Dan Abnett Talks Guardians Mobile Game: ‘You’ve Got a Talking Raccoon and a Walking Tree, and That’s Just Great’
While the Guardians of the Galaxy have blasted into the spotlight thanks to the upcoming feature film adaptation of the Marvel comic, the silver screen isn't the only place where you'll be able to see Rocket Raccoon, Star Lord and Gamora. Disney Interactive is releasing Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon for mobile devices this week. The real-time battle arena game features many familiar faces from the film and comic, but is especially notable as it was written by former Guardians comic scribe, Dan Abnett.
A veteran novelist and comic writer, Abnett just finished up a prose adventure starring two of the more iconic Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, which he likens to "John Woo's 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'." Along with artist Gerardo Sandoval, Abnett is also currently prepping a new comic series starring the original Guardians of the Galaxy, dubbed Guardians 3000.
In conjunction with the film's August release and the launch of the mobile game, Dan Abnett took some time from his busy schedule to talk with us about writing mobile games, and returning to the characters he helped bring back to prominence at Marvel.
Arcade Sushi: The cosmic revival you and Andy Lanning led a few years back at Marvel served as a bit of inspiration for the upcoming 'Guardians of the Galaxy' movie. How was it coming back to these characters in a completely different realm? Not only are these the movie versions of the characters, but the story also takes place in a mobile game.
Dan Abnett: It was great. I don't own these characters, I just had the privilege of writing them for several years. To be kept as part of that family, to be brought back in to write these characters in whatever format, it was great to have my connection be recognized. Seeing a comic that I wrote being transformed into a movie, sort of taking those characters and concepts used in a completely different medium, I was at the same time doing those things myself in taking those characters into prose novels and into a game. Those are testaments to the fact that these characters, which have been around for a long time, are just great characters. They can withstand that kind of adaptability, moving from one thing to another.
Working on games, be they console or mobile, there are some great challenges for a writer. There were things that I thought before I'd done it, that they would be constraining and I wouldn't enjoy. I thought I wouldn't have the freedom of story control. In fact, it is just great fun to find ways to combine strong character and storytelling with an opportunity for a player as opposed to a reader. A player is participating in making decisions and choices that affect the story flow and the plot. I thought that would be something I'd find limiting, but in fact, it was liberating. Which surprised and delighted me.
That's interesting to hear, especially in regards to the mobile space, where most games aren't necessarily known for narratives. Typically, you're confined to short bursts of play. When writing something like that, do you keep that segmentation in mind, or do you hone in on the overall story and let the game work out its flow from there?
Structurally speaking, we knew it was going to be segmented. We needed to break the flow down into episodes that would lead into one another, but also allow you to stop and come back when you could. One of the reasons the Guardians suit this is that their personalities are so strong, you can be a bit more concise with the dialogue. You can get character across in a very short space, which obviously suits a mobile game. Rather than saying we're going to go without character, what we did was make these characters very bold, I think quite funny, and made them very direct in what they do.
The writer that I'd been working with on this, he has a background in animation, and I think what he's done is extraordinary. Instead of trying to hit five beats, we strived to hit the one that really matters, to bound the story along, and also, to keep players locked into who these people are and why they're doing what they're doing. To see his expertise in keeping that focused, that was a huge pleasure. As a result, the game is fast-paced, it moves ahead, but there are character moments all the way through.
Typically, mobile releases like this tie into the film or show they're adapting rather closely. Are there any ties here to the film beyond having the same characters, or does the game take place at a certain moment in time within the film's narrative?
What we didn't want to do was create a game that tied so tightly to the movie that they strangled each other. The movie has its own story and the game has its own story. Now these characters are becoming so recognizable in such a fast and short space of time, it really is just a case of this game being a great adventure featuring these characters in circumstances and environments that are familiar. They'll be up against people they may have encountered before, and there are strong commonalities, but this game is its own separate thing. It doesn't interfere with the film at any stage. In fact, we showed it to the filmmakers to make sure we weren't spoiling anything they may have been planning or ruined any of the surprises.
I think this was probably the best way to go. Guardians in any format have a sort of continuity, a place where all the stories should fit together, but they are now breaking out. You can take these characters and just tell a great story with them. People aren't going to worry exactly how it fits from one thing to the other. One of the things I realized having written the comic, and looked at the movie on set, was although there are necessary differences between the movie and comic versions of any given Guardian, or the novel incarnation or the game incarnation, it's astonishing how uniform they are overall. Simply because of the structure you're putting them into, nips and tucks need to be made in order to make them fit into those respective formats. The characters are strong enough to fit into all those boxes with only the most cosmetic differences, so they are still universally recognizable no matter what you're doing with them.
That to me said, these are great characters that have durability and the capacity to be gently molded into a game or comic, or what need be.
When crafting an original story like this, and since it's been a little while since you've had a hand in the pot with these characters, have any of the other current stories influenced the way you wrote these characters in the game, or are they still the same Rocket and Groot you've always envisioned?
I'd hate to think that anything I've done in this in any way denies the great current run of Brian Bendis. I think writers have a responsibility to not just get character voices right, but also to write them the way the writer feels they should be written. Obviously my default is to write Rocket or Star Lord or Gamora the way I would write them for a comic. Now you're going to send for the funny police because I'm going to say I hear their voices in my head. You know, the best thing for me is to put down the dialogue the way I think it would work, and hope it doesn't counteract different iterations of these characters appearing in other places. I believe it's pretty seamless.
Of course, in my head for years, Rocket Raccoon did not have Bradley Cooper's voice. My Rocket was always inspired by the Beatles' song "Rocky Raccoon," and therefore assumed he should have a Liverpoolian accent. He talked a bit like Ringo Starr in my head, and then I realized that was wrong.
What's one thing from this mobile game that you're most excited about, and that you think players aren't expecting?
I hope that there is a surprisingly strong character and personality component, that it's not just a simple exercise in game dynamics. I hope the characters are interesting and compelling, and most of all, funny. I want this to be a game that makes people laugh with some of the wise cracks.
To be honest, you've got a talking raccoon and a walking tree, and that's just great, as far as I'm concerned. There should be more of that in everything.
Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon is available now on iOS, Android and Windows Phone for $4.99.
'Rocket Raccon and Groot: Steal the Universe!' is available now, wherever books are sold. Additionally, collections of Dan Abnett's and Andy Lanning's run on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy can be found at your local comic shop.
'Guardians of the Galaxy' arrives in theaters in the U.S. on Aug. 1.