As a fan of actor Thomas Jane this was a pretty cool interview to set up. After setting up the interview with Dan Borth via the PR rep, I opted to try to hit a home run by contacting Thomas Jane. Subsequently I ended up getting to interview both Thomas and his creative partner Tim Bradstreet.
Conducted via Skype it was extremely cool to get some insight from Thomas and Tim, not just focusing on obvious stuff like their connections to Marvel’s The Punisher, but the creativity they put into their sci-fi comic Bad Planet.
Original article follows below.
These days certain types of genre fair are given to us but most of the time it doesn’t quite hit the spot we’re looking for. There are certainly things released in either the film or video game industries that are good for what they are, but it’s rare to see something that truly sticks out in a good way. The sci-fi genre itself has had mixed results over the last few years, especially in the world of video games. Despite offering endless possibilities, most games with a sci-fi setting have followed cliched genre tropes that of course involve bald space marines sprouting one-liners all the time. At this juncture things may look grim for those wanting a sci-fi video game that pushes the envelope, especially in the wake of the Prey 2 debacle, but one project that may give us the goods is Bad Planet.
The brainchild of actor Thomas Jane and illustrator Tim Bradstreet, Bad Planet isn’t a new property as it started out in 2005 as a comic book. The debut title from Raw Studios, the company which Thomas and Tim co-founded, Bad Planet tells the story of the Convict – a hardened alien warrior who ultimately becomes a savior of sorts for an Earth that’s overrun by giant alien spiders whose sole purpose is to kill everything. After being a part of the comic book world for seven years, Bad Planet is making the leap to video games thanks to developer Red Fly Studio.
Originating from a dream Thomas Jane had one night Bad Planet is more than a pulp sci-fi comic as it tackles some rather major themes while trying to entertain people. “The idea of a hostile takeover being kind of nature’s way of culling the weak is a theme that I think stems from the idea that the human desire for violence and destruction will turn out to be our weakness on a universal scale,” said Thomas Jane in an interview with Shogun Gamer.
With a rather heavy plot that involves a protagonist that is more of an antihero, Bad Planet certainly has a different vibe compared to what we’ve seen before. Even more the game itself, which is currently seeking to be funded independently via Kickstarter, is aiming to be a 3rd person melee combat action game with an episodic basis. So at long last we have a sci-fi video game that thankfully opts to provide constant in your face melee combat as opposed to shooting behind cover all the time.
Red Fly Studio CEO Dan Borth had this to say concerning the combat of Bad Planet, “We can generally expect a melee-focused game puts the main focus on the weapons themselves, how each one is used and feels in battle, and the new abilities they allow the player when the weapons themselves are leveled up. To build up on that for Bad Planet, we are of course making weapons the Convict uses in the comic book available for players and are finding creative ways to incorporate their physics into melee focused combat, which a player can evolve in-game.”
While the game is still in the early stages of development, concepts are being discussed which could further make the project stand out even more. Besides offering melee action when playing as the Convict or more stealth based elements when playing as Anan, a child that befriends the Convict, Bad Planet may provide near endless replayability. “We’re also talking about making some of those levels infinitely playable by randomizing things within the levels. So if you’re into carnage you can go back and just carve up spiders if that’s what you want to have fun with. So the randomizing would be so you weren’t just playing the same adventure over and over again, you’re getting spiders coming from areas so it’s so random you can conceivably play in that area quite a lot and not have the same experience,” said Bad Planet co-creator Tim Bradstreet.
As an episodic game the team behind Bad Planet is hoping to provide a series of adventures that would each last around four hours. That number may seem small for those of us that sink hours into Skyrim or even God of War, but each episode of the game will be a standalone adventure that in turn will tell a bigger story; essentially being the perfect comic book based video game experience.
Despite being a property that not too many people may be familiar with, I think a video game adaptation of Bad Planet is something that needs to happen. The narrative of the game is rather unique as it stretches to things beyond just being another alien invasion tale, which in addition to the action-adventure basis could make for a hell of a game to play especially considering it’ll be presented in small chunks we can experience whenever we desire. Right now the initial Kickstarter campaign for the Bad Planet game may not reach its goal but the project is far from being done. “The plan now is that we’re already regrouping for a relaunch so we’re not giving up on it and we’re fighting the good fight,” said Tim Bradstreet.
