As co-publisher of DC Comics, executive creative director for DC Universe Online, and founder of WildStorm Productions, Jim Lee wears a lot of hats. But, all his worlds converge through comics. Lee was on hand at Comic Con to unveil the latest way in which the worlds of comics and games will interact though Sony Online Entertainment’s DC Universe Online. The new game, which has been in development for five years, will actually launch as a comic book. And, moving forward, player-created characters will appear in the print comic series. Adding another element to the game world, which features vast 3D environments, like Metropolis and Gotham City, the story will unfold through motion comics. Lee talks about this most ambitious convergence between comics and games in this exclusive interview.
How have you seen the convergence of video games and comics evolve in recent years?
What’s interesting is that, for a while, there were not that many great superhero video games. But in recent years, we’ve been pretty lucky and had games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum, LEGO Batman, and
Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe that showed the potential of superhero video games. I think because of that success, you’re going to see more comic-book properties made into (hopefully) great games. As technology is advancing, it will give us more options and cooler things to do, including possibly co-branding, co-marketing, and co-developing of story lines that play off of each other from comics to games. Another thing you’re seeing is—and this is in
DC Universe Online—is that we actually have interstitial cut-scene material that’s done in motion. It’s actually limited animation drawn by comic-book artists that we’ll see. It fills in gaps of the story lines and moves the narrative forward in the game, rather than using 3D assets in the game itself. It works well for games because the source material is the same type of art. As technology evolves, I think you’re just going to see greater convergence of traditional art, but in motion comics, to help facilitate and explain the story as you play the game.
What was it like jumping from comic-book storytelling into the game development arena?
It felt like learning a foreign language because there’s terminology that’s used to describe all the pipelines and how things are constructed. It’s obviously very creative, but there’s a logistical organizational structure that overlays everything because you’re really dealing with hundreds of people and thousands of moving parts, and that’s different from working in comics, where you tend to work in a group of three or four people to do a story in a far shorter period of time.
How will the comic-book world and game world converge through DC Universe Online?
We’re going to release a biweekly title based on the DC Universe Online game. We’ve talked about it in a general sense, but we’re definitely putting out the comic book before the game, and then what you’ll see is our ability to tie in the back-story of the game. We’re going to look for opportunities where we maybe take individual player characters and bring them into the comic book as the story lines place them, and give gamers the thrill of becoming [part of the] official
Besides the in-game motion comics, will you bring any motion comics out for the MMO game in the future?
Motion comics require a fair amount of lead time and are fairly labor-intensive, so generating something every two weeks well in advance of the material would be challenging. You want to make sure you have a lot of the artwork stockpiled, and that wouldn’t be the ideal way to do it. That said, you could do a motion comic in advance of an expansion and work on it to help serve as what the new trailer that we unveiled at Comic Con will serve. The trailer really does what you’re talking about but on a higher budget and higher level of fidelity.
How do you see this audience of MMO gamers potentially migrating to comics in some way?
We want to make it easy for people who play the game to learn about the characters. Everyone knows the Justice League, but we have hundreds of other DC characters and heroes and villains in there. We’re building up a database that’s actually a who’s who of these characters, and we allow gamers to play the game, see these characters, and then discover more about them through either online portals or the comic books themselves. It’s a great way for us to co-market and co-promote the source material with the game. It’s such a direct tie-in.
Will any of the big comic-book characters that are starring movies at Comic Con also be appearing in the MMO game?
Well, Green Lantern comes out next June, and they just unveiled his book, and he’s in the game; they’ve tentatively announced plans for Batman, Superman, and The Flash. All the major characters that you see in movies and cartoons are in the game, while characters you’ve never seen before are in 3D asset form.