A lot has changed since the last time we spoke. Matt Forbeck has worked closely with Robert Schwalb to finish the first draft of the S&S RPG manuscript. With around 180,000 words and a little over 300 pages long it seems it’ll be one of the biggest game books of the year.
Let’s find out what they’ve exactly been up to while working for the upcoming Roleplaying Game based on Forbeck’s IP Shotguns & Sorcery.
Matt, could you explain to us how it is to transform a universe you made famous in novel format into an RPG?
It’s fantastic fun. The world of Shotguns & Sorcery actually started out as an RPG setting in my head, although the world first got to see it in fiction, so it’s a real thrill to watch it develop into a full-blown RPG.
Was it an organic process?
As organic as anything can be that comes from people typing at each other. For me, it felt very natural. I started out as an RPG developer over two decades ago, so working on another RPG again felt like coming home.
What exactly was your job on this specific part of this big venture?
I wrote the background for the book and supplied all of the details about the world. My pal Rob Schwalb did all the heavy lifting with the rules, while Outland’s CEO Jeremy Mohler is creating all the art.
What was the biggest challenge or even obstacle you found?
It’s been a while since I wrote the Shotguns & Sorcery stories, so I actually had to back through and read them, taking notes as I went. This gave me all sorts of ideas for new material for the setting, but it’s kind of odd to study something you once wrote.
Did you have to compromise a lot? Did you feel like the S&S characters and universe had to change a lot to fit the RPG model?
Not much at all. As I mentioned, I originally developed Shotguns & Sorcery as an RPG setting, so bringing it back to its roots left it fairly well intact.
Did the results so far assume the form you wanted?
So far, I’ve been thrilled with every part of it. I can’t wait to see the finished book. There’s nothing quite like holding a book like that in your hands.
What is it that you’re most looking forward to show the audience as soon as the RPG is available?
Jeremy’s artwork. It’s really going to breathe new dimensions of life into the world and draw players right into it.
Can you give us any scoop on a favorite character, magic, cypher…?
I really like what Rob did with the cyphers overall. That’s something new to Shotguns & Sorcery, and he made it fit well.
Any future plans regarding this I.P.?
After re-reading all the books, I have ideas for lots more Shotguns & Sorcery stories. I don’t know when I’m going to get to writing them, but hopefully soon.
Thank you, Matt! We can’t wait to delve even further into the Shotguns & Sorcery‘s Universe!
Stay tuned for Robert Schwalb’s interview comming to you on April 27th!
And how about “Matt Forbeck & the Games Universe”? From collectible card games to RPGs, passing through miniatures and board games Matt Forbeck has done it all.
Your love for games started when you were very young, as you’ve shared with us. Could tell us what gave you the definite push towards working on the gaming industry?
I grew up in southern Wisconsin, which meant that I got to meet a lot of the people behind Dungeons & Dragons and other games at an early age. I first met Gary Gygax at a convention in back in 1982, and I went to my first Gen Con —which was at UW-Parkside in those days—later that year. That helped me fall in with the right crowd of people: folks that love games and want to make a living by creating them for other people.
You started working at the Games Workshop, in England, and then continued non-stop, from co-founding your own company – Pinnacle Entertainment Group – to working for Ubisoft last year.
In this journey through the gaming world what obstacles did you face?
In the beginning, I didn’t make much money at it, but I kept going at it anyhow. My girlfriend at the time paid my rent for my birthday and Christmas in my first year of freelancing. But each year it got better and better, and eventually it turned into a career. I kept waiting for it to all wash away, but it never did.
What led you to co-found Pinnacle Entertainment Group?
My pal Shane Hensley flew me and Greg Gorden down to his place in Blackburg, Virginia, to show us Deadlands. He wanted us both on board, whole hog. Greg wasn’t able to join up, but I said that if I went in, I wanted to own part of the company too.
I loved the game from the start, and I had a lot of faith in Shane and the rest of the crew he had built up around him. I had a bit more experience with things like layout and production and sales, and that came in handy too. We made for a fine team from the start.
There’s a big discussion about the lack of women on this particular industry. Do you agree?
I think it’s a problem in many industries, and gaming—whether you’re talking tabletop or video games—is no exception. Part of it stems from the fact that the games industries we know today stem from the war games hobby of the ‘50s and ‘60s, which was dominated almost exclusively by men.
