr ad-Din Arena’s Design Where Gears Will Battle in Heavy Gear Assault

Mike Prinke on Getting Art Updates

CG: When you receive that artwork is that really exciting for you guys as programmers where you finally instead of having whatever kind of skin on something… can you describe that feeling?
MP: [Laughs]. Polygon nail bat. It’s a very, very gratifying moment when it does happen. The thing is, at the moment, it happens very, very few and far between because most of our resources for art are dedicated to fleshing out the arena. We’ve got a very small handful of people who work on the Gear and the weapons right now. I think John Davidson does the weapons. The thing is that we don’t get them very often at the moment because of just the way things have been organized and the shortage of resources that we’ve been having. But when we do get them in, yeah, it’s quite nice. I remember when we first replaced our old derpy Hunter with the current shiny sexy race car Hunter that we’ve got now and it was just like “Oh, my God, is this what our game’s going to look like?!”

CG: Do you know type of Hunter it is? Is it just a regular Hunter?
MP: It’s a… a high-performance Hunter that’s been…Let me think here. I want to make sure that I have my lore straight. It’s a high-performance Hunter, that’s what I’ll go with. It’s a high-performance Hunter that’s been customized by Paxton Arms with their equipment is how I describe it.

The Gears of Heavy Gear Assault

CG: Now do you know in terms of those scrums and sprints, what’s the next gear that you have planned?
MP: It’s the Jager.
CG: Which, of course, is the Southern version of Hunter.
MP: Yes. And while we’re at developing the Jager, there’s a couple of changes to the Medium Gear systems that we’re doing and we’re using the Jager as an opportunity to explore stuff I really can’t get into, that will be very, very exciting. We sort of had this debate about whether we’d be doing the Jager or the Spitting Cobra and the thoughts were that we’d get more bang for the buck out of refining what the Medium Gear does before we move onto the Assault classes and the Light classes, but those will be coming, of course. I’m not saying that those aren’t coming. It’s just that the Jager has a couple of fun systems coming along with it that we sort of didn’t get in with our last technical design pass on the Hunter and we’re sort of fleshing it out a whole lot.
CG: So it also sounds like the next move would be up to a Spitting Cobra or Grizzly instead of necessarily engineering gears.
MP: Um, yeah, that is probably the way that we’re going to do it, yeah. I mean the way that we’re developing our future Gear systems, it’d be just crazy if we had to model every single Gear from scratch and give it unique animations, right? So we want to have a system where we’ve got Light, Medium, and Heavy Gears. Or I should say Light, Medium, and Assault Gears and we have the ability to sort of construct them more modularly, not to the point where it’s like Heavy Gear 1, where you can have ape arms on a Light Gear [oversized arms], but to the point where we can more easily trade in and out parts and more easily chassises for the Gears without necessarily having to reconstruct the whole way that the rig works for their animations and whatnot. Basically we’re looking at a way we can develop them smart instead of work ourselves to death in developing these Gears.

Concept Artwork of Heavy Gear Assault Gear Hunter Blazing Away at Enemy in Distance

Concept Artwork of the Heavy Gear Assault Hunter From Stompy Bot Productions

Hand Grenades, Hard Stuff to Code, and Gravity

CG: Now Grenades and Heavy Hand Grenades, do they exist in Heavy Gear Assault or will they?
MP: Yes. We haven’t prototyped the grenades just yet.
CG: Because that would be a whole separate subroutine or subprogram for you guys? You’ve got to help me out here with the video game terms.
MP: That’s not a subroutine or a program. That’s just a separate implementation of our inventory object is all. And that’s-, to be fair, that isn’t a very difficult one to put together, which is why we haven’t prioritized it. We sort of focus on the harder stuff to implement first. And then once we’ve got that, we can create variations on that very easily and we can fill in the blanks in between as needed.
CG: So what would be some of the harder stuff?
MP: The Rocket Pod [laughs]. The Rocket Pod and the various tracking systems that go into developing tracking rockets versus the wandering systems necessary for making the rockets kind of spiral and whatnot.
CG: Oh, ok. It’s going to look very cool.
MP: Yeah. Those are very complicated projectiles to put together compared to say, the Light Auto Canon’s projectiles.

CG: And will there be gravity drop or is there gravity drop?
MP: Um, yes, there is! Depending on the projectile and its mass, it can experience more or less gravity drop, but yeah, we definitely want to preserve the simulation feel from the previous games and we want there to be a very strong element of skill in mastering these weapons, so you’re not going to be pointing instant-hit laser tag guns each other, well unless you’re using lasers, but yeah, you’d expect that. Yeah, the projectiles, they all have a velocity that they’re moving at. You’re going to need to lead targets and you’re going to need to account for projectile drop to some degree. But getting back to your original question, some of the harder things to implement are environmental destruction would be one thing. The physics in secondary movement are something that we’re putting a lot of work into. The damage system in general for Gears is something that we’ve put a whole heck of a lot of work into. It’s one of the things that I think is exciting about playing a mech simulator, is you can blow a mech’s arm off, you can blow a Gear’s arm off, and it’s still functional. It’s missing a limb, but it’s functional.
CG: Ok, so that’s some of the funnest parts about Mech Warrior and some of your developers have been involved in the MechWarrior franchise, right?
MP: Yes, Jack Mamais was the director of Mechwarrior II Mercenaries. So one of the things that he advocates here that he strongly advocated there was very dynamic damage systems on the Gear. He loves-, he’s very much into adapt to survive kind of combat.

Heavy Gear Assault vs. Heavy Gear Arena: Limb Destruction

CG: That may be a perfect segue because I think that’s a big difference between the tabletop Arena and Heavy Gear Assault would be to actually destroy individual limbs and parts, is that right?
MP: Yes.
CG: But that’s what we would expect in a video game environment?
MP: Yes. In a tabletop environment, you know, I have lots of experience actually developing tabletop games as kind of a hobby. The sort of operative word there is K.I.S.S. You want to keep it very, very simple because human beings have to keep track of all this bookkeeping that you’re doing on a character sheet. It’s more sensitive than people give it credit for in that context, if you have math that goes into just one digit too many, then people are not going to want to play that game. That’s one of the reasons that I favor actually second edition D&D over newer editions because it doesn’t go into double-digit math all that often and I can just do it in my head much quicker. Not that I have a problem doing double-digit math or anything.
CG: Of course not.
MP: [Laughs]. It’s just really, really super fast. But suddenly we’re dealing with a computer game and all that stuff that would have been on Dream Pod 9’s wish list, we can do, because the computer’s just looking at it for you.

Old-Style Heavy Gear Artwork with Cartoony Design Versus New Style

Heavy Gear Arena Artwork From Dream Pod 9 Has Changed Over the Years

Mike Prinke’s Tabletop RPG Days

CG: Right, right. So you just touched upon several different things that I also wanted to talk to you about. What’s your background in tabletop gaming. I can tell that you’re a hardcore gamer there.
MP: Uh, yes. I got into tabletop roleplaying games when I was around like eleven or twelve years old. My sister introduced me to second edition Dungeons & Dragons. Prior to that I’d experienced roleplaying games in the form of video games and they were always a sort of magical type of game to me in that the characters felt more real, the worlds around them felt more real, as opposed to something like Contra or Mario Brothers or something like that on the Nintendo. Playing a roleplaying game like Baldur’s Gate or some of the earlier Final Fantasy games was a more immersive experience and a more enriching experience, almost like reading a novel in a way.

