What is Studio 9, and how did you get started?
[Lisa] Studio 9 Inc. is a multimedia company started in 2005 by us—husband and wife team C. Aaron Kreader and Lisa Blecker. With our combined skills, we illustrate, write, design, ideate, and/or produce family friendly media including books, games, animation, and magazines.
Whether we work independently or with collaborators to publish our Studio 9 products or work with other publishers to support their projects, our goal is to create positive (and often educational for our children’s content) media we love and hope others will love, too.
Your most recent project seems conceptually similar to the Tarot and other folk divination techniques. What was the inspiration behind Charms?
[Lisa] CHARMS: A Game of Insight originated from a dream I had.
I saw it as a board game where players rolled various pieces onto a mat. Depending on the pieces and where they landed, they had different meanings regarding real life situations. When I shared it with a friend, he said the dream showed a real tradition in his culture. He suggested I talk with a mutual friend named Julie Burns Walker to see if she’d help us make the game since Julie is a medical intuitive who had used the real tool amongst the elders in Southern Africa.
So with input from Julie, we wanted to approach CHARMS: A Game of Insight as an easy to learn tabletop game that anyone could play without any formal training. We wanted to make it its own creation.
Aaron and I don’t know Tarot or other folk divination techniques so we don’t know about any similarities. We can say that with CHARMS, the pieces act like inspiration prompts that inspire the players with insights. So it’s a creative problem-solving party game that’s as insightful as the players want to and are able to get.
Sometimes the answers are humorous and sometimes they are profound or both. We have found that the pieces tend to land in ways that are spot on for the Quester’s life question when coupled with wise interpretations of the roll, of course.
This game can also give you diverse perspectives on a situation from the views of different players. And you get to choose your favorite(s) and disregard the rest.
Is it difficult to play-test such a personal, potentially emotional game? What was the development process like?
[Lisa] Play-testing CHARMS was amazing and we loved it! We played it at parties, as an icebreaker, brainstorm session, team building activity, with youth, neighbors at community events, etc. This game is a great way to get to know people or to potentially connect more deeply with friends, co-workers, neighbors, or family.
The game is light enough that it makes any deeper conversations much easier to have—even if it means discussing the possibility of a divorce, which really happened during the play-testing stage. Thankfully useful insights came out that helped save the marriage. You can reveal as much or as little about yourself or a situation as you like. There’s no shaming or blaming involved in the game as each player is called on to access their inner sage/higher self to help one another. Then it’s up to each player to take or leave the suggestions given, such as the time when a player chose sage advice as the round’s winner over an answer merely shared for its silliness or shock value.
The development process was wonderful and the fastest ever!
Julie, Aaron, and I had amazing synergy and we all trusted each of our areas of expertise. After discussing and fleshing out concepts, we all agreed on everything. It was a truly consultative and smooth process that was super fun and we feel privileged to have been a part of.[Aaron] At certain conventions where there was a certain expectation of what a game is, I saw people struggle to either understand it, or get uncomfortable with the idea. But in most of our experiences the game was a refreshing change for those who enjoy creative and intuitive processes.
It has been a joy to test, because the game creates deeper understanding into people than any game I have seen. This could be scary for some, but to me it is the ultimate adventure!
But we also saw gamers who didn’t want to get deep have a blast with it by using their creative sides to come up with hilarious questions and answers that sounded like perfect content for a comedy routine.
I’m very intrigued by the Midnight Legion series of adventure books. Can you explain how the different books interact with each other?
[Aaron] The Box set has book 1 and the memory book. There are rules to explain the game in each book so you don’t need book 1 to play book 2 or 3. The way each book is used is different. For those familiar with gamebooks, you know it is a choose your own adventure style book where you jump to different entries based on your choices.
This is how book 1: Operation Deep Sleep works. The memory book is used only when you discover or purchase memories about your reality. The game starts with you having NO memory of who you are or where you are, or what your purpose is. But as the game goes on, you make choices that can earn you memory points. For example if you examine a photo you might gain 15 points, or see a familiar hallway or room.
As these stack up, you can spend them to understand the world around you better. Perhaps you meet someone who seems to know you, then the book prompts you to spend 10 memory points to look up memory 21. Now you can access the memory from the memory book entry 21 and learn a clue that might help you. Each time you play the game, different options open up and your path to victory will be different.
In addition, you can play different character types based on how you created your character. This means you can be good at combat, stealth, or precognition, or a combination. In every character style you have alternate means of playing the game and achieving victory. Like book 1, book 2 continues the saga, but both books can be played without using the other.
There is a book 3 coming out next year, and for Free RPG Day we are releasing a mini book for the series as a sort of prequel. In it, you can build a character as part of the system. Ask you local game store for the mini book when it becomes available!
The Studio 9 website details a wide variety of activities and influences – from children’s illustration and publishing to game design and events. Is it difficult to ‘switch gears’ between these fields?
[Lisa] Yes, Studio 9 Inc. does have a pretty wide array of interests and projects.
We are very motivated by projects we love and service oriented projects, which doesn’t always equate with creating a uniform body of products. Switching gears is challenging at times, but we’re always finding ways to make it work.[Aaron] Lisa and I have what I would call reinforcing skills and interests. She and I both love working on family friendly products. These can range from books to games to animation. But our vision for Studio 9 is that people can find something both fun and refreshing for everyone in the family, boys, girls, moms, pops, and grandparents!
What’s next? Any new projects on the horizon?
[Lisa] In addition to our ongoing work for the Baha’i-based award-winning children’s magazine Brilliant Star I have a new picture book for young children in development that I’m very excited about. It’s scheduled for a fall 2018 release.[Aaron] I am working on Midnight Legion book 3 and an RPG adventure for DCC RPG –which is a lot of fun. I have a few games in testing, including a co-op game where players are world leaders trying to solve world affairs.