Thursday, 8 May 2014

Wee Gamers travel Across The Dead Earth to interview its makers

Across the Dead Earth is a forthcoming Post-Apocalyptic skirmish, wargame from Dead Earth Games, where pockets of humanity roam the ghost towns and ruins of humanity, looting and fighting for profit, glory, dominance and their very lives Across the Dead Earth.

It was successfully funded on kickstarter and now the walk across the Dead earth begins, as Wee Gamers find out.
Across the Dead Earth is set three generations on from the Last War – a global conflict, the Last War was not simply a nuclear Armageddon, but different countries were effected in very different ways, so, whilst the USA, Russia and China might look like your “traditional” post-apoc setting, in the U.K. chemical warfare wiped out the majority of the population. Outside of the main cities, buildings still stand, by and large, and nature has begun to reclaim the land. So rather than a necessarily bleak and empty setting, you can play the game in lush, overgrown ruins. The European mainland is swarming with the Sollus, the unknowing dead, victims of a terrible chemical virus. Society has all but broken down, and Gangs roam the Dead Earth searching out loot, claiming territory, trading, exploring, and fighting! Players create and control their own persistent Gangs over the course of campaigns.

1- what for you is the reason behind the the unquenchable hunger folks seem to have for post apoc material and what sources do you cite as responsible for setting you on the path to create your own fallen world?
Post-Apocalyptic worlds like ours give you a huge playground without the rest of the population getting in the way. Ours gives you access to pretty much any setting on Earth. It also allows for the removal of social conventions and Government, and almost necessitates a violent and hostile environment. Someone told me the roots of Post-Apocalyptic fiction came from the increasing knowledge of the Solar System – the knowledge that no alien race was ever going to invade from Mars, ands that Dan Dare style adventures will never take place on Jupiter’s moons. Post Apocalyptic settings allow us to create a believable, yet alien future version to our own world. My inspirations were numerous and it might be difficult to see how they directly influenced the game: the video games Fallout and Borderlands, the comic books The Walking Dead and Y: The Last Man, and probably more than anything else X:Com and RPG video games. So a lot of video games influences, although all of those were themselves rooted in tabletop games.

2- so a guy walks up 'oh another apocalypse game!' Says he. What's the company line that shows this poor unfortunate the error of his assumption? How do you pitch your game above others?
Depends where he’s from, an awful lot of people love the idea that the core game is set in the UK, and not in the US (although an expansion with US scenarios and Gnags will be available too), which actually isn’t even something I considered: of course it’s set in the UK, that’s where we’re from! In terms of the setting, as I mentioned, you’ve got a huge freedom of choice, and you have with your forces too. Every Gang is personalisable, as is every character. You can start off with a bunch of faceless nameless Grunts and end up with specialists in a number of fields with all sorts of skills which can change the game in a number of ways. Although there are a few post-apoc games out there, we spent a lot of time trying to really create a “world” and a mood with background on the world setting, around a dozen gangs so far, and several short stories all up on our website. There will also be some very narrative lead campaigns to feed into this rich world and make players really feel a part of it, and attached to their Gang members in a way more akin to an RPG than a tabletop wargame.

3- from the hazy days around the pub table to now how has the game evolved and is what you have now significantly different from your first imaginings? What sort of processes have you gone through and have any early aspects had to be abandoned cause they just didn't work?
Everything has changed. At least twice! A lot of the core mechanics around turn sequence, different character classes, the use of Event Cards and Skill Trees were initially born our of a completely different setting – a sort of Hero based Napoleonic game. There weren’t enough options for upgrades and different weapons though, to personalise the characters, and so I adapted the game into a more sniper based scenario which briefly became Stalingrad 1942. That didn’t last very long as both players essentially wanted to hide and not do anything! So I needed a setting which was completely fictional and I could create scenarios outside of real world warfare and rules. I think it was reading Y: The Last Man that made me settle on post-apocalyptic, which when mentioned was then hastily encouraged by others. So, of course, all the classes, skill trees, weapons and event cards have changed due to the setting, and mechanics wise, everything has essentially just been tested and tested and tested until it felt right. That’s where our hugely valuable beta testers came in!

