Starfire gaming system II
Mike dropped me an e-mail asking if I wanted to comment on why I am no longer associated with the Starfire gaming system.
First, let me explain that this is me using my new Dragon voice-activated software. The software and I are still arguing about exactly who's in charge, and I think I may need a few patch updates for my AOL and my Internet Explorer before they'll let me make full use of Dragon and its editing capabilities. I do have some hopes, however, that this is actually going to let me get some writing done while my hand is still wrapped up in all this plaster. It isn't going to be as fast and convenient as using a keyboard, at least for the first little bit, but the vocabulary does seem to be building up, and the editor is getting better about figuring out what I actually meant to say in the first place. Not only that, but I am getting better at fixing the things it gets wrong.
All right. What happened with Starfire was certainly not the fault of anyone currently associated with the game. I may not completely agree with some of the things that Marvin and his folks want to do with the gaming system, but there was never any question of any impropriety on their part. When they received the original ISW-4 product from Task Force Games, they had no reason to suspect or to wonder whether or not I'd actually been paid for the product. They were asked to do some additional development work with it, and I have no doubt it all that they are the only reason that the product actually was made available to the public in the end.
I'll be honest and admit that I do have some bruised feelings over the whole thing, but those are aimed more at the original assurance from Task Force that I was to have been given creative control and oversight of the entire gaming system. The idea was that with one person in charge of the entire project, it wouldn't be going off in all directions at one time. It's quite true that player input, suggestions, and demands play a major role in where a game goes in the development process, especially when it's a game which is being produced in ongoing expansion modules, linked by an equally ongoing technological development history.
But while that is true, it's also true that one of the major problems of the original Starfire system was that too many cooks got involved in stirring the broth. In particular, there was a certain member of the original Task Force Games (not to be confused with the current Task Force management) who shall remain nameless, who spent an awful lot of his time mucking about with the Starfire rules... and seldom to good effect. That was the main reason why when John Olsen asked me if I would be interested in taking over the redevelopment Starfire, he and I agreed that any changes that were made in the gaming system would have to be approved by me. I never intended for that to become a dictatorial control (although I feel fairly confident that some of the people who wanted me to make changes that I didn't want to make might disagree with me about that), but what I did intend was to create a situation in which the technology, the races, the diplomacy, the history between the races, and all the other factors of the Starfire universe would be consistent, coherent, and reflect my belief that a threat evokes a response, and that that response is what feels [fuels -Ed.] the evolution of technology in a military sense. In other words, I wanted to make the entire Starfire universe internally consistent, and from where I sat (and from my minor experience as a universe builder, he said with a self-effacing grin and an incredible effusion of almost unendurable modesty!), that seemed to require a single gatekeeper.
It may well be that I've always thought of the universe more from the perspective of a novelist than that of the pure gamer. I think that may be one of the strengths of the navies and the wars and empires I structured for the Starfire universe, but it also means that tended to think in terms of processes and the forces driving the history more than I did solely in terms of game mechanics. At the same time, I have been a gamer myself for something like 35 years now, and I always tried not to let the storyteller in me completely overpower the military gamer. The size of the scenarios in the later products did tend to get a little overwhelming though, and I can certainly understand Marvin's desire to reduce their scale somewhat. Some of the changes which his group has made I approve wholeheartedly, but there are others which are in direct contradiction of aspects of the future history which had already been pretty much nailed down and set in concrete, especially where the novels were concerned. From a purely gaming perspective, even quite a few of those changes aren't particularly objectionable to me, although there are a few on which Marvin and I are simply in fundamental disagreement. That happens. When it does happen, someone has to be the chief and make the final call on where the gaming system goes. In this case, Marvin had purchased the system from Task Force in good faith and without being aware that there were or might be any monies outstanding to me. I saw absolutely no reason why I should beat on him at secondhand for something would certainly had not been his fault. Not only that, but it sounded to me as if his plans were the only really likely way for Starfire to continue in production, and whether or not I'm still personally involved with the game, I certainly want to see it remain on the shelves and available to players. Because of that, and because Marvin is basically a nice guy who wants to do the fair and honest thing, he and I worked out a compromise, which left him free to produce The Fourth Interstellar War and to continue to develop the Starfire gaming universe along the lines his group had in mind. They were kind enough to invite me to continue to contribute to the game system, but since we weren't in complete agreement about exactly where it should be going anyway, and since my time has become so pressed as the various books have taken off, it just seemed to make a lot more sense to let them take over the game while Steve White and I continued with the sequel to IDG and any additional Starfire novels. When Marvin and I discussed it, I told him that the novels would continue along the timeline and the future history that I had put together from where the game system was going to go had I remained the primary designer. This means of course, that the books and games are going to grow further and further apart, assuming that Steve and I do find the time to collaborate on still more novels after we actually get The Shiva Option out of the way.
I wish the StarFire Design people and the gaming system itself all the good luck in the world, and I hope that present and future players of the game will find even half the pleasure that I always found in it. It's certainly a game which deserves to fall into the hands of people who care about it, and from my discussions with him, Marvin and his bunch certainly seem to be that.