Interview: Jonathan Lavallee, Publisher of Cybergeneration

Monday again and I am ready with an interview with Jonathan Lavallee of Firestorm-ink , publisher of the Cybergeneration RPG.  Read on the learn about the trials and tribulations of being a young,  first-time publisher and how Jonathan  enjoyed playing a game so much that he bought the publication rights!

Trask: All games reflect their designers. So, tell me a little about yourself. Are you a full-time game designer/writer or is it a sideline?

JL: It’s a sideline that I’d like to have turn into a full time gig.  It doesn’t pay the bills so that’s what’s usually keeping me up at night, typing away on the computer.

Trask: How long have you been writing games?

JL: I’ve been doing this now for I believe 5 years.  Only have three products to show for it, but that’s what happens when you decide to try to keep doing this during a masters degree.

Trask: Subject?

JL: English Literature.  I know how to say, “Would you like fries with that” in middle english.

Trask: “Cybergeneration” is your RPG product. What is it?

JL: Well, actually it’s a little more complicated than that.

CyberGeneration is actually R. Talsorian’s product, I just got the line license for it.

Kinda by accident really.

I basically loved this game, it was one of my first RPGs, and around the tender age of 22 I asked Lisa Pondsmith at R. Talsorian if she’d be interested in selling the game to me.

The response was, “Our games are like our children, we don’t sell them.  But, we can  license it to you.”

And that’s how I got ahold of the license for that.

Trask: So, you lived every RPG player’s dream and got the license to his favorite game. What did you do with it?

JL: Not as much as I’d hoped.  Doing an undergrad in English I was like, “How hard can putting a book together be?”

That kicked me in the ass pretty quickly

Basically we’ve got two books out.  The first one, Researching Medicine which is the next “Document of the Revolution” book, and then Gen Gap which is like the GM book for CyberGen.

Right now we’ve got The Denver Sourcebook in art and Clarkers in the first sections of the writing stage.

Trask: I know many, many gamers say “I could write a better game than that.” You actually tried it.  Could you describe the challenges you encountered?

JL:Well, the first one was not knowing about anything in regards to anything.  I had to learn the whole process of making a book from writing, to editing, to art, to layout, to printing, to distributing and all that wonderful mess.

Trask: How long did it take to complete your first effort?

JL: Took about a year.  We spent that time playtesting and playing Cybergen to get into the feel of it.

I still think RM is a really good book, it’s just very obviously a first book.

That’s the goal, right?  Improving yourself over time so that you hit that level where you put out a phenomenal product.

Trask: Any advice for the aspiring publisher?

JL:  Advice.  Two things.  First of all, look before you leap.  If you’re lucky you can fly by the seat of your pants and not get dragged under the sea of owning your own business.  Secondly, look before you leap because there’s a lot of stuff out there and trying to get your products known means you have to have either something 10x more phenomenal than what’s there, or you gotta work 10x harder to get recognized.

Trask: What makes a “phenomenal” game?

JL: That’s hard.  It’s kinda like saying what makes a phenomenal ice cream.  Everybody likes something different.  Best example, Munchkin .  It’s one of the most successful games out there.  Shake your friendship tree and someone has a copy of that game somewhere, chances are more than one person has it or it and the expansions.

Me?  I hate that game.

Can’t stand it.

People bring it out and I want to stop being friends with them I hate that game that much.

Drives me nuts

However, it’s a successful game and a lot of people would call it phenomenal.  I know people who have called it phenomenal.

I think Descent is a phenomenal game but there are people who run in terror if you mention it.

I guess what I meant when I said phenominal is that you have something that manages to get people’s attention.

Something that makes you different than other people’s games, other people’s companies.

Trask: Which brings up something I meant to ask earlier. You produce another game,  a DCCG (Downloadable Collectible Card Game). Can you elaborate on this?

JL: Well, that’s not really produced.  It’s currently in Alpha.

What the DCG is (Downloadable Card Game) is an attempt to change the paradigm of collectible card games.

Most people like the game idea but hate the fact that in order to stay competitive you gotta shell out 300 bucks a quarter to keep going.

I know I’m one of those people.

