last update 03.09.2006 12:01
Introduction Online Articles Download Section Special Links About
Top Runners' Quarterly
Frisky's Corner
Neal's Last Words

[Close file]

Interview with Jennifer Clarke Wilkes

by Jens Kreutzer

Jennifer, you are among the people who really have done a lot to support our favorite game - much of it in your spare time. Many of our readers are interested in a person who shows such dedication and energy, and also feel gratitude for your great efforts and tireless succour. Maybe you could tell us a bit about yourself (and your family, if you like)?

I have a way of adopting causes, I guess. I used to work as the Canadian director for the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games (CAR-PGa) before I moved to Seattle. I'm not actively involved now, mostly because I'm so busy, but still do follow up from time to time.
When I applied to Wizards, one of the projects coming up at that time was Netrunner, and I was very interested in working on the game. I ended up editing Ars Magica instead but got involved with playtesting Netrunner. When the game went on hiatus, I'd already come to know the dedicated fans online and felt a responsibility to keep it alive somehow.

Netrunner has become an almost world-wide phenomenon, and you're inundated with emails from across the globe every day. Is there any foreign country and/or culture you're especially interested in or fond of? Maybe you speak a foreign language or several?

I grew up in Quebec, Canada, so I learned French from an early age. I don't speak it fluently but can read and write quite well. I studied Classics at university, which means I can manage pretty well with reading any Romance language. I also took German for a couple of years.
I'd love to get the chance to visit France and/or Germany. They're countries that interest me, and they have some of the most dedicated fans in the world! I'd also love to visit Australia and New Zealand sometime.

The Netrunner rulebook lists you as "Proofing Daemon" and "Flavor Text Processor," meaning that you were there from the start. Could you tell our readers something about the way Netrunner was created and playtested? Were there any "earlier stages" before the final version?

When I arrived at Wizards, playtesting was quite well advanced. There had been previous iterations of the game; in particular, an early version had all players as Runners against a "dummy" Corp deck. That got rejected pretty quickly - it just wasn't engaging enough.
I did a lot of "color playtesting," which meant using color photocopies of early card designs to see how they worked. The borders changed to more differentiable colors and shapes as a result of that. The first time I discovered the "secret" of taking damage to get agenda as the Runner was pure delight!

Which flavor text was created by you? Are there any "hidden" puns or jokes or allusions we've never thought of before? What goes on in your mind when you're thinking about a new flavor text piece?

I did quite a few. I'm proudest of the piece I wrote for Top Runners' Conference, appropriately enough, and it was a hit with Richard for the reference to Fermat's Last Theorem. Among my other notable contributions were Succubus, Playful AI, Ice and Data's Guide to the Net, Shield, Food Fight, R&D Mole, and Sandbox Dig.
The flavor text for Subsidiary Branch refers to the offsite location that the Netrunner team used for early design and development. It was a welcome haven from workplace nonsense. In general, writing Netrunner flavor text was a great way to blow off stress. Many of the pieces refer cynically to Wizards internal policy (like PDCA, a quality-assurance process, which was parodied in Please Don't Choke Anyone).

You are working for one of the biggest games companies. More than a few games enthusiasts might imagine that this is in a way "the ideal job." But then, it also sounds like a whole lot of work. Is there anything you might like to tell us about your everyday work schedule?

In many ways it is a dream job. Here I am helping to make some of the best-known games in the world. Right now I'm busy with the Monster Manual for the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons, coming out this fall. But it is really hard work.
As an editor, I have to balance making text clear and consistent with preserving the author's voice, plus deal with various parts of the company (art, layout, marketing) and hit an often-tight deadline. Sometimes I end up writing a lot of material. It makes for long hours. (That's why my Netrunner activity has been so reduced lately.) And Wizards is an office like any other, with the usual politics and frustrations that go with that. Still, it's not too many places that make playtesting games a requirement of the job.

I'm sure people will be wondering by now, "How does one get into such a position?"

