Monday, May 30, 2016

James Ward: Game Writer and Designer, Creator of Metamorphosis Alpha & Gamma World.

I expect that most of my readers are well aware of James Ward's impact on our hobby.  When it comes to the early history of Role Playing Games, there's probably very few people outside of the OSR community that acknowledge the contributions of anyone but Gary Gygax, and to a lesser degree, Dave Arneson. While their contributions are obviously immense, there was a number of other people whose creative genius helped the hobby to take off like wild fire. They were part of a community of designers, writers, and artists, most of whom were working for Gary Gygax at TSR in the late 70s and early 80s, and Mr. Ward was one of those creative geniuses. 

When James suggested to Gary Gygax that a sci-fi RPG should be created, Gary suggested James go for it, and so he did. Metamorphosis Alpha, the first sci-fi RPG ever created was released by TSR in 1976. It's been in print in a variety several editions for a many years. Then two years ago Goodman Games re-released the 1st edition of MA in a hardcover edition that is a loving tribute to the game that also covers it's development and early history. Goodman Games continues to develop and release new material for MA with James and Goodman's own stable of creative geniuses.

Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes (coauthored with Rob Kuntz) for D&D published by TSR in 1976. Then in 1980 TSR released his Deities and Demigods (again with Kuntz). I owned these two back in the day, but the first game I came in contact with written by James was Gamma World, first published in 1978. I think it was the 3rd printing of the 1st edition that I owned. 

The list of James' other contributions to the hobby is long. He's designed board games and collectible card games. He's written for Marvel and DC, and he's had numerous novels published. In 1989 he was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Hall of Fame. 

James' game books, and those of his colleagues, are infinitely more expansive than just their mere word count. For me and my friends in the early 80s, the pages of these volumes were like magic carpets that transported us to places that felt more real than movies, novels, or comics ever could. Back then I never imagined that I might one day have the chance to interview the author of those books, and I consider myself very fortunate that James agreed to participate. Thanks, James! Thanks for the interview, and an especially huge thank you for everything you've given to the hobby! I look forward to finally making it to Gary Con next year and so I can meet you in person (and maybe play in one of your game sessions!!!!). And Happy Birthday! (Albeit, a bit late). James celebrated his 65th birthday last week.

Favorite Toys

What were your favorite toys during child hood? Like, the TOP 3 TOYS of all time and pick your favorite of these toys. What is it about any of these toys you most identified with? What made this so special? How did you play/enjoy this toy? (shared or solo play).

James: 1 – Six inch tall green army guys
My father was a lifer in the army. We moved to the state of Washington during the Cuban Missile Crises as the army troops from Washington moved to Florida in case Cuba had to be invaded. Military talk encouraged me to think about military toys and this was before the time of G. I. Joe. I had tanks and canons and lots of military toys. My younger brother was 18 months younger than I was. We shared in the military battles we dreamed up with those toys. 

2 – Robby the Robot battery toy
Forbidden Planet came out in the movies when I was 2. I have a distinct memory of the Christmas tree that year having a Robby the Robot Toy. I sure wish I had that box and toy now. No one but me could play with Robbie. 

3 – Raj the plush toy tiger
When I was young I had lots of nightmares of me falling from a great height and I would wake up screaming. My wise mother bought me Raj the plush tiger and explained to me that he would guard me from harm. I never had a nightmare after Raj started sleeping with me every night. I never played with Raj, he was only there to protect me at night. 

Favorite Films and TV

What were your favorite films or TV during childhood and what age were you for each favorite? What did you identify with about these shows? Do you think these shows had an influence on the adult you? 

Forbidden Planet
Time Machine
Mysterious Island 

In Forbidden Planet I wanted to fight the monsters of the Id before I even knew what the Id was. 
In the Time Machine the idea of going into the future was a fascinating idea and still is. 
In the Disney movie the idea of exploring an odd island filled with wondrous things was especially interesting to me. 

All of those shows were filled with adventure. Those and others encouraged me to read a lot and find adventures from science fiction with Tom Swift in fifth grade to the Hardy Boys through 8th grade. 

Imaginary Worlds

Think about playtime, did you create games or imaginary worlds as a child? If so, please describe an important original game or play world you enjoyed.

James: Whatever the current TV show or movie I saw was the background for adventures. I can remember the Buck Rogers cliff hangers with Buster Crabb and the Rocket Man series at the movies. Flash Gordon and the evil Ming was fun to imagine. 

Play Community

As a child how did you feel about how you fit in with the rest of the world or community or friends? Like, were you very social or did you prefer spending time alone? Your environment, was it rural or urban? Were siblings a big part of your playtime? Did adults interact with you in game play, and if so was it structured play (sports, scouting, clubs, etc.) or free form? 

James: My brother and I ignored real life back in the day. As soon as we could we were out the back door of the house and putting our selves in the pits of Mongo or the super cities of the Han. We didn’t really fantasize when the other neighbor kids started playing with us. In those days we did the games of children like four-square, jump rope, baseball, and dodge ball. My younger brother Larry got in the games early, but when I was in 6th grade we had my brother Mark and I generally just babysat him in the summers. Adults in those days just called us into the house for meals and to wash up. 

Playtime Impact on Adult Games

Do you have any thoughts about any aspects of your childhood playtime that might have influenced your passion for RPGs? Have you ever intentionally incorporated memories of childhood playtime into game work you have created as an adult?

James: I have a reputation for writing good science fiction as I designed the first science fiction RPG in Metamorphosis Alpha and the first apocalypse RPG in Gamma World. I know all of those Flash Gordon, Rocket Man, and Buck Rogers series gave me fun inspiration for doing RPGs. 

Desert Island Media

What are the top 10 things you would want to have on a deserted island - music recordings - films - books - TV shows - comics - games - or toys? 

James: Hmmmmm, I’m not putting down any survival gear, even though those types of items would fill my list. Other things would include: 
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
A powered computer with a hefty memory of games
The complete works of Robert Heinlein
A Star Trek powered replicator
A Julie Newmar robot
A dome house with the amenities
All of the James Bond CDs and a powered cd player
A large screen powered TV
An exercise machine. 

Metamorphosis Alpha:
Goodman Games edition of Metamorphosis Alpha:
James Ward Board Game Geek Page:
James, Crusader Journals available on Drive Thru RPG

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