Late Night Thoughts on the Creative Process

“So what is your process when you create new characters and  new game expansions?” I’ve been asked this question many times and I tend to simplify my answer with short quips and that’s mainly because for the me the creative process is very mysterious.

I’m currently conceptualizing BLACK DEATH 2129. I say “conceptualizing” and not “writing” because the first stage is just staring off into space and allowing my mind to wander to faraway planets and star systems of the future. I’m asking, “What happens now?” and allowing different scenarios to unfold.

Sometimes ideas just aren’t coming together and I give up and do something else. Other times a whole bunch of ideas come together wham bam one right after the other. Sometimes a big idea hits like a tidal wave, like Black Death, and all kinds of secondary ideas roll out too. Other times it’s more piecemeal as in taking the characters one at a time and asking, “What does Monolith do now?”

I scribble ideas on paper at this stage and this gets tedious because sometimes I have pages and pages of ideas and I’ve already moved past most of them. But there might still be some good ones among all the notes and so I go through them all, crossing out stuff that’s not going to work, and circling ideas I’ll use like a name of a character or a good story angle.

At some point I sit down and write an outline of the new handbook. This is critical because it means I’m finalizing the main stories and aligning the characters on teams. By this time I’ve narrowed the number of playing cards to ten, a process that always drives me crazy because I want to release many more except it’s just not feasible. Sometimes if I just can’t reduce the number to ten I’ll release some extra Limited Edition cards.

The next step is conceptualizing the card art.  I’ll start sharing my ideas with Darryl Banks and the process of designing a playing card can take anywhere from a couple sketches to trying over and over for the right pose, facial expression, costume, etc. Darryl’s a fantastic guy to work with and we have fun working on characters no matter how long it takes. What’s frustrating for me is I have an image in my mind and I’m unable to communicate with words the exact image to my artist. When I worked with Chuck Carter I would often strike a pose (which resulted in the first Bishop Hell card) or make the facial expression in person and then Chuck would draw it. Working by email is trickier and sometimes it takes a little while but often, with a great artist like Darryl, the end result is better than what I pictured.

Then it comes time to write the game cards. This is the hardest part because to me writing a good game card is an art. The game mechanic is deceptively simple but a good playing card tells a story about the character.  An athlete with a lot of offense should have an exciting card that moves fast. A good tag wrestler should be useful in tag matches while struggling in singles competition. A good card has interesting features such as a special finisher or a unique card rule or more offense or defense or something. I like creating cards that are “out of the ordinary” like the Guardian or the new one coming out, Skiver.

The fact is I agonize over card stats, I want them to be perfect by some ethereal internal standard. I make minor changes right up to the final deadline for printing. In fact sometimes I’ll reprint a card and change the stats because it doesn’t feel “just right” to me. I did that with Mantis in 2127. I thought the final card wasn’t strong enough and I proceeded to make several minor upgrades which can add up to a much better card. It’s always easy to change a finisher from +2 to +4 or reduce a pin rating from 7 (4) to 5 (2). That’d be too easy. There are minor changes that make a difference too like changing (ch D) to (ch F) or removing a (tag) option on Level 3 Defense.  I made five or six changes on the Mantis card and had the card reprinted at my expense. Some game fans will note that there are two versions of Mantis 2127 floating around. The result was I had a whole package of Mantis cards I wasn’t going to use so I decided to give them away free with game orders as a “sample” of the latest Champions of the Galaxy expansion and I don’t think many people noticed.

A long-term process is thinking of  names for the characters and their signature moves. All day long when I have  free time (which means daydreaming time) I’ll think about the new game and possible names. “Should it be Gigantus or no, maybe Monolith sounds better.” With one character, a hunter, I was trying to figure out a good name for his finisher. Suddenly, it hit me: Kill Prey! What a cool name for a move. Then I realized that the name was even better for the character himself rather than the move. Hence the character Kill Prey came into the game.

The actual writing of the  handbook is the fun part. The stories write themselves sometimes. I’ll have thoughts in mind when I start writing but then more stuff magically appears on the page. Like I said, creating is a mysterious process and I love the mystery.

The editing process is horrible, takes forever, and trying to find every possible error whether it’s a historical error or just the zillions of minor mistakes on cards and the handbook, it makes me really sick of the game by the time it’s finished.

Thankfully, like the true fan that I am, it all becomes worth it when I see the finished cards! I’m like a kid, I pick them up, feel them, smell them, and immediately add them to the my fed so I can start playing! The next thing I can’t wait for is releasing the game to loyal fans and seeing and hearing their enjoyment and pleasure at having new blood and playing Champions of the Galaxy forever! My goal has always been to give people a game that allows them to use their imagination, but also provide quality entertainment and a sense of a community of players.

Having said all this I’m really psyched about BLACK DEATH 2129 to say nothing of the expansions coming in the years ahead. BLACK DEATH has been a big success but I think some fans are occasionally put off by the cosmic themes that pervade some of my stories. That’ll happen when you’ve got a game that combines science fiction with professional wrestling. Sometimes I like to cut loose with the comic book scenarios and I’ve had great fun with BLACK DEATH which to me symbolizes that Champions of the Galaxy is a combination of comic books and wrestling. Besides, who wants to get stuck in a rut, how boring would that be? BLACK DEATH 2129 is the 43rd game expansion and believe me 2130 and 2131 will push the envelope too! One thing loyal promoters can count on is their creator is putting his heart and soul into his work and when it comes to the creative process my head is in the stars.

Until Skiver cuts himself with a butter knife…