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Game Designer Interview: Alex and Angela Jarkey

We are here today with Alex and Angela Jarkey who are the designers of Flashback RPG.  They currently have a Kickstarter for their game, and SRGA have taken the opportunity to interview them.

Woman and man smiling

SRGA: Alex and Angela, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in gaming.

Angela: Really it was Alex that brought me into gaming. I guess it began in high school when we first started dating. It wasn’t until he convinced me one weekend to play Warcraft 3 that I started to see the fun. From there my interest in gaming expanded, from PC and console gaming, to board games, and more recently RPGs. 

I started playing MMORPGs like WoW and Skyrim, and then we went camping with my family and Alex suggested that we play The One Ring (a Lord of the Rings RPG). I had been a LOTR fan for a while (books and movies) and it was the perfect intro into this new world of gaming. Since then we have been playing regular DnD games with a group of friends – last week my Barbarian/Druid was disintegrated by a Lich Lord in the Tomb of Annihilation. I’m in mourning.

Alex: I started playing RPGs when I was about 15 years old. 3rd edition D&D had just come out so our DM had managed to get a pile of AD&D books on the cheap! None of us really knew the rules and just improvised a lot of things, which actually made it even more fun – I think most of our adventures were just grinding through the weird 2nd edition monster manual and getting butchered by Modrons.

We didn’t have a lot of money, so we picked up a lot of second hand books from garage sales and conventions. We played Silhouette and Tribe 8, GURPS, Savage World and Star Wars RPG, and some more obscure ones like the Firefly and a Final Fantasy one that was literally printed out and spiral bound.

SRGA: Tell us about the game you have developed.  (Genre, setting etc) 

Angela: Flashback is essentially set in a Steampunk-Fantasy universe, however the traditional steampunk image of Victorian fashion only makes up a small area of the world. The universe encompasses a wide variety of cultures including Chinese, Nordic, Amazonian, Japanese, Indian, Islander and Arabian, all with a steampunk theme. Essentially any culture people wish to incorporate they can, so long as they can tell the story. Currently these are the ones we have worked around, but the possibilities are endless.

The Starfall sets our stories into motion – night turns to day as hundreds of meteors burned trails through the heavens, destroying cities and killing millions. Those that survived began to fall prey to the spore sickness that the meteors brought with them. The sickness blights the land, decimates crops and livestock’s and inflicts the minds of its victims with a terrible madness. Many fled from the cities to the safety of smaller towns in the heart of the Empire.

And then the Titans came. Gargantuan beasts that destroy everything in their path, razing towns to the ground and decimating cities in mere moments. With nowhere left to run, the people must stand and fight.

Alex: More mechanically, Flashback is an RPG where you advance by building up your backstory as you play. Players can choose to improve their skills and abilities by telling a story from their past about how they came to acquire those skills. Other players at the table have the opportunity to ask questions and are encouraged to introduce new NPCs, locations and events to connect all of the player characters together as the game progresses.

By using the Flashback mechanic, players are actually rewarded for roleplaying – as your character’s personality develops, so do their physical attributes. Having complex characters with real backstories and motivations also gives the GM a lot of material to work with – for example they can bring back NPCs from a character’s past as rivals or allies as the campaign progresses.

SRGA: What motivated you to start creating your own game? 

Angela: It was really easy to see what a great rule set Alex had developed and I was immediately inspired to build a world around it. Every playtest that we did brought ideas flooding to me for new campaigns and adding more diversity and history to the world. 

Alex: I believe that roleplaying games have the potential to open our minds in ways that no other games can. The goal of Flashback is to introduce new players to how much fun you can have by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes and experiencing things from a different perspective. I also think that roleplaying should be interwoven with all parts of your game, not just siloed into “combat encounters” and “story progression” sections – I wanted to come up with a system that made storytelling and character development just as fun and rewarding as fighting giant Titans.

SRGA: What has surprised you most about your experiences creating / producing a game in Australia? 

Alex: I’ve been very incredibly impressed by the amount of indie support and assistance and totally disappointed by the lack of industry support. Co-op groups like the Tabletop Game Designers Association and of course the Sydney Roleplaying Gamers Association help to promote, mentor and collaborate on each other’s projects on a 100% volunteer basis. In comparison, trying to get a few moments of an established publisher’s time is like getting blood from a stone.

SRGA: Are you a plotter or a pantser?  Do you meticulously plan every detail, or spontaneously go with the flow when creating your game? 

Angela: In life I am definitely a plotter. However when creating a world like this you essentially need to be very open ended about it so that the players have the freedom to go wherever and do whatever their characters would do. I am building a universe where there is meticulous detail for the director to use and the players to ignore.

Alex: I gave up long ago on trying to herd the cats in the right direction, and now I pretty much just improvise everything as I go. I still prepare a LOT, but it’s always very open ended rather than rigidly scripted – reusable NPCs, encounters or locations that can drop in anywhere as the players move forwards.

SRGA: What is important to you as a player, and how have you incorporated aspects of that into your own game? 

Angela: My absolute favourite RPG moments are when the rulebook gets thrown out the window and the Game Master says ‘Go for it’. Obviously this cannot happen all the time, but if the player thinks of something that is unique, interesting and within character I think this should be encouraged. It’s also really entertaining when they fail the role and completely stuff it up.

I also like a game that you can just sit down and play. The biggest obstacle for me when I was first trying to play DnD was that I had to spend hours researching races and classes and reading spell lists to build my character before I could play. I love that with Flashback you can just get into it and your character develops as the game does. 

Alex: I think it’s always important to remember that we play games to have fun. That means that rules, story, drama and even roleplaying all need to come second if it means that players will enjoy themselves more. So I think it’s important to be dynamic and know when to break the rules, suspend disbelief or step back from the situation to keep things fun and interesting for everybody.

SRGA: What do you think will change about the Australian hobby gaming industry over the next 5 or 10 years?   

Alex: I think that interest in smaller, indie RPGs will grow off the back of the increased D&D player base. I hope that this leads to more support from boardgame and other tabletop publishers who see that there is a real market for RPG products out there!

SRGA: Finally, some fun questions to finish off (give quick answers please!):

SRGA: If a movie was made of your life what genre would it be, and who would play you?

Angela: It would be a musical and I would love to think that I would be played be Idina Menzel or Sara Bareilles, but realistically it’s more likely to be Rachel Bloom.

Alex: A documentary? More likely a Mocumenatary, where every few minutes there is an Arrested Development-style narrator foreshadowing how whatever I just said is going to go comically wrong in a few scenes.

SRGA: If you could bring back any fashion trend throughout history, what would it be?

Angela: 1890’s hats, canes, and tailored dresses for ladies, top hats and waistcoats for men – absolute style!!

Alex: Capes. They are warm, and you get stalk around like Jon Snow and/or Batman.

SRGA: What personal trait has gotten you in the most trouble? 

Angela: I have a tendency to be quite Forthright

Alex: Angela will tell you that I’m probably too Curious for my own good.

SRGA: Thank you for your time, and for being part of the Australian role playing community.  Hopefully we can get you to run Flashback at Sydcon or Eyecon, our SRGA conventions, so players can try it out.

But in the meantime, if readers what to find out more about your game, or purchase copies, what is the best way for them to do that? 

Alex: People can view our Kickstarter trailer here:

And support our Kickstarter now that it is live.

More generally, everything about Flashback RPG is on our website.  


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