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Interview with Game Designer Jonathan Ridd

Posted on February 24, 2006 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

I was about 14 when a friend of mine asked if I wanted to play this game on a Saturday afternoon. I turned up not really knowing what to expect and four of us played Middle Earth. I didn’t really understand what was going on and I got killed pretty quickly but something stuck. Even then though I was a meddler and with queries about this and about that, that probably annoyed the hell out of the rest of the group. Soon after I got into the Steve Jackson solo play paperbacks and devised my own playing card system for them instead of using dice. From there I bought the first Warhammer rulebook in 86 and played one on one campaigns for a long time with my younger brother James. In college I played a by my standards a fairly long running campaign of D & D with a bunch of guys which was a lot of fun. Next it was a brief affair with Cyber Punk and Rifts before I bought Aria in 94. I never properly played Aria but I marveled at the work that went into the system. I bought other books like Rolemaster and Vampire but read them more than played them.

What can you tell us about Dog Town?

Dog Town is a pure punk roleplaying game set in the seedy underbelly of 1970’s New York. It is a homage to gangsterism and street life as portrayed in uncompromising films such as Goodfellas, Scarface, Donnie Brasco, Taxi Driver and Carlito’s Way. What is in those films is in the game and in depth – the vices, the crimes, the greed, the betrayal and the violence. Players are criminals – heisters, brokers, thugs and thieves, pimps and hustlers flawed human beings that must hold back their own deep dark desires whilst attempting to cheat, beat, deal and steal a large amount of money that they’re unlikely to walk away with.

You start fresh out the joint with $40 bucks and a pack of smokes to your name, from there you must get your hands on $100,000 in 90 days in to be in on a deal that will change your life. How low you stoop and what lines you cross are down to you. Rob banks, collect debts, burgle houses, kidnap drug dealers and other low lives for ransom – you as the players decide. But everything you do in Dog Town has consequences, step on the wrong guy’s toes and your criminal might wind up stinking out the trunk of his Cadillac, make sloppy dumb ass moves and you’ll get busted by the Five O and sent upstate where you belong. Dog Town is a game where killers meet you with smiles and a handshake, where everyone is working an angle, and where the cops protect and serve their own interests.

New York in that era was a dangerous, decadent and sordid place. The crime rate was at a high and drugs like cocaine and heroin flooded the streets washing away peoples morals and creating a hunger. When I thought of the low life atmosphere I wanted to convey I thought of track marked armed and red scabbed nosed junkies lurking shivering in the subways waiting for a victim with a handbag. Blackened spoons and bloodied needles discarded in the park along with used rubbers and emptied wallets. Crumbling tenement blocks with rising damp and cockroaches their outlines stark against the rubble of those already demolished. Stripped down cars propped up on blocks stranded at the roadside with wild raw faced kids trampling on their hoods. Boarded up storefronts scarred with graffiti and rough faced wino’s huddling around oil drumfires drinking hard liquor from the bottle. Strung out prostitutes in bad wigs working the sidewalks with Johns in their cars curb crawling the meat market. Seedy neon lighted strip clubs and porno theatres, inhabited by brown macked weirdos jerking over the seats. Smoke filled backrooms where hope and desperation linger on the turn of a card.

How did Dog Town develop? Where is it headed?

Dog Town had really two stages of development. The first was prompted around the end of 1999 by the computer game “Kingpin”. “Kingpin” was a violent first person shoot them up set in a city run by a crime boss that the player gets double-crossed by. The player starts the game getting beat up and dumped in an alleyway in some godforsaken slum. He is left injured, disarmed and boiling for revenge, he finds a lead pipe, robs gets some money, buys a gun, kills some goons, hires some muscle etc. The graphics were great and there were all these muscle bound badasses packing big guns. I got to thinking that it would cool to play an rpg based around a similar theme. I had always been into gangster films such as Scarface and King of New York and enjoyed reading crime books about the Mafia so I had plenty of ideas of the type of game I wanted it to be.

I drew a terrible map of a city neighborhood using a scrabble tile to outline buildings and my brother James and I put together a homebrew system based around CoC’s system. The first character we created to play was a huge muscle bound badass named Solomon “Solly” Brown. The game started and continued to be pretty freeform with James largely driving the story by his own actions. We didn’t want the game to get stale and meaningless so we soon introduced a goal – make $100,000 in 90 days and get out of town with your freedom and life intact. We enjoyed the game but didn’t take it seriously. It was a fun homebrew game and I had no intentions of taking it any further.

I put it down for a while through 2001 and for a good part of 2002 and didn’t role play much at all. Then in July of 2002 I played Grand Theft Auto III and fell in love with the game and the whole idea of a gangster/crime/street rpg to the extent that I actually wanted to write it. I have long wanted to write, but had always found it hard going particularly in finding a suitable style. I found that style pretty easily with Dog Town through the use of street slang and flavor text. I just imagined I was one con telling another how to get along and it wrote itself.

The hardest parts were researching 1970’s crime trends and getting the system right. The system drove me up the wall on more than one occasion before I got it to do what I wanted it to do; that is facilitate a gory crime game.

As to where Dog Town is headed there is scope for a dozen or more supplements. More adventures and neighborhood source books like The Missing Mafioso and Grenson Park, and new takes on Dog Town world like a Vigilante game based around the movies Taxi Driver and Death Wish. There may also be a prison book called Dog Town: Hard Time where you play a jailbird trying to survive and escape a top security prison. Prison is a world unto itself and could provide a rich gaming environment with things like shivs, solitary confinement, a black market economy, gangs, riots etc. There is plenty of material to explore; it just comes down to time, which unfortunately I don’t have enough of.