It’s good to hear that Thomas and Tim aren’t going to push the Bad Planet video game aside as it could be something truly cool to see and more importantly it would just be nice to see some raw sci-fi represented that doesn’t adhere to a cookie cutter mold.
You can check out my full interviews with Dan Borth from along with my interview with Thomas Jane and Tim Bradstreet below. If you want to show your support then head over to the Bad Planet Kickstarter page or take a gander at the Raw Studios site to stay up to date on the latest happenings.
Interview With Red Fly Studio CEO Dan Borth
Ian Fisher: Most people immediately associate Bad Planet with Raw Studios but now Red Fly Studio is in the mix through the development of the Bad Planet video game. So what made Red Fly want to adapt the world of Bad Planet into a video game and was it easy to convince the team at Raw to proceed with such a thing?
Dan Borth: We at Red Fly Studio are big fans of the Bad Planet comic so we wanted nothing more than to be hands-on with the universe by adapting the story and combat into a video game setting. Raw Studios was immediately on board upon seeing we could take the images in their comics and reanimate them faithfully in full motion action. They loved seeing us take their universe and bring it to life.
Ian: Despite their popularity we really don’t see many comic books adapted into video games minus for those that are tied into movies. So with that said, what sort of statement is the development team looking to make when it comes to presenting a fairly substantial game that happens to be based on a popular comic book?
Dan: As big comic book readers, we know that everyone who reads a graphic novel and enjoys it wants nothing more than to be in the action. We want to be that bridge between being the reader of a comic book and fighting alongside your favorite characters in front of you. It was extremely encouraging to see a comic like Daybreak, which not only put the reader in the action, it made the reader the main character of the story, making the reader view each panel in the first person. Now, with the exponential growth of the video game medium, Red Fly Studio wants to not only to be the facilitator of that for Bad Planet readers.
Ian: For over fifty years comic books have mostly maintained the same structure of presenting a series of panels to the reader and telling a usually epic story that will span the course of several issues or even several months. How is the team at Red Fly adapting the core elements of Bad Planet into a video game that will likely have ten hours of combined gameplay as opposed to a comic that can be read in an hour or two?
Dan: Adapting the core elements of a one to two hour long read into a ten-hour or more video game is about taking the combat you see in each panel and drawing it out in action video game form. Allowing the player to not only see the Convict wielding his power axe in each panel but also control the Convict and lead him through battle will not just incorporate but also open the elements of Bad Planet to a whole new level of immersion.
Ian: In a lot of ways most comic books/graphic novels have an added dimension added due to the imagination of the reader and how they may read the dialog that’s presented to them; in some cases putting themselves in the shoes of the main character. So what sort of things is Red Fly doing to capture that same essence while still adding the extra flavor that most video games have on the narrative front? Will such a thing be achieved through presenting static cutscenes done in the same art style as represented in the comics or will the game feature fully rendered cinematic cutscenes?
Dan: We are working closely with Raw Studios to make sure every full motion portrayal of the characters and universe is consistent with how they were presented in the comic book in such a way that players can still put a bit of themselves into how they see it. We don’t have concrete plans to share about how cutscenes will be used to accomplish this, but we are definitely inspired by games such as InFamous, which successfully married the use of full motion gameplay with stills of comic book panels as cutscenes. As gamers and comic book fans, it was encouraging to see the story begin and progress in comic book panels and then be thrust into the action during the core gameplay.
Ian: Thankfully Bad Planet is bucking the trend of most sci-fi games by being a 3rd person action title instead of yet another FPS. What has it been like to adapt the action seen in a comic book into a melee focused game amidst a generation which seems to heavily favor the FPS genre or games that are just too simplistic for their own good?
