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Gaming Legend Mark Rein•Hagen Knows What Scares Us in 2013

Posted on March 28, 2013 by Flames


Mark Rein•Hagen brought dragons out of the dungeon and into the coffeehouse 20 years ago with a relevant and achingly literary spin on the undead, then vanished. Now he’s back with a new game for a planet crawling back from economic disaster.

Award-winning game designer and TV producer Mark Rein•Hagen knows what scares us, so now that he’s back with I AM ZOMBIE, his first all-new role-playing system in nearly two decades, we might all want to check our neuroses at the door.

The good news is that the co-founder of White Wolf Publishing (now owned by Icelandic MMORPG game developer CCP) isn’t shy about making sure not to serve loyal fans or new gamers any stale nightmares about the walking dead.

“People think zombies are played out but that’s just lazy storytelling finding its own level,” he explains. “The image of the animated corpse that pursues us endlessly still scares us. It still scares me, and I’ve watched a lot of zombie movies lately while working on I AM ZOMBIE. That’s why even the languid versions still have the power to both terrify us and inform our sense of where society is headed.”

After an intensely collaborative development cycle with Rein•Hagen’s partners at Make-Believe Games and Eschaton Media Inc., I AM ZOMBIE is currently slated to launch on Kickstarter on June 20th with full support from both companies.

Like a traditional role-playing game, I AM ZOMBIE allows players to participate in the storyline by taking the part of characters in a rich fictional setting, in this case a dense 50 year old “Manifesto of the Risen” that Rein•Hagen says bears unnerving echoes to a modern post-iPad, post-Occupy, post-Crash world.

However, I AM ZOMBIE’s mechanics take the game off the tabletop and into the field with playing cards and chips instead of character sheets. Those looking for a glimpse of Rein•Hagen’s current thinking can find plenty of clues at Make-Believe’s current Kickstarter campaign Succubus: The Reborn, which takes a particularly lush approach to the card-based system.

Rich online support will reflect the interest Make-Believe and the modern game community share in speed, DIY sensibility, and direct two-way communication between players and developers. Simplified versions of the I AM ZOMBIE cards will be available to print on demand, and playtesting will be open, free, and universal.

Plunge into the “Google Void”

    Rein•Hagen and his design team primarily collaborate online – while he has adopted Tbilisi as his home, Make-Believe is based in Louisville and Eschaton operates out of Jersey City – so development meant months of searching endless wiki-fied, Google-friendly versions of the myth before finding inspiration well off the beaten track.

    “I was rummaging through the ‘poetry’ shelves in a teeming Greenwich Village bookstore, and there it was: the historical I AM ZOMBIE manifesto,” he recalls.

    “You know, the shelves where they keep all kinds of journals you’ve never heard of, privately printed zines, mimeographed rants. This strange book called itself ‘a Guide Book to the Hereafter, in Photographs and Text.’ I was a little dumbfounded and completely fascinated. This was our jumping-off point. And there was a P.O. Box address on the back page. I think the store wanted $3 for it. It goes for a lot more now.”

    Further research revealed that I AM ZOMBIE was so obscure that a Google search turned up zero hits for the book, much less its authorship or anything about the publisher, Purgatory Press. Rare book dealers were little help, but a few months of digging secured the rights to adapt and reprint the somewhat eccentric text under new cover.

    “There are still mysteries, even in this day of Google everything,” Rein•Hagen says. “Call them search voids, or social media holes, nobody ever mentions them anywhere online. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to be found. I AM ZOMBIE was like that, and thanks to the good people at Purgatory Press, we’re going to get to take you somewhere new.”

    ABOUT MARK REIN•HAGEN. As co-founder of White Wolf Publishing, creator of the world-renowned omnimedia franchise known as THE WORLD OF DARKNESS and co-producer of KINDRED: THE EMBRACED, Mark is sometimes known in the game industry as the “King of the Vampires” because of the influence he has had on subsequent Vampire movies and TV shows. He lives in Tbilisi with his wife and two children and is prepared for the end of the world as we know it.

    ABOUT MAKE-BELIEVE GAMES. Make-Believe Games is an American game company focusing on developing innovative card, board, and role-playing games. I AM ZOMBIE is its third commercial design (following the “Euro-style” board game DEMOCRACY: MAJORITY RULES, and the “Party Poker RPG” game SUCCUBUS: THE REBORN (currently on Kickstarter), and now its first full role-playing system.

    ABOUT ESCHATON MEDIA INC. Eschaton Media is an American game company focusing on game related trans-media properties. Eschaton Media came onto the scene with the release of the Dystopia Rising LARP network and Dystopia Rising table top game properties two years ago. Since then Eschaton Media has continued its focus on game lines that cross between the realms of alternate reality gaming, live action role playing, and traditional table top roleplaying games. Eschaton Media has thirteen publications either already released or set for release in 2013 ranging from novels to RPGs, to card games and film scripts.

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