Feature – FlameCityNights Season 3 Episode 6

Posted: August 13, 2012 in Feature, GameCity

You may notice the original banner has undergone a slight remix due to the Olympic torch making its way around the city of Nottingham, even passing the building in which GameCityNights is usually held. And since the torch involves fire, they’ve altered the name to FlameCityNights. Get it? It’s probably too clever for you.

Due to the guest list for the night, most notably Dave Gibbons, writer of comics such as Watchmen and point-and-click games such as Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars and Beneath a Steel Sky, the place was more packed than normal with Union Jack triangles suspended on ropes along the ceiling in honour of Team GB. My normal routine would consist of the unpacking of my stuff to make my claim to my seat known, but due to the heat outside and the increased humidity inside due to the added attendance I merely dumped my stuff on the chair and ran to the bar for a swift temperature lowering beverage. Much better.

On the indie showcase for the night, to my left were two games by a group of students from the year 3 Confetti course, one called A Kingdom’s Hope which resembled a medieval Mirror’s Edge but with more punching, and a sci-fi FPS which I couldn’t investigate further as too many people were crowding the monitor. A Kingdom’s Hope featured an element of stealth and exploration as the game starts with your breaking out of some prison but later able to walk freely amongst the townspeople. The option to punch members of the public was possible but was switched off for the purposes of this demo. This could be like other sandbox games such as the Assassin’s Creed series where damaging innocents can bring attention upon yourself and hinder your progress of the game.

Thomas Was Alone was playable, do feel free to read my earlier review so I can try to resist talking about it as much now.

The man behind Thomas Was Alone – Mike Bithell made an appearance once more; he’s almost as much of a GameCityNights fixture as me! Joining us over Skype again from his office at Bossa studios, he confirmed he will be back “like Arnold Schwarzenegger” at GameCity7. When asked on his plans for the future he revealed he is working on a game called Merlin, a social game which he is very excited about at Bossa. The early reviews and favourable ones at that is something Mike is proud of, and is also happy about Thomas Was Alone gaining more exposure over a debate on Destructoid and some Twitter argument I sadly wasn’t a part of.

Bithell is going to be the subject of an experiment called “Mike Bithell Gets the Help he Needs”, which is going to be the best training week he has ever been a part of. Every day during the festival he will be receiving assistance from a variety of people on a variety of subjects, including but not limited to: Writing, design business development and life coaching.

When asked if he was going to have some massive party to commemorate the release of Thomas and the positive feedback it had received Mike answered that he as of yet had no plans for such a celebration. Outrage ensued from all corners of the room. Dave Gibbons noted that although he hadn’t played the game after seeing one screen of the game he immediately wanted to know more about it, something which many games don’t always accomplish. Mike Bithell did a very good impression of a Cheshire Cat. He also heavily recommended the party suggestion.

Due to the ambiguous ending of Thomas, Mike revealed that a potential sequel could be any type of game and even though he has some ideas he’s keeping pretty tight lipped on the matter for now. So watch this space.

The Olympic Torch went by and to commemorate the occasion there was a sweepstakes on certain aspects of the moment. With criteria such as the runner’s gender, the hand which shall hold the torch aloft and even distance and decibel levels, it was anyone’s guess. I didn’t do well. But respect to the team which answered “Crocs” on the question regarding the runners’ footwear.

Jonathan Smith, Head of Production at TT Games Publishing and Game Director of LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (review coming soon), went head-to-head in a no holds barred interview with Dave Gibbons. After 10 years of making LEGO games. Smith has been playing with heroes, whereas Gibbons has been creating heroes in comic books and video games. When asked on who his heroes were, be they real or artificial, Gibbons returned with a question of his own – Who do you care about more? For many people the answer would be a real hero, such as a family member or someone close who has personally inspired you. Unspectacular and personal, a hero is someone who does something he or she doesn’t have to do when confronted with difficulty, but does it anyway. On the artificial side of the coin, appropriately using Batman and Superman as examples – Batman does more than he has to, whether or not his behaviour is mentally unstable or psychotic and sending the right message of “witness a tragedy and cause tragedy for as many other people as you can, just because they’re evildoers”. Naturally this can send the wrong message and lead to foolhardiness, with people doing more than they can just to prove that they can. Outside this line of heroes it can get complex.

Gibbons revealed the shocking revelation that as a youth he did read comics. Things, he said were simpler and looking back as an adult now heroes today seem more complex than they appear once you strip away the basic good and evil labels. Long gone are the days of black-and-white motives, many shades of grey can exist. Superman is pure white, beyond any form of psychological consideration.  Whereas Batman is good but looks bad. As a character he is outside the law but tolerated by the law and makes for a much more interesting read. This can be why the Batman movies are more popular as more to get teeth into, whereas Superman is… kinda boring. This do-or-die notion of heroes can be considered too clear cut for reality which is why this ideology is explored more in Watchmen in what it actually means to be a hero.

Gibbons pointed out something which should appear obvious but may be something others have overlooked “the idea of hero is that he is a hero and that’s all he is, this is too simple and people want more than that. Interesting heroes are more complicated” in the American comics the heroes are kept very simplistic. New heroes will suddenly announce “I have powers, what shall I do with them?” and instantly turn into a goodie or a baddie. “Most guys, should they have X-ray vision would probably look through walls at something they can now download on the internet now, not finding ways of saving the subatomic inhabitants of some another dimension” Gibbons comments, another aspect of the hero nature many may have not considered. He also commented that in real life, a “true” superhero could ruin things for us powerless people. Referencing Superman and the recently-gone-by Olympic Torch, those who have been running with the torch around the country and those participating in the games could never be faster than a speeding bullet and situations like this could lead to feelings of inadequacy as opposed to feelings of gratitude.