Will we ever see a Dog Town book about the other side of the law?

Maybe, I have considered doing one. There would be several games in the book depending on what department the cop was in. Patrol cops would have Role Calls, get assigned calls, have enquiries to conduct and a workload to get through. They would have to make operatational decisions whether to arrest a perp, use force or look the other way. There would be moral questions too such as whether you set a crim up or whether you take a cut of the weekly nut that the bagman collects for the precinct. There would be plenty evidence gathering, interrogations, rousts, shootouts, car chases, cover ups and internal affairs investigations.

There would also be a detectives game (Starsky & Hutch), a SWAT game and a drug squad game that would borrow from the antics of The Shield. The game of course would port right into the seedy world Dog Town pitting the players against all the slime from the source books that live there, Pagan biker gang, Tombstone Posse, Gurino Crime Family, 187 Gangsters etc.

What can you tell us about The Criminal of the Month and other Dog Town extras?

Criminal of the month is a free pdf criminal npc from the neighborhoods of Dog Town for directors to make use of in their campaigns. The rap sheet contains a graphically illustrated mugshot, stats, background info and assets. Cold Blooded Games is committed to providing free Dog Town literature, wallpapers, game add ons and useful programs like customer Jeremy Seely’s Excel Criminal Generator that enchance the playing experience.

How does the Split System work?

The Split System uses a single d20 dice splitting it equally to create a median of 10 vs. 10. The median reflects the 50/50 probability of success and failure that two equally matched abilities have of beating one another. However this split changes when there is a difference in attempting and opposing abilities.

Eg. Mackey matches his ability of 11 to be violent against Chow’s ability of 7 to protect himself. The difference is a favorable 4 for Mackey so the split changes from a 10 vs. 10 to a 6 vs. 14. Mackey needs a 7 and over on a 1d20 roll to put some hurt on Chow or alternatively Chow could roll needing a 15 and above on the same split to stay out of harms way.

That’s the basic one roll mechanic from which all tasks are resolved. Some other features the system has are:

Degrees of success and failure.

Options for resolving prolonged actions.

An action point system that allows consecutive attacks.

Detailed critical charts for shotguns, street fighting, falls and explosions.

What do you feel are your biggest challenges as an author? As a game developer?

It’s all a challenge I don’t find anything other than the original idea easy. In the execution of an idea I can procrastinate too much, so it takes me a long time to write something that a professional by the cent writer would take about an hour or two to do. Being succinct in an explanation is another skill I’m developing as games designer has to know when less is sometimes more; that explanations need to be crystal clear and free from any ambiguity. Modeling a system to do what you want it to do and be consistent is difficult, but worthwhile when it facilitates the game play you set out to create. Anyone who has done this will know it is a very frustrating exercise and why so many people use licensed systems instead; it certainly saves on the headaches and allows you to just focus on the setting. Editing is also another difficult process. Rooting out errors and mechanical and organizational inconsistencies is a challenge when the book has been written and rewritten in layers over a two year period. That is why someone else needs to look at it because it is surprising what you’ll miss or assume the reader will understand.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the gaming community today?

For indie press its getting your game out there and getting people to take a chance on it, writing the game is certainly only half the work. The traditional three or four tier distribution network can be hard to get into, hugely risky for the publisher who shoulders all the financial burden, and then ultimately once everyone has taken their cut potentially unprofitable. PDF retailers Rpgnow and Drivethrurpg as well as traditional book retailers Indie Press Revolution go along way in promoting indie games and giving the publisher a fair shake both in terms of acceptance and profitability with short print on demand print runs. I see pod and pdf as the way forward for indie press companies, the distribution of the game is slower but it is constant and equitable. As far as I am concerned the closer the relationship the designer can have with the customer the better and pdf’s which are increasing in popularity allow this. Rpgnnow with its advanced publishing tools allows Cold Blooded Games to send its customers copies of updated products, sales coupons, news letters and complimentary downloads.

What’s next for you?

I’m developing a dark survival horror game called Snuff:

In the year 2009 a grotesque new craze spreads through the world wide web – Murdertainment a.k.a. Snuff. Born from an 80’s urban myth that there existed somewhere on the far most fringes of the underground film scene movies featuring actual torture, rape and murder Snuff remained that a myth. Not any longer. Now masked serial killers broadcast their sick exploits to fans live on the web, and thousands visit sites like www.deathpit.com to download the latest scream filled machete blood bath. Sadistic cults like The Soul Eaters spout fucked up pseudo religious messages about reaching unity and god through the practices of cannibalistic ritual. With broadband and a credit card it can be all yours for $39.99 a month.

Snuff is a graphic game of survival horror in the bowels of humanity. Players are potential victims of a new breed of serial killers intent on a career of downloadable carnage in the sick phenomena of murdertainment. Will you survive being hunted on Cannibal Island a perverse homage to 70’s video gore fest “Cannibal Holocaust”, or avoid being a confirmed kill on 2minutemassacre.com, a gun worshiping spree kill site where three armed to the teeth maniacs film rampages through malls, restaurants and amusement parks.

Live! and fight back as part of a survivors group hell bent on bloody justice, or perhaps as a government funded team of specialists tasked with tracing and apprehending these media savvy maniacs that murder for both pleasure and profit.

Fore more information on Dog Town and other projects Johnathan has in the works visit ColdBloodedGames.com.

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