Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Interview - Jay Little, Game Designer

It is my esteemed pleasure to welcome to Farsight Blogger Jay Little, the designer of Edge of Empire, Age of Rebellion and Force & Destiny. Jay also designed the award-wining Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures game, Bloodbowl: Team Manager card game and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game 3rd Edition, and he contributed to Rogue Trader, Death Watch, Dark Crusade and Only War - now he's the lead on the Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition.


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Hello, Jay, and welcome to Farsight Blogger! Perhaps you'd like to tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a lifelong gamer geek. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of different things in a lot of different industries. Within the hobby gaming niche, I’ve worked as a freelancer as well as worked directly for WizKids and Fantasy Flight Games. I love talking about game design, philosophy, and theory with people -- something I’ve had the opportunity to do with students of all ages, conventions, trade organizations, podcasts, and the Minnesota Institute of Art. 

Outside gaming, I’ve battled a number of serious health conditions. I suffered my second heart heart attack in 2011. It was so severe that I went into complete organ failure and had to be placed in a medically induced coma. When I regained consciousness, I was initially paralyzed from the neck down, and faced a number of other complications. 

Ultimately, while I regained most of my faculties and use of my limbs, the wear and tear on my body made it impossible to continue working full-time for Fantasy Flight Games --  a tough decision because FFG has some of the most creative, most passionate people I’ve ever met in my life. However, working as a freelancer has provided flexibility to pursue a number of different, exciting projects.

How did you get involved in the wacky world of tabletop gaming?

I got involved with roleplaying with Dungeons and Dragons. I was eight and my older brother was the Dungeon Master. I still remember those early sessions. I played a lot more roleplaying games in high school and college. 

Boardgames were something our family did growing up. I cut my teeth on mass market staples like Monopoly, Risk, and Stratego. But soon I found a wide, wonderful world of different boardgames. Games like Talisman, Car Wars, Cosmic Encounter, Wiz War, and Warhammer 40k started to become regulars at the table.

I’ve been fortunate that gaming has always been part of my life, and I love sharing my enthusiasm for this hobby with other gamers.

Your work on the X-Wing Miniature game and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire has been met with great reviews and welcomed by eager fans - how did you get involved in the development of the games?

I was working with Fantasy Flight Games at the time. I had worked hard designing and then managing the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition product line for some time, and had started cutting my teeth on some boardgame work by designing the Horned Rat expansion for Chaos in the Old World and Blood Bowl Team Manager the Card Game. 

And then I just got lucky. X-Wing sort of fell into my lap because I had an opening in my production schedule. I was thrilled that I would be getting an opportunity to work with such a huge license -- and focusing on one of the most dramatic aspects of Star Wars by designing a game of dogfighting starships. 

Edge of the Empire and the Star Wars Roleplay line was a bit more straight forward. Since I had designed the narrative dice system used in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, it made sense for me to lead the design team for the Star Wars games.

How did it feel to be part of such a huge license? Was there any pressure?

It is simply awesome to be able to work with Star Wars. It has had such a huge impact on my life, and now I’m sharing that excitement with my kids. It’s fun and thrilling and exciting and even a little scary... because the expectations are very high. I knew games using the Star Wars license would be met with great scrutiny from everyone involved, from my fellow FFGers to LucasFilm and the millions of Star Wars fans around the world. 

The Corporations

Your newest project is the eagerly anticipated Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition RPG. How did you get involved with the license? 

Chris Birch from Modiphius Entertainment contacted me as they were gearing up to start the Mutant Chronicles Kickstarter. We had a number of talks about where he envisioned the license going and the sort of game experience he wanted the roleplaying game to deliver. It didn’t take long to realize we had a lot of the same goals in mind and shared a common vision for a cinematic, action-packed style of gameplay.

After that, it was easy to get onboard. I couldn’t wait to get started, and worked tirelessly with Chris and the rest of the crew to get the Beta rules out there to give folks a glimpse of what’s still to come.

You say that Mutant Chronicles "..played such a big part in getting me involved in hobby gaming..." What is your history with this particular setting, and what do you feel is the attraction it has to many gamers?

In addition to the roleplaying game, two games in particular had a huge impact for me. First, Blood Berets delivered a really cool, focused two player experience with tension and excitement and really made me want to learn more about the setting. Then, there was Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel, designed by Richard Borg. 

Siege of the Citadel blew me away. It had some of the best production value components of its day -- gorgeous miniatures, sturdy, colorful map tiles, and cards all featuring this evocative, dieselpunk artwork. Siege of the Citadel was awesome because it created this hybrid experience which was part tactical boardgame and part roleplaying game with this awesome campaign system. 

It’s one of my Top Ten Games of All-Time, and something I still love to pull out and play. Heck, I even tracked down extra copies of the game, just in case components start to wear out since it gets played so much.

What fresh ideas are you hoping to bring to the new Mutant Chronicles game system? 

I love promoting player agency -- providing players with the resources and rules that will allow them to do cool things with their characters and advance the narrative. There are a few ways this is being implemented -- the players have Chronicle Points, which they can use to add dice to a roll or perform extra actions, essentially letting their characters push their limits in dramatic ways.

I’ve also dabbled with different ways a game can represent training, and looking at what benefits training in a particular skill should be able to provide to the character. Does training make something easier to do -- or improve your chances for achieving a greater magnitude of success...? The skill system in Mutant Chronicles will provide a few interesting wrinkles to the game. 

Are you making any drastic changes? Will it be far removed from the editions that have come before?

There are a number of changes that are quite different from earlier editions. Many of these changes, however, are more of a modernization. The earlier RPG editions were developed during an era featuring a very different type of roleplaying experience than today -- not only because the audience and players have matured, but there have been a number of design improvements and schools of thought we can use to make sure we do the setting justice while delivering fun, dynamic gameplay.

What else can we expect see from Jay Little in the future? More Star Wars? More Mutant Chronicles?

Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.  :)

At any given time, I am working on a number of different projects. Unfortunately, most of them I can’t talk about. However, I do have some games in development that I am really excited about. 

Right now I am working on a co-op survival game called Patient Zero, which pits the players against a mutant strain of a deadly virus. They work together to explore cities, gather resources, and gain intel in their effort to track down the origin of the virus -- Patient Zero -- and attempt to destroy the virus before it’s too late.

I also have a number of indie-style roleplaying games I’m working on. The Coriolis Defect is a time travel adventure where players have the ability to consciously “loop” time, but only in small increments -- and using this awesome power slowly wears away at their sanity. 

Tall Tales is a game of folk heroes in the American frontier, where the players portray larger than life characters like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. Perdition is a game of lost souls stuck in purgatory, trying to resolve issues from their lives that prevent them from moving on. And finally, What Lurks Beneath is a quick playing one-shot game pitting the players against an unknown horror that they collectively create during the game.  

I have a lot of big plans and crazy ideas I’m excited to work on. Hopefully, folks will be seeing more and more of me as time goes on.


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