Panty Explosion is a light Role-playing game which draws inspiration from Japanese school life, anime, and Korean and Japanese horror films. Jake Richmond is an indie RPG designer, the co-creator of Panty Explosion and other games, and a talented artist. And I have him here for an interview. The second part will air in a week’s time.
Indie RPGs are like doujinshi, in a way. The creator does more or less everything on their own, but since it’s their own IP, it is official. Most sell for about $20, for interested parties. Story-Games are usually lighter on mechanics than most RPGs.
I will have my comments (in italics and parenthesis), and most links had been added by myself. Hope you’ll enjoy it :)
1. Tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Jake Richmond. I live with friends in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been a full time freelance illustrator for about 5 years and a part-time art teacher for about 3. I make comics and games, and I publish my games under the label Atarashi Games. I rarely wake up before 1pm, and I never go to sleep before 4am. My blood type is A. I like Indian and Mexican food, collect video game art books and have a glasses fetish.
2. Favorite anime, video games, manga?
It’s hard to choose. If we’re talking about anime then we have to separate films and series, I think. My favorite anime films are Perfect Blue and The Castle of Cagliostro. The Sky Crawlers is a more recent favorite. My favorite series are Cowboy Bebop and Last Exile, although Ouran High School Host Club, Black Lagoon and Baccano! are what I’ve been digging this year. Video Games are a little easier. My top five of all time are Jet Set Radio Future, Shadow of the Colossus, Majora’s Mask, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Final Fantasy Tactics. I own a DS, PSP and a Playstation 2, although I’m thinking about getting one of the sexy new slim PS3s.
3. I know you work on your games with Matt Schlotte and Nick Smith. Please tell me what each of you does?
Matt and I worked on Panty Explosion, and we’re currently working together on Black Opera. Nick and I did Sea Dracula together, and we’re in the middle of play testing The Magical Land of Yeld. All three of us worked on Classroom Deathmatch. When we started working on Panty Explosion, Matt and I spent about 3 months just talking about manga and films that we wanted to emulate and themes we wanted to explore. This was followed by a month of pretty hardcore research into the Japanese school system and the lives of Japanese students. We took all that information and turned it into a basic outline of what we wanted our game to look like. We knew that at it’s heart, underneath all the psychic school girl and demon stuff, Panty Explosion needed to be a game about the relationships between a group of friends. Once we knew that, constructing the basic mechanics of the game was a pretty simple task, and once we had the mechanics in place, writing the actual text for the book just became a matter of labor.
Here’s the writing process that we use. One of us (and at this point I don’t remember if it was Matt or I) took the giant pile of notes, outlines, mechanical processes and ideas that we had produced and assembled it into a 30 page rough text. Over the next few months we would email the text back and forth, making changes, adding entire paragraphs and sometimes chapters and smoothing out each other’s work. I think the only part of the book that I wasn’t involved in was the guide to Tokyo, which Matt wrote. Similarly, I wrote the section on bullying and abuse between students, although quite a bit of that was based on research Matt did. The writing process ended up taking about 3 months. Matt is my downstairs neighbor, so it was pretty easy for us to trade notes and ideas during this time, and there were more than a few times that Matt knocked on my door at 3am with some awesome idea.
The writing process stayed pretty much the same when Nick joined us for Classroom Deathmatch, and Nick and I have adopted the same process (with the helpful addition of Google Docs) for The Magical Land of Yeld.
I also do all the art, layout and book design. I generally start working on the art for a project as soon as I know whether or not we’re actually going to see it through. We’ve had a few projects since Panty Explosion that just never took off, so I’ve learned to wait until after we have at least a first draft before I start drawing. Panty Explosion was a huge failure for me, as far as the art goes. I was sick and had to be hospitalized while we were working on the book, and as a result I was never able to produce most of the art we wanted. We ended up using a whole bunch of test illustrations that I had produced for the project. Classroom Deathmatch came out a little better, but I still felt rushed. I’d like to eventually re-illustrate both projects. I’m currently in the middle of illustrating The Magical land of Yeld, which may end up having more than 300 illustrations. I’m taking my time on this one.
While I’m doing that, Nick is often organizing and running play-tests, and Matt is our public face at GenCon.
After the book is complete I’m in charge of sending it off to the printer and dealing with the distributor. I also run our online store and carry books down to the post office every time we get an order. It’s a lot of work, but I’m a very hands-on kind of guy.