Dan: The appeal of comic books is that they give players more than just assigning missions, seeing a character complete a mission, and then advancing to the next stage. They spend a lot of time developing character, which is crucial since a comic book reader doesn’t get the distraction of playing through a mission and being given nothing else, which is what we see in most of today’s most popular games in the FPS genre. Because of that, we feel that this generation of gamers, especially those who venture outside the mainstream FPS genre, are hungry for any game that digs deeper and lets players control and witness a character get into the heat of combat melee style, giving a much more immersive and hands-on approach.
Ian: There aren’t a lot of video games out there which are based solely or mostly around melee combat and those that do offer such a thing are usually regarded very highly. So what sort of things is the development team hoping to achieve with the combat of Bad Planet and how much variety can gamers ultimately expect from the project? And ultimately, what sort of tone and attitude can we expect from how the Convict battles?
Dan: Since there aren’t many games based solely around melee combat, this gives us a finite picture to look at to assess what else can be added to melee-focused games. We can generally expect a melee-focused game puts the main focus on the weapons themselves, how each one is used and feels in battle, and the new abilities they allow the player when the weapons themselves are leveled up. To build up on that for Bad Planet, we are of course making weapons the Convict uses in the comic book available for players and are finding creative ways to incorporate their physics into melee focused combat, which a player can evolve in-game.
Ian: Some gamers may remember Red Fly Studio for their rather exceptional Wii games which managed to break the perception gamers have when it came to ports of HD games. With Bad Planet being a unique departure compared to the previous games the studio has worked on, what has it been like to jump into a rather extensive universe which actually allows creative freedom as opposed to sticking with a very rigid set of rules?
Dan: Getting to work with a game that is planned for consoles as well as PC gives us an even bigger wealth of controls to play it. This lets us focus on the combat controls with both a mouse AND a controller, which gives us more room. Also because we don’t need to incorporate the motion controls of a Wii, we can also spend more time focusing on the visuals of the combat, perfecting them, and making them true to the comic and also visually engaging. Who doesn’t love a satisfying explosion massacre of aliens and Death Spiders?
Ian: One of the unique things about Bad Planet is that it’s pretty much hard sci-fi without any immediate glitz or hollow flash to it. Such a tone has certainly made the comic series stand apart from other titles and in turn could make the video game separate itself from the rest of the pack as well. With that said do you think the tone of Bad Planet is kind of a blessing and a curse in the sense that it doesn’t have the broad appeal that most blockbuster games have which in turn may make it a niche title that isn’t seen by as many people that should scope it out?
Dan: We first of all feel blessed to get to work with a game that lacks the glitz and hollow flash of many blockbuster games. Now the challenge is to present the game in such a way whether it be via gameplay and story, so it can be put in front of a mainstream audience while still staying faithful to the IP. We will achieve this by making the combat as crisp and satisfying as possible, staying true to the brutality and gore in the comic, and creating an engaging story that will be appealing to gamers who look for character-driven experiences, while also staying true to who the Convict is and the universe of Bad Planet.
Ian: Bad Planet is one of the few games that is going the episodic route instead of offering one whole game with a $60 price tag. This generation we’ve seen a few other developers go the episodic route but it’s still something that hasn’t widely caught on. Has going the episodic route with Bad Planet resulted in any unique challenges as to how the game should be paced and structured or has it been a relatively easy process?
Dan: Going the episodic route also presents the challenges of not only keeping players engaged throughout each episode but also pulling in more fans after each successful episode. To accomplish this, each episode will be made to exist as a stand-alone story but all episodes will definitely fit together to create a larger story. That way, players can jump in any time and still be engaged while there is great incentive to play from beginning to end.
Ian: Right now the plan is to have an episode of Bad Planet last anywhere between 2 to 4 hours on an initial playthrough. Now a lot of developers occasionally struggle with the length of an episodic game mostly due to the mindset gamers have about such a thing, both when it’s tied to how much the game costs and what they normally play. Now could the length of an average Bad Planet episode grow as development continues or is that a locked goal as of now? Also, do you think there’ll be an initial hump to overcome as to what gamers expect out of an episodic game?
