David Viars is the Line Developer for the cyberpunk RPG Interface Zero. As this post goes live Interface Zero 2.0 is rocking it on Kickstarter and the game is expanding before our eyes.
Geek Native grabbed time from David for a catch up and questions. We talk about cyberpunk, Savage Worlds, the balance between systems and settings but I wonder if David could have predicted my first question.
You’re the Line Developer for which Interface Zero 2.0 … but what does this actually mean?
I have several duties I tackle as Line Developer for the setting. First and foremost is I’m the final arbiter on any and all rules which come through the game. I write the majority of the rules myself, but since I can’t do everything on my own, I also review rules being proposed by others.
I’m also in charge of helping make sure the various freelancers involved are not stepping on one another’s toes, and following a shared vision.
It’s kind of like a continuity editor at Marvel or DC comics. I also write outlines for things I’d like to see in various sections of the books others are tackling, this along with writing portions of the setting material.
When the corebook is finished, I’ll be proposing new supplements for the setting and talking about which freelancers we’ve worked with in the past who can tackle items we’d like to see done, as well as working on various projects myself.
What’s the main ways in which Interface Zero 2.0 will differ from Interface Zero?
We have a completely new set of Cyberware rules, the system differs entirely from how the 1st edition works. It allows more options, more selections and more Roleplay opportunities for going overboard with “Enhancements” as we call them.
The race write-ups have also been reworked, the gear is being re-written, and we have Golem-mech creation rules, along with the streamlined Hacking rules from “Hacking 2.0”.
IZ 2.0 is very much an improved, efficient beast compared to the 1st edition. The 1st edition was special in that it did things nobody thought Savage Worlds could really do, the 2nd edition is learning from 1st edition and making it even better!
Can you explain Savage World’s theme of “FFF” and how it influences Interface Zero?
Pinnacle Entertainment, the creators of Savage Worlds have always pushed the idea all Savage Worlds products should be “Fast, Furious, and Fun!”.
Now the last part, “fun” is what every RPG hopes to achieve out there. I don’t think anyone wants to design a non-fun RPG! Keeping it in mind though is important, everything should ultimately make players and GM alike go “This is awesome!”
On the Fast and Furious side, its about having streamlined rules that don’t bog down gameplay. This is what largely informed our Hacking revisions, Hacking is fast in IZ, it has depth to it, but won’t slow down the gameplay of the group either. We have pre-made “Cyberware Packages” for players and GM’s who don’t want to spend the time with individual customization (Though you can do that too!).
The Packages really help the GM out as they can slap the package onto an NPC and have an instantly “enhanced” character for the players to encounter.
When people pay money for a RPG do you think they’re mainly paying for rules and system, flavour and setting or should books be a perfect 50/50 split between them?
I think it largely depends on what the purchaser is looking for. I’m a long time GM who barely acts a player anymore (Some say I’m a control freak and can’t surrender GMing!). So I always make my purchases from the perspective of being a Game Master, and how the product can help me there. I don’t run GURPs for example, but I’ve purchases quite a few GURPS sourcebooks because their well researched and present their information in a manner which is useful to a GM using any system.
On the other hand, I don’t say own many Palladium books because the setting is so intimately tied to the system. I love CJ Carella’s “Nightbane” setting, but it’s so tied to the “Palladium” system (Which I’m not familiar with), I can’t really justify getting into it unless I want to do alot of work converting it to something else.
I also think it depends on what you’re trying to sell in the end. Games like Apocalypse World for example, are sold on the merits of how their system enhances the creation and use of their setting. As I mentioned earlier, GURPs sourcebooks can be used entirely for their source material.
I know personally, I like a rich setting to go with my rules. Savage Worlds attracted me because I played and ran the original Deadlands settings under their old rules, and it was the newest rule set they were being ran under. After coming to Savage Worlds with Deadlands: Reloaded in 2006, I also discovered a wealth of wonderful Savage Settings that had been created too.
Do you think rule mechanics need to reflect the game world? For example, should a grim and gritty world have mechanics that encourage grim and gritty resolutions to scenes? Or is the atmosphere of the game world entirely determined by how the GM and group play?
You can play any system with any setting in the end and get what you want. You can run Dungeons and Dragons with Tiddlywinks if you really care to.
All that being said, I prefer a rule set that reinforces the atmosphere of the setting, or at the very least, doesn’t get in the way of it! Obviously, with Savage Worlds lending itself best to Action, Action is what’s going to be one of the main thrusts of Interface Zero.
Politics, corruption, and good fodder for roleplay are all there, but Savage World’s system is about making your action set pieces really come to life, and then getting the hell out of the way of your roleplaying.
In contrast, I love Green Ronin’s “Game of Thrones” rules, because they’re built in away to make Social characters just as dangerous as combat characters.
