The Soap Collective Interview

soap-collective-interview

Whilst more apps and games have always attempted to replace the original act of pen and paper roleplaying, The Soap Collective have chosen to embraced and refine the act of bringing friends together around a table, or even out in the wild, by producing Role, an app designed to allow for quick and easy group campaigns that don’t require a stack of rulebooks and a hundred types of dice to play. My Boxed Universe sits down with Logan, a key member of the creative team behind Role and asks him some questions.

MBU
Firstly thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today. For those not aware of the Soap Collective, could you outline what you do and how you came together for us?

LOGAN
We like to call Soap an “interactive storytelling company”. Specifically, we focus on using technology to build a range of story-driven experiences that allow people to interact in meaningful ways. Sometimes that’s a story we create ourselves and then place people in, such as our most recent work in Virtual Reality. Other times it’s us creating tools to encourage other people to tell stories. Role is one attempt at the latter.

Ian and I have actually been working on this idea since we were kids – we first met when we were 13 years old. Growing up, we were constantly experimenting with storytelling technology. We did everything from Lego stop-motion films, interactive web experiences, and even a few custom Starcraft campaigns. Growing up in the age of the Internet afforded us access to tons of media creation tools at a young age. It only seemed natural to turn that passion into our life’s work. And so, Soap was formed.

MBU
Aside from Role, have you attempted game development before?

LOGAN
Building games was actually the first job I ever imagined having as a kid. At 9 years old, I made my first video game in Macromedia Flash (yes, I am old enough to remember Flash pre-Adobe). It wasn’t anything special, just a simple arcade game where you guide a submarine to dodge torpedoes. What really drove that passion, though, was the idea that games could immerse you in a story. I grew up on classic LucasArts point-and-click adventures like Monkey Island and Full Throttle. That was what I saw gaming as: interactive story-driven worlds. Of course the medium can be so many other things outside of that, but storytelling has always been the area I find most exciting.

I was even lucky enough to attend a really great Game Development program for my Bachelor’s Degree, Champlain College in Burlington, VT. I studied 3D art, but my interests kept swinging back to design and writing. After college I worked for a few years as a designer at Kabam Games in San Francisco, and then as a freelance consultant for about a year before founding Soap!

MBU
Now on to Role, which is quite the well-pitched little app. It’s a handy tool for those running a session as well as players taking part and extremely versatile in its application. What were your initial goals when setting out to make it?

LOGAN
The entire project was an answer to one question: “Can you make tabletop RPGs as simple to learn and fast to play as ‘Apples to Apples’ or ‘Cards Against Humanity’?” There’s something incredibly powerful about the communal storytelling that tabletop RPGs create. It’s a unique experience where everyone is contributing to the fiction together in real-time. The downside is many of these games are extremely complex, requiring a ton of time to learn, set up, and play. For many people, that’s a big barrier that prevents them from getting into the experience. Our hope was that we could create a system that empowers people to try group storytelling in a fast, intuitive, easy way. We fully understand that the system is not as deep or as complex as other RPGs, and that was intentional. I love playing Shadowrun, Dungeons & Dragons, etc., but I realize that traditional tabletop RPGs aren’t always convenient for everyone. Role was designed to be something you could play at a party, on a lunch break, at recess, or on a road trip.

role-screens

MBU
And how did the decision to make an RPG app like this come about?

LOGAN
Role actually started as a napkin sketch in college! I had a lot of friends who loved to get together for D&D or Shadowrun, but getting enough time to really play through a campaign became increasingly difficult as we all got busier. When we did sit down to play, there was a lot of skipping over rules or simplifying rolls so that we could move along faster. I was working at a toy store at the time, and the current popular game was Apples to Apples. It kept showing up everywhere in my life. Kids had it, adults had it, everyone had it. You’d show up to a party and Apples to Apples would be set up on the coffee table. So I thought “there has to be a way to distill down an RPG into something this simple.” I wanted to see people who normally shrug off RPGs as “too much work” get into a game the way they got into Apples to Apples. So I wrote a bunch of rules down on the back of a napkin at lunch one day. A few weeks later some friends came over and we playtested it. It ended up being tons of fun!

