Ninth Art Meets Tenth Art: Games To Comics

By Kieron Gillen on November 10th, 2008 at 1:13 pm.

Run Not Lola! Run!
I found myself chatting to Rhianna Pratchett yesterday about her just released comics spin-off of Mirror’s Edge. Well – the first part of six anyway (First pages here). It’s been interesting for her. As she tells to CBR, it’s her first work in the medium, and she had to do some serious thinking about its strengths and limitations before doing so. Which got me casually thinking a little more on the topic, but from the other way around – as in, what’s the specific strengths and weaknesses of bringing a game to a comic. And while there’s been a deluge of games-to-comics work in the last few years, what games would I pursue were I a comics editor interested in putting out entertaining comics. Which is, of course, a different thing from a comic that does the business.

Because that’s the key thing – the Gold Standard isn’t something you can make a quick buck off (though that’s perfectly fine). The Gold Standard is something that can run and run and have a lot of fun in the medium and make people terribly happy. From a consumer of culture, it’s easy to be dismissive about anything which crosses media – it’s derivative work, and therefore intrinsically trashy. Especially when comics (or films) to games work has been traditionally questionable in quality.

I've never played Sam & Max, so I'm taking Walker on faith that it was good and stuff. Man!

But you can’t dismiss it. Because if you do, the originally-a-comic Sam & Max goes out the window. Flipping it around, however, and we’ve yet to see something as epochal as Sam & Max was to games appear in a comics. Is it a problem with the medium? It’s a common theme in comics blogosphere reviews to note that games are wholly unsuited, due to the main thrill being in the untranslatable viscerality, yaddayaddayadda. This is just the modern version of movie critics using phrases “comicbook nonsense” to demean another medium. When a perfectly fine film has been made out of a theme park ride and veteran comics readers get all misty eyes over such unpromising subject material as toy lines Rom: The Space Knight and Micronauts you’ve got to assume it’s doable.

So what makes something work?

(And probably before going any further, I should note the self interest here. I do the comics thing when I’m not writing games. In fact, with my Starcraft story coming out in the next Tokyopop Starcraft: Frontline anthology, I’ve got one foot in this particular ring already. So you may read all this as just me touting for work, if you wish.)

Generally speaking, two things are required for optimum comics. Which isn’t to say that entertaining work can be done without them, but for the best chances of allowing such stuff…
1) An enormous, detailed and fascinating world with key characters being secondary.
2) A strong character with or without a world of note. Perhaps even better “without”.

And a third thing which will allow you to make even the least suitable for translation material sing…
3) The owners of the licence being entirely fine with you doing whatever the hell you want.

The third is kinda obvious, but worth stressing. The biggest problem with making a licensed work is the licensor. If they keep too tight strings on the material, the creatives who are doing the comic won’t be able to do anything – in fact, even if either of the first two points are totally true, trying to do good work in bondage will over-rule it. You can’t do good work if the licensor doesn’t let you. Most will want to have some control. But if you’re basically able to do whatever you want, the sky’s the limit – get a creator who’s willing to commit to the material, and memorable work can appear that eventually owes only a little to the original source.

(That’s the Rom and Micronauts story right there. British readers may have similar feelings over early Grant Morrison in Zoids or Simon Furman’s Transformer stories, where the only worry seemed to be that they had to introduce some of the new ranges upon occasion.)

NOOOO!!!!!!

I suspect that’s going to happen relatively few times, as developers and publishers are far more aware the concept of maintaining their brand than they were in the eighties. Which is a shame, but also obviously understandable. There’s one exception to this trend which comes to mind is where the developer does the comics themselves, or its visionary figure is directly involved. For the latter, Jordan Mechner’s involvement with 1st Second’s Prince of Persia game. For the former… well, if the Dreamfall sequels never emerge and Ragnar decides to follow up his suggestion on doing them in comics form may be the first (“I’ve said that if we don’t get to finish the story in games, then we’ll do it in books or a comic book. I’d love to do a comic book actually. I’ve been talking to a friend of mine about a comic taking place in the ten years between the first two games.”).

