Category Archives: Interviews

Gen Con 2017: Charlie Chu Talks Oni Games

The comic publisher Oni Press is branching out with the launch of Oni Games, a new gaming imprint dedicated to bringing Oni Press titles to the growing tabletop market.

The focus of the Oni Games imprint will be on partnering with both new and veteran game designers and established game publishers to bring the unique characters and vibrant worlds of their original creator-owned comics to the world of games.

We got a chance to talk to Charlie Chu about this new imprint at Gen Con 50.

Gen Con 2017: Steve Ellis Talks Oni Games

The comic publisher Oni Press is branching out with the launch of Oni Games, a new gaming imprint dedicated to bringing Oni Press titles to the growing tabletop market.

The focus of the Oni Games imprint will be on partnering with both new and veteran game designers and established game publishers to bring the unique characters and vibrant worlds of their original creator-owned comics to the world of games.

We got a chance to talk to Steve Ellis about this new imprint at Gen Con 50.

Kyle Starks and Gabo Talk Oni Press’ Dead of Winter Comic

From the tabletop smash hit comes this new series starring beloved characters from Plaid Hat GamesDead of Winter, written by Kyle Starks, and illustrated by GABO.

In the pantheon of heroes, none are more lovable and loyal than everyone’s beloved good ol’ dog, Sparky. Surviving in the wintery apocalypse of the undead, this former TV star turned zombie killing machine just wants to make friends and be a good boy. As his fellow survivors scavenge for supplies in the frigid wasteland, will Sparky be able to protect his companions from threats both undead and not yet undead?

I got a chance to talk to Kyle and Gabo about the series, board games, and a certain dog.

Board Game Today: Dead of Winter is based on the hit board game, are either of you board game fans? Had you played the game before coming on to the comic?

Kyle Starks: Almost exactly a year ago, Oni Press invited me to Gen Con to promote my work on Rick and Morty and to sort of underhandedly pitch me on this book. Gen Con was my introduction to modern board games, in fact, no joke – the first board game I played was Dead of Winter: The Long Night and I was blown away. I’m way down with board games.

Gabo: WHO ISN’T A FAN OF BOARD GAMES? I mean, we grew up on this stuff right? There’s so many games out there now that are brilliant, but I’m always glued to my desk drawing, so honestly I didn’t get a chance to play Dead of Winter until shortly after I started the project, and it was damn amazing. I’d played a few games here n there with roomates, but I feel this one is so much deeper than anything I’ve seen. SO MUCH SNEAKIER.

BGT: How’d you both come on to the comic?

KS: I’m pretty sure we’re the team, along with Brian Hurtt on covers, that Oni wanted out of the gate. I know, for me, Oni wanted someone who had a unique vision, someone who would bring something besides Another Run Of The Mill Zombie book. And I think the same can be said for Gabo. This isn’t another been there-seen that zombie story – Sparky is a Superstar – and you need the right people for that.

Gabo: Okay I love drawing funny dogs doing silly crap. Charlie knew this. So naturally he hopped on the phone and woke my ass up to tell me about this project. HOW COULD I SAY NO? TO A DOG? FIGHTING ZOMBIES? And Kyle is writing it? AND HURTT IS ON COVERS? I’d be insane to say no.

BGT: With it being a board game, it has a theme and look, but the focus is the interaction and mechanics really. As creators how do you go about adapting that as opposed to a book, movie, or television show?

KS: I think first and foremost the most important thing with any fiction is the story, so that definitely came first, but if you know the game, you’ll see over the four issues, it definitely plays out in a sequence that homages the game.  The way the characters act, where they go, what they do – all comes from the game. I legitimately love the Dead of Winter franchise. I love the play mechanics, the characters, the locations – so getting the chance to bring that to life was a dream. AND we put a ton of Easter Eggs in there.  It’s a love letter to the game.