And then I got introduced to Dungeons & Dragons and suddenly it was that plus ten times more, it was that, plus the ability to sort of do anything that your imagination could come up with and that absolutely fascinated me. And the idea of being a Game Master fascinated me. Suddenly I could not only be the player character, the hero, I could play all of the villains and all of the NPCs and whatnot. I could play all of the monsters and that was something that fascinated me, so very quickly I got into wanting to be a Game Master for tabletop RPGs and I started trying and failing to run games of Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. I was a bit young to fully understand the rules, so I ended up, I think, making up a lot of stuff as I went, but eventually I got the hang of it. I got into third edition D&D as I went into high school and I got the hang of those rules and ran games with my friends and whatnot.
CG: Now were you doing your own setting or were you using a published setting?
MP: I always developed my own setting, in fact, the one and only exception to that rule of mine-, I just found it more interesting to develop my own settings and my own stories, it’s just how I am. The one and only exception is actually Shadowrun, because what else are you going to do with Shadowrun other than run the Shadowrun setting? [Laughs] But after that, I got into-, it was really difficult to organize roleplaying groups for me is the thing. High school was a busy time. It kind of was the time when my friends and I were all splitting up and going separate ways. We were all old enough to have cars and go places, but we were also all old enough to be too busy to go places? I ended up running games on IRC, on mIRC, on
CG: Oh wow!
MP: That’s where I got started homebrewing games. And usually I would homebrew them based on some existing intellectual property like I was a big fan of Phantasy Star for the Sega Genesis and that’s spelled with a “Ph” instead of an “F”, because Sega is weird like that. I was a big fan of that and I wanted a game that felt like that, but that wasn’t Star Wars. So I’d make a Phantasy Star RPG. The big one that I got involved in that was really, really weird was Super Smash Quest.
CG: [Laughs] Uh huh.

Super Smash Quest

MP: That’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a roleplaying game based on the Super Smash Brothers fighting game series. I had a friend in middle school who wanted to try doing that. I was like “Are you crazy? That wouldn’t make a good roleplaying game!”
CG: And are people typing out /me and typing what they do?
MP: Yeah.
CG: Was anyone hitting someone with a trout?
MP: Uh, yes, very, very often!
CG: Did you have a response for the IRC trout-hitting/slapping?
MP: You know, we never statted that.
CG: Well, I meant, did you find it annoying and did you have to punish people or you just tolerated it?
MP: You know, people dropped it pretty quickly. They would just get bored with it. They would get bored with the colored text eventually too. But yeah, Smash Quest was interesting. The idea behind it was basically set after the tournament that happened in Smash Brothers Melee. Bowser and Ganondorf, being the sore losers that they were, left the stadium and decided to vow revenge against it and see it destroyed. But the stadium is like the nexus of all worlds or something like that in the Nintendo universe and so it absolutely cannot be jeopardized and if they ever destroy it, it would cause who knows what to happen. And so the thing is, is that the stadium doesn’t have it’s own guardians, right? The different worlds have their own guardians. Mushroom Kingdom has its guardians. Hyrule’s got Link and Zelda and Lylat has Fox McCloud and StarFox Team. But the stadium doesn’t have its own guardians, so Professor Oak and Egad from the Mario and Luigi games put their heads together and came up with a device called the Fighter Remote that would enable them to give the powers of the Smash Brothers fighters to ordinary fans.
CG: Ah, ok.

MP: And so the idea behind the game was that the players were fans of the stadium, ostensibly playing themselves, given the powers of the Smash Brothers fighters. And what you’d do in it, is you’d collect their moves, almost like Pokémon, with different B Button moves. So you’d get Fox’s blaster and Pikachu’s Thunder Shock and all that stuff and you could make a custom move set out of that. And that’d really capture the Nintendo spirit while also making it a fascinating tabletop game in that there was a lot of trading going around. A very, very active economy among the players. And the format of it was very mission-based, so if you could imagine, a Nintendo-version of X-Men or a Nintendo-version of Star Trek where there’s away missions and whatnot and everyone goes into the command center and Mewtwo gives them their orders. And it was Mewtwo because he was the most like Professor X. [Laughs]
CG: Did you ever watch Centurions, the cartoon?
MP: You know, I feel like that’s a familiar name, but I never saw it.
CG: Oh, they could dial-up their powers. They could name whatever particular power set and it would teleported to them, but yours they actually had some device or ability that they could trade amongst themselves?
MP: Yeah, they basically had the ability to trade powers with each other. That was all very Pokémon-inspired, where there was literally an electric chair powered by Pikachu that would let them transfer their moves between their brains is kind of how it was. It was very cartoony, but it was also immensely popular. We had about 50 players in that game at a time.
CG: Oh wow, 50?
MP: 50, yes. And they all wanted to play at the same time, but they couldn’t! Like we could at the very, very most support 12 players on a mission. We had to kind of pick and choose how we did it.
CG: Was this the late 90s or when?
MP: This was early 2000s, around 2001 and 2002. But it was a very, very successful RPG and it sort of bolstered my interest in developing tabletop RPGs, so since then I’ve developed a couple of others, ranging through different topics. Mostly I’ve been focusing on developing an original concept, but I’m not here to talk about that thing just yet.

Mike Prinke’s Miniature Gaming

CG: Yeah, we’ll have to talk about that some other time, Mike. Were you playing any miniature games at this time or war games?
MP: I didn’t get into war games for a while actually. I had wanted to get into Warhammer 40K and I had a friend who had a really impressive Tau army, but I couldn’t get into it because it was just too bloody expensive. Looking back, Warhammer miniatures are actually more affordable now than Legos so it probably would have been perfectly ok, but for whatever reason, my parents didn’t want me to get into it. They were like “Oh no! It’s too expensive, you shouldn’t- You aren’t going to paint those things!” and that kind of thing. A lot of discouragement there. But as I got into grad school at SCAD, there was a vibrant Warhammer 40K community, and I was like “Alright, I can try getting into this.” So I picked up Assault on Black Reach and decided I was going to start a Space Marines chapter called the Neon Knights.
CG: Uh oh.
MP: Their colors being a very dark Gunmetal Grey and variety of neon colors for trim. And now I’ve got a Tau army that I’m working on.

Heavy Gear Blitz, Arena, and References

CG: Do you have a Heavy Gear Arena force or stable of Gears and what about for Blitz?
MP: Unfortunately I don’t have any Heavy Gear miniatures right now. I’m sort of been meaning to pick some up, but my wallet’s been a little bit thin. This is actually a little bit odd, but I couldn’t find Heavy Gear Arena or Heavy Gear Blitz miniatures at any of my local game stores anywhere that I’ve ever been in fact. The only pictures of game stores selling it that I’ve ever seen have been from Canada. I don’t know where they sell them or even if they are sold anywhere in my state right now, being that this is Illinois and it’s a very backwater state, except for Chicago. But yeah, I’ve just not been able to track any down is all. As for ordering them online, by the time that looked like a good option, I just didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend on it.
CG: You kind of fooled me because you’ve gotten deeply into the lore, right?
MP: Yeah. Dream Pod 9 has provided us with a very, very nice collection of books, so I’ve got all the rules for virtually every Heavy Gear game that’s ever been, sitting on my hard drive right now, ready to peruse if we need to figure out something about our mechanics. And we’ve got a technical manual, which we’ve had to very, very closely study in order to get into the damage system and whatnot and how that should work, being that there aren’t any particularly detailed rules about that other than a Gear can get damaged.
CG: Exactly, it’s just damage boxes.
MP: Yeah. So I’d very much love to get a hold of some of the miniatures though.

CG: What faction were you looking at?
MP: Personally, I’d really like to pick up the Nu Coal minis. No particular reason for it, they’re just really, really slick looking minis. But if I had to pick runner-up, it’d be the North. I dig the more angular design, it speaks to a very classic sci-fi sensibility to me. It kind of reminds me a little bit of early Star Wars kind of designs if you applied it to mechs. That probably sounds very silly, but if I had to put it into words, that’s the best that I can do. Of course, I have very fond memories of playing a Kodiak when I was into Heavy Gear, the video games.