I worked my way up to the point where I felt I had developed skills that were suitable for editing game material. I'd spent a number of years in the Canadian government, writing correspondence and instruction manuals, then later, editing regulatory text. I replied to an ad in White Wolf magazine for freelance editors and did some work on Vampire: The Masquerade and StreetFighter over 1994 and 1995. I applied to Wizards in 1994, purely on spec, and they seemed interested. Due to a number of factors, though, that didn't pan out at first. When they advertised for editors in the winter of 1994, I reapplied. This time they got back to me quickly. I was hired in May 1995.
Wizards is hiring a lot these days, though most of those jobs are in retail, events support, and such. Quite a few people here started out in one of those entry-level positions and got involved with the development of products, then moved on to more creative work. It's a good way to break in.

When was it that you were first "exposed" to the gaming scene? I for one started off with playing D&D at the age of 14 with Daniel Schneider, who also plays Netrunner now. Did you grow up in a "games-friendly" environment, or how did you come to find out about this interesting hobby?

I've been gaming since 1978, when I stumbled across the game club at university and played D&D for the first time. Up till that point I'd been very shy and friendless, but the world of gaming opened up whole new possibilities for me. I formed my longest-lasting relationships through this hobby, including my marriage.

Do you still have time to play games yourself, especially Netrunner (outside of tourneys)?

I don't get to play as often as I used to, but once in a while I go to a convention just to play. I put on a monthly Netrunner event in Seattle and often play, but there isn't much opportunity to do so outside of that setting.

Are there any favorite cards or strategies you like best?

I keep trying to build a successful Newsgroup Taunting deck. I've started thinking about a combination with Data Sifters that could be promising. Also, I just love Lucidrine - especially when I can convert the temporary bits into cold hard cash!

I know that this is probably "classified", but is there any chance of another expansion for Netrunner, say, in one or two years' time?

I really can't tell right now. The plan was to produce a mini-expansion for the "Classic" games every year or two, but a lot depends on how well the set sells.

Do you think that there is room for many more game mechanisms in Netrunner, or would you say that it is just about "complete" by now?

I think there is plenty of room. Many of the cards in Silent Impact have innovative mechanics that were just too complex for a limited release, but perhaps we'll see them someday. And there are plenty of creative minds out there!

Is there any particularly interesting or spectacular Netrunner game you recall (maybe during playtesting)?

There was the time I achieved the then-theoretical goal nicknamed "Silicon Sue" - a Runner whose natural handsize was less than zero. Lots of Lucidrine and MRAM chips. It's still a favorite style for me.

Is there any Netrunner strategy that has turned up in the meantime which the design team hadn't anticipated?

I don't think they were totally surprised by the tournament environment, though perhaps they didn't anticipate the extent to which certain strategies were exploited. In a more regularly supported system, like Magic, in which the card mix is always changing, R&D can address abusive combinations fairly quickly. Unfortunately, Netrunner stagnated for years, and this small infusion of "hoser" cards isn't enough on its own. It's too bad that Silent Impact didn't come out as a complete set; I think it would have really changed things.

Because of your continued support of Netrunner, the nickname "Jen of Arc" has stuck. Honestly, what do you think about this title, which connects you not only to a Netrunner card, but also to the saintly figure of Joan of Arc, who led the French in a war against the English in the middle ages?

I'm very flattered by it, even though I don't normally like to be called "Jen." I guess that makes me the patron saint of Netrunner - but I don't really think much about the other associations. As to saving the game, though, that honor goes to all of you. My job is just to intercede. :-)

Any message you would like to get across to our readers (apart from "Buy more Classic")? :-)

Keep up your enthusiasm and creativity! I hope that this year we can at least publish the "Dioscuri" cards, though of course my preference is for another mini-expansion. Or even better, a full-scale Netrunner revival!
And, oh yeah, buy more Classic!

Thank you very much indeed for your time!

And thanks to all of you.

[Close file]

TRQ #24
- 2005 -
TRQ #23
- 2004 -
TRQ #22
TRQ #21
- 2003 -
TRQ #20
TRQ #19
- 2002 -
TRQ #18
TRQ #17
TRQ #16
- 2001 -
TRQ #15
TRQ #14
TRQ #13
TRQ #12
- 2000 -
TRQ #11
TRQ #10
TRQ #09
- 1999 -
TRQ #08
TRQ #07
TRQ #06
TRQ #05
- 1998 -
TRQ #04
TRQ #03
TRQ #02
- 1997 -
TRQ #01