With talent like comic book artist Mike Choi and award-winning science fiction author John Scalzi attached to it, an interactive comic book tie-in for upcoming mobile shooter Morning Star was a no-brainer. But Morning Star Alpha is much more than a game supplement — it's a fresh new idea that every game with a rich fiction should steal.
We've not seen much about Morning Star proper since the mobile game was announced back in December of last year. There were brief glimpses of gameplay, some kick-ass concept art by Choi, and a snippet of back story, courtesy of Mr. Scalzi. In February we were introduced to Morning Star Alpha, the interactive comic book prequel that tells the story of what happens aboard the MSRV Joplin research vessel as it prepares to embark on the critical mission that picks up in Morning Star.
Industrial Toys founder and president Tim Harris promised an interactive experience unlike any other digital comic book, with decisions made in one game affecting character and plot interactions in the other. During a recent interview with the entire team — Choi, Scalzi, Harris and Alex Seropian, Bungie co-founder and CEO of Industrial Toys — Harris explained the reasoning between the two different-yet-connected games.
"How do you tell a story in a game when players on mobile are expecting to spend anywhere from 30 seconds to 120 seconds at a time with your game?" Harris asked. "If you look at what's successful, i.e. what people want, it's quick interactions. On the flip side, people sit with their Kindle and they'll read for hours. Seemed like a pretty cool idea to do both of those in the same universe."
While Industrial Toys certainly has the talent to pull off a highly-compelling graphic novel-style prequel, it wasn't enough for artist Choi and writer Scalzi to stop there. They aren't simply building a game — they're building a living, breathing universe from the ground up.
Though the Morning Star shooter experience will be a 3D affair, Choi's concept art is the basis for every model. With so much of himself invested in the project, Morning Star Alpha had to be more than another comic book.
"If it was just a case of me doing another graphic novel ... I probably would have just kept on doing what I had been doing up to this point," said Choi. "Marvel and DC stuff, my own book, or whatever. This was definitely a situation — not just a brand-new challenge where I feel I can definitely bring something to the table, but also exposing myself to a brand-new field which I haven't had much experience in.
"Morning Star Alpha is the culmination of everything I've learned in the video game industry, but also what I learned over a decade in comic books, where I can actually show that shit off."
Meanwhile, on writing duties, John Scalzi has written a great many things. He's written the story for the game. He's written character bios. He's written a timeline leading up to the events in. He's written dialogue and attitudes that change base on your actions.
You'll get Scalzi's words and Choi's art in Morning Star proper, but in Alpha they really get a chance to shine — to show off a universe so vast and fully-realized you'll get the feeling that there are countless other stories going on outside the frame of these two titles. It's much more work than one would expect for a pair of mobile titles.
"We don't want people to feel that just because they're going to a mobile environment that they have to sacrifice things," Scalzi explained. "That they don't get the same sort of immersiveness, that they don't get the same sort of context, that they don't get the same sort of energy from the entire project.
"We wanted to make sure we break free of the prejudices we have in terms of platforms. That you can have this sort of rich, immersive experience whether it's on a console, whether it's mobile — wherever."
So what does Morning Star Alpha do that other comic book tie-ins don't? Check this out.
It's the branching dialogue and choices of a Mass Effect. It's the high-octane, Americanised evolution of the Japanese visual novel. It's a Choose Your Own Adventure book that keeps going after the final page is turned. It's an incredibly cool concept that hopefully won't stay a rarity in the game industry.
Morning Star Alpha and Morning Star are due out later this year on iOS.