As the line between video games and comics continues to blur, developers are looking to refine their ideas to bring the best of both worlds to the fans.
“The Darkness II” (2K Games, Digital Extremes) is a first-person shooter, action horror game that puts you in the role of a demon possessed hitman. It is a sequel to “The Darkness” (2007) and based on the comic book series of the same name.
At Comic-Con 2011, Marc Silvestri, creator of “The Darkness” comics, points out that it makes sense for comic books to reach out to video games and vice versa. He said there is a shared DNA in the make-up of the fans of each and the ability to tell a better story through multiple media is appealing.
“It has got that great sense of putting yourself in the place of the (comic) hero translates perfectly to other media – games and movies. (Comic fans) were just waiting for the technology,” Silvestri said. “Each generation gets more and more prepared for the next step (in entertainment).”
One good thing about “The Darkness” franchise, he said, is that it is so story and character driven. The developers realized that all their cool gameplay and technology would not stand up to the demands of today’s fans without a really good story to envelope it.
“In ‘The Darkness II,’ you are never not in the shoes of the main character. It is critical to tell a great story to go with the action,” Silvestri points out. “We’ve got a great writer who wrote, not only the comics, but the video game, in Paul Jenkins. He’s also a guy who understands gaming stuff.”
Developers are also embracing the transformation from comic book to video game by giving writers the ability to direct the story while still maintaining some flexibility to allow for player decisions in game. It isn’t as simple as going from point A to point B. Today’s games need to let the player feel like they control the action – even though they may be heading in the direction the game intends.
“The Darkness II” does rely heavily on the comic book source material for its graphical look and feel. While the video game action will be intense and the subject matter is definitely for mature audiences, Silvestri thought it was a bold move for developer Digital Extremes to stick to the look of the comic book series.
“When you play ‘The Darkness II,’ you are literally playing in a graphic novel. It is kind of an eerie effect, but it works perfectly for what the subject matter is,” Silvestri said. “These guys hand painted every texture. It is literally living art. If Walt Disney were alive today and wanted to make a game visually, he’d make ‘The Darkness II’.”
Performers are also embracing the transformation into video games. Movie actors have long been voice actors for comics and games, and musical artists are delving into the gaming side.
Mike Patton, lead singer for Faith No More, will be returning to his role as The Darkness in the new sequel. Patton is excited about getting involved again as the demon.
“I’ve had a lot of practice (with a demonic voice) with various musical projects I’ve been involved with over the years, some of which can be extreme. I’ve always tried to use my voice as an instrument,” Patton said.
He said the biggest challenge was not to overdo it because his character does a lot of yelling and screaming and makes a lot of demonic and otherworldly sounds. He spent about 8 hours in a studio and had moments where he really could improvise.
Patton points out there are as many hard core music geeks as there are gaming geeks and he thinks there is a lot of crossover between the two.
“This ‘Darkness’ thing has really taken off. It is a really elegant and dynamic game. It’s a gas,” he said. “It is ultra-violent, but it is stylized and an exhilarating thrill ride.”
Patton really enjoyed working on the series and said he would love to continue doing the voice in the future. He might get that chance on a bigger screen.
Silvestri said there are plans to make ‘The Darkness’ into a feature film. He said the movie would have elements from the game and the comic book series, meshing all the entertainment genres together.
Comic Con is more than just a gathering of comic book fans. It is a place where those fans can satisfy their cravings for all things superheroic in many ways. Video game companies are also making their mark at the convention to bring to life the action from the comic pages. “X-Play” host Adam Sessler talked with me about how gaming and comic books are improving the level of entertainment for fans.
When people think of Comic Con, they think of the comics and the superheroes. More and more, entertainment and movies are getting into the comic world. However, gaming has been there for quite some time. Do you think that games get the kind of publicity and recognition that they should with comic fans?
I think so. I think that games become more prominent at Comic Con because the quality of superhero related games has improved significantly over time. If you go back in the catalog, most of the superhero games a generation ago were kind of throwaways, they were attached to a movie or a quick cash-in on a license. When you look at titles like “Batman: Arkham Asylum” or “DC Universe Online,” you are seeing things that respect the heritage of the source material because that’s the best way to curry favor with the fans of Batman or Superman.
Having worked with video games for years, I think there is a kind of myopia of comic books are only enjoyed by comic book fans and games are only enjoyed by gamers. Really, if you are into games, most likely, you are going to see a certain type of movie. You are going to read a certain type of comic book. There is a nexus where all three things coexist quite comfortably and synergistically. It makes sense for all these things to interact at the same time.
Comic books and comic book movies seem to translate into games very well. If you go vice versa, there are not too many games out there that translate into movies or comics very well. Why do you think that is?
I think if they wanted to turn games source material into something, they should turn it into an HBO mini-series. It would have a longer narrative arc. Games are longer and the stronger narrative can take advantage of doling out the information slowly and more effectively. I do think that Hollywood movies about video games are cynical and a cash-in on the source material. All the stories and rumors we are hearing about “Uncharted 3” with director David O. Russell speak to that.
Games as an experience and as a narrative are so fundamentally different because they are interactive. You are supposed to feel like that main character. I have always wondered why people would want to see a “Halo” movie since Master Chief is not a fully drawn out character. It is for you as a player to draw out that character and have that experience. You cannot do that in a movie and I do not think it would be a very compelling character in a cinematic version of him.
What are some games this year that have raised the level of gaming? Are there a couple that stand out in your mind?
