Friday night during Gen Con 2011, I had the opportunity to speak with John Nguyen, Marketing Director of Dream Pod 9, makers of the tactical miniatures game Heavy Gear, and talk all things Dream Pod 9.
Matt Faul: Here I am with John Nguyen of Dream Pod 9, makers of the Heavy Gear miniatures game amongst other things. For those that are not maybe aware of Heavy Gear, why don’t you explain it to us? The universe and the game.
John Nguyen: Okay then. In a nutshell, Heavy Gear is your anime mecha, big robot, stompy shoot-em up game. We are talking mecha combat like in the Japanese animation. It is fast, furious, and blinding. That’s why you call it the blitz.
MF: Okay. So over the top action with lots of explosions.
JN: LOTS of explosions. There is automatic fire going off, people dying, things getting blown up, collateral damage. At the same time, even though it’s over the top, we have incorporated elements of real life warfare into it. We have elements like electronic warfare, air support, artillery strikes, off table artillery strikes, and a command structure. So if your army commander gets taken out, command is transferred to the second in command. It goes down the line that way. There are elements of the unknown as well. The objectives are secret most of the time when we are playing. Even though it’s over the top fast pace action, we try to make it realistic. There are elements which we incorporate into this game that make it as close to tabletop warfare as a game can be, without actually bogging down the action.
MF: So instead of being one of those rules heavy systems where you have textbook-like modifiers and equations, this is more a fast play. You have the strategy of the miniatures game without the bogging down.
JN: We’re not rolling on several sub-tables and complex things. What we are doing right here is: There is a guy with cover. I’m shooting him in the rear. He can’t normally defend well against a rear attack. He eats it. Another guy holds him down with a bunch of 25mm rounds, auto-cannons. We’re talking bushmaster cannons. Bang. The first guy erupts. Fuel tanks blow up, ammo blows up, and the guy dies. He gets ripped in half by a laser beam that goes right though the cockpit of the machine. Think of all the anime stuff you wanted to do and you can get to do it here.
MF: So it’s a nice mix for people who like to have a heavy action game with strategy, without things being slowed down.
JN: Right. In the average game that we are talking here, there is a team of Gears, which are the mecha. So basically you are bringing in twenty dudes. Fifteen to twenty dudes, ad you’re fighting over a game. If both guys are really aggressive, this game will end in about an hour.
MF: The miniatures game isn’t the only thing you have that is Heavy Gears related. You also have a role playing game as well.
JN: Right, we have a role playing game, but right now it’s kinda shelved. We were at the 3rd edition of the game, but due to the D20 craze back in late 90’s, that really didn’t go anywhere. However our fans have really retained and loved the second edition, which used our Silhouette engine and found it preferable to the d20 version. Now with the second edition, we have over 100 titles out. Okay, very very detailed fluff. So if you are an RPG player and really into lore and fluff, it’s very very detailed. We have individual characters. We have city states. We have politics. We have intrigue and we have outer space colonies.
MF: So there is a whole Heavy Gear universe as oppose to just stats for giant robots to blow each other up.
JN: Right, so the Heavy Gear universe starts with the second ice age on earth in the year 2400. Currently the timeline is 6200. Heavy Gear started making appearances on the planet Terra Nova in, say, about 200 years ago. This is 2-300 years from the current timeline and they have been in service/in action since then.
MF: So there is a lot of depth to the entire world. Heavy Gear is a miniatures game. What about pewter minis? That may be a turn off because they are not really good with painting. Do you have anything for that type of gamer? Maybe tutorials on your website?
JN: We have something called Gear-Up Magazine. Gear-Up Magazine is our quarterly magazine. It basically has, you know, gaming features in it. Modelling features. We also have a forum tt’s highly moderated. So we have a section that is actually miniatures and conversations. People post their stuff. They share tips. They help each other out, how to assemble their minis, how to paint. You can always count on some friendly advice somewhere.
MF: So there is a good community behind it. Besides the company supporting it, the community supports it as well.
JN: The community supports it. We have a great bunch on the forum. These people just show up and like show new people around, tell them what to get, tell them how to put their minis together. Tips and tricks of the trade. So if you’re not really a good hobbyist right now, anyone can do this really. You know get the resources you need. Get the advice you need. Practice, practice, practice. Anyone can paint a decent quality.
MF: So just because it’s not painted, gamers should not discourage people from playing. It’s just something that can expand your gaming interest.
JN: I think it’s the complete opposite. Because it’s not painted and assembled, it leaves you a world of possibilities.
MF: Far more customizable that way.
JN: Like I said, Heavy Gear is a game that allows a lot of strategy and a lot of strategy means a lot of options. These Gears are humanoid in shape so the sky is the limit in their load out. All they have to do is let go of a gun and pick up a new gun. So their load out is unlimited.
MF: What would you say the learning curve is for someone who has never played a tabletop miniatures game before?
JN: Twenty minutes. Sit down do a demo, we are at booth 825 this GenCon. Ask any of our friendly staff to demo you. After that,you have a good grasp of giant stompy robot action.
MF: On your website as well, you have a tactics game and quick start rules as well.
JN: Right. On our website, www.dp9.com, you can go to our downloads section. There are quick start rules. There are gaming aids. There is even paper terrain that is in scale with our line. There is a whole bunch of stuff. There are cheat sheets. There are counters. You don’t even need to buy the official counters. You can print them out and use the stuff that we download. So we give players all the tools, even though they never touched a miniatures game before. All the tools for them to quickly assimilate it and enjoy themselves.
MF: You also have a few other game lines besides Heavy Gear: Tribes 8 and the Jovian RPG.
