The Letters Page: Extrasode 1
The first ever Extrasode!
Run Time: 2:14:54
These were intended to be for Patreon supporters only, but we polled them, and they voted overwhelmingly in favor of making them available to all Letters Page listeners! That said, we did record it live with interactions from our Contributors, and then shortly after recording it, we posted this video for Patreon backers, so they got it first! Now, the episode goes live for everyone!
This Extrasode is probably more serious than most will be, but it's still a lot of fun. We go deep into the history of how we met, how we starting making stuff together, and how that ended up being Sentinels of the Multiverse and Greater Than Games!
Christopher is at PAX East right now, and Adam is about to fly to the UK! If you're at PAX East, find Christopher and say hi! If you're in the UK, go find Adam - he's around there somewhere!
- Absolute Zero
- Sergeant Steel
- Captain Cosmic
- Iron Legacy
- Kaargra Warfang
- Argent Adept
- Wager Master
- Baron Blade
- Citizens Hammer and Anvil
- Night Snake
- The Dreamer
- Fright Train
- Grand Warlord Voss
- The story begins in the Kansas City area (towns mentioned as where they lived at various points: Overland Park, Shawnee, and Leawood, KS,). Adam was done with his gymnastics class, but he was waiting in the lobby for his brother's to finish and was reading the Star Wars novel (unsure of which, maybe The Truce at Bakura or Shadows of the Empire - these and the Thrawn trilogy were the ones he'd started with at the very least). Christopher had just arrived and was waiting for his class to start (it's worth pointing out that neither of them are gymnasts now). Christopher noticed that this other guy was reading a Star Wars book, thought that was cool, and invited him to his birthday party. Christopher turned 11 two days after Adam turned 10 (June 2 and May 31 respectively). This was 25 years ago. They quickly became friends and would meet up weekly at the library to print out whatever Star Wars related stuff they had found on the internet [for reference, the World Wide Web as a technology was only opened to the public less than 27 years ago].
- They also started getting into comic books - Adam recalls getting his first job (bagging groceries) at age 15 in 1999 and only having a few X-Men comics (the X-Men being their favorites) prior to that. He took his first paycheck and subscribed to some comics for home-delivery (not knowing about about pull lists at comic book shops at the time) - X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, and Gambit. Although admitting that there's some nostalgia involved, this is kind of a high-point of comics in their estimation.
- While Adam was buying comics, Christopher did more saving and borrowing the comics, which meant that he had enough to buy a friend's Sega Dreamcast off of him when offered. Adam paid Christopher back for his half by buying him comics over time (Cable and another set of the two X-Men titles). They'd trade the Dreamcast back and forth - Adam still has it (on display along with his NES, SNES, and Gamecube, but not currently hooked up).
- In their mid-teens they started making up their own comics (admittedly very bad ones). A notable one being an "Ultimate Carnage" story where several X-Men got symbiotes that were children of the Spider-man villain Carnage - specifically Wolverine, Gambit, and Archangel (Wolverine and Venom being Adam's favorite characters with Gambit and Archangel being Christopher's). While they were plotting this stuff and drawing covers and whatnot Marvel launched their Ultimate line of comics and then in the mid-'00s they had a symbiote-centric story that involved Wolverine getting the Venom symbiote where the art is pretty much what Adam was going for when he drew up the concept art for it back in the day [See New Avengers #35 from 2007, True Believers!] Cue a slight, joking paranoia that Marvel is listening in - they came out with a much different character named Bunker after the guys did and another character who looks a lot like Absolute Zero.
- They also around this time got into the Star Wars CCG, which was not really good at exemplifying what "Star Wars" was, and they played it very wrong anyway. This was partly them only skimming the rules and making assumptions that made it feel more like Star Wars to begin with. Notable in their description of the game is that it involves different locations and things like them inserting storytelling elements by having different Luke Skywalker cards coming into play as they moved him around and he develops as a character.
- They graduate high school and go their separate ways. Christopher to Valparaiso, IN for college and Adam stuck around KC for a while, going to junior college and going through a variety of art teachers (and hating all of them). The art teachers wanted him to do "Art" rather than illustration and so they didn't get along given the teachers' goals and Adam's goals simply never aligned.