I would say “L.A. Noire” really stands out as taking something quite daring and putting the narrative at the forefront. Some people have said that it is an interactive story. I think that is selling it a little bit short. It is the idea that you are not necessarily there for a reliable dose of action every 10 or 15 minutes. In this way, the action is dictated by the story and I find it very effective. I know some people disagree with me but they are wrong. (laugh)
I think the other one is “Portal 2.” Once again, such an effective story told in an entirely different way because as you are playing the game – what essentially is a puzzle game – you really are enmeshed into trying to figure out what’s going on. While at the same time, it is incredibly funny – most effective humor I’ve ever seen in a video game. It really is one of the highlights for 2011.
That is a really interesting question. I think that when you see the gameplay working in concert with the story, that really works. You don’t feel that the narrative is just setting up the necessary action pieces. I think the player does respond to that and what that seems to create is loyalty to the franchise. The games industry is so franchise heavy, which I think is to its deficit. But the only way they can continue down that path is they really need to have something that is truly identifiable and breed loyalty to their fan base.
One excellent example is “Assassin’s Creed.” When the first one came out, I was quite interested in it, but I assumed with its tone and its setting, it was going to be something of a niche game. I was completely wrong. We are in, I think, the fourth game in the series and it has a massive fan base. I think it is because it sets the story and the sense of history that really brings people back while at the same time it does work very well with the gameplay mechanics. I have over the years taken some issue with it, but they seem to really understand that the two really work well together.
There have been quite a few publicity pitches this year for new titles or new IPs that have had a comic book attached with them.
There are already books for “Halo” or for “Mass Effect” that are canon or lore. I think it is a way to fill in some of that in a way that game storytelling really cannot accomplish. It is a way to just raise the profile. If you think about it, the game industry seems to be aware of the fact that they cannot just rely on the sale of games to be their primary source of revenue. They look at these properties of having these multifaceted ways of generating revenue and generating the profile of the game. If it is a comic book, a comic book store might be one of the better ways to let the comic book guy know there is game called “Infamous.”
When you talk with the fans, is there still a passion for games that are not the major titles like “Halo” or “Assassins Creed”? Is there any interest in games that are not considered mainstream?
There seems to be a lot of it. I get asked a lot, “Hey, have you seen this game? Are you going to cover it?” I am in the position, as are you, of getting to play so many games through the course of the year. The average person is not dropping $60 a game for every release that comes out and that helps hone where their interests are. There is something organic when an indie game starts getting a good following and that helps us figure out what we cover on the show.
Is there still a console war among the fans?
Only among the Sony fans. (laughs) By all means, I think games on the Xbox 360 console, and especially from third-party game companies, seem to play better on the 360. In terms of interesting IPs, Sony just has this generation with games like “Heavy Rain” and “Little Big Planet.” It is a testament to efforts that (director of Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc) Phil Harrison and (president of Worldwide Studios) Shuhei Yoshida have made over at Sony.
“X-Play” will be hosting a live show from Comic Con for the first time Thursday, July 21 at 7 pm. Sessler and co-hosts Morgan Webb and Blair Herter will be featuring hands-on demos, new premiers and surprise live guests. They will also be hosting a live panel at 11 am to take questions and comments from the audience, challenge with trivia, and give out prizes to a lucky few.
Fresh off their convention in Los Angeles in June, video game makers are setting their sights on a new audience as they arrive at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego this week.
Game makers and developer not only get to show off their best and brightest material again, but they hone in specifically on games that have a comic character tie-in. “DC Online Universe” (Sony Online Entertainment) and “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” (Capcom) have direct relationships to the superheroes and villains from the comic book world, but other companies know that readers of those publications also play video games.
Nintendo doesn’t attend Comic-Con every year, but when they have a game that they know might appeal to the comic world, they step up. Marc Franklin, director of public relations for Nintendo of America said hands-on demonstrations of two new games — “Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies” and “Metroid: Other M” — will be featured at the convention, because those themes and characters resonate with the attendees of Comic-Con.
“We have been seeing these kinds of trade shows attract a broader, more diverse audience,” Franklin said. “Which fits right in with Nintendo’s goal to expand the world of video games to new audiences.”
Eric Levine, Sony’s manager of product public relations, agrees. He said Comic-Con isn’t just about comics anymore.
“The show celebrated pop culture from gaming to movies to television and everything in between,” Levine explained. “This show allows us to engage an audience that is passionate and excited about games, so it makes perfect sense for us to be involved.”
Online game review site editor-in-chief Richard Torres says over the past four years, companies are taking Comic-con seriously and plan to debut new material at the convention. He points out that game developers will also experiment with how much they show and even allow attendees to play unreleased software.
It is all about building a buzz with the audience, he explains.
“You live and die with these people,” Torres said. “Now with tweets, you can just see ‘oh my God this panel sucks’ or ‘oh my God it’s really cool.’ It is a great way to find out where on the cool scale they’re going to land.”
In additions to the games already mentioned, here are some other titles looking to find their place on the “cool scale.”
- “Halo Reach” (Bungie/Microsoft) – The end of the legendary series is coming and Microsoft will be showing off new material and revealing details about the final battle between humanity and the alien Covenant.
- “The Force Unleashed 2” (LucasArts) – This title is set six months after the events of the first game and a year before “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” takes place. Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, returns as the protagonist to use new Force powers and stronger enemies.
- “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” (Activision) – Everyone’s favorite wall-crawler is making a return by sending Spider-Man across time and space to keep reality in balance. The game’s story was written by “The Amazing Spider-Man” comic writer Dan Slott.
- “Pro Evolution Soccer 2011” (Konami) – This sports title hopes to piggyback off the World Cup euphoria and ride the wave through Comic-Con. The soccer game will feature leagues from all over the world and include Argentine star Lionel Messi on its cover.
- “Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood” (UbiSoft) – The follow-up to the immensely popular “Assassin’s Creed” game will be on display. But in a twist, the game publisher announced they will be showing off the first issue of a three-part comic book mini-series based off the franchise.