Panty Explosion is a role-playing game about psychic girls and school drama. Classroom Deathmatch, the next RPG Jake had worked on is based on Battle Royale, to a degree. A game where a class of students must fight to the death.
This part of the interview will deal mostly with Classroom Deathmatch, but also with The Magical Land of Yeld, a fusion of Zelda, the secret worlds of Narnia, and Final Fantasy Tactics’ job-system, a game about children in a magical world of adventure.
The previous part of the interview can be read here, dealing mostly with Panty Explosion, and the work-process Jake and his co-creators engage in.
I will have my comments (in italics and parenthesis), and most links had been added by myself. Hope you’ll enjoy it :)
1. How did you decide on Classroom Deathmatch after Panty Explosion?
Matt and I had been selling Panty Explosion at GenCon (The biggest role-playing convention in the world, AFAIK), and the booth across from us was am import DVD seller called Cine-East. The couple running the booth were really enthusiastic about the game and helped us promote it at the show, and Matt and I ended up buying a whole mess of DVDs from them. Survive Style 5+, Saikano and a whole bunch of other stuff. One of those was Battle Royale 2, and Nick came over to the house and watched it with me a few weeks after the con. We were about half way through the movie and one of us was like “we could totally play this with Panty Explosion”. And then at the same time we both blurted out something about a Battle Royale/Panty Explosion game. We wrote the entire thing that night.
Originally we had planned to release a yaoi-flavored version of Panty Explosion, but it never really happened. Maybe someday.
2. What do you think of the Battle Royale book/manga, etc.?
The novel is… not astoundingly well written, although maybe some of that is the translation? But the idea is amazing, and Koushun Takami does a fantastic job of driving home just how horrible the Battle Royale experience would actually be. I’ve read it a few times. I actually encountered the manga first, so I have a kind of preference for it, even if it abandons a lot of the novel’s subtleness for sheer graphic violence and sex. It’s pretty awesome. I’d never let my students read it though!
I think Classroom Deathmatch is kind of the middle point between the two. We worked hard to make sure the game wasn’t just a murder simulator. We want you to experience this horrible situation. We want you to make really difficult choices, because that’s where the really powerful role-playing and story experiences come from. At the same time, we want you to revel in the slaughter and misery of it all.
3. Classroom Deathmatch uses the same engine as PE, what changed and what remained the same?
Well, the big difference between the two games is the premise. With Classroom Deathmatch you go into the game knowing that you’re going to be participating in a Battle Royale style fight to the death against your schoolmates. That’s huge. That changes the way you think about the game, about the people you’re playing with, about everything! Mechanically, we played around with the number of dice each character gets, tightened up the scene creation rules, and introduced flashback scenes and special techniques. But the big changes were the pre-generated characters, the kill counting and the idea that the GM is actually a character in the game that you can fight!
The game comes with a full class of 50 pre-generated characters. The idea is that you draw one at random and play them until they die, then draw another. So in one sense the characters are completely disposable, and in another sense each is unique and special. Each one has their own relationships, strengths, and advantages. The neat thing with the pre-gen students is that players are forced to play characters that they might not ever otherwise try. We have a lot of people tell us that the first time they’ve ever played a female character (or sometimes a male character) is in a game of Classroom Deathmatch!
Kill counting was something we added to the game for a few reasons. Killing other students lets you collect their equipment, but it also lets you give your student extra traits or dice. Since each student only has a limited number of dice this is actually a pretty huge advantage. The cool thing here is that not killing other students and avoiding conflict altogether actually helps you preserve your dice. So players who want to play pacifist students can be just as competitive as players who want to murder everyone in sight.
The biggest change was making the GM (which we call the Superintendent) an actual character in the game. As the GM you have a budget for controlling all the extra students, soldiers, attack dogs and hazards of the battleground. In the game the Superintendent is the actual superintendent of the school that the students were abducted from, and it’s up to him to oversee the contest and make sure the students stay in line. Being able to march onto the battleground and directly engage the other characters is pretty awesome! And since we gave the GM the ability to mix it up as a character, we also gave the other players the ability to frame scenes like the GM.
