|Michael Alyn Pondsmith|
|Born||April 14, 1954|
|Occupation||Game designer, graphic designer, teacher|
|Notable work(s)||Mekton, Teenagers from Outer Space, Cyberpunk 2020, Castle Falkenstein|
|Awards||2006 Origins Awards Hall of Fame
1994 Origins Awards Best Roleplaying Rules for Castle Falkenstein
Michael Alyn Pondsmith (born April 14, 1954), typically credited as Mike Pondsmith, is a roleplaying, board, and video game designer. He is best known for his work for the publisher R. Talsorian Games, where he developed a majority of the company's role-playing game lines since the company's foundation in 1982. Pondsmith is credited as author of several RPG lines, including Mekton (1984), Cyberpunk (1988) and Castle Falkenstein (1994). He also contributed to the Forgotten Realms and Oriental Adventures lines of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, worked in various capacities on video games and authored or co-created several board games. Pondsmith also worked as an instructor at the DigiPen Institute of Technology.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Early career
- 3 R. Talsorian's hiatus and video game design
- 4 Cyberpunk v3.0
- 5 R. Talsorian Games
- 6 Cyberpunk 2077 video game
- 7 Personal life
- 8 Awards and recognitions
- 9 Board games designed
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Early life and education
Born in a military family, Pondsmith was traveling around the world with the U.S. Air Force for the first 18 years of his life. He graduated from the University of California, Davis achieving B.A. in graphic design and B.S. in psychology. Pondsmith recalls that he's been designing games even as a child but it wasn't until college where he got introduced to the idea of pen and paper roleplaying games when a friend of his got a copy of the original Dungeons & Dragons. Having a lot of naval wargaming experience he got interested in the gameplay mechanics utilized by the D&D but not in the fantasy setting presented. His interest spiked however when he acquired a copy of Traveller, a science fiction role-playing game, published in 1977 by Game Designers' Workshop. Dissatisfied with its mechanics, Pondsmith rewrote the game for his personal use under the name Imperial Star. Pondsmith later called Traveller the best roleplaying game he's encountered in the Green Ronin's award winning Hobby Games: The 100 Best.
Before he became a pen and paper game designer, Pondsmith worked in the video games industry as a graphic designer. His first job out of college involved designing packaging and advertising materials for the California Pacific Computer Company. At the time his line of duty involved repackaging of the Japanese games for the western market which was the main focus of California Pacific in its early days. He later moved on to creating designs for the original titles produced by Bill Budge and for the early Ultima games designed by Richard Garriott, all of which were published by the late California Pacific.
According to Pondsmith there wasn't much to do in the area of video game design back then mostly due to the constrains of technology available (most games released by California Pacific were targeting Apple II machines). He was however familiar with pen and paper games which he played at the time and got interested in the paper game design. Thanks to the side-job in typesetting, he had an access to very modern (for the time) computers with advanced software used in laying books and magazines out. Taking advantage of this access he wrote a game called Mekton, a mecha game based on Japanese manga books he stumbled upon in the past. Due to the interest his work on paper games generated, game design consumed his graphic design career (although he continued designing and laying out most of the R. Talsorian Games' books).
Early role-playing games
Pondsmith's first game which he designed from the ground up, and released in 1984, was Mekton, a mecha game with heavy manga and anime influences. Pondsmith admitted that he was mostly basing his work on the Mobile Suit Gundam manga written in Japanese which he was able to acquire. Not understanding the text, he inaccurately recreated the world dynamics purely from the imagery of the comic books. Game's first public testing occurred at a local convention. Initial public release of Mekton was focusing on its battle mechanics with no roleplaying elements at all, which made it a pure tactical war-game. Mekton was re-released as a proper roleplaying game the year after with Pondsmith and Mike Jones credited as authors. In 1987 Pondsmith released Mekton II, a new edition of the system featuring mechanics based on the Interlock System later used with slight modifications in the Cyberpunk line. In the same year R. Talsorian Games released another of Pondsmith's games inspired by the Japanese manga – Teenagers from Outer Space (RPGA Gamer's Choice Award). The game was re-released with significant changes to the mechanics in 1989. Games such as Cyberpunk (later Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk V3; game got translated into 9 languages), Castle Falkenstein (Best Game of 1994), Cybergeneration, and Dream Park soon followed. He also collaborated with the Hero Games designers on the Fuzion system.
