An Interview With ... Jon Tuffley of Ground Zero Games
Judging by the number of awards Ground Zero Games picked up in the 5th Annual SFSFW Awards, Jon Tuffley & Co must be doing something right down Suffolk way, so who better to kick off our series of industry interviews than JMT himself...
Rag: When did you set up GZG and what were the first models you produced?
JMT: The first items under the GZG name were produced in 1985, and were a couple of resin l5mm SF vehicles. These soon expanded to a range of a dozen or 50, and our first rulebook, GCAV, was released at around the same time. At this point it was very much a case of just selling a few items here and there, through small ads, as an extension of my hobby rather than as a 'business
Rag: When did you go full time and what was the driving force behind this decision?
JMT: In l991, when I realised that GZG had the potential to become a "proper" business, and was looking around for a change of job anyway. Basically. I decided to try it for a year or two and see if it worked out - fortunately, it did!
Rag: The current product range is based around the Full Thrust/Stargrunt II/Dirtside II series. What are the major influences behind the GZG universe and its products?
JMT: I've always preferred the nearish-future, "hard" approach to SF as opposed to the "thousands of years ahead" feel. The GZG universe has, to some extent, been shaped by every book, film, TV series and other game that I've come into contact with, though I'd certainly cite GDW's old 2300AD game (and specifically its background) as a major influence. I specifically wanted a background where most Earth nations were still recognisable in some form, and still fighting each other, rather than the "one nation of Earth", don't-we-all-get-along-well-together approach of (say) Star Trek, which I consider hugely naive about basic human nature.
Rag: Reference has been made to the Full Metal Anorak (FMA) system. What exactly is this?
JMT: Basically it is name we now use for our "house system", the particular look and feel of opposed die rolls, alternate activations, polyhedral dice etc. that forms the core rule system of Dirtside II and Stargrunt II. Both games have variations and departures from these basics., but the essential core is the same. Full Thrust is definitely NOT an FMA game. and we have no plans to make it into one. FMA will also be the overall title for the skirmish-level, man-to-man combat system that we will be releasing in due course, using the same core mechanisms of course.
Rag: What future plans have you got for FMA and your other products?
JMT: The release of FMA itself, as mentioned above, plus the supplement book for Dirtside II and Stargrunt II (Bugs Don't Surf). On the Full Thrust front, there is the Fleet Book Vol.2 to come (and maybe Vol.3 if there is enough interest), plus of course the Third Edition of the Full Thrust rules themselves. Realistically, some of these projects are fairly long-term at this stage.
Rag: There have been a number of references on the newsgroups to you doing a fantasy game. Is this true?
JMT: Yes, we're testing a Fantasy version of FMA for small skirmish games, though when/if it actually sees publication will depend on a lot of other things. The FMA core system will be usable for almost any period or type of game, and Fantasy is just one of the settings we are looking at. A Fantasy version of Dirtside II or Stargrunt II would always be possible, or even one combined ruleset that would allow anything from 25mm man-to-man down (up?) to 6mm mass battles
Rag: What's the deal with the Gentleman's Collectible range?
JMT: They're cute; they're not politically correct, they sell like crazy... 'nuff said? Seriously, they are a little sideline that has really taken off. Customers love them, and not just the male customers either
Rag: What do you think of the current state of the hobby?
JMT: I think most of the things that have happened to the hobby in recent years have had both good and bad sides. The Collectable Card Game phenomenon has made big inroads into certain parts of the gaming hobby in general, but really doesn't seem to have affected the miniatures/wargames market much if at all. The figures industry is always in a state of flux, with some companies disappearing and being replaced by new ones, but overall not a lot really changes.
In the F/SF market, GW obviously have a large influence, if only by raising buyers' expectations as to presentation and marketing (which you really can't fault them at), but thankfully there still seems to be a place for products at nearly all levels of professionalism. Both the card side and "The Games Workshop Hobby", whatever the "serious" gamers may think of them, do actually bring a lot of new players into the field - while it is likely that many of these new adolescent gamers will probably drift away again there will always be some that will stay, learn that there really is more out there, and become the hardcore gamers of the future.
One thing that I do find constantly surprising is the magazine situation in the UK; the historical wargames side of the hobby can support two monthly and one bi-monthly professional titles with newsstand distribution, all of which have been around for many years, whereas none of the independent magazines devoted to the F/SF and RPG sides of the hobby have ever survived much past a dozen or so issues (note I'm talking pro-zines here, so the Rag doesn't count!). Are there more historical gamers than roleplayers in the UK at the moment, or is it just that one group buys magazines and the other doesn't
Rag: What do you think about the hobby's future development?
JMT: Well, obviously I hope it keeps on going as well as it has done over the last few years! The Card Game bubble seems to have at least stopped inflating, even if it hasn't actually burst yet, and there seems to be stirrings of a renaissance to the RPG side. Wizard of the Coast's buyout of TSR presumably indicates that they think that roleplaying has a future, and not just one dominated by computer gaming.
Hopefully miniatures gaming will continue to be as popular as it has been, and may well grow thanks to the double-edged sword of GW in the market. While computer use will, of course, become more and more common, I would like to hope that for the wargames field it will mainly be in the form of campaign management and games assistance programs rather than actually replacing the tabletop with a computer monitor. Maybe the growth of the overall "games" hobby (by this I include computers, cards, GW and all the rest) will entice a few more youngsters to the fun of collecting, painting and actually playing with the toys on the tabletop!
Rag: What periods interest you/do you play, outside of your business?
JMT: I started on WWII, like a lot of gamers, just as 6mm scale was first being introduced in the early 70s, though I haven't done anything on it for many years. I like Naval games, especially Moderns and Late 19th Century, (pre-Dreadnought), and of course this comes through in Full Thrust. I have dabbled in Fantasy here and there, and many other periods - Renaissance, Colonials, Ultramoderns... About the only ones I've never really had any interest in are Napoleonics and Ancients.
Rag: What was the last game you played? Did you win?
JMT: Wargame-wise, it was a game of Full Thrust to introduce a friend's new gaming group to the rules, and I honestly can't recall who won. If you count any game, then the last one was Robo Rally (a superb game, even though it was written by the guy that invented Magic cards...) against Alex Stewart and Mary Gentle, and no I didn't win...
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