Monday, December 3, 2012

[Q&A] Mischa L Thomas (Cold & Dark)

[19:05] <+Mischa> I’m Mischa L Thomas, 31 years old living in Gothenburg Sweden. I’ve been doing a lot of things during the years, everything from diving for shells in the Caribbean to studying game design. I’ve written the sci-fi horror game Cold & Dark. It’s heavily influenced by Aliens, Dead Space, StarCraft among other game lines. It has an emphasis on horror. I’m working
[19:06] <~Dan> (cut off at "I'm working")
[19:06] <+Mischa> Im working with Chronicle City
[19:06] <+Mischa> The company founded by Angus, ex Cubicle 7
[19:07] <+Mischa> So just fire away with questions :)
[19:07] <~Dan> Thanks, Mischa!
[19:07] <~Dan> Would anyone like to get us started?
[19:08] <~Dan> (I'll give them a minute before asking my own.)
[19:08] <~Dan> Okay, I shall being, then.
[19:08] <~Dan> Can you give us a high-level overview of the setting?
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[19:09] <+Mischa> It’s set some 600 years in the future and takes place in a galaxy called Sirius. Mankind has been cut off from earth some centuries ago.
[19:10] <+Mischa> The world is very hostile and there is only one known intelligent race other than mankind
[19:11] <+Mischa> The technology level is pretty high, but kept gritty (ballistic weapons is still the thing with some tweaks).
[19:12] <+Mischa> The game uses a lot of body horror elements as well as mental illness to build horror, but you can also play it as a straight up bughunt 
[19:13] <+Mischa> The main mode of FTL is the Ghost Lines, a very dangerous and precarious way of travelling. And the GIC is running things (Governmental Industrial Complex)
[19:14] <+Mischa> However, the GIC is not an evil empire. It’s simply hard to micro manage a whole galaxy without things falling through the cracks.
[19:14] <+Mischa> So that's some of the basic elements
[19:15] <~Dan> Are there any built-in assumptions about what the PCs will be doing?
[19:16] <+Mischa> Yes, to a certain degree. Most assume a freelance crew mentality, even if they have an actual employer since the teams often act alone far out in the big empty. Exploration, xenoarcheology and action have been quite common elements when playing, everything wrapped in horror.
[19:17] <~Dan> Can you say a bit about the horror elements?
[19:19] <+Mischa> I started out with the human element and isolation. I remembered the movie Dark Water (I think it’s called) With Billy Zane and Nichole Kidman and Sam Neil. It had an oppressive air about it, isolated in the middle of nowhere with a madman.
[19:19] <+Mischa> From here I added the sci-fi themes by looking at other sources of inspiration and built in body horror such as infections and parasites.
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[19:20] <+Mischa> A large part of the horror revolves around being isolated, paranoid and not knowing whom to trust.
[19:21] <+Mischa> Add actual physical dangers, alien type possession and it can get pretty tense :)
[19:21] <+Mischa> But the horror of actual violence is also a part.
[19:22] <~Dan> What are the aliens like?
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[19:23] <+Mischa> The Rippers are the game's version of Aliens/Zerg.
[19:24] <+Mischa> They are nasty, violent animals (yes, acid for blood and a parasitic reproduction cycle) that are very cunning.
[19:24] <+Mischa> Then there's the Gerions. They are actually friendly, but they are very few and withdrawn.
[19:24] <+Mischa> The Gerions make use of biotech on a very high level.
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[19:25] <+Mischa> And there’s also CAV (Caliphrian Aggression Virus)
[19:25] <+Mischa> This is an advanced version of “zombies” if you will.
[19:26] <~Dan> 28 Days Later types?
[19:26] <~Dan> (Welcome to #rpgnet, PlatinumWarlock!)
[19:26] <+PlatinumWarlock> Thankee, Dan
[19:26] <+Mischa> They are even more violent and hardy, but just as fast. And they don’t degrade or starve to death.
[19:26] <+Mischa> And can use simple melee weapons.
[19:26] <+PlatinumWarlock> What's worse than zombies?  Zombies with axes... :D
[19:27] <~Dan> Ah, so more like "real" zombies, albeit with melee weapons.
[19:27] <+Mischa> Kind of, and they're very nasty!
[19:27] <+Mischa> There’s also Marls (crafted to a certain degree after Reavers in Firefly)
[19:28] <~Dan> Who are just plain crazy?
[19:28] <+Silverlion> AFK
[19:28] <+Mischa> The VPS victims (Void Psychosis Syndrome)
[19:28] <+Mischa> If a the DARK meter is maxed out, you become a raving madman or a homicidal sociopath who will stop at nothing to bring mankind down.
[19:29] <+Mischa> A lot is connected in dangerous ways.
[19:29] <+PlatinumWarlock> so, does that imply you become an NPC, or do you continue playing, albeit secretly?