Dan: Our job as the developers is to set the expectations right in the first episode: make the first 2 to 4 hours of initial playthrough leave the player wanting more so that he/she is compelled to play through that episode again, growing and customizing the Convict in different ways, while also leaving enough open ended so the player will also look forward to the next episode.
Interview With Thomas Jane and Tim Bradstreet
Ian Fisher: It was mentioned that the initial concept or inspiration for Bad Planet arose out of a rather horrific dream that you had involving spiders. Obviously such a thing turned out to be a good occurrence of sorts as it led you to become inspired and ultimately go forth creating Bad Planet. Can you tell us how you came up with the general themes of the comic and overall direction of the series since it features a nice stylistic mash-up along with some rather hard-edged sci-fi?
Tim Bradstreet: Wasn’t it kind of a fever dream Tom where your body was being attacked and the spiders represented that?
Thomas Jane: In the fever dream that I had spiders were attacking and the landscape turned out to be my body. The idea of a hostile takeover being kind of nature’s way of culling the weak is a theme that I think stems from the idea that the human desire for violence and destruction will turn out to be our weakness on a universal scale. And that will result in us being selected to be destroyed. So that’s one of the themes; is humanity worthy of a place in the universe with our weakness being our predilection to violence which will end up being not kosher with the rest of the universe. Everybody wants to make humans the good guys and the truth is I don’t think that’s true. I think humanity is the bad guys and that’s what my true feeling is. We have not mastered our basic destructive instincts and therefore are not worthy of a place in the universal hierarchy of consciousness.
Ian: Usually it’s common for an established comic book to make the jump to the world of film or in some cases TV. With Bad Planet you’re breaking the trend in a way by expanding the property in the world of video games. Was a Bad Planet video game something that always lingered in the back of your minds and was there perhaps any reservations about adapting the series into a video game rather than something else such as animated project?
Thomas: Tim and I always envisioned it as an epic graphic novel. We never envisioned it as a video game or as an animated thing. We just saw it as an epic graphic novel.
Tim: We were approached and when we were asked the question of whether or not we would be interested I think the answer was a resounding yes. Things were elevated more than the comics since video games offer a more personable experience. It also gives us the opportunity to explore things we couldn’t in the comic. So there’s stuff we can do in the video game that we couldn’t the in comic so that’s what cool and fun about it.
Ian: As the creators of the series what has it been like to adapt the core elements of Bad Planet into a video game that will likely have a six hour play time as opposed to a comic that can be read in an hour or two over the course of months or even years?
Tim: Well the game is episodic so we’ll get some of that history in the first game where you introduce people into the world. And from that single adventure other adventures will tie into it.
Thomas: How long is the first episode again? They said the gameplay was up to four hours right?
Tim: Yeah the gameplay is around four hour’s right now. We’re also talking about making some of those levels infinitely playable by randomizing things within the levels. So if you’re into carnage you can go back and just carve up spiders if that’s what you want to have fun with. So the randomizing would be so you weren’t just playing the same adventure over and over again, you’re getting spiders coming from areas so it’s so random you can conceivably play in that area quite a lot and not have the same experience. There’s still stuff we’re mulling around and discussing because obviously we’re trying to fund it and we haven’t gotten to the stage where we’re ironing out everything we want to do.
Ian: Since video games are such an evolving medium that in a lot of ways are either matching or eclipsing some of the major blockbusters released by Hollywood, do you think there’s a better way to perhaps marry the worlds of video games and comic books? Do you think there’s potential out there to do something more than simply reading a comic on a iPad, perhaps by making it become more interactive or at the very least should more comics look towards the game industry to expand their creative horizons?
Tim: I think people are constantly testing the waters there. But when you normally see a Marvel game they just license it to the big companies and I really don’t think you’re getting the best of that character under those circumstances. With what we’re trying to do we’re obviously focused on trying to do something different even though we’re in the 3rd person adventure game environment – of which they’re many. We’re trying to make this thing different and stretch the envelope of that. But to answer your question I think yes, there’s room for cross-pollination between comics and video games and I think that moving forward you’ll see more bigger licenses take chances and thinking out of the box to take advantage of what to do with video games.
