The Interrogation of Joshua!
Joshua A. C. Newman was recently captured by Solar Union forces, taken to T.T.A. Stargate SA2,S7 and briefly interrogated before a force of Ijad backed colonial forces attacked and heavily damaged the stargate. This is a transcript of the forced interrogation. Joshua’s current whereabouts are unknown.
Darrin – Name?
Joshua – Joshua A.C. Newman. The “A.C.” stands for “Clinton R. Nixon”.
Darrin – Age?
Joshua – I’m 38. I’ll turn 39 the day after Camp Nerdly in May.
Darrin – Marital status?
Joshua – I’m married to a woman I met at a game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in college. We commiserated over the experience and so strong was our aversion to that system, it’s kept us together for 13 years.
Darrin – Parental status?
Joshua – I have parents. I’m not one o’ them pod people, if that’s what you mean.
Can’t trust a pod person.
You’re not a pod person, are you?
Darrin – (turning yet one more bright light in Joshua’s direction) Is western Mass where you were born and raised?
Joshua – Nope, I’m from the New England pirate capital of Newport, RI. I moved to Western Mass to go to Hampshire College where I met Meg and Vincent Baker. I tried leaving a couple of times — once to Boston to find my fortune in a dotcom (I didn’t find it) and once for a faculty position at Yale, but I keep finding myself back here.
Darrin – Who are you?
Joshua – I’m an avid student and lover of the process of creation. A firm believer in the benefits of a work going to its creator.
Darrin – I have long dreamt of making a living with some artistic endeavor based on one of my many hobbies. Having a family, and the fear of being a “starving artist” has kept me from it. So as someone who just recently “Sold-out to the Man” I have to ask, is game design/publishing how you pay the bills, or do you have a day job?
Joshua – Well, game publishing is a part I couldn’t do without. I don’t really have a day job; I do a fair amount of graphic design for companies, too, but, according to the taxes I’m doing right now, it’s something like 50/50.
I gotta tell you: the money sucks. I make about half of what I made at Yale right now, but I’m doing what I can to get back up to that level in the next couple of years. Mobile Frame Zero is part of that plan, as are Human Contact and my future publishing plans.
Darrin – How did you and Vincent first meet?
Joshua – I met his wife, Meg, first, through her sister, who went to the same school. We were all in the SCA, we played role-playing games, and Vincent and I were in a quantum physics class that completely defeated us.
Darrin – Did you play any part in the creation of the 2002 version of Mechaton?
Joshua – No, oddly. The Bakers and I had been out of touch for a few years, or maybe I was seeing them once or twice a year or something. I’d just dug out all my old Lego and started to think about replicating the fun I’d had with Battledroids (YEAH OLDSKOOL BITCHEZ) where we’d made up all our own rules to go with the model kits. Coincidentally I ran into Vincent at a festival and we started drawing pictures of our favorite Lego pieces for each other. He said he had written this game, but it was too simple for what I was after. I was excited that it existed, but I wanted a game with asymmetrical opponents, objectives, and tactical depth. I started to think about how rules might work, titling them Roroga.
Darrin – What is Roroga?
Joshua – It’s an acronym for Robot On Robot On Guy Action. The full name was, of course, Hot Roroga. It used a full floor, 8″ robots, and lots of little stickfig guys to stomp on. You can still see some of the dudes up on my MOCPages account.
The spec for the game was that you were always desperately going for an objective and one side could be stronger than the other. The actual implementation was terribly tedious and nonfunctional. I’d learned a lot from FASA, I guess (having been a pretty avid fan of several of their games), and was looking to the wrong parts for the fun.
Darrin – What was your involvement in the creation of the 2006 version of Mechaton?
Joshua – After Vincent and I started sharing notes, we got into this rhythm where I’d say, “Oh, say, I wish we could do this thing,” and then he’d say, “Huh. Well, we can!” and show me how. The one thing he couldn’t show me how to do was make my actual implementations fun. So I built a bunch of robots, we’d play Mechaton, we’d come up with fun variants like vector motion or moving objectives, and eventually he wrote down the stuff that was actually interesting and didn’t make us mad at each other.
