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The next decade of Critical Role is all about returning the favor

Critical Role is one of the biggest names in tabletop RPGs, with a dedicated community and many, many projects in the works. Between a seven-year series of real-life games, an unprecedented Kickstarter-turned-animated series, multiple novelizations, comics, games, a publishing wing, and a burgeoning non-profit organization, the cast and crew of Critical Role have their hands on many boats.

“The notion that the original show itself was possible for more than a month or two, that was the extent of the conversations we were having. [in 2015]said cast member Liam O’Brien in a recent interview with Polygon. We spoke with O’Brien and several other cast members about not only how far they’ve come in the past seven years, but also how far they want to go in the next decade. Caring seems to be the name of the game in how they continue to grow: caring and gratitude.

“Year after year, we keep trying to make assumptions about what the next year will bring, and it always ends up being much wilder than we expect,” said cast member and creative director Matthew Mercer. “One thing I can say for sure is that we will continue to play D&D, we will continue to do our campaigns, we will continue to play together. It’s all the things that come out of that, how we carefully expanded from where we are now.”

The entire cast has a role in the development of Critical Role Productions, from Marisha Ray’s input as Creative Director to Travis Willingham’s leadership as CEO. Growth, so far, has been limited solely to resources. “I think as we continue to expand production under the brilliant Marisha Ray, I don’t know why there wouldn’t be a continued desire to expand as opportunities arise, funding is present, and ideas continue to hover on the outskirts. of our imagination,” Mercer said.

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“Any joke that comes out of our mouths for seven seconds has the potential to be ripped off and turned into something,” O’Brien said. “Whether it’s a t-shirt or an idea for a show. Nothing is really off limits. It’s all about choosing the right projects at the right time.”

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The Legend of Vox Machina, the Critical Role animated series, is just one example of a “right project at the right time” scenario. It started on Kickstarter in 2019 and soon turned into a multi-season deal with Prime Video. Cast member Sam Riegel named the creation of the series his proudest achievement. “We’ve created an animated series that friends and family can watch and enjoy without knowing anything about fantasy or role-playing,” Riegel said. “And we have to do it together, all eight of us collaborating on our own stories.”

Managing the stories at the heart of Critical Role falls primarily to Matthew Mercer and Dani Carr, keeper of lore at Critical Role Productions. Together, Mercer and Carr watch over the changing landscape of Exandria, Mercer’s home world. From entire novelizations about non-player characters to spin-off card games set in the world like uk’otoa, Exandria has grown over the years in depth and richness. According to Mercer, the only way forward is higher and deeper.

“Exandria is kind of the heart of what we’ve built,” Mercer said. “There are so many opportunities to fill in the holes that we don’t see in the main campaigns, to tie the campaigns together. To leap forward into the future, you know, and see how the world has progressed and developed.”

“Fortunately, the stories are limitless, not just in the world of Exandria,” Ray said. For her, the road ahead is made exciting by the many avenues she has yet to explore. “I have always loved finding new and innovative ways to tell stories. Any kind of content platform, digital service, software or media is just a tool to help with whatever idea you would like to carry out.”

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The cast of Critical Role shows extreme reactions in the middle of a match

Image: Critical Role

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When asked about media beyond what they’ve dabbled in, like movies and video games (and even theme parks), the cast was optimistic. “If I’ve learned anything since we started this weird effort with Critical Role, it’s to be careful what you say out loud,” Mercer said. “Demonstration power, especially within our community, is a dangerous tool.”

For the most part, the cast was pretty coy about the soon-to-be-revealed projects they’re cooking (which are a lot, according to Willingham), but they were extremely open about the key ingredient to the success of those projects: collaboration. “We have loved meeting and working with some extremely talented people like the TTRPG space [has evolved]Willingham said.

“One of the greatest joys of everything that’s happened on Critical Role is that we get to do a lot of great things together, but we can also do great things with so many new people,” O’Brien said. “It’s a great pleasure for all of us, especially coming to this as people who used to be like Willy Loman, trying to get a voice acting job with huge stretches of unemployment and being concert performers, to be able to work. with so many types of artists in all mediums, musicians and writers and artists and entertainers and whatever you can think of.

“We’re really doing one thing all the time, and that’s building our universe,” he said. “And we’re just casting great people to do great things with. At a certain moment we need help. We’re up to our elbows creating things, and the universe has gotten so big that it’s a joy to bring writers and artists to help out.”

