15 Minutes… about Lasers

Vesper: Thank you for agreeing to the interview! Just because I don’t want you to relax too much after LaserRunner (Probably The Hottest Netrunner Event in Europe™), and inquisitive minds want to know – were you born with a lightsaber in your hand? And, if that was not the case, when did you realize that cutting matter with light is a thing you’re really into?

Jakuza: Making Netrunner things started simply as a way of hopefully drawing more people to events I organized. It began with just ordinary paper fan alts, namely the mysterious “Black ICE” series inspired by the retro cyberpunk aesthetic of the ‘80s in general and Tron specifically. From there I got involved with several creative projects, but the things I made never felt like they were at the same level of quality that I saw from artists in the community. Still, I was enjoying doing my own thing and leveraging some of the skills and knowledge I picked up from work for the hobby.

When I came across laser etched things at work and within the Netrunner community itself, my curiosity was peaked and I wanted to figure out how to do it, perhaps giving my own spin to it along the way. That was the first time that everything truly clicked together for me. Things started with very bare and basic work on wood, most notably a design for Potential Unleashed with 15 influence. A first painful mistake, but also an opportunity to learn and improve. The positive reaction to the first wooden IDs and my first acrylic design, a very basic Haas-Bioroid: Engineering the Future, gave me the encouragement to dive further into this realm and see how far I could take it.

The funny part is that this feels ages ago in terms of work and progress made, but it’s actually just over 1,5 years ago. I can remember the first designs quite distinctly, as I usually work towards a deadline roughly coinciding with a major event like the European Championships. Organizing the LaserRunner weekend had a similar intent behind it, as I like to set myself personal challenges to see if I can meet them, further developing my skills along the way as I learn/work best under pressure.

Vesper: Whoa! Given the quality of your work, I would have said you’ve been working with laser etching for at least twice the time – and with event organization at least a decade 🙂

Inquisitive minds at NISEI Plaza want to know – when do you expect to be contacted by NBN to laser something on the surface of the Moon?

Jakuza: Tournament organization is definitely something I’ve been at for a longer time, but only really serious for the last 2 years. I come from a background of event organization, so it all feels quite familiar, but managing a tournament with a large field of players does bring its own complications compared to festival organization. You never have to fix game states in the latter and definitely you never get questions on the level of: “Can I use the Hayley trigger to install a blank card from hand when my Harbinger returns facedown?” (No, you can’t).

As for lasering the moon; I wish. NBN is easily my favourite faction both in lore and mechanics. And whilst I doubt the chances of getting my hands on some actual moonrock, I have been experimenting for ages with stone, marble and similar materials. Marble Titan and/or gravestone Outfit has above average appeal, hopefully. I’m still not satisfied with the results however, so those designs will remain securely in the lab. For now. Other experiments with more advanced materials, such as metallic acrylics and bamboo have been satisfactory, so those are now out in the wild.

Vesper: Material experimentation is something that you seem to excel at. There is the case of certain rather unusual alt art ID that was the top prize at LaserRunner. Could you share with us the story behind its inception and creation? I’m wondering whether you had to test the process several times due to natural qualities of your material of choice for Kaas-Bioroid. Also, the name is pure genius 🙂

Jakuza: The cheese is actually a group effort from the Enschede meta! The idea came into existence during one of our weekly get togethers at our FLGS; Comicasa. I’m not even quite sure of how it exactly came into fruition, but I think it started with one of our locals who works at a cheesemaker mentioning that he wanted to sponsor the LaserRunner event with some product from his place of work. From there the tone was set; all manner of cheese related Netrunner puns flew around the tables that evening. When leaving for home, standing outside with our bikes, Kaas-Bioroid specifically was born. From there it was just a matter of realizing this mad thing.

I can’t take credit for the actual lasering on the cheese; that goes to the same person who offered to sponsor the cheeses; Bas, also known as Bas10n, an awesome player and friend who I’m lucky enough to have in my meta. I just made the designs and several options for those, whilst figuring out how far we could take things in a dairy based product. That was certainly one of my more interesting evenings google search history wise.

Vesper: Now you know it, dear readers – a good lasered cheese is not hard to find if you’ve got the right people around you. As are many other things… But it’s good to know that it also applies to cheese, considered by many as the second most important comestible in the universe.

So, other than a very original idea for one of the top prizes, what made you get into organizing such a big event with (I assume) quite a few technological and logistical challenges?

Jakuza: The general idea for the weekend came to me roughly a year ago when I started to get serious about making laser things and also noticed an uptick in events where every participant could take their own pick (sometimes IDs, sometimes other things) from a pool of available prizes. Those two combined led to the basic concept: An event where every single player could pick up an acrylic, wooden or other material ID. IDs of this nature are often treated as top prizing, so the idea of an event that turns that on its head appealed to me. So often the prizing at events is very top heavy. Not this one.

I parked the idea in the back of my mind then, thinking it would be an effort far too large and complicated. Fast forward a little over a year and suddenly FFG dropped the hammer on us. At that point the idea raised its head again and the decision was actually quite easy; now or never. The main question was: What would happen if I let every attending player choose what ID they’d receive a lasered version of? Could I do it? Could I design and laser 10+ new IDs?