We’ve played two campaigns since then. The rules we were using followed a sigmoidal curve of excitement that starts at “excited!” and asymptotically ends at “I hate Vincent and he hates me.” So we’re not publishing those rules, though you can probably reassemble them from the comments on his blog posts as they were going on.
Darrin – Vincent has made rumbling noises for several years that hinted at a new version of Mechaton, why now?
Joshua – Because we have too many little rules tweaks in our heads to keep track of, so we figured we should just write a new book.
Darrin – Why you?
Joshua – Because I’ve been pestering Vincent with stuff I want to do with it for years, and he didn’t want to deal with the branding hassle, the need for building instructions, and the branching out into Lego communities that it required to do it right.
I relish that challenge, but I gotta say, I haven’t been getting enough sleep and I’ve been neglecting some of my standby communities like Velospace.com.
Darrin – And why the name change? Does the name change have anything to do with the rumor that R. Talsorian wants it changed?
Joshua – Huh. Yes, it does. We got a firm but polite letter from R. Talsorian about the similarity to Mekton. The name doesn’t come from that at all, and isn’t even the same pun: it comes from Vincent’s son Sebastian, at 5, calling the town that the robots were fighting in, “Mechaton”, as in, the town the mecha live in.
I looked at R. Talsorian’s letter as an opportunity to build the game up to something really special, as a labor of love. Since it can’t be Mechaton any more, it should be something better. We can’t just lose the brand that literally dozen of fans have fallen in love with! We have to make it something that we could play with 13 (or more!) people around the world!
Darrin – Well the Flikr Mobile Frame Zero group has 71 members, and BGG states that eighty three members own Mechaton and ten other members want to own it, so I think it’s safe to say more than twelve people are playing this game. What manga/anime if any are major influences for you?
Joshua – The biggest single one is Armored Trooper VOTOMS, though Dougram and Superdimensional Fortress Macross inform the aesthetic a lot, as does Gundam 00. It’s not surprising, of course; these designs all come from the mind of Kunio Okawara, a world class designer.
Thematically, the genres tend to follow the “Real Robot” aesthetic. Gundam has these themes of warfare that are quite critical, at least in many of its incarnations, particularly 00 that actually addresses the fact that the genre relies on child soldiers. VOTOMS and Dougram are both these takes on the Vietnam War that’s really interesting, written as it is from the perspective of another Asian country. They’re both really complex and have extraordinary mechanical design. Macross relies much more on charming heroes than VOTOMS or Dougram, but the aesthetic is also really wonderful, like everything is made from stamped metal or turned on a lathe, like an AK-47.
Darrin – How does the enjoyment factor of building a Lego mech differ from that of building a bike for you?
Joshua – Building a bike is an exacting process. I love sitting with a pile of wheel parts and working them slowly into a wheel over the course of a couple of hours. It’s meditative, particularly in how often something needs to be redone. When it’s done, it either works or there’s something wrong. You can tell from a sound or a mechanical failure if something’s off, and you figure out how to fix it.
Building with Lego is another matter. It’s improvisational, even when you have a plan. It’s a lot like clay, actually, only your stuff stands up on its own without a pre-planned armature. I feel like I’m watching something form itself in front of me sometimes. I’ll look down and actually be surprised that it’s taking form.
Darrin – What will be different in this version of Mechaton/Mobile Frame Zero?
Joshua – There are a bunch of rules that Vincent and I had tweaked over the years and we realized recently that the book didn’t describe the way we actually play anymore. There are some optional advanced rules that we’ve enjoyed that aren’t obvious in the old book. Vincent has also redesigned initiative, which takes 45 minutes to an hour out of play at almost no cost (though the old rules are included as an optional rule along with another, faster, but slightly weird initiative system). We’re writing a “how to build a setting” chapter, talking about the parts of the game that can change flexibly and what happens when you change them. I was just discussing with Soren, the mecha designer for the game, how to do Renaissance battles, for instance.
Darrin – Is there a campaign game rule-set in this version?
Joshua – I’m writing a very, very simple set of campaign rules. Our old campaign rules, like I said, became less fun over time because it ramped up tension while weighing the strategic value of a battle over the actual outcome of a battle.