Cyberpunk roleplaying game
In 1988 R. Talsorian Games released Mike Pondsmith's Cyberpunk The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future. Set in the year 2013 (and often referred to as Cyberpunk 2013) game was a boxed product consisting of three separate books penned by Pondsmith, with Mike Blum, Colin Fisk, Dave Friedland, Will Moss and Scott Ruggels as co-authors. Several expansions by Pondsmith and other authors followed and in 1990 Pondsmith released Cyberpunk 2020, a handbook with updated story arc and mechanics (although existing expansions remained compatible with the new game).
Pondsmith attributes creation of Cyberpunk to his interest in the genre sparked primarily by the Ridley Scott's Blade Runner released in 1982. His motivation behind the Cyberpunk roleplaying game was the desire to recreate the technology and dark, film noir style of the movie. Cyberpunk is the most expansive line of products in the R. Talsorian library with 44 sourcebooks spanning over 4700 pages and estimated 5 million players to date.
In 1993, again under R. Talsorian Games banner, Pondsmith released an alternate timeline for the Cyberpunk line. The sourcebook titled CyberGeneration was further enhanced by additional expansions and got a second edition release in 1995, building further upon existing, explored themes. License for the line was later acquired by Jonathan Lavallee, owner of the Firestorm Ink, founded in 2003 specifically to continue R. Talsorian's CyberGeneration product line.
In 1996 Wizards of the Coast licensed Cyberpunk for their line of collectible card game Netrunner. Designed by Richard Garfield, Netrunner featured locations, entities and characters familiar to the Cyberpunk 2020 players. Game was named as one of The Millennium's Most Underrated Games in 1999 in the Pyramid magazine published by the Steve Jackson Games. Mike Pondsmith is featured in game's credits in the special thanks section and makes a cameo appearance as "Omni Kismet, Ph.D." (character's name is an anagram of his). On May 10, 2012, Fantasy Flight Games announced that they would be releasing Android: Netrunner, a new card game based on Netrunner, under license from Wizards of the Coast. Another short-lived card game based on the Pondsmith's IP was Cyberpunk CCG published by Social Games in 2003 and designed by Peter Wacks.
In 1989 West End Games released a Cyberpunk and Paranoia crossover. The game called Alice Through the Mirrorshades was designed by Edward Bolme and is compatible with both Cyberpunk as well as Paranoia games. At least two fan magazines were created around the Cyberpunk's peek popularity with Pondsmith's approval: Interface Magazine that evolved from the unofficial Cyberpunk Update run by Chris Hockabout and UK-published 'Punk '21.
In 1994 R. Talsorian Games released Pondsmith's steampunk-themed fantasy role-playing game titled Castle Falkenstein. The game's mechanics were based on playing cards instead of dice and geared towards live action role-playing. Castle Falkenstein remains Mike Pondsmith's most critically acclaimed game to date with the 1994 Origins Award for "Best Roleplaying Rules" and the 1995 Nigel D. Findley Memorial Award for "Best Role-Playing Product" recognitions. In 2000 Castle Fankenstein was adapted to the GURPS system by James Cambias and Phil Masters and released by Steve Jackson Games.
Design contributions outside of R. Talsorian Games
Pondsmith was briefly associated with TSR, Inc. where he worked on Buck Rogers XXVc, a science-fiction RPG and two sourcebooks for the Dungeons & Dragons - Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms for Oriental Adventures in 1988 and Hall of Heroes for Forgotten Realms in 1989. He also made minor uncredited contributions to the original Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game released in 1987 by West End Games.
R. Talsorian's hiatus and video game design
Around the year 2000 Mike Pondsmith shifted from pen and paper game design back to video game design. Between 2000 and 2004 he was employed as a Design Manager at Microsoft where he contributed to various games (mostly to the lineup of the original Xbox console's exclusive titles) released by the company's Microsoft Game Studios. In MechCommander 2 released in 2001 he played the role of Steel, a character featured in cut-scenes (he also voiced the character for the in-game chatter between characters). He's also credited in Stormfront Studios' Blood Wake released in the same year. The last title he was credited with that was developed for Microsoft was Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (2003) after which he departed to join Monolith Productions in 2004 where he worked on The Matrix Online (2005).