- A few years later, Christopher moved back and started attending UMKC (where he met Jodie - GTG's "Shipping Princess" after whom Wagner Mars Base is named). They started playing games again and hanging out (but not as much as when they were younger as they've had a few years to establish their own lives at this point). Among these are the Mutants & Masterminds game that introduced characters like Red Star (the inspiration for Proletariat, although also being a speedster), Blue Shield ("Legacy personality/looks with Venom powers"), an NPC soldier who the kept escaping the heroes and returning with more gear and whatnot eventually named Sergeant Steel (a lowly minion who just happened to become a recurring thing). All the heroes died eventually (Jodie had an old man character named Pops, who was this feeble old guy whose power was that he could explode and, eventually, reform - one such explosion took out the team that included Red Star).
- This is also the era where they started getting into narrative-heavy and cooperative games like Arkham Horror. They were both working at FedEx and they'd talk about games and would go to IHOP after work. A point to make here is that as they both had younger brothers, they wound up tweaking a lot of games as kids to make them somewhat cooperative since playing competitively wouldn't be fair. They wound up making custom characters for AH, which is kind of funny [due to the eventual creation of Nightmist as a custom SotM character made by one of the designers of AH].
- Anyway, Christopher is running a 2 weekly RPGs (one a D&D 4th edition game involving Adam) and a third game monthly. Other players in Adam's game: the namesakes for Setback, the Rubendall of the Eaken-Rubendall Laboratory, and President Hargett. They found that while Christopher thought it would be nice to not always be the one running the games, it turned out that nobody else was good at organizing the actual game sessions to have anything actually happen. This was the spark for the idea of having a fully cooperative, GM-less game.
- They continue to enjoy comics and other new games, but started to have less time. They started playing World of Warcraft card game - again, played wrong-ish - as something that they could just break out at IHOP and play with little time investment. As they got to the point where they could assemble a team to beat any raid deck, they started inventing their own challenges.
- Adam makes a movie in KC with his friend Jason Eaken (the other half of E-R Labs) and then they move to Los Angeles to try to sell it, which goes about how you expect. Jason's still out there writing. [Hey, this means that Adam has an IMDB page too!]
- Christopher is still GMing and whatnot. He meets Paul in this period who were both into a Viking/Anglo-Saxon recreation thing. They found they were a good team in handling logistical things.
- Adam came back to the KS area in August 2010 to attend a wedding, but only for a weekend with an early-Monday flight out. They eventually plan to just meet up on Sunday night and do the IHOP-until-dawn thing they used to do and Christopher can drive him to the airport (the KC airport is at a really inconvenient place). They decide to work on this superhero card game that they'd had kicking around back in the day - the plan was to eventually shop it around to game companies to sell it and/or get their foot in the door to work there. As they worked on this from a mechanical front, they realized that to do it right they needed characters to populate it and they should rework it from the ground up.
- They put together a design document for what this game was going to be: 3-5 players, play in 30-60 minutes, fixed decks, 100% cooperative with automated villain and environment decks, villains have flip mechanics, heroes are never really out of play - so much stuff that made it into SotM was present from the beginning.
- It's now 1 or 2 in the morning and they have so much more to do, so Christopher pays the fee for Adam to change his flight (bumping it to Monday evening) so that they could keep working on this. In that night and day, they come up with the general arc of the game's story and a bunch of characters (starting 10 heroes, starting villains, starting environments - although this last group changed a bit as it was originally the Moon instead of Mars, and the "volcano" and "dinosaur island" concepts were separate initially). A note: Absolute Zero was originally something between a low-level Captain Cosmic (with ice constructs) and Ra and was generally really boring at first.
- By the end of this process the general structure of the game from turn structure (although Draw was at the beginning in early drafts), to HP scales, etc. was done and Adam had a notebook of art ideas to work on. Some further revisions happened over time (first edition had a mechanic where certain cards could increase max HP which is where some artifacts in the enhanced edition like the Staff of Ra healing him come from despite it not making a lot of thematic sense).
- Adam goes back to LA, but they continue working on this game that they're going to make for their own amusement. Skype chats after work so they can keep things going from half a continent away. Adam drawing things on paper as he didn't have a tablet at the time.
- As they get it knocked into shape, they print out a copy for each of them and play it with their respective groups of friends. One of Christopher's friends who plays it is Paul, who's very impressed and more into the gaming industry than C&A (he'd been going to Gen Con since the old days in Wisconsin before it moved to Indianapolis). His suggestion (after Christopher shot down the idea of selling it to a publisher - they'd become too attached to it in the process of making it) was to make a company, print up copies of the game, go to Gen Con and sell it there. People do this and so can you.