JN: We are in a growth spurt right now. The company went down a bit after 2000. We kinda disappeared for a bit. Right now, what we are, is essentially a new company. Our entire staff is new. As such, we only have so many resources to devote to game lines. Right now we are focusing on Heavy Gear Blitz. Heavy Gear has always been our flagship line. That is where we are going to be focusing our attention to rebuild the company. Now I didn’t say that, for now, our other game lines are shelved. There is nothing saying we are not going to reopen any of those in the future.
MF: Just because it’s not under development right now doesn’t mean you’re refocusing the company with your core product so that you can develop the resources to grow into other things.
JN: Right now we only have one production team, so ergo, we focus on one product.
MF: With Heavy Gear you also have the Arena rules.
JN: Arena is our spinoff game. It takes place in the same world as Heavy Gear. But basically what it is is NASCAR, wrestling, gladiators, Roman gladiators in a competitive game involving Heavy Gears.
MF: It’s like Battlebots for Heavy Gears.
JN: That’s exactly what it is. You’re playing a team manager. The team manager has different classes of managers that give you different abilities and resources. You go ahead and hire your pilots. You hire your tech crew, your pit crew. You hire your PR, your marketing, your handlers, your black market contacts. You buy your equipment and you buy your gears. You have your techs fit them. So you have to hire competent people on your team otherwise you have malfunctioning equipment. Now you take this stuff, all this cool stuff and you take them into the arena where you are going to be pitted against your buddies’ teams on a Friday night at your game store. You fight it out. Your guys gain experience. They gain fame. They gain reputation. Your guys level up. They get better. They can do crazy kung-fu like combos, Mortal Kombat type of thing. You chain up your combos into insane type of things that you can do in the arena which you cannot do in Blitz. Blitz is focused on military action. Here we are talking about beers and pretzels Hong Kong fight films with giant robots. Then as your team grows in fame and experience, you’re going to be attracting the interest of corporate sponsors. That is going to make your ascension in the season a lot easier because they are going to be going, “Hey can you advertise our stuff and start using the Gears we make? Here are some Gears.” Then in post-game wrap ups as your guys get better, they develop egos. So you need handlers to keep them in check. You know, one guy can go off and start abusing substances or whatever, or getting into bar fights. If you know your major sponsor is family friendly, they might want to pull out. That can leave you short of cash to pay your crew afterwards. So that’s what arena is all about. It’s all the drama in and out of the ring. That’s exactly what it is but with giant robots.
MF: It’s like a sports sim with Robot combat. What new release do you have coming out? Anything our readers should be looking out for?
JN: We are going to have coming out in the last quarter of this year, maybe beginning of next quarter 2012, an exciting new army. It’s an all new never before seen army because that’s how big the fluff is. The fluff is huge enough that we can invent a new army and it would fit the lore. This is an army called The New Coalition. Basically it’s made up of several badlands city-states which are neutral states. They are neutral states tired of north and south states fighting in their backyard. They actually teamed up with the remnants of the first failed Earth invasion, with are now in Port Arthur Korps. These guys have actually teamed up and formed an economic union called the New Coalilition. Obviously no one wants to sell them military equipment because, you know, these are the descendants of a failed Earth Invasion. So they are actually forced to develop their own machines, their own Gears, and we have an exciting line. We are debuting them right here at GenCon 2011. They are right there in our display cases so come check them out. They are really cool looking. That is going to be coming out later this year or the beginning of next year. So the book that is going to support that is called New Coalition. That is going to be the third book in the War for Terra Nova series.
MF: For people looking to find your stuff, maybe their hobby store doesn’t carry them. Can they order from you directly?
JN: If your hobby store doesn’t carry us, you can get them to carry us. We open accounts directly with retailers. All they have to do is contact me directly on our contact list at our DP9 site, John.email@example.com. We offer very competitive terms, very flexible terms, and we ship very relativity quickly. Otherwise you can have your retailers get us from Warpath and Alliance.
MF: You also have some PDF products up on Drivethru RPG?
JN: All the books we have ever published, ever! Everything since the late 80’s is on Drivethru RPG. A lot of the books also have a print option, so you can go ahead and print them. Gear-Up is on Drivethru RPG and that is free. Yeah, you can just download everything we’ve ever published and start reading.
MF: So even if you aren’t fully caught up, you can be because it is all there.
JN: It’s all there. We offer continuous living book PDFs. So every once in a while we keep on updating it. So you are always informed by DrivethruRPG that this is the latest stuff. So you can always download it, as it’s in your account. Put it in your kindle, put it in your PDAs, put it on whatever you have tablets, and bring it to your game store because you can have the entire library! There are so many cool expansions. You have all the information right there at your fingertips. A lot of the things we do is have is actually bundles. If you buy the hardcopy you get the PDF.
MF: Tomorrow at Saturday at GenCon, you have your championships.
JN: That’s right. At GenCon, we always host our annual American Championship for Heavy Gear Blitz. We are expecting a pretty good crowd. People have travelled from all over the states and Canada to come compete and we are going to be crowning the Heavy Gears 2011 American Champion. Also very interesting to note is that we are a Canadian company. So in May, we hosted our Canadian Championship in Ottawa at Cangames. Americans actually came up from near and far to compete in the Canadian Championship. 2011 has seen an upset where as an American has won the Canadian Championship.
MF: So Canada needs to get their revenge tomorrow and take the American Championship?
JN: Actually Canadians ARE coming down so they can compete in the American Championships.
MF: So they may redeem themselves.
JN: So they can redeem themselves indeed.
MF: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers in parting?
JN: If you never heard of Heavy Gear, or you always wanted to pilot a giant robot, come on down to our booth and play Heavy Gear. Look us up if you can’t make it down to GenCon. Keep an eye out on our website. We always put up where we are going, when we are going and what we are doing. So keep current with us, come check us out, come check out our miniatures, and just try our game.
MF: Thank you for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
JN: My pleasure.