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Interview with Kenneth Hite by James Maliszewski

Interview with Kenneth Hite
by James Maliszewski
 

The advent of the new Star Trek: The Next Generation Roleplaying Game from Last Unicorn Games is clearly a major event in science fiction gaming. After a decade without an official RPG, Star Trek has returned to game stores with a vengeance. I asked one of its designers, Ken Hite, about the game and his role in creating it.

 

How did you become involved in Last Unicorn's Star Trek roleplaying game project?
Basically, Ross Isaacs (the line editor) and Christian Moore (the lead designer) both knew my writing from Nephilim and other places; I'd been fortunate enough to develop some of Ross' work on Nephilim and apparently my techniques in both areas impressed Ross enough to ask me on board.   The fact that we'd worked well together in the past helped, no doubt.
You're listed in the rulebook as an author as well as a developer. What did you do in each capacity?
As an author, I wrote all of three chapters and much text that found its way into others; that shades into my work as developer –– they flew me out to L.A. to help with system design and with turning the Icon System into a "Star Trek" system.  Basically, developing a game  begins with writing a rules set clearly enough that everyone can  see what needs to be changed to make it good.  Writing those changes, and then bringing all the other text into line with the final product, is developing.  That's what I (and Steve Long, whose contribution to the final book can't be overestimated) did, under Ross' and Christian's direction.
Star Trek is a hugely successful and popular franchise. Did you feel "the weight of history" upon you? That is, was there any pressure to make sure that you "did right" by Star Trek?
All the time; my first piece of writing for the game book involved giving Narrators advice on "what makes the game Star Trek." Developing and writing the rest of the book meant expanding on that vision.  Ross was particularly insistent that the book "feel like Star Trek," and specifically like "Next Generation Trek."
In creating the game, did Paramount or anyone directly connected with the series provide you with any assistance or direction? If so, what?
Every word of the book got checked by Paramount; they treat their property much like you or I would treat anything worth a billion dollars.  We had a number of specific areas (the money issue, for example) where the writing and production staff made specific requests for us to point the game in a given direction.  With all that oversight, however, they changed very little –– maybe five or ten pages of notes for well over 300 pages of text and rules.
I was a fan of FASA's incarnation of the Star Trek RPG. I noticed that Guy McLimore and Greg Poehlein are thanked in the credits. Did you refer to the old game or take any inspiration from it? If so, how?
I've always been a fan of Guy's work, and of the old ST RPG in particular.   We did look at it, and Guy and Greg helped early on suggesting a few rules directions (part of that first stage of developing I mentioned earlier).  We tried to keep the skill-focus, and the "sense of life history" the old game had; but on the other hand, we were writing a game that was far more self-consciously an introduction to the hobby than the old FASA game ever was –– and, of course, we wrote ours 17 years later, after Sandy Petersen and Greg Stafford's Ghostbusters engine revolutionized game design for everyone.  Standing on the shoulders of giants, you're an idiot if you don't use the boost.
Were their any guiding principles of design that you employed when creating the game?
"It has to be simple enough for new gamers" was the first and foremost principle.  Very soon we also discovered that it had to produce very skilled characters very early in the design process to feel like Star Trek; nobody gets into Starfleet without knowing a whole heck of a lot about their job, if you watch the show.  Christian decided it had to use six-sided dice (easier to get, again, for new and non-gamers), and that we should use a stat/skill engine –– there was no need to reinvent the wheel here.  But, at every step, we always cocked our heads and made sure it really seemed like Star Trek to us.
I've always felt that one of the reasons West End's Star Wars RPG flourished for so long was that it went beyond the movies and expanded the setting in a variety of ways. Do you see the Star Trek RPG doing the same thing in the future? That is, will we get "original" material that's an expansion on what we've seen in the series and movies?
You absolutely have to; even writing the core book took us into areas that a TV show never needs to go.  Roleplaying games aren't TV shows, fundamentally; you need a lot more information to build a convincing game universe than a convincing TV universe, if only because you can never count on your cast sticking to the script.   As the line continues, we'll keep expanding the Star Trek universe wherever it needs to go to be a fun RPG universe.
I've long been a fan of Star Trek's efforts to create "modern morality plays." That's one of the reasons I like the series so much. Do you have a favorite element or theme that runs throughout the series?
Half-naked Orion beast women.  Seriously, after a decade of "dark gaming," I do enjoy the fundamental optimism and clarity of the Star Trek universe, and the best Star Trek stories, for me, always present that without getting too preachy or sappy.  It's a hard line to walk, but Star Trek does it better than most when it does it well.
Finally, is being (among other things) a professional game designer an enjoyable job? Do you have fun doing it?    
It beats spreading blacktop, that's for sure.  Obviously, you have to have fun doing it, because nobody does it for the money.  Every job has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, you're making something for other people to have fun with.  That's not a bad thing to put on the lifetime achievement list.

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