- That sounded like a lot of work, and outside of Christopher and Adam's skill sets. Paul knew as much about this stuff as they knew about game design, though, and so he's now on the team. By the end of 2010 they have the plan to go forward.
- On January 27th 2011, they incorporate Greater Than Games, LLC.
The Adventure Begins
- Adam completes around 300 pieces of art for the game in the first three months of 2011 - way too many for that time frame and he's learning as he goes. He can't go nearly that fast anymore due to his increased attention to detail.
- Paul and Christopher go about raising capital, eventually selling 10% of the company to investors for $50k (Kickstarter was barely a thing at this point and so wasn't considered). Even this short time ago, it was possible to call up Gen Con in April to get a booth for that August. They also got booths for that year's PAX Prime (secured at the last minute while they were at Gen Con - PAX was the following week). They printed up the game using a US-based printer and headed to Indy.
- The printer was a big company that had major clients and so GTG was this little fish that didn't really get their attention. They wouldn't do the oversized cards for the villains that they wanted from the beginning and the card and box quality was low. Here's the picture that Christopher mentions about the hot, hot day in July 2011 when they took delivery. At this time, Paul was still working and Adam is still in LA. Christopher stops going to school (he'd gone back to get his teaching accreditation, but this whole game company thing was taking up too much time - he was the only full-time GTG member, but none of them were taking any pay from it as yet). The games were delivered on 9 pallets and just left in the middle of this parking lot where they had a storage unit, but no pallet jack or anything to move them, so Christopher winds up having to unpack the pallets and run game boxes over to the storage container two at a time in 110 heat over about 8 hours (eventually he starts using his car to load up as many boxes as will fit to ferry things over to the storage thing). Paul helped some over his lunch break, but it was mostly Christopher.
- Adam flies from LA to Indy, but Paul and Christopher rent a courier van, pack as many games as will fit (along with a futon mattress), and drive. They have no advertising budget and unless the game sells, not enough money to buy gas to drive back.
- They had a little 10'x10' booth with a few tables. Initially the plan was to have Adam drawing at one table, but that was quickly scrapped so that more tables could be used for demos. Adam running one, Jodie running another, Paul handling sales, and Christopher out in the aisle getting attention. By the end of the first day, there's been enough word-of-mouth to keep the booth packed the rest of the show. They sell a ton of games and it turns out that Tom Vasel (a board game reviewer, now of The Dice Tower fame) called them out on his podcast as being the #1 game of Gen Con 2011 and that they were top of "the hotness" list on Board Game Geek (neither Tom Vasel or BGG were on their radar, being the filthy casuals that they were).
- The number one question asked at Gen Con: Where are the expansions? So, Adam's plan was to ride back with the others as far as St. Louis because the flight to LA was cheaper, but they bump it to a day later from KC so that they can begin planning the next few expansions (even by the end of the show they were already in "Wouldn't it be cool if we got as far as Iron Legacy?" and OblivAeon wasn't even in their wildest dreams yet). By the time they drop Paul off in St. Louis they have an outline of what expansions are going to be up first and the remaining drive to KC has C&A planning costumes and other design elements (followed by another IHOP night in KC). Rook City was more or less ready in draft form by this point (minus playtesting). Adam goes home and gets to work on the art, Christopher gets things in place to start playtesting the mechanics (and they get a website with an active forum community up and running - some forumites get drafted as playtesters).
- Adam's' still working overnights and bringing his tablet with him. Paul is still working full time. Christopher spends a lot of time driving to St. Louis to handle game orders and stuff and by the end of the year, the Rook City Kickstarter at which point he finally moves to St. Louis himself and they get some small warehouse space to operate out of. By the summer of 2012, GTG gets their first employee, Jodie. Prior to that, the only money anybody got was one round of profit sharing at the end of 2011. They also get contacted by a Chinese printing company who works with them a lot more closely than the big American one did - better cardstock, better box insert, etc. While the initial RC printing was a little dark, things have been going well with them and they've been printing everything for them since.
- Adam leaves FedEx and starts working at a company where he makes video game videos, but his department gets downsized. This is right around when they're getting started on content for Infernal Relics and Adam's girlfriend (now wife) advised him to not look for another job, just work on this.
