Running The Mirror’s Edge With Rhianna Pratchett

Mirror’s Edge” is the first-person game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE, more commonly known as DICE, and published by Electronic Arts for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows computers. The story is set in a seemingly utopian future where all communication is monitored to the point where the “runners” are used to carry information across the rooftops of the city. The player steps into the shoes of one such runner named Faith who, races through the city to save her sister, who has been recently kidnapped.

Bringing the story to life is writer Rhianna Pratchett. The name may be familiar to many, as she’s the daughter of Terry Pratchett, the best-selling fantasy author of the Discworld series and “Good Omens” with Neil Gaiman. Rhianna Pratchett’s previous projects include such video game titles as “Heavenly Sword” and “Overlord.” CBR News caught up with Pratchett to talk about the “Mirror’s Edge” video game series and the recently released Wildstorm comic book prequel to the game.

Pratchett started writing as a journalist, working for magazines such as PC Zone and the U.K. based newspaper The Guardian. The writer made her big jump to video games after she left her job with PC Zone and received a rather fortuitous phone call. “I got a call from a developer who was looking for a story editor for his next game,” Pratchett told CBR. “As a journo I’d been a big supporter of his previous game and he remembered me. I said yes and it went from there really. I actually got one or two of my easiest gigs from developers whose games I’d been a fan of. Who says being a fangirl never pays off!”

Pratchett says the amount of freedom a games writer is afforded varies from game to game and is dictated by the publishers. “It is always a collaborative effort,” Pratchett said of the process. “Generally, my work comprises of rewriting the existing narrative and filling in the gaps, or helping create a story around the existing gameplay elements, environments and levels. Then it’s all about holding onto all those story elements and keeping them flexible throughout the project’s development. It’s rather like trying to write a film screenplay with half the sets build, half the actors cast (and then re-cast) and the location continually moving every time the lunch-bell rings. Writing for games is certainly not an easy gig!”

“Mirror’s Edge” has been a unique project for Pratchett, as she is also writing a comic book prequel to the game, chronicling the adventures of the main character, Faith, before we first see her in the video game. “After I finished writing for the game, EA was keen to use me in some other capacity,” Pratchett explained. “A prequel novel was suggested, but I wasn’t really interested in that idea and mentioned to my boss at DICE that what I’d really like to do was write a comic book. The 2D animations in the game originally evolved out of comic book-style story telling. As it happened, the deal with DC was already in progress. So it was coincidental, but fortuitous. I did the six-page Comic-Con teaser as a kind of test and then DC and EA kindly let me loose on the full miniseries.”

The “Mirror’s Edge” comic book takes place four or five years before the start of the game. “It follows Faith as she meets her Tracker, Merc and starts her life as a Runner. It does play on some of the relationships in the game and answer some of the answered or, more accurately, unaddressed, questions,” Pratchett revealed, adding the book would expand “on the relationships between characters. There’s not always the space to delve into a relationship or scenario the way your want to, purely by the nature of the game and its gameplay. So it’s really good to have this outlet as a narrative playground to explore the Mirror’s Edge world.”

This being the first time Pratchett had worked in comics, the writer took time out to learn the basics and do her homework. “There was certainly a fair bit of learning to do and Scott McCloud’s books, in particular, were very useful,” Pratchett said. “I also owe thanks to Kieron Gillen (author of the very fine ‘Phonogram’ series), for lending me McCloud’s books, pointing me in the direction of some great Alan Moore articles and generally being a thoroughly nice chap, patting me on the back and saying ‘It’s ok, Rhi, you can do it!’”

As Pratchett learned more about the art of sequential storytelling, she found that writing for comic books and writing for video games have a few things in common. “Reading them [the McCloud books], I realized that there are actually some similarities in how comic books use the reader to fill in narrative gaps and the way videogames use the player to do much the same thing,” she explained. “I actually found that thinking about the visuals and panel construction came a lot easier than I thought it would, probably because videogames are such a visual medium.”

That isn’t to say there weren’t any bumps in the road as Pratchett made her way from video game author to comic book scribe. “I made a few n00b mistakes, like calling balloons ‘bubbles,’” Pratchett confessed. “But like I said, I’m still learning. I was also lucky enough to have the hugely talented Matthew Dow Smith as the artist for the series. I’m a fan of his work on ‘Supernatural,’ so it’s been a privilege to work with him. Having strong people around me has helped no end.”

As for Pratchett’s lead character, Faith, the writer said, “Well, I think watching the Aliens movies from a young age is probably partially responsible [for her ‘voice’]. Ellen Ripley has always been something of a fictional hero of mine. Strong, tough, smart, but still very human. Other than that, it’s pretty difficult to pull specific stuff out of the narrative soup that sloshes around inside every writer’s head. Most of time you identify a few key traits, sit down and wait for the character to start telling you who there are. This is why most writers exist in a semi-hallucinogenic state most of the time.”

Pratchett found the comic book medium a great way to explore who the character of Faith, and one that wasn’t possible in the video game version of “Mirror’s Edge.” “In the context of a first-person action game, the player is actually stepping into the shoes of the main character,” Pratchett explained. “With that in mind, you don’t want to overload them with established personality, traits, quirks etc. (especially during gameplay — Faith’s character is brought out more in the cut-scenes) otherwise that will interfere with the sense of immersion you need to create. However, you can use your NPC characters a lot to help colour the world and your protagonist. Other genres do lend themselves towards more protagonist definition, but it’s a real balancing act with first-person games.”

Now that Rhianna Pratchett has enjoyed her first foray into comics, might we see the writer give it a go writing a pre-established character like Batman or Spider-Man, or perhaps an original work? “I’d like to think I could turn my hand to giving most things a go,” Pratchett said. “That’s the thing about writing for games; you become very honed to working with the ideas of other people, even if they’re just embryo idea, as well as weaving in your own. If you’re given the space to do so, you learn very quickly how to take the ball and run with it. Although if DC ever bring back ‘Fallen Angel’ and Peter David isn’t available, they can give me a shout. I really think that someone should have made a comic series out of the TV show ‘Oz.’ That would have been a dark ride.”

As for any video games she would like to bring to the comic book medium, it would have to be “Overlord,” a game Pratchett worked on previously. “Mainly because it’s the game series I know best,” she admitted. “Having worked on ‘Overlord’ and ‘Overlord: Raising Hell’ and now working on ‘Overlord II,’ ‘Overlord: Dark Legend’ and ‘Overlord: Minions.’ I think a comic series about a group of evil ‘heroic’ fantasy creatures, or even stories about the little guys who have to run around all day carrying out evil deeds for their ‘Master’ could be a lot of fun.”

Fans of Rhianna Pratchett’s work can look back towards the video game console to find more. “I’m still working on the ‘Mirror’s Edge’ comic series and the three Overlord games I mentioned in Q8,” Pratchett said. “So that’s a fair amount to keep me out of trouble. After that, there are few potential projects on the horizon, but you never know what’s around the corner, do you? I like that element of surprise.”

“Mirror’s Edge” #1 is out in comic book stores now from DC Comics and the video game will be available next week on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

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