Saturday, April 24, 2010

Interview with Paul 'Wiggy' Wade-Williams of Triple Ace Games

Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams is one of the most prolific writers in the gaming industry. If you don't believe it, just Google his name and count the products he's authored. Wiggy has played RPGs for over twenty-five years and has been a published author since 1998, having written for Atlas Games, Eden Studios, Britannia Games Design, Kenzer & Co., Pinnacle Entertainment Group, and Green Ronin.

He and his wife of seven years, Maggie, live on the Shetland Islands where life is slow, the community spirit is strong, the folk are friendly, and the scenery is beautiful. While not participating in the annual tradition of burning a Viking Longship, Wiggy serves as the creative director for Triple Ace Games, producing such titles as Hellfrost, Daring Tales, Necropolis, Sundered Skies, and Wonderland No More.

Recently, Wiggy took time out of his busy production schedule to answer a few questions for The Dice of Life.

Q. Which came first, your love of writing or your love of gaming?

Definitely writing. My earliest personal writing memory is at age eleven. But I've just phoned my mother, and she said that I was writing stories from an early age, perhaps six or seven.

Q. How were you introduced to role-playing games? What did you play?

My best friend, Jaffa (nickname), got caught reading his copy of Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first Fighting Fantasy book, in math class. The teacher offered him the chance to try roleplaying games in an after-school club. I had a copy of the book as well, so he extended the offer to me, and some others. We played 1st Edition AD&D. I lasted about three months as a player before switching to the opposite side of the screen.

Q. What's your favorite gaming memory?

So many to choose from! If I have to narrow it down to one, it's winning the D&D European Open at GenCon UK in 1992. That was my first ever convention as well.

Q. What inspired your move to the Shetland Islands?

Friendship (we already knew gamers up here), the scenery, the slow pace of life, and the community spirit. And the houses were affordable! I was already working full-time from home for PEG, so I could work anywhere, and the wife had job interviews lined up before we moved here.

Q. Does your wife game as well?

She does! She wasn't a gamer to start with, though, but she was prepared to see what I did for a hobby. Right now, I run Rippers, Star Wars Saga Edition, and Golden Heroes (an old, British game currently released under the title Squadron UK) for her.  She's run a Savage Worlds version of Buffy set in Georgian Bath, but it's a sporadic campaign.

Q. How and when did you become a Savage?

I was a huge Weird Wars d20 fan, although I knew of Pinnacle from playing Deadlands. I'd started work on a Necropolis d20 game for my own fun, but it just wasn't working out. Then Savage Worlds came along, and everything fell into place. I guess my story is very similar to Shane's. One of his early articles mentioned how long it took to run big battles in Weird Wars and how he wanted something faster. That was the same for me. I can't remember whether that was in '02 or '03, though.

Q. What kept you writing and publishing material for Savage Worlds all these years?

Apart from the money and fame, you mean? (laughs). I guess there are three things. First, Savage Worlds is, in my opinion, a many-layered system. On the surface it's very straight forward and elegant, but scratch that away and there's a wealth of hidden options. Exploring those unwritten options, using the rules in new and interesting ways, was, and still is, a big factor in my continuing writing for Savage Worlds for five years. TAG’s Obstacles rules for the Daring Tales of Adventure line are an example of that at work—take what exists in SWEX, peer beneath the surface a little, and suddenly there’s a new and exciting way of using obstacles. Second, it’s a very versatile system—you only need to look at the diverse settings out there to see that. Third, it’s not hard to write for—you make up NPCs and monsters as you go along, letting your imagination have full run.

Q. What other game systems do you enjoy? What appeals to you about those systems?

That question will open a floodgate, so I’ll try to narrow it down to a small few. Heroquest (formerly Hero Wars) is one of my all-time favorites. It’s more focused on storytelling and personal growth than game mechanics, and that’s something I really enjoy. Our first group had a shaman, a herder, and a brewer—not many systems can let you play those options and still tell exciting stories. Pendragon is another favorite for similar reasons. Personality traits being numbers might turn some folks off, but the numbers are just a storytelling tool for the player and GM. Golden Heroes (now Squadron UK) was released in the 1980s and remains a game I play today. It’s a superhero game, originally by Games Workshop. I tried other superhero games, but GH really captures the genre for me. For example, combat rounds are broken into frames, just like a comic, so you can imagine how the action looks just as if you were reading it in a comic.

Q. You're one of the most prolific writers in the industry. What are your inspirations?

I’m lucky I have a good imagination, I guess—ideas come unbidden and are easily rejected or turned into something. I also keep a notepad handy at all times in case I see or hear anything I could use.