The Activision Heavy Gear 1 and Heavy Gear 2

CG: Yeah, so tell me about those Activision titles.
MP: Man! What can I say about them?
CG: So you played both of them?
MP: Yes, I did. I played both of them. My memories of Heavy Gear 1 are, at this point, so early that I can’t really recall much about it. And my experience with Heavy Gear 2 was mainly with the multiplayer, where I was in a guild, and I can’t remember what the name of the guild was for the life of me. I was in so many guilds at the time. At the same time, I think I was into Tribes 2 and I was in a guild there.
CG: Is it safe to say that you played the heck out of Heavy Gear 2 though?
MP: Yeah, I played a lot of multiplayer with my guild in Heavy Gear 2 and I was never much good at it, is the thing. Because that was right around the time when mouse control started to actually work? And I hadn’t gotten it through my head, because I was stupid and like 12. So I was still trying to aim with the arrow keys and PageUp and PageDown on my keyboard.
CG: Oh yes.
MP: So I got really good with rockets. I got really good with bazookas basically.

The Cartoon

CG: And did you watch the old CG cartoon? Did you ever see that?
MP: No, I never did. I didn’t know that one even existed until I was on this project and people started comparing us to them.
CG: Uh oh! How did they compare?
MP: Generally the reception to the cartoon is rather negative.
CG: Yes! [Read my negative review of Battle for the Badlands here.]
MP: Because it’s a bit off-canon from the actual lore of Heavy Gear, I think. At least that’s my understanding of it. And basically people get a little bit anxious, they get a little bit, what’s the word I’m looking for? Blast it!
CG: I don’t know, anxious I think would describe how some fans would be.
MP: People get a little bit anxious about the fact that we’re using the arena setting when they feel that the cartoon wasn’t necessarily representative of how they pictured the Heavy Gear universe. And the thing is is that we’re not drawing from that cartoon, we’re drawing from the Heavy Gear Arena rulebooks. We’re drawing directly from the canon, so if there’s one thing that I’d like to set people’s minds to rest about, it’s that we’re sticking to the canon on this thing. Like, there’s a few things that we’re supplementing here and there, but usually it’s extrapolations of what’s in the rules or extrapolations of what’s in the tech manual into rules for this game. And we’re working very closely with Dream Pod 9 and we’ve even got a guy who was a marketer at Dream Pod 9.
CG: Yeah, John, John Nguyen.
MP: Yeah. We’re being very, very careful about that. Other than that I don’t have any familiarity with the cartoon.

What Mike Prinke’s Been Playing Lately

CG: In your Ten Survival Tips over at GameCareerGuide you advise future game designers to keep playing games, what have you been playing lately yourself?
MP: Let me see here. Let me bring up my list and think about that. This week has been crazy so I need to refresh my memory. Lately, let’s see, every so often I love to go back and play FTL, I think that’s a really, really awesome game.
CG: Ok, FTL, Faster Than Light?
MP: That is correct. Basically you command a ship and you’ve got a nice little top-down view of the inside of your ship and the crew and whatnot and you make jumps from star to star and sector to sector trying to outrun a rebel fleet that is just tearing apart the Federation, to deliver a message explaining what the rebel fleet’s weakness is. Basically the whole game is procedural and it gives you random missions and random events all the time, so no two play-throughs are the same. And there’s a number of ships and a number of races and things that your crewmen can belong to that give them different bonuses. Every play-through feels very, very unique and very, very exciting and it’s a very difficult and strategic game. A lot of very strong elements of meaningful decision-making to it, more so than a lot of AAA games do that try to be non-linear, simply in that they give you a goal, and tell you “However you want to accomplish it and whatever objectives you want to pursue on the way, that’s up to you. We’ll just supply the world and let you do it.” That’s a game that I return to fairly often. It’s something that you can play in an hour or two. Very often you can get lost in it where you play it over and over again, but what else here? I picked up Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and I’m looking forward to playing that that more than I’ve actually played it. Basically I bought it and then immediately had to go into hardcore development mode. Prior to that, it was a lot of Metal Gear Rising and BioShock Infinite I had to pick up, because well… I had to pick it up. It wasn’t a compulsion on my end to pick it up. Everybody was telling me to pick it up and saying “Oh yeah, it’s way better than BioShock.” So I picked it up.
CG: And do you agree with them?
MP: Uh… do I really want to get into that in this interview?
CG: Let’s say no, and keep it briefer, I suppose.
MP: Not particularly. I vastly prefer the first one. [BioShock]

Shadowrun Campaign via IRC

CG: Ok. But you’ve been busy playing several. Are you still doing any tabletop games?
MP: Yes, I am running a Shadowrun game, in fact. It’s been on a little bit of a hiatus since we’ve been very busy with our preparations for Kickstarter, but yeah, I’ve been running a Shadowrun game that takes place in Los Angeles in 2072.
CG: Do you run that in person or online?
MP: It’s online. It’s basically the same group, the core group of four people, from back in my days running Smash Quest.
CG: And what platform do you use for it now?
CG: Oh you still use mIRC! Ok.
MP: Oh yeah. It’s been on my computer for about ten years.
CG: Wow, ok. For me, that dates me to a particular era of my life, when I was using mIRC, but ok. So you use its file send function to send files to people and things like that?
MP: Not particularly. We run our games almost entirely with text. Like typing descriptions and things. It gets a little bit slow. Personally I want to use this map program called Roll 20. I’ve got one guy who just doesn’t really want to use maps and I’ve got one person who doesn’t want to do voice chat, because she’s really shy, so I’ve got to stick to mIRC for the sake of that for right now.

CG: Now did you ever get into MUSHing or MUDing?
MP: Uh, no, I never did.
CG: Ok, but you roleplay via text over the computer which is like, it’s basically like tabletop roleplaying, but you’re describing everything.
MP: Yeah, it’s just you get into a lot more description and people end up taking the roleplay aspect of it, of staying in character and whatnot an awful lot more seriously. The thing is that does come at sort of the expense of the strategic element of gameplay. You end up doing a lot less rational decision-making and a lot less planning and looking over information and detective work and whatnot than you do character-driven storyline and stuff. And personally I prefer to be doing the strategy and the detective work. I prefer to have the players looking at a floor plan almost Oceans 11 style, figuring out how they want to get through it, all the while giggling to myself about the traps they don’t know about. [Laughs] That’s where the pleasure comes from for me. But I do get a good portion of that running it through mIRC at least.

CG: Have you tried the Shadowrun Missions or do you just make your own adventures?
MP: I am making my own adventure for this one. This is actually only my second attempt at running Shadowrun. My first one didn’t go too great. I had a very vague understanding of the rules the first time. This time I sort of gave each player their own introductory session so I could both get the feel for who they are and what they want to do as players and also to get a feel for the different game mechanics, because Shadowrun is very dense on different sets of mechanics. It’s got a different set of mechanics for hacking, it’s got a different set of mechanics for the astral plane and magic. And then there’s the normal combat, there’s all this stuff. Like practically different worlds that the characters look through, but that’s one of the fascinating things about playing it. I went through them one at a time and I’m like “Ok, now this is making sense. Now I can fit this into the context of how I do it with all four of them.” Now I can kind of put it together in the context of how will all four of these characters work together? When am I going to have the hacker doing the hacking? Cybercombat. What are the other players going to be doing while the hacker’s doing that? That’s sort of a lesson that I took away from video game design is that aspect of getting yourself acclimated to the mechanics sort of one at a time.