So what we’re doing is we’re trying to move to a Service Model rather than a Collectable Model.

We want to make a game that’s got the scope of a CCG, but where you can buy what you want to buy.

You just want the base entry level stuff, here’s a .pdf and have a nice day.

You want cool stuff like a playset, we can get that for you too.

Trask: So you just buy the components you want? There is no “rarity?”
Jonathan Lavallee

JL: None.  Heck, there’s less buying.  That .pdf you get is the entire set.

Trask: Interesting. What is the time frame for this product to become available? Does it have a name yet?

JL: Well, the game name is called Factions and the alpha set is about 85% done.

But I haven’t mentioned the two coolest things yet.

1. We want to be as transparent as possible.  So we’ll tell people things right away, because players are  never pissed off at things unless you surprise them.

Because when you do that, you’re usually going back on something you said before which may have gotten them into the game.

2. We want as much fan interaction as possible.

Trask: You are trying to avoid the “new deck” power creep that seems to be the business model for CCG/Miniature games?

JL: Totally, we want new decks and new ideas but we don’t want to make what we’ve done obsolete.

Back to point 2, the idea is that other companies have done stuff like that before.
AEG was kinda made famous for it.

Trask: Fan interaction?

JL:We want to include stuff like that, storyline tournaments and things that the players can have an effect one, but we want to go further.

We want to include a player made card in every single expansions set (the expansion sets are going to be small so that we don’t go crazy with a card pool) which is voted on by the players.

Trask: What is the tentative release date for this game?

JL: Couldn’t tell you.  I try not to set release dates while things are in Alpha, because I’d rather playtest the hell out of it and have a good game then rush to meet a deadline I threw out there.

The goal is next year.

Probably before Origins and GenCon, but again it’s kinda nebulous.

Trask: Ok. Back to RPGs for a moment. What is the “Awesome System?”

JL: The Awesome System is a game system designed by Ross Howell.  Ross is totally new to the game scene but I fell in love with his system so we decided to publish it.

It’s high on action and amazing.

The main reason though is that Ross is amazing with rules, now I know that it kinda runs counter intuitive to what I normally do.  I’m a rules light kinda guy, but Ross just tosses stuff out there that blows my mind.

Best examples is that he used his system to make rules to do a Musical.

With Musical Combat.

We did a session and I couldn’t stop laughing at how awesome it was.

Trask: How far along in the development cycle is this new system?

JL: It’s written, we’re editing and going over rewrites so we hope to have that ready for the next year too.

Trask: Will this release be a PDF or dead-tree?

JL: Both.

Trask: PDF is a recent option on the publishing stage for games. Do you think this is the future of game (online sales) or will the old-fashioned book endure?

JL:Books will endure.  At least for as long as I’m alive.  The reason is that a book isn’t just a way to get information, it’s kind of a fetish object in and of itself.  People don’t just like to read books, they like the feel of books and the smell of books and the whole experience that is a book that you don’t get with a PDF.

PDFs get you some cool stuff, but what they make up in functionality they lose in that book-ness.

If what I said makes sense.

Trask: It did. A PDf file does not have a tactile component.

JL: Exactly, so while PDF sales will gain popularity, you’ll never really see books disappear for a while.  If they ever do.

Trask: A final question and then I will let you go. What games do you regularly play and why? Besides your own, of course.

JL: Lesse.  I was a huge Mechwarrior nut as a kid, so I still play that.  I’m getting a Monsters and other Childish things , by Arc Dream Publishing, going.  Right now I’m really big into board games.  That’s what I’ve been playing a lot of.  I do a bi-weekly games night for my local library and that’s what we do.

Slugfest games , Smirk and Dagger games.

Those are the ones I’m playing a lot of.

Trask: Which board games?

JL: Pandemic , published by Z-Man games .  Cutthroat Caverns by Smirk and Dagger.  Red Dragon Inn by Slugfest.  I’ve got a by request game of Descent based in a setting that shall remain nameless *cough*ebberon*cough*

Trask: I have taken enough of your time. I would like to thank you for taking time to speak with me.

JL: Hey, anytime.  Trust me, I don’t shut up so if you ever need an opinion on something I’m more than willing to say something about it.

And It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.