|Interview with Andrew Bates
by James Maliszewski
|White Wolf's Trinity is that game company's first foray into the world of science fiction. After having produced so many angst-ridden games about power politics among supernatural beings, a lot of people (including this interviewer) didn't quite know what to expect from Trinity. Recently, I had the opportunity to have Andrew Bates, the developer of the game, provide some insight into it and the process that led to its creation.|
|What was the origin of Trinity? Who initially conceived of it and why did the project go forward?|
|This meteor crashed behind the office one day, and inside we found this
alien child. We took him into our home and raised him like he was our own son. As time
went on, it became clear that he was very special -- hang on; that's the origin of Superman. Try this again:
In 1996, the powers that be at White Wolf wanted to branch out in a new direction. White Wolf is a business, after all, and creating a new game line should bring in more cash. We didn't want to simply throw some drek out there, though. A new game had to be enjoyable to play as well as commercially viable.
So we had to figure out what kind of game to make. We were known for horror games, but that wasn't all we were capable of. Science fiction was enjoying increasing popularity at this point, so we threw our hat in the SF RPG ring.
The game universe that became Trinity wasn't created by any one person. White Wolf does much of its initial brainstorming by committee. There were about a dozen of us at first, pitching ideas back and forth for hours on end. I got to gather up all those thoughts and try to make sense out of them.
We knew that we wanted a relatively near-future setting that was anchored on Earth; something with an epic quality reminiscent of Star Wars or Babylon 5 but with a distinct feel of its own. From there, we filled in the blanks little things like theme, mood, character focus, antagonists, sources of conflict. Took a while, and there were certainly disagreements. (One of the most notable was that I wanted to go for a definite hopeful feel, but others thought we should go dark and grim. I figured that the World of Darkness had that covered, though, so why not cover new thematic ground as well as a new genre? From the response fans have given me, I think I made the right choice there.)
Anyway, once the ground rules were worked out, I did the developer thing: compiled a bible for writers and artists, met with production and marketing to figure out the look and presentation for the game, and generally herded the thing along like a drover with an unruly herd of cattle.
|Was there any apprehension on White Wolf's part about publishing a non-World of Darkness game?|
|Oh, sure! Not in the way you might think, though; we were confident we
could pull it off, but we weren't sure how the fans would receive it. We wanted to tap
into a new audience with Trinity (though while not necessarily shutting out
existing World of Darkness fans). There are many gamers out there who enjoy science
fiction but who aren't big on the World of Darkness. I'm one of them, in fact. I'd only
played a World of Darkness game once before getting hired at White Wolf.
While Trinity explores some dark areas of morality and questions what it means to be human, it addresses those subjects in a manner quite different from how the World of Darkness games do. We hoped that the difference in tone and focus would be clear to fans. Unfortunately, there are folks with the mistaken impression that Trinity is simply "the World of Darkness in space." These are people who haven't actually looked at the game, though. I've talked to a number of Trinity fans who held that view, but who were pleasantly surprised when they finally read the game.
We figured there would be a struggle to get some people to see that Trinity truly is something different from White Wolf. And, as time goes on, I hear from more folks who show me that we're clearing the hurdle. Soon enough, White Wolf will break out of the horror-RPG pigeonhole and become known as a company that publishes intriguing and entertaining roleplaying games in a variety of genres.
|What prompted the alterations to the Storyteller System? I, for one, don't find that many of the alterations improve the system significantly.Why am I wrong?|
|To a certain extent, I agree with you. One of the things I was really
looking forward to was completely overhauling the original Storyteller System. If I'd had
my way entirely, you can bet the system would be significantly different! A number of the
changes I made were considered too extreme, though, and I had to compromise.
The changes aren't huge, but they are significant. The fundamental improvement is that dice-rolling is more streamlined. With a single common target number, players no longer have to ask the Storyteller what they need to roll every time they pick up the dice. Similarly, the Storyteller doesn't have to figure out two separate sets of variables. Everybody knows you always need to roll a 7 or better to succeed. The only thing to worry about is the number of successes you need.
Then there's the whole botching thing. I never liked the original botch system it happened too often, and I found it irritating that I lost successes for each 1 that I rolled. Botches still occur in Trinity's Revised Storyteller System, but they don't crop up as often and you don't lose successes any more.