Have you felt any shift in the numbers of female colleagues during the years?
Oh, yes, and I’ve been thrilled to see it happen. We have lots of wonderful women working in games today, in just about every aspect of the industry. When I started out, women were rare at any convention, for instance, but their numbers have grown steadily over the years. We’re still nowhere near parity yet, but I’m pleased to see that when I bring my daughter to shows she feels like she fits right in.
From all the different areas in gaming you have worked so far, can you pick a favorite?
That’s hard to say. They’re all lots of fun, each in their own way. I keep returning to RPGs for some reason, so that probably says something. If there was more money in it, I might never have pursued things like collectible games or toys or fiction. I must love it.
What is harder: creating a game world from scratch or contributing to someone else’s work?
It’s much harder to create a world of any kind from scratch. There’s a whole nother layer of work involved, and when I say “layer” I don’t mean “like a cake,” but “like the earth’s crust.”
That said, it’s tremendous fun, especially if you enjoy a fulfilling challenge. I’ve worked on lots of other peoples’ games too, and I’ve loved doing it, but there’s something amazing about stepping up to that blank sheet yourself and putting your own unique mark on it, as daunting as it may seem.
If you were talking to someone who knew nothing about these creative fields, what would you say were the major differences between writing a screenplay and a computer game script?
Physically, they can resemble each other, but structurally they’re nothing alike. For one, a film usually only runs about two hours, whereas games can literally give you hundreds of hours of play. Games often also feature branching storylines—or at least ones engineered to seem to branch and go off in different directions.
For some reason, I often wind up writing game scripts in Excel rather than Word, too, and as any writer can tell you, that’s just not a natural act.
How was it like to take up the role of director with voiceover actors?
I loved it. It’s one thing to write a script and hear the words in your head, and it’s something else entirely to work with an actor to get them in the same mental space to produce work that sounds reasonably close to what you had in mind.
The best part, of course, is how fantastic actors can surprise you. They bring their own interpretations to every line, and seeing how they differ from what you had in mind can be inspiring far more often than frustrating.
Did it make think of maybe moving into directing more audiovisual content?
I’d be happy to. I just don’t have much time to pursue it among all the other work I’m doing. All that said, when the right project comes along, I’ll jump at it.
You’ve won several awards, not just for your work on games, but also for your writing. It might be cliché, but what was the one award you are more happy to have sitting on your shelf?
Honestly, I don’t do it for the awards, and I never have. I don’t do it for any sense of acclaim or fame. I create games, fiction, toys, films, and so on to entertain people.
Now, I don’t mind getting awards for my work—not at all! I’m happy to have them, and the statues that come with them have a proud place on my mantle. If you’re working for recognition, though, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. For me, the work itself is enough. Being able to enjoy that every day means far more to me than collecting a trophy every year or so.
As we’ve talked about before, your Shotguns & Sorcery book series is going to be turned into an RPG by us here at Outland Entertainment.
You first developed S&S as a roleplaying game. How close to that very first version (nearly 14 years ago) do you want the game to be?
I don’t care one bit. That game never got beyond the notes stage, and it represents something I would have written in 2002. It’s a dozen years later, and the world has changed. Tabletop games have changed. Hell, I’ve changed.
This game needs to be a game of its own moment created by this new crew I’m lucky to be working with, not a resuscitated corpse of an idea I had over a decade ago. I actually can’t wait to see what we come up with when we finally get to hold that finished book in our hands.
Now that you have written the short stories and novels, how much has changed on your approach to this I.P.?
I wouldn’t say I’m done with Shotguns & Sorcery, but I’ve told the stories there I wanted to tell most. I have several others in mind, but working on the RPG gives me an excellent chance to step back and firm up the worldbuilding a bit. It’s an opportunity to shine a light into a few corners I might otherwise ignore, and see what turns up there.
I often say that writing is an act of discovery. I may have a solid sense of the story I’m going to tell when I sit down at my keyboard and start to type, but I don’t actually know what it’s going to be until I get those words down. It turns out that the idea and the actuality rarely match up well, but that’s at least half the fun.
Has your connection with the characters changed?
