So how is it that, after all the noise and thunder about the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, I, Mike Pondsmith, Der Cyberpunk Dude and Head of the RTG Madhouse, have just started up a Kickstarter for MEKTON?
To get some perspective on my thought process, let’s all time travel back to around 2005, when a somewhat younger Mike Pondsmith was looking at his 11 year old son, who, along with his friends Stone, Rachel and Brynn, have just demanded that Cody’s Dad run a roleplaying game for them. Hmm. So like, running Cyberpunk is right of of the question right now, isn’t it? I mean, their parents won’t even let them play Grand Theft Auto at this age. But heck, I haven’t run Mekton in a while…and I remember it was a heck of a lot of fun…
So Mekton it was.
Immediately, I realized I had a big problem. Mekton takes a lot to set up. I mean, I like making giant robots, but I wasn’t seriously expecting a bunch of preteens to get off on juggling calculus to create the optimal mecha suit. So I knew some adaptations were in order.
It all Seemed So Simple When I Started…
I started out by just making the mecha for them. Seems like a plan, right? But pretty soon, I realized that keeping track of the bookkeeping needed in a full-on mecha fight was putting a bunch of hyperactive preteens off in a big way. In fact, it was putting ME off after a while (since I had to do all the math). So I ended up simplifying the Mekton combat systems so that they reflected the intricacies of the core game, but in an easier to use way (like using hit location dice instead of tables). I also structured the combat system to better reflect the kind of combat they were used to seeing on the small screen; a style that was less about who hit whom, but rather how they hit each other (while screaming out the name of the attack no less).
Why Do People Play Anime Games? There’s More Than One Reason…
I also found that while most of the crew wasn’t all that into playing a combat game with giant robots, they were totally into playing a convoluted anime game with tormented love affairs, twisty plots, foul betrayals, personal enemies and dark secrets, where the players happened to have personal giant robots that could be used to resolve disagreements. So I ended up simplifying the process of making the mecha and instead brought in a more interesting process of getting and customizing that mecha. I later expanded this into a way of giving each mecha a “personality” of sorts that made it stand out from the crowd, even if everyone had the exact same type of Mekton. Suddenly, giant robots became favored “pets” and players lavished all kinds of attention on their acquisitions. Sold.
Back to Algol (the Grand Tour This Time)
Of course, having a bunch of now totally involved players (heck, they were writing fan fiction by this point!) meant they spent more time wandering all over the game setting. Which meant I actually had to have a proper game setting. I hadn’t been back to Algol in a few years, so I dragged out my old game notes and started to reconstruct the world with all the knowledge I’d accumulated since the 80’s. My longtime fascination with paleontology and geology inspired me to redesign the flora, fauna and geophysics of the planet. I had new ideas about island and jungle warfare from an extended World War II Pacific phase I’d gone through. I dredged up stuff from my hobby reading on Greek City states and the wars between Sparta and Athens, then mixed it in with a raft of Tokugawa-era samurai war stuff. Working in the Flight Sims group at Microsoft had given me a real feel for warplane R&D and how competing nations came up with their best fighting machines.
In the end, I had a totally redesigned Algol; a world that was no longer a mishmosh of anime shows I’d enjoyed twenty years ago, but a pretty well thought out world, with a scientifically structured ecology, geology, planetology, political systems, cultural styles and even warmachine development paths that made sense of the idea of HAVING giant robots. In short, the place now WORKED.
The Past Catches Up
I ran that game for several years; long enough for the original kids to grow up, bring new kids into the group, date each other, drag some adults into the game, graduate, and eventually even drift back into the game. Eventually, a night came when my now adult son and I were hanging out, and he announced that he was interested in restarting up the “family business” (aka R.Talsorian). I’d also been talking that week to several old Tal staffers who also told me how much they missed the fun of the old days, so it was pretty obvious that we all liked the idea of getting the band back together. Shortly thereafter, the team at CDPR called up and proposed the idea of a Cyberpunk video game and the die was cast. RTG was going to be back in business.
Along the way, the old Mekton gaming crew began to drift back into our orbit, talking about how much fun they’d had battling Lord Ebonflack and the other various threats to our shared imaginary world. So once again, I got out my notes, got ready to start a new campaign—and in the process, realized that over the years, I had come up with a brand new way of looking at Mekton; one that combined the old systems with new ways of playing the game. In fact, I had created a whole new game. And the damned thing was really exciting.
Enter Mekton Zero
And so here we are at the result of that journey—Mekton Zero. Over the next few weeks, through these Designer’s Notes, I’d like to share some of the ideas and discoveries that have led to the final development of this game, just like I would post a Designer Diary for any of the video game projects I’ve worked on over the years. It’s going to be a bit rambling in places, but I think you may find the process that ended up with Mekton Zero an interesting journey.
And heck; as anyone who knows me can tell you—I just love to talk game design!