Whitewolf/Onyx Path games (The one’s I cut my teeth on playing) have rules reflecting the differing morality systems Monsters in a modern world setting have, and how those systems can affect and proscribe the actions of those characters. Of course when I was a teenager playing those games, I didn’t care about all that and just wanted my Vampire/Werewolf/Mage to kick ass and take names, and their rules do a pretty good job of supporting that too!
So in the end, I do prefer games where the setting is informed by the system, and the system is informed by the setting. This is also why Savage Worlds became my “go to” system for any random campaign ideas I had. It’s very easy to modify and set dials for your own specific needs for your game.
Let’s talk about computer hacking as some gamers see it as a core part of cyberpunk. Is hacking just a skill check or is it a whole encounter in its own right?
Hacking in IZ 2.0 involves at least one character buying up the Hacking skill, and more importantly, having a piece of equipment known as a “Hyper Glove”. The Hyperglove is the Hacker’s primary tool in our setting. Since everyone has a computer in their head, (the Tendril Access Processor) that allows them to interact with Hyper Reality (Our word for Augmented Reality) and damn near everything in the setting has a Hyper Reality set of controls to it… the Hyper Glove allows for manipulation of those controls.
In game it means the Hacker is running right along side the other characters… A Security turret pops out of the wall? The Hacker makes a Hacking roll to bypass it’s Firewall rating.. if they succeed, they have options available to them based on the set “Mode” the Hyper Glove is running in. The Three modes are “Control”, “Edit”, “Destruction”. Control? They can turn the Turret off, or have it attack an enemy directly for a round… Edit? They can change it’s Friend/Foe designation and let it go! Destruction? They can cause an electrical feedback loop to potentially damage and destroy the Turret entirely!
These Three modes and this simple Hacking roll applies to everything in the setting. Take control of the cameras you run across, open the elevator doors for your team, turn the traps in a place against your enemies!
It’s a very intuitive system. That’s just scratching the surface though, we have rules in place for those who really want to get deep into the Hacking system… if you DO want to assault a place virtually before your team gets there, we have a quick system based off the SWD’s “Dramatic Task” rules to handle it. The majority of the time, the Hacker should be right along side the party, and taking actions in real time with them.
What about the economy and money? Cyberpunk requires a punk culture, gangs and conflict on the street. A setting like that has economic issues and imbalances. Is that something you’d seek to underline in the rule system? Or are RPG economies better kept as an abstract?
In games and systems such as a Superhero setting, or something like the World of Darkness… Money is better handled abstractly.
You don’t really need to know how much cash Bruce Wayne has.. you know he can probably afford pretty much anything he wants, but at the end of the day, he’s spending all of that money just so he can compete with the likes of the Flash, Superman, and the Green Lantern. His money is effectively just an excuse for his gadgets which serve as additional superpowers for him beyond his big brain.
You also don’t need to know just how much money the Vampiric Prince of the city has either. You know she owns pretty much all of the money available in the city, and she can buy your Haven and have it bulldozed several times over if she cares too.
Playing Accountant in those games would get away from what the real focus is, Superheroic Adventure stories and Horrific Vampire stories.
In a cyberpunk setting, you want to drive home the vast inequalities you’re speaking of. That’s where the money part comes in. You want your players counting their credits, totaling up their expenses and hoping they have enough to rub together to get the things they need to survive.
Players should know how much they have left to afford a coffin motel, how much that meal is going to cost them, and if it is a good meal or just some nutra-past which will do the job but not taste very good. They need to know how much their wireless reflexes are going to cost and what the medical bill is after getting shot up. You drive home how important money really is.
Economy was a big problem in the 1st edition IZ book. The majority of Savage Settings have character’s starting with relatively low amounts of Cash. This was followed in the 1st edition with a few edges created to attempt and give character’s more. In the end though, cyberware was so prohibitively expensive and basic vehicles were too, many GM’s had to finagle things in order to get a “basic” set of Cyberpunk style protagonists out the gate.
You want your Drone guy to be able to have a vehicle and a drone or two… You want your Hacker to be able to afford her Hyper Glove and hacking based enhancements… You want your Samurai to have enough Enhancements to take on the street toughs and come out on top!
In the 2nd edition we’re playing with the economy to try and find that right amount of starting credits to give players options, but also keep them hungry. You don’t want to give your players so much money, their no longer “hungry” to keep going out and risking their lives for more.
With all these challenges to cope with why do you think cyberpunk remains so popular as a setting?
Cyberpunk is an endearing setting because it’s the closest version of Science fiction we’ll be able to see in our lifetimes.
Hell, we live in a cyberpunk world right now! We’re all connected to one another through a communications grid even more pervasive than the grandfathers of cyberpunk even thought it would be. Political groups like Occupy Wall Street decry the actions of Corporations more powerful than many nations. The U.S. Government makes use of Drones which are remotely piloted and bring up ethics questions that have never been asked before. We’re moving toward real replacement implants for things such as eye’s which directly interface with our brains!