4. How do you handle the competition in the games? CD is decidedly competitive, but things can also get heated in PE, can’t they?
Competition between both players and characters is at the core of each game. But it’s not a competition to see who will win the game; it’s a competition to tell the best story, to provide the other players with the coolest experience. With both games we worked hard to make sure that failure was just as interesting and exciting as success. In Panty Explosion failure doesn’t mean that your student’s actions had no effect, or that your contribution was a failure. Instead, your failure drives the story in a new direction and creates new opportunities for all the characters. Classroom Deathmatch works the same way, except that failure can often lead to death. Which is totally fine, because the death of any one character is never the end of the story, or the end of any player’s participation. It just leads to new, more interesting plot.
What I’ve learned from these games is that failure is awesome, but being punished for failure sucks. In other games, when your character fails an action it’s a failure for the player as well. It’s like your input into the game is being ignored. When your character dies, it removes you from these games. You can no longer participate! Removing these punishments from failure actually makes failing fun. We want to see our characters struggle. We want them to get hurt, to lose the things that are important to them, to suffer. That loss and suffering, the striving, is what makes success so awesome.
Nick and I have taken this lesson along with us to Yeld. When your character bites it in Yeld, they turn into a ghost and can run around spooking people and ghost punching monsters!
5. You have the game up for free, what lead to that decision?
We sold out of the initial print run of Classroom Deathmatch very, very quickly. We considered going back to print, but all three of us were pretty busy with other projects, and no one wanted to invest any time in it. Eventually we decided to just make the game available as a free PDF. That was actually pretty lucky, because Classroom Deathmatch ended up winning the 2007 Indie RPG Award for best free game. So now we’re kind of stuck giving it away for free.
The Magical Land of Yeld:
6. You’re now working on The Magical Land of Yeld; tell me a bit about it.
The Magical Land of Yeld is about a group of kids from our world who find a magic door to a fantasy land called Yeld, full of monsters and ruled by a vampire prince. The kids get to have a few adventures in Yeld and return home safely, but eventually they’ll return from an adventure and find that the door home has been locked shut, and they’re trapped in Yeld! They’ll learn that the only way to unlock the door is to collect 7 magical keys, and each one of these keys is held by one of the vampire prince’s henchmen, the legendary Hunters of Yeld. Worse, time passes in Yeld faster than in the real world, and if any of the kids have their 13th birthday while in Yeld they’ll turn into monsters and be trapped there forever! The kids will have to take on heroic jobs like Soul Thief, Witch Hunter and Black Mage and battle Dragul and his minions if they ever want to go home again.
Structurally, Yeld is similar to the Legend of Zelda games; you travel around a vast world, discover lost temples and challenge boss monsters. Mechanically it plays a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics, complete with an action grid, upgradeable and swappable jobs, modular equipment and plenty of strategy. Additionally, there’s a ticking clock element. You have to get out of Yeld before you turn into a monster. It’s an all-ages game for people who love those kinds of video games, but also for people who love “through the looking glass”(an Alice reference) style stories, like InuYashu and Narnia.
Nick and I have been working on the game for about 2 years, and we expect it to be done sometime late in 2010. It’s a monster project. In addition to writing the game with Nick, I’m also doing all the art for the project. Right now I’m thinking that it will have close to 300 illustrations! So far I’ve maybe completed 50, so I still have a lot of work to do.
7. I know you work with children, and The Magical Land of Yeld is about children, did it affect the design?
Totally. I’m a part time art teacher, and just getting to spend time with kids between the ages of 8 and 18 has let me see what they respond to, what they’re interested in and what they are willing to commit themselves to. Of course the kids in Yeld aren’t your normal 8 to 12 year olds, in the same way that Naruto isn’t your average 12 year old, but spending time with students in that age range puts you in a certain frame of mind. It fosters a weird kind of creativity and energy in me that I don’t get when I hang around with artists my own age.
Bonus Question: 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 http://www.atarashigames.com/. That’s where you can download Classroom Deathmatch as well. (Also, get Sea Dracula here. I know it’s not in the interview, but the picture demanded inclusion :D)
Again, feel free to ask Jake questions, he said he’d love to answer them :)