Forays into an expanded universe and expanded cast list have begun with the start of Unlimited Exandria Y Exandria Unlimited: Calamity. The spin-off series of the actual game take place in Exandria, but are led by new masters of the game: Aabria Iyengar and Brennan Lee Mulligan.

ExU with Aabria and ExU: Calamity with Brennan are wonderful examples of empowering another person to take the reins and follow them,” said Mercer. “By doing so, they create something truly special and unique in the world that I never could.”

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Derek Jacobi, Jordan Peele, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Hideo Kojima, Mike Mignola and Yoshitaka Amano are just a few of the people Mercer and O’Brien named as dream collaborators. Over the next decade, they’ll have their eyes on the actual gaming space and independent developers and creators, though they acknowledged they’re not entirely sure what shape the space will take, even a few years from now.

“I think it’s still early days,” O’Brien said. “I know we’ve been going here for several years, but comparatively it’s really new. Obviously, it’s gotten a real foothold in the world’s consciousness in a way it didn’t have a decade ago.”

“It still feels kind of like the Wild West,” Mercer said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’ve been meticulous about our growth, to the point where we’re one of the spearheads of real game development as mainstream media, as mainstream as you can get. And we even feel like we’re at that Wild West stage, so I can’t even imagine what we and other creators will do in the next 10 years.

“I think what’s interesting about the actual game is that you can only add so many bells and whistles, because the core is still just very conversational collaborative narrative. So the challenge is how far you can advance that experience without detracting from the honesty and very real connection that makes it unique from other forms of pre-made media.”

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A posed photo of the cast of Critical Role

Photo: Robyn Von Swank/Critical Role

By moving into the future of real-world gaming, the creators of Critical Role are committed to elevating other voices and other systems beyond Dungeons & Dragons. “We recently jumped into publishing with Darrington Press and that allows us to keep an eye on the great games, big and small, that are being developed by independent creators who might not otherwise have the funding to develop or the platform to distribute. — to showcase some of these really cool unique ideas to the world,” Mercer said. “We are also in the early stages of exploring that. I think even some of the things we have in the pipeline are exciting. And as we get more involved in the indie game space, I am continually amazed at the quality, uniqueness, and variety of human experiences that can be represented by a stack of cards and a message.”

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As the years pass, the cast members’ goals for the future are based not only on their own storytelling efforts, but also on returning the goodwill they’ve received.

“By establishing the Critical Role Foundation, we have a nonprofit charity that continues to grow in the good it does for the community that has been supporting it and helping it flourish,” Mercer said. “Ten years from now, I am excited by the prospect of how much good we can do as the Critical Role Foundation and its partners continue to expand, and people devote their energy to trying to make this world a little better than they found it. . .”

“It started with us trying to represent the world we wanted to live in. And now we can do it a little bit in the real world as well,” added O’Brien.

“The important principles for us are fostering a welcoming community and fostering a mindset and philosophy of helping others,” Mercer said. “And continue to foster the friendship that started all of this. There is nothing scarier than doing business with your friends. And there’s nothing more exciting than starting a successful business with friends you can trust and care for. Ten more years of that, I think at the baseline, I’d be happy.”

The process of thinking about the future of the cast and creators has changed since 2015, but the core of critical roleher magical, beating heart remains the same.

“The thing that makes me most proud is that we somehow managed to create a story and characters with my best friends,” O’Brien said. “Stories that resonated with me and my friends, but also resonated with people all over the world and it looks like they will for years to come.”

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“It’s one thing to have a successful business media empire,” Mercer added. “It’s another to have created that and continue to expand it with the people who matter most to you. And everyone is excited to be able to do this together and continue to grow in a wonderful way. That sort of thing doesn’t happen, and we’re all well aware of it. So we protect it very carefully. We walk in unison and never forget to be grateful for the fact that we can do this, and we try to give it back at every opportunity.”

Wherever and whenever it takes them, be it to new lands or hitherto unexplored futures.

“I look forward to our future cyberpunk environment where Keyleth is president,” O’Brien said at one point. “It still looks the same. In a protected garden, in a bubble”.

“In a big powered suit with shoulder pads?” Mercer asked.

“Definitely shoulder pads,” O’Brien agreed, smiling.

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