The new rules will take the fun stuff from our rules and remove the scoring. You’re fighting to win the battle, but optionally are fighting to set the stage for the next one, ideally to play to your strengths for the next game.
Darrin – I understand that this version will include a setting and back story. Would you describe that briefly?
Joshua – The game picks up in SC 0245; that is, 245 years after the governments and corporations of the Sol system formed the Solar Union to search for desperately needed extrasolar resources. For the last two centuries, it’s been sending out colonists to planets through a system of stargates. They equip colonists with labor frames to give them the capacity to do the work of ten people, give them food and materials to start, and send them through a stargate on a cargo barge designed to re-enter an atmosphere once. The colonists repay their passage by sending back materials to the Sol system. But space travel is expensive and the colonists often can’t raise enough to pay their way back or even keep Earth’s interest as newer, less-exploited systems are discovered.
One such system is the home of the Ijad, a species of nervous system symbiotes. They live on all sorts of creatures in their own solar system, but once they met humans, they fell in love. Nothing in their home system was so intelligent and creative. But the humans defied their greatest religious taboo: owing allegiance to a foreign leader. So they fought back. They learned the humans’ muscle cylinder technology and began building frames of their own like the Scrambler and Stalker, using their own technologies on top of those originating around Sol.
They also began teaching the abandoned colonists all over the galaxy their religion. As it spread, the colonists began to bristle at the servitude they’d found themselves in. In the last few years, the Free Colonies movement has taken off. Adapting labor frames into mobile frames, crafting new designs like the Hi-Leg that can be built from salvage, and working in cells, they’ve been able to fight the Solar Union off several planets so far.
The Solar Union hasn’t taken this lying down, of course. It’s expensive to send armies through space, so they recruit local companies of the United Mars Foreign Legion to do their fighting for them.
Benefiting from all of this, of course, is the Terran Transit Authority, the body that answers to the Solar Union directly and has complete control over the stargate system (so who answers to whom?). A single stargate is an enormous piece of spaceborne machinery, so each one is often a corporation in its own right. They’ve argued so successfully for their need to operate in a free market that they are now a heavily subsidized, militarily-protected body. None is without its own branch of Terran Defense Marines in their Null Monkey mobile frames.
Darrin – I remember reading that you are considering other settings and back stories to be published as separate modules or source books. Is that still the case, and if so what kind of time frame are we looking at?
Joshua – My plan is to make most of them very modest in scale, fitting on a single, fold-out brochure. I’d like to produce one to two a year. If a setting requires radically different rules, it’ll get its own book like Mobile Frame Zero does, just because it’ll take a lot more writing to explain from scratch.
Darrin – What form will this published version take? Just PDF? PDF and print on demand publishing? Hardbound?
Joshua – I’ll probably print a few hundred paperbacks at a time, like I do with all my publications. I’ll certainly be doing PDFs. Vincent and I have been thinking about a neat spiral binding that still leaves a spine, but I think it might not work out.
Darrin – How are you planning to fund this publishing effort?
Darrin – When will this “Kick Start” happen and what monetary goal are you setting?
Joshua – I’ll be running the project from March 5 to April 13th. I’m not sure of the goal yet because I don’t yet have all my print quotes. I’m guessing it will be more than $5000 and less than $10,000 so we can do some kits, which are complicated and expensive to build.
Darrin – Will there be any form of team effort to “Hit all the cons” in order to teach the game to the gaming public? If so how would one go about getting on that team? How would one register an official MFZ event at a con that is not otherwise attended by the MFZ team?
Joshua – I’ll be producing some support materials for folks who want to run at cons. Because most of the players won’t know the game, it will tend to go more slowly, so I’ll include some advice for making it go smoothly. If a player wants to make an event into an official thing, it means they promise they know the rules and that they’ll take pictures of stuff that’s awesome. I’ll do what I can to make sure people can play!
At this point the recording ends as the entire level loses power due to a bulkhead breach by the colonial forces. We here at No B.S. Just A.B.S. maintain high hopes that Joshua came out of this ok.