GrogHeads Interviews Mark Walker of Flying Pig Games
Interview by Brant Guillory, 21 January 2014
Mark Walker has launched his latest venture, Flying Pig Games. He graciously took a few hours out of his recent weekend to give us the lowdown on the new company and some of its upcoming games, as well as some lessons learned.
Of all the names you could’ve concocted, why “Flying Pig” games?
MHW: Well, Lock ‘n Load was taken. 😉 Seriously, there are a couple of reasons. I didn’t want a name that screamed “WAR GAME.” Especially not “SERIOUS WAR GAME COMPANY!” Don’t get me wrong, I love war games, I’m pretty sure they are my favorite genre, but there is so much else that I enjoy, and that other people enjoy. I want FPG to have the latitude to publish a diversity of games. To not be limited by our name. Given that thought, I tried to think up names. It came down to Howling Moon Games (a knock off of a famous Sam Bush song) and FPG. I already had the shoulder tat, so FPG it was. Oh yeah, and a flying pig is sort of the age old symbol meaning anything’s possible. And the motto? “Ipsum Sine Timore, Consector!” Loosely translated, it means “Screw it, just do it!”
Who else are you bringing along on this aerial-porcine adventure with you? What other designers are you bringing on to the Flying Pig ship that we should know about? Are they just freelancing for you, or are they committed to Flying Pig long term?
MHW: Some I can name, some I can’t. I can tell you that will have signed Shayne Logan, Tom Russel, and Brian Train. Armageddon is a co-design with a soon-to-be-announced designer and myself. We are in negotiations with another company to do a co-release that will incorporate the universe of Armageddon War and their game system. The goal is to release six boxed games and four issues of Yaah! in year one. But as many gamers have seen, it’s easy to put out snappy press releases and spiffy show and tells. Getting boxes into gamers’ hands is much more difficult.
So Night of Man is already out there, having had a successful Kickstarter. We’re already seen pictures of the Old School Tactical Maelstrom coming, and there are rumors and glimpses of Armageddon War. What are the rough timelines / plans that you’re able to share with each of these?
MHW: That is actually pretty easy. I’m confident that we will meet the Night of Man Kickstarter projection, shipping the game in June/July. That is a hell of a big project, but we (graphic designers, illustrators, testers, and editors that I’ve assembled) have a good amount of experience, and I’ve learned from past mistakes.
Old School Tactical: Fighting on the Russian Front 1941-42 is the game’s name. It simulates squad-level combat on the East Front in WW2. We had to drop the Maelstrom name. Evidently it was an old Fantasy Flight game, and their lawyers contacted us. No biggie. They were very nice about it. Anyway, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve never seen such a complete, ready-for-prime-time submission in my life. Greg Porter and I tested the game, suggested some tweaks to Shayne, and I’d stand the game on a game store’s shelf right now. We will go to Kickstarter very soon, and plan to send this to the printer with Night of Man.
Armageddon War will go live this week. Not for pre-order, but with it’s own webpage, graphics, description, and whatnot. It’s a platoon-level game, simulating a war in 2020, that features some interesting mechanics. For example there are no turns, just continuous activations, The intensity of a unit’s close combat modifier is determined by its morale, when you fire on a unit, it has the option of taking cover, or returning fire. To hit numbers always remain the same, but the number of dice rolled, and the affect of hits vary. For example, a Merkava platoon has a gold firepower number over a red explosion. Hence, when it fires on a target with a defense factor over a gold shield (usually other tank platoons) every success inflicts one hit on the target. But if the same platoon fires on a unit with a defense factor over a red shield (usually infantry), it takes two successes to inflict a hit. I can’t give a completion date there. That doesn’t mean it’s a long way off, just that I can’t accurately predict when.
Tell us about the backstory of Night of Man and how the mythos has developed around that game? Is this going to be a one-off, or a series of board games, or are you going to expand into a wider media license, with RPGs, or other non-board-games?
MHW: Night of Man began life as a hundred page design document (The document from which computer games are birthed.) that I submitted to Shrapnel Games back when I was still heavily involved in the digital world. Tim Brooks loved it, but that’s as far as it went. I can design, but I can’t code.
I believe the mythos is unique. Aliens invade Earth, but they are not some all-powerful beings whose shields repel 120mm depleted uranium slugs like Gortex does rain, but rather real beings, from a real planet, a depleted planet with limited resources. Their vehicles and soldiers have superior tech, but are not invincible. Nevertheless they deal some significant blows to Earth’s armies. Yet something, and unknown something, tied to the Alien’s arrival has changed humanity. Some unique individuals, have unmasked previously hidden powers, powers such as telekinesis, telepathy, and pyrokinesis, to name but a few. These humans are called Mentals. Led by these Mentals, the Earth militia stages a counterattack against the invading aliens. And then the Feroxi show up. A reptilian alien race race with a long-standing feud with Earth’s invaders. The Feroxi warriors are equipped with high-tec wrist guns, capable of firing 120 rounds per minute, and sonic blades able to slice through an Abram’s armor. Technology, however, is not their forte. They are masters of mental, emotional, and chronological energy. Their warriors can teleport, their Shaman’s turn back time, and their High Priest control another’s mind. They’re sort of fun.