4. So, Panty Explosion, tell me a bit about the game?
Panty Explosion is a story-game where you play a group of Japanese high school girls, one of whom secretly has psychic powers. Japanese high school is already a pretty brutal place, but being a psychic is extra tough. Beyond dealing with the mundane dangers of peer pressure, bullying, dating, super-high expectations and inappropriate sexual advances, psychic girls also have to deal with creepy government agents, vengeful ghosts, flesh-eating demons and rival psychotic psychics!
The core of Panty Explosion is the relationships between the student that each player controls. Before the game starts you’ll choose another player’s student to be your student’s best friend. You’ll also choose a rival. When your student takes an action and succeeds, the player who controls your best friend will describe what happens. They’ll narrate the action in your favor, and move the story along in a way that benefits your character. When your student fails an action, your rival gets to decide what happens. Your rival can tell us exactly what caused you to fail your action, and what horrible things happen because of it. When you fail to escape from psychic hunting government agents, your rival gets to decide not just how you failed, but what the agents do with you! When you fail to confess your love to the class president, your rival gets to decide how badly you humiliate yourself!
Panty Explosion can be a pretty dark and serious game, but it can also be really goofy, funny, dramatic or even cute.
5. The *name*. I know you get asked a lot about it. How did you come up with it, what does it signify?
Emily Care Boss, who wrote Breaking the Ice (which by the way, was a huge influence for us)(A game where you play a couple’s first three dates), suggested the name. Matt was telling her about the game. I think at the time we were just calling it Psychic School Girl, or something like that. He was describing the game and telling her about the genre, and she asked what it was about the genre that we were so fascinated by. Matt told her whatever he told her, and she summed it up like this: Exploding heads and panty shots. Panty Explosion.
I latched onto it right away. I mean, it’s pretty awesome. It sounds totally perverted (and the genre does have an edge of perversion), but at the same time it captures the flavor of the genre as well as the bizarre names that are often given to these films, series and manga. Plus, the name totally grabs your attention. There’s no way you can ignore it!
6. Tabletop RPGs are often big and intimidating, how does your game scale to newcomers, does it teach them the techniques? How long does it take to get a game running?
Well, our target audience had always been manga and anime fans, and fans of Japanese and Korean horror films, so we wanted to make a game that they could pick up and easily play even if they didn’t have a gaming background. So PE was designed to be really approachable and easy to understand. That was our goal. In hindsight, I think the game is a bit more complicated and demanding than we intended. We’ve learned some stuff since then. I still think a group of friends who have never played an RPG before can pick up PE and give it a go without much trouble. One of the keys to this is that PE isn’t a game about winning or losing; in fact, it’s a bit more fun to fail in Panty Explosion then it is to succeed! Because of that, and because PE is much more story oriented than most other RPGs, I think it’s pretty easy for new players to get in to. Plus, it’s a pretty short book. About 90 pages at 9×6 inches.
If you’re familiar with Panty Explosion, it only takes about a half hour to prep a game. Maybe less. And that includes making characters, creating a school and choosing a goal. If you’re new to the game it will take you a bit longer to set everything up, but during that time you’ll be learning about each other’s students and deciding just what kind of character you want to play. In fact, for your first game I’d always recommend taking your time creating students and a school, and really talk about what kind of demon and goals you want for the game.
7. Could you please tell me more on the time when PE was shared on the internet, and what you did with that?
A few months after we released the game, the PDF version (which we sell) started showing up on various file sharing sites like Demonoid, Pirate Bay and 4chan. We noticed because our sales just dropped over night. We went from selling X number of books every week through our site to selling almost none, and it was enough of a drop that we were pretty sure that something was up. Around the same time we got a few emails warning us that our game was being passed around on these sites. So what we did was create a free version of the PDF that contained the first chapter of the game and information on where to buy the full version, and we started passing it around. I spent a few weeks seeding torrents and posting rapidshare links for this free version of the game at pretty much every site that I could, and after a few weeks our sales went back up again. Honestly, since then our PDF sales have never been that amazing, but sales of the print version of the game recovered nicely. The lesson I took away from this is that digital content is going to be shared no matter what, but you can always sell a physical product.
Bonus: Where can we throw money at you to get a chance at your games?
You can buy everything we make, as well as a few great games we don’t make, at the Atarashi Games store. That’s www.atarashigames.com. That’s where you can download Classroom Deathmatch as well.
Feel free to ask Jake questions. He had made it known that he’ll love to field questions and comments :)