The idea of a Matrix game was initially pitched internally at Microsoft by Pondsmith and one of his coworkers but despite advanced talks with The Wachowskis, the project never came to fruition. Pitches to Shiny Entertainment didn't succeed either and only later he learned that a Matrix game was being worked on at Monolith. Given the opportunity to join the live team (responsible for maintaining game and producing content post-launch) he decided to change employers. Pondsmith ended up doing mission design for the game under the auspices of Online Creative Director and Lead Game Designer Toby Ragaini.
In 2000 Pondsmith announced that he was working on the third edition of Cyberpunk. The work itself started even earlier, right after the release of the Dragon Ball Z Adventure Game in 1999, and third edition of Cyberpunk was expected to ship soon afterwards. Initially called Cyberpunk 203X, the game was scheduled for a release in the Spring of 2001. The first two-page preview of the game was released on August 20, 2001 marking the first pushback of the game's release date. During the prolonged development of the game, Pondsmith released another preview of the third edition of Cyberpunk on December 31, 2004. The game's early manuscript was previewed and first public playtesting took place during I-Con in Ronkonkoma, New York, which was held between April 8 and 10, 2005. The game was written by Pondsmith, Mike Blum, Colin Fisk, Dave Friedland, Will Moss, Scott Ruggels and was finally released on December 13, 2005 to a mixed reviews.
Illustrations in the game were almost universally criticized for the usage of action figures of which Pondsmith was a collector at the time. The game was successful enough however to justify several accessories and supplements announced immediately after core book's release, namely DataPack (initially called Dossier Pak), FlashPak, Gangbook and AltCult Insider. Cyberpunk v3.0 much like its predecessors was influenced by the classic cyberpunk books written by Neal Stephenson and William Gibson but also incorporated ideas from new literary sources, Japanese animation and movies. According to Pondsmith it was designed to become a commentary on 21st century, corporate influences on everyday life, ideologies of groups, place of government, warfare and advancements in biotechnology.
Interlock and Fuzion system
In addition to working at R. Talsorian, Pondsmith contributed to the Hero Games' Champions line. Working mostly as an editorial assistant on books such as Alliances for the Champions: New Millennium he got introduced to the Hero Games' mechanics (Hero System) which he later decided to merge with the Interlock System used by most of the R. Talsorian games up to that point. The end result of this process was Fuzion system used by the later R. Talsorian titles, most notably third edition of the Cyberpunk game. Changes were being justified by Pondsmith in the foreword to the third edition of Cyberpunk as necessary for streamlining the game and attracting new players but just like the game itself were met with mixed reviews.
R. Talsorian Games
R. Talsorian Games is a Washington-based roleplaying game publisher. Founded in 1985 in California by Mike Pondsmith, it was one of the first RPG publishers to embrace desktop publishing. Currently Lisa Pondsmith, Mike Pondsmith's wife, serves as a General Manager of the company, with Mike Pondsmith remaining the owner, CEO and lead designer. Source of the name of the company remains unclear with Pondsmith stating that "R. Talsorian is a real person who never plays RPGs".
Mike Pondsmith uses his alter-ego "Maximum Mike" across many of the Cyberpunk books. Unlike reoccurring characters like Morgan Blackhand, Johnny Silverhand or Nomad Santiago, Maximum Mike breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader directly. Pondsmith's likeness and name however were used directly in the Cyberpunk world under different name: he is featured as "Omni Kismet, Ph.D.", one of the characters in the Netrunner CCG (character's name is an anagram of "Mike Pondsmith").