[19:29] <+Silverlion> Hrms
[19:30] <+Mischa> If you’re maxed out you have to make a new character, but you will become murderous and dangerous before that and then you will play in secret to a certain degree.
[19:30] <+PlatinumWarlock> *nods*  okay
[19:30] <+Mischa> Those who suffer from VPS can also share the same hallucinations or their hallucinations can “cooperate” in order to create a devastating effect.
[19:30] <~Dan> How does that happen?
[19:31] <+Silverlion> Psychic ability?
[19:31] <+Mischa> No psychic ability. Seems like most sci-fi games has it :P
[19:31] <+Mischa> About VPS: Well, that is spoiler territory but if you want to I can explain 
[19:31] <+Mischa> :)
[19:31] <~Dan> Hmm...
[19:32] <+Mischa> We wanted to keep away from cybertech and psy abilities to keep it more in line with the Alien movies.
[19:32] <+Mischa> But we have no synthetics
[19:32] <~Dan> Okay, tell you what: Mischa, if you want to reveal the secret, please join #rpgent-spoilers. Anyone who wants to know can join us. :)
[19:32] <~Dan> #rpgnet-spoilers, even
[19:32] <+PlatinumWarlock> I like the fact that you're not willing to compromise, in maintaining the feel your'e going for
[19:33] <~Dan> What's on the upper end of technology in the setting?
[19:35] <~Dan> Hmm.
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[19:35] <+Mischa> Well
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[19:35] <+Mischa> There is nano-tech
[19:35] <~Dan> (Howdy, Wondy!)
[19:35] <+Mischa> But most nano is used as part of materials.
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[19:36] <+Mischa> There is some “handwavery” but over all we have tried to stay away from “magical” technology.
[19:36] <+Mischa> I dropped some info in the first spoiler link :)
[19:36] <~Dan> The first spoiler link?
[19:36] <+Mischa> rpgnet spoilers
[19:36] <+Mischa> Or shouldn't i have written it there?
[19:36] <~Dan> Hmm... I'm not seeing it there. Try typing "/join #rpgnet-spoilers".
[19:37] <+Mischa> Ended up in the wrong chat i think but Ximni is there now
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[19:41] <+Mischa> Our next step is to examine the actual galaxy
[19:41] <~Dan> In the RPGnet forum, you mentioned that there are engineered and/or mutated creatures on colonized worlds. Can you say a bit more about that?
[19:42] <+Mischa> Yes, there are a lot of engineer plants and animals
[19:42] <+Mischa> Many are engineered while other has mutated
[19:43] <+Mischa> For example, I love the “dogs” in Chronicles of Riddick so I have a version of them “Armadillo Wolfs”
[19:43] <+Mischa> They are very dangerous, but can make great companions :)
[19:43] <~Dan> Ah... so do you have a bestiary of such creatures?
[19:44] <+Mischa> No, not many. We have concentrated on the main antagonists but there will be a bunch of creatures in the upcoming book Better Worlds
[19:45] <~Dan> Cool.
[19:45] <+Mischa> We do have the Tundra Cephalopod. A carnivorous beast you don’t want to bump into.
[19:45] <+PlatinumWarlock> yeesh
[19:45] <~Dan> A snow squid? O.o
[19:46] <+Mischa> It's hunted for its glands which is an aphrodisiac.
[19:46] <+Mischa> It burrows beneath the snow
[19:46] <+Mischa> Many ex GIC scouts become hunters and travel to strange worlds hunting down rare creatures for cash
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[19:47] <~Dan> Hmm... Could I offer an observation, Mischa?
[19:47] <+Mischa> Sure
[19:48] <~Dan> I think it might help if you make some of this stuff better known in your promotional materials.
[19:48] <~Dan> The setting seems more vibrant than I'd initially thought.
[19:49] <+Mischa> I'll try that, thanks :)
[19:49] <+Mischa> I like too create new echo systems to support new terraformed worlds, which will be much more evident in Better Worlds
[19:50] <~Dan> Well, to be more specific: I got the impression that there were just Rippers, Gerions, and humans out there. Now, I figured there was more to it (see: spoilers), but I had no idea how much life is in the setting.
[19:51] <~Dan> So I think you were selling your setting a bit short. It's very cool. :)
[19:51] <~Dan> (I mean, I thought it was cool before, too, but a bit limited.)
[19:51] <+Mischa> It's a fine balance between promoting and spoiling. I want folk to know about the spoilers but I also want players to discover them during play :)
[19:51] <+Mischa> And thanks again
[19:52] <~Dan> Certainly. :)
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[19:52] <~Dan> Well, let me ask you this: the presence of engineered creatures from terraformed worlds is well-known in the setting, correct?
[19:52] <+Mischa> Yes
[19:53] <~Dan> Yeah, see, I'd play that up a bit.