(Rhianna’s writing of the Mirror’s Edge comic doesn’t count, because while she’s the writer of the game and knows the world as well as anyone, she doesn’t have carte blance. It’s still DICE’s game.)

Moving past those issues of licensing – (and you never will) – those first two points…

The first one means that the world’s capable of being explored in depth. If it’s a story-driven game, you can be sure the main events will be pushed in the games. As such, you won’t be able to change anything significantly in the world – which means you’re left doodling in the margins. You need a lot of margins to doodle in to create something satisfactory. The more interesting the world is and the less connected it is to the main characters, the better. The problem with strong leads is that… i) the stronger they are, the more your readers will expect to see them and ii) since they’re key to the property, you won’t be able to do anything to alter them significantly.

A Marine In Space

To choose an example, Starcraft is almost perfect. The world’s plenty big. There’s a lot of world detail you can hone in on. As such, my story goes right for a faction which was barely mentioned in the main thrust of the game, playing around with a Kel-Morian salvage mission. The problem is that while big, Starcraft’s still defined by the game’s leads. There’s a desire to see – say – Kerrigan. You can perhaps get by with a cameo, but for a longer scale work in the world, people would want to see more of these icons. And since you can’t really do anything to ‘em icons, you’re going to eventually get relatively unsatisfying works.

The other Blizzard major world – Warcraft – is better in that regard. Yeah, there’s these big hefty characters from the game, but the effect of World of Warcraft has been to democratise herosim in Azeroth. As the name may suggest, it’s created a greater natural interest in the state of the World. Abstractly, even better potential subject matter for comics would be the Warhammer worlds, where scale is so enormous that even the biggest characters in other fictions would be a footnote. You can destroy whole worlds in Warhammer 40K and no-one will even blink. There’s millions more where that came from. The margins for you to doodle in are the size of most other universes.

And what about option 2?

Well, this is where you do have an iconic character and that’s all anyone wants to see. You literally can’t do a story set in this universe without this character, as there’s nothing to the place except them. These are characters in the James Bond mold. Everything else around him changes, bar the series tropes: As long as we’ve a guy looking brutish and British in a suit, we’re happy. The world is generated anew – the character remains.

I've actually got a soft spot for Adam Hughes, in terms of blokes who draw busty ladies. He's splendid.

While I’ve never read the comics so couldn’t speak for their quality, it’s noteworthy that in amount of time there was an ongoing Tomb Raider comic for supports this rule. There were Tomb Raider comics for a clear five years. Why? Because Lara Croft is Indiana Jones with a posh accent and tits. You can throw her through as many action/investigation/mystery plots as you wish. The world is a constantly replenishing place of archeological strangeness.

The reason why a more defined world actually can hurt this sort of character is that you simply can’t change it significantly, for reasons stated previously. So if it’s characteristic and not that big a place, you’re in risk of running out of stories you can tell with that one character in that one world.

Which leads me to two games to comics concepts people have asked me about upon occasion. Both are games I love, neither which I’m convinced would work and only one which I’d have a crack at if the job was offered to me.

Unless the money was really good.

Like, obv.

Okay. I’m going to say the games, and I want you to guess which one I think is just about feasible and which is a really bad idea.

THIEF and DEUS EX.

And now I’ll pause while you have a little think.

Not a comic.

Little thunked?

Well, my take is that Deus Ex is a phenomenally bad idea for a comic. It’s not that it’s undoable. It’s just undoable in a way which stays true to the subject material – and the bits you can stay true to will actively be actively uninteresting in another medium.

Deus Ex features a defined lead character, whose main characteristic is that he’s not very interesting. He’s a blank slate for the player to imprint their own decisions on – being ever-so-slightly laconic is about as good as it gets. Worse, he’s got a defined world with a set story arc. It starts with him as a newly created character. We end with him closing the world.

(You could get away with a retelling of the Deus Ex story in comics… but why would you?)

