[Interview] Iain Lowson, Creator of Dark Harvest: Legacy of Frankenstein

Today we’re featuring something new for Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer, as we feature our first Game Designer interview with none other than the evil genius behind Dark Harvest: Legacy of Frankenstein: Iain Lowson.

1) First of all, thanks for giving me this opportunity to ask you a few questions, Iain. First off, for the sake of those who haven’t heard of you (shame on them!) could you give is a quick sketch of who you are, what you do and how you ended up writing DH:LoF?

Happy to chat, Jay. 🙂

OK. Ummmm… I’m a forty-something freelance writer. I’ve been writing for a living for over 15 years now – long enough to not quite remember when it was I started. My day job for the majority of my past writing career has been planning and writing official Star Wars partworks projects. Since 2006 I’ve also been working on and off in the video games industry.

I started writing Dark Harvest: The Legacy of Frankenstein (DH:LoF) in earnest around eight years ago, though the idea had been buzzing around in my head for years before that. I’d responded to an advert on RPG.net’s freelancer forums. A PDF-focused games company were looking for a dark fantasy setting. I convinced them they wanted dark historical. The book hit around 90 pages then, but that company went under and all rights and the text came back to me. I decided to expand the scope and, eventually, it became the book that Jay did that wonderful Let’s Study series on.

2) Promethea is indeed a beautiful nightmare, and I’m very impressed with the morbid fascination that it inspires in those who read about it in Dark Harvest. What were your inspirations in the creation of such a bleak and macabre setting?

Thank you! 🙂 The inspiration for the project was originally a half-remembered dream. Sounds a bit emo, I know, but bear with me. I saw two elderly gentlemen, Frankenstein and the Creature, sitting on a cruise ship in the 1920’s, blankets over their legs, having a laugh about their centuries-long conflict. Another big influence was my home city of Edinburgh, where resurrection men like Burke and Hare stole bodies and committed murder to supply the medical school with cadavers for dissection.

After that history and politics did the rest. I started wondering what the ‘great men’ of the Industrial Revolution would have done if they’d had access to the technology of Frankenstein’s science. It all just grew from that. Very organic.

3) Seeing the kind of opposition that the Resistance have to go up against, it becomes easy for someone to feel that the rebellion against Promethea is a tragic cause. Was this a deliberate element in the game, in the same way that Call of Cthulhu is all about delaying the inevitable?

I think any armed resistance is up against it, particularly if the military is loyal to the incumbent regime. That doesn’t mean they can’t win; history (including very recent history) has shown that. I wanted to give players something that was as real as possible, regardless of the fantastical edge the setting has. DH:LoF is billed as an alternative history, after all. I also wanted to have no clear bad guys, just a lot of grey. It’s in those grey areas that the Creature’s Resistance has its best chance for victory. It’ll be a tough, dirty fight, and any final victory may well feel slightly hollow.

Mind you, that’s only how I see it. The delight of role playing is that there are now thousands of different versions of Promethean history being played out around the world! I love that everyone finds something different to latch on to when they read through the books. That means myself and the team did our jobs right.

4) Now that you’ve got The Resistance out into the market, do you happen to have any other expansions in mind for Dark Harvest, or are you considering moving on to other projects that you could share with us?

There’s a fiction anthology being put together at the moment, which is very exciting. That’ll be out as an ebook (to begin with) around Halloween. I hadn’t originally planned to do this, but there will be a supplement out early next year (all being well) that takes material from the anthology, stats it up for use in the RPG, and then expands on it. That came about just because there’s so much amazing writing coming from the contributors. It’s inspirational stuff.

After that, I want to do a campaign pack of four or five roughly linked scenarios. To make things more complicated for myself, I want each to be playable as either Resistance or pro-Promethean characters. Writing that will be… interesting. Beyond that, no idea! Well, that’s not true; lots of ideas, just not sure which to pick. I’ll see what the audience wants and go from there.

5) What sort of advice would you have for anyone looking to become a game designer like you?

Don’t be a game designer like me. Be a game designer like you. I’d much rather play what you come up with.

Find a project you genuinely care about. Sorry to say, but it’s unlikely you’re going to make money out of it any time soon, so your passion for it is what’s going to drive you through the hard times. I mean the times when sitting down to work on it after you come home from a hard day at the day job seems like a serious chore. It’s your passion and enthusiasm for your creation that’ll shine through the pages and draw in the readers.

Equally, make sure what you are working on really does offer something different. Figuring that out takes being very honest with yourself. I want to play YOUR game. Not a bland copy-paste rehash. For example, does your epic fantasy RPG really, honestly do something new and interesting, or is it just a D&D mod that draws too heavily on Game of Thrones or Tolkien? If I want to play a Gears of War game, I’ll play Gears of War, not a Gears clone. You get the idea.

Don’t be afraid to share your ideas around – it’s not the idea that matters (no matter how good you think it is), it’s what you do with the idea. Find people who can give you solid feedback, and that means NOT your best mates. The essence of good game design is to play test the thing to destruction, so find a club and test your idea on strangers. Take notes, remember to take names so you can give credit where it’s due, and develop that thick skin.

You don’t have to do it all yourself (though it helps to be able to do as much as you can). I was able to put together an amazing team thanks to years of networking around RPG events. I knew who I could trust to be professional. Go to clubs, events and cons. Lurk, listen, chat, engage. Don’t just sit on the Internet.

Lastly, and related to all the above, learn. Be open to new things, not blinkered. Read, watch, (shut up and) listen, learn. You will never know everything, not even about the things you create. Go to events and learn from people who are doing what you want to be doing. Find out who and what inspires them and then go find out about those people and that stuff ESPECIALLY if it doesn’t seem relevant.

If you think that’s all crap, I invite you to prove it. Please. Really, I do. I would be genuinely delighted for you to do that. I want you to do that. In fact, I demand you do that.

What are you waiting for? Permission? 😉

Thanks again to Iain for taking the time to answer my questions. Certainly a lot of interesting (and ambitious!) things coming down the pipe. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on anything that Iain comes out with in the future.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.