Defining the Future, An Interview with the Developers of Eclipse Phase, Part 3

This is the third part of an interview we conducted with the developers of Eclipse Phase, Rob Boyle and Brian Cross at Gencon Indy 2008. In this final segment they discuss some of their plans for their upcoming game including art direction and their unique form of community setting development. Part 1 can be found here and the second part here

By Randol Hooper, William Stull and Jaime Pittenger

Part 1 can be found here and the second part here

Will: Someone comes up and is ready to buy the book, and ask you why do I need to buy this book. You have forty five seconds to sell it to them, what are you going to say? What’s your sales pitch.

Brian:: I don’t think we have the same spiel do we?

Rob: What I was thinking when you said this ‘why do I need to buy this book’ was because one of the concepts behind transhumanism is that with these accelerating technologies this is where humanity is going. Take all of these fields of science that are converging and feeding into each other and growing exponentially. We’re going to see technology like this within our lifetimes. Maybe not some of the more extreme ones but a lot of these transhuman philosophers like Kurzweil talk about how if you’re able to live another 20 years or so longevity treatments will be available. You’ll then be able to live long enough to digitize your conscience. If you live those twenty or thirty years you might be effectively immortal.

Brian:: If you believe Kurzweil.

Rob: Yes, a lot of people disagree. But also these technologies are affecting our society. There are going to be drastic changes to how the world functions. You were talking about privacy; privacy is rapidly going away. Surveillance is going to be omnipresent; what are the issues that relate to that. You can talk about “sousveillance” a sort of surveillance from below where everybody has the capability to conduct surveillance everyone else or people down below can do surveillance on top. You see that with Youtube.

Brian:: And with blogs replacing mainstream media

Rob: So all of this is coming to reality already and this game presents it in a way of mining the future.

Brian:: That’s not really what I thought of at all [chuckle]. First of all, it’s a game, you don’t “need” a game. But if you’re looking for something different or you like sci-fi maybe Star Wars is your only thing, but this is a different sci-fi. This is a sci-fi that lets you look at stuff that you’re seeing in the news. Again current events you can say “oh wow, this is how it could work” when it’s off the drawing boards, out of R&D and making changes and changing things in real society. You can play with that idea.
The game itself is a lot of fun. Who doesn’t want to switch around and be different things on different days? We’ve conquered death. One of the vulgar ways to describe the backup system is as one of the first table top roleplaying games with save points. That’s been one of the big appeals of video games over tabletop. If you screw up in a video game you can always go to the last save file. If you screw up in a tabletop game you’d better hope your GMs kind and forgiving otherwise you’ll lose a character you’ve put a lot of time and effort in to. In this case you don’t have to lose that character, you can keep them going. Maryanne though pointed out that can be a bad thing however. If you’ve got someone with a really annoying character that you want to kill off… but I don’t make judgments on people’s GM style

Randol: Data corruption happens you know.

Brian:: Right, yeah, what happens if the last time you saved you were insane? Well everytime your read you’re now crazy. I should also mention that Paranoia was one of our influences. It makes a lot of very sharp points while having fun.

Will: Well, you have the core book coming out what are some of the other projects you’re going to work on once it’s out? What are fans going to see once you’ve wowed them out of their sci-fi pants?

Rob: There’ll be some follow-up books, the first will be a setting book on the inner system. It will basically cover the different major habitats, planet by planet, focusing mostly on the factions that dominate the inner system. Later on we’ll do an outer system one and in between we’ll have, we don’t have a name for it yet but it’s going to be an “exoplanet” book, colonies that are in other solar systems outside of ours.

Brian:: I don’t think we’ve mentioned but there’s a part of the game that consists of what’s called “gatecrashing”. If you’ve read Fredrick Pohl’s Gateway there’s these wormhole gates that lead to other systems. They’re not always reliable but players can always engage in these gatecrashing campaigns where they gear themselves out for maximum survival and take the leap through, hoping that it goes where it’s supposed to but knowing that it may sometimes drop them into the middle of a sun, black hole or a completely alien system. From a design standpoint exploring those gives a great rationale for expanding the universe. The other thing is, and this is something we don’t mention nearly enough, is the Creative Commons license. It’s a creative commons sharealike attribution license. Anyone is encouraged to create new Eclipse Phase material as long as they credit where they got it and make it readily available to anyone free. With these gateways players are free to create their own universes. If they don’t’ want a solar system campaign they can do whatever they want. We certainly aren’t omniscient beings yet and there are things that aren’t going to be well received. If the fan base comes up with better solutions they’ll be out there for everyone to get. I’ve always enjoyed games that encourage homebrew, that encourage fan made material to let them play the game they want to play and don’t try to force them into playing a particular game.

Randol: Are you going to do anything with the website to try and facilitate that?

Brian:: There’s a section on the website for downloads, including fan contributed material. There are also forums for the creative commons fan material for rules, settings and the like. There’s also one for fiction, we certainly want people writing fiction. Absolutely, from launch we want this to be an important of the game, we want people thinking together and talking to one another.

Will: You were referring to the deadly combat portion of the game, but I was thinking about the gatecrashing element. People who want the sci-fi Space Marine starship trooper aspect, there you go. You’re not going to jump onto a moon of Saturn but maybe on Beta Centauri or some place there are bugs that need shooting.

Randol: What about the art direction? Are you going for full color or do you want to stick with very stark, black and white type line drawings?

Rob: We’re actually going color, that’s the big announcement tomorrow. We thought the book was going to be two color but we’re actually going full color. The guy who took over art direction is Mike Vaillancourt who did the art direction for Cthulhutech. He knows his stuff and he has a lot of good artists he works with. It won’t have the same look as Cthulhutech, even though they’re both dark sci-fi games. Our future is a little brighter, the technology is shinier with rounder curves. It’s still post apocalyptic and a little dark.

Brian:: The horror is more “what lurks beneath the waves” and underneath the surface rather than you being bombarded from orbit with Mi-Gos.

Randol: What are some of the artists you’ve contracted?

Rob: I actually don’t know who Mike’s been talking to

Brian:: This has been a relatively recent development

Rob: He just took over like a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure exactly who’s on board. Bruno Werneck, he did artwork for Cthulhutech and he works with the same video company as Stephan Martiniere who did the cover art for Eclipse Phase.

Brian:: He’s done a lot of covers for like Kevin Cloud, he’s a very recognizable sci-fi artists and we wanted that look.

Rob: We’ve talked to Chris Shy, another artist we like. His stuff has a different feel than the cover and his was the look we were looking for originally.

Randol: Is the change from two color to polychrome going to affect the release date?

Rob: It will, actually it already has. We’re pushing it back a few weeks.

Brian:: I think that’s one of the only reasons you’re allowed to push a game back and have people forgive you. It’s going to look pretty.

Randol: Is it going to be a standard format?

Rob: It’ll be 320 pages 8.5x11 in.

Will: At this point the release date is?

Rob: January we think. It’s updated on the fliers we’ve been giving out. Those were printed after we knew it was color. If you’ll notice though they don’t really say anything about it being black and white or color.

This concludes our interviews about Eclipse Phase. We'd like to thank the people at Gencon LLC for helping to make this interview possible as well as the fine folks at Catalyst Game Labs, especially Rob and Brian, for sitting down with us. Check back soon for our long conversation with Shadowrun line developer Peter Taylor!