Victorian Adventure Enthusiast Interview:
The Rise of Æster is a “Steampunk Live Action Experience”.
Photo by Eliot North
Marshal, the game’s “Commander in Chief”, was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for Victorian Adventure Enthusiast…
Victorian Adventure Enthusiast: So what is Rise of Æster? How does it differ from other Live Action RolePlaying games?
Marshal, Rise of Æster: The setting for Rise of Æster is Earth, but it is an Earth born of an alternate history. It’s a compelling Steampunk world of pulp adventures, intrigue, heroic bravery, and iconic villainy. Mankind has spent decades being assaulted by a series of brutal events that changed the world and threatened the very survival of our kind. But humanity has refused to succumb and has fought back with courage, ingenuity, and determination to not just survive, but to thrive.
I believe it is this never-say-die mindset and positive outlook that makes our game stand in stark contrast to the ubiquitous nihilistic post-apocalyptic games that inundate the market. Don’t get me wrong, there are dangers and darkness in the world, but our adventurers look to the future with hope, not despair. The idea is that a golden age is just around the corner if we are brave enough, bold enough, and bright enough to seize it.
The other way that we differ from most LARPs is we have worked to come up with a game that promotes role play over rules and the experience of participation over the traditional limitations many of us have become accustomed to. The overall concept can be boiled down to immersion. Every time someone has to reach for a character sheet, it breaks the engagement the characters have with each other and the story. As a result, we have been working on a minimal rule system that will allow us to achieve a situation where the rules don’t get in the way of the role play.
VAE: You’ve stated that you’re trying to create an “immersive environment” for the game. What do you qualify as an “immersive environment”?
RoÆ: The immersive environment is not so much a place or thing as a mindset we promote. It’s not just the fact that we want people to be able to play in a setting that promotes them getting deeper into their characters by building sets and finding appropriate locations to hold episodes. It’s also the idea that character interactions take precedence over rules and out-of-game concerns when involved in an episode. Getting away from having to refer to a character sheet to resolve conflicts, or have a Navigator get involved, is something that is key to allowing a flow of role play that promotes a deeper experience for everyone.
The out-of-game side of immersion has to do with the idea that players can become architects, designers, and script writers of the game as well. We want to support and encourage players to build sets and props, construct costumes, and write scenarios and supporting fiction so the world is built by the people who play the game for the people that play the game. This infuses the set and setting with a level of depth that often is not seen in games written from an outsider’s perspective. I look forward to the day when a player in the role of a character can be reading a dime novel in an episode that was written by another character created by a different player. This is a level of immersion that isn’t generally seen in other games.
VAE: Why steampunk? What drew you to basing a work on a twisted version of Victorian Science Fiction?
RoÆ: I think my interest in Steampunk began with a fascination for brass instruments and the history of the British Empire! The fiction that I’ve always been drawn to has been the pulp style adventure that can, in many ways, be typified by Victorian adventurism.
Steampunk, to me, typifies the ideas of bold adventure, ingenuity, invention and unbridled creativity. Now, my view of Steampunk is not locked to a Victorian or Edwardian aesthetic. Much of the style and images from Anime also informs my library of visual ideas about what Steampunk is. The series The Last Exile, and films such as Nausicaa have a firmly Steampunk feel, in my opinion although some may disagree. Part of my view is that Steampunk is a world that never was and so trying to force it into a particular box just doesn’t make sense. The Rise of Æster has many elements that don’t traditionally fit “Victorian Science Fiction” because the Æster is a part of an alternate world and it has forced changes to technology and society that have forever altered that world.
I think the simplest answer to the question of “Why Steampunk?” is that it encompasses a world that has not been fully explored, science that has not yet been quantified and questions that have not been answered. It is a world where the quest for knowledge and discovery underscore every story in the newspapers and in popular fiction. This is a world in which I want to create.
VAE: What’s the first steampunk work you encountered?
RoÆ: That’s a tough one. I think that many things informed my view of Steampunk that were not “Steampunk” in themselves. The images of artists such as Datamancer, Molly Friedrich, and Jake von Slatt really fired my imagination once I began actually looking into Steampunk as a genre.
As I said earlier, I have also been heavily influenced by Anime in many ways and came to Steampunk as a visual art medium before I came to it as a literary medium. I think my first real Steampunk literary work would have to be Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. I know that many would say that this isn’t a Steampunk story, but it has all the earmarks of Steampunk fiction. Frankenstein informed some of my interest in alternate science as expressed in some of the things I was researching when I was in college looking for a visual language of instrumentation. The ability to see things that others don’t see was something I was playing with. Dangerous experimentation and the arrogance of science are themes that are deeply rooted in Frankenstein and that is a theme that can clearly be applied to Steampunk.