Academic and Professional Game Design

CG: So that actually is something I wanted to touch upon. So you were at SCAD and then as an undergrad you did do a bit of video gaming design as part of your college experience?
MP: My undergraduate degree was at Michigan State University and the major that I did was Telecommunications/Information Studies Media, the specialization for which was game development, Digital Game Development. That program was going through a lot of growing pains at the time. I’ll supplement a little bit, because it’s actually a nice bridge from one of my previous talking points here. My success with Smash Quest and other tabletop games was what eventually bolstered me to want to go into developing digital games, because when you manage to develop a game that can keep 50 people riveted to their computers-, and we did sessions very frequently, like we did them once a night.
CG: Oh wow, ok.
MP: Yeah, it was really, really intense. When you can do that that successfully, you sort of sit there and think, “Hmmn, maybe I could develop games professionally.” And so that kind of bolstered me to wanting to be a digital game developer. And then, of course, there was another aspect to it, where I actually did and still do derive a bit of inspiration from George Lucas. The Star Wars films had come out on DVD at the time that I was about to go to college and with them there was a documentary called Empire of Dreams and the story basically showed me that George Lucas was a normal person like myself. He was not this extraordinary godlike human being that just pulled gold out of his rear. He was a normal person who put his pants on one leg at a time. And I sort of thought to myself, “If he could chase his dream in the entertainment industry, why can’t I chase my dream in the entertainment industry?” Which at that point was video game design. And I wasn’t even thinking that I was going to do video game design for a while. I thought I was going to do English as my major or something. Then I went to Michigan State to get back on topic here. Basically if you wanted to do video game development, that was hosted in Telecommunications and it was supposed to be cross-disciplinary, but the Art Department really didn’t want to have anything to do with us, because they were a Fine Arts department and didn’t really do commercial art.
CG: Yep, just like I’m sure with Graphic Design, they probably looked down on that.
MP: Yeah, actually graphic design was included in the Art Department and they didn’t care for us much either. Then there was Computer Science and they were more cooperative with us, but at the same time, they still didn’t really take game development seriously. Because what would happen is there’d be 300 students sitting in a lecture hall and the professor would go, “Ok, how many of you are here because you want to make video games?” And about 290 of them would raise their hands. And the professor would be sitting there thinking, “Arghh. None of these people are going to be in my class next year. None of these are going to make it into the advanced computer science courses.” And that was all too typically the case. By the time anyone got into Computer Science video game development classes – and there were a few – there was an engine-development class, for instance. By the time they got there, there’d be maybe 10 people taking that class. There’d be maybe 15 people taking a computer graphics class and that’s all just about developing a 3D rendering engine. To get there, you’d have to spend like four years doing computer science.

Meanwhile the bulk of the game development program was done in Telecom. You’d just have to do a couple of Telecom courses before you got into the game development courses, so that’s where I set my primary focus, the issue being that it didn’t really help to develop as much of a core skill as I’d put it. Everybody who’s doing digital game development, I think, has got to have a practical skill. Everybody’s got to have something that they can do on a team that they will do no matter what type of game they’re developing. Let’s say that you really aren’t interested in sports games or something like that, but you have to work on them, because you need to eat. If you’re not interested in sports games, but you’re interested in technical design or gameplay programming, then it doesn’t matter that you’re working on a sports game, you can work on the animation integration for the sports game. Then you’re doing an integration of animation technology, you’re doing physics engine stuff. That stuff interests you, so it doesn’t matter what type of game you’re making. The problem being that Telecomm was a bit of a hodgepodge at the time. It’s a lot better now, as I understand it.

So we didn’t develop much in the way of core skills, so I was sitting there like, “Ahhh… I feel like I need more training.” So I went to SCAD to do my graduate degree. Besides that, I had things I wanted to explore about game development. I had theories and ideas and things that you really didn’t get into them during undergrad and I don’t think anyone gets into them during undergrad, despite a lot of talk about how hot the student scene is right now. For instance, I did my graduate thesis on the psychological architecture of choice-driven narrative in games. Narrative in games is my big passion. In undergrad, I didn’t do anything with it. I was just feeling fortunate to have a character moving around on the screen. If something worked, it was a miracle. If we had a player model, it was a miracle. Whereas in grad school, you can actually finally start approaching those theoretical ideas – those philosophical ideas, I should say – that define the way that we think of games really and actually explore them and actually do a formalized study out of them. The kind of thing that I was expecting to do going into a game development academic program, but for better or worse we stuck to the basics until I got to grad school.

Game Design Theories: Choice-Driven Narratives and Morality

CG: What got tossed out or what got challenged? What was that experience like?
MP: It was interesting because not many people-, I shouldn’t say people didn’t challenge my theories, but they generally challenged me to formalize them more, to come up with evidence, and cite articles and things. The stuff that I was concerned with was mainly narrative, the development of narrative through games, this idea that-, and people do contest me on this thing. I believe that narrative and gameplay, mechanics I should say, complement one another. I believe that you use one to reinforce the other and that neither of the two need necessarily be considered mutually exclusive ideas. That’s how I look at it, at least. I also tend to believe in very focused form of storytelling in a way that gives you more breadth of decision-making than if you were to make a game that spans the entire universe of your story. Typically I feel that that’s a mistake that roleplaying games make all too often, is just trying to encompass too big of a story, too big of a scope, where they absolutely must go into everything that happens in the entire universe of this game and as a result, none of it gets focus, and there’s a lot of tell don’t show or as it were, tell don’t play.

I believe in the idea that if something is important to your story or to your characters, that you should make it tangible in some way. Character traits, I believe, you can make into tangible game mechanics. As an example, I point out something like Devil May Cry where the character Dante is the showboating jackass basically and the mechanics encourage you to be a showboating jackass. It’s not just about surviving the battle, it’s about showing off. It’s about doing tricks almost more than survival against demonkind. It’s very much the Tony Hawk of hack-n-slash games. And that, I found, was a very inspiring thing for me. There I am trying to apply concepts like that to a choice-driven narrative and people are like “Are you crazy?! Don’t you want to talk about Mass Effect? Isn’t that the best kind of choice-driven narrative there is?!” And I’m like, “Ehhh, I don’t really think so.” So if anything I think I spent a lot of time challenging other people, but I did get challenged in that I had at least one professor who was like, “You know, when I play a game like Mass Effect or Dragon Age or The Elder Scrolls, it seems to me that the matter of doing a choice-driven narrative doesn’t really matter because I experience it the way I experience it. And all the other possibilities basically go ignored. And sure, if I talk to people about it, fine. Basically I play it once and that’s the way I play it and it’s done.” So I needed to convince people at the same time that I was trying to tell them choice-driven narrative really gets overblown, at the same time I also needed to convince them that it was worth exploring. Sorry, I’m sort of remembering this as I go. I’m sorting of thinking aloud in a way.
CG: Yeah, you’re maybe saying in Fallout 3, that maybe you’d like to experience what Megaton is like if you don’t blow it up, versus if you do to go over to that Tenpenny Towers or whatever?
MP: Yeah, yeah. Where that comes in, where I was finally able to break the surface of that discussion was in the end, it’s not necessarily a matter of player agency. It’s not necessarily a matter of the player getting to make choices that make huge impacts on the world around them, that change literally the whole course of the story. Because there’s only so much of that you can do in a digital game at all. At the end of the day, it’s in 1’s and 0’s, it’s kind of set in stone. There’s only so much leeway you’re able to program in. The real appeal of choice-driven narrative, I postulate, is that there’s this aspect of personalization that you experience, of interpreting the story, that makes it worthwhile. So when you blow up Megaton in Fallout 3, you’re interpreting your character and the values of the story, whatever you may perceive them to be, in a different way from someone else who’s doing the same thing. It’s kind of an extrapolation of the Holodeck concept in kind of a way. Instead of exploring a story as a linear thing, as kind of being fed the story and the values that go with it, you are exploring them tangibly. You are getting hands-on experience with the themes through the interactions that you have with the game. And that particular interaction in Fallout is a very strong thematic point in that story where you’re basically making the decision about how the world should be treating itself, how it should run from this post-apocalyptic state it’s in. Should we be trying to eliminate these pockets of poverty by just getting rid of them or should we give them a chance to grow and rebuild themselves? That’s a major theme and they give you an interaction that lets you get hands-on with it. And those are the moments that I find are the most powerful in a choice-driven narrative. Likewise if I look at something like Heavy Rain, for all that game’s faults and its story, a simple moment like Ethan Mars going to his refrigerator and having to decide whether he wants to drink beer or whether he wants to drink orange juice while his son watches cartoons in the background can make a world of difference for your perception of that character. Or you can be a pig and drink both.