Cyberpunk 2077 video game
On May 30, 2012 Pondsmith was confirmed to be working with CD Projekt RED on a video game set in the Cyberpunk universe. On October 18, 2012 game's name and settings were revealed to be Cyberpunk 2077. Immediately afterwards Brian Crecente was able to confirm with game's creators that Pondsmith is also working on the new edition of Cyberpunk pen and paper RPG game that would evolve the genre. In the interview for GameSpot, CD Projekt's Marcin Iwinski divulged that Pondsmith's involvement in the video game development mostly focuses on game world aspect and mechanics and his input though constant, doesn't happen on a daily basis due to the distance between parties. Video game creators as well as Mike Pondsmith and other R. Talsorian designers will contribute on the newly formed cyberpunk.net blog.
Pondsmith has a wife, Lisa, and a son, Cody all of whom are working at R. Talsorian games. Although Mike and Lisa have met earlier, their relationship began around 1977 while both of them were still in college. They got married in February 1982. Lisa serves as a General Manager of R. Talsorian and has been credited in various titles (most notably as author alongside Jeff Grubb in The Memoirs of Auberon of Faerie sourcebook for the Castle Falkenstein system) and Cody is credited as a member of production staff in the Cyberpunk V3.0 supplement Flashpak. He's also involved in promotion and community communications related to R. Talsorian's steampunk title Castle Falkenstein. Before designing games Mike Pondsmith worked as an amateur paleontologist. In his spare time he collects plastic GI Joe action figures prominently featured in Cyberpunk v3.0 core rulebook and enjoys outdoor activities, reading as well as playing around with radio-controlled cars and planes.
Pondsmith has been very active in gaming communities and appeared during many gaming conventions over the years. He was present on many of the Gen Cons over the years which led to featuring his memories about the experiences in Robin D. Laws' 40 Years of Gen Con published in August 2007 by Atlas Games. He attended I-CON, A-Kon, Norwescon, Origins, DEXCON, DunDraCon and others. Pondsmith was a guest of honor at Ropecon 1999, Astronomicon 2001 and I-CON 25 (March 24–26, 2006). Both Mike and his son Cody run various games during different gaming conventions. Pondsmith also appeared on stage to talk about the Cyberpunk 2077 video game during two of the CD Projekt RED's conferences.
Between years 2010 and 2011 Pondsmith was working in the Department of Game Software Design and Production at the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, where he taught game design classes. The two courses he was running were Game History (GAT 110) and Game Mechanics I (GAT 210).
Awards and recognitions
Various games designed or co-created by Mike Pondsmith received awards over the years.
- Teenagers from Outer Space received RPGA Gamer's Choice Award[when?].
- Castle Falkenstein received Best Roleplaying Rules of 1994 Origins Award.
- Castle Falkenstein received 1995 Nigel D. Findley Memorial Award for the Best Role-Playing Product.
- Six Guns and Sorcery for Castle Falkenstein written by Edward Bolme, James Cambias, Eric Floch, Angela Hyatt, Jim Parks, Derek Quintanar, Barrie Rosen, Mark Schumann, Chris Williams received Best Roleplaying Supplement of 1996 Origins Award.
- Teenagers from Outer Space received Best Other Category Role-Playing Game of 1987 Origins Gamer's Choice Award.
- Cyberpunk received Best Science-Fiction Role-Playing Game of 1989 Origins Gamer's Choice Award.
- Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms written by Jay Batista, Deborah Christian, John Nephew, Mike Pondsmith, Rick Swan received Best Role-Playing Accessory of 1989 Origins Gamer's Choice Award.
On July 1, 2006 he was inducted into the Origins Awards Hall of fame, along with Jolly R. Blackburn, Rodger MacGowan, Dennis Mize (posthumously), Aaron Allston, and the game Star Fleet Battles.
Board games designed
In 1990, during his time with TSR, Pondsmith co-designed three two-player board games for the publisher.
