When Dynamite Entertainment announced in 2015 that it was teaming with Atari for a series of video game-inspired comics, comic-loving fans of old-school arcade games would have been justifiably concerned that they may get a bizarre story in which the rocks from “Asteroids” and the bugs from “Centipede” team up to fight crime.
But it turns out that these comics aren’t going to be that silly — at least the first one isn’t. Inspired by the early-’80s adventure game series “SwordQuest” — which actually came with a connected comic written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, drawn by Dick Giordano and George Perez — the upcoming series “SwordQuest: Real World,” from the writing team of Chad Bowers and Chris Sims and artist Ghostwriter X, is neither a continuation of the game’s story, nor the one in the comics. Instead, it’s about the role that video games can have in our lives, especially when those lives aren’t going well. It also connects to a real-life incident in which the fourth “SwordQuest” game was never finished, and thus a contest to give away a replica sword never happened.
With “SwordQuest: Real World” issue #0 available now, we spoke to Bowers and Sims about how the unique take on the property developed.
CBR: To start, what is “SwordQuest: Real World” about?
Chad Bowers: Chris likes to describe “SwordQuest: Real World” as “Ocean’s Eleven” meets “The King of Kong.” Me, I like to think of it as “The Last Starfighter” with swords.
It’s the story of Peter Case, a middle-aged man whose life is crumbling after a series of misfortunes that ultimately rekindle his obsession with the video game “SwordQuest,” leading him to reconnect with his two closest childhood friends. Together, they set out to win a prize that should’ve been Peter’s 30 years before.
The “SwordQuest” games came with a comic book. But “SwordQuest: Real World” isn’t a continuation of the story from the game or the comics. So where did the idea for it come from?
Bowers: Here’s your secret origin: Dynamite sent over this really incredible and extensive list of Atari games, and told us to just go nuts with ideas. So Chris and I each picked a couple games from the list, and went off to brainstorm before getting back together to compare notes. When we finally sat down, we were pretty amused to discover we’d picked a lot of the same titles, including “SwordQuest,” which, as it turned out, was the one were both most interested in.
Chris Sims: It was something that we’d never really heard of. But when we looked it up, we found out that not only is it a game that already has a connection to comics, but it has that fascinating real-world story behind it, too.
It’s also a real-life story that doesn’t really have an ending. When each game was released, there was a contest where you could win a real-world equivalent of the magic item you were looking for in the game. I assume they weren’t magic, but they were definitely valuable, these golden talismans and chalices that were worth $10,000 in 1983 money. The sword was the ultimate prize — $50,000 back then, about a $100,000 now — but when the video game market crashed, the game never came out and the sword was never awarded. It definitely exists, though.
So not only is this the kind of thing that begs for an ending, it’s also this perfect fantasy setup that happened in real life. Like, there’s a real-life sword out there that people were questing for 30 years ago, and nobody’s really quite sure what happened to it. It might not actually be magical, but it’s definitely a lost treasure, and that’s the kind of setup that we found impossible to resist.
There have been a number of novels about video games lately, most notably Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” and “Armada,” as well as “Jason Rekulak’s The Impossible Fortress.” Were any of these books, or others, an influence on “SwordQuest: Real World”?
Sims: Nope. We’ve actually had a couple of people mention “Ready Player One,” but I’ve never read any of Cline’s work. I am, however, a big fan of retro game stuff. I love the Retronauts podcast, Jeremy Parish’s “Anatomy of a Game” series, and I even dig through my old issues of “Nintendo Power” sometimes. That wild west, figuring-it-out-as-we-go era of console gaming in the early ’80s is fascinating for me, for the same reason that I’m fascinated with the Golden Age of comics.
For the art in “SwordQuest: Real World,” you worked with Ghostwriter X. Did he ever come up with something that prompted you to change some aspect of the story?
Sims: Yeah, actually. The Ghost is an incredible storyteller. We always like to let the artists we work with take charge of the visuals in the book, and we knew going in that he was up for doing a more dense page structure than we’d done on some previous projects, and that really freed us up to get a lot of story into each issue. If you read through the first chapter in #0, you’ll see a lot of really cool touches that tie the visuals back to video games, and that’s all him.
So do you think this kind of story would work with some other video game?
Sims: I don’t think so. Not unless there’s another game out there that has such a strange real-world story behind the scenes.
Finally, what is your favorite fantasy adventure game and, if the opportunity presented itself, would you want to write a comic about it? Or a comic about someone who likes to play it, as the case may be.
Bowers: It doesn’t quite count as a “fantasy adventure game,” but I absolutely adore “Metroid,” and probably obsessed over it as a kid as much as Peter obsesses over “SwordQuest.” It’d be fun to dive back into that universe again, with or without the armor, and find that unique angle that celebrates Metroid’s coolness, while equally exploring all that weirdness.
Chris: I’m a really big fan of the “Dragon Age” games. That world has so many really cool ideas, and treats old fantasy standbys like elves and dwarves in a way that feels so unique. But man, I’d be pretty intimidated to try tackling it in comics. Greg Rucka and Carmen Carnero [who wrote and drew the comic “Dragon Age: Magekiller,” respectfully] are a pretty tough act to follow.
“SwordQuest: Real World” #0 is on sale now. “SwordQuest: Real World” #1 is scheduled for release on June 21.