Not only does he close the world, but he does it in multiple ways. Choose any one to continue from, and you’ve alienated one third of your readership. Choose all three, and you have Invisible War, which pleased pretty much no-one. This is the larger philosophic problem – it’s a game that’s defined my the multiple choices of character. Without formalist experimentation and/or gimmickry (and choose your own adventure comics have been done before) you can’t really capture what made Deus Ex work.

And if you don’t, you’re left with a character who hasn’t one, a cast who isn’t that interesting either and a world that’s just a car crash of nineties conspiracy theories. Oh – and you can’t do anything with it because it’s been neatly tied off.

But Thief? Totally do-able.

It’s an option 2. We have a strong character – I couldn’t parse JC Denton’s voice without research, but I could have a shot at Garrett’s without even trying – who has a set job which leads to adventures. Garrett goes and steal stuff: hi-jinks ensue. You can spin caper stories off that pretty much indefinitely. The first problem is its initial strength. Thief’s got an interesting, novel world which you’d have to keep. As argued earlier, this will eventually become a barrier when you can’t change it. But that’s only eventually. Without being given full access to option 3, there’s a dead end – but there’s a good chunk of comics to write before then. Equally, while Thief 3 closed Garrett’s arc, you’ve still got an entire life of misadventure to draw on. There’s places to put the stories in his chronology, depending on whether you want to concentrate on the master training novices after Deadly Shadows or an earlier lone wolf.

Biggest problem is entirely one of the medium, but it’s what I view as an interesting technical challenge rather than an impossibility. It’s a game about hiding, not direct confrontation. Can you do that in a comic? Make it solely about tension? Hmm. Dunno. It’d be interesting to find out. I suspect trying to directly mirror it would fall flat, and you’d have to play up the other aspects of the world to compensate. Human interactions and metaphorical backstabbing would work better in comics than the game. I think pushing the atmosphere thing as hard as it could would be the other possibility – I’d like to see what someone like Ashley Wood would do with the City.

Ashley Wood, Ashley Wood, Hard To Work Out, What's Going On. But pretty!

That the activity works in comics is something you have to consider – and also whether the activity is all there is to the world. It’s one reason why I don’t envy Rhianna with Mirror’s Edge. Its Le Parkour-running is about motion. In the same way that car-chases are difficult to pull off, a plain chase sequence creates problems of motion. You’d pull it off easier in a manga-digest format with many more pages than a traditional 22-page thing, using artful decompression to capture the sense of pace.

(Randomly: most game’s basic interaction is a fine fodder for comics – kicks and ‘splodes works in pretty much any medium)

That went on longer than I thought I would. You may guess that I annoy my editors and artists immensely with over-written e-mails. But if you’re worked your way through the lot… what’s your thoughts? What games would you like to see in comics? What do you think wouldn’t work? Hell, for the creative sorts, what would you like to write personally?

Speak. I’m interested.

, , , .

78 Comments »

  1. Thirith says:

    Joss Whedon’s Fray had some nice action sequences at the beginning, but as you say, unless you’ve got space to experiment and try out different ways of doing motion in a comic you’ll probably end up with something that is “almost as good as the game/film/series” at best.

  2. danielcardigan says:

    I think you’ve given this way more thought than can possibly be healthy.

    Oh and I had one of those magnetic Baron Karzas. He was cool.

  3. Matt Kemp says:

    A thief comic would be pretty awesome.

    Where do you see the ‘ideal’ amount of storyline? Obviously you can’t really use a character that is preordained with saving the universe, but working from a completely blank slate ala Fallout or Fable would probably be a bit duff as well, unless you tell multiple storylines within the same world.

  4. Wurzel says:

    On the subject, I wonder what the general opinion is of the little promotional comics Penny Arcade tend to do for the big games? Personally I think they can be pretty amusing at least, and normally seem to devote themselves to exploring the world rather than the characters – option 1 perhaps. Even if you dismiss them as tiny promotional things, the sheer amount of them means they’re at least a look while discussing this issue.

