Saturday, September 6, 2014

Interview with Alex Strang. Part 1 of 3.

This is part one of my three part interview with game designer Alex Strang. I've known Alex for years now and I feel like I've only just scratched the surface of figuring out what makes him tick. Over the course of this series we're going to talk about his beginnings, struggles and successes starting right here with Act 1: The Setup.

JASON: For someone who doesn't know you, can you give us some insight into "who is the mysterious Alex Strang?"

ALEX: Sure! I started out drawing comics / manga since forever, and designing games at a very early age. Eventually I became a filmmaker and animator, then full-time screenwriter. I shot a lot of films, and wrote many for TV and movies. (one reason I know too much about the Hollywood mentality…sigh)

One of my niche specialities has always been creature design and I've begun archiving the literally countless monsters I've used for various projects over the decades into a convenient blog, the Cybergecko Kaiju Gallery. This has resulted in other artists collaborating to make toys and other works, using these creatures. I'm very excited about the notion of seeing my monsters come to life this way!

My first published game was Super Giant Monster Showdown, a 100% complete simulation (a heavy game) of the Kaiju genre. It was crazily successful for a long time and I learned a lot about the gaming industry and self-publishing. So much I could write a book, but I won't, I promise. I also publish a series of interactive game books called The Mr. Buckethead Adventure Game series, which take the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style books to an entirely new level. I'm also the head writer for the science-fiction shared universe called Starcade, a very exciting project with a team of creatives that are a blast to collaborate with!

I've worked with other companies such as Z-Man, Button Shy and a wild variety of clients. I became immersed in working within the team building industry, writing games/activities for large corporate groups. Doing that kind of work, plus writing for Film Directors, and doing lot of Marketing consulting, resulted in my need and ability to work extremely fast and turn around within blinks of an eye. As some others will testify, I literally cannot stop my output. I used to write pitches for others, and I became very accustomed to that way of thinking too. Fast, fast, fast!

The movie background, the game background, the team game background and improv speed background combined to form Movie Plotz. It began life as a corporate team exercise, then became a card game, and even a live comedy show!

JASON: Tell me about one of the first movies and games that really blew your mind. Something life-changing. (Alex and I regularly joke about life-changing films, as I've stated I only want to see a movie if it's going to change my life.)

ALEX: I remember TV a lot more than movies and TV had the most impact to me. If we can mention TV, I'd say Magma Taishi (aka Space Giants). I remember seeing that at the youngest age form which I can remember anything.

Regarding movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey was early for me and was life-changing (my top movie of all time), though I probably saw Gojira (aka Godzilla) first). The 3rd life-changer was the entire James Bond movie series.

The first game I remember was Snoopy And The Red Baron, an awesome game where Snoopy sat on his Sopwith Camel and rolled marbles down a chute to hit the Red Baron. My Mom would only let me play with it when it was raining outside (otherwise I had to go out to play). I even saw it on Ebay recently and also fainted (like in the movies).

A game that blew my mind? The IDEA behind Dungeon and Dragons blew my mind, though I quickly created my own RPG to 'do it better' (I still use mine, and I still think it's the best RPG..haha). Another mind-blower was Heroscape, and long-lost collectible hex-tile game called Vortex. I like games that have a seemingness limitless freedom built into the structure, so you feel you can do 'anything'.

JASON: As you first started designing games, what were your intentions, hopes, or dreams?

ALEX: Better Games. My first motivation was simple: making games that were better than anything out there already. Games that were very different, and games I'd like to have myself. In many cases, I'd play a game and find it frustrating or too limiting, and I'd design something much better. (in my opinion, anyway)

Events / Parties / Gamification. I designed many games just for me and my friends or colleagues to play as one-shots for events or parties because to me, gamification systems in general are what matters in the world going forward. I like to see activities that are more immersive than usual.

Freedom. Another goal has always been to design games that at least provide the illusion (if not the reality) of complete freedom of choice. I always found games frustrating (and boring) that seem to hold you back from doing what you really want to do. I find them counterintuitive. Sometimes, a game even has very arbitrary rules that limit your experience. I prefer more open game systems, where there are many options, and your experience reflects how much of yourself you 'put in to it'. This has nothing to do with a game is 'simple' or complex'…'s about elegance of design. I always want to make games that feel easy to get into, feel intuitive (you can do things you WANT to do), though 'under the hood' there may be a lot of depth there.

World-Building. Being a comic artist, a writer and filmmaker, I see games as yet another way to 'tell a story' and 'create a world', from where many things could spring from. In fact, of all the medium for storytelling, I find games to be the easiest one to have your ideas realized.


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