Interview with Mikaela Barree, designer of Splinter

Interviews with a Game Designer: In this series, we’ve asked the women who make games to talk to us about the whole experience so you can get an inside view of what it’s like to make the games we love! This time meet Mikaela Barree, designer of SPLINTER!

Say hi, and tell everyone a little about yourself.

Hello! My name is Mikaela Barree, and I'm the co-owner of End Transmission Games. I've done some writing for the Baby Bestiary by Andreas Walters as well, but mostly I spend my time writing fiction, playtesting, laying out books, and doing graphic design and illustrations for End Transmission.


You mentioned you write fiction. Is there anywhere we can read your work?

The work that I have published is largely in the End Transmission Games books. I wrote the opening fiction for both the SPLINTER and Systems Malfunction books, and a short story called "The Kids from Yesterday" in the Psionics core rulebook. I have a few other short stories running around, but those are the three that I'm the most proud of.


At the moment you are Kickstarting a gaming supplement for the game Splinter. Can you tell us a little bit more about the game?

Very briefly, we describe SPLINTER as "Dungeons and Dragons meets The Running Man on acid," but that only scratches the surface. In SPLINTER, you play as both Player and Avatar.

On Earth, it is the year 2471, and society is a dystopian caste system that revolves around The Game, which is the bread and circuses of the masses. There is very little in the way of upward mobility - if you want to get power, comfort, and freedom, you need to play the Game and become a celebrity worth keeping around. Many people are sentenced to play the Game as well, for real crimes or for infractions such as not watching the Game or reading the wrong books. If you die in the Splinter, you die on Earth. If you get good enough, you might be able to break free of society's chains. Players are jacked into the VR dungeon of the Splinter, where their exploits are broadcast for all to see.

The Splinter itself is an infinite, randomly-generated dungeon, constantly shifting and moving. One level can be a standard dungeon - another could contain what seems to be an open sky, and all the fixtures of a city. In the Splinter, you take on the form of a shape-shifting demigod with the power to alter reality through will alone. Each Avatar has their own personality; among the denizens of the Splinter, Players are viewed as demons who possess the inhabitants of the realm for bloodlust or greed. The Splinter is populated by monsters, the remnants of lost bloodlines, and societies of living bloodlines who form their own disparate factions.


Wait, so basically, you are playing roleplayers of a futuristic world with higher stakes? That is awesome! Do the players decide on their Avatar's personality themselves or is it something that is randomly generated for them?

There are a few answers to that question. Those who are sitting at the table playing SPLINTER choose all the aspects of their Avatars - how similar those Avatars are to their Players, how those Avatars live their lives when not inhabited by Players. But in the universe that SPLINTER takes place in, Players don't have a choice on what Avatar they are paired with. The process by which a Player and Avatar are paired is a guarded secret, but once they have been paired, they're stuck together until they die. This can result in some very interesting combinations, and interesting character growth along the way for both Player and Avatar.


What inspired the creation of the gaming supplements?

We've been planning to create Sometimes Little Wondrous Things and Ugly Things for quite a while, now. SPLINTER was our first release as a game company, and almost as soon as it dropped, I knew I wanted to write and be the lead developer on Ugly Things. Sometimes Little Wondrous Things has also been in progress for some time. SPLINTER itself has a good number of both creatures and items, but we felt that, in order to really show the scope of the Splinter as an infinite dungeon, we needed to go bigger.


What do they add to the already existing game?

Ugly Things will be a book of new creatures and enemies within the Splinter. SPLINTER as it stands has a little over 60 enemies in the core book, Ugly Things will add over 100 new creatures. Sometimes Little Wondrous Things will add a huge assortment of gear, weapons, magic items, technology, and spells. Both books include tables for randomization of treasure and encounters, and also - by request - tables that will allow you to create your own creatures or treasure.


Can you give us an example of a monster we will find in Ugly Things?

One of the enemy bloodlines/creature types in the SPLINTER core is called the Rust Cotillion. They are a hive mind of clockwork beings that seem to be animated by magic, and are driven by a hatred of all things organic. They can come in different shapes - the ones in the core are anthropomorphic and insectoid. I felt that this collective needed some clockwork hounds to help them root out organic beings (i.e. Avatars) and use the canid-style pack hunting methods in concert with the Rust Cotillion's hive mind state for some terrifying adversaries.


In the creation of these books, where did you draw your inspiration from?

Our biggest inspiration was The Acts of Caine series by Matthew Woodring Stover, but we've also taken notes from BLAME! by Tsutomu Nihei and the film "Dark City." We learned about works such as Ready, Player One and The Hunger Games after we released SPLINTER, but they definitely have their similarities with how SPLINTER plays out. Of course, the concept of randomly generated dungeons and procedural generation comes from a lifetime love of gaming.


What has been the most difficult part of this project so far?

Right now, our focus is on getting the Surprising Things project funded - we're well on our way, but not there yet. A large portion of the writing has been done for both Ugly Things and Sometimes Little Wondrous Things, but we've recently taken on several awesome freelance writers to speed the production of both books. We can't move forward with working with them until we know that we have the money to pay our freelancers. It's very important to us that we are able to pay people what we say we will, and we don't want people to do work they won't be reimbursed for.


What’s your next project?

Our previous (and first) Kickstarter, Psionics, went like gangbusters - we hit a huge portion of the stretch goals for that, and while we've delivered almost everything we've promised, we're still in the middle of production for the Psionics comic book and the first published adventure for that line. Right now, we have people working on both, and they should be released in the winter quarter of this year. We're also releasing a very short free supplement for The Singularity System, which is in layout now. After we've fulfilled those promises, we've got some exiting ideas for SPLINTER adventures, setting books for The Singularity System, and more Psionics adventures and supplements, but we want to make sure we've done all the things we've said we would do before going full speed ahead on those.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to make their own game?

We published SPLINTER, The Singularity System, Anathema, and several supplements on our own. Psionics was the first project we took to Kickstarter, and it made a big difference for the production values we could offer, and to spread the word around about our stuff. The moral of the story isn't necessarily "Kickstart everything!", but more along the lines of, be involved with the gaming community. Talk to people, get advice from as many people as you can. Help support other projects, and don't be afraid to ask for help. The gaming community has been really wonderful to me, once I got over some of my shyness, and it's made me wonder why I didn't reach out sooner. Your game might be your baby, but talking to other people will help it grow into something bigger and better than you could have imagined.

You can find the SPLINTER kickstarter here, and see more of Mikaela's work at End Transmission Games.

Liz Chaipraditkul is a writer and game developer. She is the owner of Angry Hamster Publishing, a company that develops and publishes tabletop role playing games. She dabbles in illustration and other crafts, but her true love is writing. You can read more of her personal ramblings on her blog, or follow her on Twitter as @epicxcloth.