From there it was quite a ride, with roughly 10-12 hours of actual laser etching/cutting in the lab, plus 20 or so extra hours of prep there. That doesn’t count the time designing things, which I didn’t track but snuck its way into my spare time for the last 6-8 weeks or so. Some IDs were easy to figure out, others took quite a while. In all cases I only chose to make and finalize the thing if I had a moment of inspiration and I felt the central concept was strong enough. Plus the end result had to look good of course. This is also the reason why there are some slight variations floating around in some of the IDs made for the event. As I didn’t have the luxury or the time to get feedback from the wild, I went with slightly varied versions for some IDs and let the players select which version they wanted.

Vesper: Your IDs are definitely cherished and appreciated across the whole community – not unlike many of the pieces coming out from the minds and under the hands of the talented folks StimSlacking at #artist-colony. Yet, while many of the goodies are up for grabs online in various online locations, your work seems closely connected to prize-event support only. When can we expect a LaserShop popping up online?

Jakuza: A lot of folks have asked me why the things I make aren’t for sale in an online shop like Etsy or similar. An understandable question, and I’m definitely flattered folks are willing to throw money my way for the things. I’ll take this interview as a chance to explain my reasoning: Making things is a side activity for me. It was always intended as something fun, a chance to have some unique prize support and a personal challenge; a way to learn something new and develop skills without a clear goal. Opening an actual online store would push matters into a territory where it’s no longer about the satisfaction of making things and exploring the process. Also, these things are made in rather small time limited batches. I do all the laser etching, cutting, treatment, etc by myself, so as you can imagine it’s a rather time consuming process. That has the logical consequence that I only make rather small batches that I prefer to use as prize support, gifts or trade. Anything that’s left, I do occasionally sell at events I organize or attend, as a way of recouping material and treatment costs. This way I can invest in new tools, explore new interesting materials and of course pay for the laser.

As a side note; the fact that this potentially adds a big draw to events I organize isn’t lost on me. The LaserRunner weekend was definitely me leveraging on that and seeing how far I could push things. Both on my own end as a maker and on getting a big field of attendees. Several times during the weekend remarks along the lines of “These feel special” were made and that has made me consider how I view what I do. I’ve alway stated that it’s a personal thing and “I just do what I do”, but perhaps the simplest way of putting it, is that it’s craft. Craft IDs; has a ring to it, doesn’t it?

Vesper: OK, now that we know your TO/creative philosophy (I wonder if you’d go into craft beer making – juuuuust saying), let’s take a quick look into the player behind the mask. Let’s imagine we just played a whole match of Netrunner. What could I learn about you as a Runner and as a Corp player after that match?

Jakuza: Interesting question. I like to dictate the pace of the game, so I tend to gravitate towards decks that allow me to set and execute my own plan. I favour speed and aggression on the Runner side, so I’m a big fan of Maxx, Andromeda and nowadays Liza. My Runner game also isn’t the strongest, so IDs that allow me to finish the game quick fit me well, as this allows me minimize the room for error. On the side of Corps I tend to be drawn to decks that focus on speed and efficiency, preferably with a plan that the runner is forced to interact with earlier than they are comfortable. These often take horizontal form; Russian NEH, EtF Moons, Rozijnbol Mti and to a lesser extent Controlling the Message are decks I enjoy and I always have something along those horizontal lines sleeved up. Asset based strategies (spam, if you will) are what got me my best results and most memorable games. Side note: There are now some beer related searches in my history.

Vesper: That’s an interesting selection of IDs and decks to play against, which definitely showcases the versatility and support for different play styles offered by the game… And I’m looking forward to the first beer-based alt art ID from you soon, haha.

On a less serious note, if you were to make a sitcom based on Netrunner (or any other game from the Android universe), who would be in it and why? What would be its premise?

Jakuza: This question had me stumped for a bit whilst staring at it on the screen. When I got up and fell back on the usual tricks to get the creative process going (look at sources of inspiration, then take a shower or enjoy coffee, sometimes both at the same time), it came to me: A workspace style series where ICE come together and meet over lunch to complain about those pesky runners. Think The Office, but in cyberspace. Imagine a grumpy Ichi sulking over a cup of tea whilst complaining about the unfairness of conspiracy breakers, a pair of Komainu who enthusiastically tell their tales of Runner hand wipes with far too much slobber and several Quandaries staring admiringly at the Enigma in the room, with the Conundrum glaring and feeling underappreciated.

Vesper: You know what? I can definitely imagine someone picking this up and making a late-night niche cartoon for die-hard players. Great idea 😀

OK, back to the serious questions. Given your experience in the community, in your opinion, “Netrunner in 2020 will be…”?