As readers get older the simple things just don’t appeal as they once did. Watchmen is aimed at those who have grown up reading these heroes. Through the Marvel comics written by Stan Lee, which had heroes being introduced with problems such as Spiderman “who can climb walls, trap super villains in his web, but he can’t get the girl and has to deal with everyday things such as washing his costume”. Gibbons wanted Watchman to explore this further as to what heroes are really, really like.

Here you see “Two Faces of Superman”, which showed the possibility that you could choose to be a bad guy instead of simply being labelled as one. If you have powers, why be a good guy straight away? Watchmen took a few American comic superhero archetypes and showed them in the “real world”, seeing things through their eyes and the “implications of spending your free time skulking through alleyways at night, breaking peoples’ fingers or simply being so super that everything human had lost its meaning, we tried to take that to the extreme”

Although he was misunderstood as being a little bleak Gibbons actually loved American comic heroes but wanted to get to know them a little better, almost like meeting someone and wanting to know more about them. When asked about the potential for a Watchman video game – Gibbons states that as a book, Watchmen is more accessible than a game, you can go into book shop and purchase Watchmen and the reading pleasure begins.  Games on the other hand need the hardware, time to set it up and relevant controller and/or peripherals and this can be seen as a barrier. Watchmen is drawn in a way to make it accessible to those who aren’t normally comic readers and it is all about this accessibility that Gibbons prefers. Although it is a complicated story it is told in a simple way and drawn in the simplest way possible, a simple nine- panel system.

Due to Jonathan Smith playing around with different worlds at TT Games, he brought a classic Gibbons work to our attention – Batman Versus Predator. A genius combination if ever there was one. Gibbons called it a “cold calculated commercial decision” since Dark Horse Comics had the rights to have Predator in their comics, Batman was very popular at the time and back then crossover storylines were all the rage, what could go wrong? The premise was simple enough: The honourable Predator comes to Gotham to try and hunt down the infamous Batman, “like conkers but with skulls”. An idea which wasn’t explored but was recommended by someone who works at Gibbons’ local comic shop was Dan Dare Versus Aliens. Dark Horse Comics who owned the Alien rights were happy with the idea, but the owner of the Dan Dare rights had ideas of a very bad Saturday morning CGI series, which Gibbons deemed as “embarrassing” and thwarted the plans for this unique conflict.

When working with Charles Cecil on Beneath a Steel Sky, Gibbons loved working with him and the team as he found a shared enthusiasm. A lot of people in the comics industry grew up reading comics and wanting to draw them. The same applied for games designers who loved playing games in their youth, moving from writing rudimentary text based adventures and turning their hobby into a proper career. Sadly this wasn’t true for the previous generation of comic creators, with writers passing the time until they could release a novel and the artists waiting to become proper illustrators. Drawing the backgrounds and designing characters for Beneath a Steel Sky, Gibbons found it a very rewarding experience. Although it opened eyes to what was possible with games he has not done another game since.

Smith fired another philosophical question: What do you see in video games? From his point of view on storytelling and an artistic perspective, did Gibbons feel that games are ploughing the same tired furrow or are moving in a new direction? Confessing that he wasn’t a games expert (using his son as his informant into the world of gaming), he found that genres now are becoming more varied and mixed. . With comics and games the obvious basic categories still exist, the beat ‘em up, the shoot ‘em up. Now there is a huge range of ideas which don’t consist of “big guys punching the shit out of each other” (although it can be satisfying). When you simply had a straight up FPS, now you have FPS with elements of an adventure game or an RPG. Not unlike this fact that heroes are starting to have the lines blurred between them.

With the floor open to questions, this is one question I found quite inspiring – “Out of all of your works, which one are you the most proud of and why?”

Although Watchmen is what he is most popular for and has no doubts that it will be used within at least the first two sentences of his obituary,  he is very fond of his work The Originals, because it was all done by him, the writing, the artwork, pure Gibbons. Something you do just for the joy of doing it is important to Gibbons and just because one piece of work is more well-known than another, it doesn’t mean you should be any less proud of what you’ve accomplished. He also recommends Chrono-cops, a lesser known collaboration with Alan Moore which was lost within the pages of 2000AD. But never fear, I have some Chrono-cops action for you right here.





For the full interview you can watch it here

Owain and I get our turquoise on for one last time…

Sadly this was the last GameCityNights before the festival, which saddened me for two reasons:
1) It was a really enjoyable night
2) I arranged my new job so I would have Thursday off for GameCityNights. Grrr.

So although there won’t be my usual monthly roundup of the night’s proceedings I’m sure I can come up with more stuff to put on Derek-Wheatley.com and the moment it returns I’ll take up my usual perch and we’ll be back in business. Many thanks to Iain Simons, Chloe, Penny, Dan “The Bull” Bull and the rest of the GameCityNights crew for making me feel welcome every month and even our maestro Owain Davies said it wouldn’t be GameCityNights without me. I will be back.

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