Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dead Space Interview: Antony Johnston, Ben Templesmith

AnimeSentinel checks in with the creative minds behind the Dead Space comic that serves as a prequel to EA’s upcoming game of the same name. While most comics based on games are just quick cashins, Dead Space sets itself apart with an outstanding creative team.

Dead Space was fortunate enough to have the story telling talents of
Antony Johnston (Wasteland) and the design of Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse). The tone is dark, the mood just right for a survival horror tale, but how did Dead Space get here, and how does the comic tie-into the game … for that we go to Antony and Ben for the word from the horses mouth … and a few other tidbits of knowledge.

Where did you draw creative inspiration from, which comics and games impacted your creation process?

(AJ) My inspiration comes from just about everywhere, but for this book in particular we of course owe a debt to many of the same things that influenced the videogame. Aliens, The Thing, Silent Hill and HP Lovecraft are probably the most obvious influences and inspirations. (You could probably include Event Horizon, too, so long as you ignore the execrable last twenty minutes …)

(BT) I drew more inspiration for this project from the movie “The Thing” which is among my favorites, and I really got a vibe from it on Dead Space ... in a good way. It deals with similar themes etc.

Would you consider Dead Space similar to 30 Days of Night with its dark secluded, cold location?

(AJ) Well, it's difficult for it not to remind people of 30 Days visually, because of Ben's art, but that's the only real similarity. 30 Days was about the futility of trying to take on something as powerful as a vampire toe-to-toe, which is just silly, and how the humans don't really stand a chance until they can fight fire with fire.

Dead Space is much more about how humans will screw one another over for their own ends when presented with the opportunity, and how religious intolerance can drive even the best of men to make poor, life-threatening decisions. The true evil in Dead Space comes from within, not without.

(BT) Well it’s certainly similar in that respect. In essence it’s about survival, and those survivalist themed stories are really what I’m a sucker for. You don’t know who lives or dies. Thankfully there are no vamps in this thing. In many ways … vampires would be a pleasant relief compared to what’s really going on…

What will draw fans of the game into the comic and how will comic reader be urged to start gaming?

(AJ) I'd hope that people looking forward to the game would pick up the comic because they want a little more insight into the story, and the world in which the game takes place. This isn't just an adaptation of the game; this is a full-blooded prequel, with its own story and characters. And if we've done our job right, it should be good enough that anyone reading the comic will enjoy the world and story enough that they want to play the game and see what happens next.

(BT) Hopefully it gives them a good starting point for everything and generally fleshes out the great world EA have created for it all. Give em a taste of what’s to come so to speak.

What is the main draw for the comic buyer to pick up Dead Space?

(AJ) For comic fans, the appeal is hopefully that Ben and I are doing the book, and anyone who knows our work knows that we're comic’s guys first and foremost. Our job, and our duty to comics, is to make Dead Space the absolute best book we can. Although obviously we'd love it if comics readers went on to play the game, they don't have to in order to enjoy the comic. That's something we've been very explicit about; this isn't some watered-down compromise to cash in. It stands on its own merits as a comic.

(BT) If they buy ten copies each they can send away for a free bag of crystal meth. Err … or perhaps it could just be a good comic with a cool story, for people who like dark sci-fi without the usual cop outs.

Which difficulties have you faced working with such a visual, interactive property in the form of the game?

(AJ) None at all, from my perspective. Dead Space is very story-focused, so it's been a fairly smooth transition to work some of that story and sensibility into a comic. The only "difficulty" is making sure that everything synchronizes with the overall game story, but you have that concern with any licensed property, be it a game, movie, book or whatever.

(BT) Well, I’m not creating from scratch on this thing … it’s part of something else, so there’s already visuals established, and although I’m not directly drawing much that’s actually in the game, it’s still more stressful than me just coming up with things purely on my own, as I do on my own projects. Of course, it’s a lot of fun though, especially meeting the team making DS and seeing the guts of the game in process.

