Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Comic-Con is Imminent!

With Comic-Con approaching fast, I figure it's time we talked about what we have planned for the show. While I wish I could report that we would have a new book, I'm afraid that's just not going to happen this year. I'll be totally frank with what our plans have been up to this point just so anyone looking forward to new material won't be kept in the dark.

Basically, we felt that we could have done a bit better with the first book and it as always our goal to both improve the first book and increase the number of pages so that the cliffhanger at the end of the book is resolved. We wanted to do this for Comic-Con because we didn't want to sell the same old book again and then release an updated version soon afterwards...thus, forcing everyone to buy a new book for just about a dozen new pages.

Anyway, as it turns out, we ran out of time again and we're not going to do a new book for Comic-Con. The current plan is to revise it slightly but not so much so that it will leave any existing owners completely assed out. The new book will have a slightly updated cover (not really a big deal but sometimes people wonder "Why is she floating?") as well as guest art from friends who have donated their time to create images of our characters and world and a few new pages for the Field Guides.

Our plan for the future? Well, it's always up in the air...we can't make any real promises right now. What we'd like to do is create some cool promotional stuff (aka merchandise) for APE in October of this year and maybe surprise our readers with something really new at WonderCon next year. So the current plan for Comic-Con is to still promote the original book and have maybe one or two new prints and maybe something else cool for fans to purchase. Trust me when I say that the new prints and merchandise will be cool because Genevieve and I have both agreed to never create shitty merchandise with just a logo slapped on it. When we create something for our fans, we want it to be super cool and worth having....and don't worry if you can't make it to any of the shows where we'll be appearing at, if we have some cool new Kayli prints or whatever, we'll make it available in the store.

So there you have it...a slightly updated book, our two original prints, the ever popular magnet of Kayli Naked on a Giant Piece of Meat, and a few new pieces of merchandise...that's all we'll have for Comic-Con. We'll do our best to work steadily after Comic-Con and leading up to our next two major shows (likely APE 2009 and WonderCon 2010). Thanks to everyone for being patient.

- Joseph

Monday, June 22, 2009

Islands in the Sky: The Evolution, Part IV

When Genevieve and I met in 2005, we quickly found inspiration in each other's creativity. I loved Genevieve's art and the stuff she was doing for the game we were working on at Shaba at the time and I'd keep her entertained on IM with random stories that I told and evolved on the fly. To this day, we still sometimes go over our old chat logs and laugh at the ridiculous conversations we used to have.

Anyway, I wrote a story as a gift to a friend, Jacqueline, who I was playing WoW with around that time. I played on Kil'jaeden and was the guild leader of <and the Pussycats> and though Jacqueline was not in my guild, I played together quite often with her character, Apsara. The story cast our characters, Kayli and Apsara, in a story about...you know, it was pretty out there. It starts in a prison cell and eventually has pole dancing, rat bone toothpicks, a little girl on girl action (really a lot tamer than it sounds), nuns getting their teeth knocked out by Kayli, and...well, it was a lot of fun to write and was the first story I wrote that involved Kayli in years.

The story turned out pretty good and pretty funny and Jacqueline enjoyed it quite a bit. I had asked Genevieve's opinion about the story as I was writing it and so the three of us remain the only people who have read the story. After I had finished writing the story though, I realized I hadn't written a short story in a long time and I really enjoyed writing dialogue and humor and really enjoyed writing about Kayli as well. This bit of history is important because Kayli's personality as a character evolved directly from this short story I wrote. It is important to note, however, that at this time...I had not worked on ideas for Islands in the Sky in quite some time and had not considered Kayli as a character for it.

Moving on, at some point in 2007, I found the inspiration to write a story about Kayli again. Kayli is a character that I have used all my life (well, since high school) in various forms. As characters in short stories I wrote, as player characters in table top games I played, as characters in single player RPG's I played, etc. So while I never really developed her personality too much, I did govern my "play" of her as a "good" character. So if I played games like Fallout or whatever...a game I could make decisions in, I would play Kayli as the good guy. I had another character I used, "Sariya" (pronounced suh-RYE-yah)...and I used her as my "evil" alter ego. As you might gather, you don't really get to develop a character in this way...so writing short stories with Kayli was the best way to do it. So I wrote a new short story detailing the meeting between Kayli and Gordo (this is the first time Gordo appears as a character ever). Aspects of it have changed from the short story version to the comic but the basic premise (sort of a Goldilocks and the Three Bears) remained unchanged.