[19:53] <~Dan> No need to reveal any of the spoiler stuff.
[19:54] <+Mischa> Well, in the core book there are only some suggestions of this while it will have a strong presence in BW (Better Worlds)
[19:54] <+Mischa> But for BW I will make it loud and clear :)
[19:54] <~Dan> Good man. ;)
[19:55] <+Mischa> It also helps that I work with Johan Fredriksson, the artist, he will do a great job in bringing the creatures come alive
[19:55] <~Dan> So, we've talked quite a bit about the setting. Let's talk about the system. Is this an attribute + skill system?
[19:55] <+Mischa> Yes
[19:56] <+Mischa> It's Aptitude + Ability
[19:56] <+Mischa> The pools are created from D8s
[19:56] <+Mischa> We have a cap so a pool can never exceed 8
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[19:57] <+Mischa> Any surplus will turn into extra successes after a rolled success.
[19:57] <~Dan> (Howdy, Gemini! Talking Cold & Dark with Mischa L. Thomas!)
[19:57] <+Mischa> We wanted a fast paced system
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[19:58] <~Dan> (Howdy, jcfiala!)
[19:58] <+Mischa> So combats are in general solved very quickly. You can level two SMGs and fire full auto at a target with both weapons and with only the one roll you get the damage, if you hit and the defense of the target.
[20:14] <~Dan> Very nice.
[20:15] <~Dan> What are the Aptitudes?
[20:16] <+Mischa> Brawn, Quickness, Cool, Brains, Clout, Reactio, Gut Feeling and Attention
[20:16] <+Mischa> Then there are a few secondary
[20:16] <~Dan> What Aptitudes govern combat skills?
[20:18] <+Mischa> Most often it's Attention, Quickness and Brawn but it all depends. If you're shooting in the dark you might use Gut Feeling +Shooting while you might use Reaction + Shooting for a quickdraw move
[20:18] <+Mischa> The GM adapts it according to what seems logical
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[20:18] <~Dan> What about hand-to-hand combat?
[20:19] <+Mischa> Brawn or Quickness in most cases. If you want to do a jump kick you might use Quickness while a Haymaker will be done using Brawn
[20:19] <+Mischa> Melee and unarmed combat is covered by one ability, Close Combat
[20:20] <+Mischa> So there is only two actuall combat abilities as we didn't want to give them too much room as such
[20:20] <~Dan> I'm sorry -- I mean what Aptitude?
[20:20] <+Mischa> In close combat?
[20:21] <~Dan> Yes.
[20:21] <+Mischa> As above, Brawn or Quickness depending on the style (And the ability is Close Combat) :)
[20:22] <~Dan> Does Brawn add to damage?
[20:23] <+Mischa> Only if you use it when you swing. If you use Quickness it adds to the damage. So a quick Bruce Lee type with one in Brawn but five in Quickness will be equal to a musclebound powerhouse.
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[20:23] <+Mischa> But the power house will be able to take a bit more punishment while the quick type will have a higher defense
[20:24] <~Dan> Hmm... So is it possible to create a big, clumsy creature that doesn't hit often but does a lot of damage when it does?
[20:25] <+Mischa> Well, a big creature will have a lot of Brawn and will use that to hit. So it will hit you and do a lot of damage, if it for some reason don't make use of Quickness for its attack.
[20:26] <+Mischa> So the creature will use Brawn + Close Combat to hit and every success adds to the damage
[20:26] <~Dan> Right... So a big, strong creature will always be more likely to hit.
[20:27] <+Mischa> Not always, most creatures will not actually have Close Combat, relying soley on their Brawn. And with the defense they can have a hard time hitting the target, but they often have attacks such as Impale and Pounce which even things out.
[20:28] <+Mischa> So they can have a hard time hitting but outright kill when they they do
[20:28] <~Dan> Is size a factor, or is that lumped in with Brawn?
[20:28] <+Mischa> Size is only a factor when it comes to hitting something. Though very large creatures will have a lot more HP than a human.
[20:28] <+Mischa> So you can do a rather small fellow with high Brawn
[20:29] <+Mischa> He's simply compact and wirey
[20:29] * ~Dan nods
[20:29] <~Dan> Does the game feature any sort of "Fate Point" mechanic?
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[20:29] <+Mischa> We kept it simple and called them Save Points. They can be spent to avoid certain death or to “reset” a situation when dramatically appropriate.
[20:30] <+Mischa> We felt that they were necessary as the system is very deadly.
[20:30] <~Dan> So they're purely defensive and reactive in nature?
[20:31] <+Mischa> You can use them to pull of some incredible moves, but the player always have to actively spend them at the right moment. If not he’s out of luck.
[20:31] <~Dan> How are they replenished?
