Northern California-based video game publishers Trion Worlds, Inc. have already generated a healthy amount of buzz in the gaming world for their unique and ambitious initial strategy. Rather than focus on one project at a time, they’re taking on the lofty task of simultaneously developing three massively multiplayer online role-playing games at the same time, the fantasy-based Rift: Planes of Telara, the futurist End of Nations and an as-yet unnamed title co-produced with SyFy.
Rift Issue 0End Of Nations #0 Now they’re looking to garner some attention in comic book circles, with the announcement that both Rift: Planes of Telara and End of Nations will see prequel stories courtesy of DC Comics imprint WildStorm. Both are scheduled for four issues each starting this fall — months before the games are slated for release — with zero issues previewing the two titles available next week at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Ricardo Sanchez, clearly no stranger to video games or comic books — he was a VP at GameTap and wrote WildStorm’s Resident Evil comic book last year — is writing both comics. Pop Mahn (Spyboy) handles art for Telara Chronicles, and Yvel Guichet (Aquaman) illustrates End of Nations.
We spoke to Sanchez about how he got involved with Trion Worlds, the difference between these two books, and the power of a comic as a marketing tool for the MMORPG-phobic in the population.
Newsarama: If you could, explain a bit how you started working with Trion Worlds — I saw on your site that you're working as a consultant for them. So was this writing gig a natural extension of that?
Ricardo Sanchez: I was hired on for some general consulting help at Trion. Once I saw the games up close (and they really blew me away) I immediately saw they were ripe for comic books and recommended Issue 0s for both franchises as a great way to tap into the comic crowd and create something really compelling. Since I was already familiar with the properties, it just made sense to have me do the writing.
End of Nations Page 1End of Nations Page 2 Nrama: When working on a project like this — Telara Chronicles and End of Nations specifically — how much of it is adapting what's been established by the game creators, and how much is sort of embellishing and veering in new directions?
Sanchez: Successfully adapting anything always requires a mix of lore-based story elements and embellishment. In the case of Telara Chronicles I literally sat down with the Lore Team at Trion (Morgan Lockhart, Nicholas McDowell and William Cook - who were all fantastic to work with) to figure out what aspects of the game had been developed enough that there was an anchor for a story, but still had enough ambiguity that I wouldn't be shackled to what was going on in the game. We quickly settled on a couple of key points in the history of Telara as the anchors: the Shade War and the fall of Port Scion. These were parts of the history that, while known quantities in the game story, still had a lot of holes that I could fill in to craft a compelling narrative around characters that players will ultimately encounter in the game itself.
End of Nations was a very different experience. For one thing, the game is being released several months later than Rift: Planes of Telara. That's both good and bad. On the good side, lots of wiggle room. On the bad, much easier to run into trouble. End of Nations is also an MMO Real Time Strategy game, which made adapting it more of a challenge — there are no central characters to use as protagonists. But the game does have one hell of an awesome villain, the Order of Nations. Adapting End of Nations became more about finding a way to humanize the conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed, and Petroglyph and Trion Worlds gave me the freedom to create, from scratch, characters and situations that fit within the milieu of the world of End of Nations.
End of Nations Page 12End of Nations Page 4 Nrama: The two series sound pretty different, with one in a more fantasy- based environment, and the other a lot more grounded (albeit futuristic and dystopian). Is one mindset either for you to get into than the other?
Sanchez: Oddly enough, no. As a media consumer, I love stuff like John Carter of Mars, Conan, Lost on Venus, H.G. Wells, pretty much everything Jack Vance ever wrote, and the art of Boris Vallejo. Working on Telara Chronicles was an exercise in channeling my heroes in the fantasy genre. Rift: Planes of Telara has a phenomenal story and history of its own that would make any fantasy fan thrill, so all it takes for me to get ready to write Telara is to spend a little time ruminating on my favorite fantasy stories. That said, I'm also a war story junkie. I have a huge collection of vintage Haunted Tank, Sgt. Rock, and Weird War Tales and I've always wanted to write a war story. The world of End of Nations is a perfect setting for one. In the end, writing any comic book story comes down to a passion for the genre and finding the humanity in the characters.
End of Nations Page 13End of Nations Page 14 Nrama: Your first comic book work was the Resident Evil comic book. I imagine the answer is "a lot," but how does the approach differ in adapting an action game like that and an MMORPG like the Trion properties?
Sanchez: You're right. The process is essentially the same, but the approach is always specific to the property. When I'm adapting a game to a comic, the first question is always "what are the coolest things about this game?" No matter what the story is, who the characters are, fans of the games are going to identify first with those aspects of the game that make them go "Dude! That's so cool!" (and that is exactly what I said the first time I saw a skirmish in End of Nations). The next thing I do is figure out what conflict in the game can become the central conflict in a story. With those in mind, I craft a story and fit in the aspects of the game and the conflict that will work in a comic book. Not all of them do.