- Attack in the Asteroids with Paul Lidberg and Kim Mohan
- Battle for the Sprawls with Paul Lidberg
- Craters of Tharsis with Paul Lidberg
For R. Talsorian Games:
- Mekton (1984) – boxed set, purely a board game
- Mekton: the Game of Japanese Robot Combat (1985) with Mike Jones
- Roadstriker (Mekton) (1986) with Clive Hendrik, Derek Quintanar (ISBN 0-937279-00-5)
- Advanced Combat System (1986) (ISBN 0-937279-02-1)
- Mekton II (1987) (ISBN 0-937279-04-8)
- Teenagers from Outer Space (1987) (ISBN 0-937279-08-0)
- Cyberpunk The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future (also known as Cyberpunk 2013) (1988) – boxed set contains: View from the Edge, Friday Night Firefight and Welcome to Night City
- Solo of Fortune (Cyberpunk 2013) (1989) with Colin Fisk, David Friedland, Will Moss, Derek Quintanar, Scott Ruggels (ISBN 0-937279-06-4)
- Rockerboy (Cyberpunk 2013) (1989) with David Ackerman, Colin Fisk, Will Moss, Scott Ruggels, Sam Shirley, Glenn Wildermuth (ISBN 0-937279-10-2)
- Near Orbit (Cyberpunk 2013) (1989) with Dave Ackerman, Glenn Wildermuth (ISBN 0-937279-08-0)
- Teenagers from Outer Space 2nd edition (1989) (ISBN 0-937279-08-0)
- Roadstriker II (Mekton II) (1990) with Clive Hendrik, Derek Quintanar (ISBN 0-937279-14-5)
- Cyberpunk 2020 (1990) with Mike Blum, Colin Fisk, Dave Friedland, Will Moss, Scott Ruggels (ISBN 0-937279-13-7)
- Night City (Cyberpunk) (1991) with Edward Bolme, Colin Fisk, Mike MacDonald, Will Moss, Lisa Pondsmith, Sam Shirley, John Smith, Anders Swensen (ISBN 0-937279-11-0)
- Chromebook (Cyberpunk) (1991) with Colin Fisk, Dave Harmer, Mike Masarati, Derek Quintanar, Mike Rotor, John Smith, Kevin Stein, William Tracy, Karl Wu, Andrew Strassmann, Ben Wright, Jeff Hexter, Glenn Goddard, Marcus Pregent (ISBN 0-937279-17-X)
- Home of the Brave (Cyberpunk) (1992) credited as contributor with main authors being Edward Bolme, Michael MacDonald, Craig Sheeley, Ross "Spyke" Winn (ISBN 0-937279-36-6)
- Chromebook 2 (Cyberpunk) (1992) with Ben Wright, Mike Roler, Jeff Hexter, Marcus Pregent, Craig Sheeley, Mike MacDonald, Ross Winn, Colin Tipton, Michael Todd (ISBN 0-937279-29-3)
- Dream Park Role Playing Game (1992) (ISBN 0-937279-27-7)
- Operation: Rimfire (Mekton II) (1993) additional material with main author being Michael MacDonald (ISBN 0-937279-37-4)
- CyberGeneration (1993) with David Ackerman, Edward Bolme, Karl Wu (ISBN 0-937294-04-7)
- Bastille Day (CyberGeneration) (1993) with David Ackerman, Edward Bolme (ISBN 0-937279-41-2)
- Star Riders (TFOS2) (1993) with Hans Guévin (ISBN 2-921573-10-5)
- MediaFront (Cyberpunk) (1994) credited for design with authors being David Ackerman, Edward Bolme, Eric Heisserer, Will Moss, Justin Schmid (ISBN 0-937279-52-8)
- Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads!!!! (Cyberpunk) (1994) with Eric Heisserer, Craig Neeley, Mike Roter, Ross Winn, Charlie Wong, Benjamin Wright (ISBN 0-937279-45-5)
- Eco Front (CyberGeneration) (1994) credited for design with authors being David Ackerman, Edward Bolme (ISBN 0-937279-50-1)
- Castle Falkenstein (1994) (ISBN 0-937279-44-7)
- Neo Tribes (Cyberpunk) (1995) credited for guidance with authors being Eric Oppen, Ross Winn (ISBN 0-937279-72-2)
- CyberGeneration Evolve or Die Revolution 2 (1995) with David Ackerman, Edward Bolme, Karl Wu (ISBN 0-937279-74-9)
- Mekton Z (1995) with Mike MacDonald (ISBN 0-937279-54-4)