Q. What do you consider your best gaming product?

I’m proud of everything I’ve written, whether or not it’s been released yet. Hellfrost is naturally a huge favorite—it’s the fantasy setting I’ve always wanted to run and play in, so being able to share that with others is great. Perhaps the one I enjoyed writing the most is a PEG product, but only because it challenged me in many different ways. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been published yet, and Shane hasn’t announced it, so I can’t say much. All I’ll say is that the Plot Point (assuming it makes the final cut) spans hundreds of years and lets you play descendants of the same family if you want.

Q. How did you become Creative Director of Pinnacle Entertainment Group?

I wrote freelance for PEG in 2004 (three Rippers adventures and Slipstream). By the end of that year I’d met Shane in person, and he offered me a chance to write for PEG full-time as a staff writer, which I snapped up. As Shane’s computer game work took up more of his time, Simon Lucas and I took up more responsibilities.

Q. What was your reason for leaving?

There were two main reasons. I’d managed to bottleneck PEG by writing too much, so I was writing new material for the years to come. Now that’s a cool place to be for any company, knowing you have products lined up and can pick and choose at your leisure, but as a writer it was frustrating not seeing the fruits of my labor. Also, Deadlands is PEG’s top IP, and Shane naturally wanted to focus more on that. I wanted to explore Savage Worlds in new ways.
For the record, my departure from PEG was entirely amicable—Shane and I had a long and open chat about various options and the future. In the end, going my own way and teaming up with Rob and Dave was the right decision for me, and Shane understood that.

Q. When you and the others formed Triple Ace Games, you published Necropolis and Sundered Skies almost immediately. Were those games ever under development for Pinnacle Entertainment Groups or were they always separate and planned for TAG?

Skies is a special case. While TAG owns the Sundered Skies IP, PEG owns the physical setting books from the current print run. That's because it was already in print when TAG was formed. Necropolis 2350 was in production as a PEG book, but Shane generously gave us the IP and art as part of my leaving package.

Q. Triple Ace Games productions operates under the Savage Worlds Official Licensed Product agreement. What are the strengths and weaknesses of that license model?

One obvious strength is that it gives the fans greater choice. More licensees means more and varied products for the fans. That also means we have more competitors, but that’s an added impetus for TAG to not only keep up its high standards, but to push the boundaries further. On a personal level, it opens new friendships. TAG has good relationships with many of the licensees, both at a business level and socially.
The big weakness of the model is that there is no quality control. During the d20 OGL boom there was a lot of very poor quality material put out. I’d hate to ever see Savage Worlds go down the same road.

Q. In what ways do you think the Savage Fan licensing model works, and in what ways does it not work?

The Savage Worlds fans have always been creative, and the forums are constantly awash with new ideas. On occasion we’ve approached fans to use material they have posted in our products, with due credit given. But as to whether you need a fan license or not, that’s trickier. It might give the impression PEG has somehow sanctioned the work (which it doesn’t). I guess it does give a sense of community among the fans— they get to use a version of Savage Worlds logo on their material, just like a licensee.

Q. Is owning and running your own company more rewarding than simply creating for it? Why or why not?

While there are some financial benefits, the biggest reward is having control over what you release and when.

Q. What new challenges have you faced at TAG?

Overall, the challenges aren’t much different to those at PEG — it’s the same line of work and a similar sized company. What has changed is the magnitude of the work. TAG has a busy release schedule, and that means writing continually. Fortunately, Robin Elliott is an expert administrator, so he handles the daily running of the company while I look after the freelancers and ensure we have products to release to time.

Q. What's your favorite TAG property?

Hellfrost, for the reason mentioned above. It’s also a very sexy physical book.

Q. What products can your fans look forward to in the future?

More of the same, new material, and more print books. We’ll be continuing to push all our existing setting and adventure lines, as well as adding to the latter. We have a new product nearing the final stages, but we’re waiting on final approval that we’re good to go to layout before we say anything specific. I guess that’s an excuse for a second interview in the months to come!

Q. Which of those excite you most?

Hard to say. As a businessman, getting more print books out gives us a wider profile in the marketplace and helps us grow so we can produce more material. On a personal level, being able to touch a book you helped produce is a wonderful feeling.
But I guess what excites me most is not knowing what ideas I’ll have tomorrow or the day after, and that I am lucky enough to be in a position to share those with others.

Q. Name one Wiggy factoid our readers may not know.

I appeared on Sky Sports doing the YMCA dance at an NFL Europe game, once. My friend and I managed to wander into the wrong stand and were surrounded by VIPs in dark suits. Since we were dressed in red England Monarchs tops and were the only ones dancing, we stood out nicely for the cameraman.

No comments:

Post a Comment