These adjustments don't seem like a big deal at first, but they really speed things up in the game. In fact, I've heard from fans who've used the revisions in their World of Darkness games.
|The Trinity setting has often been described as "comic-booky" or "four color heroic." Do you think that's a fair description? Is Trinity really a sci-fi superhero game or have critics missed the point?|
|No, I don't think it's a fair description, and people who really took the
time to read through the book and the supplements have said so also. Sure, psions, the
central characters in Trinity, are considered by many 22nd-century citizens as
being their protectors and saviors. Psions do have special powers that they use in their
struggles to defend humanity from aggressors. However, this isn't some Legion of
Super-Heroes setup. If anything, Trinity is tied to the better anime out there
more than to comic books. The flash of psi powers and cool tech overlays a rich
exploration of one's self as well as of social and moral issues.
Which is not to say that Trinity couldn't be played as a "gee-whiz" sci-fi superhero game. If that works for some folks, great! But there's a lot more to thegame if you care to look.
|One of the things I've always respected about White Wolf games is that, whether I agree with its take on it or not, each one is about something. It has a theme. What would you say is Trinity's theme(s)?|
|I know what you mean about not necessarily agreeing with a game's take.
That's always been my biggest issue with the World of Darkness I tend to
disagree with how supernaturals are presented in White Wolf's other games. Probably why I
don't develop those books. *ahem*
Anyway, Trinity. I've alluded to the major themes already: hope, and the exploration of what it means to be human. Even though the 22nd-century universe is beset with all manner of strife, doom is by no means assured. Humanity has a chance of triumphing over adversity it certainly won't be easy, but the hope is there.
The definition of "humanity" itself is subject to question as well. There are all these mutated beings running around, and this new breed of human bestowed with special talents. Is mankind destined to split into one of these two paths aberrant or psion or are both of these courses, well... aberrations... of normal evolution? And if you can manipulate electricity or see through walls, does that make you better than those who can't or are you simply different?
|Related to question 5 is the matter of a story arc. Do you have a story to tell with Trinity? That is, do you have a plan for the development of the game and its setting?|
|Absolutely! The core book sets the stage for a number of plots players can
explore. The supplements run with what I refer to as the "metaplot," the
overarching storyline in Trinity. The adventure sourcebooks (the Darkness
Revealed trilogy and the two-part Alien Encounter series) are the key plot
advancement tools. More than just adventures, they put the characters in the center of all
manner of machinations that have universal repercussions. Kinda like if you were to
roleplay the central characters of the Star Wars trilogy what your
characters do helps determine the fate of Trinity's future. (Quick plug: the
adventure sourcebooks also contain pages and pages of setting material that you can re-use
even after you run the adventure itself.)
The other supplements factor in the repercussions these events cause, though you aren't restricted from playing perfectly entertaining games if you don't have every single book. Having a complete Trinity library does give you insight into a vast story that's greater than the sum of its parts, though.
In addition, this March we're releasing a special softcover printing of the core rulebook at an introductory price. The Trinity softcover features a "story so far" that gives new Storytellers the low down on the metaplot and which supplements explore the various aspects in greater detail.
|What has been the response to the game thus far? A lot of the critical reaction with which I am familiar is mixed, but what do the fans think?|
|I have to say that the critical reaction I've seen has been generally
positive. Trinity got slammed for being soft on the science what do
you expect from a game that has psi powers? But it's a bit irksome, since we took great
pains to make the science even the "science" of psi
subscribe to internal consistency. Other than that, though, reviewers seemed impressed by
the breadth and depth of the setting Trinity presents.
As far as the fans go, I've gotten a lot of enthusiastic feedback. There are some who've said that they didn't like Trinity, but that's mainly due to it not being the type of game they want to play, not because the game sucks. I have heard complaints that there are too many mysteries and not enough answers in the core book, but the new softcover printing will take care of that nicely.
The vast majority of responses I get are from fans who really enjoy Trinity. The general feedback is that they'd gotten tired of unremittingly grim or overly simplistic settings. Trinity is a nice change of pace, I've been told; it doesn't try to preach, but presents darkness and light and all the shades in between. There's more to things than meets the eye.
That fits quite well with what I was going for, too. The game was designed to challenge players as much as they want to be challenged. If you want to play a brisk space-opera adventure, you can. But if you want to dig deeper and explore the strain of conflict between alien cultures, it's there for the taking.
|Do you enjoy being a professional game designer? Is it an enjoyable way to make a living?|
|I enjoy it for the most part. I've always been a creative person, and this job gives me an excellent outlet in which to tell stories. I certainly wish my paycheck had more digits to the left of the decimal, but then this isn't exactly a big-league industry. Still, I do get paid for being creative, and I'm my own boss much of the time. It's hard to beat a setup like that!|