How much input did the games creative team have on the comic? How about the comic team on the game?

(AJ) Well, all of the back-story is down to the game creators, but once that was established I was given a pretty free reign on the comic story. We talked about it a lot, and of course EA had final approval over everything, but I've had a fair amount of freedom in the details. We've fed a couple of ideas back to the game team, but whether or not they make it into the game I couldn't say. We've had so many discussions about the whole thing that it's already hard to remember who said what …!

(BT) How about the comic team on the game? A fair bit. So far not too many changes have been requested. Good times! It hopefully means we’re rather in sync, or they’re happy for me to flesh it out in my own way on the comic. I have bucket loads of ref from the game itself of course.

Are you a John Carpenter fan? I just get this déjà vu for The Thing when I look at the monster designs I've seen.

(AJ) I have nothing to do with the monster designs, but nevertheless I am indeed a huge Carpenter fan. Escape from New York is one of my all-time favorite movies, and Halloween and The Thing remain two of the best horror movies ever made. Even Big Trouble in Little China has a special place in my heart.

(BT) Well, I spilled the beans a few questions ago but certainly, that film has been responsible for me doing a few things now, including the original 30 Days of Night. Yeah, John Carpenter’s The Thing is responsible for a lot in my life!

Do you see Dead Space being offered up as downloadable content, to buy then read on your home console?

(AJ) I have absolutely no idea, that's all down to EA. It's not a bad idea, though.

(BT) If they want to, then sure. It makes sense if they have extra content that they can add later. Not everyone reads the comics, so it’d be brilliant to expose people who only know of the game to extra material, in whatever shape or form.

Which gaming property would you love to get your hands on to create or expand on in comic format?

(AJ) A few years back I would have said Silent Hill, but that's been done to death now. I'd love to do a kids' adventure with the cast of SSX - fighting crime while pulling awesome board tricks!

(BT) STARCRAFT. And nope, the caps lock wasn’t a mistake there.

How much of a gamer are you, in your spare time or is it a foreign concept to you?

(AJ) Not as much as I'd like, because of the elusive and ever-decreasing concept of "spare time". But I do love a good game. Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Alone in the Dark … you can see a pattern forming, can't you? What throws it off is my addiction to SSX. Go figure.

(BT) I used to be addicted to games … so I try to keep it small for now. Mostly I’m into strategy games, but there’s nothing like a good machinegun blast to the face of a Nazi. I have a soft spot for WW2 shooters. Don’t get much spare time right now though, practically doing two projects at once. Been doing that for a couple years now.

Which games stand out in your life, be it ones you loved to play or games that impacted you career wise?

(AJ) Loom, the old LucasArts adventure, remains one of my favorite games ever. Such a brilliant story and innovative spell casting mechanics. I'm a big fan of the MYST games, too, and I remember loving Seventh Guest when it came out, though I'm sure that's dated even more than Loom by now … Many a Sunday afternoon vanished playing Speedball 2 and Worms, when I was younger, and like everyone else I used to be quite into the big shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament. Hmmm, I'm showing my age, aren't I?
I don't think any of them have "impacted" my career, but all writers are sponges for influence, so I'm sure bits and pieces of all those games have subconsciously made it in to my work somewhere or other.

(BT) If you really want to know … I’d say Leisure Suit Larry, Beneath a Steel Sky, Civilizations, Rome: Total War and Half-Life 2 have really stuck with me in strange ways to shape the way I look and do things…

No restrictions, which comic character would you love to see in a video game and why this particular character?

(AJ) I'd love to see a game of the 2000AD title Strontium Dog (mutant bounty hunters in a dystopian future). It seems so obvious; I'm baffled why Rebellion haven't produced it yet.

(BT) Honestly, would love to see “Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse” in an adventure type game. Of course I’m bias there, but I positively loved Grim Fandango … so something in that vein. Most of the main comicbooky characters are always in the games, mostly where they just hit things. So that’d be nothing new.


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