Making Shadow Complex: Donald Mustard Speaks
August 28, 2009 Page 6 of 6
So, you worked with Card on Advent?
DM: A little bit, yeah.
How did you get in touch with him? How did you get involved with him?
DM: Ender's Game is one of my favorite books. I grew up reading Card. When we were writing Advent, we kept saying, "Oh, we need to write our characters more like Card writes characters because he's so good at just concisely creating really awesome empathetic characters," I think.
So, we were like, "We need to be more like that."
We have a lot of ambition [laughs] at Chair. We were like, "Why don't we just call him up and see?" So literally we sent him an email. We said, "Hey, we're making this game. Would you be interested in talking to us?" And we sent off that email, and we never thought we'd hear from him again. About a month later, we got an email back from his wife saying he's going to be in the area doing a book signing, and he'd totally be willing to come by and meet you guys for half an hour. And we were like, "Sweet, we can get our Orson Scott Card books signed."
So, I got my Ender's Game book. I thought that was all that would come of it. But we pitched him the idea of Advent, he loved it, he said he'd be willing to help us out, and he came in and was able to help us with the script.
Just because things that were going on at the time, we never got the chance to collaborate as much as we wanted to. We were too far into development at that point, whatever. But with Empire, it was more of a fresh start. And that's kind of our philosophy. My goal is always to find talented people, and then let them go do what they do best. Like with Empire, we just kind of had this rough idea of what the story would be. And then we let Card go write his book, and we went and made our game.
LM: When we initially approached him, it really was just to run this story past him, right?
DM: Yeah, it was.
LM: And then he just like clamped onto it and was like, "I'm going to write a book."
DM: Yeah, yeah. That story's kind of cool, too.
That's an interesting question, because the book came out a few years ago at this point. No one knew about Shadow Complex when the book came out, but it does tie directly in. Obviously, you guys knew about it at the time. Was it more just that he was inspired, or did you have this sort of plan to make a franchise across media back then, to tie together?
DM: Yeah. Whether we're successful at it or not is one thing, but I'm interested in creating stories that can be told across multiple mediums. To me, if the backbone isn't strong enough that it can stand as a novel or as a comic or as a film, you don't have a strong enough fiction, or a strong enough universe. So, that's what we're really interested in creating. With Empire, that's what we wanted to create, so we brought Card in and pitched him the idea.
Initially, I just thought I was going to use him as a sounding board, and we would approach other people. But he loved the idea and on the spot, he called up Tom Doherty at Tor. He was like, "Here's what I want my next book to be." Tom was like, "This is the book we've been wanting you to write for 20 years. Go write it." So, I really kind of helped that.
The book came out in November of 2007. It was an international bestseller. While the book was being written, we were actually making Undertow. So, we stopped development on the franchise while we let the book kind of work through its stuff. We made Undertow. Once Undertow was finished, the book had come out, it was really successful, we had optioned the movie rights to Warner Bros., and things were going. And then we actually started real development on Shadow Complex. Now it's out, and the sequel to the book, Hidden Empire, comes out in December.
Obviously, you have this foundation of the Empire fiction that was collaborated with Orson Scott Card, but he didn't actually end up writing the game dialogue.
DM: He didn't, no.
How did you find the writer originally?
DM: Again, the core to our philosophy is to find great talent and let them do what they do best. And so we let Card go and do his thing with the book, but when approaching the game, I wanted to find a writer who I thought really understood how to marry words with a more visual setting. And I thought whom better than a comic book writer who has to collaborate with an artist to marry words with a visual language.
And they're used to not having complete control of the finished product.
DM: Yeah, exactly.
LM: And are okay with not having it, which is another big thing.
DM: Yeah, exactly. We thought that might be a really good fit with a video game and specifically our kind of game. And so, as soon as we started thinking that, I thought, "I need to start compiling a list of my favorite comic book authors." At the very top of that list was Peter David. Peter is someone I've been reading since I was 10 years old. I love his work. I love the kind of stories he tells.
We thought, again, similar to how we approached Card, we had big ambitions. We were like, "Why not? Why not see if we can get a Peter David?" He's one of the most celebrated writers in comic books ever. And so we were able to get in touch with his agent, and he was willing to talk to us.
So, we called him and started talking about the ideas we wanted to do and the direction that we were thinking. He thought he could take a really kind of unique take on the universe. And man, it was awesome. It was awesome to work with [him]. He was already just in the first conversation, "Oh, we can do this or we can do this, and we can set stuff up like this."
How much did he direct the way the story went in the game?
DM: It was a great marriage because we already had designed the entire game on paper, so we knew... We had a few constraints in a sense of...
DM: "This has to happen here, this has to happen here." Pretty much other than that, especially when it came to like the characters, we said, "There's a main character, and we like the idea of his initial motivation changing at some point in the game."
LM: And he knew what was going on in the bigger universe. Like, here's the Empire arc, and our story needs to run to at least parallel to those events.
DM: Pretty much from there, we gave him pretty much free range to come up with something pretty cool. Let's just give Peter credit where credit's due. He's an awesome storyteller. But I think his years of experience working in comics allowed him to come into a situation where the flow is fairly locked in, yet still come up with a really creative solution. I think that's something he had to deal with a lot in comics. He was just perfect at doing that. I loved working with Peter. I hope to work with him again in the future.
I think what was really good from what I've played so far, is the dialogue is punchy. It doesn't drag. It goes really fast. It seems very comic book-y actually because in comic books, say, average page has six panels and a couple lines of dialogue in each panel. You're flipping through it pretty rapidly, so it kind of fits well with both the medium and even the download game specifically, because you can only fit so much recorded dialogue in.
DM: Exactly. And that was his other constraint. It has to be this many pages. Again, our opinion is that it came off really, really well. You're right, that was the exact style we were going for. Keep it punchy, keep it fast, keep it moving within the constraints, and it was just wonderful. It was a wonderful collaboration. It was awesome. I love working with talented people. [laughs] They make us so much better than we are.
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