[I would like to welcome Mischa Brendel to this blog with this interview of Jason Andersen. Due to length, it has been split into two parts – Ed.]
Jason Andersen is one of the most active members of Phoenix. He is the Award & Rewards Officer and he also Administration Officer of the Phoenix Wiki page. But first and foremost he is a role-player. He plays both several characters in different sims and GMs several others. This is an interview with this active member of our community, in which he elaborates on the characters he has created for several sims as well as his GM skills.
You are one of the most active players around on the Phoenix forums. How many characters do you play?
I have twenty or more – I’ve sort of lost count – characters that I play directly, and a handful of NPCs for the games I GM.
Good grief! Over twenty characters! How do you manage to keep up with it? How much time do you spend on playing those characters?
Keeping up with the characters isn't that tough once they are actually made. Because I spend time working on backstory, they become very vivid in my mind. It makes it fairly easy to switch to their personalities when it comes time to role-play them. Having done a lot of table top RPing since I was a kid has really helped to hone these skills. I usually spend a little over an hour each day posting for the characters I have, and GMing the sims I am GM for. That doesn't include weekends - I usually don't get online on weekends because of personal commitments. The pacing of the forums is slow enough that I usually only have to post for one or two characters per day, so my posting rotates based on what is happening in each sim and how active it is.
In fact, most of the time I spend on the forums is on GMing duties, rather than as a player. I knew early on when I first created my character Brandon Miles and was waiting days between interactions that I was going to need a lot of characters to keep me checking back on the boards every day. Developing characters takes a lot more time, and I usually have to carve out time outside of my normal forum reading to do that, which is why some Sim owners have been kept waiting on me for weeks at a time. (Gomen! [That’s Japanese for “Sorry” – Ed.])
So let’s stick to just the characters you have created for active sims at the moment. Could you tell us a bit about each of those?
Okay. Let’s start with Brandon Miles on the Firefly sim Atlantis. Brandon is my oldest character and was first introduced in Deb's Akers Bluff sim back on AJJE. After Phoenix split off from AJJE and Akers Bluff was retired, he joined the crew of the Atlantis. Brandon is an engineer and a good-natured guy. He comes from a farming background, has lived a relatively simple life and takes pleasure in simple things. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Although he fought in the War, he doesn't enjoy fighting, and would rather spend time tinkering with some broken device than shooting a gun. He has become enamored with Atlantis's gunner, Morgan O'Doyle, and they have just recently taken their relationship beyond one of furtive glances and flirtation.
So Brandon Miles is the first character that you've created. Does he therefore hold some special meaning? Is he different from your other characters?
He has special meaning in that he was the first character I ever made for Firefly simming. He's probably also the least fleshed out, as at that time I was eager to just start playing. All of my characters are different from one another, so that isn't what makes Brandon special. What makes Brandon really unique among all of my characters is that he is probably the closest to my own personality. If I had to pick one of them to represent "me", Brandon would be it. Although we look nothing alike. I'm much more handsome. :)
The next character is Carolyn Annesly on the Firefly sim Umbra. Carolyn is the character I've spent the most time on developing. She is Brandon's polar opposite, designed specifically to be a ruthless pirate. She had a hard childhood and that has made her cold. She is bent on revenge for the theft of the last ship she was on, the first place she truly felt at home. Deadly and beautiful, she'll smile and flirt with you one minute just before she puts a knife in your back the next.
You say that Carolyn is the polar opposite of Brandon. This sounds rather like an RPG game on the computer: on the second play-through, players often take their character in the complete opposite way of their first play-through. Is this how you came up with Carolyn as well? Did you want to create a character which would be Brandon's polar opposite, or is it a coincidence that she came out that way?
Interesting, I never thought of it that way. It could be I did that subconsciously, but I didn't set out to do that when I created her. I think it had more to do with that I had already created a badass girl to join the Umbra (Mei-Ling), but she was too kind hearted to fit well amongst the ruthless crew. So I needed to create someone who truly was ruthless, and only had (mostly) selfish intent. Some of that goodness still crept in, like how she is seeking revenge for the murders of the crew of her last ship. She would never openly admit that she cared about them, though. She's too good at lying (even to herself) for that.
Then there is Mathek from the sim The Triple First, which is set in the universe of Doctor Who. I knew I wanted to create a special and memorable companion for a Time Lord, and thus Mathek came to be. Mathek is a human from the distant future, brought to Romana's TARDIS for some unknown reason (well, unknown to him, anyway). Because he is from the future, he actually has some knowledge of how the TARDIS works - or at least parts of it - and I imagine if he needed to, at some point, he'd actually be able to pilot it. He's a curious scientist type, a bit slow on social interactions. A veritable nerd with his very own sonic device.