Coding Morality in Game Design

CG: Yeah, but what about the moralizing factor of that? Sometimes it seems like you have to figure out what the designers’ moral values are, because to us playing it, we go “That’s not bad. That’s not good. Why did I lose Karma?”
MP: That’s kind of an issue with choice-driven narrative systems, is that developers too often oversimplify it to good and evil, when, in fact, there is a huge breadth of themes that you could explore and good and evil are just one theme. If you look at something like Infamous, right? There’s a game that’s pushing the good evil thing and in a way it’s not terribly inappropriate because you’re looking at electricity and positive and negative polarity as a way to kind of connect that in, but the thing is, that’s not really what about the story is about. It’s about surviving in this city and this idea of responsibility versus selfishness. But instead of picking up on responsibility vs. selfishness, they picked on good and evil. And you can consider one value or the other to be better or worse depending on the circumstances that you’re in. If it were simply a survival situation and they said “There’s only so many resources to go around, how are you going to allocate them?” then it might have come off very differently, but instead they literally had a Good Evil meter and they had to shoehorn good and evil decisions into every beat of the story, even when there really wasn’t a difference between which one would get you further. Like very early on, there’s a scene where you can either electrocute a guy to death or you can tell him that his wife is dead and i’m sitting there going “Number 1, why do I have to electrocute him to death? Why can’t I just knock him out through the bars? Why can’t I just stun him. Number 2, why is that even a thing thematically? Why would I even think about killing him just to get past this door?” It’s a moment that’s there purely to introduce you to this mechanic of the Good-Evil Meter and there’s so many of them throughout that game.

Likewise there’s the idea of good and evil points in general, which I think is a flawed model for developing the concept of morality and decision-making in games. If you think about the decision-making process, there’s a model of decision-making called rationality. Limited rationality is the more refined way of looking at it. It basically postulates that people look at the world through a lens of risk versus reward and it’s dictated by what preferences they have for what sorts of variables they want to maximize and minimize and what options they think they have as far as getting it accomplished. If you think about good or evil points as a resource in that context, you can’t trade them. The rest of the world doesn’t work on good and evil points. You can’t go to a store and trade five points of evil karma for something. It basically has no tangible value to anyone except in very, very few peculiar instances that I think have influenced the scope of narrative-choice in a way that really shouldn’t have. Particularly, I’m thinking of Knights of the Old Republic where yeah, good and evil points are perfectly appropriate. It’s Star Wars. Literally the whole world works on this idea of Light Side and Dark Side energies conflicting, so that is absolutely a tangible resource in this world. But everybody sort of looked at that and said, “We should do good and evil points too. This is really cool.” And then it sort of went downhill, because they weren’t doing Star Wars. Star Wars is the only setting where that really works.

That’s where I think the morality idea kind of falls off. You shouldn’t be looking at it as the idea of exploring morality, because morality varies from person to person. The ideals that motivate what’s good and evil in our minds are basically… any ideology can have a very different way of looking at killing, for instance, any ideology can have a very different way of looking at a mundane thing like eating meat. It’s a question. When you talk about ideology, basically the only way you can possibly write a story is that the ideology is taken for granted. That’s the whole message behind Star Wars, in fact, is that the ideology is taken for granted. It’s the most basic type of story to tell is a morality play where you are just showing the audience what good is and what evil is and equating it to some set of values. In Star Wars, it would be probably freedom versus power. That’s really the operative theme and it’s explored through a mask of good and evil. But the key to it is good and evil are taken for granted and they don’t spend a lot of time asking what good and evil are, they just let the story take it for granted, and the action unfolds, and you get to spend time enjoying this great adventure. But then you get into something like Shadow the Hedgehog, which feels the need to belabor whether or not the lead character is a good guy or you play something like Fable. You play something like Fable which belabors the question of are you good or are you evil. Or Infamous, which belabors the question of are you good or are you evil? And by the time we get done answering this very, very basic question, not only is the game likely to be wrong in the player’s mind, but the game is also going to be over.

Story Arcs in Heavy Gear Assault? Campaign versus Arena

CG: We’ve just been talking a lot about story arcs and narrative. As far as gameplay and story arcs, will there be one in Heavy Gear Assault.
MP: [Blows air] One of our stretch goals is to try and develop a campaign. That requires a lot of resources to develop a single-player or co-op campaign, that requires an awful lot of resources, more than I think that people imagine. Single player is, on one hand, easier to program because you don’t necessarily need to do the network programming aspect of it. On the other hand, it’s more costly because you need more cinematic stuff. You need to spend time developing single player levels which you balance very differently from a multiplayer level and are much harder to test, in fact.

There’s some fun stories about what the Ratchet & Clank testing team had to go through, where they had what’s called Help Desk, which is this pop-up that comes up, telling you “You can jump over obstacles if you press the X Button.” Basically if a kid, a 3-year old kid is playing, they stay in the room too long, right, imagine having to test every single one of those. Every single message like that. If you’re building LEGO Star Wars and you’ve got messages like this that help kids through the game if they sit there for like ten minutes in the same room, imagine being the guy sitting there at the test machine moving the character through the levels sitting there for fifteen minutes desperately trying to maintain your concentration while waiting for this message to pop up so you can confirm that it pops up and that it doesn’t have spelling errors and that it stays up long enough to be readable. And then all somebody has to do is say “Hey, Mike!” over your shoulder and then you look away and then you look back and you see the pop-up disappear and you’re like “Oh crap!”

That’s the kind of thing that you have to test in a single [player campaign], and I’m not saying that Heavy Gear [Assault] would need a system like that necessarily, being that it’s a core PC game, we know that generally we’re looking at a more adult audience that can put things together for themselves. Not that we need something like that, but every interaction in a level, every scripted event in a level, right down to a simple piece of background scenery needs to be tested and confirmed, every elevator, every door has to be tested and confirmed without bugs. That process in of itself takes a whole lot of time and more people than we’ve got on this project, let alone the art resources and the level design resources necessary to create it.

CG: What fills that narrative gap then? Is it the level designs or different arenas? Different arena configurations?
MP: In terms of the narrative experience that we definitely can deliver, yeah, we’re filling in multiple different arenas in different locations. Mostly centered around Khayr ad-Din, but spread out a little bit. There’s some talk among the team of exploring a couple of other cities. And then ideally there’s a sort of, how to put this, there’s a big interaction to this that I don’t necessarily want to give away yet. What I will say is that there is we’re trying to do a little bit more than just develop a standard free-to-play game, where you just drop into a map and that’s it. We’re doing a bit more than the bare minimum Death Match sort of thing. We’re looking at a very unique system for developing player lobbies and whatnot. And we are looking at developing a stronger narrative experience through the different events that are kind of going to go on in the community. We’re looking at really using the community as our means of developing a narrative as opposed to a single player campaign at the moment. We do really want to do the single player campaign. We’ve got just awesome ideas in mind for how we’d like to develop it and the types of mechanics we’ve got go into so much more detail than the previous Heavy Gear video games, that we think we’d be able to make the most awesome single player campaign that any mech simulator has ever seen. I don’t want to say on a scope that you’ve never seen before, but there’d be interactions in ways that you haven’t seen before. Particularly revolving around your relationship with the machine, with the Gear, right. Most mech simulators are content to have you play as the mech and that’s it.
CG: Right.
MP: Our perspective is that you are not just the mech. You are the pilot and you have a mech. And that’s about as far into that as I can go.
CG: Ok, so I’m picking up, and you don’t have to say anything to this, but maybe you could exit the mech.
MP: Maybe. [James Taylor confirms this in the GDC 2013 Interview by IndieStatik]

North vs. South, Peace River and Nu Coal

Heavy Gear Arena Gladiator with Dual Machine Pistols

Peace River Gladiator Miniature for Heavy Gear Arena

CG: OK. Do you think that players will naturally want to echo the North vs. South divide, things like that?
MP: Players will definitely have their preferences for what types of Gears they want to use. Already in the community there’s that debate happening on the Facebook page where people are going, “I’m totally sticking with my babies, the Northern Gears.” And then someone looks at a piece of Lorenz’s concept art of the Hunter versus the Jager and they’re like “I don’t know. For that Jager, I think I could be convinced to go Southern.” They just naturally want to partition themselves on North and South. I think if that’s what they want to do, just let them do it and have fun with it. If that’s where they perceive the fun of this, if they want to faction off, and they want to kind of cheerlead their side, then more power to ’em. Although we would like to explore the mechs outside of just the Northern and Southern sets of Gears.
CG: Yeah, Peace River definitely.
MP: Peace River is one of our stretch goals and then, yeah, Nu Coal is another one of our stretch goals, I think.

