We continue our look back to interviews conducted in years past by members of the Fantha Tracks team, and our 2012 interview with the lead designer of the original Star Wars Roleplaying Game published by West End Games in 1987 – Greg Costikyan.
JH – Greg, how did you get involved in the Star Wars D6 game?
GC – At the time, I was head of game development for West End, and we heard that Lucasfilm was looking for a publisher for an RPG based on Star Wars. We’d had some success with Paranoia, and we felt that Wars was, at the time, the single most potentially powerful license for an RPG. So Eric Goldberg, then a VP at West End, and I flew out to the Bay area to talk to Lucasfilm about the opportunity. We met with their licensing people, of course, but also talked to what was then Lucasfilm Games and later became LucasArts – in particular, with Noah Falstein (designer of, among other things, Sinistar) and Chip Morningstar (who later on created Habitat, the first virtual world, with Randy Farmer). They put in a good word for us – it didn’t hurt that I knew Chip from SF fandom, and in fact he had stayed in my apartment in NYC on a visit a couple of years prior.
We put in a bid for the rights – an advance of $100k, which I think at the time was the most anyone had ever paid for a hobby game license. A number of other companies, including TSR, also bid for the rights, but Lucasfilm decided to go with us.
There wasn’t any doubt that I was going to be the design lead on the project; I was both West End’s most experienced game designer, and had more RPG experience than anyone else on the staff (West End was then mainly a boardgame publisher).
JH – How did it feel to be part of such a huge licence? The release of the game was part of the First Ten Years celebrations so that must have put some pressure on.
We had every expectation that the game would be a commercial success, and of course we were under some pressure – less from Lucasfilm than from Dan Palter, the company’s owner – to ensure that it was, and also that we release the game as soon as possible. Personally, I have a complicated relationship with licenses; I understand the commercial value, and at least when it’s IP I like, I don’t mind working with them, but I much prefer doing original work. Star Wars was a product I liked, of course.
GC – Pretty much was goes into the development of any RPG; a lot of time going tippity-tap on a keyboard, and a lot of time playtesting, both with our staff and with local gamers coming in to play. And, of course, sending out copies for people to test remotely. And then more tippity-tap; iterative refinement of the system, as with any kind of game.
JH – I always had the feeling that the book was being written by someone very excited about what they were doing – was this because you’re a big Star Wars fan, or just love creating games in general?
GC – Both, I guess…
JH – The source material produced for the game was the beginnings of what is now the Expanded Universe, begun by Timothy Zahn and now the basis of most of the novels. Did you realise at any point how enormous the game would become and the impact it would have on not only the tabletop roleplaying community but the Star Wars one, too?
GC – Nope, we had no clue. It’s quite unusual for a licensed product to influence the core IP that way. Though give at least as much credit for that to Bill Slavicsek as to me – he wrote the Star Wars Companion, which was released simultaneously with the rule book, and later on worked on the D20 game at TSR/WOTC.
JH – How involved was Lucasfilm? Did you get to speak to any ‘top brass’? Were there things you could or couldn’t do, or were you given free reign to get on with it?
GC – Just to the licensing folks. Lucasfilm was one of the best and most supportive licensors with which I’ve worked; they laid down some key strictures, but otherwise were quite good about letting us be creative. Among other things, we were told we could not depict a Stormtrooper with his helmet off (it hadn’t yet been revealed that they were clones), and of course we couldn’t do anything in contradiction to the movies.
JH – Was there anything you created that never made it in to the final game?
GC – From a universe perspective, not really; certainly there were systems we ditched and modified during development.
JH – The game is still played and fan supported across the globe, and is considered by many, if not most, the best iteration of a Star Wars roleplaying game. How cool is that?
GC – I’m somewhat surprised, given how long ago it was published.
JH – If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?
GC – I’m sure if I were to pick up the game and read through it today, I’m sure I’d identify a fair number of things I’d want to change… However, it’s not something I’ve thought about in a long time.
JH – Are you a huge Star Wars fan? What is it about the franchise you love and hate?
GC – I was a big fan of the first two movies…less so of the third…and the newer movies rather make me flinch. The first two were kickass space opera, but, in my opinion, Lucas got pretentious, started taking himself way too seriously, and lost the thread. In particular, the dialog in the more recent movies is just painfully awful. And I totally hate the moment in which ghostly Obi-Wan, Darth, and Yoda show up waving happily – I’m sorry, Darth is a mass murderer even beyond the capacity of Hitler; he blew up a whole damned inhabited planet. The redemption theme here is just totally false.
Of course, it’s partly because I actually care about the universe that things like this annoy me as much as they do.
JH – What projects are you working on at the moment?
GC –My day job is as Senior Game Designer for Disney Playdom’s Dream Castle studio in San Francisco; as such, I am lead designer on an as-yet unannounced social game, based on Disney IP, that will be released in a November-February time frame. (Given how software development works, later in that period is more likely.) It is, by social gaming standards, a big budget, large team project.
Sometime next year, MIT University Press will be releasing a book I wrote entitled Uncertainty In Games.
I’m also working with Digital Eel, an indie game developer, on a digital version of my old boardgame, The Creature That Ate Sheboygan.
And in my non-copious spare time, I’m working on two boardgames; a Eurostyle game called Catastrophe, and a second edition of Pax Britannica.
JH – Thank you very much for your time!
Interview originally posted at JediNews.co.uk.
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