VAE: When did you start creating the world of Rise of Æster? What did you want to see in your world that you hadn’t encountered in other shared-fiction creations?
RoÆ: Rise of Æster began with a series of short fiction pieces I was working on in order to give myself some parameters in which to create Steampunk artwork. I talked about the concept with some close friends and by the end of the evening phrases like “intellectual property” and “business plan” were being thrown around.
Part of my idea for the game had to do with my disappointment with how most LARPs have been done in the past. Rules over role play, lack of character depth… and I was frustrated by an environment where as soon as you really got rolling on good role play interruptions would happen that would bring it to an end. I wanted something where we could really just let the role play go and inform the stories that are told. That’s where the whole concept of immersion came in. I wanted to create a game environment that I wanted to play in.
One of the big things I missed from art school was the creative community, so that’s another element I really wanted to play a large role. And so, in creating Rise of Æster, I have created a sufficient framework to be able to hand it off to others and say “go crazy”. It’s a big world, much larger than I can create all by myself. I also want to promote the creativity of others and allow that creativity to develop a world that has much more depth because of the number of voices creating it. As one of my friends put it, “You’re creating an Open Source world.”
VAE: When will the game have its official premier?
RoÆ: We will be running our inaugural demonstration episodes at Steamcon in Seattle this October (2009). We’ll run demonstration episodes of the game multiple times to allow as many people as possible to experience this glimpse into the world.
At Steamcon, the demo fast play rules will be available to take home so that people can start playing the game themselves. Content on the website will allow folks to expand the play to some extent while we finalize the complete rules set.
VAE: You’re located in Seattle, is that where most of the game’s staff live? Could you tell us a bit about some of the other artists/creators behind the game?
RoÆ: The staff of our game is actually scattered all over the country with core members being located in Iowa, Eastern Canada, the Great Lakes area and North Carolina. Our most active staff is here in Seattle and this is where the largest part of the development is happening.
We have a great group of folks that are working on a variety of different projects at any one time. A few of the artists that have done work on the project are Desz Kern, who did the original concept sketches, Eric “Takk” Ray, who worked up additional concept sketches and designed our kick butt logo, Tony Hicks, who has done yeoman’s work on visualization for the world as well as concept work and is currently working on the web comic with writer Sarah Roark. Jordan Blake is the artist who created the elevation of the Aeroplex.
Some of the creative folks who have been pivotal in the development are Jeff Allen, my partner in crime who has made the development of this in-depth world possible. He’s been the historical and political structure advisor that has allowed us to create a deep and compelling world. Desz Kern, Justine Rodriguez, Ray Rodriguez and J. Kovach were the ones that allowed us to put flesh onto the basic structure. Liz Spain, Eliot North, Sarah Roark, Jordan Blake and many others have helped fine tune the world and the elements within it. Ann Wendell and Sandi Olson are our cat herders and have kept me on the straight and narrow.
VAE: How frequently do you plan on having RoÆ events? Will you be hosting all of them or do you hope to see events hosted by other folks?
RoÆ: After Steamcon, we will be continuing development and plan to host official events on at least a quarterly basis. There will also be Beta test episodes, town halls and other events that will occur in between these official events to allow players, artists and other interested parties the chance to take an active part in the process of game development.
Our idea is that Rise of Æster will be something that people can take and run with at home. Until the finalized rule set is complete, free form episodes are what we expect to see in many areas. In keeping with the idea that we want to have a vibrant off stage community, non episode events could be everything from workshops on costuming, prop making, in-character socials, work parties for large projects and maker parties where everything from sewing to welding are done in a social setting of like-minded crazies.
VAE: When can we expect a print version of the rules? Will you also be printing a table top RPG version?
RoÆ: The final version of the rule set does not yet have a print date. We are taking our time in the development of this material to make certain that it something that is truly unique, engaging, easy to use and keeps the core principles we are working with intact.
The table top version is next on the list, once we have our live action rules finalized. I am really looking forward to putting together the table top version of the game. It will have a much larger World Book which will allow us to give the players detailed information on all aspects of the Rise of Aester world.
VAE: What’s the next big step for the game?
RoÆ: Finalizing the Live Action rules set is our current project. In the immediate future we will also be helping to get episodes running wherever people are interested and developing the creative community of artists, writers, builders and others that will be the off stage community that allows for the creation of more and better episodes of the Rise of Æster.