Looking at the Mirror's Edge with Rhianna Pratchett

screen image from the Mirror's Edge game

In an industry that thrives of easy marketability of pre-tested ideas, new properties can represent a substantial risk for publishers. Swedish developer DICE took such a leap of ‘faith’ with their Parkour-inspired actioner, Mirror’s Edge. Part of the game's appeal was a unique art style, including cutscenes presented in a two dimensional cell-shaded style. To further flesh out this new world, they hired gaming scriptwriter Rhianna Pratchett (Heavenly Sword) who in addition to her work on the game, writes the Mirror’s Edge comic for Wildstorm. With the game already out on PS3 and Xbox 360, and coming to PC this month, we talked to Pratchett about both the game and comic.

Newsarama: Rhianna, at what stage of the Mirror's Edge project were you brought in, and when did the idea of doing a comic come across?

Rhianna Pratchett: I was initially contacted about a year and a half before the project shipped and worked on it for over twelve months. Personally, I always thought it might make a cool comic because Mirror’s Edge is such a visual experience. The 2D animations in the game originally sprang from an old idea to have animated comic panels (Max Payne style.) Somewhere in the depths of EA a deal was being put together with DC comics (the Wildstorm wing) and it was in need of a writer. I did a 6-page mini comic as a kind of test-out for Comic-Con 2008, Wildstorm decided to take me on and it went from there.

NRAMA: The comic is a prequel; will gamers need to read it to understand the game?

RP: Not at all. Although I think that reading the series will certainly give someone more in-depth knowledge about the Mirror’s Edge characters and their world. I didn’t get as much space to do that in the game as I would have liked, so it was great to have the comic as a kind of second outlet. They complement each other. At least that’s what I’m hoping! [smiles]

NRAMA: You've lent your talents to the scripts for many games, including Heavenly Sword and Overlord, what creative challenges have you encountered in telling a story in comic form?

RP: To be honest I’d say that games are much harder overall. Mainly because as a storyteller you’re often at odds with the other elements of games design such as gameplay and level creation. That means you can often have a long hard fight on your hands to help a story become properly realized. When it comes to happy relations with narrative, the games industry is still at the holding hands and kissing on cheeks stage. Whereas film and TV have long been happily wading through the Karma Sutra.

Mirror's Edge #4
Mirror's Edge #4
Cover to Wildstorm's Mirror's Edge #4

Comics come with the own series of challenges, of course. And they can still be wickedly hard. But they’re very used to storytelling and there are rules and structure to be learnt (and possibly be broken.) You feel like you’re treading a well-worn path.

NRAMA: Mirror's Edge takes place in a heavily-surveillanced society, do you intend for the player/reader draw parallels to current events?

RP: They can, but it’s not a particular aim, as such. We’re just trying to tell a story, not give a lecture. There have been quite a few parallels between Mirror’s Edge and views of a dystopian future as put forward in books like George Orwell’s 1984. But that’s not really accurate. For a start Mirror’s Edge isn’t sci-fi future, it’s very near future. No one is zooming about on hoverbikes, or anything like that. It’s also partially along the lines of what Orwell himself described as an ‘anti-utopia.’ That is a utopia that has big flaws or potential flaws. This is quite different from a dystopia, which doesn’t pretend to be anything else. I’d say the city in Mirror’s Edge is half-way between an anti-Utopia and a Nanny State.

What we tried to look at was the reasons why citizens might accept a life where their personal choices were very limited and they were basically looked after from the cradle to the grave by a city. We also looked at the reasons why people might decide to live outside that and the potential consequences.

NRAMA: Mirror's Edge is fast paced even for a game presented in first person; how did the game's nature affect your task of delivering necessary exposition?

RP: I won’t lie. It was very hard. And I don’t think any of us on the team realized quite hard difficult it was going to be. We ended up cutting out a lot of in-game dialogue to try and better match the pacing. I think Mirror’s Edge was one of those games which would have benefited from narrative being thought of a lot earlier in the project. Structure is incredibly important for interactive storytelling. The faster paced a game is, the more important that becomes. I think we only got there through trial and error. Lots of lessons were learned in the process. But as I said above this is what has to happen at this stage of narrative development. You have to get your hands dirty!

NRAMA: Almost all main characters in first person games are either silent or bleat one-liners, but Mirror's Edge lead, Faith, does neither. How did that, and she, develop?

Mirror's Edge #5
Mirror's Edge #5
Cover to Wildstorm's Mirror's Edge #5

RP: Again, it was through a certain amount of trial and error. She was originally intended to talk more than she actually ended up doing in the game. All of her level dialogue was cut because it tended to break the immersion of taking control of a first-person character. I think there’s a fine balance between too much and too little. Luckily, her Tracker, Merc, is never one to keep silent for very long.

NRAMA: Is there an aspect to game writing that would be foreign to writers working in other mediums?

RP: Heaps. The fact that most games are not led by their story and script in the same way that films and TV are is a biggie. Also, the fact that you’re pulling and pushing against other aspects of games development can be a big challenge. You have to be hugely flexible in games writing, it’s a very iterative process. They say that writing is re-writing. Nowhere is that more true than in games.

NRAMA: Is there a comic property you would love to write a game for?

RP: I think that Dark Angel (by Kia Asamiya) could make a very cool game.

NRAMA: Just for fun, what're some favorite games from the "good old days" of gaming?

RP: I have loads. I really loved Bullfrog’s games, especially Dungeon Keeper 2. I also really enjoyed Planescape Torment, the Thief series and Age of Mythology - a game which, no kidding, I had to break [out] the install CD for about 5 times – I just got too addicted!

Twitter activity