Beneath an Evil Hat: A Conversation with Fred Hicks
by Drew Bittner
Review by Drew Bittner
SFRevu.com *Interview ISBN/ITEM#: INTFredHicks
Date: 06 January 2012
Links: Fred Hicks' Blog / Dresden Files RPG / Evil Hat Productions / Show Official Info /
Fred Hicks recently sat down with SFRevu to discuss all things Evil Hat...
SFRevu: Fred, tell me about EVIL HAT PRODUCTIONS. How did you decide to become a game publisher and what was your first project?
Fred: We stumbled into it, really. Originally we were just posting free "hacks" of existing systems because we, uh, we wouldn't help ourselves. That got attention over time, and that attention dovetailed with a longstanding friendship with Jim Butcher (before he became "the author"), and that all added up to a chance to work on the Dresden Files RPG.
To do that, we had to ditch our marionette ways and become a real boy ... so we shifted from Evil Hat as just a moniker under which we did random, gamer-fan hack stuff, to an actual commercial venture. In a way, that makes the Dresden Files RPG our first project, even tho it took us years to bring it to fruition -- we had a lot of learning to do first.
SFRevu: I might be wrong, but it appears DRESDEN FILES is the biggest property you're publishing. How did you get hooked up with Jim Butcher? And what challenges did you face in adapting an ongoing line of bestselling urban fantasy novels?
Fred: I met Jim online back in the 90s when we were both in college but also spending plenty of leisure time on the Internet. I was in Florida, he was in Oklahoma, but I found myself living in Oklahoma, about an hour north of him, during a failed attempt to find relevance in grad school. We'd game together on the weekends, and during the week he'd go to the University of Oklahoma to study fiction writing.
One of the biggest challenges in adapting the Dresden Files -- beyond simply producing something the fans would agree was a good fit for the series -- was dealing with it as a "living" series. When you've got new material hitting you every year at least, it can leave you with a real moving target problem. Eventually we had to set a cut-off.
SFRevu: You've just released DINOCALYPSE NOW by Chuck Wendig, based on your Spirit of the Century roleplaying game. How did the book come about? Do you envision a line of SOTC novels, including (and apart from) Chuck's book?
Fred: Chuck and I had been flirting around the idea of him doing a project for Evil Hat but hadn't settled on what, exactly. As we approached 2012, a year where I knew I wanted to see Evil Hat start to push beyond the RPGs-only envelope, the conversation got more serious. I'd had the notion of a trilogy of ... something, not necessarily novels, organized around the idea of a time-traveling dinosaur invasion titled "Dinocalypse" for a while, and that was one of the options that came up. He dove at it.
Folks who were involved in the Dinocalypse kickstarter know the answer to that second question, of course -- the kickstarter campaign funded a full seven novels, including the other two parts of the trilogy (to be written by Chuck), The Pharaoh of Hong Kong by Brian Clevinger, King Khan by Harry Connolly, Khan of Mars by Stephen Blackmoore, and an untitled Amelia Stone novel by C.E. Murphy.
So, yes, you could say I envision that. :)
SFRevu: What gets you excited about the industry? Are there games you play just for your own entertainment or is gaming all "work" now?
Fred: I'm excited about the diversity of games in the industry right now. Lots of folks like to talk doom and gloom, but I don't see it. I see change and broadening possibilities.
Lots of gaming is work right now, if only because I don't have much time for game play so much as time for game production. Two kids 3 and under complicate the scheduling of times that everyone else is available for, too. I get in a little time for the occasional Cortex Plus game, and I play the hell out of Ascension on my various iDevices.
SFRevu: What do you do to unwind or to stimulate the brain? What helps generate ideas?
Fred: A good long shower or walk or time with high energy instrumental music tends to get my head going. Plus I watch a decent amount of television with my wife. The world is full of inspiration, really, but I find that when I'm in output mode I can get blind to it. Forcing myself into a context where output isn't much of an option can really help the thoughts flow.
SFRevu: Do you enjoy playtesting or demonstrating games at conventions? I've done it and I know how much work it can be?
Fred: I don't, really. I mean, I've done it, and I've had fun, but it's not my core skill-set, and despite the fun I'm left at the far side of it feeling like -- knowing, even -- there are other people better versed and better skilled for that kind of thing.
Whenever I can, I try to recruit someone else for the job. Over time, I've just shifted away from the guy driving play to the guy running the business, and that's fine by me -- I get a lot of satisfaction out of the business side.
SFRevu: What's the best part of your job?
Fred: Flexibility of schedule, working from home, and getting plenty of time to see my kids.
SFRevu: Is there anything you'd especially like to promote or talk about?
Fred: Both Don't Read This Book -- an anthology of stories from the Don't Rest Your Head universe -- and Dinocalypse Now are up for sale right now, and we'd love everyone's support in buying, reading, and reviewing those titles. Breaking into fiction isn't easy, and it's only with the help of fans and friends that we'll find our feet and get some traction. You can find the Evil Hat webstore at www.evilhat.com/store.
In late May or early June we'll be launching a second kickstarter campaign, for our Spirit of the Century inflected board game, Race to Adventure! Keep an eye out for it, and drop on by www.racetoadventuregame.com to learn more.
Lots and lots of things in the pipeline. Thanks for taking time to chat with us, Fred!