When Genevieve and I finally decided to collaborate on a creative project it was natural to attach Kayli to the world of IITS. Kayli has been a hundred different characters in a hundred different games but the Kayli in the world of Islands in the Sky is the definitive one. The world of IITS is perfect for her because it was created to give the reader a sense of wonder...to make them believe that anything can be over the next horizon...and Kayli, among other personality quirks, has an insatiable curiosity.

Among the many ideas we had to work on together, a comic book was one that came up pretty often. One evening, I put together some simple boards and Genevieve immediately brought them to life with her drawings. At the time, we thought they were awesome but looking back on them now, woof...well, Genevieve has developed her style quite a bit since then. Maybe as a bit of fun, we'll scan those older comic pages and include them here someday.

As a world idea, IITS was developed more or less entirely separately from Kayli...but both Kayli and the world of IITS have long histories. Hopefully, the descriptions of each have been of interest to the readers of this blog. The development of Kayli and Islands in the Sky still continues and every one of our readers is a part of the ongoing saga. I feel proud and privileged to have Genevieve as my partner in this endeavor. She has helped me breathe life into the world and characters and nothing I write doesn't go through her first. Likewise, she often comes to me to get feedback on her art and sometimes, when I step out of the situation...I realize how much we sweat small things but I realize it's this quality control we both strive for that makes our stuff as good as it can be and I'm sure our readers don't mind.

To give you and idea of how much we think about each shot, here's an actual conversation Genevieve and I had recently:

Joe: "I think the belt should hang lower because it'll look sexier...put it at sort of an angle but make sure it doesn't cover the top of her butt crack because that looks good."
Gen: "Mmm...you're right but then it'll force me to move her hand and I like how it pushes in her butt fat right now."
Joe: "Yeah...damn, okay...do what you can. Hmmm...should the nipple be pushed up or down?"
Gen: "Up. Definitely."

Thanks for coming in each week to get a dose of my ramblings. We're still hard at work trying to get some good stuff ready for Comic-Con next month. In fact, as a preview...the above conversation excerpt is from something we're working on for that show. =)

- Joseph

Monday, June 15, 2009

Islands in the Sky: The Evolution, Part III

In this third and hopefully final installment, I'll try to bring the story around full circle. Hang on a second, I need to go read where I left off last...hmmm, okay. Yeah, so Keno's Space Shooter was essentially a large scale space battle simulation. There was another major aspect of the game but I'm not going to reveal it at this time. From KSS, I conceived of an OGRE-like game in which there were basically two OGRE's in the desert and the goal for each side was to destroy the opposing giant battle tank. This was basically identical to KSS in every way except the space ships were replaced with land vehicles. The idea itself was pretty shortlived and it evolved quickly into Exodus.

Among the games that KSS evolved into, Exodus was unique insomuch that it was a single player game directed at consoles (whereas all other games I intended to be on PC). Exodus also had a better developed story, again...because it was a singleplayer game as opposed to a multiplayer game. Anyway, around the time that I was in Sherman Oaks, CA (in the summer of 2004) helping out Spark Unlimited with Call of Duty: Finest Hour, I hatched an idea (again, with my friend Frenton) for a game that was basically Miyazaki meets Codename Eagle. Basically, I wanted to marry the concept of floating islands with gliders and airships like Miyazaki had in Nausicaa with the frenetic gameplay of Codename Eagle. I nicknamed the the game...Islands in the Sky.

At the time, I wasn't really thinking of a story. In my mind, the setting, as far as games went, was pretty original. The gameplay was to be like Codename Eagle in spirit but not just taking a vehicles based game and setting it in a different environment. To be honest, I came up with the single paragraph for the pitch, came up with the project nickname, and pitched it to about four friends on the same day. Nothing ever came of it for a very long time and no one other than Frenton expressed any real interest. It was a longshot, to be able to form your own game company from nothing with zero cash, but we both felt that we had to start someplace.