Crokinole – The One Flick You Must See

Black and Red Crokinole Discs on Board

Crokinole: Played by Flicking Wooden Discs Towards Board’s Center

If you’re familiar with the game of crokinole, then odds are that you’re either a hardcore board gamer or a grey-haired white guy from rural Canada as the documentary Crokinole reveals. The epicenter of the crokinole world would seem to be Tavistock, Canada, and it’s there that much of the 2006 documentary takes place, at the 2004 World Crokinole Championship. But what is crokinole? Crokinole is a board game that involves flicking wooden discs towards the center of a round board and knocking your opponents’ discs out into a gutter akin to shuffleboard or its indoor version, table shuffleboard, occasionally encountered at bars in America. It’s a pleasant enough game, involving skill and coordination, and can be quite satisfying, especially when a 20 is scored, the game’s equivalent to a bullseye. Crokinole is also a rather obscure game, with the game’s name unknown to modern computer spell checkers and college-educated professionals alike, so for it to be the subject of a documentary is fascinating in its own right.

Once you’ve understood the basic flicking mechanic of crokinole, the claims of the documentary to be “THE ONE FLICK YOU MUST SEE” will make more sense and seem a good deal less boastful. Crokinole opens by quoting from the 1897 Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery:

We went over to the party but I can’t say I really enjoyed myself. Alf doesn’t dance – thinks it the unpardonable sin, I believe – and I didn’t like to leave him alone among the strangers with nothing to amuse him. So I didn’t dance much either but played croquinole most of the evening and was bored to the point of tears. I love dancing and I loathe croquinole.

Cover of Crokinole the one flick you must see with sunglassed player in blue shirtFrom that high point, the film slowly and pleasantly meanders. Crokinole lacks the narrative punch of other documentaries about competitive pastimes like Spellbound or Word Wars, but like them though, Crokinole is the authoritative documentary on its subject. While slow, the documentarians have covered all of their bases with the film, which captures multiple viewpoints on competitive crokinole. It’s also well-scored by the Earl Jones Trio. The film’s greatest strength though is its excellent tongue-in-cheek marketing, with the back cover stating “Those who have the adequate endurance to remain in a plastic chair for hours will excel, while those who cannot withstand the rigorous demands of a stationary position will falter.” This attitude towards crokinole seems to be widely shared by its Canadian players and the residents of Tavistock who all have a dry humor about the game and its championship tournament. “How could you miss it?” laughs one resident. A World Crokinole Championship referee sheepishly jokes about his neon safety vest, while another resident smiles and says of crokinole, “I wouldn’t say it’s nail-biting action like other sports, but yeah, it’s alright.” Gillies Lake Productions takes it further on the DVD cover and preemptively forewarns the would-be viewer with a quote from Bob Mader that “… It’s a long long grind.” Yes, yes, it is. While that statement isn’t misleading, the cover of the DVD is. On the copy I watched, the cover is dominated by the concentrating sunglassed Paul Stewart, an American player from Texas. It’s a decent image, but Stewart is in less than 2 of the movie’s 79 minutes. Most of the players are a great deal older and it would be more accurate to think of Crokinole as the Grumpy Old Men of gaming movies.

The Demographics of Crokinole

Fortunately for the viewer, the crokinole players that Crokinole introduces are all charming and congenial. They are also a very homogenous group, all white and predominately male. Two middle-aged or older women are also shown as part of the World Crokinole Committee. If Crokinole is sounding more and more like Cocoon, that’s not far off (though to be accurate, younger female players can be seen in the background of the World Championship footage). Brothers Jason and Raymond Bierling from “up country” are notable for both their red-hair and being “quite young” (someone thinks they are in their mid-20s) and while they appear in Crokinole, they are not the focus of the film. Nor is the similarly-aged, long-haired and bearded Birch Kuch from the Yukon who briefly makes an appearance in the championship.

Grey-haired and with glasses Joe Fulop concentrates over a crokinole board at the 2004 World Crokinole Championship

Three Time World Crokinole Singles Champion Joe Fulop © Bill Gladding / Tavistock Gazette

The Champions

Instead, filmmakers Joshua and Jonathan Steckley focus on four subjects. Farmer Dan Shantz is a previous winner of the 2001 Doubles Crokinole Championship and got a lot of practice as a child when he was ill and housebound, playing each of his fingers against the others. Unfortunately Shantz doesn’t tell us whether his pinky beat out his index finger, but his anecdote speaks volumes about the amount of solo practice championship crokinole requires. Grandfather Bob Mader may or may not be a farmer, but he lives in or near a village, and won $500 for his third place finish in a World Crokinole Championship. Mader played for Canada in the 1962 World Ice Hockey Championships, but sustained a knee injury in the championship game against the USA. The film jacket humorously advises in the rating section that Crokinole contains Canadian accents, but Mader’s speech like many of the others who appear in the film is also quaint and charming. Ringing a bell on his home’s porch, Mader reminisces, “Give it a dingle, that was dinnertime.” Joe Fulop is a part-time teacher, golf enthusiast, and the 2001 & 2002 Crokinole Singles World Champion. Someone says of Fulop, “That’s what he has for breakfast: crokinole. For dinner: crokinole.” It’s probably accurate on some days, because Fulop does play a lot of crokinole against himself. One of the challenges facing Fulop is his escalating Parkinson’s disease. He manages some humor about it. When asked whether it’s the worst disease for a crokinole player, Fulop’s eyes twinkle as he responds, “Well, cancer’s worse.” Al Fuhr is the fourth subject and most athletic, playing on two baseball teams when not fishing or flicking crokinole discs. Comparing himself to the single Fulop, Fuhr points out about himself that he leads an active lifestyle, a lifestyle slightly crimped because of an accident involving a 500-pound shed door which fell on his head.

Bald-headed crokinole player Al Fuhr concentrates during World Crokinole Championships

Crokinole Subject Al Fuhr Concentrating During the WCC © Bill Gladding / Tavistock Gazette

Mr. Crokinole and Other Crokinole Personalities

Besides the four players, the documentary focuses on Wayne Kelly, or as he is more famously known, Mr. Crokinole. Kelly runs and has spent a good deal of time documenting the game’s history, including the origins of the name crokinole, a difficult task given that he consulted “28 to 30” dictionaries and encyclopedias which lacked any mention of the Canadian board game. As an expert on the subject, Kelly provides the real backbone to the documentary and as one might expect, the documentary is also sold on His inclusion in the documentary would seem to be mandatory. He authored The Crokinole Book which sold out of its first printing of 5,000 copies within the first year of publishing it in 1988, has had over 3,000 different crokinole and carom boards pass through his hands, and sells 5-8 crokinole boards each day.