  5. danielcardigan says:

    They phoned the FO3 ones in. Very disappointing.

  6. Tom Armitage says:

    Not that I’m wildly enthusiastic, but by your standards, there’s potential for a Hitman comic to work well: largely blank main character (that you can paste whatever you want onto), choice in games is not primary feature, but instead a mechanism for variety; largely episodic, meaning you can dive in at any point; canon gets increasingly vague after first game. Downside: it’s a game very focused on mechanics. Also, if you’re not careful, you end up with the Punisher.

    Planescape would probably work well – well-defined characters with interesting (but unportrayed) pasts, a universe that’s basically based around constant retconning, scope for having loads of different artists and it not mattering (or rather, being an important feature of a universe of many planes), potential to draw something other than action.

    (To be honest, most of the Black Isle-and-so-forth titles would work well, but you’d end up writing a lot of “Tales From…” type books. Still, there’s masses in the Fallout universe that’d make sense, especially there’s now about 100 years spanned by the three games, and lots of holes).

  7. x25killa says:

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R comic would be awesome. Get it from a different point of view from a Bandit or one of the recruits of the warring factions.

  8. ImperialCreed says:

    @ Wurzel

    The PA F3 comic started promisingly, but felt like every second strip was missing. A wasted opportunity for some serious funny.

    @ Kieron

    I was genuinely surprised when I read about the Mirror’s Edge comic. As you point out, it’s a tough gig – ME is all about speed and the fluidity of movement. That’s what’s so beautiful about it. Translating that to comics seems pretty risky, and the world doesn’t seem like a particularly deep or interesting one either. But then, I’ve yet to play the game proper, so I could well be wrong.

    What did you think of the Dead Space promo stuff – the comics and the cartoons?

  9. Adam Hepton says:

    Alpha Centauri would be supremely good: the novels that came out were just a taster, really, and there could have been literally hundreds more that followed.

  10. Acosta says:

    Great write-up Kieron. This probably would take another “casual thinking”, do you hav a take about things videogames could take from comics to improve? I believe videogames industry is too much focused on film and is not paying attention to ther medium. Originally, studios looked at literature when they felt the need to give meaning to the world or making worthy stories (or trying) but now that is pretty much lost, maybe the industry could pick more elements from the way narrative works in comics, instead of being so obsessed with film.

  11. Acosta says:

    Great write-up Kieron. This probably would take another “casual thinking”, do you have a take about things videogames could take from comics to improve? I believe videogames industry is too much focused on film and is not paying attention to other medium. Originally, studios looked at literature when they felt the need to give meaning to the world or making worthy stories (or trying) but now that is pretty much lost, maybe the industry could pick more elements from the way narrative works in comics, instead of being so obsessed with film.

  12. Dante says:

    How about Fallout? You’ve got a big, characterful (visually spectacular) world in which the entire concept is to basically wander around.

    The vault dweller is, like Denton, a blank slate, but unlike Denton he’s a definable slate, each person defines their own dweller thus you can craft your own lead, without any complaints of it being out of character.

    Also, while the Fallout world has some wonderful locations to visit, only a fraction of America has been charted within them, want more freedom? Wander him off somewhere new. Not to mention that each sidequest is basically a self contained ‘episode’ unto itself.

    Yeah, I’ve thought about that before, although I’d previously thought of it as a TV series, many of the points translate.

  13. Kieron Gillen says:

    Yeah – The advantage of a pure blank slate instead of a semi-blank slate like Denton is that… well, you can make ‘em completely so they’re not. JC is a very specific person, who’s just not that interesting.

    My suspicion would be a FO comic has more potential than the also namechecked Fable, if only that it seems more of a universe.

    ImperialCreed: I admit, I haven’t read them yet. I will though. Antony Johnson and Ben Templesmith are comrades in arms.

    Tom: Yeah, you could get away with Hitman, though it doesn’t excited me much either. And you can get away with quite a lot in any of the D&D Derived universes, just because they’re designed as worlds. “Torment” was a story set inside the universe of “Planescape” after all.