Sure. At first, I only had an inkling of who they were. By now, they’re old friends with whom I’ve had an intense experience, and honestly, I miss them. I’m looking forward to checking back in with them and seeing how Dragon City’s been treating them.
You will be writing the game’s background material. Is there something in specific that you want to add to the setting that wasn’t present in the books?
I have a slew of ideas for the history of Dragon City that doesn’t come out in the books. I regularly wind up on worldbuilding panels at various conventions, and I tell people that it’s doesn’t matter how cool your word is or how much work you put into creating it. If what you’re going on about isn’t pertinent to the story, then you’re just showing off and wasting your readers’ time.
I try to stick to that with my own work, of course, only revealing as much as a story requires. An RPG demands a whole different level of detail, though, and I’m looking forward to building out the parts of the setting that have remained off-camera so far.
What type of stories do you expect gamers will play out with The Shotguns & Sorcery RPG?
I lean toward noirish detective stories myself, but it’s really up to them. I don’t tell people how to have fun. I just point them in a good direction and give them all the tools they need to succeed. It’s up to them from there.
What story would you play out if you could play the game right now?
I’d explore what happens in the wake of End Times in Dragon City, the last of the stories I’ve written for the setting. I leave it wide open from that point on, after a near-apocalypse event, and I’m curious to see what emerges from the city’s rubble.
In the game department, what can we expect to see from you in the near future?
Besides the Shotguns & Sorcery RPG? I actually have a few different things in the works. The one I can talk about is the Titan line from Calliope Games. Ray Wehrs over there asked some of the best tabletop game designers around to create new gateway games from scratch. Besides myself, there’s Rob Daviau, Michael Elliott, James Ernest, Richard Garfield, Seth Johnson, Eric Lang, Mike Mulvihill, Paul Peterson, Mike Selinker, Jordan Weisman, and Zach Weisman.
I’m flattered all to hell just to be on that list. Those folks have made some of my favorite games over the years, and I’ve spend countless hours playing their designs. Calliope is planning a Kickstarter for the series sometime in early 2015, and I’m looking forward to digging into it soon after that.
Thanks, Matt, for taking us on this brief journey to get to know more about you.
Last time we got to know a little bit about who Matt is. Today, were looking to get a further insight into “Matt the writer”.
What was the first thing you ever wrote? Was it a school assignment or something you did on your free time?
Do you mean as a story? It was probably “Food Wars”, a Star Wars parody I wrote in 4th grade. I won a prize for it, and it was, I think, the first time I realized that there might be something to this writing well thing.
You told us you always wanted to be a writer. But when the moment came, did you need someone else uttering “You are a writer.” or did you know it already?
I don’t think that being a writer is a matter of knowing it so much as wanting to do it. I never needed anyone to tell me to write or create or whatever. It’s wonderful to have validation for it after the fact, but the fun of it comes in the work itself.
In 1989, you edited and wrote selections of White Dwarf Magazine (issues #119-123), with emphasis on the two Space Hulk articles. Until then you hadn’t had anything published.
Seeing your words printed for the public to read was an incentive to write more outside the game world?
Actually, the first thing I had in print was a short piece in Polyhedron #9, the newsletter for TSR’s Roleplaying Gamers Association (RPGA). I’d submitted this gadget for a contest for their Top Secret spies roleplaying game, and it came in as first runner-up.
This came out way back in 1982, when I was fourteen years old. I didn’t get paid a dime for it, but it thrilled me to my core. It’s probably the reason I took up writing for RPGs long before I turned my hand to fiction.
In most places the short story “Crocodilopolis”, which was part of the “Strange Tales From the Nile Empire”anthology, from West End Books in 1992, appears as your first published fiction piece.
Would you change anything about it?
Probably, but I wouldn’t. I’m a different person now than when I wrote that story, and I had a wonderful time working on it. Legendary game designer Greg Gorden was my editor on that, and he taught me a lot about the differences between great fiction and great games as I wrote it. I still treasure that lesson to this day.
You now have a more than 25 books available online and these are just the ones on your website, not even counting your participations in anthologies.
Between the fiction and nonfiction do the numbers speak for themselves or would you like to venture more into the nonfiction genre?