Over the years, I quietly developed the idea on paper and in my own head and got feedback from Frenton when I could. The idea evolved over time and many games that I played, including Monster Hunter and Shadow of the Colossus, turned out to be significant influences on the game. I decided that I wanted the world to be persistent and that every player would have their own "home island" which they decorate and add gameplay enhancing expansions to. I had a real problem with MMO's during this time. I hated them. I loved the idea of them but hated the gameplay. Hated that each one was essentially a copy of Everquest. Hated that very few people were exploring grand scale MMO's in any other form other than World of Warcraft. It boggles the mind. As a developer, you got to ask yourself..."Is my MMO better than WoW?" If the answer is "No,"? Stop. Blizzard is working on another MMO. I don't know what it is but I can guarantee you, it's not going to be like WoW. Why the hell would they compete with themselves? They are going to explore the other possibilities the MMO space can offer and they're going to make gangbusters once again and then every developer out there still working on their "WoW-Killer" is going to be like..."Ohhhhh...that was clever." /end rant

Where was I? I was seeing red for a moment there. Oh yeah, I wanted IITS to explore the MMO space in a different way and all of the previous games I had been developing ideas for in my own time resulted in the current vision for IITS. Still, despite all the time I spent thinking about this game, I never really developed characters or a story for it. That is, until I met Genevieve...

P.S. I lied. There will be another installment and it will bring us up to date...basically two years ago till the present.

- Joseph

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Islands in the Sky: The Evolution, Part II

Genevieve and I are huge fans of Codename Eagle. If you're unfamiliar with it, it's the game that Refraction made before they were acquired by DICE who then developed Battlefield 1942 and later became acquired by Electronic Arts themselves. While I really enjoyed BF1942, Codename Eagle holds a special place in my heart that will never be replaced. While the single-player aspect of the game was only so so, the game really shined in multiplayer. Combining great physics, vehicle stunting, hilarious bugs, and happy accidents in gameplay, Codename Eagle is one of my favorite games of all time. You know you truly understand the game when every time you die, you laugh your ass off. However, the game isn't about dying, it's about trying to pull off the most daring, death-defying flag grab and get away with it. Dying as a result is just the hilarious consolation prize.

Let me rewind a bit, though. Before I even met Genevieve, my friend Frenton and I dreamt of another game idea that was basically Codename Eagle meets Exodus. Initally, I thought of a way to try and combine the ideas for the game with the Exodus storyline. In fact, the very first iteration of the Islands in the Sky world was supposed to appear at the end of Exodus. Since that game will probably never be made, I'll give away the ending. You do reach the Oasis but it's not a patch of verdant land in an otherwise dead, stark landscape...it was the edge of reality as the Silt Raiders understood it. The desert they lived in was vast but it did not make up the entirety of their world. In this new part of the planet, they encountered completely different civilizations who used flying machines to get around. The next game in the Exodus Trilogy addressed how the Silt Raiders coped with living in their new world. Rather than disappear into obscurity, they turn the new world upside down with their unconventional thinking and fighting styles...adapting the flying machines to their own ways.

Naturally, the second game would be very different in terms of gameplay...but gameplay is king and while it would have been a tremendous gamble to build the first game around one set of rules and then change them almost completely for the second game, I figured that fans of the first would understand the transition and embrace it as proper for the story while new fans wouldn't know what the first game was about anyway. A third game was "planned" of course...all just in our heads. For the third game in the trilogy, I actually toyed with the idea of going backwards to the game that inspired Exodus...a massively multiplayer space sim.

