Actress Felicia Day, who once played timid Slayer-in-training Vi on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” seventh season and has also appeared on Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse,” has made a name for herself in recent years as the star/writer/producer of “The Guild,” an episodic web-based series about the adventures of online role-playing gamers. Day’s character, known primarily as Codex, the name of her avatar, has grown close to her “guildies” while logging copious hours in an unnamed game based straightforwardly on Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft.” A misinterpreted winking smiley, though, brings her relationships with Zaboo, Vork, Bladezz, Clara, and Tinkerballa off-game and uncomfortably into her real life. After the first season, in which it won the YouTube Video Award for Best series, Microsoft began distributing “The Guild” to its Xbox Live service and Zune marketplace, though Day retains full rights to the content. In 2009, “The Guild” took home Streamy Awards for Best Comedy Web Series, Best Ensemble Cast in a Web Series, and Best Female Actor in a Comedy Web Series. The third season, in which Codex’s Knights of Good square off against a rival guild, reached its explosive finale in November, and come March “The Guild” expands into comics, courtesy of Dark Horse. “Afrodisiac” and “One Model Nation” artist Jim Rugg joins Day for the project, which debuted with a two-page short on “MySpace Dark Horse Presents.” CBR News spoke with Day about “The Guild’s” various incarnations.
Day had originally written the first season of “The Guild,” which began airing on YouTube in July 2007, as a pilot episode for broadcast television before adapting it into 3 to 6 minute episodes for the web. Seasons 2 and 3, though intended from the start as online content and running up to eight minutes in length, nevertheless were informed in their creation by Day’s familiarity with the half-hour sitcom and feature-film formats. “I think format is something we all struggle with in the web world. There are no strict rules, which is almost more of a challenge than having the parameters of a half-hour comedy script, in a way,” Day told CBR. “The need to catch a viewer quickly, keep them from clicking away, and leaving them wanting to see another installment are the basic challenges in constructing web content, in my opinion. I write the ‘Guild’ seasons like a feature, all at once. The length of 12 episodes ends up being almost feature-length, but the construction is very different, it’s much more serialized. I am an avid reader, and I just had a realization the other day that web series should probably follow the format of chapters in a book, more than anything else.”
Day added, however, that the wild terrain of web series has its perks as well as its limitations. “The benefits of doing a web show is that there are no set rules, and the financial model is so much cheaper that it allows a lot more creative freedom,” she said. “At the same time, it is not as lucrative, so you can’t support yourself solely on it, and you have to write the episodes to fit the budget. No car explosions, few locations and actors, etc.
“The reason I did a comic was the opportunity to expand the world where I couldn’t afford to go in the web series: many real world locations, and lots of in-game exploration (we don’t use actual game footage in the web show due to copyright issues),” Day continued. “It certainly took a lot of creative exploration to find my voice for the show in the format, but I’m very proud of the outcome.”
In-game exploration, Day elaborated, will be “a big part of the story.” “I love the ‘Conan’ comics, and fantasy in general, so the opportunity to see the characters speaking through their gaming avatars was the real creative jumping-off point for me,” the writer said. “Writing this comic, and filling out the unnamed ‘Game’ that they play almost made me want to write a video game next!”
Though it has been less than three years since “The Guild” debuted, at the rapid pace of “internet time,” significant changes have occurred in the world of original online content, especially as far as web-based series are concerned. In addition to Day’s serial, Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog” debuted to acclaim (and also featured Day’s on-camera talents), and some studios and networks are even setting up portals for online shows. Add to this the advent of Hulu, Netflix streaming and other venues designed to present broadcast television shows and films through online means, and in a short pace of time, internet video is approaching the mainstream.
“I do feel like the ‘grand dame’ of web video in a way now, the net world moves so quick!” Day joked. “I feel like soon I’ll get one of those lifetime achievement awards while screaming, ‘I’m not done yet, guys!’ Ha!”
She does feel, however, that web-based shows still have a way to go for mainstream acceptance.”I think web content has gotten some mainstream attention, but not as much as I’d have expected, after the success of ‘Dr. Horrible,’ in particular,” Day said. “There haven’t been a lot of ‘big guns’ to follow in Joss Whedon’s footsteps, which makes me disappointed, but I think this year will be a huge turning point. We’re entering a time of portable tablet computing and easy-to-use devices and services that are circumventing the cable box to provide content to consumers from the net to TV. This year might be what us in web video wanted 2009 to be. I’m especially excited with the idea of interactive storytelling, as well as more ‘3D’ storytelling (non-linear). New technology will help us further shake up the way we tell stories, I’m excited for that.”
With the comic series, Day will be taking a step backward through history in order to tell the secret origin of the Knights of Good, or at least Codex’s induction into this esteemed local guild. “I don’t want to spoil anything, but this comic is the story of Codex’s journey into the game,” Day said. She added, though, that the comic may be less of an ensemble piece than the video series. “I learned very quickly that there is no room in comic books to linger around if you want your story to get anywhere. It’s a much different type of writing. In retrospect, the issues turned out to be a love letter of sorts to online-gaming. I’m excited for people to read it, see what they think.”
As an actress, Day may be used to seeing herself on the screen portraying a number of different characters, but she described the experience of seeing her likeness as a comic book character as “quite surreal, to be honest. I try to think of Codex as another person when I’m writing the seasons, but it’s difficult because I know I will play her on screen at a certain point,” she explained. “For the comic, when I got my face back as Codex, it was such a reward. [Artist Jim Rugg] really embodied her character in the art. It made it even more easy to step back and view her objectively, and made the writing easier. I love Jim’s style – the indie vibe for the out-of-game scenes is spot on, and he really stylized the in-game panels in a different way. So great.”
Day said that while a fourth season of “The Guild” has not yet been picked up by Microsoft, she is in the process of planning storylines. “I write slow, so I need the leg up,” she said. As to whether Day will continue the comic series beyond the three-issue miniseries, she told us, “The comic was quite a struggle for me, but after I turned in issue #3, I thought of other things to do in the format, so again, I wouldn’t rule it out. Let’s see how people like this one first!”
Given that online gaming is at the heart of “The Guild” in both its print and web formats, CBR asked Day what she is playing now and what releases she’s looking forward to in 2010. “I’m very deep back into ‘World of Warcraft’ at the moment. ‘Research’ for season 4, I rationalize,” she revealed. “I also enjoy co-op games with my Guildmates on my Xbox, like ‘Left for Dead 2’ and ‘Borderlands,’ and then arcade games like ‘Peggle’ and ‘Trials HD’ give me my gaming fix in a short time. I also finished a few of the Professor Layton games on my DS over vacation, fabulous puzzle games.
“For 2010 I’m looking forward to the ‘Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic MMO,’ ‘Bioshock 2,’ ‘LFD2’ expansion pack and lots and lots in between,” she continued. “If only I didn’t have so much work to take away from gaming!”
The first issue of “The Guild” from Dark Horse Comics hits stores on March 24, 2010.