Interview: Peter Olotka, Cosmic Encounter Online

October 20, 2006

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today about Cosmic Encounter Online. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your current role with Cosmic Encounter Online.

I have been designing since the 1970’s. I have designed games, products, exhibits and experiences in virtually every form of media including: museum kiosk, computer, Internet, board, card, kit, large group experience, VCR, CD-ROM, laser disc, interactive cable, interactive movie, TV game show, and radio. I have consulted as game and exhibit designer for dozens of companies including AT&T, Disney, CBS, Children’s Television Workshop, Boston Museum of Science, National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, Discovery Networks, Electronic Arts, Ford, IBM, Lucas Arts, Scholastic, Sundance, WGBH TV and WNET TV. I have a BA in History from the University of Colorado and a Masters Degree from Emerson College in Mass Communications. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Marshall Islands in Micronesia in the 1960s.

My role in Cosmic Encounter Online is to keep it alive in its new home. I am President of Future Pastimes, LLC which has the non board game rights to Cosmic Encounter Online and President of Eon Products Inc., which has the boardgame rights to Cosmic Encounter.

In 20 words or less, could you describe Cosmic Encounter?

Use alien powers with strategy, cunning, and diplomacy to encounter opposing aliens. Millions of alien combinations make every game unique.

Taking as many more words as you want, what else would you say is integral to describe Cosmic Encounter?

When you play Cosmic Encounter you will become an alien with a special power. Your goal is to establish a colony on four planets outside your home system. Cosmic Encounter is a highly social experience. Players can win alone or share a win with others. Clever use of your special power, a judicious balance of diplomacy and
strength and a healthy dose of Cosmic luck are the keys to victory. Cosmic Online games take about 30 minutes, making it easy to stop by at any time for a quick dose of Cosmic Encounter. But beware! All of your games will rapidly blend together into a collection of surprising social experiences that you’ll savor for a lifetime. As a Cosmic Encounter Online member you get monthly, yearly and lifetime rank- based on how
well you’ve fared in every game that you’ve entered.

No online game has the diversity of the Cosmic Encounter Online
audience. Cosmic players are drawn from gamers of all classes: casual, serious, male, female, younger, older, newbies and veterans. You may not know who is behind any given alien. But one of the many surprises of Cosmic is that veteran and newbie players all have a chance to win on any given Sunday. And to sweeten the pot, our ranking system rewards you when you defeat someone ahead you in overall rank.

Cosmic Encounter has a substantial history, practically a mythological entry into the world of board games. How did it all begin?

Cosmic predates D&D and Magic: The Gathering. When we released it in 1977 under our Eon Products label there was no game like it. I took cartons of newly minted Cosmic games to the Sci Fi WorldCon in Miami and gave away free copies on the first day with the caveat that players had to play in the lobby. The next day we sold all I had brought.

Now thirty years later there is still no game like it. But there are a host of game designs that are derivative of Cosmic. The very first Cosmic Encounter game prototype was created on a beach in Truro on Cape Cod by me and my partner Bill Eberle. We just imagined what it would be like if there were these aliens finding each other in the
vast universe. Key to the design were a set of principles, like there would be no dice in the game, no one could be kicked out the game before it ended, you could always come from behind, it had to have compromise as well as attack as way of making progress, everyone would have to be different.

One thing that emerged from the design was that it created situations that WERE NOT FAIR. So I have added that to the list. It would not be fair.


Bill still works on Cosmic Online as one of the three Future Pastimes partners. The third partner is my son Greg who is currently managing the NBA’s new FanVoice website. Greg had been working on Cosmic Encounter Online nonstop for a few years before leaving for the NBA job this month.

Cosmic Encounter is, to a large extent, very much about breaking the rules. How much trouble was it to design and play balance a game that is about rule breaking?

It was very hard in the early days with yellow legal pads and hours of cross checking. Recall that with 75 aliens and 4 players there are 1.4 million different alien combinations. Add FLARE effects and 6 players and its staggering and uncheckable. Play balance, is not an issue with us. We don’t try to balance (see being fair above). We don’t care if some of the 1.4 million games are unbalanced. The universe full of aliens must be unbalanced by definition. The fun part is to win a game where the odds were against you. The gloat factor is exponential.

How do you involve the Cosmic Encounter Online community in the evolution of the game?

We have a cosmic forum set up and run by the players, I post up in cosblog, and a Founder (lifetime member, TheDulester) runs blogmic encounter, we are linked to the board game forum which predatres Cosmic Encounter Online run by Cosmic Encounter Online player hadsil. And I am online nearly every day chatting and IMing with the cosmic masses.

Do you have any plans to bring Cosmic Encounter Online to another format? Xbox Live Arcade, or the PS3 or Nintendo equiavlent?

As I am writing this I am working on an XBLA proposal submission that was requested by us of a developer.

Will we ever see a tabletop version of Cosmic Encounter in print again?

As I am writing this I am responding to a publisher (FunAgainGames) who is interested in republishing Cosmic Encounter and perhaps the whole Eon line under the Eagle brand, which they acquired.