Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cortex Prime Featurette with Cam Banks on Cortex Prime

This interview is part of a series of interviews sponsored by Magic Vacuum Design Studio.

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Cam Banks on the current Cortex Prime project! Cam shares about the stretch-goal selection process, setting up the Kickstarter, and why he is choosing to make Cortex Prime! (Note: there's a disclosure at the bottom of this post.)


Tell me a little about Cortex Prime. What excites you about it?

Cortex Plus was my first ground-up system build for any published game. I’d messed around with rules from other games before, but when I went to develop Leverage and Smallville for MWP with the two design teams on those projects, I came with a desire to create the games I really wanted to play. So I stripped the Cortex System down to the bare bones and rebuilt it. Each time we designed a new Cortex Plus game, we took that same approach, trying to capture what was great about the license and adapt these rules to it. Now that the rights are back with me thanks to my MWP agreement, and I’m looking ahead to new games and the community creator program, I’m really keen to take what I’ve learned in the past ten years and incorporate all of those lessons into a singular, modular set of rules that anyone can tinker with.

It has all the things I like most: lots of dice of different sizes, descriptive and thematic traits, a game currency of points to spend to make things interesting, and a focus on letting the player choose when and how to screw up or to look awesome.

What are you bringing into Cortex Prime that's different than Cortex Plus?

Cortex Plus was really something like four or even five different games all under the same system umbrella. Smallville, Leverage, Marvel Heroic, Firefly, and Dragon Brigade were different games even if some of the mechanics were common among them all. With Cortex Prime, there’s now just one game system but with a bunch of options. I want to make it a single unified toolkit, which it hasn’t been before, even with the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide.

How did you determine what content you'll be focusing on in the main book, and what to include as stretch goals?
The stretch goals were where I was hoping a lot of settings and genre mashups would go, with expanded rules and developed archetypes or pathways mechanics or even just their own traits specific to the settings. In the Cortex Prime Game Handbook there’s a lot of advice and guidance for implementing genres using Cortex Prime, but I don’t have the space to do every possible combination of ideas. I want to see cool worlds by creators who aren’t me, and make those as integral to the experience of this game as anything else I do.

A more business-related question - how did you plan the Kickstarter backer levels, rewards, and so on?
I used a Kickstarter budget spreadsheet shared by my colleague Jeff Tidball ( and my own past experience managing Kickstarters and producing games at Atlas and MWP. I knew what I wanted to offer and kept it relatively simple. No dice, no T-shirts, nothing that I couldn’t put into a box and ship out at an affordable rate. I wanted to pay additional creators (and myself) a top standard rate, and fairly compensate artists and layout. In the end I found that I could manage the whole thing for $30K and that stretch goals were roughly $10K each, so that helped me come up with the various pledge levels and stretch goal numbers.

Where do you find inspiration for a genre-flexible game? How do you keep it rich without tying it to just one setting?

So much depends on trusting that players are able to put down some fairly straightforward and essential ideas for their character. Cortex has always used narrative and descriptive terms for things, and that’s where a lot of the flavor of a genre lives. The rest comes from knowing what rules best suit a genre and making sure those are part of the toolkit available to players and GMs.

What is your biggest hope for Cortex Prime and the Kickstarter itself, beyond funding and sales?

I hope that the creator community takes off, now that there’s going to be a definitive and straightforward set of rules to use in making new games. I’m hoping that Cortex Prime games scratch an itch for somebody, either a gamer or a designer, who then feels encouraged to use it. I also hope that lots of designers get the chance to create their own stuff who wouldn’t otherwise have that opportunity or a community that includes them.

Thanks so much to Cam for the interview! It's great to hear more about Cortex Prime, and I hope you will all check out the Kickstarter that's running now!

Full disclosure: I'm a stretch goal for Cortex Prime (my Solarpunk setting I discussed in Episode 4 of Designer & Devourer!) and hope to do a continued series with my fellow designers. The interviews are funded, but still include my full dedication to getting good information about the projects for my readers!

Thoughty is supported by the community on Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email

No comments:

Post a Comment