Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Machine of Death Interview

by James Cohen

AUGUST 2013 - Party guests debate how to assassinate a stranger they've conjured. This isn't the beginning of a crime. It's an upcoming game which is currently garnering funding via Kickstarter -- with only six days to go at the time of writing.

We're taking a break from our normal format this week to talk to Los Angeles-based cartoonist David Malki ! about Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination.

Q: What does your business card say about you?
It calls me a "cartoonist, anthologist, problemsmith." Cartoonist refers to my comic strip, Wondermark. Anthologist refers to Machine of Death. Problemsmith refers to my high level of skill at taking any situation and turning it into a problem to solve, a puzzle to be addressed in some complicated way.
Q: There are already two gameplay demo videos online, so can you give us a short explanation of the game in the style of a movie synopsis?
You're an assassin. You know how your target is going to die -- there exists a machine that can predict that, and it's never wrong. But now you have to make that death happen, in any way that you can, in a manner consistent with that prediction (otherwise your plan will fail). Given certain items, what kind of plan can you construct to eliminate your target? The wackier the better.
Q: Where'd the idea for this game come from and was it always intended for public release?
This game is a spinoff of our book MACHINE OF DEATH -- which is a collection of short stories that examine the idea of the death-predicting machine in detail: what it might mean for the world if this machine actually existed. The book was so popular that a game seemed like a natural next step! And it's very different from the book in tone and style -- the book is more serious, the game more ridiculous -- but they share that central premise.
Q: Your kickstarter is going well and set to end next week -- on March 19th, in case any readers would like to contribute. How long did it take to reach the initial goal?
We reached our initial funding goal in less than a day, which is amazing! Since then we've been adding more great stuff to the game through stretch goals. The support from the community has been nothing short of terrific, and we're really pleased that other people are as excited about this game as we are!
Q: How will the game be available for those who miss the kickstarter?
Once the game is actually printed and delivered, we'll have it for sale in our online store ( and we're also talking with distributors about having it available in retail stores as well. We also attend comics conventions around the country, and we'll have it with us there too!
Q: Do you have an estimate on when the game will start shipping?
Right now we're hoping everyone will receive their orders this summer -- by August is when we've promised it, but I hope it's even sooner than that.
Q: Who are the other people in the gameplay videos?
The videos feature three other people: my friend and colleague Kris Straub, who helped me develop the game and who did all the drawings that are on the cards, and two of my very entertaining friends, Nika Harper and Jordan Morris. Nika is well-known to the gaming world, and Jordan is a comedian and podcast host. I think it goes to show that if you get a good group, this game can really spark a lot of great conversations and crazy scenarios!
Q: There are two mystery goals set, $382,600 and 8,260 backers, the results of which won't be revealed until after the kickstarter campaign has ended. Is there any significance in the common numbers 8-2-6-0?
There is a significance to the common numbers, but I can't reveal that significance until the campaign is over! There is a reason that I can't reveal it. But suffice it to say that it'll be a great way to pay forward the success we've had with this campaign back to the local community.
Q: You were an editor and contributing author for Machine of Death - what's your favorite story from either the first book or the upcoming sequel?
That's like asking a mother to choose her favorite child! I love them all equally, is the only thing I'll get away with saying. Actually, because of the vast diversity of styles, I do think that both books have a lot to offer, and of course because these are the stories in particular that we picked from the vast field of submissions, we do have a great deal of affection for all of them.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like people to know about?
Our book THIS IS HOW YOU DIE, a new collection of stories about a world in which a machine can predict how you die, comes out July 16, and we've been posting free preview stories (seven so far!) in our Kickstarter updates. Hopefully people can check them out to see if the book looks like something they might be interested in!
Our thanks to David Malki !.

Here's a gameplay video of the game in action. More footage and information is available through the Kickstarter project page.

Machine of Death Card Game - Playtest Video 1 from David Malki ! on Vimeo

Personally, my theory on the numbers is that they refer to the Nokia 8260 cell phone, which boasts an eight-day standby time and can be purchased in the year 2003. Any other guesses?