There’s never a dull moment for Hal Jordan. In a narrative set immediately after the events of the new “Green Lantern” film, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment’s Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters video game sees the test-pilot-turned-intergalactic-superhero once again tasked with saving the universe. Hero Complex contributor Mike Winder recently chatted with Rise of the Manhunters writer and comics veteran Marv Wolfman — author of “The New Teen Titans,” “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “The Tomb of Dracula,” among other titles — about the villainous Manhunters, communicating across the galaxy and writing for video games versus comics.
HC: What’s the basic premise of Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters?
MW: Hal Jordan was a test pilot — which has been part of the DC mythology since 1958 — and as a test pilot he was always the sole person in the jet. He would do the cockiest things in the world and he’d get in trouble all the time, but it didn’t matter to him because that was his personality. But he gets brought into the long-existing Green Lantern Corps and suddenly he’s part of a group and has to fit in to a larger organization. He can’t just be on his own anymore. He has to learn about teamwork, friendship and meeting expectations. He has to understand the consequences of his actions and he has to take on a menace he knows nothing about — the Manhunters.
HC: Where is the game set?
MW: The game begins right after the movie with an attack on Oa, the homeworld of the Guardians of the Universe. It moves to other worlds as well, including Zamarron, home to a female race of warriors, and Biot, the homeworld of the Manhunters. The Manhunters are a race of robots created by the Guardians to be the initial corps to bring law and order throughout the universe. But over a period of time the Manhunters went rogue, and the Guardians got rid of them and created the Green Lantern Corps. So in this game the original Corps are coming back.
MW: Part of the story is finding out why the Manhunters are returning?
MW: The Guardians want to know what’s going on. Why have the Manhunters picked this moment to return? It all ties into a long history of Green Lantern story lines where previous groups of characters come back to seek revenge. But there’s another big mystery behind it as well, which I’m not going to spoil here.
HC: How different is writing for games versus comics?
MW: They’re completely different. I’ve written comics, animation, novels and TV and every medium is different. But games are not always linear. When you’re writing a comic book, a script or a novel, the stories are fairly linear and you’re in control. You determine the pace of the story, how the scenes unfold, and you build the character’s emotions in a series of deliberate moves. In games, the player determines an awful lot. So you have to start thinking in a very different way. Rather than following events from A to B to C to D, you sprinkle ideas here and there and lead the player in certain directions, hoping that they’ll go in the direction you want them to go. But you have to give them a story no matter which way they go.
HC: You’ve written for DC Universe Online, an MMO (massively multiplayer online game). How different is that?
MW: In an MMO, players have a vast open world and can pick wherever they want to go. They may decide not to follow the main story at all. But as a writer you pepper in ideas to let them know what the story is and try to bring them back. Writing something much more interactive, where the player leads the charge, makes it so much more interesting. I really love it. I’ve been writing for a long time and sometimes it’s possible to fall into a certain groove. With games you can’t; the technology won’t let you. And every game is set up for the player to act in a different way. Some games are on a rail, some games are open and some games give you multiple choices.
HC: What kind of choices are available in Rise of the Manhunters?
MW: The game allows you to choose many different ways to combat the villains. You have so many choices because Hal’s ring can create all these constructs. So each time you play the game, you may attack the problem in a completely different way. As a writer I need to take that all into consideration and try to write it in such a way that I keep the player going through the storyline, but also allow them to be in control at the same time. It’s great fun. I’m a gamer as well so it’s something that comes second nature to me. I’ve been playing since the beginning and have had consoles since the very first ColecoVision.
MW: Have you incorporated any gaming storytelling techniques back into the comics?
MW: Comics in the past were always done for much younger kids. Games, because of the nature of so many of the games, are meant for older players. With games you can place things in the world, and since they’re older they can understand and make decisions for themselves. I’ve actually used that concept in comics as well, where I don’t feel the need to explain every detail as I would to an 8-year-old. Today’s comic book readers are going to be 25 to 50 years old, just like gamers, so you can assume a certain amount of intelligence and not have to feed them all this material. They can make the decisions. They can handle it on their own. And that’s one of the things I really enjoy. I don’t have to explain everything, but at the end they will have figured out a majority of the story. They’re filling in the details, and that’s wonderful.
HC: Are there any storytelling elements from comic books that you’d like to work into video games?
MW: One thing I love in comics that I’d like to see more of in video games is the soap opera aspect. A number of years ago, if you were playing Wolfenstein, Doom, Tomb Raider or any character- or event-driven game, there weren’t any real characterizations given. Now we have a lot of games coming out that have stories about people. And as technology allows I’d like to see more divergent story lines within the main game, where we learn more about the characters and the situations in the world. I’d like to see real solid character stories, interactions between dozens and dozens of characters and the ability to follow different characters and watch how they impact the story. Having said that, you can root for a character and understand their motivation, but the gameplay always has to come first. As a writer, I can never forget that, because if you’re not enjoying the game, it doesn’t matter how good the characters are.
HC: Did anything like that make it into Rise of the Manhunters?
MW: We did a little bit because of the ring’s ability to communicate across the galaxy. That was built into the ring in the first year of Green Lantern, back in 1958. And because of that ability we didn’t need to have all the Green Lanterns on camera, so to speak. So Hal Jordan, who’s on Zamarron, can be talking with Kilowog, who is on Biot. That allows for a nice type of character build-up that you couldn’t have done previously. The dialogue between Hal and Sinestro, where they’re insulting each other, was a lot of fun to write. And throwing Kilowog on top of that was a blast. It keeps the game light and fun, even while you’re fighting for your life.
HC: Video games are sometimes pointed to as a medium that hurt the comics industry. As somebody who works in both worlds, what do you say to that?
MW: I actually disagree with that concept completely. The experiences of video games and reading — whether it’s comics, novels or anything else — are completely different. One of the reasons I really love games is that when I’m playing a video game 100% of my attention has to be on the game. My mind can’t wander, because if I’m not paying total attention, I’ll be killed. When I’m reading a book, I can pause. I can think about what’s going on, I can create mind scenarios and I can even tell myself some stories along the way. The two experiences are completely different, and consequently they accomplish different things within you. It would be like saying that playing baseball has prevented you from reading a comic book. Video games put you in a different type of world than reading does.
— Mike Winder
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