    KG

  14. Tom Armitage says:

    Actually, there’s quite a lot of scope if you dive into the back catalogue of Psygnosis; whilst they were style-over-substance, they have some reasonably realised worlds, and lots of blank characters within them – G-Police springs to mind immediately as a strongly realised world with scope to do lots of interesting kinds of work within it, as perhaps does earlier stuff like Shadow of the Beast et al.

    Oh. Here’s a thought:

    what does a Syndicate comic book look like? Can you do that – as in, is there anybody interesting outside the squad-of-four? It feels like it has some kind of magical quality around it, for sure.

    Some of the Bitmaps’ stuff has strong world/character design that could be adapted well – there’s a fun hack-and-slash book in Gods, but Chaos Engine could be great – the six characters are more archetypes than characters within the game, and you can have all sorts of steampunky fun.

  15. Kieron Gillen says:

    I’d read a Chaos Engine comic.

    KG

  16. qrter says:

    I was thinking Fallout too, because it has a sense of hyperreality about it, it’s a world that is greatly about satire (at least in the first two games, less so in Bethesda’s version) and accomodating that satire, not so much about being a consistent, naturalistic world.

    It’s interesting to think about the Thief universe. Would you opt to stay close to a Garrett-like main character, or also show scenes where he or she is not around? One of the strengths of the Thief-series is that everything you learn about the world is through the ears and eyes of Garrett. On the other hand, it could be interesting to be able to see/hear what you couldn’t because of the game format’s restrictions.

  17. The Fool says:

    iunno, I’d quite like a Hitman comic, with one caveat: it must not focus on Agent 47. Instead, make each comic a self-contained story about the horrible people he’s going to kill. Agent 47 would simply be a background character in the comics showing up in all sorts of places in weird disguises getting ever closer. At the end of each comic there’s a tiny bit of reflection/setup for the next hit. maybe a little room for a large organization 47′s taking down. Essentially take advantage of his Grim Reaper-like demeanor to explore the world and just let him do his thing in it

  18. Dante says:

    @The Fool – You make him sound like a homicidal Where’s Wally.

    I like it.

  19. Kieron Gillen says:

    Fool: that’s a Punisher-comic-esque set up. Which is kind of how you could take Hitman…

    Qrter: Probably would have to be close on Garrett. Not only on Garrett, I suspect, but with him as the main character. I don’t think there’s much interest in a Thief comic without him, at least at the moment.

    KG

  20. kwyjibo says:

    The Mirror’s Edge comic looks decidely poor. I’m not a fan of comics in general, but the art looks sub-webcomic standard, and for a game revolving entirely around motion, the canvas falls flat.

    A speech bubble saying “Whoa Daddy” just doesn’t cut it. I’m surprised about the crapness of the art though, the game has a fantastic aesthetic, gleaming, white and new. Whereas the comic just makes it all look so pale, lifeless and dull.

    One of the reasons is lack of budget or laziness. Take a look at the quality of the concept artwork, take a look at the comic’s cover, and compare it with what’s inside. There’s a massive gulf.

    —-

    Oh, and I think a Deus Ex comic would definitely work. Not one with JC Denton as the lead though. The Deus Ex universe is made up of such half-truths and whispers that it leaves so much territory which can be covered.

    Starcraft wouldn’t work, not because it’s universe lacks scope or characters, but that you’ll know whatever the outcome, it’ll just be fucking space marines doing their best impressions of Gears of War meatheads.

    I’d rather read one of the Doom novels, I’d also rather just cut myself.

  21. The Fool says:

    @Dante: s’essentially what he is, from the perspective of NPCs, no? I mean, he’s the oddly self-assured waiter, the quietly powerful security guard, and then the breath you hear right before a syringe is stuck in your neckv

  22. The Hammer says:

    Have you been keeping up on the WOW comic, Kieron? It’s an interesting thing, because events that are happy in the comic (The good old King of Stormwind returning, for example) are being reflected in the game world, and in fact, a lot of the MMO’s story is progressing through the comic, too. It looks like the company that does it have a lot of free reign to influence what’s going on in the diagesis.

