I had a chance to ask the guys at Bully Pulpit Games a couple of questions about gaming and where they see the industry. Let me give you a little background about Bully Pulpit Games. Bully Pulpit Games LLC is a small-press publisher of high quality role-playing games and game-related products based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and run by Steve Segedy and Jason Morningstar. They started Bully Pulpit in 2005 with Patrick Murphy because as they say on their website, “we wanted to share our work with a broader audience, promote independent gaming, and fund our various projects.”
They are the creators of the highly acclaimed game Fiasco. Fiasco is an award-winning, GM-less game for 3-5 players, designed to be played in a few hours with six-sided dice and no preparation. During a game you will engineer and play out stupid, disastrous situations, usually at the intersection of greed, fear, and lust. It’s like making your own Coen brothers movie, in about the same amount of time it’d take to watch one.
Ray: When did you first become interested in role-playing games?
Jason: Circa 1977
Steve: Circa 1981
Ray: What does your work with games involve?
Jason: Typically I’ll have some idea, flounder around at various clumsy ways to implement it, and resign myself to running it as a Primetime Adventures show or Solar System hack. Occasionally the idea will demand its own set of rules, and then we’ll work on those, playtest, share with our trusted friends, playtest some more, and see where it goes. If it has legs it may end up being turned into a game we give away or sell.
Steve: Mostly my work at this point is editing and producing the strongest of Jason’s games for release by Bully Pulpit. I also spend a lot of time thinking about games and running playtests with our local group, either something by Jason or one of our designer friends or sometimes a hack of my own. I’ve also been doing a lot of organizing work lately, trying to pull together Games on Demand events at various conventions.
Ray: What do you think makes a game good?
Jason: That’s impossible to answer. Personally I like a game that is simple, clearly presented, and communicates the fun and excitement of play. Then it has to deliver on that consistently.
Steve: At this point my tastes lean toward lightweight games, things that keep preparation and rules mastery to a minimum. I like games that let you get in and have your fun in a short session of a few hours. Ideally, the game also has a nice balance of player narration and mechanics.
Ray: What is the best part about designing games?
Jason: Seeing something you made improve another person’s quality of life, if only for a little while.
Steve: Hearing about your game from people you don’t know- that they played it and took the time to talk or write about it (and hopefully enjoyed it) is really great.
Ray: What role do you think games play in society?
Jason: As social mammals we’re wired to play. I think play is more important than we typically realize, and that we do it all the time.
Steve: Games—all games, I think—are about learning made fun. Often people think that learning is tedious, but it’s only because they aren’t engaged with the material. Games tend to marry things like strategy, history, improvisation, reflexes, etc. together with concepts that we love, and the result is that we spend hours studying things we might otherwise completely ignore.
Ray: What do you think the future is for tabletop games?
Jason: DIY, niche products, very focused communities of play, hybrid forms, nostalgia.
Steve: I think the strength of tabletop games is their focus on face-to-face communication. Games that make it easier to engage new or occasional players, in the vein of party games and board games, will do well.
Ray: Do you have a favorite game?
Jason: I don’t have one favorite. I’m a big fan of Excalibre Games’ Cyborg and B. Dennis Sustaire’s Bunnies and Burrows. The roleplaying game I seem to play most is Matt Wilson’s Prime Time Adventures. The board game I’m playing most right now is Richard Garfield’s King of Tokyo.
Steve: Like Jason, I don’t have any stand-out favorites (aside from Fiasco, of course), but I cut my teeth on TSR classics and played AD&D for many, many years, so I have a soft-spot for dungeon nostalgia. I’m currently playing in a Pathfinder game, which has been great, and I’m really enjoying Dungeon World. I’m a big fan of Shadow of Yesterday and Prime Time Adventures, among many other great small press games.
Ray: Do you have any words of advice for someone interested in getting into game design?
Jason: I’m of two minds. On one hand, everybody is a game designer. On the other hand, if you are kinda sorta thinking about “getting into it” you would probably do well to try something else. Everybody I know who is a really good game designer can’t help themselves.
Steve: If you have ideas and the drive to actually write them down (this is important, because ideas are easy), you already have your foot in the game. The next step is to share with others—see what they’ve written, try out some new ideas, share your own. Don’t get too focused on “publishing” or selling things at first. When the time comes that you have a great idea that people are really interested in, there’s a big community of people that can help you get it published.
Ray: Do you think it is a good idea to play lots of games, if you are interested in game design?
Ray: When coming up with a new idea, do you try to “Think Outside the Box”?
Jason: No. The box is very functional and cozy. If your “new idea” fits in the box, that’s a success. If it doesn’t, then you need to build a new addition to make your idea work, not a whole new box.
Steve: You always want to have an original idea, and you’re almost always going to be disappointed. Don’t be afraid to borrow good ideas, credit your sources, and put them together in a fresh way.
Ray: Do you think studying Computer Programming helps someone who is thinking about getting into the gaming industry?
Jason: Definitely, because it will help you get a job outside the gaming industry.
Steve: It does seem like most of the people we know in the gaming community work with technology in their day jobs. I’m sure that a tendency toward analytical thinking helps as you try to break down an idea into mechanics and rules. That said, the industry as a whole could use a much lighter touch when it comes to those things, and a stronger emphasis on creativity.