Saturday, 30 November 2019

ALIEN RPG Interview with Tomas Härenstam

I've made no secret of it - ALIEN is my favourite movie of all time and the fact that there is an ALIEN RPG hitting the shelves makes me excited in ways I can't describe.

Having played the Coriolis roleplaying game and enjoying it immensley, knowing that the new ALIEN game would share the same mechanics was great news. When I got my hands on the Cinematic Starter Kit earlier in the year I was more than happy; the tone, the design, the atmosphere the game was creating. I was satisfied that the whole thing was in safe hands.

I grabbed a few words from Tomas Härenstam, the game's director and rules designer.

The ALIEN franchise is a huge one; how did you manage to land that license? Was it something you actively sought out?

ALIEN is really a dream franchise for us to work on. It started as a brainstorm about which licenses we would like to work with if we could wish for anything. We ended up with a list of five an ALIEN was definitely on the list. Shortly after, I got in touch via Joe LeFavi at Genuine Entertainment via a mutual acquaintance. Joe works with licensing in Hollywood and has all the right connections - and it turned out he's also a big fan of Free League games, particularly Tales From the Loop. We started discussing ALIEN, Joe took it to 20th Century Fox, negotiations followed and a few months later the agreement was signed. It's really been an amazing journey, and Joe and Fox have really been great partners.

I've been a fan of ALIEN since 1982 - it's my favourite movie ever - and it has influenced me in all kinds of ways in my gaming. What is your history with the movies, from ALIEN to ALIEN: COVENANT and everything in between?

All of us at Free League are huge ALIEN fans as well, and the movies have influenced our work in RPGs for sure, particularly Coriolis which is also a sci-fi game. For the ALIEN RPG, we brought on sci-fi author Drew Gaska who has been an ALIEN franchise consultant for Fox and is a true expert on the universe. Working with Drew and diving deep into this universe has been great.

The different movies, games and other media vary in their approach to the source material and universe of ALIEN. Was there a specific atmosphere you wanted to create, or did you just want a huge melting pot where groups could bring their own preferences? Was there a specific movie you focused attention on?

For the tone and style of the game, we have focused on the first two movies, and the game also takes place a few years after ALIENS. That said, we do bring in source material from the prequel movies as well as from novels, comics and other games. The core rulebook really works as a huge resource book for the entire ALIEN universe, useful also for people who are not roleplayers I think.

What was the support from 20th Century Fox like? Were there strict conditions or were you given free reign to include/create what you wanted?

It's been great to work with them. We have to stay within canon of course, but I wouldn't say they gave us very strict conditions, no. They have of course examined and approved everything we have done, but I must say it's been a smooth process. I think it also helps to have Drew on board, as they know him from before.

The system has been widely discussed and showcased in the Cinematic Starter Kit released earlier in the year and everyone has their favourite aspects to the game. What is your personal favourite part of the game, and what are you most proud of?

Hm, as the rules designer I'd have to say the stress mechanic with the Stress Dice. I think they help create the right mood at the gaming table, in an easy and accessible way that doesn't slow the game down. Beyond that, I'm super proud of the work that the others in the team have done on them game, particularly Drew Gaska, Martin Grip (lead artist), John R. Mullaney (vehicle and ship art) and Christian Granath (graphic designer).

The timeline covers the key moments of the ALIEN universe. Are there any plans to expand beyond that timeline? How much leeway do you have to add whole new material to the lore?

For now, we're staying around the year 2183. We might move forward a little bit in time in future supplements. As for new material in the lore - we're adding new stories and storylines for sure, but we're doing this in synch with Fox and their other licensing partners.

I have heard rumours of a few tasty sourcebooks; what do you have planned for immediate future releases to support the main game?

Yep! First up is actually a boxed Cinematic starter set, that we aim to launch in late spring. Then, in August, we plan to release a Colonial Marines sourcebook and a new Cinematic scenario, Destroyer of Worlds by Drew Gaska.

ALIEN is my favourite movie of the franchise and my preferred sequel is ALIEN ISOLATION. There will be a lot of attention on the primary sequels, such as ALIENS, but are there any plans to release material for these smaller stories and locations, such as the Seegson company or the Sevastopol Station? How much material will you include from the multiple sources, such as the novels and the comics? 

We do have quite a lot of references to material from novels, comics and other games in the core rulebook, including mentions of Seegson and Sevastopol station. There will surely be more of that in coming supplements. We want to be part of developing a larg, shared ALIEN universe!

You must have had access to a lot of, if not every, piece of material in the ALIEN vault so, on a personal note, what was your favourite thing about working on the license? Did you discover or realise things about the franchise you didn't know or consider before, and how will you include those discoveries in the game? 

Oh, for sure - diving deep into a franchise like this really means you'll find lots of information you were not aware of. Even fairly basic stuff like how space travel really works in the ALIEN universe - I don't think I had a very clear idea of that before working on the game and creating rules for it - that required a lot of research!

What was the hardest part of working on this license?

Hm, probably that we need to make sure we truly hit the right tone and style for ALIEN, and meet, or hopefully even exceed, the expectations of the community. That can sometimes be hard, but also very rewarding.

This game must be one of the most anticipated games of the year. How excited are you about releasing the ALIEN RPG out into the gaming community? 

EXTREMELY exited! I'm personally going to PAX Unplugged on December 6-8 in Philadelphia to launch the game, really looking forward to that!

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