- Jodie starts with a modest 10 hours a week, but within a month is up to full time as they realize how much better it is to have somebody dedicated to doing that stuff.
- 2012 was a big year. With the new printer they also do a new print run of the base game that gets rolled into the IR Kickstarter, now the Enhanced Edition. Gen Con 2012 had a 10' by 20' booth (so twice the size, but still pretty small in comparison to the big companies) and the instant the Exhibition Hall opened they had a line leading all the way to the edge of the room - complete with Gen Con staff harassing them to get the line situation under control. This is partly why nowadays they make sure their booth has internal space for lines.
- Adam makes the move to St. Louis himself shortly after that in the middle of Shattered Timelines content. Adam can only do this if he's making a livable salary from it, so GTG pays for his move and starts paying him as well (at which point it's only fair that Christopher also gets paid - Paul still has his old gig for about another year before they start paying him full-time too).
- They start hiring more people (Jen and Craig) and move into their current office and warehouse space (although only a portion of the current space as they've expanded further since moving in - they're currently looking into a much larger space as they anticipate needing the room within the next few years).
- What led to the decision to create a game rather than comic books? While they had done some comic book storytelling in the past, they knew that that wasn't an industry that they could just break into. They'd toyed with webcomics several times, but never actually did anything there. SotM is a meeting of several ideas: they like games with storytelling elements, they like cooperative games, and they like comic book storytelling. Nobody else was making something that scratched those itches, so they did it themselves. What they've got are "comic book Lego" that combine as you play to make unique stories. This was built up over time, though - at first it was primarily a mechanics thing, then they decided that they needed actual characters instead of just archetypes and so they made up the backstories and whatnot, then these story elements were built into the game using the art and flavor text (which in turn began to influence how later mechanical elements worked, etc.). The game as it originally stood probably would still have worked, but probably wouldn't have elicited as much of a fan reaction as the actual game did.
- How long does it take to develop a character from concept to completion? It depends. Sometimes only a matter of minutes, especially early on as the characters were less mechanically complex in the early sets but it's also necessary to think about the narrative interconnections and the sheer numbers of that as things went on made things take longer to work out. If you ignore the mechanical differences, the RPG character creation session shows a similar indication of how this sort of conversation generally goes.
- Are villains easier? It depends. Deadline was really hard to develop, but Kaargra Warfang was a "piece of cake" even though Deadline is simpler from a mechanics standpoint.
- Where does the "story" detail come in during the process? Pretty early on they'll do a broad-strokes story arc and things get fleshed out with specific detail during the prep for the podcast, sometimes discovering new stuff in the process. Very few of the "blow by blow" stories are at that level prior to the podcast, although they know of those stories. They'll sometimes flesh out stories during flights as a means of passing the time, or one of them will have an idea in the office and they'll kick back and forth for a while (Unity was one of these - Adam had a germ of an idea for somebody with bots that were tied to the character's own consciousness or something and Christopher went on a trip and returned with Unity that they could then refine). The idea for the podcast was initially just as a venue for them to tell these stories that they otherwise wouldn't get a chance to. The two of them have been doing this sort of collaborative storytelling for over two decades now - and it's not just a matter of improv "yes, and" storytelling either as they have more time to refine an idea and they work well together in that regard. Whole blow-by-blow stories have been developed for the podcast and then, mostly, dropped because it just didn't come together in a satisfactory way.
- Which character was the most complicated/nuanced/etc. to develop? Story-wise, they're mostly equal, if in different ways. Argent Adept did have a contentious discussion regarding his name (the "Viridian Virtuoso" was the closest they got at the time, which was too much of a mouthful - that's kind of why he winds up with a name, Argent Adept, and a title, Virtuoso of the Void). Unsurprisingly, he was also a nightmare mechanically. Absolute Zero took some work to get working mechanically, but his story was fairly easy. They knew they wanted a Thorathian hero, but figuring out how to create one that made sense was tricky (even what powers to have, although Adam was pretty certain that they needed to have a size-changing hero somewhere). Wager Master was another that Adam had to fight to get included as something that comics have but Christopher didn't want to deal with the nonsense (which is why he ultimately works as a single-deck expansion). Adam's job: presenting these things as "I know it's a dumb idea, but it's your challenge to make it cool." They had an argument spanning the trip to and from Gen Con that year to get him included.