The space sim, named Keno's Space Shooter (it was a temporary title) was something I came up with around 1997. I'm going to guess it was 1997 because in early 1998, I actually pitched the game to a Microsoft producer named Scott...something (don't recall his last name) at the Computer Game Developer's Conference (back when "Computer" was still in the name) in Long Beach, CA. Coincidentally, it's the same year I met my good friend Vince Riley, one of the people Genevieve and I give thanks to on the back page of the comic. Anyway, I was a volunteer at the conference (so was Vince) and we were allowed to pick which panels we wanted to work so I picked a RPG round table discussion that Warren Spector and Tom Hall (of Ion Storm at the time) hosted. Wearing my silly, yellow CGDC volunteer shirt (or was it red that year?), I raised my hand at one point to add to the discussion. I recall being very nervous, because while we were allowed to participate, the volunteer shirt I wore...which let everyone in the room know I was a non-developer noob, made me feel very small. Anyway, I added that I thought that the industry had not yet addressed the need for a CRPG that addressed the gap in what all previous CRPG's had...the lack of a live GM (Game Master or Dungeon Master) who would have the tools to run a tabletop like session in real time over the internet. The statement actually shut the room up and everyone just stared at me for a moment while they digested this info. Two people talked to me after that panel. A developer who simply said something to the effect of "Nice job, rookie...you had some good ideas in there," which made me feel good. The other guy was Scott from Microsoft.

Scott also liked my ideas and wanted to hear more about my ideas on RPG's. Well, I actually had written up a small design doc on the idea of having a live GM in a game but that was my ace up my sleeve and I wasn't about to give it away (even though I blurted it out during the round table). On a side note, unbeknownst to me, Nihilistic was already working on Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption, which featured the ability to have a live GM. It would be published by Activision, a company that I would later work at as a first party developer (with Shaba) for seven years. Anyway, he said he was looking to hire a designer to be tasked with creating a new RPG for Microsoft because Microsoft was going to be starting up a new games division and a) they wanted RPG's, b) they only had one designer: Alexey Pajitnov. I was naive enough to believe that they might actually hire a zero experience guy like me but I still wasn't going to give away my big secret...instead, I pitched him another idea that I had been working on: Keno's Space Shooter.

The pitch went something like this: You create a Quake (this is 1998) map and model it to look like the interior of a large space ship. Then you open the console and type "noclip" and then fly outside the map. That void all around you? That's space. Now create a another ship, throw dudes into each one to crew all the various positions in the ship and now it's capital ship versus capital ship. You can be a marine sent to board the enemy ship, you could be a fighter jock and fly out with your squadron to attack the enemy ship (and other single seat fighters), you could be an engineer running around the inside of the ship reparing broken components (as well as in an EVA suit fixing the ship from the outside), and you could be part of the ship's crew...classic Star Trek style. The captain and crew of the ship controlled the ship's movements, the firing of their main guns, how to direct the shields, etc.

At one point during the pitch, I said something to the effect of "The great thing about it is that new players can jump right into the action by just manning a turret." This was referring the the many gun turrets that each capital ship had. In this mode, you didn't have any responsibility other than to point and shoot at incoming enemy fighters. This is an important point during the pitch and we'll come back that to it later. I left the conference with hopes that Scott would actually call me up for a job and while we corresponded via email for a few weeks, I never got the job. To the best of my knowledge, the job went to Chris Taylor (of Total Annilhiation fame) and he went on to create Dungeon Siege for Microsoft.

Now, what I'm about to say is outrageous and I don't have any definitive proof but I'm convinced that Microsoft borrowed my idea...the pitch I gave to Scott, one of their producers...to create a game called Allegiance. I know that no one will believe me but in my mind this is absolutely true. In 2000, when I was working at Electronic Arts as in Technical Support, I was reading an issue of PC Gamer when I came upon an interview for the game. In the interview, I shit you not, the guy says "The great thing about it is that new players can jump right into the action by just manning a turret." Frenton remembers this moment too. He didn't know me very well at the time. He was talking to some co-workers, one Bradley Fulton and one Peter something, about starting up their own game company (we were all in Tech Support at the time) when I stormed up with the magazine and said "Fuckers! They totally fucking stole my game, those cocksucking motherfuckers!". Frenton looked up and said, "Hey, you want to make a game with us?"...and was the start of our friendship.

Preview: In Part III of this epic series, I stop digressing and get on with things.

- Joseph

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Islands in the Sky: The Evolution, Part I

I know our readers would much rather hear about what Islands in the Sky related content that Genevieve and I will create for this year's big show in San Diego, but we're not quite ready to reveal that yet. Also, we're still working on it and delays sometimes happen and we don't want to make promises only to later dash people's hopes. Rest assured, we're doing our best to make a good showing...for both our current readers and potential new ones. In the meanwhile, I'll use this post to talk about some of the early influences of Islands in the Sky and hope that by the time I'm done, no one will be asleep.