4- is there an aspect or mechanic your particularly proud of in the game and or is there anything rules wise that really reinforces the post apoc aspect of the game?
I think the turn system keeps the game really quick and tactical, with each player acting with one gang member at a time and then play switching – you don’t have to you’re your characters in a set sequence so, unlike most wargames, it is much more possible to take your opponent by surprise. One mechanic which I hadn’t come across before and really like is that, when shooting, rather than just rolling a “hit” or a “miss”, the higher the dice score, the better the shot, and therefore the greater the chance of taking out your target. For example, if you need 7 to hit a target, but roll an 11, this represents a well aimed shot and you subtract the 4 which was “surplus” from the target’s save roll. In terms of mechanics which represent the setting, this is really where the Event Cards come into play, with the possibility of crumbling buildings, old booby traps or trip wires. Event cards are normally played whilst it is the OTHER player’s turn, allowing you to interrupt them, and this is another aspect which stops any player from waiting for their turn with nothing to do. All our scenarios and settings are quite specific to the game world – games usually aren’t just a fight, they are usually for Loot, or for control of a village, town or resource.

5 - so factions wise are we looking at set groups or is there scope for players to really personalise factions?
There’s an enormous scope for players to create and personalise their own Gangs and this was one of the first aspects he beta testers leapt on. It’s very easy too, you essentially pick a class, weapons and skills from a list to a points value. Alternately, you can create your own Gang by playing a campaign, starting off with unskilled Grunts and upgrading them with the points scored for victories and kills. We have provided numerous factions and are producing 3 Gangs as miniatures to begin with, with plenty more to come, and these can either be used as I have imagined them, or to represent characters the player creates themselves. 

6- aside.from opponents are there any other elements in the game that threaten the players survival?
There are occasionally building collapses or ancient ordnance going off, and in the expansion which I’m writing now there will be rules for non-player Sollus (zombie-likes) who will attack either player, along with animal attacks from gangs of roaming feral dogs, and in other countries, other wild and dangerous animals or mutated animals. There are more tigers in captivity in the US today than there are alive in the wild, and they will definitely be making an appearance!

7- so your another kickstarter winner. How have you found the process and what advice would you offer to others considering the process of crowd funding? 
Grow a thick skin. Be prepared. Be sure of yourself. Have as much as possible to show people before you begin. The process was pretty stressful for me, as it was very much all or nothing in our case, this wasn’t about funding a new game from an existing company or an expansion, it was about creating everything. Having people back out – cancelling their pledge – can be really disheartening. But, hey, we did it, and out supporters have all been awesome, we get so much back from hem in terms of ideas and enthusiasm, and that’s something we wouldn’t have gotten until after release without the KS. If we did another one, I would do a lot differently, in particular in terms of getting better photography of the miniatures we had done. KS is pretty saturated with games projects now, and I think some of the high profile ones have given a slightly skewed expectation about what a little company like us is able to do, from day one we had people asking to see more sculpts – we couldn’t do that, that’s what we needed the money for! It’s been a huge success for us though, and really allowed us to get to a position which would otherwise have taken a couple of years.

8 - what's the feedback you have received been like overall? Have you had any negativity towards the game or has all been good? 
There’s always negative feedback and some people don’t like the style of the miniatures and some people didn’t like particular Gang ideas (although this has no impact on the way they play the game). Miniatures are very much a matter of taste, I don’t think anyone has been horrible or vindictive, some people have said “not for me”. Equally we’ve had a tonne of positive feedback and lots of people LOVE the miniatures, particularly, I think, those more familiar with the styling and scaling of GW rather than perhaps historical gamers.

9 - so who makes up the team -who does what and is it a working relationship or are there long standing friendships in the group?
I (Rich) do the creative, and my brother Mike handles the IT and business aspects. That’s it for Dead Earth Games. Our artists are all freelance – Filip Dudek, Raul Santos and Pijus Baksys are the visual artists and Andrew May does he sculpting.

10- when not contemplating the fall of world civilization what is a typical day in the real life of for you folks?
I work for Birmingham City Council, Mike does something important with statistics in The City. You can see why we’re both looking forward to the apocalypse.

11- what games float your boats and get you round a table of a night off? 
We haven’t played anything except AtDE for a LONG time due to all the testing – even now the core game is done there are aspects of the expansion to test. But once upon a time I played a lot of Black Powder – which couldn’t be more different, and IHMN, which is another great skirmish level game and has similarities in terms of creating your own forces. I also play a lot of Bloodbowl but only on the PC nowadays as sadly I don’t have a physical set. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to play some Hail Caeser and I’ve been putting off starting X-Wing as Mike and I are both huge Star Wars fans and we are in danger of getting sucked in!

The last question oft places our poor candidates inside their own creation - So plunged into the collapsed world you have created who's gonna come out top dog?  Who meets a grizzly end who ends up on a chain plaything of the meanest gang in town.....what's the story of each of the team?
Well, I’d probably ending up living in servitude as an admin slave for The State, sadly. Mike would fair a bit better given his hording nature – I know there are bows and arrows, swords and mounds of airsoft weaponry in his garage! So maybe he would rescue me from The State and let me join his Gang.

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