    (of course, this is kinda a slap in the face to players who have spent their time killing Oynxia, too. Because in the comic, it looks like it’s going to be the King coming along to boot her out of Stormwind, and equally it looks like it’s going to be the King going to kill her. Will that happen? I hope not – I’d at least like to see some generic hero characters being sent to put an end to her, to represent the WOW player-base, as it were)

  23. Dracko says:

    Hickman could pull off a Deus Ex comic.

    I’m still waiting for a Luther Arkwright video game. :(

  24. cullnean says:

    Battlefeild 2142

    brothers in arms an shit

  25. Ben Abraham says:

    Far Cry 2?

    You wouldn’t even have to pick a single character to make the lead, have them mix up who takes missions, who saves who, etc.

    Insert guns, explosions, the resistance, a war, an arms dealer and give it all a big shake. See who falls out.

  26. Dante says:

    You’ve touched on something important there KG many of the ‘strong lead’ characters you mention spend their games alone, whereas a comic version might necessitate more people for them to interact with. If only so they can verbalise their thought processes without looking schizophrenic.

    Psychonauts is a game with a fun aesthetic, near infinite scope and a strong lead, but it probably wouldn’t work, why? The gags would always be measured against those of the game itself, and, unless the writer was tremendously gifted, found wanting.

  27. Cooper42 says:

    I would worry that a Thief comic would flesh out Garret too much, if it took him as a main character. His appeal in the games was his wonderfully cynical narration. I’m not sure that form of delivery could hold for an extended period.

    Has anyone read the Silent Hill comic books? They weren’t very good, to be honest, but it was nice to see the freedom the writers seemed to have – none of the characters (bar Pyramid head and some of the monsters) appeared.

    Silent Hill has a wonderful setting for storytelling. I prefer the SH2 formation of Silent Hill, whereby the whole place has a form of malevolence that feeds off of the protagonist, rather than being masterminded by some cult or embodied supernatural power. I think there’d be a lot of potential for interesting narratives to come out from that strange feedback between character and world, if enough freedom was given in changing that world as it has been given so far…

    I have a feeling a Left 4 Dead comic is just around the corner. It’s quite a stylised game, and one which seems to recall comics. Especially the intro movie. It’d be interesting to see if they do do one… Not sure it could hold as a series the way some living dead apocalyptic type comics have, but there could be a couple of good one offs maybe.

    I was thinking that Stalker would be great as a comic book. But, then again – why flip through pages of (however nicely done) renditions of the Zone when you could just fire the game up? So much that makes the Zone so appealing is more than just aesthetic, and is more than just (planned) narrative – as obvious by the lack of narrative for the first 1/2 of the game, which, I reckon, is by far the better half.

  28. Kieron Gillen says:

    Dante: Well, to be fair, without a decent writer, the whole thing falls down anyway.

    KG

  29. Nihohit says:

    I would’ve liked to see a psychonauts comics. The bonus – it can, and probably should, be written by tim schaffer.

  30. Acosta says:

    Nihonit; Tim Schafer has more than enough trying to recover Brutal Legend from the black hole of Activision Blizzard.

    But maybe he could write a comic about his misadventures trying to publish games.

  31. karthik says:

    Half-Life 2 appears to satisfy criterion 1; alas, the plot revolves entirely around the one free man and there’s little room for independent plot development.
    On the other hand, HL2 is good material for some engaging interactive fiction.

    MDK2 would work as a comic of the second kind, with a story revolving around Kurt, Max and the Doctor. It would also get bonus points for irony, what with MDK2 aping the comic format in the first place.

    Other conversions that might work? Mass Effect (criterion 1) and Beyond Good and Evil (criteria 1 and 2).

  32. shon says:

    I would kill to read a mini series right not about Left 4 Dead. I would want each issue to show how one of the survivors survived the first days of the infection until they meet up with the others.