He sounds a bit like another engineer, although opposite to Brandon you say he is a bit slow on social interactions.
Heh, well maybe he is a bit like Brandon. Both are intelligent, that's for certain. But I imagine Brandon as more of a Steve Jobs kind of nerdy - he has charisma that people naturally want to gravitate towards, and Mathek is more of a Bill Gates kind of nerdy. Super smart, but super nerdy too. Brandon is more of a tech/hardware kind of guy, good at tinkering with natural ability, while Mathek is a scientist with book smarts.
The biggest difference of course is that this character is set in the Doctor Who universe, whereas the other two were both set in the Firefly universe. Is it very different playing characters in different universes?
I don't find it that different, actually. People are people, and react in similar ways no matter the setting. They have the same motivations - money, love, friendship, revenge - as anyone in any other universe. There may be slight differences based on setting - Star Wars characters, for instance, are influenced greatly by the Force, even if they can't use it themselves - but most of the time it comes down to asking what I would do in a particular situation, with the circumstances the character is in and what they've experienced before. Determining that kind of behavior is setting independent.
Then there is Cody Zenteno from Beyond the Veil of Truth, a sim created by Aidan Fal and probably easiest summed up as The X Files. We play as agents investigating the odd – paranormal activity, creatures of legend, monsters, aliens, those sorts of things.
There is Josh Cooley in the sim Fighter Ops. He is a US Air Force officer. Josh is actually a flavor character from another character I designed for a Stargate RPG (I'm keeping that character in reserve if we ever have a SG sim set during the Goa'uld time period). He's an Aeronautical Engineer & USAF pilot who enjoys playing water polo in his spare time. Friendly and outgoing, always willing to lend a hand to a friend and doesn't take kindly to bullying.
A flavor character from another character?
A good many years back I played in a tabletop Stargate RPG and created an USAF officer named Robert Goldsmith. In developing his background, I had him attending the USAF Academy where he met and became friends with Josh Cooley. From Robert's background, I know a few things about Josh already - he attended the USAFA, of course, and majored in Aeronautical Engineering. He was captain of the water polo team, and introduced Robert to the game (Robert ended up joining the team, and brought another friend onto the team as well, whom Josh also became friends with). I know that Josh is still friends with Robert, and that Josh is stationed at Tyndall AF base in Florida (where Josh and Robert both attended flight training school). Beyond that, I'll need to fill in the gaps. But any good character background is going to include these ‘minor’ or ‘flavor’ characters that they have as allies, enemies, or whatever. Sometimes they remain in the background, but other times, like this one, they come forward and become full characters in their own right.
And finally there is Aidan Dunhill (Sierra Charlie Four) - a cool, suave young British detective. Aidan is friendly with coworkers and friends, and smiles in his off-hours, but when it comes to doing his job he becomes focused and serious.
Not only do you play many characters, but also most of them are in different sims? Isn't that complicated? Don't you ever mix things up, both regarding storylines as characters?
Most of the sims are sufficiently different - or my characters in similar sims are different enough - that I don't do that. Early on I did confuse the Atlantis and Elemental sims at one point when talking with Ash about something. I also do a lot of back reading again and again to keep the story fresh in my head, that way my responses are based on a scene that may have been happening for 5 minutes, rather than 5 weeks.
When I look back to your character list, I get the impression that you've taken quite some effort to come up with their backgrounds. Is that right? How important is a character background to you? Does it need to be completely finished by you before you start playing with these characters, or do you make (some of) it up while you play?
I like to think I put in a lot of effort to make believable characters. I hope that shows in my roleplaying. It also helps keep responses consistent. It would be odd for me to have Brandon act as if he knew nothing about farming in one post and then have him growing up on a farm a few months later. But just because I flesh out their backgrounds significantly before I start playing, it's never a block - I started playing Brandon before I sent the background to Deb. I knew in general what I wanted, but I hadn't put it to paper yet. And then there are always small moments that you make up in the course of actually playing the character. Brandon related a story of his childhood just recently where he would lay on his roof and watch the cargo ships come and go at the nearby port. His sisters would be catching fireflies in the yard, and sometimes his father would join him on the roof and watch. Brandon would wonder if perhaps his father hadn't dreamed of flying through the Black at some point, but something in his life had made him become a farmer instead - perhaps the idea of settling down with Brandon's mother. Anyway, these are the kind of details that just evolve naturally through the course of play, not something you detail out beforehand. Another example would be that I know Brandon had friends in the war that were killed in action. I don't know exactly how that happened, but Brandon knows and carries it with him. Maybe one day he'll relate the story so that you and I will learn more about it.
[To be continued – Ed.]