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Skip Navigation LinksPlayHard > In English > The Universe of "X". Interview with John Johnson, Smoking Gun Interactive

Smoking Gun Interactive is a Canadian company headed up by its Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director, John Johnson, who was previously the Development Director at Relic Entertainment where he served as the producer behind the critically acclaimed and the award-winning RTS entitled Company of Heroes. The studio has recently published a preview of a new graphic novel "X" that is based on their as yet undisclosed cross-platform debut video game. The novel has been written by a visionary cyberpunk author named Douglas Rushkoff and gives a good glimpse around the themes that surround the future title: think along the lines of government conspiracies, age old prophecies and mysterious unidentified flying objects in the sky.

Douglas Rushkoff has graduated from Princeton University, received an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts, a post-graduate fellowship (MFA) from The American Film Institute, and a Director's Grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He's finishing his dissertation on media literacy and gaming for University Utrecht. He has worked as a certified stage fight choreographer and as keyboardist for the industrial band PsychicTV.

The series has been illustrated by Smoking Gun's lead concept artists: Cheoljoo Lee and Younger Yang. "X" is the first graphic novel of its kind embedded with an interactive experience that builds a community around the story. What is really special about the comic book is it being the first time that a developer has mixed media narratives and released a graphic novel, complete with an interactive alternate reality game (ARG). To access it you have to study the Page 13 at Exoriare very carefully to be able to reach the mysterious world of Darknet. Meanwhile, we discussed the origins of the "X" Universe and the corresponding alternate reality game with John Johnson.

- Tell us about your role and the background of the team at Smoking Gun Interactive. What studios and projects have team members previously been part of?

- Smoking Gun Interactive
was founded by myself, Drew Dunlop and Angie Pytlewski. We were together at Relic Entertainment for several years and shipped multiple projects including Company of Heroes. So you will find its alumni well-represented in our cohort as well as an assortment of very talented new team members. The most important thing for a new studio, however, is having that shared vision, and some of our key players come from entirely different pastures.

The launch of the graphic novel "X", combined with the start of the ARG has been very original way of unveiling the content of your first cross-platform property. Can you explain why you did it in this way?

- We have some pretty ambitious goals. We want our games to inspire a generation and really capture people's imaginations. So with anything that we work on, we want to deliver something that goes beyond your expectations, and takes you to new places. Exoriare is a kind of gift to the community, and an early fulfilment of that promise.

- The plot of the ARG involves obelisks, ancient temples and the Knights of Malta all play. How will this all relate to the cross-platform video game you have planned?

- The key thing about our story is that we didn't invent it – we have tied all the pieces together in a unique and original way, but all of it is based on real-world mythology and conspiracies. With "X", you will find that, beneath this "normal" world we all live in lies another world which is scarier and more fantastic than any piece of fiction could ever be. All the places, all the players are real. And once you dive into exploring the Truth, you will find that every power on earth is your enemy.

- What various games and other ARG's have influenced the development of Exoriare?

- We really liked what Nine Inch Nails did with their "Year Zero" project. Trent Reznor gave himself an interesting problem – how do you deliver album art and liner notes to a generation that downloads mp3's? His solution to that problem really pushed forward the entire Art of the Possible.

- Talk us through the Darknet Forager mini-game, where players try and unlock satellites across different regions around the world. How does this work?

- There's one massive community effort on the Darknet. This is a mini-game called Forager. The idea behind this: it;s a stolen piece of military technology that allows you to takeover an enemy's networks. Every time that you win a round at Forager, you build the network strength of the whole Darknet, and help to get it to the point where it will be able to seize control of government satellites. The Resistance has divided the world into twelve territories – each has its own relay satellite and satellite control station. So the first job in any territory is to take it over. At that point, the Resistance can start helping out the other territories. Now, as far as understanding why you'd want to take over these satellites in the first place, all of that mystery is something you can work through as an individual. If you get stuck, the community is very helpful with providing tips and hints.

- Doughlas Rushkoff wrote the "X" graphic novel, this is his first project in the games space. Can you tell us how you came to work with him and why you decided specifically to collaborate with Douglas?

- We wanted to work with a graphic novelist that really demonstrated a mastery of genre. We also needed someone that would really be excited about what we were trying to do. So, Douglas came up in our research as being a great match on both angles. We flew Douglas out to the studio and went over the back-story with him, and where our major story arcs were headed. He quickly understood exactly what we were looking for, and ran with it. He did an amazing job at creating a very compelling story, with great characters that works as an introduction to the Resistance and the Universe.

- Is Douglas a gamer? What kind of games does he normally play?

- I know Douglas is a gamer.  I am not sure what games he is currently playing, a good question for Douglas.

- How did Douglas work with the team when he was writing the novel? Did you give him a free reign on how the novel was developed? What kind of information did you provide him with to get started?

Our narrative team had what they call a story bible – all of the non-fiction on the "X" universe is in there, how it all fits together. So, we gave Douglas access to all of this, along with some scene work showing how we saw it working in a dramatic sense. He devoured everything very quickly, and started putting together the character arcs to explore this universe. And that part of it was very much up to Douglas. We were there with support and questions and research when it was needed, but we wanted Douglas to have enough space to surprise us. We're more than happy with the way things have worked out.

- So far Smoking Gun Interactive have released the first 31 pages of the graphic novel. Can you, please, explain when the rest of the first novel or its print edition will be released?

- We're already registering users who want to buy the print edition of "X". We will be shipping our first volume in the next few months and this will include more of the story as well as other goodies.

- What can you tell us about the cross-platform game that you have planned? How far are you into development and when can Russian gamers expect to learn more about this?

- We haven’t released any information about the cross-platform game itself.  Not yet.  Right now, we are working very hard to get this to the point where we can show you more. I can say that it will encompass more of the ideas we have about cross-media storytelling.

- Have you or the team ever visited Russia?

I'd love to be able to visit Russia, but it's probably our story team that would get to go, if anybody. There are a few locations in Russia that we need to do more research on. Maybe I will come with them.

- How do you view the Russian gaming community?

Russian gamers are well-known for their focus and intensity. We certainly respect and admire the dedication of the Russian gaming community, and we look forward to shipping a game that can capture some of your excitement. Russia plays a rather significant role in our "X" universe. In the last few years, you've started building obelisks again.

- What would you wish to millions of gamers in Russia?

- Well, it's the same thing that we want to give the gaming community everywhere – we're working to build games that will really capture your imagination, and do things that you wouldn't think were even possible. We're living in a very exciting time for interactive entertainment, and over the next few years, I think we will see the emergence of a whole new world order. In gaming, that is.

- Thanks, John!

We're grateful to Chris Clarke from Freeform Communications for making this Interview possible.

28.11.2009 23:19, Unicorn


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