- Given that the expansions have major events behind them, when/how were these events decided upon? Did you expect to be able to make all of them? Were events planned out for the expansions or did the story points exist first and the expansions built around them (all the way to OblivAeon and the two futures beyond)? They knew that there was this "end of the Multiverse" events with OblivAeon down the line, which they never really expected to get to. They knew that Iron Legacy was an event and that was their "wouldn't it be cool if we made it that far?" point. Vengeance wasn't part of the initial plan (discussions of it started around the time they were working on Infernal Relics and the Enhanced Edition). They just hoped that the game would sell at all, honestly. The first edition had a print run of 5000 copies and Christopher expected to wind up with copies taking up space in their garages forever - it sold out in under 6 months despite being from an unknown company, with unlicensed characters, using components that were not great quality. Adam is generally more optimistic about these things and the reality of what's happened is closer to his expectations than Christopher's (confident that they'd be proud of the final product, but not counting on it being commercially successful). The stars kind of aligned just right: Gen Con was accessible for an unknown company, the MCU was just getting going (The Avengers came out the following year) giving superhero media a boost, etc. While the events were present in broad terms, they put a bit more focus on them to make them more well-defined for the purpose of building expansions around them as they went. Up to OblivAeon was planned (evil cosmic entity comes to Earth to End Things) and, as they released content that approached it, that event got more and more defined in terms of details in how that worked. The two futures came out of necessity - they released Sentinel Tactics which showed a possibility of how things would go post-OblivAeon, but they knew that it wasn't the only way (and they made some story decisions with it that they wound up unhappy with long-term, but were necessary for the story of that game - so if knew that if they were to make an RPG or something they knew that it would have to be in a different timeline).
- Why two futures? Mostly covered in the answer to the previous set of questions. Note that the Mist Storm Universe wasn't as dark as it wound up being until they started working on the Broken City content and they decided that things had gone really bad in this setting.
- Adam, which characters remind you most of Christopher and Trevor? Christopher, which remind you of Adam and Trevor. Citizen Anvil for Christopher as that was intentional, otherwise Baron Blade (hyper-focused on projects, often to the point of sacrificing personal well-being). Citizen Hammer for Adam for the same reason, otherwise maybe Naturalist a bit personality-wise (can work on a team, but even then it's more working on his own and just checks in occasionally). Adam's not sure about Trevor, but Christopher mentions that he's kind of like a "purposeful Setback" - playing games taking the most complicated, accidental route to success (possibly throwing wrenches into other people's plans in the process), also the Visionary as he's bald and from an alternate future.
- Favorite characters? Christopher: all of them [his standard answer]. Adam: Baron Blade has the best arc (the Multiverse arc as a whole is in many ways his arc).
- Most fun to create? Guise (from an artwork point of view - making up all of the weird stuff his deck shows him doing). Night Snake. Also, making up characters, inventing histories and stories so you know what kind of people they are and what they do, and then making up Disparation stories for them.
- When did you first meet Handelabra and how did you decide to finally let them make a video game version of SotM? They met Handelabra in 2011 at that first PAX show where they had adjacent booths (they were selling a game called Uncle Slam which involved presidents punching one another). One thing not mentioned earlier about that show: prior to the show actually starting, Jerry Holkins (the writer for and man behind Tycho of Penny-Arcade itself) was going around greeting the exhibitors and they caught his attention, played a few turns with him, and then he noticed the flavor text on the cards and the fact that these guys had made up backstory/fictional comics for their game. If you know anything about Jerry, it's probably that this is kind of thing is right up his alley - he wound up mentioning their game during his opening keynote address. Anyway, they got to talking to Jeremy and John of Handelabra who thought it would be neat to make an app to track stuff for it, but this is still really early in the company's existence and they're dealing with all of the overwhelming stuff of being mentioned by Jerry, and Tom Vasel, and being the top of the hotness on BGG and didn't really want to do it. Handelabra goes off and makes the Sidekick app on their own and then bring it to them as proof-of-concept, asking if they can sell it. They also ask about doing a video game port, but they can't at that stage as another company had approached them about it at that first Gen Con and they jumped on that licensing deal, but that company never wound up doing anything with it and so had to wait until the rights reverted back to them. At this point they make the deal with Handelabra, who they stress are just great people in general, but also the right people to be working with here as they really care about the game and get it and it's been a pleasure to work with them on both a professional and personal level.
