Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chuck Kallenbach Interview

Jade Crusades was fortunate enough to contact Chuck Kallenbach II, a senior game designer with Decipher, who helped create the Mara Jade cards from Decipher's Star Wars Customizable Card Game. He very kindly agreed to fill out this great email interview for us.

We are here with Chuck Kallenbach who helped create the Mara Jade cards from Decipher's Star Wars Customizable Card Game. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions.

No problem! I'm always happy to talk with other Mara Jade fans.

When did you first become interested in Star Wars?

Christmas 1976. I was in a theater with some friends and saw an exciting teaser trailer for a new movie called Star Wars. We were depressed when it ended with "Coming This Summer," but it was worth the wait!

How familiar are you with Mara Jade's character?

When I designed the cards, I had read Timothy Zahn's ground-breaking Heir to the Empire trilogy and a couple of short stories with Mara.

What exactly was your role in creating the Mara Jade cards for the Star Wars?

As a designer for the Decipher CCG studio, I come up with the lore, title, game text, and help to select the image. All of these aspects are subject to change due to playtesting, editing, marketing, and licensing concerns.

What was it like working on such powerful cards in the series?

It's always exciting to work on the "mains," as we call them. They're the main characters from the story . . . Luke, Leia, Vader . . .you know which ones. We absolutely put Mara in the same class right away.

What kind of research was involved before creating the Mara Jade cards? (What kind of sources did you use, etc)

I read everything there was to read. That includes novels, short stories, and comics from Dark Horse.

Can you tell us the process of creating a card? (For example, the Mara Jade, the Emperor's Hand card.)

With a multifaceted character like Mara Jade, we have to decide what to emphasize on this particular card. Is she a dancer? A spy? An assassin? Do we concentrate on the early part of her career when she hunts Luke or later when they become friends?

You can see from the lore and the game text on the card which way we decided to go. It's interesting that we mention Arica in the lore of this card, since that would be better suited to her later version.

She's a spy, of course, which has gameplay advantages. She can show up anywhere, even to places the Dark Side is not currently strong. She can use undercover cards to make it hard for other characters to battle her.

Mara is a pilot, that was a certainty. She gets a power boost when the Emperor is in play. We hadn't done his card yet, but we knew he was on the way. Emperor Palpatine eventually showed.

She had to be able to handle a lightsaber. Mara was one of the few characters in the Star Wars universe that wasn't really a Jedi (or Sith Lord) but still was trained in lightsaber dueling. So she can use the two most powerful dueling cards in the game.

Because we treated Mara Jade like another main character, she gets the awesome game text that lets her get a weapon right out of your deck so she can use it. This is a terrific "quick draw" ability that immediately put her into tournament decks everywhere.

For the image, we decided to find a model to portray Mara. Our art director, Dan Burns, contacted modeling agencies with all the appropriate description: tall, fit, attractive, red hair, you know the rest. He included depictions of Mara from Dark Horse comics as well. This was just like any other model search for a particular look.

The first time I saw these images was some contact sheets with pictures of Shannon Baksa, the local model who would become Mara Jade. I saw she has a terrific look and presence that made her a perfect fit.

We contacted theatrical costumers to make her weapons and outfit, again based on literary descriptions and comic images. The results, as you can see, are fantastic.

As a tremendous bonus, Shannon became a representative for Decipher at convention appearances, once again wearing the costume and wielding the lightsaber. The prop weapon was enhanced by a long neon tube which actually lit up! Awesome.

What were some of the difficulties creating the cards?

Obviously, a major character card like Mara Jade goes through a lot of playtesting to make sure it's just perfect. This process went smoothly with Mara's card. The only real problems we had were deciding how the Alien/Imperial dual icon gameplay worked, and which of the dozens of pictures we had to use!

How many Mara Jade related cards were you involved with? (Mara Jade's Lightsaber, Arica, Mara Jade the Emperor's Hand, Watch Your Step/This Place Might Be a Little Rough.)

Even though I was working on other projects and in and out of Star Wars CCG at that time, it seemed whenever I came back, there more Mara Jade cards to do. Which is just fine with me!

For the Reflections II Expanded Universe project, I even got to go to the photo shoot and meet all the models for those cards. Unfortunately, I got there late and missed the shoot for the Arica card. That image was based largely on the Dark Horse comic illustration for that scene.

I'd met and talked with Shannon at a lot of conventions before, and she was there all day long doing makeup for the other models. I got to meet all of them, including Mike Stackpole and Tim Zahn. In fact, I drove the two famous writers to a local military supply store to buy some last-minute items for their uniforms for the shoot. That was a real blast!

Did you happen to work on any never-produced cards, like the Light Side Mara card? (Can you expand on what we would have seen had this card been produced?)

I can tell you that a lot of extra shots of Shannon were taken during that original photo shoot, and some of them featured her in a green military jumpsuit like the one that Mara wore in some of the Dark Horse comics. I'm pretty sure the plan for that was to be her Light Side version.

Did you ever get the chance to meet Mara Jade model Shannon Baksa?

Sure! I've spent a lot of time with Shannon at conventions and other appearances. She's been a terrific representative for our company and our game. Shannon is very gracious with all questions and comments. She loves to give autographs and talk about her baby girl.

What other Expanded Universe character cards did you work on?

I worked on all the Reflections II cards. This required a lot more research, but it is fun to get paid to read Star Wars novels.

What are you working on currently?

Now I spend most of my time working on Decipher's Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game and other projects I can't describe right now. I love my job!

How did you land a position at Decipher creating game text for the Star Wars card game?

You have to be lucky. I got to playtest the Star Trek Customizable Card Game before it came out, and that led into playtesting for Star Wars too. Eventually, Decipher offered me a job and I jumped at the chance.

Thank you for participating in this interview for Jade Crusades.

You're welcome! It's great to reminisce about working on Star Wars and Mara Jade cards in particular.

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