Gabo: I think Kyle has done a remarkable job taking his love for the game and written scripts that echo that. I’m not as familiar with the game but I’ve been studying its visual aspects, really trying to immerse myself in the universe these people might be in. I’m just hoping the Easter Eggs we tossed here n there aren’t too obscure for people!

BGT: The game itself has a look as far as art which the comic differs from. When it came to the look of the comic itself, how was that decided?

KS: You’d probably need to talk to editorial about that – I know our editor, Charlie Chu, wanted Gabo from the beginning. And it’s different from game artist Fernanda Suarez sure, but for comics you need a sequential artist who can build a world and Gabo not only brings that to the table, he breaks that table with it.

Gabo: It was a bit of a struggle trying to figure out the right balance at first, Fernanda Suarez’s work is gorgeous and beautifully rendered, so I had basically break that beauty down to a very basic level. Lord knows I would have loved to of painted the entire book, but that would have taken months per issue! We decided on a very simple look, but still managed to capture the essence of all the characters, and even brought to life some new ones that I think fit beautifully into the world. For those familiar with the game, I think you’ll love the guest appearances! KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED!

BGT: The game has locations but beyond that the world is really in the mind of those playing, when it came to fleshing out the look of the world, what were some of your inspirations?

KS: I think Gabo will agree – the locations depicted in the game are the hugest of inspirations. The game has an entire fleshed out world that makes it easy to play in. I alluded to it earlier, but the for the purposes of writing the book, for me, “going places to get things” is a huge repeated plot device in the book the same as it is for the game.

Gabo: The locations in this project have some art already designed for them in the game, but the insides of these places we had to rummage around our noggins and try to figure out what you might actually find inside them. A lot of my inspiration just came from personal experience and a lot of photo reference haha.

BGT: One of the big things of the game is that each player has their own win objective and that may not be in the best interest of the rest of the players. Is that something you thought about when developing the series?

KS: What’s great about Dead of Winter is that it does these narrative things without having a ton of in game narrative. Aside from the Crossroad Cards it’s a lot of implied narrative – but those objectives are just characters motivations for story purpose. All of my characters are doing what they do for their own reasons and I think you’ll find they line up with those cards you’ve had in your hand. The Fireman, Gabriel Diaz just wants to save people. Annaleigh Chan, The Lawyer, has a curious mind that needs fulfilling. So on and so forth.  Is there a Betrayer this game? Well, you’ll have to wait until the end of the game, right?

BGT: Sparky is a big part of the comic and game and have a dog be the star in many ways makes the series stand out. When writing Sparky, how difficult is it to write for a dog. It’s not like there’s dialogue where you can convey things. Are there challenges to that as an artist?

KS: It’s a challenge for sure, but a thrilling one. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I just though, what if John McCain was a dog and off to the races. Sparky is the Most Heroic character I’ve ever written. The purest, the bravest, the most indomitable. So it was a treat. It was great.

BGT: Was there anything that surprised you two in adapting a board game?

KS: I was shocked they wanted me to create new characters since the world they have is already inhabited by such great full ones – but, also, like, I’m going to jump  on the opportunity to make something that could end up being a playable character – and it happened which is literally just mindblowing to me. The Ruckus promo card is going to exist, albeit in very small quantities, but still being able to add to the GAME too? Amazing.

Gabo: Holy hell yes, creating new characters for the series! That was a curve ball and I think we might have a grand slam on our hands. Kyle has written some pretty great new characters that I think will most definitely make the game that much better– that’s if you can get your hands on a Ruckus promo card heheh.

BGT: There’s obviously a lot of zombie comics out there, how much discussion was there to make this unique in story, characters, and look?

KS: I don’t remember if at that initial meeting the discussion was, right out the gate, to include Sparky, but I’m almost positive it was, so I think the moment someone thought, “Let’s do a zombie book but with a dog as the hero” it checks all those boxes. I know, for my part, I knew we were going to do an action-comedy zombie movie with a canine lead and so it’s going to be different, it’s going to be unique.  And Oni put together a team with Gabo and I that by nature is going to be different than everyone else’s take.