- How about Underbite and the upcoming Sentinels of Freedom game? Christopher met them at Origins a few years ago. They approached him with an idea to make a stand-alone video game using the Sentinel Comics properties rather than simply a port of the existing tabletop games. They both love tactical combat games (like Final Fantasy Tactics or Shining Force II), so getting something in that genre for their IP would be cool, and in less than a year of discussions of what kinds of things they'd want in such a game, they made a deal to move forward with it. It's moved from a grid-based tactics game into a more modern gridless one.
- When did you get the idea to create Sentinel Comics in general? After the idea of the card game. They've had "comic book characters" they'd been making up for forever, but when they were going about actually making the game they needed a comics company to have been the publisher for all of these fictional books and they already had "Sentinels of the Multiverse" picked out, so "Sentinel Comics" was a no-brainer, and so we get that logo on the character cards going back to the first edition. The Sentinel Comics logo didn't really start showing up as a "brand" on the box art and whatnot until the Enhanced Edition came out, though.
- Was the game first and the stories came about to explain the characters in it, or where the characters and stories there and the game was just a method of relaying those stories? What they just said, game first, characters and stories in the process of making the game.
- How many of the heroes existed as of the core game release vs. created as you went/expansions came out? By the time the core game came out, they'd nailed down Expatriette, Omnitron-X (the nemeses of core game villains who weren't already in the core game), and at least an inkling of the Dreamer. They knew about Iron Legacy. There was also a pile of characters and concepts that they had available as a "bank" to draw from as needed, including characters they'd made for other things in the past like Setback, Revenant, Re-Volt, and Fright Train. By 2012, though, most things were sorted - they didn't exactly have who all of the Scions of ObvlivAeon were yet, Deadline, and the evolution of Choke into Chokepoint were later. They hadn't gone about just creating All the ThingsTM at first because they didn't know if it would be worth the effort, but by 2012 things were going well enough that they were just going to continue forward as if things would continue as they were (which turned out well as they got through all of the story they wanted to tell with the game and people are still asking for more).
- Were there particular niches/archetypes that characters were designed to fill? Specific inspirations you remember? Well, all of the core set heroes are intentionally archetypal (as are most of them in general) - archetypes are just so useful for the purposes here; if you're handing a deck of an unknown character to a player, but you can relate to them by an archetype, that does a lot of heavy lifting for you - it's just on you from there to flesh them out to make them interesting beyond just the archetype, to be a character distinguishable from other iterations of that archetype. Even if the character doesn't fit into a particular archetype at first, in development they might eventually slot into one - Parse only becoming an archer as they worked through things rather than starting there.
- What was it during that fateful night at IHOP that made you figure all of this out and write it down? Nothing from that night really happened because it was that night, it was just a culmination of the previous years of playing games and telling stories together. There was something that clicked while working with the game mod they were working on at the time that finally did it. "Modding something doesn't sustain what we want" and so they abandoned everything and started fresh.
- How did you meet Paul? Covered from Christopher's perspective, Adam was introduced to him (on Skype and playing Minecraft) as part of the idea that he should be brought in to help with the company - they didn't meet in person until that first Gen Con.
- What jobs did you have prior to GTG? Adam: Pizza Hut, Office Max, FedEx (probably the longest stint - doing print stuff), Mahalo (gameplay videos). Christopher: Starbucks, a bunch of weird ones (professional ballroom dancer, metalworking/blacksmithing/brightsmithing, etc.), FedEx with Adam for a bit, a theater company (directing, teaching, stage-combat stuff, etc.) - teaching people things in a lot of situations, which led to him going back to school for his teaching certificate shortly before the whole GTG thing. Paul had a career coding for the Human Genome Institute.
- When did you three finally feel comfortable having this as your full time jobs? Still not entirely there, they started drawing pay at the end of 2013. Christopher maybe feeling a bit better about it around the time they hired Matt (they'd gotten to the point that they were paying enough people that he feels less wary of drawing money for himself rather than investing everything back into the company). Adam felt better after a few years of full-time there. They're making livable wages, but it's not like they're living lives of luxury or anything.