I’m probably a bad self-promoter in this way, but I haven’t gotten around to listing all of my books on my site. I’m usually more concerned with doing the work than telling people about it. At the moment, I have 27 novels published, several nonfiction books, and countless games and gaming books.
I enjoy writing nonfiction, as it scratches a different creative itch for me. I had a ball revising The Marvel Encyclopedia for 2014, for instance, and I’m proud of how well it’s selling. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, it hit #5 in all books on Amazon, and just this week, it became my first book to ever crack a Best Sellers list in the New York Times.
The majority of your work has been deemed YA. Do you believe in genres to describe books or do you think we could ditch those labels?
Actually, most of my work is for adults, although I try to write things that people of many ages can read. I’ve written five or six books for younger readers, but the vast majority of my fiction—especially my own original material—fits into the genre category and is mostly read by adults.
All that said, I think J. K. Rowling obliterated the meaning of the YA label, and bully for her. We shouldn’t be afraid to read good stories, no matter if they’re meant for people younger than us or not. As for other genre labels, they serve a purpose for marketing, but creators shouldn’t feel constrained by them. Great stories transcend such things.
There seems to be a dystopian quality to the stories you tell. Do you agree with that?
Maybe. I tend to favor stories with a dark streak through them, and that’s most obvious in books like my Brave New World dystopian superheroes series. Partly that’s because my tastes run that way, but I also find it easier to produce dramatic situations in darker worlds—or at least ones that I find most interesting.
Your work has been translated into 13 languages, which obviously means you have a global fan base. Does that influence your writing in any way?
Not really. I don’t have any control over the translations in the sense that I can’t read them once they’re published. I can’t tell the translator that they’re doing it wrong. I can only cheer them on and hope for the best.
Your body of work has inspired many to approach you to adapt your narratives into other mediums.
Your book series Brave New World: Revolution is being adapted into a TV series. What are most looking for in this project?
Actually, that’s been optioned for a film, but it’s in limbo at the moment while the producers pursue other projects and try to ramp up for the kind of budget a dark supers film needs. I’ve also sold film options for both Amortals and Vegas Knights, though, and I have high hopes for those. I’ve even read a first draft of the script for Amortals, and I’d love to see that book on the silver screen.
The Shotguns & Sorcery book series is going to be turned into an RPG by us, here at Outland Entertainment.
What can you tell new readers about this series?
It’s a fantasy noir series in the sense of what maybe Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy would write if they’d been inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien. It’s set in Dragon City, a metropolis ruled over by the Dragon Emperor, an autocrat who protects his people from the ravening hordes of zombies roaming outside the city’s walls—but at a price.
Is there a favorite character you really enjoyed writing?
Max Gibson is the hero of the story, and he’s my favorite by far, which is good because I spent a lot of time in his head. I love a lot of the others too: Yabair (the sneering elf captain of the Imperial Dragon’s Guard), Kai (the gun-toting orc pal with poor impulse control), Moira (the addicted halfling who can’t ever seem to keep out of trouble), and many more.
And how about a special scene or chapter?
I think the opening chapter of “Friends Like These” nails the feeling of the world like a stake through a vampire’s heart. It’s full of world-weary heroes, treachery among friends, and jackbooted thugs, and it’s just what I wanted.
It’s also the first fiction I ever wrote for Shotguns & Sorcery, so it has a special place in my heart.
Perhaps not coincidentally, all backers of the Shotguns & Sorcery RPG Kickstarter get this story for free.
The whole world is set in this fantasy noir environment. What led you to that creative choice?
I grew up reading both Chandler and Tolkien. I love epic fantasy and its amazing worlds, but the grittiness of noir always grabbed me harder. This was my chance to come up with my own cocktail from two of my favorite ingredients. I did my best to make sure it packs a punch.
Besides the series of projects already mentioned on your website, can you give us a small peek at the writing ones under the cryptic slot “all sorts of secret things in various stages of conception or completion”?…
I have lots of projects in the works at any given time, but I also sign many non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with the people and publishers I’m working with. Giving details about those projects before they’re ready to go would be cheating them of their chance to make the biggest splashes.
That said, I do have a science-fiction tie-in novel I’ve been working on that should be announced soon. Stay tuned.
Thank you! And we will talk to you soon to find out a little bit more about your work on the games industry!