    I know it’s an old game, but Evil Genius would be great as a comedy comic. All three geniuses could be competing against each other, and all the henchmen and secret agents would be constantly fighting.

  33. Pags says:

    Like Nihohit, I was thinking about pretty much every Tim Schafer game. But then thinking about it, you’ve got a clearly defined story arc, and a lot of key characters that people would want to see, even though you couldn’t actually do much with them because of the aforementioned story arc. There’s no doubting how fantastic the worlds are – Grim Fandango probably having my favourite game world ever, but the limitations of the comic medium means it wouldn’t work unless you made a comic of the games. And like Kieron said, why would you want to do that?

    One game that would work, I think, is GTA. Some might argue that you couldn’t do a GTA comic without Niko Bellic or Tommy Vercetti, but they’ve done Liberty City three times now, and each time it’s changed, but no-one’s complained yet that it hasn’t had the original characters. Either way, you’ve got brilliantly fleshed out worlds and the potential for a lot of ‘splodey action.

  34. Dolphan says:

    “Even better potential subject matter for comics would be the Warhammer worlds” – funny, that. :p

    Seems to me like there’s a lack of decent candidates not just because of the issues you mention, but because most games characters (and many worlds), are, well, a bit rubbish.

    How about Red Alert? Now that has potential.

  35. Zuffox says:

    I thought you hadn’t played StarCraft, Gillen?

  36. Kieron Gillen says:

    Zuffox: I hadn’t significantly until I was asked to pitch a Starcraft story. And then I did what we call research and you call playing a videogame.

    KG

  37. Gap Gen says:

    Personally, I don’t think games make good conversions to anything. Partly as the writing is rarely as good as in other media, but also because the stories are often geared towards repetitive action, rather than complex human interactions.

    Like you say, there has to be enough lee-way to tell an interesting story inside the universe, but then universes are cheap to make, unless you’re Frank Herbert or Tolkein. And even then, Dune worked better as a stand-alone book, since the point of the novel was to deconstruct the universe he’d created. The sequels were like an old man fumbling about the debris of his ruined house.

    There are plenty of good examples of conversions between media (personally, I prefer the LotR films to the books as Tolkein’s writing style doesn’t quite do his universe justice) but I think that starting from scratch is more interesting, especially since raw ideas are so cheap. Of course there’s the business consideration, but I gather we’re not talking about money reasons for doing something here.

    Then again, if a sequel or expansion to a universe can say something new and interesting, then this is well and good. The Wire worked for 5 seasons because it said something new in each season, even if the overall theme was the same. Games rarely do this, as an aside – how many sequels are genuinely different from the original game? I gather that Actard are deliberately milking their cash cows dry, but then they’ve given up all pretence of caring about games themselves.

    Sorry, long rambling post. Oh well.

  38. Pseudonym says:

    Most old school adventure games series can translate well to comic form. Full Throttle, Space Quest and in my opinion, especially Gabriel Knight.
    The whole concept of those episodic series was very comic book/tv, the first game (or pilot episode) established the world and the main cast, and every game since just told a story within that world.

  39. Dante says:

    Amazingly no-one has yet mentioned Max Payne. Probably because it already is a comic/game in the first place.

  40. Pags says:

    @Dante: the only way that would work, if you weren’t just going to remake the games in comic form, is if you were to write a comic based on his years in the DEA between when his wife and child were killed and when the events of the first game begin. And even then you’d be obliged to stick within certain realms of possibility.

    Either way, I’m pretty sure the film has proved that Max Payne probably doesn’t quite work in other media.

