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.