Monday, July 26, 2010

Brett Bernstein Discusses The Masterbook/Shatterzone Acquisition and Precis Intermedia

Let's start out with a little background for those who may not know your or your company. What can you tell us to fill in those people?

Precis Intermedia has been around since 2002. Back then it was Politically Incorrect Games, which merged with Spectre Press in, I believe, 2005. I've always felt that the casual gamer, one who has real-life issues and family concerns, doesn't have enough games specifically designed for him. Everything these days is full-color hardcover books or core books with vast lines of supplemental material. Not only does he not have a lot of time to read a 300-page game, he probably also doesn't have the money to throw around. Games like HardNova 2 and Coyote Trail are meant for him. For $4.95, you can download a game that not only includes easy-to-learn and customize rules, but ready-to-use characters and scenarios, all in under 100 pages. I also want to empower the gamer by giving him tools to improvise and customize. My philosophy is that rules are not set in stone. They are guidelines to get you started. Once you understand the rules and why they exist, you control them rather than them controlling the game.

At what point did you think "I could be a game designer" and how did that transition into "I could be a game publisher"?

I supposed I've always wanted to create my own games. I remember seeing my friend's copy of Battletech and thinking that I can make something like that. Of course, I was only about 15 and never finished, instead buying the game, but that was probably the first urge. I worked on games with some friends who kept dropping the ball, making me do all the work. I eventually decided to take the plunge and put my collection of skills to work. That's pretty much the gist of it. I don't want to bore anyone.

While this interview is going to be about your acquisition of the former West End Games properties, this isn't the first game line that you have purchased. I know, for example, you bought Story Engine (a favorite game of mine) a few years back. What leads you to purchasing and bringing these games back to life?

One of my hobbies is collecting old and out of print games. Sometimes I find a game that makes me go "cool, this would work well with my other stuff" or "this deserves to be streamlined a bit and republished." As long as I can do it without losing money, the rest is history.

Let's talk about your acquisitions from West End Games. You purchased the rights to Shatterzone, Masterbook and Bloodshadows from Eric Gibson (the owner of West End Games). What about these games makes them interesting to you?

I think MasterBook is a very underrated system. It's a little more complex than I normally prefer, but it runs well in play once you get used to it. I like the variable outcomes and damages, as well as the value scale for determining distance and sizes. Bloodshadows and Shatterzone are just cool settings. The latter was never marketed well, so not too many people even have a clue what it is about. It's a bit too involved to go into that here, but adventures can be so diverse, from emulating Star Trek and Star Wars to Serenity and Babylon 5. As far as Bloodshadows goes, it's got magic, monsters, and film noir - a great combination.

What sort of plans do you have for these game lines now that you own them?

The only concrete plans right now are to reprint them. That includes the MasterDeck cards for both MasterBook and Shatterzone. I'd like to see an updated and streamlined version of MasterBook, but I couldn't guess how long that would take. Shatterzone and Bloodshadows could possibly be seen for other systems.

Many people keep predicting gloom and doom for the table top gaming industry. However, your purchases of other game lines and your continuing release schedule seems to say otherwise. What is your opinion on the "state of the industry" for gaming and how do currently non-traditional methods like selling games in PDF and POD formats figure into your opinion, and how you do business?

I have a very unique business model, one that focuses on digital content (PDF), but does not shy away from printed books. Most of the PDF books in my catalog can be printed to order, either at the time of purchase or at a later date. This provides a try before you buy option for printed books, while also keeping prices low. This appeals to the gamers who are not only familiar with shareware software, but also the casual gamers who prefer roleplaying games that require only small investments in both cash and time. That said, I can't really comment on the "state of the normal industry," because I'm not part of it. In my opinion, I'm working in a different fragment of the overall industry, one that works for me. The "normal industry" is not one in which I could compete, since there are too many middlemen and it is driven by eye candy.

What is upcoming for Precis Intermedia?

Lots. I've been trying to finish up the layout for Peter Spahn's Stormrift game, while also focusing on the new Classic Story Engine Plus universal rules. I'm also working to get some playing cards printed for the Two-Fisted Tales pulp RPG along with a new adventure supplement for it. And as usual, a new Disposable Heroes Paper Minis set beckons my attention. Beyond that, more miniatures games, a GMing guide, solo wargaming guide, new diceless game, and more.

Where can people find you and Precis Intermedia out on the internet?

As always,

She Has No Head! – Interview With The Man Who Would Resurrect DV8 (aka Brian Wood)

I’ve talked pretty openly about my love for Brian Wood’s new DV8 mini-series Gods & Monsters, from the fact that I think it feels both modern and also somehow like a throwback to really good superhero character pieces, but it’s also been one of the inspirations for why I’ve been talking so frequently about how much I’d like to see more independent creators given a chance to show what they can do on more mainstream characters. Not that DV8 was ever totally mainstream, but there’s no reason why DV8 can’t emerge as a powerhouse of a title from Wildstorm, if done right. And with able assists from Fiona Staples on covers and Carrie Strachan delivering beautiful colors, Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs are doing it SO right. The way I feel a lot more indie creators could if given the chance to run wild on a title the way Wood and Isaacs have cut loose on Gods & Monsters.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How Did Marvel Lose Control Of Wolverine?

If you plan on attending any of the Marvel Comics panels at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, here's a question you may want to consider asking: Why does the company not seem to have any idea what to do with Wolverine?

I ask because not only is the character getting killed off so that his soul can go and get into a few fights in Hell in a new series launching in September, but it now looks like he'll also be turning into a vampire as a result of the newly-launched 'Curse of The Mutants' storyline at the same time. Oh, and in a third series, he'll also be fighting immortals and a guy whose blood is some kind of killer virus... and that's before you get around to any alternate universe Wolverines (Although, interestingly enough, both Marvel's Ultimate and Forever lines have permanently offed their versions of the character). What's with all the new, contradictory directions all at once?

Comic Book History vs. Will Eisner

One of the important moments of comic history has always been the case that DC Comics (even if that wasn't their name at the time) made against Fox Comics for infringing on Superman with their Wonder Man character created by comic great Will Eisner and Jerry Iger. Interestingly, the version of these preceedings that Eisner has a bit of a discrepancy from the actually court transcripts that have recently appeared.

This is a quote of interest to those who like to follow comic history.

If you’ve made it this far, I assume you’ve read Eisner’s testimony in total. And if you have, you too have noticed the obvious discrepancy between Eisner’s oft-repeated version and his words before the court.

[full disclosure: This posed a true dilemma for me. Part of me wanted to protect the image of my idol by keeping this information to myself. Part realized the importance of this document to comic history and my responsibility as a reporter. I can't deny history, so as much as this truly pains me, I set my personal emotions aside.]