Gabo: I’m just thrilled that this book isn’t going to be nearly as drab and depressing as most of the zombie books on the shelves. I understand the situation all those people are in when this stuff goes down – but man, can we get some dark comedy in here for once? WELL YOU GOT IT. AND HERE’S A DOG FOR GOOD MEASURE. HE’S A GOOD BOY.

BGT: What else do you all have coming out that fans should check out?

KS: Oh man, I’m a busy boy, so a ton. I write Rick and Morty for Oni Press every month, and draw it every fifth issue or so. I have my current series with Image Comics that I write and draw with colors from Chris Schweizer called Rock Candy Mountain who’s first trade comes out at the end of September. Also at the end of September, Oni is printing my original graphic novel Kill Them All which is like Die Hard and Moonlighting smushed together with a huge John Woo influence. Lots of good stuff. Everyone tell your local comic store you want it!

Gabo: I’m losing my mind over here with the truck load of stuff I have coming out of and through me right now. The fourth and final volume of THE LIFE AFTER just came out, it’s illustrated by me and written by Joshua Hale Fialkov- published of course by Oni Press! I also illustrate an all ages  webcomic that has received Harvey nominations in 2015 and 2016 for best webseries, AlbertTheAlien.com. Beyond that, I’m working on growing my Patreon, so if you’d like to support my work please check that out. AND, if you’d like to catch a sneak peak of new pages I’m working on for Dead of Winter, I stream Wednesday’s starting around 4pm CST!

BGT: Thanks so much for chatting!

Read a review of Dead of Winter #1 now at our sister site Graphic Policy!

We Talk DC Comics Deck Building with Matt Hyra

Matt Hyra is a veteran game designer, having worked on a variety of games before moving to Cryptozoic where he was given the challenge of developing a DC Comics deck building game.  The recently released second major expansion is an indication of the success of the series thus far and in Matt’s ability to put together a functional and fun game.  We got the chance to talk with him about his latest release – Forever Evil – where the bad guys finally get their chance to shine.

baneGraphic Policy: Are you a fan of comics?  And if yes, how does that affect how the theme was chosen for this game?

Matt Hyra: Yes! I’m a DC guy and have been since high school. I also enjoy some small press titles as well.

The themes are chosen to explore new cross sections of the DC Universe, game mechanics, and game flow. When we started thinking about playing as the bad guys, the Forever Evil storyline was just starting up. So that was a great moment of synergy.

GP:  What goes into designing a game like this and how long does it take?

MH:  A stand-alone game takes about a year from start to finish. There is a lot of trial and error. We usually decide on the types of characters we want to feature first. Then we come up with game mechanics that fit those characters. Then a lot of playtesting.

GP:  What are some of the challenges in interpreting a comic universe into a deck building game?

 MH:  One challenge is thematics. In order to keep the games infinitely replayable, we can’t just hand a Batman player a 40-card deck full of Batman-themed cards. You have to add a random and wide variety of cards to your deck to keep the game fresh.

GP:  Is it hard to balance what fans expect out of certain characters versus the need of the game dynamics?

 MH:  Some comic characters have powers that are difficult to translate into the game. Other times we are forced to just focus on one aspect of a character.

 GP:  It seems to be popular recently to want to play as the “bad guy”.  What do you think about this phenomenon?

 pandMH:  We like it! Mechanically, it’s no different than playing as a Super Hero. But with Forever Evil, which just released last week, we could have a lot of fun with it. And the players are liking the new play patterns.

GP:  What can we expect to see in future expansions?  Tie-ins to the movies maybe?  And any characters that you would like to see in the future?

MH: You can expect to see Crossover Packs. These small “booster” packs allow you to sub in a new set of Super Heroes and Super-Villains, plus a few new main deck cards… and that changes up the game about 50% with minimal effort. The first Crossover comes out in early 2015 and features the Justice Society of America.

Crisis Pack 2 will also be out very soon!