The other subject that Crokinole frequently cuts back and forth to is Willard Martin as he constructs a crokinole board out of particle board in his workshop. Despite his hopes (and Mr. Crokinole’s) that various flubs will be edited out, they are instead preserved for the viewer to enjoy. Want to watch Martin clean his urethane brush? Joshua and Jonathan Steckley have also captured that. While most of his moments on camera could have been edited out, Willard Martin’s nostalgia as he recalls listening to the radio with his father as a child is quite touching and well worth including. Besides identifying him as Willard Martin though, the directors fail to point out Martin’s significance to crokinole. A quick Google search reveals that Willard Martin is indeed a second-generation crokinole board maker, selling his WILLARD boards through So great is his skill at board making that his boards have been used at the World Crokinole Championships.

The World Crokinole Committee

The World Crokinole Championships are hosted and organized by the World Crokinole Committee, as one might expect. It’s here, in showing the committee at work, that some of Crokinole’s most heated and dramatic moments can be found. Watch as a number of crokinole board storage boxes fall over! Listen as the committee discusses the “pro-cess” for paperwork. Board 46 is missing! Someone may have taken one of the boards to get some illegal practice in! Sadly, the investigation into the missing board is stopped once it is located. It’s because of scenes like this, the Canadian accents, and the film’s many other ironies that Crokinole also feels like an extended episode of Kids in the Hall from time to time and occasionally made me wonder whether Crokinole is a mockumentary or not. If it is, the humor is so slight and its treatment of its subjects so gentle that it barely registers as such, besides being non-fictional.

No Slam Dunks in Crokinole: The Crokinole World Championship

Just like children and beginners getting strikes in bowling, it is quite possible for newbies to get a 20 in crokinole. Scoring a 20 while also knocking your opponent’s piece into the gutter is even fancier, but there’s no equivalent to slam dunking in crokinole. There’s nothing the “masters” of the game can do that a player at home cannot. Because of this much of the World Crokinole Championship is uninspiring to watch. For about five minutes in Crokinole though, the flicking is fast and furious as 20 after 20 is scored by Joe Fulop and Al Fuhr in the semi-finals. It only escalates from there in the championship as stony-faced Joe Fulop battles the much younger Brian Cook. “The third time is the sweetest,” Fulop says after his victory.

Cameraman films the 2004 World Crokinole Championship between Brian Cook and Joe Fulop as neon-vest wearing referee watches

2004 World Crokinole Championship: Cook vs. Fulop © Bill Gladding / Tavistock Gazette

Strategy in Crokinole?

While the champion and runner-up certainly exhibit great skill, a different moment in Crokinole had me shaking my head. When asked about Al Fuhr and how his crokinole playing compares to his baseball playing, his baseball coach Tom Myers, says “He’s extremely competitive, regardless of which he’s playing and strategic. I mean, crokinole, he’s thinking three plays ahead and in the ball diamond, he’s the same. He’s thinking two or three batters ahead, where I should be putting it on the plate. So [he’s] strategic in both too.” Now unless I’m missing something huge about the game of crokinole, it seems that the goal and strategy never vary: score as many points as you can and prevent your opponent from doing so. Just like picking up a split spare in bowling or playing darts, playing well requires finesse and a lot of practice, but there is no change in strategy.

The Whole Crokinole… Almost

Board level view of Crokinole guards

Crokinole Posts Make the Game Harder But No Change in Strategy

Despite the Steckleys’ thoroughness in documenting the many foibles of crokinole and mining the game’s depths for any humor, the directors missed the easy laugh that is “the one-cheek rule”, instead only covering it in the DVD’s special features. According to the one-cheek rule, crokinole players must keep one butt cheek on the chair at all times. This restricts players’ movements while at the same time preventing any tables from getting flipped. As a reaction to the one-cheek rule, crokinole is sometimes played on a rotating Lazy Susan to aid players in getting that perfect shot. The directors do include crokinole played with cue sticks (which is also a part of the World Crokinole Championships), but it would have been interesting to see or hear about any violations of the one-cheek rule or players’ opinions on rotating crokinole boards. They also include such crokinole slang as a “doogie”, which should never be confused with the “dougie” dance. A doogie is a 20 in the regional slang of Tavistock, Ontario. There is more humor as doogie is misidentified as the German word for twenty (zwanzig).

Photos of Joe Fulop, Al Fuhr, and Championship Match between Brian Cook and Joe Fulop © Bill Gladding / Tavistock Gazette and used with permission and many thanks.

Paizo Overview Premier Presentation at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show

Paizo Publisher Erik Mona with pleased expression at GAMA Trade Show

Paizo Publishing’s Publisher Erik Mona at GAMA Trade Show

Erik Mona headed the Paizo Publishing leadership at the Paizo Overview Premier Presentation on March 19 at the GAMA Trade Show, flanked by Pierce Watters and Paizo’s new head of marketing Jenny Bendel. Mona explained that prior to Bendel’s arrival he had handled all of Paizo’s marketing himself, but had recruited Bendel into the company four months previously. Later Mona also explained that Paizo’s name originated with the company’s first publisher Johnny Wilson, who discovered the ancient Greek verb paizo, to play, while in seminary.

Jenny Bendel and Pierce Watters stand side by side at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show

Lvl. 20 Marketing Assassin Jenny Bendel and Pierce Watters

Mona began the Paizo presentation with even more history, explaining that the company acquired the licenses to publish Dragon Magazine and Dungeon in 2002. In 2007 Paizo released The Rise of the Runelords, its first in a series of Pathfinder Adventure Paths and has been an RPG powerhouse ever since. Pathfinder has been the #1 selling game in the RPG category since 2010 according to ICv2 with more than 100,000 Core Rulebooks sold worldwide. Paizo also boasts the largest RPG Organized Play program in the industry and produces monthly releases in several product lines. As of the GAMA Trade Show in March, Paizo’s Pathfinder Society program had over 45,000 players in 23 countries and will have 133 available four-hour Pathfinder Society Scenarios for home or in-store play at the end of the current season, Mona shared. Another revelation from Mona: the Pathfinder Beginner Box was tested extensively with Erik Mona and Paizo geniuses watching behind a one-way mirror to better understand and improve players’ experience.

Third Party Licensing and Releases: Diamond Select & SJG

Goblin art image on stone Granix display slab showing Pathfinder imagePathfinder has a “growing metaverse” in licensing and third party releases, Mona said. Sales of Diamond Select goblin plushes have been strong and Paizo had the prototype of a goblin plush backpack from Diamond Select available in their booth. The backpack will be coming out later this year. Zach Oat of Diamond Select provided further, limited details about the backpack. A rough prototype was shown of it at New York Toy Fair in February, but the product is still very much in development, with pricing still to be determined. Pathfinder Mini Mates are also still in development at Diamond Select, but pictures of concept artwork were snapped at New York Toy Fair. Diamond Select is also producing two Granix display plaques for Pathfinder. A Granix piece uses a roughly 7.5 by 5.5 inch slab of rock as the medium to display artwork, with each piece weighing in at over four pounds.

Pathfinder Munchkin

Red dragon cartoon and pathfinder goblins battle Munchkin players on cover for Pathfinder MunchkinPathfinder Munchkin is another licensed release for 2013, trading off of both the Pathfinder brand and Steve Jackson Games’ iconic game of treachery and greed. Announced in 2012, Pathfinder Munchkin has been playtested, but is still in development with card art submitted by artist John Kovalic. Steve Jackson Games is aiming for a release this fall and plans on bringing early copies of the game to Gen Con in August.

