Roleplay History – KJC Games Interview
Last month I found a stack of old Dragon, GM, and White Dwarf magazines from the late 80’s to early 90’s. I have learned a great deal from them about how much the hobby has changed, and how little.
One of the biggest trends of the time has since, sadly, faded from common circulation – Play By Mail games which take massive groups and immerse them in a living world in which they can play out their lives together. The PBM format is not dead, instead it has moved with the times and online to Play By Email, and one of the biggest companies, KJC Games, are still running their flagship game It’s A Crime to this day.
KJC kindly spared a few minutes to talk to me about the game this week.
Q: How do you go from turn card to the narrative that returns to players?
A: This is handled by the game system. Each turn card is parsed automatically and each set of commands triggers routines that processes the individual orders. The processing of the orders generates the results and the final output is a compilation of the results along with an update of the assets owned by the player along with an update on what they are aware of other players’ assets. I suppose the mechanics can be broken down into two processes – the result of the action and from this the triggering mechanism for the caption. For example a check against another gang to try to usurp control of a block will generate a text depending on the degree of success.
Sorry if this was a bit bland; would you have preferred pixie dust and the stuff of dreams?
That said, in Phoenix, our flagship game there is also the ability to run special actions. These allow players to specifically petition the Game Master to achieve some end. This can be anything from investigating mega-flora on some jungle world to attempting to coerce emperor of the Stellar Empire to ratify the unification of two factions. These result in unique texts and can shape the ever evolving universe.
There is a nice article on Game Mastering in Phoenix HERE
Q: What keeps the format popular?
A: Most games nowadays are all about tactics and reactions. For my money I think it is the ability to strategically plan before having to commit to an action that gives the games their appeal. There is also the ability to slot the game in around other activities and write turns while seemingly being busy at the work desk. Not that I would encourage such behaviour, nosireebob. There is real risk to what you have and therefore fear. This sets it apart from most multi-player games where everything you own is protected so your achievements are little more than a time sink rather than due to actual skill and cleverness.
Q: What has changed since the days when PBM was postal?
A: So much, for one thing there are so few of us around nowadays. Oddly enough though, when run right there is still enough money to continue largely due to the vastly reduced overheads. When I first started there were 12 of us at KJC Games – we had programmers, baggers, inputters, telephonists and the printers were running constantly. Despite all this we were making very little actual profit. We have pretty much done away with baggers, inputters, telephonists and the lone printer is largely gathering dust. Now it is a couple of Game Masters and a couple of programmers.
The flipside of the coin is that while gaming has become mainstream it is much harder to actually grab people’s attention. There are no gamer magazines to advertise in and there are so many online games that it is easy to overlook us let alone understand the unique style of games we run. It may be a consequence of instant gratification mainstream gaming but it does mean that we are still very much a niche hobby.
Q: What does the future hold for KJC games?
A: We firmly believe in keeping our games different to mainstream, offering games with depth and longevity but also making sure that they still benefit from being on the web. To this end we have developed a stand-alone web interface called Nexus. Currently this is used by Phoenix but will also be the interface for our future products. We have also developed a back-end server system that will actually run the games. It has been a slow process but we are very happy with the results. This will enable us to offer games with the same depth as Phoenix but in other genres.
To be honest though I doubt that we would create a new version of It’s a Crime. One aspect of these end-point knock-out games is that players have a tendency to drop them if things go wrong with the view of joining the next game. We definitely prefer open-ended evolving games where players will swallow a setback in one location because there is so much happening elsewhere.
I suppose it boils down to this – we will continue to write games we want to play in the belief that others want to play, they just haven’t found us yet.
Huge thanks to KJC for taking the time to talk to us. Gamers are determined to embrace and share what they love, we’re enthusiastic like that, and when you find something you love enough to build a career on it, why would you let that go willingly when there is scope to give it new life with the changing times?
I’m glad that the format has not faded with the advent of the internet. In fact many other PBEM games have arisen as have other formats inspired by the original, and KJC has been a substantial part in the birth of this legacy.