Oh yeah, it’s a universe. I’ve already started a novella that set during the initial invasion. You bet we will expand the universe as far as it will go. Games without story are just, well… Monopoly.
Yaah! Magazine certainly sounds interesting – especially with a game in each issue. But looking around the wargaming landscape, there are no shortage of magazines with games on the market and not all of them have exhibited a ton of staying power (like Battles!). What’s going to make Yaah! stick out and stick around where other magazines are stumbling?
MHW: I can’t guarantee anything. I will say that when I was at the helm of LNLP we never stopped publishing Line of Fire, so that’s something in our favor. Here’s what I like about Yaah! It is NOT a company magazine. That stuff is yesterday’s news. With the exception of C3I, no war game company is large enough to make a magazine based solely on their games stick. Sure, I get it, doing that promotes your products. But the question you have to ask yourself is, “Do I want to promote my products to 513 customers, or make a magazine that sells to 5,013?” I’d prefer the latter.
But it’s not just a commercial thing. I love games, everyone’s games, not just mine. I want to share that love with other folks. I wouldn’t even call Yaah! a war game magazine. It’s not. The cover story in the first issue is Rivet Wars, more of a strategy game than a war game. Of course we also cover some hard core war games, such as Command and Colors: Napoleonics, and the issues’ two games, Stamford Bridge and Hastings, are straight up war games.
Neither are we a review magazine. If you see a game on the cover, we love it. Period. Oh yeah, we’ll describe it, analyze the components, explain how to play, but we aren’t wasting ink on negativity. There’s plenty of that online.
A couple of more things. Thing one. The magazine is beautiful. We didn’t “click to convert” a Word doc, or slip in a couple of tiny pictures on a gray-text page. Yaah! magazine looks just like something you’d buy off the shelf in an airport. Thing two (and three), we aren’t delving into war gaming history. You aren’t going to see an article on some obscure title from 1974 in Yaah!. We talk about the new and the now. And three… very little history. Game magazines that dedicate 87 pages to poorly-written, dry as dust pieces on a battle’s history bore me to tears. Yeah, we’ll describe the battle, if the game is about a battle, but keep it short and sweet.
Clearly there’s some history with Mark Walker and the sale of Lock’n’Load. Without asking you to air any laundry, what’s the biggest lesson you learned in running a game company from your previous venture that you’re carrying with you into this new venture?
MHW: My Termination agreement allows me to say this. “That my sole involvement with the Buyer Parties since the closing of the sale of the Business to the Buyer Parties on March 25, 2013, has been as a designer and developer of games, and that I have had no role in making or carrying out management, operational or financial decisions, policies or practices of the Buyer Parties.”
That, and I wish LNLP well. I hope that their future is bright, and that all the customers who have placed their trust and money in the company receive their products.
Where are fans going to be able see Flying Pig this year at conventions and check out some of your games in their playtesting / prototype form? (hint: we hear there’s a pretty cool one in Columbus that GrogHeads are going to be involved in!)
MHW: That’s a tough one, Brant. The tentative answer would be, “Maybe Gencon, Maybe WBC.”
Some quick questions about your personal gaming –
On a Friday night with nothing else to do, I’m going to my game shelf and I’m grabbing…?
More than likely, for a solitaire game, I’m headed to my computer to play either Matrix’s Warhammer 40K: Armageddon or Killhouse’s Door Kickers. If I pull a board game (keep in mind we are discussing solitaire) it would be Butterfield’s D-Day at Omaha Beach. Although Tarawa would be awesome if I ever get a copy. If we are talking two-player that has been fun solitaire, I’d say I’ve enjoyed playing Band of Brothers infantry-only scenarios and Men of Iron solitaire over the last year.
When the girls are home from school, and they actually ask me to play something, I’m grabbing…?
MHW: Defenders of the Realm. Hands down. That’s easy. They love it. I love it. If we don’t have a lot of time, or there are only 3-4 us, will play Kings of Tokyo. Love me some Kaiju.
A handful of us are hanging out as the exhibit hall is closing at a convention, and looking at each other asking “what do you want to play?” Mark suggests…?
MHW: Neuroshima Hex for multiplayer. ARS Victor or Warhammer 40K Conquest for two-player.
OK, so we’ve covered the upcoming games, Yaah! Magazine, and the lessons of game companies past. What should we have asked you if we knew what to ask you?
If you asked me “What advice do you have for an aspiring game designer or entrepreneur?” I’d say…
Push, push, push. Don’t over plan, just do. There’s nothing magic about game design, nothing right, nothing wrong. Just start designing. And if owning a game company is your dream just do it. Don’t worry about making mistakes, make them, but keep moving forward. And if you are given the chance, just get out there and dance your ass off.
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