Cyberpunk is about all of that. It’s our world taken to the next level… We have so much technology, more ways to do things, to hurt each other and even improve ourselves than ever before. Yet, we’re still suffering the same problems we always have. We didn’t solve world hunger, or world war or massive exploitation with our technology, we just made the board more complicated. Yet at the same time, Cyberpunk is about fighting back against that inevitability! It’s about screaming “Hell No!” and doing something about it.
I think alot of people lose sight about that sometimes, cyberpunk is not just dystopia where you can’t win, the protagonists of cyberpunk stories fight against those injustices and inequalities, even if they start from somewhere selfish, they end up in a place where they have a real chance to make a difference.
In my day job I’m working on my Master’s thesis in Sociology, and it is for these reasons Cyberpunk really speaks to me as a genre. I think it speaks to a lot of people for those reasons as well, it’s grounded in reality yet offers us something fantastic as well. Plus there’s something to be said about the pure fun of playing a genetically enhanced, cyber augmented person running around with a big gun and causing mayhem if that’s your cup of tea too. Sometimes you don’t want to do the high morality play and just want to have some “Pink Mohawk” style fun (Shadowrun veterans will get that reference).
Are there any movies, music, books or even computer games you consider influences on the project or any you’d recommend to gamers for atmosphere and setting?
I could be here all day listing influences and things most people are already aware of. William Gibson, Philip K. Dick, Neal Stephenson.. The Appleseed the Animes, Akira the Anime, Ghost in the Shell, the Deus Ex Games.. I think we’re all VERY aware of those, and if anybody wasn’t, they should be now! So instead I’m going to list some more “off-beat” influences..
The Movie “Drive”: The Driver is a perfect Cyberpunk protagonists.. He has a legitimate job during the day, but uses his skills at night to work as a get-away driver for criminals. He gets caught up in over his head against a criminal organization while trying to help out the Single mother who lives next to him. He goes forward despite the odds against him, because he knows the difference between right and wrong.
Stephen King’s “Cell” Novel and the Videogame “Hotline: Miami”: The TAP which exists in the heads of 95% of the population in IZ is capable of being hacked, your brain can be hacked. While this can be used to do mundane things like steal your identity and credit account numbers, it can also be done to alter your memories. You could be turned into a Killer, your memories altered, subconscious goals put into your head. There are also infectious computer viruses which can cause you to lose your sanity temporarily and attack everyone around you.
John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, “Aliens”, “Splice” and “Pandorum” Movies: Biohorrors are another aspect of our setting. Biotechnology has really taken off. Biotech was used to replace much of the damaged eco-system, it’s used to create Simulacrum slaves, it’s been used to make Human-Animal “Hybrid” soldiers.. it’s used to create monsters used by governments to attack one another… Bio-tech has resulted in things which should not be, and can really add a Horror dimension to your games, should you wish it to go there.
Music wise I recommend “Immortal Technique” a self published rapper who’s subject matter covers class warfare, racism, poverty, and inequality. Very cyberpunk in it’s ethos. I also recommend David Grellier’s “College” label as well for some great tunes.
Looks like the Kickstarter for Interface Zero 2.0 will keep you busy for a while but after IZ 2.0 what can we expect to see from you?
Well, the sourcebooks for the Interface Zero line I’ll be working on will keep me busy for awhile.
We have some great Freelancers working on some wonderful products which we’ll be releasing for our stretch goals. The Malmart catalog for equipment, the Solar System sourcebook for all of our colonies, Japan for those who want to rock their Animepunk vibe. Down the road we’d also like to do a “Spell and Chrome” style book offering tools for those who want to mix the supernatural into their cyberpunk.. an optional book.
After that though, The President of the company Dave J has expressed an interest in me creating my own setting down the road. I have a few idea’s I’m batting around. I’m playing around with the idea of an 80’s setting where all the great 80’s movies exist together in a pastiche of sorts. Imagine Chris Knight from “Real Genius” teaming up with Peter Venkman from “Ghost Busters”, Wang from “Big Trouble in Little China”, and Nancy from “Nightmare on Elm Street”… All to stop The Terminator from killing Baby John Conner.
On the other hand, I’m also playing with the idea of a Horror setting more inspired by the works of Stephen King, a real world attached to a “Wastelands” style spiritual “other” where monsters and magic intrude from. With a scalable horror setting allowing players to go from playing “Salem’s lot” style local horror games, to Spirit world travelling professional Hunters who take on the incarnated aspects which create and represent these intruding creatures in the 1st place.
That’s all down the road though! Interface Zero is likely to keep me busy for awhile!
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.