Interview with Jason Morningstar, designer of Night Witches
Say hi, and tell everyone a little about yourself.
Hi, I'm Jason Morningstar, a game designer and enthusiast who lives in Durham, North Carolina, USA with my wife Autumn, two cats and the menacing ghost of a raccoon named Robert Cornteeth. I'm probably best known for my game Fiasco.
Tell us about your latest game.
Night Witches is a game about the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, which was an exclusively female Regiment that fought throughout World War Two on the eastern front. You play pilots going on incredibly dangerous night strikes against the German army, returning by day to face endemic sexism and all the privations and horrors of total war.
Why did you choose this part of history to make into a game?
I mean, come on! As soon as I learned about these women I knew I had to share their story. It's a compelling and often overlooked piece of history. For roleplaying it is just an amazing situation - a combination of action and pathos.
There was a lot of research done for this game. Was there any part of this history that you felt shouldn't be translated into a game? Why?
Definitely - I state up front that I made many choices in the service of gameplay that short-changed actual history. I sort of cherry-picked duty stations, for example. I greatly simplified Russian naming practices. I standardized things that changed over the course of the war for simplicity. Any time actual history conflicted with gameplay, gameplay won.
What is the difference between writing a fictional game vs one based in history?
I'm the wrong person to ask. I think history is such an inspiring, deep well that I use it constantly. My game Durance, for example, is very science fiction-y, but it is basically a retelling of the British colonization of Australia.
What was your approach on bringing justice to a topic concentrating on women in war? Did you have any concerns about doing the subject matter justice or representing it accurately?
I absolutely had concerns and took my responsibility - and privilege - very seriously. I feel like I approached the topic responsibly, but definitely felt the need to check myself. To that end I enlisted the help of a group of women from very different backgrounds to run the developing manuscript by. While I take full responsibility for the final product, I'm really lucky to have had a council of advisors to point out areas where I was making an ass of myself. They helped art direct, too, which was really useful. The final game is much better because of Kira, Mo and Sara's contributions.
What’s your next project?
Next up for Bully Pulpit Games is The Warren, an unbelievably cool game about rabbits struggling to live and thrive. It was written by Marshall Miller and we're just wrapping up playtesting now. My next game will be a freeform larp called JUGGERNAUT that is sort of like a Twilight Zone episode you get to play with your friends in an evening.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to make their own game?
Do it! There's never been a better time, the tools are all there and it is only getting easier. The key is to embrace mutualism and find a community of like-minded designers you can get involved in. Game design really isn't a solo artiste type process, or at least when done well it isn't.
How did you get ready for your Kickstarter?
My business partner Steve and I thought very carefully about reward levels, with an eye toward sustainability. We wanted to keep it really simple and easy to fulfill, but also allow people to contribute meaningfully with some fun stuff. The whole thing was very carefully organized to make sure we would not lose money, even if it was a runaway hit.
What’s your favorite reward level?
I offered to make twenty complete meals of traditional Russian food in the style of wartime rations, and assembling these has been a total blast. I got to design labels for cans, do food research and create a menu in consultation with a WW2 Russian army reenactor. it's been really fun and I can't wait to ship my care packages!