When some creep’s holding a knife to your throat, who do you want to see riding up…me – or your elected representative? Think about it.
Judge Dredd, Democracy Now!
I’ve read comic books since I was a kid…
It was a kind of a window into the world at that time, when personal computers barely existed for me. Video games were still about to become a thing and the Internet was just a science fiction dream (we’re talking about 1979). The comics would take you to distant places by the hands of magicians like Jack “King” Kirby and other guys who would blow my mind.
It was then that my father one day came home with a new magazine, an English sci-fi magazine. The magazine was called 2000 AD and I could never imagine how that publication would make my head “explode”. When I opened it, I discovered a new kind of hero. A hero from a different world with a lot of action, violence, justice and a number of new things. Names like Harlem Heroes, Flesh, Dan Dare and Judge Dredd, blew my head up like a nuclear bomb!
I started buying the other 2000 AD magazines, but unfortunately, it only lasted 10 numbers in my country. At that time, it was very difficult to get anything imported, let alone from the distant UK. It was the 80’s and there was no Internet and no credit cards. I was nothing but a broken teenager student. Anyway, I kept my magazine copies in a safe box, like a fabulous treasure. From that special moment on, something had been marked inside my head.
Time has passed, and let’s move on now to the year 1983. I had already won my first computer (a Sinclair ZX-80, with a “powerful” 16K memory) and my father had promised me that if I was admitted to a good high school, he would give me a new computer. I studied like a crazy library rat and got into a fancy high school, and my gift was a ZX-Spectrum with 48K memory.
“Speccy” was one of my passports to the worlds of games and thanks to it, I recovered my access to 2000 AD.
Because one of the closest friends of my family was an officer for the merchant navy, and he would travel constantly to the UK. He would always bring me magazines (2000AD) and games for my computer. My connection with 2000 AD and my heroes was reestablished. The English comics began to be part of my life and I was already starting to make my own games (they were paper wargames, hex, and counter).
The magazines inspired me, with stories filled with an action far from being politically correct. Judge Dredd was one of my favorite characters, and at that time I was reading the classics (Block Mania, Apocalypse War, Wastelands…). Along with 2000 AD, the RPGs also came as a new way of inspiration and a means of putting my imagination to work (1986/87). I had discovered that I really enjoyed playing games like a Dungeon Master. I was hardly like a “normal” player, though.
In 1988 I got the first French comics with the wonderful Heavy Metal magazine, which wouldn’t stop but give more and more ideas.
But what the hell?, you must be asking: what does this have to do with games whatsoever?
Comic books serve as an endless source of inspiration and material for game making, writing, situations, and characters.
Things you read in those stories, especially from the 80’s, depict a time in a changing world. The fall of Berlin Wall, the end of Cold War, the rise of a new social and political culture. It was the time for the “Tough Guys” movies like Commando, Predator, Cobra, Mad Max, Escape from New York and so many that served as the basis for many current games (Snake Pliskeen was an inspiration for Solid Snake). Those comics were totally influenced by these movies.
Things, characters, situations contained in Judge Dredd’s story or in the ABC Robots, is a gold mine for desiging game. Stories full of adrenaline and very funny plots, are very common at this time. But, a lot of polemics came to surface too, with characters like Big Dave. The infamous main character was a homophobic, racist product of the 90’s lad culture who kept UK safe from Saddam Hussein, and other threats. It’s a bad concept but a product from this time, and if you take a closer look at that, you’ll probably agree with me.
I’m a fan of the pos-apoc, Science Fiction, and Steampunk genres and they have clearly reflected in my games. I try to take advantage of these styles and my work is strongly influenced by them. When I read an 80’s comics and their contemporaries, they add up to an immense repository of ideas, jokes, characters, plots and environments for keeping my creativity going.
One of my favorite examples is Judge Dredd’s Blockmania. The story begins with a war between building blocks (literally an ice cream cone falls on a woman’s head) and ends in a thermonuclear war. This story marks the beginning of one of the most important Judge Dredd´s sagas: Apocalypse War. IMHO is one of the best sagas published on 2000 AD magazine.
Block Mania – Judge Dredd
In 1987, Games Workshop published a board game based on Block Mania, which gave rise to a game universe that I have been working on for quite some time now called Gorebag. The material available is superb and offers a lot yet to be explored.
Another very striking example for me are the European comics. Much of what I’ve read in Heavy Metal and Metal Hurlant shaped quite a few fantasy stories that I’ve written and which served as the basis for one of one my first “games” (an adventure text for TRS-80 written in Basic…). I was inspired by Enki Bilal’s Exterminator 17, and Airtight Garage from Moebius.
And… THE KING!
And I’d like to talk about the King, who is, for me, the guy who got me started with all of that: Jack Kirby.
Hail to the King!
There is no middle ground: you either love Jack Kirby or you hate Jack Kirby. Since my childhood years, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee have made me travel with Thor and the Fantastic Four. These two guys gave me so many ideas and dreams. I remember my days after school, at home, after lunch in my room, reading, again and again, the same comics and stories from Marvel.
The titanic fights of Asgard and the other worlds illustrated by Jack Kirby left me mesmerized. When Galactus comes to Earth, by the hands of Jack Kirby, I discovered one of the most iconic characters of all times. Doubtlessly, Jack Kirby marked me deeply and the Marvel stories of that time gave me countless ideas for my games.
I’d like to ask a final question: do you think comic books will help you make better games?
We can create new scripts, stories, interactive stories, inspired by comics. One of the exercises I enjoy doing is creating interactive stories. I use a pretty cool tool for this called Twine . It is a nice way for trying to replicate the old text adventures or the classic Fighting Fantasy books; and for me, particularly, it is a good way for building structures for more complex games. I’m currently working on a project (in its GDD phase) for a steampunk post-apoc strategy game. I got a lot of references from various comic books and my main character is a mix of some old heroes. Lately, I’ve been also doing an experiment on Twine, which is helping me work on a new quest framework.
Curing my immersion creative period, I usually do the following things:
- Start reading several comics and stories;
- I write down some ideas on paper that I’ll take from my reading sessions;
- I try adapting these ideas to game mechanics. At this point, I start up the “translation phase” of these concepts into possible games.
- When I believe I have something acceptable enough, I start writing my GDD.
These steps work very for me, for my work and my game design process. With that, I have come up with many solutions for many projects, including serious games.
I think that my experience is more of a set of concepts and philosophies, which I’d like to share with other designers. It may not be ideal, but it has helped me a lot up to now. Comic books give me a “window” into new ideas, experiences, and many possibilities. They mean a lot for my game making process.
Give old comics a chance and you’ll be surprised at what they can do for your creativity.