As for movies, that is a separate license that we don’t have.

As for characters I would like to see… probably Mr. Mxyzptlk. Just because he would allow us to do something really crazy.

Interview: Dungeons & Dragons' Past, Present, and Future with Mike Mearls

2While crowdsourcing game testing is a long tradition in gaming, Wizards of the Coast took that to the next level with their latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the classic roleplaying game. Attracting 175,000 for their D&D Next project, the company received feedback from the community about the next edition.

Recently, with work complete the company released not only a new starter set, but a free PDF that allows anyone to download the game and get playing, a forward thinking decision that should be praised, and something you tend to not see from large corporations. This all leads up to, and gets people ready for, the Tyranny of Dragons storyline event which begins on August 14th.

To celebrate this new era, we got a chance to chat with D&D Lead Designer Mike Mearls about the past, present, and future of Dungeons & Dragons!

Graphic Policy: Before we get to the new release, it’s probably best to go back to the beginning of the process. What was the RPG and gaming market like when the idea for a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons came up?

Mike Mearls: While fourth edition really worked for people who liked detailed combat in D&D, we know that play style does not appeal to everyone. On top of that, the RPG category as a whole was seeing a decline in the number of new people coming into the hobby. Overall, tabletop RPGs were in decline for the past five years.

GP: What actually prompted the idea of a revamp of the system?

MM: We felt that we had to build a version of D&D that could cater to a wider audience. On one hand, veteran players like detailed character options and the ability to change the game to cater to their taste. On the other, the game had to have an easy to learn, central starting point for new players. Those two factors drove the idea of revamping the system.

GP: For the new edition you went the crowd sourcing route, and opened up playtesting to the world, attracting 175,000 playtesters. Where did the idea to go that route come from?

MM: In reviewing how third and fourth edition had been designed, we saw a real gap in understanding what people actually did with D&D. There were assumptions and conventional wisdom built into the game. That led to the idea of doing an open public playtest with rigorous, thorough data collection and documentation. We felt working directly with the D&D community would provide the most accurate picture of what people were looking for.

1GP: Was that also the seed that would lead your decision to releasing the basic rules as a free PDF?

MM: Definitely. The basic rules are both a way to say thanks to everyone who put in the time to playtest the game, and a way we can remove the rules as a barrier to entry to playing the game. D&D is memorable when you get a chance to play it, and nothing beats free and digital for making the first step into a game as easy as possible for new players.

GP: The D&D Next playtest seems like a success, so much so that you’re going to continue to use the feedback loop for new products. What exactly do you have planned for that?

MM: We can’t cite details yet, but we have a limited number of issues we want to address via an open test. That will have to wait for 2015, though.

GP: You’ve released the basic rules as a free PDF, and have mentioned that you have a goal to expand the market. How are you doing that with the PDF?

MM: The great thing about the D&D Basic Rules is that it makes it easy for anyone to check out D&D. If you read about it in The New Yorker or at CNN.com, you can Google D&D and have the game in your hands in a matter of moments. Capitalizing on that initial moment of discovery is huge.

GP: With the advent of technology, gaming is no longer restricted to a room, as many folks are using Skype, or Google Hangouts to host roleplaying sessions. Did that factor in to the game play, and any plans on using that to help “spread the word?”

MM: It factored into the design in the sense that we wanted the game to be very flexible. Since we can’t predict where technology might go in the next few years, it was important to create a game that depended on as few physical components as possible. That lowered the barrier to entry, drove home what makes D&D unique (how many times have you heard it described as a board game that doesn’t use a board?), and brought imagination to the forefront.

Online gaming is definitely an area of growth, and we’re looking into what we can do to enable that.

wallpaper_Illo 2GP: Other than the PDF, you’re embracing digital with a project codenamed “Morningstar.” Can you give us any info on that? Maybe when we can expect an announcement or release?