Ian: Over the years video games have expanded greatly in what they allow both the player and the developer to do since the technology today eclipses what we had five years ago. So is there a newfound sense of freedom in creating the Bad Planet game since you may now be able to do things you otherwise couldn’t do in the comic or couldn’t properly convey without the basis of an interactive experience?
Thomas: We’re halfway through part 2 of the two-part series that is Bad Planet. Basically, there are places we haven’t explored like how many alien species are out there in the hierarchy. There’s a hint of that hierarchal universal order. In the game I think we’re going to serialize it, make it far enough that we get to explore other planets and other species that we haven’t even touched on in the comic.
Tim: Episodically we can touch on a lot of this stuff. In the first adventure we can really expand on what’s happening when Anan and the Convict meet. So everything is expanded. In the comic books there’s a battle that last four pages but in the video game that can last two hours. Then there’s also things like the prison asteroid where the Convict escapes from so that could be a stand-alone episode where you’ll in a complete science fiction environment. The key is to get this first one going and get this going and create that following. And of course that immersive environment and seeing these things coming is dynamite and really gets us going.
Ian: Hopefully this won’t happen but in the off chance that the Kickstarter campaign for Bad Planet isn’t fully funded what’s the plan moving forward? Will there be a brief pause in the development of the game while other options are mulled such as finding an established publisher to back the project or will the main goal always be to keep it independent so it’s not watered down like so many other games today?
Tim: We’re going to keep it independent. With Kickstarter if you don’t make X amount of money and or find some spike you’re going to know pretty fast if you’re going to make that target. We were kind of slow out of the gate and one of the reasons for that was because we announced it at Comic Con and we kind of got lost in the shuffle. We got off to a slow start and we were immediately talking about contingency. So the plan now is that we’re already regrouping for a relaunch so we’re not giving up on it and we’re fighting the good fight. We’re not looking for venture capital to do this but we’ll do whatever it takes to do this.
Thomas: We’re going to relaunch the Kickstarter and then there may be some private investors.
Tim: Yeah we may employ some private investors to help fund the demo but one of the misnomers about Tom and I doing a video game is that people look at it and say “why is this movie star looking for crowd funding to do a video game when he can pay for it himself?” That’s ridiculous when you really think about it. We don’t have that kind of money. We’re an indie company and we fund everything ourselves which is why we don’t put out a ton of stuff and the stuff we do put out is nurtured along slowly the right way with all our creative energies in a product that reflects that. We don’t have the money to make a video game and that’s why we need people to help fund it.
Thomas: We’re not going to put a game out that no one is going to buy. We’re not going to do the game if we don’t have folks who are excited about doing the game. Right now we’re trying to educate people and turn them on to the whole concept and idea. We’re attracting new converts every day and getting people on our side so it’s just a matter of how many and how long we have to do it. I think we’ll get there since it’s an inherently exciting property and once people become aware of that they’ll jump onboard.
Tim: And we’re an independent studio. That’s what we’re all about; we’re the little guy and we champion for the little guy. This is something that’s not Batman or the Punisher and we wouldn’t be sitting where we are right now if it was. We have to fund it. So the point is we don’t give up on it and try to spread the word. I think we’re going to have a dedicated website in the coming weeks to bridge the gap between the end of the Kickstarter and the relaunch so hopefully we can move some of our backers over there. There’ll be updates all the time leading up into the relaunch so we can have a headquarters all the time. So we’re not giving up. We are focused on a relaunch, and we’re focused on putting this game out.
Ian: Moving forward can we expect to see more endeavors in the video game endeavor for Raw Studios, whether it’s adapting existing properties or creating new IPs exclusively for the video game audience?
Thomas: I don’t determine how successful we are with Bad Planet. If we’re successful with it then we’re certainly explore other opportunities too and it’ll be a fun world to explore and be a part of.
Tim: Tom and I kind of do things on a project by project basis. We don’t think about things like “what will we turn this into?” If someone comes to us and say “we would like to make a film out of that” then we’ll think about the possibilities and if that’s a good marriage. You can apply that to video games or anything else stretching to our IP.