All in the Cards

All in the Cards
Steve Jackson: The Escapist Interview

Russ Pitts | 3 Oct 2006 08:01
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Even if you've never heard of Steve Jackson, you've probably felt his influence.

Steve Jackson started his career at Metagaming Concepts, where he developed Ogre and pioneered the "microgame," creating wholly self-contained games often distributed in single plastic baggies. Jackson parted ways with Metagaming in 1980 to found his own company, appropriately named Steve Jackson Games, where he has since produced over 250 games, including Car Wars, Illuminati, Ninja Burger, GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System) and Munchkin, and is currently at work on his first MMOG, UltraCorps. But Steve Jackson's reach extends beyond his own vast empire of card and tabletop games, influencing or directly mentoring many of today's brightest developers, including Warren Spector, who started his career at SJG and went on to create some of the most intelligent and innovative videogames ever made.

As with most creative visionaries, one's first impression of Steve Jackson is not necessarily that he's a supergenius. Although he is a hyper-intelligent game designer, the first thing one notices about Steve Jackson is that he's an enthusiastic gamer. As we spoke on the phone, his intelligence was apparent, but his passion for games (both his and other people's) came through even more clearly. And after speaking with him in person at AGC, that impression was solidified.

The man also pronounces punctuation. Questions he's asking are clearly interrogative, it's deadly apparent when he's finished speaking and when he's making an emphatic point, there's no mistaking the exclamation point. I've tried, where possible, to translate that into text using bold-faced type, but having a conversation with the legendary Steve Jackson is one of those things you just have to experience to believe.


The Escapist: You've been making games for quite a while, and all of your games seem to have that "Steve Jackson flair," but that's really hard to define. What is it about your games that make them "Steve Jackson" games.

Steve Jackson: I wish I knew; it's just what I do. A lot of them have a humorous element, but not all of them do. Certainly Ogre didn't. What can I say? I just do them.

TE: Do you see any future in tabletop gaming today?

SJ: As long as we've got tabletops there will be people who will want to sit down and have chips and soda and play with their friends. That's not going to go away.

TE: Is there one that you've done that's you're favorite?

SJ: When people ask me that I like to ask them if they have children. You know? Which is your favorite?

TE: I don't, and I can't help myself. I just instinctively ask that question even though I know that's going to be your answer, because you just have to. I think everyone has a favorite Steve Jackson game, and it may not necessarily be tied to the game per se. Maybe it's tied to the company you kept or the table you were playing it on. And I think that ties back to what you were saying a minute ago. That's what really keeps us playing isn't it?

SJ: Yes. The enjoyment you get out of a game is largely about who you're playing it with. Yes. That's going to reflect on your memories. I have different favorites from month to month and sometimes they're my own games and sometimes they're not. Right now I'm playing a lot of Puzzle Pirates.

TE: What else are you playing?

SJ: I'm doing a lot of test playing in UltraCorps, which is the online game that we're working on. Other than that it's just a scattershot. ... We're evaluating a lot of games for 2007 release, right, so right now I'm playing a lot of different games.

TE: Anything you can talk about?

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