While Dan Abnett is best known for writing such comics as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “New Deadwardians,” and “Judge Dredd,” he’s spent much of 2014 working in video games. Beyond writing the mobile game “Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon,” which came out this summer and tied into the Marvel Studios blockbuster, he also worked on two of this fall’s most anticipated games: “Alien: Isolation” and “Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor,” both of which are now available on a variety of platforms.
CBR News spoke to Abnett about making his mark on Fox’s xenomorph horror series and the world of Middle-Earth prior to the events of “Lord of the Rings.” The writer discussed his work, how they each offered a unique set of challenges, and whether his next original creation might be a video game instead of a comic book.
CBR News: Let’s start with “Alien: Isolation.” The game is set up as a sequel to the original movie directly by Ridley Scott. Given that, did you try to write it in the style of that film’s writers — Dan O’Bannon, Ron Shusett, David Giler and Walter Hill — or did you just do what you do as you do it?
Dan Abnett: I certainly tried to echo the matter-of-fact, down-to-Earth realism of the conversational style. It’s a wonderfully real, naturalistic script they wrote, one of the many brilliant reasons the film was so good. I wanted to provide a solid sequel that made sense, and allowed for the game designers’ needs, which was to great a “lo-fi” science fiction adventure that was a claustrophobic survival horror rather than a shoot-’em-up. Which is what the developers [Creative Assembly] wanted, too.
How much of the game had Creative Assembly figured out before you came on board? For instance, were you helping them figure out scenarios that became levels in the game, or was your job just to figure out what people say in scenarios they had already thought of?
They had a basic goal in mind, and some ingredients they thought would work. Over a fairly long period, in collaboration with the level designers, I worked up the storyline, which incorporated ideas for scenes and settings.
Did this make your job easier or harder?
Sometimes a little harder, sometimes a little freer. Mostly, it was like growing something organically.
So did anything you suggest end up becoming a level in the game?
As you alluded, “Alien: Isolation” is a game where you’re not running around and shooting things, you’re actually moving slowly and stealthily. Does this have any impact on how you wrote it?
Completely. It’s about stealth, fear, hiding. It’s incredibly tense and intense. The dialogue has to reflect that.
One of the coolest things about “Alien: Isolation” is that there’s going to be two extra missions that take place during the original movie, and will feature most of the film’s cast, including Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt and Harry Dean Stanton. Did you write these parts as well?
I helped devise these parts, and wrote some of the dialogue for the actors. It happened quite late on, when I was busy with the main game. I was amazed and very excited.
Did the fact that those missions take place during the events of the movie impact how you wrote them?
Absolutely. In fact, they actually match up with movie scripted sequences.
How much harder was it to do these parts, given that we know what happened in the movie and thus you can’t really change it?
It’s just an exercise in tone and atmosphere. When you’ve built interiors that are that cinematic and real, and that close to the movie’s sets, it’s a shame not to play with them.
So did you ever suggest they make a minigame where you play as that stupid cat?
Many, many times.
In addition to “Alien: Isolation,” you also worked on “Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.” I’m told you didn’t write the script, just parts of it. Can you explain exactly your level of involvement?
I created the sixty or so individual orc characters, and wrote their dialogue, so they are individually named and distinct characters who remember you as you go through the game. Thus, the game isn’t just full of orc cannon fodder. It’s full of talking, individual character enemies.
When you got hired, and they told you what you’d be doing, did you ever say to them, “Y’know, I could write the whole thing. I just did it for ‘Alien: Isolation.'”?
No. I’ve worked with the producers of “Mordor” before, and they brought me in specifically to develop and write the character stuff. The game was already well underway in terms of story and structure. That happens a lot in gaming.
How hard was it to come up with different orcs? I mean, once you get past Angry Orc, Crazy Orc, Grumpy Orc, Sleepy Orc and Dopey Orc, it must get kind of tough.
I guess. Sixty is a lot. I was surprised how many different takes on character retypes I found.
Compared to “Alien: Isolation,” did your style change at all from one game to the other because you were doing different things in them, or did that not matter?
It’s a completely different job, in a completely different world. The requirements are therefore for a completely different style. That’s what I did. I think they’d have looked elsewhere if I wasn’t able to change my style to match the job.
Which ended up being more work? I would assume “Alien: Isolation,” but maybe not.
No, it was “Alien” because there was so much more to do. A huge amount of scripting and story construction. Though “Mordor” was more intense because it was done over a comparatively short period.
Has working on “Alien: Isolation,” “Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor,” and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” mobile game we talked about over the summer made you want to come up with your own idea for a game? Or swear off writing games for a while?
I’d love to devise my own game, and I’m working on other games now that I can’t mention yet.
Do you have an idea for your own game?
Not a full-on original idea yet, but some pretty major contributions.
Lastly, if you could write the next version of any game, what game would you want to work on and why?
“Alien: Isolation 2.” Or “Shadow of Mordor 2.” [Smiles]
“Alien: Isolation” is now available for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PC.
“Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor” is now available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, while the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions will be out November 18.
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