End of Nations Page 15With End of Nations, I had to figure out how to put a face on the otherwise faceless, tyrannical Order of Nations, and give the resistance a personality and concrete reason to fight. In Telara Chronicles, there was a whole host of established characters, rival factions, and a storied history that I used to craft a story that illuminated the game world and exposed the reader to aspects of Telara that you can't necessarily see in the game.
Nrama: The first issues are supposed to start in the fall and zero issues will be available next week at Comic-Con, so you must be a bit into the two series at this point. How has working with Pop Mhan and Yvel Guichet — both pretty unique talents — been thus far?
Sanchez: In a word, amazing! These two guys are as different in art style as the comics are in subject matter, but each one is absolutely perfectly suited to the book they're working on. I'll start with Pop Mhan. Telara Chronicles is, at its heart, a fantasy story. Heroes, villains, creatures and swords and spells. Visually, it would have been pretty easy to do a standard five-panel page and still have a good comic, but Pop has this incredible talent for laying out action. Every single page is drawn to get the most out of what is happening in the story. His pages are a literal feast for the eyes. He is such a phenomenal story teller that you could probably get rid of every word of dialog and still understand most of what is going on.
Rift Page 12Rift Page 13 Yvel Guichet's layouts are a bit more traditional, but in a story like End of Nations, that is a positive. Where Yvel just blows me away is his character work and the grayscale shading technique he employs. He really makes you feel the emotion that the characters on the page are experiencing. That might seem like an odd requirement for a war comic, which End of Nations essentially is, but without that human element the story would just be a bunch of armor and artillery moving around on the page. The first page of End of Nations issue #0 is a montage that sort of sums up the events that lead to the current state of the world. When I first saw the final, gray shaded version of the page I was stunned. It was an amazingly compelling drawing. And I have to say that WildStorm's colorist on Issue 0, Carrie Strachan, also did an incredible job on Yvel's art. It’s the best looking comic I've ever worked on, bar none.
Nrama: What's the strategy of releasing the comic adaptations before the games are actually out? Is it sort of another form of advance marketing, getting people more excited for the final product? (Or, maybe as simple as having collected editions ready near the same time frame as the game release?)
Rift Page 14Sanchez: Well, in the case of Telara Chronicles and End of Nations, we wanted to achieve several goals. The first was to introduce potential players of the games to these franchises at Comic-Con. The audience there just seems like a perfect fit for Trion's games. Rift: Planes of Telara taps into fans of traditional fantasy, which will be at SDCC in droves. And End of Nations will appeal to the growing gaming and sci-fi audience. Music from End of Nations is also being featured in a performance of Video Games Live during the Con, and we wanted to be able to let fans of the music get a taste of what the game might be like.
Another unique aspect about MMOs is that they are generally available for the public to play via both closed and open Betas in advance of the official release of the game. By starting the monthlies ahead of the game release, we're hoping to offer some compelling stories to game players as they're trying out the game. And, of course, we'd like the collected editions out when the game is actually released.
Nrama: And since these are coming out before the game, is there consideration given to attracting people that might normally not even find the game, but could start reading the comic, and then wind up being curious about the game?
Rift Page 17Rift Page 18 Sanchez: Oh, absolutely. If you're of a certain age, like I am, you may remember official movie magazines being released ahead of the film release. The idea was to publish a product that showed potential movie goers just how neat the movie was going to be, show them some cool stills, give them some interviews with the creators. A lot of that has been replaced by the web now, but we're replicating it a bit with the comics we're giving away at SDCC. In addition to each Issue 0 having a complete, stand alone 22 page story, we put the equivalent of a mini-magazine at the back to help people understand the game world. And, of course, the mini-series shows off some of the cool environments, weapons, units and characters in the games as well. The stories are by no means marketing pieces, they are intended to be stand alone and be great comics in their own right, but we do hope that if someone engages with the rift torn world of Telara, or sympathizes with the resistance fighters in End of Nations, that they'll give the games a shot.
Nrama: Drifting a bit from the specific subject, but given that you've now got a few comic book projects under your belt, is it something you've really taken to? Do you have plans to work on further comic work — maybe outside of video game books?
Sanchez: I love writing comic books. I wish I would have tried breaking in 10 years ago. Working with the artists, colorists and editors is such a fulfilling experience. I literally get giddy when I see new pages.
I've worked in other media before, but comics are special. You get all the collaborative energy from working in film or video, but none of the headaches, and as a writer, I don't have to worry about budget or technical constraints like I might with animation. I can't comment on any other comics I might or might not be working on, but I will say that I certainly intend to keep writing comics as long as editors will give me the work. I really enjoy the game comics, given my background, but would love to try some other genres as well.