  41. Sören Höglund says:

    Looking over my games collection, skipping any licensed stuff like Planescape (and resisting the temptation to be cheeky and list SWAT4, which I’d swiftly turn into The Shield), I’d say Fallout, Mass Effect and Arcanum in category 1, and Psychonauts and No One Lives Forever in category 2. Cate’s obviously been designed as a Bond character from the start, and Psychonauts have a handful of core characters, but not a very defined world outside the summer camp, and there’s always infinite scope to deranged minds explore. Mass Effect’s already got novel spin-offs, and there’s a vast universe plus established political conflicts to play off. Arcanum’s a bit dodgier, the world isn’t really that clearly defined, but on the other hand there’s really no characters to service either. It should be possible to get something worthwhile from riffing on a generic fantasy world going through the industrial revolution, with Orcs as disenfranchised underclass/slave labor. Fallout is obvious, but then Anthony Johnston is already doing ace post-apocalyptic stuff in Wasteland, and that’s some harsh competition.

    I briefly considered Diablo as well, but the world isn’t distinct enough, and it’s too tied up in fighting the prime evils for it to really work outside a few miniseries about corrupting nuns or something.

    I do love corrupting those nuns though.

  42. Sören Höglund says:

    Either way, I’m pretty sure the film has proved that Max Payne probably doesn’t quite work in other media.

    I’m not sure the Max Payne movie proved anything except that its makers were inept.

  43. Kieron Gillen says:

    Soren: No-one lives forever is a brilliant example of something that could work. I’d read that even if I wasn’t a fan of the game. Sadly, it’s not a game that has a fanbase that would support a licenced comic.

    (Someone asked earlier whether this was a money thing – and it partially is. It’s the bigger reason why people buy licences. The secondary reason is just something that’s such an awesome idea they want to try it in another medium – and I think there’s far less of those in terms of games to comics)

    KG

  44. Pantsman says:

    It strikes me that most of what you said applies equally well to books and movies – to any linear storytelling media, actually – as to comics. As much as this essay is about the relative strengths of games and comics, I enjoyed it as a meditation on the fundamental differences between interactive and non-interactive storytelling, and what works in one but not in the other. Thanks, Kieron!

  45. Acosta says:

    Now we are on it, what about Outcast? It has a detailed world that works independently of the main character, with rich culture and traditions and you could make it work without main characters.

  46. Acosta says:

    I have another brilliant idea: Dwarf Fortress, the comic.

  47. Kieron Gillen says:

    Pantsman: Yeah – it’s primarily about the difference between narrative mediums and games. But comics have a tendency to exist in ongoing formats and *secondary* formats. So there’s a difference between making a game to a movie (which will probably recapitulate the game’s plot to a lesser or greater degree) and a comic (Which won’t). TV series share some similarities but… oh, this is rambling.

    KG

  48. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Looking at the Mirror’s Edge comic bit, I’ll have to agree that without any use of subjective motion everything seems frozen into place. Okay, as it’s on digital “paper” it literally is frozen into place, but there’s a number of comic formats that happen to get around that and impart a sense of motion and speed. Granted, they’re all from Asia, but it’s not like there’s no such thing as cross-pollination in this medium.

    [Hey, you anti-manga, anti-manhua, anti-manwha curmudgeons: Hush.]

    Now, I’ll mention a comic that happens to handle character motion quite well, albeit in an exaggerated form. You wouldn’t mention this one in respectable company, but it bears mentioning anyway. The manga Air Gear by a fellow going by the pen name “Oh!Great.”

    For at least the early bits, it focuses a lot on the acrobatic and superhumanly airborne abilities of people wearing, essentially, spring-loaded skates. While the scale of the action in Air Gear is a bit too over the top to be compared to Mirror’s Edge, one could at least contrast its sense of movement with the lack thereof in this comic tie-in.

    Mirror’s Edge is the kind of idea that really ought to take advantage of subjective motion if it wants to work in a static medium.

    It’s a shame she didn’t share the books you lent with her artist. Matt’s work here is pretty clean, which works for the world but doesn’t for the concept.

  49. Kieron Gillen says:

    I believe it was Scott McCLoud’s Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics, plus the two volumes of Writers on Comics Script Writing.

    Subjective motion is dealt with in McCloud’s volumes.

    KG

  50. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Precisely why it’s a shame.