Years later, when Ian and I founded Soap, we decided our first project should be to bring that game idea back. We had already abstracted the rules down to something really simple, but we thought “People still need to gather dice and pencils to play. Can we fix that?” Few people carry gaming supplies with them at all times, but almost everyone has a smartphone. So the solution became clear: we needed to build an app.

MBU
How long was Role in testing?

LOGAN
We were doing paper tests pretty much from the start of development. You can actually still get the PDF of our first set of rules from the Role website! Over time, as the app came together, we tried to have regular playtest sessions. We also sent builds out to our friends and had them send back an overview of their play sessions. The rules changed and evolved somewhat from the pencil & paper version, so it’s fun to put the final app side-to-side with the PDF and compare sometimes.

role-page

MBU
The app is free with optional paid content and an unlock for those wanting to play across longer sessions and really get the most out of it. Has it seen much financial success since launch?

LOGAN
Role pretty much pays for itself, which is great! That means we can keep supporting it for all of our players.

MBU
Who wrote the initial round of concepts and classes?

LOGAN
I’m our team’s dedicated writer. Basically every word you see in the app came from me. That being said, when it came to characters and environments we wanted to give our artists as much creative control as possible. We believed that we’d get more interesting and unique ideas if we didn’t dictate too much. So what we’d do is give each artist a different theme (Fantasy, Sci Fi, etc.), a super short vague description of the basic characters and environments we were interested in, and then let them take the ideas in their own direction. Once final art came in, I’d then sit down and write a detailed story based on what they created. Some really great inspiration came out of that process!

MBU
Role uses an interesting skill based system in place of stats, can you explain it for us?

LOGAN
I always felt that traditional RPG stats were an added layer of complexity that slowed gameplay down and could cause confusion. Why would I be able to choose where points go when I level-up? For example: If I have been gaining experience points by fighting but can then spend those points to upgrade my charisma, that doesn’t make a ton of sense. I figured that a more elegant design should be just like real life: the more you do a thing, the better you get at it. If you want to get good at something, you practice it. So rather than have stats and a character level to manage, each ability just has its own value that goes up with use. This makes gameplay really simple: the player gets into a situation, declares what they want to do, picks the relevant ability associated with that action, rolls, and then that action gets stronger.

It also makes storytelling really funny sometimes. I once had someone sabotage a space ship’s engines with an ability called “Turn Into Cabbage”. Their solution was “I will use this ability to turn myself into a ball of cabbage, and then I will clog the engine.” And it worked!

MBU
Whose idea was it to make a pen and paper version of Role available on the main page?

LOGAN
Role became an app after we had already created pen & paper rules for it. Given that we knew Role would be free to play, we didn’t want to cut off players who didn’t own an iPhone or who just wanted to play the “old fashioned way”. We want it to be fair for everyone, so we put our original rules up for free.

 

MBU
Can we expect to see it released on Android?

LOGAN
That’s the goal! I’ll admit, it’s something we talk about a lot. We’re just a really small studio, and finding time to port it over has been tough. I can’t offer any dates, but know that it’s on our radar to bring it over.

MBU
At this time your forums are down, are there plans to reinstate them and compel a community?

LOGAN
Not at the moment, no. We found that very few people were actually using the forums. And the work of moderating spam vs. actual users actively having discussions just became too much. Most of our community exists on Facebook and Twitter, so we hope that continues to be enough for now!

MBU
Will there be further updates such as additional campaigns and classes?

LOGAN
We always envisioned the Role library to be something that could expand with new packs of content. We don’t have anything in the works right this minute, but I’d certainly like to get back there at some point.

MBU
What does the future hold for The Soap Collective?

LOGAN
Right now we’re heavily invested in Virtual Reality, which has really grabbed our attention at Soap. The potential to tell fully-immersive interactive stories is exactly what we love as a studio. We’re working on a few really exciting projects right now for VR, so keep an eye out for that!

MBU
Thanks again for your time today gentlemen. For those who want to experience Role for themselves the games website can be found HERE and contains links to both a pdf version of the system and digital copy on iOS. Those wanting to know more about The Soap Collective can click HERE to visit their homepage.

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