Years before I met and became friends with Genevieve, I conceived of a video game idea (with the help of my friend, Chris Frenton) which was basically Waterworld minus the water...I'll explain this more later. In this world, water was the one thing there wasn't enough of. The world the characters were a part of was almost completely BONE dry. The oceans were gone, in their place was vast expanses of silt. For all intents and purposes of the game...the silt acted like more or less water. You could drown in it, you could sail on it, but...you couldn't drink it. People built all sorts of vehicles to skim over this silt to get from solid ground to solid ground...island to island if you will.

Most sources of water or oasis', were controlled by despotic rulers we referred to simply as Water Barons. People under the rule of these Barons suffered greatly for meager rations of food and water in return for hard labor. Living outside the rule of these Barons were the Silt Raiders. Basically, pirates. Silt Raiders, uh...raided the Water Baron holdings for supplies and water and fought to free those subjugated under their rule. That was the story behind the game...the game itself was basically a post apocalyptic open world action game with vehicles and lots of acrobatics.

The player controlled a member of Silt Raiders who rises up in power and eventually leads them. As the game progressed, the player would learn how to play and be introduced to new mechanics and modes till eventually the player could actually make a lot of neat decisions on how to run his band of pirates. Anyway, the main plot of the story centers around the rumors of a legendary Oasis...basically, a place where there is water enough for everyone. At some point, it becomes more than just a legend and some evidence of the oasis being real is discovered. Realizing that they cannot possibly win against the Barons, the Silt Raiders build a great big ship...an ark if you will, rescue as many slaves as possible and then embark on a journey to find the legendary oasis. If it sounds sort of biblical, we thought so too and named the game Exodus.

Early in the story, you would conduct raids from the Silt Raider base, which acted as a hub for the game. You would patrol the silt for ships laden with water and/or slaves. Later, when you build the ark, your hub became mobile and the area which you were familiar with is left behind for new areas to explore. During the course of the game, you would recruit new major NPC's to fulfill roles on the ship, upgrade the ship in various ways and, eventually...have to fight off the Water Baron's men (which were sent after you).

Okay, so how is it like Waterworld? Well, it's actually the reverse of it...instead of water everywhere and looking for dry land, there is dry land everywhere and you're looking for water. However, more importantly...the action sequences in the movie were a driving point for the mechanics for the actual game. The mechanics actually came first...the story cropped up around that.

What about the silt? Though a few friends thought that the influence was the Dark Sun campaign setting, I was more influenced by Waterworld, as I mentioned, and Arthur C. Clarke's novel, A Fall of Moondust...which is great, fun, sci-fi thriller. The story revolves around a group of tourists who get trapped under moon dust when their skimmer malfunctions. However, I am familiar with the Dark Sun setting. In fact, we could just say Exodus is like Dark Sun with a focus on the Seas of Silt...but then everyone knows what Waterworld is and very few people know of Dark Sun...so it's just easier to compare it to Waterworld.

What does this all have to do with Islands in the Sky? Well, it makes more sense when you realize that Islands in the Sky was also originally conceived of as a game and, as with all games, you should come up with the mechanics and gameplay first...


- Joseph

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gearing up for Comic-Con!

At Comic-Con, the potential audience we can reach with our comic is tremendous and we're really excited at the prospect of getting the book into as many hands as possible. However, due to the fact that our application for a small press table at Comic-Con was initially rejected...we didn't plan to focus our work on the comic to fall within deadlines in July. Instead, we focused on trying to promote the comic at some local shows till next year's WonderCon...then we got the call from the Comic-Con people. While we were elated that we got a table based on a cancellation, we were a bit concerned that we were quickly running out of time to get stuff ready for that show.

After some discussion, Genevieve and I have committed the months of June and July to making a big push for Comic-Con. We hope to have some significant new content for the comic for the big show in San Diego this year. What that means exactly? We're not quite ready to reveal yet. It's a tough schedule to juggle between various other commitments but as we get closer to Comic-Con, we'll let you know how we're doing.

P.S. Sorry for the bland post...I'll try to make up for it later this week with something a little more interesting...but I really need to get back to the storyboards for right now.

- Joseph