- Mekton Z Plus (1995) contributor with main authors being Michael MacDonald, Benjamin Wright (ISBN 0-937279-60-9)
- The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (Castle Falkenstein) (1995) with Edward Bolme, Mark Schumann (ISBN 0-937279-68-4)
- Comme Il Faut (Castle Falkenstein) (1995) with Hilary Ayers, Gilbert Milner, Barrie Rosen, Ross "Spyke" Winn (ISBN 0-937279-55-2)
- The Book of Sigils (Castle Falkenstein) (1995) with Edward Bolme, Michael MacDonald, Mark Schumann (ISBN 0-937279-61-7)
- Steam Age (Castle Falkenstein) (1995) with David Ackerman, Paul A. Lidberg, Derek Quintanar, Barrie Rosen, Mark Schumann, Chris Williams (ISBN 0-937279-56-0)
- Starblade Battalion (Mekton) (1996) with Michael MacDonald, Mark Schumann, Benjamin Wright (ISBN 0-937279-78-1)
- Mekton Empire (1996) credited as source material author and interior artist with author being Guy W. McLimore Jr. (ISBN 0-9737271-5-2)
- Mecha Manual 2: Invastion Terra Files (Mekton) (1996) credited as editor with authors being Craig Sheely, Benjamin Wright (ISBN 0-937279-69-2)
- Rache Bartmoss' Brainware Blowout (1996) with David Ackerman-Gray, Edward Bolme, Craig Sheeley, Chris Williams, Benjamin Wright (ISBN 0-937279-84-6)
- Teenagers from Outer Space 3rd edition (1997) (ISBN 0-932799-94-9)
- The Memoirs of Auberon of Faerie (Castle Falkenstein) (1997) credited for layout and design with authors being Lisa Pondsmith and Jeff Grubb (ISBN 0-937279-64-1)
- Champions, New Millennium: Alliances (1997) (ISBN 0-937279-88-9)
- Bubblegum Crisis: Before and and After (1997) credited for other writing contributions (ISBN 0-937279-92-7)
- The DragonBall Z Adventure Game (1999) with Paul Sudlow (ISBN 1-891933-00-0)
- Mekton Zeta (2000) with Mike MacDonald (ISBN 0-937279-95-1)
- Reprint from 1995 under ANimechaniX brand with new cover and no color interior
- Dragonball Z Book 2: The Frieza Saga (2001) (ISBN 1-891933-04-3)
- Cyberpunk v3.0 (2005) with Lisa Pondsmith and Will Moss (ISBN 1-891933-03-5)
- Cyberpunk Flashpak (2006) (ISBN 1-891933-19-9)
- Beyond the Edge: Inside the Edgerunner Altcult (2008) with Ken MacKriell (ISBN 978-1-891933-22-6)
- Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (Oriental Adventures) (1988) with Jay Batista, Deborah Christian, John Nephew, Rick Swan (ISBN 0-88038-608-8)
- Hall of Heroes (Forgotten Realms) (1989) with Jeff Grubb, James Lowder, David Edward Martin, Bruce Nesmith, Kate Novak, Steve Perrin, R. A. Salvatore (ISBN 0-88038-711-4)
- Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century Science Fiction Role Playing Game (1990)
- Boxed set contains: Characters & Combat, The World Book, The Technology Book, maps, cards, counters
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- "Books by Mike Pondsmith (Author of Castle Falkenstein)". Goodreads. Retrieved 2012-12-10.
- "Michael Pondsmith". LibraryThing. Retrieved 2012-12-10.
- Steve Jackson, Mike Pondsmith, Eric Wujcik (July/August 1993), "The Future of Gaming", Pyramid Classic (Steve Jackson Games)
- "Mekton Zeta (2000 R. Talsorian Games / ANimechaniX edition)". RPGnet. Retrieved 2012-12-10.
- R. Talsorian official site
- Mike Pondsmith at RPG Geek Database
- Mike Pondsmith at BoardGameGeek
- Mike Pondsmith at MobyGames
- Part 1, part 2, and part 3 of Mike Pondsmith's Introduction on the cyberpunk.net blog
- Mike Pondsmith at GenCon 2001 (photo)