MM: Sorry, no news on that front yet. We’re really excited about the digital tools they’re working on. I have them loaded on my work iPad, and they’re really easy to use. The entire Trapdoor team is putting tons of work into getting everything right, and I know that they are running a beta test of the tools right now.

GP: Beyond just the game, the D&D brand has to be on your minds. Wizkids is releasing figures as a tie-in. There’s the long talked about movie reboot. What else can we expect?

MM: We’re really looking at ways to make D&D something that you can engage with beyond the gaming table. Tabletop RPGs are awesome, but you can’t play them by yourself, or without a group, and so on. We’re partnering with companies like Wizkids and Gale Force 9 to produce tabletop accessories, but we’re also working on some digital projects that I can’t detail yet. But, the key is we’re looking at how people game these days and working to ensure that you can experience the stories of D&D however you like.

GP: For recent releases, there’s been synergistic releases in comics, books, video games, and more. Can we expect that to continue?

MM: Yes, definitely. The Tyranny of Dragons story line is a great example of this, with the TRPG featuring it as the debut campaign, the Neverwinter MMO using it to fuel their next couple of expansions, and both Gale Force 9 and Wizkids dipping into it to produce miniatures, tabletop games, and game accessories, and a new comic series launching with a Tyranny of Dragons story from IDW.

By focusing on the story, we make it much easier for D&D players to move between different categories. Even better, it means we do our story work early enough to let our partners work in a much more coordinated manner. The Wizkids miniatures match up to the Tyranny of Dragons campaign produced by Kobold Press, as do the Gale Force 9 accessories.

GP: Overall, there seems to be a resurgence of board games, and roleplaying games in recent years. What do you think is fueling that?

MM: I think that face-to-face gaming is a natural next step for many video game players. When you look at the explosive growth of PAX, ComicCon, and so forth, you see that people really like getting together and socializing. Games are a great way to do that. RPGs are some of the best face to face games around. They encourage creativity and bring people together in a really unique, compelling way.

In many ways, the Internet is an awesome tool for discovering and building communities of like-minded gamers and fans, but at the end of the day people still want to get together. Before the Internet, you had to rely on random luck to find other D&D players. These days, it’s so much easier to find like-minded people.

GP: Any hints what we can expect at Gen Con?

MM: We have a lot of fun stuff planned. The Tyranny of Dragons story line kicks off in the Adventurers League, the official D&D organized play program. We’re running plenty of games and a big event on Saturday night to launch things. We’ll have special panels on creating characters and getting started with fifth edition and all sorts of surprises.

The real highlight is on Friday night, when we take over the Georgia Street Pavilion right outside the convention center for a big street party to officially kick off the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. There’s going to be mystery, intrigue, food, drink, and maybe a dragon or five.

GP: D&D has been kept alive and seeing its next step guided by the fans. What have they meant to Dungeons & Dragons through the years?

MM: D&D isn’t a game. It’s a culture. Without people playing the game, spreading it, and keeping it vital, we’d have nothing. Unlike many other games, D&D is uniquely social. It can vary from hilarious to tense to tragic in a heartbeat. I think it’s unique in its ability to bring people together. When you think about it, every D&D session is unique. Each session is shaped by the vagaries of die rolls and the creativity that people bring together. Add in the DM’s ability to make anything happen, and you have a game that’s still going strong after 40 years.

Without the fans, and the great stories they tell around the table, the game would’ve faded away decades ago.

Gen Con 2011 – George Strayton talks his new Roleplaying Game The Secret Fire

Bookmark and Share

I had the opportunity to sit down with George Strayton, the creator of the new role playing game The Secret Fire which made it’s debut at this year’s Gen Con

The game is set in a familiar fantasy world, but the emphasis is on game play and the word “role” in role playing. Strayton wants to bring that back, and that’s his focus in this new game, as opposed to lots of dice rolling.  Through a mechanic that encourages players to do such that Strayton also has worked in a way for gamers to be encouraged to do good in the real world and those good deeds to be recognized in game.

Check out our interview below.