Valve Software is not a company that does anything in half-measures. At Gamescom 2011 in Germany they made a big splash and reminded everyone that the home of Counter-Strike is still a big player in the world of e-sports with The International, an invitational tournament with a million dollar grand prize going to the team that won a grueling four day, 16-squad competition for their highly anticipated but unreleased game DotA 2.
DotA 2 is the sequel to Defense of the Ancients (or DotA), a hybrid tower defense/RTS game, like Counter-Strike that was born from a mod of another game, this time it was Blizzard’s Warcraft III. With a release not expected until next year, Valve isn’t letting up with their efforts to keep DotA 2 in the spotlight, this time in the form of the painted on-line comic Tales From the Secret Shop: Are We Heroes Yet?.
Recently Newsarama was able to pierce the Valve veil of secrecy about the comic and speak to the DotA 2 game and web comic creative team that includes experienced game writer and developer Marc Laidlaw (Half-Life) and the talented fantasy illustrator and veteran Magic: The Gathering card artist Jim Murray.Newsarama: How did Tales From the Secret Shop: Are We Heroes Yet? come together?
Valve: The best way to have creative control of your products is to actually create them. At Valve, we don't farm out comics or commercials to outside companies; instead we find people who are doing top quality work in these fields, people we would dearly love to work with, and hire them. Several years ago, we started hiring comics professionals with the specific intention of building an internal comics team from the ground up. Gradually we have all been learning how this works, sharing artists and writers between all the teams, developing ideas that come directly out of the games but exist in a slightly different space. This philosophy has helped us attract amazing and versatile artists.Nrama: Are the comic creators DotA/DotA 2 players? What do you think of the game and its level of competition it inspires?
Valve: Everyone who worked on the comic is involved in developing the game, creating characters and writing dialog, so we play it a lot internally. And yes, the competition is fierce. It's an incredibly deep and addictive game. However, with so many characters and so much dialog to write and record, we don't get to play it as obsessively as we might like.
Nrama: The game features a host of exotic player characters, what drew you to frame the story with the Shopkeeper?Valve: Every game of DotA involves a completely different cast of heroes – it's constantly shifting. The one character who persists unchanging from game to game is the shopkeeper. There was something eternal about him that appealed to us. He seemed like a good focus for kicking off stories set in this world, a central spot where all the heroes eventually stop by and stories might be told and shared. One would imagine he's heard everything, and would be willing to spin out tales as long as you care to listen.
Nrama: Is Are We Heroes Yet? the start of establishing the Lore behind DotA 2, and will you be working to expand on the DotA 2 world?Valve: Lore is continually in development, and we try to work it into all aspects of the game. Mostly, so far, that has shown up in the character vignettes that accompany each hero when you view them in the game. These are meant to give a quick verbal impression of the hero in a heroic moment, with just enough evocative imagery behind them to make you want to go deeper into the story, and they are meant to be very short and highly distilled. Creating the comic was the first place where we had a chance to work our way more deeply into the lore, and to lay out some of the concepts we've developed. Ideally, we can keep finding stories that let us flesh out the underpinnings of the DotA universe in compelling ways.
Now that the story is complete, gamers and fans of the comic should not miss their change to click past the last page to find a few “bonus features.” Along with the option to download a digital copy of the comic in a wealth of languages and some wallpapers inspired by the art there is a survey you can compete to apply for a spot on the DotA 2 Beta roster. Although it should be noticed that survey includes an inspection of your PC’s hardware and the game request the installation of Valve’s Steam content delivery system.