Jakuza: Up & running. No idea what things will look like, but with the recent surge in TO activity in organizing community events and NISEI’s efforts, I expect the game to last into 2020 at the very least. I’ve said at LaserRunner that the event was about celebrating the game and saying my goodbye to it, but that has a deeper meaning to it than what it sounds like on the surface. I wanted to make sure to have a good, proper ending to look back on. From here on out I intend to ride this game into the sunset and enjoy every second of it.

Vesper: I hope you’ll get to play it until at least 2120, then. Let’s just wait a bit until Jinteki makes rejuvenation technology commercially available.

Enough about Netrunner and Android for a second. Do you actually have time to get into other games, be they digital or analog, or are you entirely devoted to the “church of netrunning”?

Jakuza: I do. I enjoy exploring games and I have a modest collection of boardgames. These fall in roughly two categories. On the one side lighter games with a lot of in game interaction for two players to play with my girlfriend; favourites include Splendor, Jaipur and Taluva. On the other side heavier fare like the A Game of Thrones board game and Food Chain Magnate occasionally hits the table with larger groups of friends when the mood is right. It won’t be a surprise to any reader that a lot of the games in the collection also get picked up with their art direction strongly in mind, with recent favourites on that front consisting of Spirits of the Forest, Fugitive, Dicetopia, and Hardback. Digital games catch my interest to a far lesser extent, although from time to time a title will draw me in with its visual presentation, such as Journey, Horizon: Zero Dawn or Titanfall 2.

Vesper: Quite a few familiar titles there, especially with AGOT (hard to find people willing to be backstabbed in that game eventually, nowadays). And Tim Fowers’ titles are always a treat (also visually). I concur. And I also admit to having acquired games mostly because of their aesthetics (and then getting pleasantly surprised with their actual playability – I’m looking at you, Ninjato)

Time for a “15 Minutes” tradition – a question from our previous guests, Andrew and Cassidy: what is the most memorable time you had an ‘aha!’ moment with a card that really made reconsider using it or made you want to build around it?

Jakuza: I’ll give a twofold answer here: The most memorable moment of reconsideration was definitely when Tech Trader was released. That’s not the actual card that I reconsidered at that moment though; that honour goes to the one and only Raymond Flint. The Geist deck that I played the following months contained all the usual bins and Criminal tools, but also two copies of him. Many a game was played where the Corp opposite me had to pick up the card to read him. He’s still looked down upon, but the game that I dropped him on the table and my opponent exclaimed: “No one plays that card!” will stay with me for a long time. As a side note: I proceeded to expose the Snare! in the protected remote, then Legworked into the agenda I knew to be in HQ.

The card I gravitate far too much towards to build around however is Team Sponsorship. It wouldn’t be a stretch for me to say that it’s my favourite card in the entire game. Upon seeing the card for the first time I was immediately a fan of it, as I disliked the loss of tempo that felt like it had to come with scoring an agenda during those days immensely. It wasn’t until Russian NEH however that I fell in love with it. Not only was I not losing momentum whilst scoring agendas, I was even actively progressing my own game/boardstate.

Vesper: That’s some high-powered Netrunner magic right there; the right cards in the right hands making all the difference. Even better if you can surprise your opponents with something everyone knows exists, but nobody would usually put together in a deck for “reasons”.

Was there anything I could have asked about (and haven’t, partially because I’m an evil corp lackey, under tight supervision by my NBN bosses)? Also, what should I ask the next guests who get slightly grilled for (more or less) 15 processor cycles on our site?

Jakuza: I want to take the opportunity here to give a shoutout to my local meta, a group awesome players, ranging from kitchen table casual to highly competitive. They’ve supported me very strongly since the beginning in various ways, from general feedback and travelling together to art commissions and sandwich duty. So here’s a shout to Bas, Chris, Gerwin, Gijs, Heinze, Jan-Jaap, Jason, Johan, Michiel, Moes, Paul, Rachel, Roel, Walter, Wouter.

Also, any runners visiting the Netherlands or in the general neighbourhood are welcome to drop by at our local friendly gaming store, who have had my and our local meta’s back since day one. LaserRunner and any other event I organized wouldn’t have happened without them, so here’s a big thanks to Comicasa (fans of comics are especially invited to check them out, as they have one of the biggest collections available in Europe).

The question for next interviewee is an easy one, as I’d like to ask something related to my absolute favourite place within the Netrunner community; the Artist Colony, the place where most of the fan artists/makers hang out and coordinate: “What fan alt would you like to see being made? Not just a card though, I’m interested in hearing suggestions for the style, concept or execution.”

Vesper: Nothing wrong with a bit of commercial espionage 😉 Kidding, I am quite sure we’ll get an interesting answer or two from the next guest(s) appearing here next week! Thank you for a great interview and fingers crossed for a good start into 2019 with even more lasers!

That’s it then, dear readers! If you want to stay up to date with Jakuza’s creativity, check out his Instagram account (currently moving from Tumblr). If you want to reach him for anything regarding Netrunner, head over to StimSlack and look for @Jakuza. And if you want to score one of his legendary lasered IDs… Keep following event news here and there, I’m pretty sure there will be some popping up at an event near you in the future. Join us next week for… more questions, more answers, more community!