- How did you come up with the company name? Lots of arguments, but Christopher takes credit for this one: in the before time, in the long long ago, there were things called Anime Music Videos that you had to download (they predated YouTube). It's not just a matter of taking an anime and playing it over a song, people edited these things into music videos with proper timing or lip sync or whatnot. One group who made them that the guys liked was called More Than Toast. That name didn't mean anything, but it just worked and Christopher worked on one that had a similar feel and came up with Greater Than Games (although it took until Mara and Maggie were on board insisting that they have a slogan that he came up with "Play Greater").
- Where did the idea that there was this meta-fictional company publishing the comics come in? While the presence of "Sentinel Comics" was present for the original game, it wasn't until the drive back from Gen Con that they started working on "how would this company have done this?" aspect of things. That means that the core set characters were not created with the fictional publication history in mind, which results in there being incorrect attribution (quite a lot of Grand Warlord Voss's deck) or just art that would otherwise need to be changed (e.g. Legacy's "Danger Sense" showing Paul VII instead). These "incorrect" lore bits only become a problem when tried to fit into the rest of what came later - the issue numbers were more or less random in that first set.
- What made you decide that you should start with the card game rather than Tactics or the RPG? The card game was the one they wanted to play. There were already superhero RPGs (they played 1st ed. M&M after all - tangent: when they started talking with Green Ronin about SoEP Christopher thought he would know the stable of characters, but the 1st edition characters were eliminated in later editions). There were quickly pipe dreams of having a tactics game, an RPG, or a Capcom-style video game fighter [get on that, somebody!].
- Why in the Enhanced Edition did some art and flavor text change? Can you list the changes? Not listing the changes, but they realized that if they're doing this whole thing with expansions there was stuff that was wrong and needed to be different (similar to what the more recent realizations have been). Now that they're done with SotM they have 100% of the information and can go back and do things right.
- You've said that you want to tell stories with the game, but generally that's with some kind of booklet or script in a boardgame, why the piecemeal approach with flavor text on cards? Advantages/disadvantages to this approach? Anything fun or frustrating to see the players catch or miss over time? Nothing's been frustrating (they like people missing things as that lets their planned payoff be a surprise - that being said, we have a really good community in the fandom and so once somebody figures something out it pretty much makes the rounds to anybody who's interested). No script/scenario because the point is "story Lego", so that there's more emergent storytelling than a fixed scenario would allow. There's still some of that, though - everybody's first Baron Blade game kind of goes the same way after all (intentionally). It's like how well-designed Super Mario Bros. 1-1 is. Ongoings, One-shots, Devices, and Minions are all there as things you have to deal with, but there's this doomsday lever that requires you to not just automatically take out everything he puts in play, so you have to think about how sometimes you just need to ignore the field and focus on the villain. Another thing avoided with their approach is that scenario-based games (like Pandemic Legacy) have the possibility of spoilers, so players can't really discuss their games freely, which they want to happen with SotM.
- Another lead in to a question that talks about the writer's inspiration to work on their original characters and whatnot: again, this is the guys' favorite thing.
- Any tips for organizing a universe of characters and stories? As you're going along, if there's a point in time that you think "at some point in time I'm going to have to [do this thing], but I'll do it later" you should stop and [do this thing] now. This is what they ran into with the Post-It timeline - it was something that they'd been talking about doing for a year or more, but they put it off until they had to stop working on other stuff until it was done. Also: keep better track of what you're doing. You can always keep better records. Figure out what your framework is (theirs wound up being the publication history of Sentinel Comics and what kinds of stories would have been popular in different time periods) and once you have that sorted, everything else should be able to relate back to it. Also, what is your reason for doing it: a game, a book, etc. because different projects might require different things. Example: if you write a novel, you should have the story planned out ahead of time. If there's a great response from readers clamoring for a sequel, figure out where you're going to go and if retcons are necessary, state them immediately in book 2 - don't let people get used to the status quo only to pull the rug from under them later.
- Now that the RPG is in the works, how much do you have preplanned? Several whiteboards' worth. They've got way more stuff planned out at this point than they realistically expect to ever need. If they get through everything they've got planned at this point, that means the SCRPG has become one of the most popular RPGs of all time. But this is the plotting for the Sentinel Comics Universe - if the RPG doesn't get through it, then it's ready to go as story content for other projects down the line (in addition to the Mist Storm Universe story content, although that has much more of a specific arc as it's tied into Prime War).
- Future plans for GTG? More with both SC universes, as just mentioned.