Brian Reed has been a busy guy lately. When we spoke with him last, Reed discussed in detail his work on the Marvel Comics titles "Secret Invasion: Spider-Man - Brand New Day" and "Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers" and "Ms. Marvel." In addition to those projects, the writer is also working on two new video games featuring Marvel's favorite web-head -- "Spider-Man: Friend or Foe" and the upcoming "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows" - as well as a new "Mercenaries" game from Pandemic studios and his creator-owned Image Comics series "The Circle" with collaborator Ian Hosfeld. As if that weren't enough, Reed is writing a new two-year arc on Dynamite Entertainment's "Red Sonja."
In Part II of our interview, CBR spoke with Brian about these new projects, his philosophy on game design and whether he'd ever return to video game development.
Box art for "Spider-Man: Friend or Foe"
You've written Spider-Man in three separate games. Do you still find him interesting?
Are you kidding? It's the chance to let your inner smart-ass out. He is the everyman, even if he was married to a super-model for twenty years. He's us. He has bad days. He's the quintessential Marvel hero. Any time I'm writing anything Marvel, I think about Spider-Man because he's the model.
He's a superhero, he can save the world but he can't pay his rent. He's rooted in the real world. You buy that he can climb on walls because he's worried that his aunt is sick. You believe that he made web-shooters because he doesn't have enough money to go out on a date. As long as you've got that blanket of reality, everything else that happens in his life we roll with. We say, "Of course there's a guy with mechanical arms! Why not?"
In terms of game development, what have you been working on recently?
I just wrapped up "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows," which comes out this Fall and it's my third Spidey game. I also just signed for something that's coming next fall that's tied to a big movie that I can't talk about yet.
A movie our readers would be familiar with?
Yes. It's something people will be excited about.
Are you finished as a game designer as opposed to a game writer? Do you think you'll ever go back?
You know, maybe someday if some friends want to start a company, I could talk to them about it, but really, yeah. I spent about a day in a game design office the other week and I hadn't been in an office in forever and I wanted out so bad. [Laughs.] I'm not an office person anymore.
How did you get started in game design?
Game design came from a friend of mine. We were both out of work and he came to my apartment one day and said, "You know we can get paid for playing games?" I thought he was insane. And then he explained to me the whole idea of QA - Quality Assurance, and that there **were** people who tested games all day. So we went to Comp USA and we just started to write down the name of every company we saw on the boxes. We found their addresses and we sent them our resumes. We ended up working at Blizzard as they were shipping "Warcraft 2." We were employees #49 and #50. We just stumbled into it.
What goes into designing a game?
Depends on the game. With "Ultimate Spider-Man," for instance, I sat down with the designers and we figured out the story loosely. I took the approach that I've heard they did for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" which was they just figured out all these cool moments and then sent [screenwriter] Lawrence Kasdan off into a room to cry and figure out how to make it all fit together. And that's we did with "Ultimate Spider-Man." We said, "I wanna fight Rhino in a used car lot, with him chucking cars at you" or "I wanna fight Venom on a rooftop with a Helicopter" and came up with all these cool moments and then I went through and strung them together into a really loose story.
Then we'd need to figure out - this is what the Rhino can do, this is what we need from the artist, etc. These are all the LEGO pieces we needed built. Then we'd come up with a list for the coders and we'd tell them: we need code that allows Rhino to charge you, we need code that allows him to pick up a car and throw it at you. Anything you look at in the game, any element you see, there was a request for that to happen. Every piece of physics, every piece of art, everything.
Are there rules to writing games as opposed to comics? You once said one of your rules was to never show anything in a cut-scene that the player couldn't do themselves.
That's one of my cardinal rules. Other people break that rule all the time. But it's something that I never wanted to do because as we were making "Ultimate Spider-Man," we were playing the "Prince of Persia" game. There was some area where you were stuck up on the second floor and there was no way down. It drove us insane. We finally found it through this whole twisting, winding path. Then later in the game, there's a cut-scene where the Prince is on a balcony and he jumps off, stick his knife in the wall, and rides down a curtain. And we said, "We couldn't do that!"
So I didn't want that to happen. I didn't want to ever do anything that the player can't emulate. Because it just strikes me as playing fair.
What else is different?
It depends on the game. When I was writing "Spider-Man: Friend or Foe," it was really linear. I could have been writing a comic book. Aside from the end of the project, where you're always asked to write fifteen ways to say a door is locked for fifteen different characters. By the end your brain is pudding. You're just writing, "The door is locked" or "Oh look, the door is locked."
What about "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows?"
That's a less linear game. There's this whole plot element that we called "red or black" in which you can choose the red suit or the black symbiote suit. This is kind of spinning out of the movie a bit where the symbiote, kind of made you an asshole. So I had to go through and write alternate versions of everything. Essentially, it's two games. So while it was a linear story and there was a thread to follow, there were always either/ors.
How much ambiguity is there in the decision making? It's not just a binary decision of good or evil early on?
They did a very nice job with the design of it so that you can make the decision you want and not ever break anything. It's not like your choices are between saving babies or poisoning babies either. I explained at the start of the project that we couldn't do, "Are you Spider-Man or the Punisher?" The choice has to be, "Are you Spider-Man or Batman?" The two poles are great power, great responsibility and selfish. The deal with "Spider-Man 3" is that he's being a bit of an ass but he's not really evil, aside from punching MJ which she seemed fine with by the end. That was the real balance to strike with it.
Switching gears a bit, "The Circle" was very well reviewed. Any plans for the property in the future?
We're looking out. It's making the rounds in Hollywood at the present, we'll see if anything comes of it. We've talked about bringing it back as a web-comic, we've talked about going to another publisher. Right now, the artist Ian Hosfeld and I have about four different ideas for others projects though. We keep bouncing between each depending on whichever one amuses us that day. We haven't really settled yet. We've got like three or four other stories for "The Circle" too, if we ever decide to do that.
Are you looking to do more creator-owned work?
Oh, yeah. I am the exact opposite of everyone else in the industry. I came in at Marvel and now I'm looking to go do creator-owned work. Everybody else spent years toiling in the black and white photocopies before they made it big and I'm the asshole that came in the side door.
Tell us about your upcoming "Red Sonja" work for Dynamite.
I co-wrote a few issues with Mike Oeming last year. Mike had scheduling issues and asked me if I was interested. He's good friends with Brian Bendis. He said, "Bendis says nothing but the best about you. I'd love to work with you if you want to work with me." But I didn't know Red Sonja. I know Bridget Nielsen, that's what I know. But I eventually got a handle on it and co-wrote a few issues with Mike.
So when Mike left, they asked me if I was interested in taking over. I said, "I'll be honest, only if I get to tell a story I find interesting." So I spent a weekend, I wrote up a pitch for them that covered two years worth of issues. And I said, "This is what I'd do if you gave me the book," fully expecting that they'd reject half of it, at which point I wouldn't really want to do the book anymore. But to my surprise, they came back and said okay.