[20:32] <+Mischa> Mostly you have to buy them back with XP, it takes a toll on the character as a whole when using them. We thought it fitted with the tone of the game.
[20:33] <~Dan> Makes sense.
[20:33] <+Mischa> And a secondary Aptitude I like is Credibility. It’s your means of attack and defense in a social confrontation.
[20:34] <+Mischa> We thought it important to give room to social characters as there will be a lot of negotiations in a world like this :)
[20:34] <~Dan> True. :)
[20:35] <+Mischa> The system combines roleplay with point spends
[20:35] <~Dan> I forgot to ask: how did humanity get cut off from Earth?
[20:36] <+Mischa> We use a system called Ghost Lines to travel. Some centuries ago there was an event known as the Ghost Storm. After it had passed a lot of ships had been lost and the lines had lost much of their effectiveness and their ability to take us out of Sirius.
[20:36] <+Mischa> The galaxy is now surrounded by The Dark Rim. No one has returned from it
[20:39] <~Dan> Sounds like a Sirius situation.
[20:39] <+Mischa> Hahaha :P bad pun man
[20:40] <~Dan> I'm known for them. :)
[20:40] <+Mischa> So at the moment we're waiting for a printing date for the dead tree version and hope to have news on that soon
[20:40] <~Dan> Excellent.
[20:41] <~Dan> Oh, before I forget: Is there ship-to-ship combat, and if so, what's it like?
[20:41] <+Mischa> Of course there is :)
[20:42] <+Mischa> On a distance its very much like Das Boot
[20:42] <+Mischa> You creep around, using radiation and debris to hide. You power down and run counter measures on you LIDAR.
[20:43] <+Mischa> Close up you can dogfight in a very nasty way and both types of combat is very deadly!
[20:44] <~Dan> What are anti-ship weapons like?
[20:45] <+Mischa> Mostly missiles and railguns, but there is also plasma and photon canons
[20:46] <~Dan> Ah... So energy weapons do exist in the setting -- just not man-portable ones?
[20:46] <+Mischa> Yes, they are limited to vehicles :)
[20:47] <+Mischa> And the Accelerated Photon Canon is very nasty. Based on the Yamoto Canon from StarCraft!
[20:47] <~Dan> We have about 15 minutes left... Is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to mention?
[20:48] <+Mischa> Hm, no. I think we covered the important stuff :)
[20:49] <~Dan> Minor question: How common are melee weapons in the setting?
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[20:50] <+Mischa> Well, I incorporated a character type that specializes in close combat and it makes sense even though it’s a world of guns. They get a special permit to carry nano-blades in areas where others are not permitted to carry guns (and where it’s dangerous to do so) and they act as bodyguards.
[20:50] <+Mischa> They do use guns as well in the open
[20:50] <+Mischa> They are highly valued as shooting in a space station isn’t always a good idea…
[20:51] <~Dan> Heh. :)
[20:51] <~Dan> And do I remember reading something about adaptive suits of some sort?
[20:52] <+Mischa> the COG Customized Operations Gear.  It’s a combination of the suit in Crysis and Isaac Clarke’s RIG
[20:52] <+Mischa> They come in different models adapted for different jobs
[20:52] <+Mischa> Engineering, Combat, etc
[20:52] <~Dan> I'm not sure exactly what those references mean, but they sound cool. :)
[20:53] <~Dan> Oh... and I just noticed that the clock on my computer is a little slow, so why don't we make that the last question? I know it's way, way past your bedtime. :)
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[20:53] <+Mischa> Thanks for having me :)
[20:53] <+Mischa> Four in the morning here :P
[20:54] <~Dan> It's been a pleasure, Mischa! I'll have the log posted shortly.
[20:54] <~Dan> The link to my blog is in the subject line up there.
[20:54] <+Mischa> Cool, have a good one.
[20:54] <~Dan> You too!

********SPOILERS BELOW************

[19:38] <Mischa> VPS is part of the Voiders influences. This is an ancient race who have become pure energy and part of the universe. They regard mankind as a virus and the immune system kicks in.
[19:38] <Mischa> CAV, VPS and the Viscutropes (unknow threat, think necromorphs/the thing) are all part of this. So a full blown VPS madman will not even be attacked by CAV (“zombies”) infected and can actually direct them as they share the same energies.
[19:39] <Mischa> Viscutropes kill everything in their way though, except each other. So basically, the universe is doing its best to rid itself from mankind. It can get pretty damn grim.  And there is a ton of other stuff in the backstory that hooks into this concept (and more creatures in the core book).
[19:39] <@Dan> Awesome.
[19:39] <Mischa> I wanted to try a Silent Hill approach, but instead of a city being after the characters the universe is after them and can use their fears to get them.
[19:40] <@Dan> Cool. :)
[19:40] <Mischa> Characters have been killing each other off during play test as a result of VPS :P

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