Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wild Wild Days Pt 3: WildStorms!

It was late November 1994. Thanksgiving, for a handful of us displaced East Coasters (me, Bill, inker Tom McWeeny and his girlfriend Nancy), was held at Disneyland-- which is a nice enough place if you're not too homesick.

Not too long after that, Jim had me come to his office. He called me at home around 11:45, asked what I was doing (sleeping) and said "C'mon in, I want to talk card games." Jim was apparently a night owl. So I dragged my half-asleep butt to the office and talked with Jim about card game design. I knew a good bit about MAGIC: THE GATHERING, then the predominant game (of any kind) on the market, and thought there were a lot of ways we could adapt one-on-one card gaming using WildStorm's characters.

Jim and I talked for a couple of hours, kicking around ideas for the "battlefield" and how the character cards would be set up. I still have the folder full of notes from that night, including a Grifter head Jim sketched on one page. The game was to be called WildStorms: The Expandable Superhero Collectible Card Game. We had a good foundation for a game by the end of that session and I was feeling pretty good.

It didn't last. The circumstances of my working on the card game were not what I'd hoped they'd be.

My enthusiasm went into the toilet and I didn't devote much time, energy or imagination to the card game, even though Jim was looking for progress. He wanted it on the shelves by summer and I spent my time on my editorial tasks (which honestly do consume a healthy work day). So Jim and John Nee called around and found a guy who'd done game design before, who was willing to take on WildStorms as a project.

Matt Forbeck. He's now a novelist and game design guy with a great wife and five (?) kids. Check out his website!

Matt's coming on board stirred me to action. I convinced myself that doing WildStorms could be a good career move for me-- why not? Do the game, get a design credit, maybe go on to more freelance projects. So Matt and I got to work. We kicked around ideas nonstop for a couple of weeks, generating a rough version of the game, which friends of mine in New Jersey playtested (as did a bunch of folks in the studio). We found some flaws but otherwise had a great engine for the game.

WildstormsBy summertime, we were ready to go on the road. A bunch of us headed out to GenCon in Milwaukee (that'd be me, Dave [John's assistant, see Pt 1], Jeff Mariotte [who is also now a novelist], Mike S. Miller and his girlfriend Jill) and showed the game. My job was running demos, which was a pretty nice gig. I met someone who became a close friend for several years (Hi, Kathy!) and enjoyed myself tremendously.

I did three conventions in four weeks, exhausted myself, and got home in time for my 30th birthday... only to find myself locked out of my apartment. I tried to get in through the balcony door-- no luck-- and then woke the superintendant to use her passkey. Got in just at the stroke of midnight on my birthday.

It was my first one away from home. (I know this doesn't bear on the game, but so what, right?) I was kind of bummed, so Mike and Jill took me out to the movies (we saw Clueless); they were great friends to hang out when I needed them. I hope they'll read this one of these days and know how much I appreciate what they did.

WildStorms was a great game. It sold well, on the strength of WildStorm's position in the market, and we got to work developing expansion sets. We even drafted stuff involving Marvel characters (not knowing that Heroes Reborn was just around the corner), which became chase cards in one set. And there was an Image expansion, where we got to play with characters from Spawn, Savage Dragon, CyberForce, ShadowHawk and more.

One odd thing happened while we were on our game tour: we came home and I had a new boss. Jonathan Peterson had been brought on board by Bill as his deputy EIC; now JP was running the show. He was a great guy, full of ideas and enthusiasm, and my office mate Tom and I were his unofficial proteges. I thought things were going to go straight up from here.

How little I knew.

Stay tuned for Part 4, wherein I discuss (diplomatically, I hope) changing circumstances in the editorial office and my eventual firing (albeit with two months' severance and a pass to San Diego Comic Con).

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