2013 Key Paizo Releases

While Paizo posts a near-constant stream of updates to its customers via its own website and through Pathfinder Society emails, this was Paizo’s chance to share specific products with retailers.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Cover of Rise of the Runelords Pathfinder Adventure Card GameAnother new product that Mona introduced was the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game which will be composed of 500 playing cards, dice for 4 players, and be supported by 110-card adventure decks. Each card will feature iconic Pathfinder artwork of characters such as Seoni and Valeros (who are themselves referred to as iconics by Paizo). Mona said that the game would be going to the printer in a week when he spoke to the GTS attendees on March 19. Its release will most likely coincide with Gen Con where it will retail for $49.99. Mona detailed that the Burnt Offerings Adventure Deck features six scenarios from the Burnt Offerings adventure, which was originally the first adventure in the Rise of the Runelords campaign. The mention of the Thistletop setting seemed to spark some recognition among attending retailers, if not cheers of approval. According to Jenny Bezel, two scenarios in the Burnt Offerings deck will involve Thistletop and feature “many classic foes and monsters” pulled from Rise of the Runelords.

Pathfinder RPG Releases

Mona moved through the Pathfinder release schedule at a brisk pace, constrained by the hour-long session, and listed future releases of:

  • Mythic Adventures: – Specifically designed for players who favor a more epic or demigod experience for Pathfinder, Mythic Adventures will be released in August for $39.99. The product was first announced after Gen Con in 2012 and any would-be Achilles, Theseus, or Gilgamesh can test its mechanics out using the playtest PDF available on Paizo. Mythic Adventures will be supported the releases of Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Mythic Realms, as well as the Pathfinder Player Companion: Mythic Origins.
  • The Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign Book: For GMs who want to craft the most immersive setting possible, the Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign Book will provide guidance in fleshing out background choices, creating taverns, and building kingdoms. It will retail in June for $39.99.
  • Demonic beings on cover of Pathfinder AP Wrath of the Righteous adventureWrath of the Righteous Adventure Path: With a front cover painted by Wayne Reynolds, the first adventure in the Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path will release in August. Adventure Paths are composed of six interlocking thematic adventures that build upon one another and take players from Level 1 to Levels 15-18, depending upon the AP. Character death is also a distinct possibility in the challenging adventures which form the basis for entire Pathfinder campaigns. The Wrath of the Righteous will be expanded upon in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Worldwound as well as the fantasy novel Pathfinder Tales: King of Chaos by Dave Gross. GMs will also be able to hand loot cards out to players via the Pathfinder Cards: Wrath of the Righteous Item Cards. The Wrath of the Righteous begins with the destruction of a magical wardstone which has helped to keep the demonic denizens of the Worldwound entrapped and at bay for centuries. It will be up to the PCs to stem the demonic tide and prevent Golarion’s absolute annihilation. After attending the GTS, Jenny Bendel subsequently identified the six adventures making up the AP, as well as their authors:
    1. Pathfinder Adventure Path #73: The Worldwound Incursion by Amber E. Scott
    2. Pathfinder Adventure Path #74: Sword of Valor by Neil Spicer
    3. Pathfinder Adventure Path #75: Demon’s Heresy by Jim Groves
    4. Pathfinder Adventure Path #76: The Midnight Isles by James Jacobs and Greg A. Vaughan
    5. Pathfinder Adventure Path #77: Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth by Wolfgang Baur
    6. Pathfinder Adventure Path #78: City of Locusts by Richard Pett
  • Skull and Shackles: While the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path debuted last year in April, in Paizo’s experience, it takes up to two years for playgroups to play through an adventure path, so Paizo and WizKids have been supporting the adventure path with pirate-themed Skull and Shackles miniatures.
  • Cover of Pathfinder Bestiary Box 2 with pawns out front on white backgroundMore Pawns! – Anyone who questions companies releasing overlapping products (such as Reaper selling the same miniature sculpt prepainted, in metal, and in plastic) should take note! Mona said that the Pathfinder Pawns has been the fastest-selling new product launch for Paizo since the Core Rulebook. This is happening at the same time as WizKids is producing the equally popular Pathfinder Battles prepainted miniatures. Pathfinder fans apparently can’t get enough of the double-sided cardboard standees, causing the Bestiary Box to sell-out. Paizo will also be releasing the much-anticipated (and much-delayed) NPC Codex Box set later this year as well as the Bestiary 2 Box. Mona also took note of retailers’ complaints about the Bestiary’s box design, which has the list of included monster pawns on its back. The design makes it difficult for GMs to easily check to see if they have a particular creature when the box is open and still contains pawns, forcing GMs to either raise the box overhead above themselves or crane their necks awkwardly to check the contents. Ideally this helpful list of monsters would be replicated on the box’s sides as well.
  • And Even More Pawns! Mona went on to add that Paizo has also released collections of its pawns (minus the bases) related to particular Adventure Paths. Joining the existing Rise of the Runelords and Skull & Shackles Pawn Collections will be the:
    • Reign of Winter Adventure Path Pawn Collection
    • Shattered Star Adventure Path Pawn Collection
    • Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path Pawn Collection

  • Encounter Packs – Mona also revealed that he helps to make the decision of what to put in Pathfinder Battles Encounter Packs from WizKids such as the Champions of Evil Encounter Pack. He said that there will three Encounter Packs released a year going forward. Rather than a random selection of miniatures, each pack has a designated set of miniatures using pre-existing sculpts from the main line of Pathfinder Battles miniatures.
  • Pathfinder Modules: There will be changes to future Pathfinder Modules as well going forward. Previously they had no spine and were 32 pages in length. Now they will be 64 pages and include a doubled-sided tactical map. Pathfinder Modules are longer than one-shot adventures and are instead intended to be played over multiple gaming sessions.

We Be Goblins, Too!

Paizo gave Pathfinder fans a chance to play as goblins in 2011 in the “We Be Goblins” adventure released for Free RPG Day and gamers’ reactions were so positive that Paizo will release We Be Goblins, Too!, allowing the opportunity to adventure as the demihumans again as a tie-in with Free RPG Day on June 15. WizKids will be releasing the associated Pathfinder Battles Builder Series We Be Goblins set on May 29 to coincide with We Be Goblins, Too! The small range of 12 figures is exclusively goblin-themed and features five news sculpts, while the remainder will be repaints of previously released figures and are all viewable here. The figure boxes are random and will retail for $2.49, with a case going for $75.

Little goblin Warchanter miniature from Pathfinder Battles We Be Goblins Too

Goblin Warchanter: 1 of 12 Sculpts for Pathfinder Battles Builder Series We Be Goblins

Paizo Continuing Releases

The popular Combat Pad, which allows GMs to keep track of player’s initiatives and key stats during combats, has been out of print for some time, but Paizo plans on changing that and will be restocking the item. Initially sold by a licensee, Paizo bought back the rights so the company can sell it themselves. It should be returning to the market early this fall in 2013 according to Jenny Bendel. Mona mentioned another perennial favorite of both Paizo staff and customers, the Critical Hit Deck, which has been reprinted four or five times due to its popularity.

Game Mastery Map Packs -> Pathfinder Map Packs

Mona also announced that going forward Paizo would be retiring the Game Mastery logo on its marketing of the modular map packs and flip maps.
Paizo will instead be using the Pathfinder name, but Mona pointed out that the gridded playing maps will still be usable to track movement for any other fantasy RPG.

Retailer Reactions

Mona did take several questions, with one retailer asking how he is supposed to sell the Pathfinder Core Rulebook for $49.95 when Amazon sells it for $30. Mona conceded, “I think that’s a challenge,” but did not elaborate on how the challenge could best be overcome by retailers. He did point out that when Paizo has its products distributed to hobby stores, the shops receive them on the release date and said that Amazon doesn’t have them until two weeks later.

This would seem to be the case as at the time of this article, April 26, Amazon only has the latest Pathfinder Map Pack, the Army Camp, up for pre-order with an availability date of May 14, whereas customers can already order the 18-card set from Paizo directly.

Pathfinder banner behind Jenny Bendel and Erik Mona at Paizo table in convention center

Paizo Publishing’s Erik Mona and Jenny Bendel Interacting with Attendees in the Exhibitors’ Hall

All product images copyright to their respective owners. Used with permission.